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The End of "Days"

Plus Reader Comments!

An Aisle Seat Entry by Andy Dursin

TOY STORY 2, to nobody's surprise, dominated the weekend box-office while Arnold Schwarzenegger's END OF DAYS premiered to less than stellar financial receipts. Surprised? Perhaps, but with bad reviews and a market saturated with horror flicks, it could be that this disappointing demonic thriller came to theaters too little, too late.

A look at END OF DAYS follows below, along with some reader comments on SLEEPY HOLLOW and 007. Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving -- remember to send in your comments to dursina@att.net if you feel like writing an angry (or enlightened) email.

In Theaters

END OF DAYS (**): I could start this review about a dozen different ways, but let me first say to anyone out there who is looking for a serious, supernatural thriller, do anything except see END OF DAYS. Indeed, there may be more troubling subtext in TOY STORY 2 for all I know (I didn't get a chance to see it yet), but it isn't in this film.

On the other hand, if you are an aficionado of films so bad that they become unintentionally funny, you may do a lot worse than to feast on Thanksgiving leftovers like this "what where they THINKING?" overproduced spectacle, a most uncertain marriage of THE OMEN, THE EXORCIST and COMMANDO, with Arnold trying to valiantly take one for the team and single-handedly right the ship.

Needless to say, Schwarzenegger would have been better off staying in port, or at least pulling out before the script was re-written a dozen times. If nothing else, his appearances on everything from the UPN's wrestling program to ABC's daytime gal gabfest "The View" should have sent out an alarm to any movie- goer that END OF DAYS was going to be one of those hilarious bombs that will undoubtedly be talked about by Hollywood insiders for years to come.

The plot has Satan possessing the body of a Wall Street stockbroker (Gabriel Byrne, who figured to at least improve his genre standing here after last fall's STIGMATA) and coming to New York to impregnate a confused young woman (an equally confused performance by Robin Tunney) who has been unknowingly groomed to carry Satan's devilish offspring.

The catch is that he has until January 1st at Midnight to do his dirty deed, and standing in his way is security guard Arnold, still grieving over the loss of his wife and child. So upset is he, in fact, that he makes a breakfast of coffee and left-over pizza in the blender in what turns out to be just one of the movie's many humorous sequences (though it's one of the few intentional ones).

Arnold ends up guarding Byrne at the beginning of the film (though why and how we're never told; must have been left on the cutting room floor) and stops a priest from assassinating the poor chap in one of director Peter Hyams' badly edited action sequences.

If the demonic angle reminds you of THE EXORCIST, the religious angle and biblical prophecies in Andrew W. Marlowe's screenplay will almost certainly make you recall THE OMEN, with Rod Steiger as a good Catholic priest trying to stop a collection of renegade men of the cloth from killing the innocent Tunney, even though she's set to bear the Anti-Christ.

However, this is no ordinary supernatural thriller. Indeed, this is one of those ridiculous movies where Satan is able to blow up buildings, control a mob of converted zombies, and seduce a gaggle of young women, but ask him to simply track down Tunney's whereabouts and Arnold throws him out a 20 story window. If you don't define the rules in a supernatural thriller, you're clearly inviting trouble, which is exactly the trap that Marlowe and Hyams fall into and never climb out of.

In fact, when British character actress Miriam Margoyles (in the Billie Whitelaw part from THE OMEN) has as many super powers as Satan does, it stands to reason that there are going to be more chuckles than screams in the audience.

Turns out the fight between Margoyles and Arnold is just one of the many unintended giggles caused by the film. For sheer excess, the subway car chase with Arnold and Tunney running from Byrne was the biggest laugh I've had at the movies since SOUTH PARK: as sad as it is to say, you simply don't get to see Satan being blown apart in an exploding subway car these days. Throw in a burning Kevin Pollak and you have all the ingredients for a big slice of Thanksgiving movie turkey.

There are gaps in the story which defy logic, from disappearing supporting parts to "character development" moments which seem to have been cut down from pre-release editing (it's one of those movies where we're never told Arnold's character name, but Tunney starts referring to him as "Jericho" even though she hardly even knows him!). You'd think that Marlowe's script would discuss how Satan was prevented from carrying out his mission 1,000 years ago (this is like a regular, thousand-year event for the guy), or what happened to characters Steiger (who looks at one point like he's going to patch up Arnold and train him a la Burgess Meredith in ROCKY) and Udo Kier, but this clearly isn't a movie that will provide any answers.

Director Hyams came in and replaced an unknown German director a week into production, and his directorial take is at odds with the material as the disparity in the film's genres turns out to be. After sitting through END OF DAYS, one is left thinking that there had to have been a better way to combine supernatural terror with Schwarzenegger action. For instance, instead of having Gabriel Byrne playing the Devil, why not Jean Claude Van Damme as an ass-kicking emissary of Old Scratch? Why not turn the whole movie upside down, ditch the OMEN-like prophecies, and turn it into a genuine, "End of the Millennium" actionfest?

Certainly that would have worked better than this mismash, which also includes a silly special effects ending and a formulaic John Debney score that rips off James Newton Howard's THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE with its melancholic boy soprano. However, END OF DAYS certainly provides enough entertainment for those knowing what KIND of fun it provides, and in terms of big-studio bombs that fail to live up to expectations, at least it's a merrier mishap than WILD WILD WEST and a sure-fire camp classic for certain viewers in the years to come. (R, 120 mins., ** score by Debney; hey, where ARE all the songs that were supposed to be on the soundtrack?).


