[21 December 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It’s hard to believe that, with all the massive merchandising and commercialization of the holiday season, someone hasn’t found a way to exploit Christmas Eve Eve. Tradition and religion have usurped most of the pre-Santa celebrations, but with all the companies out there looking to turn a Yuletide profit, the night before the night before Xmas would seem like a guaranteed greenback generator. In fact, they could treat it like a parent’s only party, a time when Mom and Dad can disregard the kids for a moment and have a holiday hoedown themselves. Or twist it toward the wee ones and give it a fully fleshed out anti-materialism approach. Allow otherwise ancillary figures like Rudolph, Frosty, and similar timeless characters to have their own hour in the merriment spotlight. Or maybe make the night a day of deserved rest, an oasis inside the non-stop chaos of consumption. Just don’t look to the boob tube for any entertainment relief. The movies being offered for the weekend of 23 December are examples of the absolute dregs, films that reek of recent flop sweat. So unless you want to experience the humor/horror combo of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead sequel, there is nothing to give your glad tidings great joy. To clarify, here are the efforts making an appearance on the premium channels this day before the day before Jesus’s birth:
The filmic fates were just not ready to smile on this sleek Tony Scott style-fest. During the pre-release publicity, it was revealed that some of the storyline here was “enhanced” (read: massively altered) to smooth over some of real life bounty hunter Domino Harvey’s less than genial cinematic traits. Then, near the end of June 2005, Harvey was found dead, the victim of an accidental overdose. Nothing ruins your otherwise routine ‘rock ‘em, sock ‘em’ action pic more than an air of unease and the purposeful avoidance of your subject’s possible personal problems. What was supposed to be a break out turn for actress Keira Knightley – a chance to move away from all the frilly dresses and dainty accents – quickly de-evolved into a contrasting creation seemingly insensitive to Harvey’s plentiful personal demons. Though turns by a newly revitalized Mickey Rourke and Delroy Lindo helped keep this superficial ship afloat, this film is a clear case of fact overpowering the forces of fiction. (Sunday 24 December, 12:30AM EST).
When he sticks to his Jackass style stunt work, Johnny Knoxville is a genial, jovial jerk, the kind of stupid smart aleck that gets his point across with a laugh and a lewd gesture. But place him inside a fictional setting, and he turns awkward and affected. Borrowing an idea from South Park (or visa versa), Knoxville plays a patsy who gets talked into competing in the Special Olympics as a way of making some quick money (who knew said events were so fiscally profitable). Once inside the contest, living with the rest of the handi-capable athletes, the character’s ersatz retard skills are put to the test. Naturally, lots of life lessons are learned and the mentally deficient are shown as being just as normal as you or me. But perhaps the worst part of this relatively ordinary film is how it squanders opportunities to be crude and rude. This is a PC pleasant look at a potentially tasteless topic. And nothing kills comedy quicker than tameness and tact. (Premieres Saturday 23 December, 10pm EST).
It’s one of those post-modern movie industry mandates – an unnecessary sequel to a film most people didn’t like in the first place. But thanks to DVD popularity and that always forgotten facet of the international marketplace, even something this substandard gets the repeat treatment. With lead actress Kate Beckinsdale back, along with director Len Wiseman and a great deal of dopey CGI work, the centuries-old war between the Death Dealers (vampires) and the Lycans (werewolves) rages on. The only thing worse than a lame comic book movie is a similarly lamentable film without a graphic novel to back up its bullstuff. Perhaps if you’re a member of the gloomy Goth set who thinks everything associated with blood drinking and shape shifting is cool and clever, you’ll line up for more of this dross. If, on the other hand, you like your macabre scary, suspenseful and serious, this action figure oriented junk will leave you as cold as a corpse. (Premieres Saturday 23 December, 9pm EST).
When he released his first film - the fright night classic The Evil Dead - in 1981, many wondered if Sam Raimi was anything more than a geek show loving film freak. A couple of decades and a definitive comic book franchise later, and his mainstream cred is more or less secured. But it was this quasi-sequel to his macabre masterpiece that really showed what Sam the Man was all about. Combining outright terror with terrific bits of black comedy and silly slapstick, Raimi reinvented the genre movie, confirming that it could combine many seemingly antithetical elements and still be a scary, savvy dread delight. Highly influential (a good drinking game can be devised from all the outright rip-offs this film inspired) and featuring the best post-modern b-movie actor ever – a.k.a. Bruce Campbell in his defining role as Ash – what Raimi does here is really astounding. He makes fear funny, and comedy creepy, and the combination a hilarious high water mark in a career filled with same. (Saturday 23 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 22/23 December, Francis Ford Coppola takes on terror in one of his first feature films:
While assisting Roger Corman on a film in Ireland, a young Coppola used many of the same sets and actors to craft this creepy, old dark house saga. The eerie results speak for themselves.
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:
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas
(TBS, 22 December, 11:40PM EST)
While it’s hard to determine which holiday this inventive animation classic best serves, there’s no doubting the stop motion magic visible in every fabulous frame.
(Encore, 23 December, 12:15PM EST)
How else would you celebrate a Patrick Swayze Christmas, Mystery Science Theater 3000 style? Watch, or we’ll tear your throat out and kick you in the ear!
Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas
(The Disney Channel, 24 December 8:00PM EST)
Tying together three cartoon shorts – “Donald Duck: Stuck on Christmas”, “A Very Goofy Christmas” and “Mickey and Minnie’s the Gift of the Magi” – it’s a reminder that the House of Mouse can occasionally create something very special, when it wants to.