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Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour stands apart from more routine historical dramas.

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The Man Who Invented Christmas

Not particularly keen on nuance or subtlety, this is a film in which everything, especially Stevens’ decidedly manic take on Dickens, is pitched as broadly…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Tim and Eric Mediocre Movie, Great Job!

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"Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" is available for streaming/download on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Vudu and YouTube. In theaters March 2.

"Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" is a lot like "Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job!." They're both experimental video art posing as sketch comedy. In them you can see DNA from Ernie Kovacs, John Waters, the Kuchar brothers, Robert Downey, Sr., Tom Rubnitz, early Beck music videos, Damon Packard, Aqua Teen Hunger Force (and every other Adult Swim psychotic episode) and Harmony Korine, to name just a random few. But it's likely that actor-writer-directors Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim took inspiration from none of these freaks.

The duo's work seems to flow directly from three sources: Bad corporate promotional and instructional videos, absurd local TV programming and assaultive blockbuster films. Their collages of chopped-and-screwed sounds with spastic motion graphics and sloppy green screen don't seem much different (in effect, if not production values) from what's on cable any given Sunday. It's just that they put unattractive, demented-seeming people in front of the green screen instead of the usual telegenic emoters. They spout nonsense where platitudes and corporate messages usually go. When celebrities appear on the show, they flub and stutter like robot hologram versions of themselves. It's as if the show's editor was a spam bot.

Whether any of it is funny is almost beside the point. The creeping surrealism often takes away your ability to blink, especially, I suspect, when, like me, you have no history with the show.

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South Parkers speak out at last

Comedy Central is still just a little afraid of this...

... and this.

"South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have finally explained some of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that prevented their Tom Cruise/Scientology-ridiculing episode, "Trapped in the Closet" from repeating as scheduled, and why Comedy Central kept them from showing a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad in the most recent season ("Cartoon Wars, Part II"), even though they'd already shown Muhammad in a 2001 episode, "Super Best Friends."

CNN reports ("'South Park' guys still upset"): "So there are two things we can't do on Comedy Central: show Muhammad or Tom Cruise," Trey Parker said during the MTV Networks portion of the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour.

Parker and Matt Stone said they had no doubt that the "Trapped in the Closet" episode was yanked as a result of Cruise's starring this summer in "Mission: Impossible III," the movie from Paramount, Comedy Central's sister company. [...]

"We didn't do any press because we were just going to get in a pissing war with Tom Cruise, and we didn't want to be in the same article as that guy," he said. "But we picked the wrong guy to parody because we're going to be asked about Tom for the next two years."

They added that they have not been contacted by Scientology representatives but did sit down the week after the episode aired with a "very upset" Isaac Hayes, a Scientologist who portrayed the character of Chef. Hayes has since exited the show.

"We didn't want to be hypocrites," Parker said. "We thought it could piss Isaac off, but we had to do it for that very reason" of not being labeled hypocrites. [So, it looks like Roger Friedman was full of crap.]

Regarding the decision not to air the image of Muhammad during the "Cartoon Wars" episode, the pair said it was a corporate decision that could become a slippery slope if other groups begin making threats and affecting content. They also noted that Muhammad seems to be off limits, while it is "open season" on Jesus, who happens to be a "South Park" character. (Depictions of Muhammad are strictly prohibited in Islam.)

Comedy Central president Doug Herzog admitted, "It's tough, but I think I would say we did overreact. ... Matt and Trey enjoy a fair amount of creative freedom. History might show that we overreacted, and we will live with that."

He added that the image probably will not be shown on the DVD version either, but "I look forward to the day when we can uncover it."

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Free at last, free at last? Thank Xenu Almighty!

Don't forget to set your TiVo, Tom.

I just love a Xenu joke. But, seriously, this just in from reader Ali Nagib: I just noticed on my TiVo that it claims that Comedy Central will air "Trapped in the Closet" on July 19, in their usual "new" episode timeslot, at 10 and 12 PM Eastern. Go, Freedom! (I think)Great news, Ali! I went to Comedy Central's web site and it confirms your TiVo. The episode is scheduled for the 19th (immediately following "Casa Bonita," another great one), with a repeat the next day. Will Viacom and Comedy Central have the intestinal fortitude to follow through this time? Or will they cave again at the last minute and whisk the Emmy-nominated episode back into the Comedy Closet, along with Tom Cruise, John Travolta and R. Kelly? We shall see, we shall see... Meanwhile, set your TiVos!

