Three weeks and counting. Pressure is really on now. Family and friends you hoped would forget the annual card (and thus, requiring a reciprocal response) have actually sent you a gift this year, and you drew the boss as your "secret Santa" recipient. The kids have finally learned that not one but TWO new video game systems have hit the market, and have made your life a living Heck by demanding to own both. So while your stuck on eBay bidding away on overpriced technology, perhaps you can take a moment or two and experience the less than spectacular offerings on your favorite premium pay movie channel. Just don't expect a quartet of considered masterpieces and you'll be just fine. In fact, three of the four films presented are pretty pathetic – even the so-called smash starring a favored Daily Show dude. No, your best bet for some manner of retail relief this holiday maelstrom is a zippy zombie pic from some koala-loving fright fans. Like fake familial intimacy and gift certificates to stationary stores, nothing spells Christmas better than a living dead epic. And what if reanimated corpses don't float your Noel boat? Here's the other choices arriving the weekend of 9 December:
This may be going against the commonly held opinion of this so called ‘classic’, but SE&L just didn’t get this unrealistic look at a middle-aged man whose intact virtue supposedly makes him hilarious. All minor laughs aside, the biggest problem with the slightly surreal story is how unrealistic it is. Steve Carell lives like the ultimate dork (call him Pee Wee Herman with better career goals) and has more support than anyone lacking a sex life should. That he manages, through the typical series of setpiece sequences, to discover the reasons behind his rejection and finally find an outlet for his libido makes the story even more shallow. Basically, Virgin argues that individuality only works when karma carves out a soul mate for you – not necessarily the most apropos foundation for funny.
It's time to declare an obligatory moratorium on all these loathsome spoof films. Airplane! got it right. Top Secret took it to another level of laughs. And the Naked Gun movies made Leslie Nielsen commercially and cinematically relevant again. But ever since the Wayans worthless Scary Movie, the notion of directly ripping off current pop culture elements has lost all its invention. Instead, these motion picture crapshoots usually result in one or two laughs followed by long periods of shoulder shrugging obviousness. This version is no different, attempting takes on Meet the Parents, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and dozens of other routine rom coms. Under the auspices of Aaron Seltzer, a veteran of all the "X Movie" mediocrities, there is nothing new, novel or nice about this abysmally bad excuse for humor.
(Premieres Saturday 2 December, 10pm EST).
We here at SE&L actually liked this movie much better when it starred Richard Gere and was called An Officer and a Gentleman. Actually, we take that back – we weren't too hyped on that saccharine '80s romance either. In this version of the 'kid from the wrong side of the tracks' tale, the Naval Academy's boxing team becomes the refuge for a welder who dreams of a career in the military. Naturally, he overcomes all kinds of social prejudice and winds up in the big intramural fight competition. Talk about dull and derivative. Anyway, director Justin Lin, responsible for the excellent Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) seems a tad out of his element here, looking for the epic in a very insular environment. Sadly, he gets little help from his leads (James Franco and Donnie Walhberg). (Premieres Saturday 9 December, 9pm EST).
You know you're in trouble when the best film for a cold December weekend is an incredibly inventive zombie film from a couple of Down Under directors. Brothers Michael and Peter Spierig used Kiwi icon Peter Jackson (and his hilarious Bad Taste/Brain Dead films) as their inspiration and came up with a clever tale of a quaint fishing village overrun by meteorites – and eventually, ravenous flesh eaters. Thanks to some ingenious special effects and the unusual Australian locale, what could have been your typical cannibal corpse creepshow becomes an extraordinary combination of fear and funny business. Sure, some of the homemade CGI is sloppy, and a bigger budget would have meant a more meaty overall presentation, but nothing thwarts holiday tradition better than a few dozen buckets of blood. So forget the figgy pudding and feast on this grinchy gorefest. (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 8/9 December, an unsung minor masterpiece is featured:
In writer/director Leonard Kastle's creative zenith, Tony LoBianco and Shirley Stoler play a mismatched couple who use murder as a means of cementing their relationship. A cult classic that should be better known.
The 12 Films of Christmas
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 9 December are:
(ABC Family Channel, 10 December, 2:00PM EST)
Hated when it first hit movie screens two decades ago, Bill Murray shines in what is today considered an excellent deconstruction of the Charles Dickens classic.
(USA Network, 12 December, 9:00PM EST)
Jon Favreau's new family favorite features Will Ferrell as a human accidentally raised by Santa's helpers. His journey back to his roots makes for hilarious Yuletide fun.
A Christmas Story
(Turner Classic Movies, 15 December, 8:00PM EST)
And thus it begins – the endless repeating of Bob Clark's unusually cynical holiday gem. A flop upon its original release, now no Xmas would seem complete without it.