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How the Grinch Bored Movie-Goers

A Thanksgiving Round-Up of Reviews from THE SIXTH DAY to CHARLIE'S ANGELS

Plus: Mail Bag!

By Andy Dursin

As I sit here enjoying the first-ever CD appearance of Goldsmith's TWILIGHT ZONE- THE MOVIE on my stereo (which, along with a reissue of UNDER FIRE -- another great Jerry score from '83 -- have arrived as affordably-priced $20 German imports from Intrada), I think it's time to give thanks to the world of cinema as Thanksgiving looms in the U.S. just a few days from now. Alas, if only we had so much to be thankful for at the multiplex these days, as the reviews below primarily attest. Have a happy turkey day, everyone!


In Theaters

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (*1/2 of four): Or, How the Studios Made Another Overproduced, Overhyped Holiday Fantasy Spectacle.

This effects-filled, lavish production is long on visual extravagance but almost completely devoid of any imagination -- problems that can be directly attributed to director Ron Howard, who tries to be Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg but only ends up as a Grinch for movie-goers.

An incredibly tedious excuse for Jim Carrey to prance around doing shtick, this GRINCH is indeed just that -- a piece of Thanksgiving turkey even more excessive and pointless than past cinematic holiday blunders.

An adaptation of Dr. Seuss's classic only in passing (meaning only the first five minutes and the last 20 have anything to do with the book or Chuck Jones's beloved cartoon adaptation), Carrey's Grinch is the main problem here -- attired in make-up by Rick Baker that makes the actor barely recognizable (a smart move after you pay him $20 million, no doubt), Carrey seems ill at ease as he turns the Grinch from scheming menace into a character closer suited to being one of Adam Sandler's big-screen brethren.

With a constant belching and an annoying accent that's often hard to hear, Carrey's performance is far from his best, and he's not helped by a tepid script credited to Peter Seaman and Jeffrey Price that wanders far afield from Seuss, into a half-hearted "new age" commentary on commercialism that seems especially out- of-place given the movie's non-stop merchandizing off-screen.

Of course, it could be that Carrey -- who denounced his performance and the movie in a well-publicized rant last summer that he's since taken back (only because the studio PR machine made him, one assumes) -- didn't get much help from Howard, who strikes out completely in his third fantasy outing.

Couldn't Howard have watched the dailies and seen that the film wasn't working? The juvenile comedic shenanigans seem like sub-"Beetlejuice" and didn't even have kids -- much less adults -- in stitches at the screening I attended last week. Carrey simply isn't funny, but working with lame material and unfunny jokes tends to do that to a performer. I'm guessing that Carrey had faith in Howard that this material would be shaped in such a manner that it would work, but the end result is every bit as bland and boring as it seemed from the trailers.

Nothing in the film's plot, supporting cast, or production design engages the heart or the mind, leaving only what's left from the Dr. Seuss story that works -- a spirited ending, fine narration by Anthony Hopkins, and an enduring message that the movie fails to support through its own linking material. James Horner's score is lovely, and while I enjoyed moppet Taylor Momsen's low-key performance as Cindy Lou, there isn't much left to recommend here. And whenever a film's best gag is a slow-motion spoof of "Chariots of Fire" -- a film that was released two decades ago (and was first satirized 17 years ago in "Mr. Mom") -- you know you're in trouble.

The inevitably big box-office returns notwithstanding, it doesn't take a Grinch to realize what a disappointment this bloated "event" movie is on every level. (PG, 95 mins)

THE SIXTH DAY (***): Now here's a surprise: Arnold's best movie in several years is a crackerjack, crowd-pleasing sci-fi thriller well-directed by Roger Spottiswoode ("Under Fire," "Tomorrow Never Dies") with, believe it or not, a good script and action to spare.

In the near future, human cloning is outlawed but that doesn't stop a greedy billionaire (Tony Goldwyn) from dabbling in science to a Frankenstein-kind of degree. A mix-up during a terrorist attack ends up having gizmo-mogul and family man Arnold replicated, but Schwarzenegger himself isn't happy when he gets home to find out Arnold #2 is enjoying his birthday cake.

Diving into the mystery surrounding Goldwyn's medical industry, Arnold finds out that sending in the clones is one of their most consistent activities, even though the firm's chief medical practitioner (Robert Duvall) tries to use some form of ethics while running off another copy of someone's DNA.

Of course, it all ends with effects and action, but there's a fair amount of wit in the screenplay and Spottiswoode handles the vehicle accentuating the goofy and yet possibly realistic future settings (involving replication for your favorite pets and juvenile "sim" friends for your kids) while having fun with the usual Arnold shoot 'em up.

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that Arnold and his clone will be tag-teaming at some point, but it IS good fun when it happens, and the movie's engaging premise and quick pace should keep viewers interested. Along with some choice Arnold one-liners, THE SIXTH DAY offers a solid package of entertainment undeserving of being designated as "just another Schwarzenegger clone." (PG-13)

CHARLIE'S ANGELS (**1/2): Still burning up the box-office, this uneven but generally entertaining vehicle for stars Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu is bright and energetic fun, despite its flaws.