UPDATE (07/12/06):Check out this story at E!Online, "Airwaves Again Safe for 'South Park' Scientology Spoof": "If they hadn't put this episode back on the air, we'd have had serious issues, and we wouldn't be doing anything else with them," cocreator Matt Stone tells Variety....

While Comedy Central failed to publicly disclose its reasons for yanking the program (which is also credited for leading Scientologist Isaac Hayes to jump ship as the longtime voice of Chef), creators Stone and Trey Parker didn't shy away from broadcasting what they claimed was the network-sanctioned reason.

As the conspiracy theory goes, the Cruise's camp had a hand in deep-sixing the episode, with the litigious actor reportedly threatening threatened to pull out of promotional duties for "Mission: Impossible III." (Viacom is the parent company for both Comedy Central and Paramount, the studio that was releasing Cruise's film.)

Cruise's reps vehemently denied such allegations, but the "South Park" brain trust stuck by its guns.

"I only know what we were told, that people involved with 'M:I:III' wanted the episode off the air and that is why Comedy Central had to do it," Stone says in Variety. "I don't know why else it would have been pulled."

Now, Cruise's saturation-level publicity tour is over (and proved fairly ineffective, with the sequel grossing a disappointing $133 million domestically) and he is apparently in hiding with his new baby. Have the evildoers been vanquished? Here's hoping...

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Re: Saddam's penis

Satan bunks with Saddam.

At The Hot Blog, David Poland has somehow gotten ahold of an obscenely funny memo from "South Park"'s Matt Stone, sent to the MPAA Ratings Board during negotiations over the rating for 1999's "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut." (WARNING: Explicit language -- as if you couldn't have anticipated that.) Stone even misspells "Sadaam." Ah, those were such innocent times. It ends with one of the great kiss-offs in Hollywood studio correspondence history: "P.S. This is my favorite memo ever." One of mine, too.

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"Trapped in the Closet" screened in UK

Ani-Tom throws his hands up in the air.

The infamous, mysteriously suppressed "South Park" episode that poked fun at Scientology and Tom Cruise (sacrilege!) still hasn't been shown on TV in the UK -- but the prestigious National Film Theatre in London hosted a free, big-screen presentation of "Trapped in the Closet" Monday. The screening was in connection with a Stanley Kubrick Masterclass conducted by "South Park" auteurs Trey Parker and Matt Stone. According to a wire service item that ran in the New York Post and in many other outlets: Tom Cruise has lost his fight to stop an episode of South Park mocking his Scientology beliefs being shown in the UK....

Organizers were thrilled the actor failed in his attempts to stop the free screening, which accompanied a talk given by creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, insisting it was a display of free speech.

A spokesman said, "If we were charging there may have been legal problems, but it was a free event, so it should be fine." Free DVDs of the episode were given out after the screening. (BTW, this is Day 65 of "South Park" Held Hostage in America, for those of you who, like me, are keeping a Freedom Vigil. Keep that Mr. Hankey burning in the window... for Freedom.) I wonder: If Oliver Stone can get away with showing a 20-minute promo reel for his "World Trade Center" at the Cannes Film Festival this year, why didn't the festival offer the 20-something-minute "Trapped in the Closet" to those poor Europeans who haven't been able to see it? Bet that high-definition cut paper animation would look great at the Lumiere.... (tip: Andrew Sullivan)

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Politics, celebs and movie critics

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"You should learn to keep your opinions OUT of your reviews!" Every critic I know has received at least one letter like that from an indignant reader. Of course, it's an absurd proposition; critics are paid to express their opinions, and the good ones (who exercise what is known across all disciplines as "critical thinking") are also able to cite examples and employ sound reasoning to build an argument, showing you how and why they reached their verdict.

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