Studios have rolled out no less than 40 eXtravagant, eXtraordinary, eXcessive Xmas-season films this year, and every one of them misses the Messiah.
Perhaps the worst among the bunch is Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest, Jingle All the Way, in which Arnold competes for the affection of his family with a philandering neighbor (Phil Hartman) by seeking to purchase the one and only thing his child desires for Xmas: a Turbo Man action doll. This story slugs along through the first hour dragging Dad through agonizing troubles, including fist-to-fist contact with Santas, shoppers, and Sinbad, the over-the-top mailman. The second half picks up the pace but delivers the same dull-minded message that the Christmas holiday exists to glorify materialism and that toys and "quality time" constitute a child's foundation for life. Parents need to be aware of sexually suggestive and violent confrontations which push the limits of the PG rating this film received.
Assuming that audiences cannot get enough of maximum action, Walt Disney Pictures offered Thanksgiving weekend the heavily camp, live-action remake of 101 Dalmatians. The film broke all records for a Thanksgiving release; more jaded critics have praised the animals but panned the players. The storyline follows the familiar path of the animated version with satisfying personifications carried out by Jeff Daniels, Joely Richardson, and the politically incorrect and fiendish Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil ("I love the smell of near extinction!") Also like the original, the message delivers lots of warm fuzzies, but like the other cinematic offerings of the season that's about all.
Even though director Stephen Herek delivers a warm, approving look at traditional values, he takes his aesthetic cue from writer-producer John Hughes (Home Alone) and applies a cartoon sensibility to the performances of his real-world cast. Thus, when the quartet of villains begin their journey to the "doghouse," they encounter some cruelties and disconcerting images that sensitive children and adults may wish to avoid.
Going where nearly everyone has gone before, those who cannot get enough of creator Gene Roddenberry's vision of the humanistic future can dream on about "making it so" in the current release, Star Trek: First Contact. The trouble with an overexposed concept and cast is that the filmmakers need to add an extra quotient of excitement and exotic situations to justify a multi-million-dollar budget and to ensure good box office returns. The producers of this film did not spare a penny or a precious piece of celluloid in their exploration of the strangest--and scariest--of new worlds: the man-machine civilization of the Borgs. Even the MPAA Board has employed their "parents are strongly cautioned" label and audiences should take heed.
Captain Kirk and the original crew are history, so this story blasts off with the crew of the Next Generation: Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and all his familiar faces. The story employs the sure-fire elements of an invincible enemy, time travel, and a visit with poor, backward Earthlings of the 21st century.
Star Trek, like all science fiction, is a vehicle to deliver a philosophical message about the human condition. During the '60s and '70s, when Americans tended to believe in utopian social programs, the concept of an intergalactic Federation seemed charming and possible. Now that everyone has learned better the hard way, Picard's "profound" dialogue with 21st centurian Alfrie Woodard, in which he informs her that money is nonexistent and unnecessary in the future since people work solely to improve themselves, is a real comic counterpoint to the ugly war with the uglier Borg.
Those who say "lighten up" to Trekkie philosophers might enjoy Space Jam, the hottest thing in elementary schools this side of Power Rangers. Stuffing perennial favorite Bugs Bunny and cartoon crew into the same stocking as basketball star Michael Jordan and topping it off with the threat of alien conquest, Warner Brothers has plotted out a presentation sure to please many.
Parents might rightly suspect that both Space Jam and 101 Dalmatians really serve as promotional vehicles for the showcased paraphernalia: television series, books, videos, computer games, artwork, fast food , furniture, household appliances, quilts, calendars, clothing, shoes, luggage, amusement park rides, and (who would've thought?) toys!