[14 December 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Can you feel it? For those of you waiting to exhale after this exhaustive holiday season, the time for such a substantial sigh is just around the corner. Just a few more days and you can sit back and relax, letting the weeks of workaholic stress and materialistic fretting fall away like flakes of fresh, new fallen snow. At that very moment, when the commercialized competition to celebrate the season disappears, and the terror of facing a new year fiscally strapped has yet to arrive, you can entertain yourself with one of the motion picture offerings on your favorite pay cable channel – that is, if there is anything worth watching. Sadly, there is only one qualified title this week, and it’s a hard thinking drama with a staunch ideological agenda and scenes of George Clooney being tortured. Sounds like the perfect slice of Saturnalia heaven, right? Otherwise, the other movie channels are dragging out the dregs before 2007 arrives, and a whole new batch of bunkum can be foisted on a weary, worn out public. Maybe you’d be better off keeping that breath in for a little while longer. You’ll want all the energy you can muster to manage your way through the films being presented for the weekend of 16 December:
Apparently, Martin Lawrence has caught a bad case of Eddie Murphy-itis. He’s done the buddy pics, the stand up comedy concert films loaded with offensive content and ever-present expletives. He’s had the public meltdowns (similar to Eddie’s freakish fascination with Elvis), his poorly accepted attempts at action heroism, and his clueless comedic comebacks (Big Momma’s House 2???). Now, he’s going the family film route, following Dr. Daddy Doolittle Day Care all the way to the PG-13 or lower savings and loan. Here, we are supposed to believe that Lawrence is a famed basketball coach, demoted to helming a junior high school team after a public temper tantrum. Naturally, there are all kinds of lame life lessons and juvenile jokes about self-esteem and bodily functions to be found in this underwhelming effort. Lawrence better be smart with his next few projects or he will end up an afterthought in Hollywood’s bankability book – if he hasn’t already. (Premieres Saturday 2 December, 10pm EST).
Talk about your major man crushes – George Clooney has done the near impossible in the world of entertainment. He has gone from low budget lameness (Return to Horror High, Return of the Killer Tomatoes) and silly sitcom stardom (Roseanne, The Facts of Life) to become the preeminent example of new Hollywood glamour – and he’s done so on his own unique terms. Mixing mainstream hits like Oceans Eleven with more artistic endeavors like this well-received political drama, Clooney has managed to build on his formidable fanbase, attracting both women and men to his occasionally arcane efforts. Even better, he’s fomulating a behind the camera oeuvre that’s even more impressive, including Good Night and Good Luck and the undervalued Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Thanks to his turn here, he finally found the industry respect he craved, taking home an Oscar for playing the part of a CIA fall guy. It’s a searing, sensational performance, on par with his typical exemplary work. (Premieres Saturday 2 December, 10pm EST).
This is a tough one. Frankly, how can you knock a movie starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore, based on a terrific urban thriller by none other than Richard Clockers Price. Easy, put producer turned no-talent director Joe Roth behind the camera and watch the mediocrity fly! With a resume that screams substandard (Christmas with the Kranks, Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise) and a Price penned script that saw some substantial pre-production doctoring, it’s obvious that the cinematic stars were not aligned on this one. While the actors apparently managed to make their case and leave more or less unscathed, Roth is finally being regarded as the filmmaking faker he’s been all along. While his production credits continue unabated (and awful – he oversaw the Wayans’ worthless Little Man), there’s nary a sign of another stint behind the lens for this cinematic washout. Hurrah! (Premieres Saturday 9 December, 9pm EST).
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Christian Bale, besides the fact that he was once a cherubic child actor glorifying Stephen Spielberg’s criminally ignored World War II fable Empire of the Sun, is the significant career choices he’s made since maturing. Not only is he the new – and some say, picture perfect – Dark Knight, but he’s parlayed cult and commercial success into a string of significant offbeat pictures. While 2006 was a banner year for the 32 year old (he starred in The Prestige, Harsh Times and Rescue Dawn) this 2004 surrealist mystery saw Bale take a giant step into major Method acting territory. He dropped an alarming 60 pounds - from 180 to a staggering 120 – to play the role of a troubled factory worker dying of insomnia. Once the madness sets in, things go from dire to disturbed in this enigmatic psychological thriller. It may be hard to follow at times, but for Bale’s performance alone, this unique film demands any cinephile’s attention. (Saturday 9 December, 9:00pm EST)
For those of you who still don’t know it, Turner Classic Movies has started a new Friday night/Saturday morning feature entitled “The TCM Underground”, a collection of cult and bad b-movies hosted by none other than rad rocker turned atrocity auteur Rob Zombie. From time to time, when SE&L feels Mr. Devil’s Rejects is offering up something nice and sleazy, we will make sure to put you on notice. For 15/16 December, the late, great Man of a Thousand Faces, Lon Chaney, is featured in:
The Unholy 3
This remarkable silent effort from Dracula‘s Tod Browning features the first real genre star of cinema, Lon Chaney, as a ventriloquist who teams up with a dwarf and a strong man to start a crime spree. (3:15am EST)
Like that lame little ditty we all find ourselves humming around this time of year, SE&L will select three films each week from now until the end of the holiday as our Secret Santa treat for film fans. Granted, the pickings are incredibly slim (how many GOOD X-mas movies are there, really?) and you may find a lump of coal in your cinematic stocking once in a while, but at least it beats endless repeats of Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, right? The three festive treats on tap for the week of 16 December are:
It’s a Wonderful Life
(NBC, 16 December, 8:00PM EST)
Frank Capra’s subversive holiday allegory (labeled as such by the FBI) is now a Yuletide tradition – decades after it’s initial box office failure.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
(USA Network, 17 December, 9:00PM EST)
A perfect example of one too many trips to the tired comedy well, this seasonal satire secured Chevy Chase’s descent into certified has-been status.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
(ABC Family Channel, 17 December 8:00PM EST)
Ron Howard rapes the legacy of Dr. Seuss by placing Jim Carrey in a live action remake of the classic Chuck Jone’s cartoon from 1966.