Welcome to Hollywood.com’s Insomniac’s Guide to television, where we bring you our guide to strange, dark underbelly of television that is after-11 programming. So if you’re a night owl, or just want to set your TiVo, check out our recommendations for the week. But there’s no guarantee that these shows will look as good by the light of day.
Note: TV is recorded by the night, rather than date that it airs. For instance, if a show is on at 2 AM Tuesday morning, it will be listed as a Monday night show. All times EST.
Monday Night 6/28
Mobile Suit Gundam 00 - 12-1 AM on SyFy
Alright, I messed up a little bit with this one. The season technically started last week, so if you start tonight you will have missed the first two episodes. But it’s only two, and you’re not really watching this show for the plot, you’re watching it for the giant robot battles! And the series has that in abundance.
Tuesday Night 6/29
10 Ways to Kill Bin Laden- 12:01 on The History Channel
Ever sit around your house at night and wonder if there’s anything you could be doing to kill Osama Bin Ladin? If so, you may be Gary Faulkner, but if you lack the drive/crazy necessary to get yourself to Afghanistan with a 40-inch sword, you can just watch this show on the History Channel instead.
Wednesday Night 6/30
Heathers- 3 AM on IFC
Heathers is a cult classic, a clever, biting parody of those ubiquitous John Hughes high school movies. If you’re sick of the latest 80’s nostalgia trend, this film will remind you that people hated the 80’s in the 80’s too. Plus, it’s got Winona Ryder as the original Hipster Pixie Dream Girl, and some great quotable lines. I love my dead gay son!
Thursday Night 7/1
30 for 30: The 2 Escobars- 1:30 AM on ESPN
I’m not so much of a sports person, but ESPN’s special documentary series, 30 For 30 can even get me interested. This episode, The 2 Escobars, follows the intertwined fates of Pablo Escobar, the powerful drug lord, and Andres Escobar, the famous soccer player. If you know your history there won’t be any surprise endings, but it’s still such a skillfully told story you won’t want to miss it.
Friday Night 7/2
Blue Velvet- 2 AM on Turner Classic Movies
David Lynch is a rare filmmaker with the talent of actually capturing what it is to be in a dream. Blue Velvet may not be his most surreal film (if you want to see Eraserhead, it’s on IFC Sunday night), but it’s still deeply weird and deeply Lynch. I don’t think I’d like to fall asleep to a Lynch film, but I’m sure it would be very simple.
Saturday Night 7/3
Batman- 12 AM on Fox Movie Channel (FMC) and Batman- 12 AM on WGN America
Depending on your mood, interests, and level of inebriation, you can choose between two different Batman movies Tuesday night: the 1960’s campy, Bat-Shark-Repellent-using Batman on FMC; or the 1980’s Jack Nicholson, Tim Burton-back-when-he-was-vaguely-original Batman on WGN. Or you can flip between the two and deal with the mood whiplash. Either way, this is a great chance to get some Bats into your life, besides watching The Dark Knight for the thousandth time.
Bonus: Still need more of the Caped Crusader? Then check out Batman: The Animated Series on Sunday night to see ‘Heart Of Ice.” The episode, which introduces anti-villain Mr. Freeze, won the series an Emmy for “Outstanding Writing” and is a high point for the excellent animated series. Catch it Sunday night on Disney XD at 2:30 AM.
Sunday Night 7/4
Jaws: The Revenge- 1:45 AM on Encore
The shark from Jaws is back, and this time, it’s personal. No, really, that’s actually the tag line from Jaws: The Revenge, the fourth Jaws film, in which the shark decides to specifically target and torment the Brody family. Tune in to watch Michael Caine slum it up, and see the characters conveniently forget that sharks can be easily avoided by going inside or moving to non-coastal regions.
While driving on a moonlit canyon road Los Angelenos Ellie (Christina Ricci) and her teenage brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) are attacked by some kind of giant wolf. They escape with their lives but are somehow altered by the accident. Boy are they ever. The career-driven Ellie and scrawny Jimmy suddenly find themselves with super strength and dexterity an undeniable sexual allure to those around them and heighten senses. They can smell human blood--everywhere. Uh oh. Think it's time to get out the sterling silver and melt them down into bullets. Of course Ellie and Jimmy can't deny the changes happening to them and soon find out that their werewolf encounter wasn't necessarily all that random. Still they aren't too keen on feeling the effects as their bodies painfully morph into flesh-ripping werewolves. They decide they have to solve the mystery and break the curse before it completely consumes them. Oh c'mon what's a little curse among friends?