Aisle Seat Reader Bag: Disagreements, Agreements, and no Consensus Formed

>From Marc Harwood:

    Hey Andy,

    I'm in complete agreement with you about Sleepy Hollow. As a devout lover of the Hammer films I was overwelmed. This is pure gothic horror at its best. I will be posting my review of Danny Elfman's score on my web site: Cinema Concerto - http://members.aol.com/marcgothic for December. I hope you'll check it out.

>From Jeff Heise:

    It was with a great deal of amusement that I read your review of Tim Burton's latest cinematic opus, SLEEPY HOLLOW. While I agree with your view on Depp's performance (his best since SCISSORHANDS) and the look of the film, to call it Burton's best film is way off the mark-in fact, if it wasn't for the above mentioned pluses, I would rank it with MARS ATTACKS! as his worst film. I agree that the secondary characters are somewhat less than that, but I thought Ricci was wasted and had very little to do with her part. I could have done with less actual beheadings and more with suggested ones (do we really need to see all but one of the decapitations graphically shown?), although the disposal of one of the male characters (getting bisected by the horseman) was, thankfully, done in long-shot. I really could have done with less graphic close-ups of the headless bodies (one time would be enough) and the skewering of one head by the horseman as he acquires it could have been handled off-screen as far as I'm concerned. The entire plot mechanations of why the horseman is brought back approached MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE proportions, and I really would have liked a scene where Depp explains to his superiors in NYC the whole goings-on in Sleepy Hollow when he returns. As for the score, I consider it to be one of Elfman's most dreary-a lot of raging wind, bluster and nonsense. I do not recall one memorable theme or motif, and if I didn't recognize some of his trademark touches (the choir lifted from sections of SCISSORHANDS), I would have thought that this was either James Horner with the dt's or another classic from the composer of the score to ALIEN RESURRECTION (thankfully, I cannot remember his name). Up to this point, I had never heard a score from Elfman that I did not at least admire, but SLEEPY HOLLOW changes all that. I would give the film **1/2, and that is a stretch. Your review of the Bond film was right on the mark, although I did like John Cleese' addition to the cast, but God! I hate those elbow-in-the-ribs tag lines. I thought the ones in the Roger Moore films were bad, but this one. .

Jeff, I respectfully disagree with you about Elfman's score -- I thought it was one of his best, and thought it had several memorable motifs that have, at least for me, been missing from some of his more recent work. The main theme was quite lovely and there were several individual cues that I thought were terrific (like the carriage chase). It also makes for a terrific album, too.

For me, an Elfman score that I would consider to be dreary and unmemorable was THE FRIGHTENERS, which had no themes to speak of and was filled with bombastic fragments of thematic material -- but nothing for listeners to hang onto.

I do, however, completely agree with you about Bond, which several readers totally disagreed with me about. Here's one of them:

>From Brian Martell:

    I usually with you, and enjoy your reviews, and I'm on side with SLEEPY HOLLOW, but, man, you are out to lunch with the Bond review. Oh well, the exception proves the rule.

As a James Bond fan (I own all the films on laserdisc and/or DVD), I have been insulted with the Pierce Brosnan films, not so much because of Brosnan himself (I think he'd make a fine 007 with the right script), but because all three of his 007 flicks have had an obvious, action-oriented slant that has catered specifically to American audiences.

It's no surprise that GOLDENEYE, TOMORROW NEVER DIES, and THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH have performed so well in the United States: it's because the filmmakers have gone with a sub-Joel Silver approach, eschewing character development and focusing on silly action set pieces that lack the panache of a good Silver production, never mind a classic 007 film (has anything in these three films even come close to beating LETHAL WEAPON or DIE HARD?). GOLDENEYE had badly directed action scenes (like the tank chase in St.Petersburg), TOMORROW NEVER DIES had a few poorly edited set pieces (the motorcycle chase and the confusing climax in the submarine hanger), and WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH has several sequences that cannot compare in any regard to the original films.

If you're going to say that Bond is about more than action, you're absolutely, 100% right. But that's what the focus has been on in the Brosnan films: more explosions, louder music, more action. All of that, unfortunately, has come at the expense of good dialogue, atmosphere, and deliberate pacing -- that is to say, the distinctive MOOD of a Bond film. Sequences where Bond investigates shady doings by SPECTRE and meets supporting players that are peripheral and perhaps not integral to the story, but add to the depth and dimension of a James Bond film. Scenes that establish locations exotic, near and far, and give each Bond movie a distinctive setting (is anyone going to remember where THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is even set? Mention YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and you remember Japan. Say THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and you recall the Egyptian sequences. Think of WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH and...?)

It hasn't been there in any of the Brosnan pictures: they're like pale imitations of American action films that happen to star James Bond. But since they're making more money domestically than any of their predecessors, you can count on the current formula not changing an inch anytime soon.

>From Andy:

    Please can you help! I've just seen the trailer to a new movie "Mission to Mars" which is due for release in May 2000 and the music is driving me crazy!!! I have heard it before but just cannot remember what it is called or who the composer is....please put my mind to rest - any ideas?

I haven't seen the trailer, so I can't comment. Can anyone help?

By the way, the silliest trailer I've seen in recent months is for the long-delayed, re-shot MGM sci-fi thriller SUPERNOVA. Sporting Three Dog Night's "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)," the ad makes this sure-to-be-bomb look like it's as much a comedy as it as a supposed sci-fi thriller! (And poor Robin Tunney, she's in this one too). Alas, there was no credit listing so I don't know if Walter Hill's name remains attached as Director, or if Francis Ford Coppola will take an Executive Producer credit for his hand in re-cutting the film. Release date is January (no surprise there).

NEXT WEEK: The march of the DVD Mania continues, plus your comments! See you then and excelsior!


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