HBO (Sat, Dec. 10, 8 p.m. ET)
This is sort of a second-cousin sequel to HBO's 1991 movie Cast a Deadly Spell, which was a savory parfait of mystic fantasy and hard-boiled detective yarn, a shadow world where shaman meets shamus, where warlock meets Sherlock.
Though we've nudged up the clock a little to the 1950s, we're back in a Hollywood where magic is commonplace. There's still one guy in town who "works clean." That's private eye H. Phillip Lovecraft, who does things the old-fashioned way without spells and incantations. Now he's played by Dennis Hopper (replacing Fred Ward).
Lovecraft is hired by a glamorous starlet (Penelope Ann Miller) to follow her movie-mogul husband just before he meets a most unnatural end. There's also a sizable bi-plot about a demagogic senator (Eric Bogosian) who is conducting an anti-magic crusade in Los Angeles. Bogosian's Unnatural Activities Committee threatens the witch (Sheryl Lee Ralph) who is Lovecraft's office mate with a burning at the stake.
Despite a certain smugness in the script and in Hopper's acting, this is an enchanting movie with great special effects. Alan Rosenberg, Valerie Mahaffey and Julian Sands costar.
The Family Channel (Sat, Dec. 10, 8 p.m. ET)
In the mid-1950s, a widow (Jill Eikenberry) who has known only a stuffy, affluent existence makes a second marriage to a dashing lecturer-prospector (Art Hindle) and moves to the wilds of Alaska with him and her 10-year-old son. The boy is taken under the blustery wing of Hindle's crotchety native partner (Graham Greene), but Mom is having a little trouble adjusting to the wilderness lifestyle. And that's when things are going good.
Before you can say "Dangerous Dan," Eikenberry is badly injured, pregnant and alone, trying to survive a brutal winter. By the time she is restored to her family, she has had the baby and undergone a profound change of spirit. This blandly wholesome movie was filmed in New Zealand.
A&E (Sun., Dec. 11, 8 p.m. ET)
Chivalry isn't dead, at least during this two-hour documentary that recounts the refulgent age of the knights-errant. It is an era that began with the Norman victory over the English in the battle of Hastings in 1066, when the Normans' use of mounted soldiers charging with lances won the day, and ended with the development of firearms in the 16th century. (They could make a suit of armor thick enough to withstand a bullet, but you wouldn't want to try to walk around in it.)
In between, the film explores life within the castle, the career of William Marshal (1146-1219), "the best knight who ever lived," the Arthurian legend, heraldry, courtly love, the Crusades and other topics. This talky history employs dramatic re-creations, period art and some incredible collections of armor, particularly the one in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Is there a more romantic epoch in history? Surely you joust.
CBS (Sun., Dec. 11, 9 p.m. ET)
Mario Thomas and Peter Strauss star in this clunky, distressing movie based on Linda Grey Sexton's novel Points of Light.
The film sets out as a tedious melodrama, with Tomas and Strauss as farm parents just trying to keep the wolf from the door, After some contrived foreshadowing, they lose their young son to a simple domestic accident.
Now we move to the supernatural (and equally tedious) portion of our program. Grief-swamped and guilt-racked, Thomas is haunted by the lost boy. He even sits at the easel with her and helps her paint. (Ghosts are apparently partial to the color blue.) Meanwhile, Strauss and his mom (Frances Sternhagen) understandably come to think Marlo is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. It takes an escalating series of near tragedies to snap Thomas out of her possessed state.
This movie obviously aspires to be inspirational, which makes its morbid focus all the more appalling. Also reprehensible is the film's attempt to gratuitously milk some easy Christmas sentiment with a tacked-on "happy" ending. Add in poor acting and an insufferably sluggish pace, and you have all the makings of a...
>TUBE: Dennis Hopper takes over the role of H.P. Lovecraft in Witch Hunt; Jill Eikenberry plays a spoiled city woman roughing it in Alaska in Rugged Gold
SCREEN: Jodie Foster fails to make sense in Nell; Red provides a charming end to a film trilogy; Cobb is engaging, though perhaps not what you expected
SONG: Pearl Jam rules again; Vanessa Williams
enjoys her Sweetest Days yet; Mariah Carey
, Elvis and John Anderson kick off Christmas
PAGES: Martha Stewart tells how to party; Reege and Kathy Lee share recipes; Alan Jackson and Emmylou Harris dish up eats from their country kitchens in PEOPLE'S cookbook roundup
>THE BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY
PAUL REISER SERVES AS USHER TO The Honeymooners' First Christmas (Wed., Dec. 7, 10 p.m. ET) on the Disney Channel. A performance that aired live on The Cavalcade of Stars program on Dec. 21, 1951, this is the first extended sketch featuring TV's Kramdens. Most of the familiar actors are in place—Jackie Gleason, Art Carney and Joyce Randolph—but Alice is played by Pert Kelton. (Audrey Meadows would assume the role the following year.) It's a busy Christmas Eve in the Kramdens' railroad flat in Brooklyn, with visits from a juggler, a Dixieland band and others. Early on, Ralph gets sent out for potato salad, paving the way for Gleason to quick-change his way in and out of the apartment into many of the popular characters he developed during his tenure on this variety hour of the DuMont network, including Fenwick Babbitt, Joe the Bartender, the Poor Soul and Reginald Van Gleason III. This is a holiday feast from the late Great One.
IF YOU'RE ANYTHING LIKE ME, YOU DEPEND on TV to navigate through the week the way sailors once used the stars. But it's becoming clear that my interior TV clock is rather inflexible. Here it is almost Christmas, and I still get discombobulated every Tuesday when I turn on the set to see Home Improvement. My brain can read the TV listings, but every cell in my body still screams out, "Hey, what's the big idea? We want Roseanne!" Set the VCR? I can't even reprogram myself.