Film

Viewer Discretion Advised: 28 July, 2007

With August right around the corner, summer seems to be winding down the way it began – not with a solid cinematic scream, but a minor motion picture whimper. The premium pay cable channels have done little to alleviate the dull, depressing malaise, playing a hopelessly outdated hit and miss game of blockbuster vs. disaster week in and week out. Sure, those disconnected from the rest of the post-modern multimedia machine will be happy just to have said lackluster first run features filling up their coaxial line. But with so many outlets for potential entertainment in the amusement arena, continuing to champion garbage does little to elevate one’s aesthetic position. And it’s a shame. Once pay TV was seen as the hope for home theater enthusiasts. Now it’s a bastion of bad byproduct mixed with the occasional filmic find. The final weekend in July is a perfect example of this ideal. The choices for the 28th do a good job of mirroring the overall options – for good, and definitely for bad:

Premiere Pick

Jet Li’s Fearless

Marketed as action star Jet Li’s last “martial arts” movie, the promoters of this firebrand period piece were actually fibbing, if only a bit. Li has no intention of giving up the well choreographed fighting moves that made him an international superstar. No, this fascinating look at Chinese Master Huo Yuanjia, the founder and spiritual guru of the Jin Wu Sports Federation, will be the last ‘wushu’ effort the actor attempts. A subgenre of the standard kung fu category, this epic stands as a deeply personal and very powerful work by a man devoted to the subject’s teachings and philosophical perspective. Many have praised this film for its attention to detail, as well as its inclusion of as many different styles of human combat as possible. Thanks to the enigmatic efforts of Ronny Yu behind the camera, Li exemplifies the charisma and the athletic prowess that’s made him a legend. A must-see movie for fans of old school stunt work and pure visual opulence. (27 July, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices

Inside Man

Spike Lee proves he can make mainstream movies just like the rest of Hollywood, resulting in a career rebirth – at least from a commercial standpoint. Featuring excellent performances from Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, and Clive Owen, this is big budget, A-list thriller entertainment at its most fresh and ferocious. Along with his work on the amazing Katrina documentary When the Levees Broke, 2006 stands as a banner year for the enigmatic director. (27 July, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Covenant

Where do one time famous filmmakers go when their careers fade into obsolesce and/or oblivion? Apparently, the answer is the hack teen horror genre. This is where you’ll find Renny Harlin, the man behind Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight. It’s hard to sink much lower than a movie about male witches, but this occult OC finds the onetime action king treading tenuous waters at best. (27 July, Starz, 9PM EST)

Mad Hot Ballroom

Little kids learning a mature mannerism – a guaranteed documentary crowdpleaser. In this case, we have a program that teaches underprivileged urchins in the toughest sections of New York City the social and disciplinary benefits of professional dancing. Of course, it all ends up centering on a competition to see who’s best, but the journey is more enjoyable – and enlightening - than the final showdown. (27 July, ShowTOO, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick

Cry-Baby

After hitting critical – and commercial – paydirt with his ode to Baltimore circa the early ‘60s (the drop dead brilliant Hairspray), bad taste guru John Waters went back another decade to deliver this, a reimagined juvenile delinquency musical. With rising superstar Johnny Depp in tow, and a clever cast including Iggy Pop, Susan Tyrell, Rikki Lake, Patty Hearst, and notorious porn goddess Traci Lords, the devious director juxtaposed the bohemia brazenness of greaser chic with the uptight terrors of suburban conformity. Stylistic, electrifying, and filled with fabulous music, the film proved that Waters could work within the confines of Hollywood wholesomeness and still deliver an acerbic, witty satire. Now, like its pre-Peace generation counterpart, Broadway is adapting this stellar spoof for the stage. While it can never match the original, more money – and recognition – headed Waters way is an aesthetic plus, anyway you look at it. (31 July, Sundance Channel, 12:00AM EST)

Additional Choices

The Nomi Song

He was the most unusual figure floating around the edges of the New York post punk scene. Yet with his alien appearance and operatic vocals, Klaus Nomi was less a novelty and more an endearing eccentric. Part personal escape, part rock and roll performance art, his undeniable uniqueness meshed with a tragic personal trajectory makes for a monumental cinematic experience. (30 July, Sundance Channel, 10PM EST)

The Agronomist

Jonathan Demme’s career has always been filled with contradictions. For every serious Hollywood movie he makes – Beloved, Philadelphia, Silence of the Lambs – he steps outside the system to direct deeply personal, highly topical documentaries. In the case of this intriguing tale, the filmmaker explains the life and tragic times of Haitian radio personality and human rights activist Jean Dominique. Few knew of this man in his lifetime. After seeing this devastating movie, even less will forget him. (31 July, IFC, 7:25PM EST)

Quiet Cool

It’s amazing how time tempers even the most caustic opinions. Back in its day, this b-movie action film was considered an off title treat at best, a lame excuse for Tinsel Town thrills at worst. Fast forward twenty years, and it’s now a lost example of independent excellence. James Remar plays a cop who gets in too deep after agreeing to help an old flame. Not the greatest movie ever made, it’s still a fine example of genre experimentation. (01 August, IFC, 7:45PM EST)

Outsider Option

Dr. Phibes Rises Again

After the shocking success of the 1971 original, star Vincent Price was asked to reprise the title role, a heavily scarred surgeon who, in the first film, sought revenge on the doctors he felt contributed to his wife’s death. Now, with some ancient Egyptian scrolls in tow (and a bigger budget to work with) the sequel ups the camp factor and tones down the supposed terror. The story is basically the same – Phibes is again wronged and wants payback on those who’ve harmed him. But with its wildly imaginative sets and sense of outsized outrageousness, what could have been an ongoing supernatural series ends up exhausting all its ideas at once. Still, one can’t escape the endearing delights of Price in his twilight prime, an actor so filled with good natured gravitas that he could make even the most mediocre material come alive. He proves it here, elevating a routine redux into something quite special. (29, Drive-In Classics Canada, 10:15PM EST)

Additional Choices

A Bucket of Blood/The Terror

It’s a Roger Corman double feature as Dick Miller plays an artist who discovers the value of “life like” models, while Jack Nicholson gets creeped out at Boris Karloff’s eerie cliff side castle. Both movies are examples of the bottom line oriented producer at his most forward thinking and fun. And when you consider the talent he had both behind and in front of the camera, it’s clear why he’s a legitimate legend even today. (20 July, TCM Underground, 2AM EST)

The Idolmaker

The ‘50s fascination with the talentless teen idol remains a powerful backdrop for a major motion picture, and yet few have found the creative calling to venture into said Svengali-like territory. In his first major motion picture, Taylor Hackford used the life of rock promoter Bob Marucci as the premise for a gripping tale of stardom unearned, and dreams dashed. It remains one of the best explorations of the era’s exploitation ever captured. (02 August, Indieplex, 6:55PM EST)

Headspace

There’s a clear conundrum awaiting audiences of this unusual horror hybrid. The critical community has been very kind to this tale of a young man whose ever increasing mental capacities begin making his life a literal living hell (complete with demons). Fans who’ve found the film based on said reviews have declared it a useless piece of inappropriately praised junk. Guess audiences at home, intrigued by the premise, will have to decide for themselves. (02 August, The Movie Channel, 1:20AM EST)

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