Viewer Discretion Advised: 18 August, 2006

It’s fairly hit and miss this weekend at your favorite pay TV premium channels. Frankly, the fact that there’s anything decent during what is typically viewed as the graveyard shift of the television season is surprising. HBO has a horrible entry, a misfire by two usually gifted big screen performers, while Showtime is repeating Tyler Perry’s first filmed “gospel play”. Then again, Cinemax is premiering its exclusive run of the already aired comic book classic from 2005, centering on that infamous man who loved bat dancing, while Starz delivers a much maligned masterwork from Elf director Jon Favreau. Depending on your particular motion picture bent, it’s either feast of famine over the next few days. Our money is on the fanciful and the fantastic, versus the mediocre and the near-minstrel. Specifically, here’s what you have to look forward to:

HBOTwo for the Money

Bombs Away! It’s August, and yet Home Box Office insists upon serving us turkey. This lackluster gambling thriller from last year featured a decent Matthew McConaughey, a plaster peeling Pacino, and lots of shots of men staring at televised sports. Director D.J. Caruso, a somewhat successful TV helmer, had a minor hit with the Angelina Jolie serial killer film Taking Lives in 2004. This, apparently, gave him the clout to create a rambling, routine story of innocence, and wagers, lost. There is probably a good story about the sins of betting somewhere in this misguided mess. Maybe cable is the perfect place to try and find it. Good luck. (Premieres Saturday 19 August, 8:00pm EST).

PopMatters Review

CinemaxBatman Begins*

Though it’s already premiered on sister station HBO, there’s no time like the present to get acquainted – or for fans, reacquainted – with Christopher Nolan’s exceptional reimagining of the Dark Knight saga. Featuring near perfect casting (something that the just announced sequel seems to be already lacking) and a more psychologically dense interpretation of the Bat/Bruce character, what Tim Burton’s mid-’80s jumpstart promised, Nolan and Christian Bale definitely delivered. In fact, the former American Psycho might just be the best actor ever to take on the superhero challenge. While Spidey still holds the prize for overall comic creativity (thanks to a certain Mr. Raimi), this is one reborn franchise that definitely deserves to live on. (Premieres Saturday 19 August, 10:00pm EST)

PopMatters Review

Starz Zathura*

One of the most misunderstood and unjustly underrated films of last year, Zathura suffered from something called “The Jumanji Syndrome”. Both marketers and critics decided to buzzword this exceptional fantasy to death, making the connection between Jon Favreau’s fine sci-fi adventure and that long ago excuse for some post-Jurassic CGI more meaningful than it was. True, author Chris Van Allsburg was responsible for the books both were based on (he also write The Polar Express), but that’s where the similarities end. Jumanji was an over hyped Robin Williams vehicle with significant narrative flaws. Zathura, on the other hand, is a new classic. (Premieres Saturday 19 August, 9:00pm EST)

PopMatters Review

Showtime Too Diary of a Mad Black Woman

A lot of critics despise Tyler Perry and his “chitlin’ circuit” efforts, but this critic finds him a deeply compelling, occasionally inventive performer. While Diary doesn’t do his crazed comic character, the gun-toting, pot smoking out of control Grandma Mabel “Madea” Simmons justice (only the stage plays prove her amazing mantle), this racially specific dramedy deserves some respect for reaching out to a demographic not usually in tune with what Tinsel Town has to offer. If you take the entire experience with a huge grain of cinematic salt (yes, you saw right – that is a man playing an elderly woman) you’ll more than likely be able to find the meaning inside this mess. Besides, you have to admit it; Perry is pretty funny, sometimes. (Saturday 19 August, 7pm EST)

PopMatters Review

Turner Classic Movies: August: Summer Under the Stars Month

Leave it to the classic film channel to find novel ways of constantly recycling its catalog of amazing Tinsel Town artifacts. In August, the station will salute several celebrated names from Hollywood’s Golden Age upward, using each daylong promotion as an excuse to screen numerous offerings from the specific star’s catalog. A few of the highlights for the week of 19 August to 25 August are:

19 August – Audrey Hepburn

She was sophistication and urbanity in an era pushing for more realism and Method alienation. That this elegant lady survived to become an icon to both fashion and fame is a testament to her talent, and her radiant charms. Enjoy the following line-up of loveliness:

6:00 am Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)*

7:30 am Children’s Hour, The (1961)*

9:30 am Charade (1963)*

11:45 am Love In The Afternoon (1957)

2:00 pm Sabrina (1954)*

4:00 pm Always (1989)

6:00 pm Funny Face (1957)

8:00 pm My Fair Lady (1964)*

11:00 pm Nun’s Story, The (1959)

2:00 am Wait Until Dark (1967)*

4:00 am Green Mansions (1959)

22 August – Rita Hayworth

To many, she remains a mere pinup, a glamour gal whose far more remembered for being a part of every WWII GI’s barracks (and a certain Shawshank prisoner’s wall) than for any performance she ever gave. But this raven-haired honey made an impact on the silver screen, with a sexual potency prevalent in many of the following features:

6:00 am Rita (2003)*

7:00 am Renegade Ranger (1938)

8:30 am Susan And God (1940)

10:30 am Strawberry Blonde, The (1941)

12:30 pm Pal Joey (1957)*

2:30 pm Money Trap, The (1966)

4:30 pm Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

6:45 pm Music in My Heart (1940)*

8:00 pm Loves of Carmen, The (1948)*

10:00 pm Gilda (1946)*

12:00 am Lady From Shanghai, The (1948)*

1:30 am Rita (2003)

2:30 am Affectionately Yours (1941)

4:00 am Wrath Of God, The (1972)

25 August – Jimmy Stewart

He’s everyman and no one, a symbol of something beyond our concept of humanity and decency, and yet a performer so slippery he could play almost any kind of character and make it believable. Though the dearth of Hitckcock here is disturbing, the rest of this day’s celebration is sensational, including:

6:00 am After The Thin Man (1936)

8:00 am Of Human Hearts (1938)

9:45 am Shopworn Angel, The (1938)

11:15 am Shop Around The Corner, The (1940)*

1:00 pm Malaya (1949)

2:45 pm Far Country, The (1955)

4:30 pm Night Passage (1957)*

6:15 pm Naked Spur, The (1953)

8:00 pm Shenandoah (1965)*

10:00 pm Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)*

12:15 am Stratton Story, The (1949)

2:15 am Bell, Book and Candle (1959)*

4:15 am No Time For Comedy (1940)

* = PopMatters Picks