How the Grinch Bored Movie-Goers
A Thanksgiving Round-Up of Reviews from THE SIXTH DAY to CHARLIE'S
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!
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
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
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.
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
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 <email@example.com>
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
and have a happy one. Cheers!