A cross between a broad, "Austin Powers" kind of spoof with well-choreographed action set-pieces inspired by "The Matrix," this revamp of the '70s TV hit features three bright young women fighting crime at a detective agency overseen by the legendary Charlie (the voice of John Forsythe), who of course, never appears on camera. Lending an able assist to the girls' activities is Bill Murray, who provides plenty of comedic spark when the movie threatens to run out of gas at various points.

The material includes bizarre comic set pieces (such as Diaz's appearance on "Soul Train") that don't really click, but to the movie's credit, it keeps moving and moving, faring better during its action scenes. Menace is provided by a gaggle of high-tech thieves including Crispin Glover, who fares well in one of his first studio performances in a long while.

So, too, does most of the film, which uses an upbeat mix of songs and an engaging score by Ed Shearmur that incorporates portions of the original theme song. Already a bona-fide success at the box-office, there's room for improvement with the inevitable sequel, but at least there's sufficient entertainment in this first installment that makes these ANGELS worth viewing. (PG-13)

BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 (1/2 *): A putrid follow-up that crashed and burned its way to a box-office performance Artisan must have been scared to death of, this is a shoddy studio "horror" movie in place of an intentionally shoddy ersatz-documentary one.

Director Joe Berlinger's mind-bogglingly awful, plodding, boring and far-from-scary sequel finds a group of completely unappealing characters (played appropriately enough by uncharismatic, bland actors) heading out to the Maryland woods where they end up losing several hours of their lives. Turns out that their videotaped footage exposes scenes of rowdy, drunken behavior, perhaps spurred on by a presence in the woods that truly exists.

Filled with "hip" references to the internet, eBay, and self-aware comments on its predecessor, BLAIR WITCH 2 is usurped only by "The Astronaut's Wife" as the single worst movie of the last two years. It's time that we buried the witch where she belongs -- in the cinematic graveyeard of awful, awful horror movies. (R, 90 mins)


Aisle Seat Mail Bag: Reader Comments on Recent Andy-isms

From ADoughty1@aol.com:

    As Warner Bros. seems to have made good on their promise to go wide with The Exorcist, I got a chance to see it with--yes, a hushed and attentive audience--this past Friday. Big-time spoilers follow...

    I caught myself working to like the alterations; that's not a good sign. The "digital overlays" seemed nothing more than needless distraction, particularly in the instances where the Iraqi imagery and demonic icons were wallpapered over Regan's bedroom walls. The influence and abstract relationship between the events with Father Merrin in Iraq were already more hauntingly delivered a couple of times in the original cut; the first, in Regan's hobby sculpture. The second, most notable instance during the Exorcism sequence, when the silhouette of the statue from the introductory scene seems to appear behind the possessed Regan (an image now rendered redundant). Those particular digital insertions struck me as the editorial sledgehammering of a connection that was already made, and made more subtly, craftily, in Friedkin's original version.

    As for the demonic flashes in range hoods and such, The Exorcist was never John Carpenter's Halloween‹ a film which "played to the audience" with its fleeting Michael Myers appearances, and when The Exorcist employs those techniques, it marks a move away from from the kind of subtle, documentary-style realism--which was the key to the original's power--toward more aggressive stylization (this doesn't apply to the demonic flash in Karras' dream, or during the exorcism sequence).

    The addition of new music in some scenes also suggests that Friedkin is now disinclined to let his film speak for itself; all the music in the original cut was of a "neutral" variety, used largely to punctuate the terrors with dissonance and offer faint murmurings of eeriness, but I found the new, surging, "sinister" cues to comment more directly on the "nature" of events, and that flies in the face of the sort of chilly, Kubrick-ian objectivity of the original. The Exorcist has always worked without that kind of prompting in the past. Granted, the music is very subtle, and it attests to how finely tuned the original cut was. As for the theological discussion on the staircase, it's pointless. Silence was golden there and the allegoral impact of the original was diminished.

    Thematically, the original Exorcist could have been about many things, though the more expressly religious reading to the nature of events of the new version cramps slightly the metaphorical broadness--which also seemed ready-made for more secular takes like "goodness versus the ills of the world"--of reading the '73 release invited. For my money, I prefer the downbeat close, though the new postscript didn't grate on me half as much as I expected it to.

    The one case where Friedkin seemed to be leaning toward a personal reading or take--a decidedly pessimistic one--on the film was during Father Dyer's anguished, aggrieved look down that infamous staircase where Karras rolled to his death. Blatty's placing the events in the McNeil house into a broader, life-goes-on context isn't exactly a slap-in-the-face caliber affront, but less was more. The original cut left it up to the audience whether or not they wanted to dust themselves off immediately--going "back to work" as Kinderman said--or to sit there and be haunted a while longer by what they'd seen.

