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Films of the week: Holiday movies abound

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent   |   Dec. 20, 2001 at 11:51 AM
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- 1. "The Majestic"

You could make a case that "The Majestic" is sweet, sentimental, and relaxed. Be my guest. Me, I'm voting for cloying, sappy, and sloooow. If it was shorter, it would have been painless, but at 2-½- hours long, "The Majestic" gave me too much dead time to think about its many flaws.

Apparently presuming that shared first names means shared talents, director Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption") tries to channel Frank Capra, while Jim Carrey plays Jimmie Stewart in a drama intended to remind us of the Capra-Stewart classics "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "It's a Wonderful Life."

Unfortunately, Carrey does not exactly possess Stewart's naturalness. Carrey's reactions are always slightly off, even here, where he tries to hide them by being almost inert. Memo to Academy voters: Please give Carrey the Oscar so he'll go back to being funny.

Similarly, Darabont's direction lacks Capra's basic virtues of energy and entertainment. Nor does he have a clue what themes Capra looked for in a script.

Michael Sloan's screenplay offers a greatest hits collection of Hollywood hokum, old and new, from amnesia to the Blacklist. Set in 1954, Carrey is a superficial, apolitical screenwriter subpoenaed by a red-hunting Congressional panel because eight years before he once attended a left-wing meeting to impress some UCLA girl.

Fired by the studio, he aimlessly drives north, falls off a bridge, conks his head, loses his memory, and is mistakenly assumed by the salt-of-the-earth citizenry of little Lawson, Calif., to be their long lost war-hero. Settling into his new role as Martin Landau's son, he brings hope back to the small town by refurbishing the Majestic movie theatre. After all, as the movie industry has been pointing out for the last couple of decades, that's what real life is all about: movies!

Then, he gets his memory back, the FBI tracks him down, and he is ordered to fink on other Commies. Of course, he being a 1954 Hollywood screenwriter and this being a 2001 Hollywood movie, he doesn't know any communists. What could be sillier than the idea of a communist screenwriter?

So, inspired by the McCarthy-hating liberalism of small town America in the 1950s, he makes a "Mr. Smith" style speech that shames the evil (presumably Republican) anti-communist politicians. The usual standing ovations ensue.

Capraesque? First, Capra didn't make movies about movies. That's a modern form of navel-gazing.

Second, Capra's sentimental endings are so moving because the rest of his pictures are so cynical. In "It's A Wonderful Life," Stewart finds small town life petty and confining. The angel shows that if he had left to enjoy himself in the big city, Bedford Falls would have been a real dump.

Third, Capra and Stewart were Republicans. Stewart even served America through the first 23 years of the Cold War as a general in the Air Force Reserve. Making a movie about how there weren't any communists to speak of among Hollywood screenwriters would have struck them as absurd. After all, their writer on "Mr. Smith," Sydney Buchman, was a card-carrying Communist at the time.

American culture is still paying the price of the Hollywood Red Hunts, and not just because they blacklisted so many leftists with a weakness for totalitarianism. The subsequent anti-anti-communist backlash in the 1960s then drove underground most of the entertainment world's Republicans.

In 1939, two Republicans and a Stalinist could make a political classic. Today, acceptable opinion in Hollywood runs basically from Eleanor Roosevelt Democrats like Barbara Streisand on the left all the way over to Harry Truman Democrats like Tom Hanks on the right.

Rated PG.

2. "Lord of the Rings"

A century ago, fueled by Richard Wagner's operas, Northern European mythology was world-conquering in high culture. Then Germany literally tried to conquer the world. Following Hitler's Gotterdammerung, Teutonic themes slowly disappeared from prestige culture.

Yet, these time-tested Northern myths still appeal to shy and obsessive young men. So, they pop up in the cultural hinterlands: comic books, heavy metal, computer gaming, and, most of all, in J.R.R. Tolkien's extraordinary "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Director Peter Jackson strips away Tolkien's proto-hippie side and delivers a brutal sword and sorcery action epic. It works as a paranoid allegory about how Northern European man was so often tempted to use his mastery of technology for conquest.

The film is getting deserved raves; so let me simply issue a few warnings for balance. "Rings" is definitely not for everybody. It's far too intense and violent for children. For adults, especially women, three hours of battles mixed with complex exposition can make for a grueling experience.

Rated PG-13. There's nothing vulgar, but parents should take this rating seriously.

3. Jimmy Neutron

The vivid and lively computer-animated "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" is probably a wiser choice for your boys under age 11 or so than the harsh and nightmare-inducing "Lord of the Rings."

Unlike the computer gurus who have overrun movies lately, Jimmy is a mechanical genius in the grand old Tom Swift tradition, always figuring out how to strap rocket boosters to everything laying around the house.

Little girls will like it too, if they don't mind seeing a girl playing second banana once again.

Nothing memorable, but competent fun.

Rated G.

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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