[28 December 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
One more day. One more 24 hour time period. A few cocktails, a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” and, before you know it, the new year will finally be here. It all sounds so dignified, and back when people actually anticipated the turn of another 365 days, this holiday was treated with a kind of tacit respect. Sure, there was still a lot of partying and partaking of alcohol, but suit and tie, not shorts and a beefy T, were the apparel of choice. Nowadays, the transition between 31 December and 1 January is seen as a time for drunken foolishness, projectile vomiting, and a nauseating hangover accented by way too much college football. It’s an intoxicated testament to how the next 12 months will probably play out. Even more disconcerting, several new traditions have built up around this annual liquor lift. Some shoot of fireworks, failing to remember that the black powder explosives are supposed to represent the rockets red glare of our national anthem come 4 July. Similarly, some regions see individuals pointing pistols at the sky and ripping off a few rounds before the booze bites them back toward some manner of reality. So in preparation for all this aggravating anarchy, a couple of hours in front of the boob tube may be the perfect pre-Eve anesthetic. The choices for the weekend of 30 December are typically hit or miss, but a couple may just provide the entertainment comforts you crave:
HBO – The Family Stone
One of last year’s under the radar delights, former fashion executive Thomas Bezucha deconstructs the knotty connections between kinfolk with this fresh, occasionally formulaic comedy. Sarah Jessica Parker is the uptight, Type-A personality who finds herself awash in the title clan’s free-spirited spontaneity. Dermot Mulroney is her boyfriend, and the prodigal Stone. They return to the family home for the holidays, and all kinds of comic and caustic situations arise. Along the way, Bezucha gives us a deaf gay son, Diane Keaton as a meddling mother who finds her eldest’s choice of companion unworthy of her favorite child, and the arrival of Parker’s sister, played by Claire Danes, as a catalyst for some last act circumstantial secrets. While there is much more drama here than humor, and the Stone’s can come across as a little self-involved and arrogant, Bezucha keeps the revelations and the reactions honest. It makes for a heady holiday treat. (Premieres Saturday 30 December, 8PM EST).
Cinemax – Rumor Has It
In reality, this is not a bad idea for a movie – a young woman, curious about her past, discovers that her family may actually be the inspiration for one of the ‘60s most famous works – in this case, the novel and film known as The Graduate. Unfortunately, first time filmmaker (and screenwriter) Ted Griffin was yanked from the director’s chair when fading superstar Kevin Costner found him wanting. In stepped the equally evaporating Rob Reiner, and together a motion picture disaster was fashioned. Perhaps it was placing Jennifer “Only Ready for Prime Time” Aniston in the lead, an actress of limited, if not downright singular cinematic qualities. Maybe it was the notion of nutty Shirley MacLaine taking point for the far more ‘potent’ Anne Bancroft. Or it could be the film’s fractured tone. At any given moment it can be a comedy, an earnest drama, or a cyclical pop culture pit. In any case, no amount of “plastics” could contain this film’s formidable flopsweat. (Premieres Saturday 30 December, 10pm EST).
Starz – The Matador
Pierce Brosnan is a high-minded if burnt out hitman (he considers himself in the business of ‘facilitating fatalities’). Greg Kinnear is a down on his luck salesman who can’t seem to catch a break. The two meet in a Mexican bar, and eventually buddy up for a series of deliciously dark comic coincidences. Previously known for his unusual takes on the thriller genre, writer/director Richard Shepard uses Brosnan’s inherent undercover allure, along with Kinnear’s hound dog demeanor, to create an unforgettable pair of baser level leads. The interaction between the performers is priceless, and the narrative, which seems like a simple post-modern crime spoof, ends up being a poignant look at two morally bankrupt buffoons. Praised by many critics as one of the year’s (2005) best films, Starz serves up this effort as its last Saturday premiere of 2006. It is a film definitely worth checking out. (Premieres Saturday 30 December, 9pm EST).
Showtime – Coach Carter
Someone once said that certain actors could read their grocery lists and we would still find them to be compelling onscreen presences. Whoever conceived of that unusual insight obviously had Samuel L. Jackson in mind. Capable of carrying himself with dignity and discipline in even the wackiest of circumstances (Formula 51, xXx and its silly sequel), this amazing performer provides the gritty realism that brightens even the most ridiculous premise. Case in point – Coach Carter. Based on a real life individual famous for benching his entire basketball team for poor academic performance, Jackson jump starts what is a standard sports story, giving weight to what is essentially an after school special level narrative. Under the dizzying, jump-cut chaotic director of Save the Last Dance‘s Thomas Carter, this MTV production wants to promote the value of education over entitlement. Sadly, a Jackson-starring PSA would have probably made the point more effectively. (Saturday 30 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 29/30 December, it’s back to Vincent’s “Price”-less oeuvre for more macabre fun:
The last in what many consider to be a roundabout dark comedy revenge series for the actor (after the Phibes films and Theater of Blood), Price is again an actor who may or may not be a psychotic killer.
The Last Man on Earth
As the Earth slowly dies from a post-apocalyptic plague, Price is the only human left. Sadly, his survival skills now must include combating wave after wave of bloodthirsty, vampire-like zombies.
A new year signals a new approach for SE&L‘s weekly venture into deciphering the best that pay television has to offer – at least film wise. Going back to basics, each week, Independent Eye will focus on the films featured on two of cable’s more esoteric movie channels – IFC and Sundance. The top three picks (when available) for each will be discussed, hopefully enlightening you on the cinematic possibilities that exist beyond the standard blockbusters and off title releases. For the last weekend of 2006/first week of 2007, the filmic focus finds:
IFC: The Independent Film Channel
31 December 9PM EST – Shallow Grave
For his first feature film, Trainspotting‘s Danny Boyle mixed Hitchcock with delicious dark comedy to tell a tale of flatmates, a fatality, and a suitcase full of cash.
1 January 9PM EST – Garden State
Scrubs’ Zach Braff got a chance to prove his talents behind the camera, writing and directing this autobiographical take on maturation and memories.
4 January 11PM EST – The Sweet Hereafter
Atom Egoyan’s masterpiece about a tragic bus accident is more than just a drama about loss – it’s a telling take on how anger paralyzes and poisons us.
The Sundance Channel
1 January 12AM EST – H
Many claim this is the South Korean version of Silence of the Lambs, with just a little Se7en tossed in for good measure. This means it’s either derivative or delightful.