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Why the long face? Parker in Sex and the City.

A False Sense of Entitlement

By Laura Leon

Sex and the City

Directed by Michael Patrick King

 

I come from a long line of clothes horses, people (not just women) for whom retail therapy is a viable alternative to drinking, whose shattered nerves can be restored to calm within the hallowed confines of, say, Bergdorf Goodman or Tiffany’s. Old movies, which featured glorious women such as Kay Francis and Joan Crawford wearing Orry-Kelly and Adrian, were like manna from heaven to a little girl like me, and Audrey Hepburn, pirouetting for the camera holding aloft red silk Givenchy, in Funny Face, was nothing short of the glamour perfecta. So when Sex and the City came out, I figured that this would be another in a long line of eye-candy films to provide valuable styling tools. After all, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) were as much about the pursuit of labels, of that latest and most darling pair of Manohlos, as they were about anything else. Or were they?

Judging from the blockbuster big-screen version, which lasts a stultifying two-and-a-half hours, the beloved heroines are really more about loving themselves, preferably beautifully couture’d and coiffed, than anything else. There’s a moment, obviously meant to convey a sense of empowerment to all the young ladies in attendance, when Samantha dumps a lover with the words “I love you, but I love me more.” Eww. Not since those really bad quasi-feminist movies of the ’70s (An Unmarried Woman, anyone?) has such pap been presented as something akin to Shakespeare.

This Sex and the City, which is helmed by series director Michael Patrick King, lacks the snap and vigor of the best episodes. Even the eminently likeable Sarah Jessica Parker can’t salvage this wreck, appearing listless and uncertain. Worse, the city itself, a huge presence in the beloved small-box show, is nearly nonexistent, an almost anonymous backdrop (except for obvious icons like the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Bridge) to four women with time on their hands.

I realize that the gazillions of fans of Sex and the City won’t care what critics say, or, if they do, will cry foul that anybody would attempt to find meaning in what is essentially shopping voyeurism. But the retail outings that take place in this Sex lack the sense of enjoyment, the thrill of the find, the satisfaction that comes with being handed a tissue-lined bag of goodies from a fave emporium. Only when Carrie’s new assistant Louise (a vibrant Jennifer Hudson) enthuses about renting designer bags, or a gift of her very first Louis Vuitton, do we get any of that; never from the four leads. The movie instead seems intent on bringing conflict into their lives, so Miranda has a marital crisis (as well as a career and a child that, bummer, impede her ability to jet off to Mexico with the girls), Samantha misses the joys of sex with anonymous partners, Charlotte shits in her pants, and Carrie, having finally finagled Mr. Big (Christopher Noth, breathing much needed testosterone into the proceedings) to the altar, has a moment of pure girl mortification when he—OK, we all know it by now—jilts her and her Vivienne Westwood gown at the altar. Carrie’s getting her groove back feels like hours to the viewer. The romance, of shopping or of being in love, is just not there.

Instead, we get endless scenes of the girls sitting around having lunch or, more likely, cocktails, and talking about sex. Besides poor Charlotte’s bathroom accident, there is a terribly unfunny bit about Miranda’s bushy bush, and too many close-ups of poor Samantha devouring food like Ron Jeremy’s you-know-what, at which point I felt completely bamboozled.

Is this the best we can get? I get wish fulfillment and mindless fantasizing, but Sex and the City completely depressed me. I have wonderful, beautiful girlfriends whom I would love to be able to spend more time with, either shopping or eating or drinking or whatever Carrie and her friends do, but our real lives keep getting in the way, so that quick e-mails and chats during soccer games are often all we get in the way of relationships. Then, too, there’s the money factor—none of us can spend wads of cash quite like Carrie or Samantha. Oh, yeah, and the perfect mate, such as the oddly sexless Harry (Evan Handler), who finds wife Charlotte’s foibles just so, well, adorable, or the equally sexless Steve (David Eigenberg), who doesn’t mind Miranda’s untrimmed, er, qualities, or, of course, Big, who, in lieu of an engagement diamond, gives Carrie that which I’d kill for—a ginormous closet. This Sex, with its vulgarity and emptiness, heaps on image upon image upon image of unattainable luxury, including (and especially) time, and instead of making me go “ooh!” and “aah!” like such representations did in, say, Funny Face, it pushed me into a morass of anger and frustration. Not exactly the entertainment I was hoping for—or that I often got with the TV series.


Evil Commie vs. all-American hero: (l-r) Blanchett and Ford in Indiana Jones.

Not Quite Old Hat

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Directed by Steven Spielberg

The fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series is more fun than it has any right to be. In fact, at times it even brings back some of the magic of the original film—when by all rights, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull should have been a disaster.

George Lucas, a real-life King Midas-in-reverse, hasn’t had a good idea since Raiders of the Lost Ark. And for the first part of the movie, Steven Spielberg seems not really that into it. Maybe there’s too much baggage in this part, too much looking back; Indy (Harrison Ford) staring at pictures of his dad (Sean Connery) and former boss (the late Denholm Elliott) is awkward. Then again, the film’s attempts to engage with ’50s America—it’s set in 1957—are a dismal mess.

