Thursday, September 01, 2005

Summer Re-runs: Bewitched, War of the Worlds, Herbie

Too late to talk much about these remakes other than to say that War of the Worlds is the only one really worth it. But, we knew that last year, didn't we?


* * (out of four)
Seen 24 June 2005 at AMC Fenway #13 (first-run)

Movies like Bewitched get critics riled up, because you only have to hear "a movie based upon an old sitcom" in order to start railing about how Hollywood has no creativity and is strip-mining pop culture rather than coming up with something new and so on. I think that's just prejudice against television as a medium; you don't hear that so much when a movie is an adaptation of a novel or a play. Besides, one doesn't need that attitude to find Bewitched to be a soul-deadening experience.

For some, just seeing the Ephron name in the credits is enough. The Ephron sisters aren't inherently bad writers, I don't think, but I wonder if they've lost touch with their audience. This is a movie that displays no familiarity with the world outside their own circle. Everyone, it seems, is either in the entertainment industry or a witch/warlock able to make the world do his or her bidding at the snap of a finger. Only one or two characters in the film seems like anybody to whom an audience member might have some sort of point of reference, and while it's not strictly necessary for the audience to identify with the characters, those characters should be much more interesting than they are. Of course, that may not be an immediately apparent problem in Hollywood - after all, I'm sure Nora & Delia Ephron can relate to arrogant actors, pushy agents, and put-upon personal assistants just fine.

Read the rest at HBS.

War of the Worlds

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 July 2005 at AMC Fenway #12 (first-run)

I was of two minds when I heard Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise were doing an adaptation of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds set in the present day. The first was excited, because there aren't many directors around as good at science fiction as Spielberg is, but the second was kind of cranky. Orson Welles and George Pal had each updated the story, and doing it as a period piece might have been an interesting, different angle. Or, why not use more modern source material (Niven & Pournelle's Footfall has been begging to be adapted for nearly two decades now)? But War of the Worlds is what they did, and they did it very well indeed, hitting only one or two false notes along the way.

The script by Josh Friedman and David Koepp tackles the story not from the perspective of those fighting the war, but instead of a family caught in its path. Ray Ferrier (Cruise) has custody of his kids for the weekend, but it's contentious: Teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) is openly hostile, while ten-year-old daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) is developing tastes and attitudes that don't quite mesh with Ray's working-class sensibilities. Everything's just starting to feel good and uncomfortable when a freakish lightning storm hits. When Ray goes to investigate, he and a crowd of onlookers find that the bolts have blasted a hole in the ground. A gigantic three-legged machine climbs outand starts vaporizing people, few of whom act as decisively - and sensibly - as Ray in running away. They decide to head from New York to Boston, because that's where the kids' mother (Miranda Otto) is, and, well, you've got to have a destination, even if it's really no safer than where you're leaving.

Read the rest at HBS.

Herbie: Fully Loaded

* * (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2005 at Arlington Capitol #5 (second-run)

I'm naturally inclined to like Herbie: Fully Loaded. I like most of the cast, some quite a bit, and the franchise itself is on my good side, even if I can't actually remember watching any of the movies except for the made-for-TV entry Peyton Reed did for The Wonderful World of Disney around eight years ago. I like that Angela Robinson and her screenwriters made a G-rated movie, rather than throwing in a swearword or something to bump the rating up a notch because looking too wholesome is uncommercial. But just because the audience may be inclined to like a movie doesn't mean the filmmakers shouldn't make some sort of effort.

The folks making Herbie don't make many false steps, but they also don't take many steps very far off the beaten path. Maggie Payton (Linsday Lohan) has just graduated from college and will be moving cross-country to start a job in New York in a few weeks. She's the first in her family to go to college, as the family business is racing cars - her grandfather was a legend, her father Ray (Michael Keaton) runs the team, and brother Ray Jr. (Breckin Meyer) is the team's driver, though not as good a driver as Maggie (who, of course, promised Ray she wouldn't race again after an accident in high school). When she finds Herbie at a junkyard, she's initially not impressed, but as we all know, the car has a mind of its own, and not only does Herbie love to race, he's also unable to resist nudging Maggie and Kevin (Justin Long), the mechanic she brings the car to for a tune-up (and a high-school friend), together. And, of course, there's a condescending rival driver (Matt Dillon) to contend with.

Read the rest at HBS.

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