10-28-97: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Gattaca

This Week at the Movies

The Aisle Seat by Andy Dursin

Ed’s note: This is the latest installment in Andy Dursin’s section of the FSM site. Our webmaster is away this week, so it won’t be added to the “Aisle Seat” area until next week. Enjoy!

Richard Gere heads to China for more tricks than treats in Jon Avnet’s RED CORNER, which hopefully will be a nail-biting thriller all around. More conventional fare can be found in the Dennis Quaid-Danny Glover “why do we need another serial killer movie” SWITCHBACK, which has the disadvantage of having bad word-of-mouth written all over its early test screening reviews. The industry types in Hollywood are most likely less concerned with the performance of these two films than they are in readying the release schedule of the “Holiday Season” pictures, which begin to roll out early this year with STARSHIP TROOPERS primed for November 7th.

*THIS WEEK ON TV (all times EST)

Halloween usually brings about some genuine curios on the ol’ tele, and this year is no exception. Specials abound all over the place this week, from IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN on Halloween night at 8pm, to A&E’s Biography of Boris Karloff, airing opposite the CBS staple.

Naturally, since Sweeps start up in November, the frights do not end there. NBC has Universal TV’s HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN 1997, which airs Sunday and Monday nights (11/2-3, 9pm). Anyone who watched an inning of the World Series or one “Must-See TV” program knows all about this plastic-looking rehash of the old Universal movie monsters, brought into the modern day for the first time without Abbott & Costello. Greg Cannom’s make-up is supposedly very good, though, so it can’t be all bad–and if it is, at least we’ll get some unintentional comedic mileage out of it.

Others might want to switch over to Fox, where THE X-FILES long-awaited season premiere is finally broadcast for all to see (11/2, 9pm). Hey, guess what? Agent Mulder didn’t die! Not much of a surprise revelation there, since the X-FILES feature film will be in theaters everywhere next summer, wrapping up the major plot threads of this new season. (Is it me, or did this program really begin to exhaust its monsters/aliens of the week quotient after its second season? No offense to its fans, but unless Mulder and Scully hook up romantically, or we really find out what’s behind the government conspiracy paranoia, it’s starting to look like KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, without Darren McGavin, of course.)


I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (*): And I certainly know what motivation Kevin Williamson (writer of SCREAM) had in mind when writing this dreary slasher movie–mainly, cashing one big fat paycheck for authoring a trite piece of genre trash. Whereas SCREAM at least had a sense of humor and knowingly challenged cliches of the old FRIDAY THE 13TH/HALLOWEEN school of masked killer movies, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER parades out all the ancient stand-bys (horrific deaths, red herrings, twist endings) without once injecting any sense of intelligence, much less style, into the storytelling. Director Jim Gillespie telegraphs every scare and would-be shock ahead of time, and paces this movie as if the whole threadbare production was filmed in slow-motion; there’s not one surprise or even remotely interesting twist to be found anywhere, and it takes FOREVER to reach the 90 minute mark. You know you’re in trouble when Sarah Michelle Gellar’s hair getting chopped off is the most terrifying aspect of the story–while the ending is a groaner that rivals (and perhaps surpasses) the last scene of another recent genre disaster, EVENT HORIZON, for its sheer stupidity. Gellar, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Bridgette Wilson are all wasted, subsequently, in cardboard roles that make the characters in HALLOWEEN appear like real people by comparison; their male counterparts are equally ambivalent, so much so that we could give a damn about their getting knocked off by a killer who resembles Captain Gorton. John Debney’s mostly-subdued but thoroughly routine score seems to mock PSYCHO (what doesn’t?) at the end, and you know you’re in trouble when it ends up doing a more serviceable job than the filmmakers in attempting to resurrect a genre that lay cinematically dormant by the early ’80s. May it Rest in Peace once again, please. [R]

GATTACA (***1/2): Now, here’s a change: a science-fiction movie with actual characters on-screen, and more than a few ideas in its head. Writer-director Andrew Niccol has fashioned a thoroughly compelling, richly textured story of a “not too distant” future where DNA dictates the eventual outcomes of our lives. As much an allegory for the direction our own society seems to be headed in as it is a semi-futuristic sci-fi film, GATTACA stars Ethan Hawke as a young man “genetically challenged” to achieve greatness in his life, here symbolized by participating in a manned spaceflight into the heavens above. Hawke switches places with a crippled man with “superior” DNA, and begins to live his life with supposedly more gifted individuals in a technological workplace called Gattaca. The movie is lesiurely paced, allowing for its characters to fully develop and their situations/relationships with one another to become fully engrossing; Niccol thankfully never goes overboard in his portrayal of an “Orwellian lite” future (we never know what exactly will happen to Hawke if he gets caught for impersonating a “valid” citizen), while a murder subplot is thrown in to try and throw us off from focusing on the main plot at hand. Hawke is superb here, leading a solid cast consisting of Uma Thurman, Loren Dean, Alan Arkin, and especially Jude Law, who’s tremendous as the physically handicapped “valid” inspired by Hawke’s dream. The movie also greatly benefits from a shockingly warm, humanistic score from Michael Nyman, who here abandons the surface-level artifice of his earlier, redundantly “arty” scores and provides a layer of emotion that only exists deep within the souls of some–definitely not all–of the workers in Gattaca. Strongly recommended, particularly for anyone dissatislfied with the “all effects, no plot” tone of most recent genre films (and we all know what those are). [PG-13]