Indy No. 4 comes to life, however, when our hero lands in Peru. Summoned by a pesky, obnoxious teen (Shia LaBeouf) to save an old colleague (John Hurt doing his lovable, familiar crazy-coot shtick), Jones encounters his old love Marion (Karen Allen) and his new enemy, Russian Commie villain Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). The film is on solid ground, so to speak, as Indy and pals sink into quicksand and crawl through caves and decipher ancient pictograms to, first, find the crystal skull referred to in the title, and then return it to a lost city in the middle of the Amazon.

The plot is some nonsense about the Commies wanting to master the psychic powers of the skull to rule the world. It’s lovely nonsense, and Blanchett is wonderful as “Stalin’s fair-haired girl.” She spits out her lines with Russian-accented comic-book panache, and is constantly striking poses evocative of a heroine in a Soviet propaganda poster. And Karen Allen is terrific, too—why did they wait so long to bring her back? (Yes, I’m still holding a grudge from when they dumped her from the series in favor of the untalented future Mrs. Spielberg, Kate Capshaw.)

The ending is both elegant and profoundly stupid. This is, I guess, a compliment.

Just one thing: Who is Shia LaBeouf? Will someone explain to me why Spielberg thinks the kid is such hot shit? If Lucas and Spielberg think they can turn the franchise over to him—as is hinted in the final scenes—they’re crazier than those Commies who thought they could master the mystical powers of the crystal skull.

—Shawn Stone

Still Shocking

By Shawn Stone

Holocaust (CBS/Paramount)

It was one of the most successful and controversial TV events of the 1970s, but the miniseries Holocaust is now largely forgotten, eclipsed by Schindler’s List and the numerous TV movies and specials that followed over the last 30 years. This is a pity because, despite its flaws, it remains a powerful overview of the scope and horror of what the Nazis (and Lithuanians, Poles and assorted fellow travelers) did to the Jews of Europe. It also has superb performances by the likes of Rosemary Harris, Fritz Weaver, (a very young-looking) James Woods, Meryl Streep, Sam Wanamaker, Tom Bell (downright eerie as Adolf Eichmann), David Warner and Michael Moriarty.

Unfortunately, this DVD edition is an embarrassment. The fact that there are no extras isn’t a surprise; the folks at CBS and Paramount are famous for putting out cheap editions of programs and movies that deserve better treatment. But the problems go way beyond that. The image quality is poor. The sound is often muddy. And there’s a note, in tiny tiny print on the case: “May be edited from its original network version.”

What? They don’t know? A little snooping around the Internet reveals that as much as 25 minutes may be missing, and a hat tip to the Akron (Ohio) Beacon-Journal is in order.

This is the way you treat a program that, in its day, was second only to Alex Haley’s Roots in its impact on American viewers? That, when shown in West Germany, prompted the legislature to end the statute of limitations on Nazi war crimes? As I said, the studio should be ashamed.

The subtitle of the miniseries is “The Story of the Family Weiss.” It begins in 1935, with the wedding of artist Karl Weiss (Woods), son of doctor and Mrs. Weiss (Weaver and Harris), to non-Jewish Inga Helms (Streep). Over the course of 5 episodes (it was originally shown as four episodes on NBC in 1978), we follow the various members of the extended Weiss family as they are displaced and, ultimately, destroyed by the Germans. Against them, we are shown the rise of slick lawyer Erik Dorf (Moriarty) through the ranks of the SS; Moriarty is chilling, as Dorf enjoys his family’s growing prosperity while personally supervising genocide.

Does the show try to cover too much ground? You bet. There’s an entire subplot about partisans in Eastern Europe that could have been dropped (save for the luminous performance by Tovah Feldshuh as a shopkeeper-turned-fighter). And does it strain credulity that one family could witness and/or experience all the major horrors of the Holocaust, from Babi Yar to the Warsaw ghetto to Auschwitz? Yes. But that’s part of the burden of being “first”: There’s so much to cover, and who knows what should have been left out?

The fact that the story centered on an upper-middle-class family of assimilated Jews earned Holocaust its share of complaints: Why such a small segment of Jewish life and culture? The answer was pretty obvious, even at the at the time. A mass medium—which network TV inarguably was in 1978—will never zero in on stories that are “too ethnic.” (That was one of the good, if depressing, jokes in the comedy For Your Consideration, as we watch the indie film-within-the-film changed from Home for Purim to Home for Thanksgiving.) The plot was criticized for piling on too much melodrama; even Elie Weiesel slagged the show.

Time has been kinder. Holocaust remains compelling—and, to this viewer, a better way into the Holocaust than Schindler’s List. After all, as others have pointed out, not a single major character the audience identifies with dies in Steven Spielberg’s film. Author Gerald Green’s Weiss family is not so fortunate.


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