    That said, this slightly contemporized version is still a must on the big screen. Seeing it Large and In Charge and brought up to sonic standards of the day has the effect of erasing time; it allowed me to get a sense that--in some way--I was participating in The Exorcist phenomenon back in '73, when it caused a cultural sensation. I found myself feeling it was hard to accept Linda Blair as a forty-something. Something tells me she'll always be that twelve or thirteen year old girl in the minds of the public, and after seeing The Exorcist at the multiplex, you'd almost swear she is.

    Any word on whether Warner Bros. will include both cuts of the film in their dvd edition of "The Version You've Never Seen"? Also, I didn't quite get a read on that final, digital insertion which appeared over the window Karras threw himself through, though I expect it was designed to prevent the widespread misreading of the climax that greeted the film during its initial release, that the demon had hurled Karras out the window, rather than it being Karras' own, saintly act of self-sacrifice...did you happen to catch that particular image?

I did, and I agree with how you interpreted that last sequence. Obviously die-hard EXORCIST fans didn't like the new version, but I have to admit that most of the changes worked for me, and like you, I loved being able to see the movie on the big-screen.

As far as the DVD goes, it's due out in the U.S. on December 26th with some new interviews (I presume Friedkin, Blatty, etc.) but that's it. The original "Special Edition" DVD will still be in circulation, and that way the original cut will be preserved with all of the extensive supplements included in that presentation.


From Sean Zikman <seanzik@total.net>

    I agree with you on most of your comments, and I too loved The Patriot. The DVD is outstanding, although I could not make it through the director's audio commentary. Emmerich's lack of command of English is, in my view, insulting. The repetitive "like" and "kinda" just ruined it for me, and I believe that he should have been better prepared to add a more articulate insight to the behind-the-scenes of what was indeed a powerful and beautifully-mounted epic.


From Ckprokofiev@aol.com:

    Hey Andy,

    I just wanted to respond to a couple of things you said in your DVD summer round-up. First, I found the X-Men film quite enjoyable even with the obvious flaws which seem to increase as the film progresses. The first act actually is quite well put together especially with the character interaction between Rogue and Wolverine. I respect Singer for trying to do what Superman did in the '70's- make a comic book film that endeavers to treat its characters seriously and with dignity. I think there is a generous amount of character development in the film... but it is limited to the two aforementioned characters. Yes, the picture is waaay too short. The ending feels like a lead-in to the REAL climax which never transpires. And Kamen's score begins well but eventually breaks down into series of unrelated music events.

    The Patriot on the other hand has a decent enough score, but it accompanies a film which I think is so terribly derivative that it hurts. I found the treatment of major tragic scenes dull and flat, and even Gibson came off as mildly unaffected. The writing for the villain was also sub-par since they made the guy so archetypal and evil that nothing Gibson can do to the guy can make the viewer feel like he got what was coming to him. Also, the major battle scenes weren't in the same league as Glory. It had that "seen it before" feel to it. And I couldn't get over the Last of the Mohicans influences (at least that film has a great payback scene between Russell Means and Wes Studi). Even Williams doesn't come off sounding as great as he normally does. His "patriotic" theme seems to be a cross between Amistad and Jurassic Park. I do find his quasi-atonal elegaic string writing quite compelling though. The scene after Gibson frees his son from the English brigade where he's just carving some corpse up because of his anger over Thomas' death is nicely handled both musically and cinematically. Sadly, there are few other compelling scenes that are carried off as well in the film. I just don't think they ought to let Emmerich and Devlin near a camera. Again, this is my opinion only.


From Bill Williams (BWillNCC1701E@webtv.net):

    I completely agree with you on the "Airplane" DVD review, it's one of the funniest films ever! Only someone who knows and understands all of the sight and sound gags will fully appreciate the film all the more. And that line "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley" is still so deadpan funny after 20 years! lol :)

    Onto a different note, though... when you mentioned in your column yesterday how you planned to review a number of older films just released on DVD, there was one classic film I'd hoped you would do a review for -- the new DVD of the Christopher Reeve-Jane Seymour classic "Somewhere in Time". This is one film that is worthy of a new remastered version, as it is the first time it is in widescreen format in any version of the release, and it also has a good commentary by Jeannot Szwarc on the making of the film, a documentary on the film, and a look at INSITE (the official "Somewhere in Time" fan club). After 20 years there's still something magical about this film which keeps people coming back to want to see it. I hope that you'll be able to do a review of this film. It's the first film from Chris' early career to be released in a newly remastered DVD format (the other big career-making one, of course, hopefully coming in spring 2001), and I know I'll be getting it for my DVD collection.:)

Bill, I'd love to do a review of the movie but Universal hasn't sent us a review copy yet. I've heard the transfer is unfortunately the same as the one on Universal's letterboxed DVD from last year, which is a disappointment, but I'm still looking forward to the documentary.


NEXT TIMEŠUNBREAKABLE, plus G.I. JOE hits DVD! Send all comments to dursina@att.net and have a happy one. Cheers!


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