Just like the Scream series Cursed is at least bolstered by a young hip cast even if most of them are wasted. Eisenberg (Roger Dodger) has the most fun as the geeky teenager who sort of likes his newfound powers. With his hair all mussed up and sexy Jimmy goes from a nobody in high school and to a hot-ticket item. Apparently if you didn't know this the whole burgeoning werewolf-sexual-attraction thing revolves around changing your hairstyle. While Ellie lets hers down Ricci is unfortunately a bit stiff as the supposedly tempting soon-to-be she-wolf. It's as if the actress knows how weak the script is. Joshua Jackson (so charismatic as Pacey from TV's Dawson's Creek) too seems to be going through the motions as Ellie's mysterious new boyfriend with a deep secret (clue: his hair is perfect). Judy Greer (13 Going on 30) however nearly steals the show chewing up the scenery--literally and figuratively--as a snide public relations agent with a mean jealous streak.
Movies about werewolves on a whole are pretty damn cool. It's all about how the person gets "infected" and slowly transforms from human to werewolf. Of course there's the original classic The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney Jr. and then the contemporary ones including An American Werewolf in London and The Howling (we don't count the tepid Wolf). Even Underworld's look at the ongoing feud between werewolves and vampires is at the very least an original idea. So one would think an updated werewolf story would be right up the alley of horror master Wes Craven and his Scream partner Kevin Williamson. It's not. Cursed's main problem is the jejune and derivative script. Wannabe hipster Williamson who also created the terminally chic Dawson's Creek tries to infuse the film with his usual twisty aren't-I-great-at-writing-cool-teen-speak? style. But this time around it only falls flat. Craven makes up for it a little with well-placed scare tactics and slick special effects but Cursed can't quite measure up to its werewolf predecessors.
With its twisty-turning plot and military setting Basic could be the love child of an illicit affair between The Usual Suspects and The General's Daughter; it even borrows the star of the latter. In Basic John Travolta plays Tom Hardy a former Army Ranger and interrogator extraordinaire who's now a DEA agent in Panama suspended from duty on suspicion of bribery. He's hitting the rebellious law enforcement officer's requisite bottle of Jack Daniels heavily--until an old friend on the local army base Col. Bill Styles (Tim Daly) calls him in to investigate the disappearances and probable deaths of an elite group of trainees and their commander Sgt. Nathan West (Samuel L Jackson) during a training session in the Panamanian jungle. Staff investigator Lt. Julia Osbourne (Connie Nielsen) a plucky Southern gal who's none too pleased with Hardy's invasion of her turf is assigned to help Hardy question the unit's surviving members Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi) and Dunbar (Brian Van Holt). As their stories unfold over a series of flashbacks the interrogators discover a military underworld of drugs murder and coercion--and the mysterious existence of a rogue Ranger unit called "Section 8." Now for an interrogation of our own. Is the plot convoluted? Sir yes sir! Is it too tricky for its own good? Sir yes sir! Thank you soldier. You may stand down.
The trigger-finger pointing winking cluck-clucking "gotcha" persona Travolta (Swordfish Domestic Disturbance) creates in Hardy is as appropriate to the story as it can possibly be; the way he manipulates his subjects under interrogation is much the same way the story manipulates its audience. He leads them--and the observant Lt. Osbourne--to believe one thing then pulls the rug out from under them to prove the old cliché of military movies: that nothing is as it seems. In Nielsen's (The Hunted One Hour Photo) Osbourne we're given a character who could lead us through the jungle of the plot (she discovers the "facts" at the same time as the audience so her reaction is meant I suppose to be ours) but since Hardy spends much of his time making her look and feel like an idiot she comes off as one and frankly so do we. The talented Jackson (Changing Lanes) mostly does the bellowing drill sergeant bit while Ribisi (Heaven) as the homosexual son of a high-ranking general talks like he has cotton wool in his mouth and moves and twitches like he's mildly brain-impaired. (His character's not supposed to be; he only got shot in the leg.) One bright spot in this movie is the featured role for hunky Van Holt (Windtalkers Black Hawk Down) whose chiseled good looks and heroic demeanor make him a shoo-in should anyone ever make a live-action Johnny Bravo movie.
Director John McTiernan has given audiences some heavy-duty action in Die Hard Die Hard With a Vengeance and The Hunt for Red October but he's also the director who brought us such gems as Rollerball and Last Action Hero so it's not surprising that in Basic we get some action and intrigue paired with the out-there story stylings and narrative confusion of some of his less successful work. Here each flashback brings new information that conflicts with what we've been told before and the story never really resolves those conflicts in any satisfying way. The "big twist" at the end instead of bringing it all together creates gaping holes in the plot or at least creates so much doubt in the story we've just spent an hour and a half watching that it's easy to get fed up with trying to figure it out. Naturally no one likes to be spoon-fed plot resolutions but in order for twists to work they have to give the audience something to focus its doubt on--they can't just call the whole kit and caboodle into question. We have to be able eventually to figure it out. But hey maybe we aren't supposed to work out the details; after all this movie with its catchy one-word title and colorful cast of characters is just begging for a sequel: Basic 2: Explaining the First Movie.