While all the world watches CNN and ponders the serious concerns that affect each of us during wartime, the diversions of entertainment nonetheless roll on.
Eight new movies opened in local theaters Friday - there are now 45 different films playing in Salt Lake City - and the Sundance Film Festival began its 85-film run in Park City the same day.Given the incredible number of choices this gives moviegoers during the coming week, it was somewhat surprising to be asked Friday by a reality-weary soul if there was something light out there that could take her mind off things for a couple of hours - a comedy, perhaps. Yet I can understand how it might seem that just about every one of these films is very serious indeed and her query probably reflects the feelings of quite a few of us right now.
Do we really want to see Japanese-Americans interned in stateside camps during World War II in "Come See the Paradise"? Or overzealous Navy pilots illegally bombing Hanoi near the end of the Vietnam War in "Flight of the Intruder"?
Or the dark seriousness of "Hamlet," "The Godfather, Part III" or "Not Without My Daughter" - the latter especially because of its anti-Iranian stance. And maybe even the weird violence of "Eve of Destruction" and "Warlock" seem uncomfortable when they're competing for our attention with violence in the Middle East on all TV and radio networks.
While it's true that most of the current choices - and certainly most of the festival films - are somewhat somber in tone, there are some lighter distractions to be found.
In local theaters there's "Green Card," the delightful romantic comedy with French actor Gerard Depardieu; Tim Burton's visual feast "Edward Scissorhands"; and at the Cinema in Your Face! Theater downtown, "Festival of Animation," an international collection of animated shorts - most of them very funny. "Awakenings" is certainly a serious movie, but it does inject quite a bit of humor along the way. And in the dollar houses, "Arachnophobia" and "Back to the Future, Part III" might provide brief relief from any clouds hanging over us.
Or maybe you'd just rather go see "Home Alone" again.
On the other hand, movie fans may be hesitant about venturing up to Park City for fear that all those independent films so rooted in reality are not what they're in the mood for. After all, there are dramas about suicide, deceit and family violence and documentaries about AIDS, Nazis and environmental destruction - and that's just among the 31 competition films.
But the Sundance Film Festival offers what some might consider a surprising array of lighter films sprinkled among the more brooding efforts:
- "Hangin' With the Homeboys," about one night of partying by a group of post-high school buddies.
- "A Little Stiff," a comedy of unrequited love between a film student and an artist in college.
- "Legends," a documentary about celebrity impersonators, primarily a trio doing Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland for a popu-lar nightclub show.
- "The Thief of Bagdad," the Baghdad connection not withstanding, is a delightful 1940 color epic complete with a genie, flying carpets and plenty of swashbuckling action.
- "Popeye," Robin Williams' first lead role and a film that is an underrated delight, with Shelley Duvall in the role she was born to play - Olive Oyl.
- "The History of Character Animation 1930-1990," an overview of theatrical cartoons, with two packages provided by Disney and MGM, respectively.
- "Truly, Deeply, Madly," a romance between a melancholy woman and her late lover, who reappears into her life as a ghost. (Now there's a unique concept.)
- "Waltz in Old Havana," a Spanish-language comedy about a family arranging a girl's 15th birthday party behind the back of the father, who would rather use the money to buy a new TV.
OK, out of 85 films that may not seem like much on the lighter side. But every little bit helps.
- THE FRIDAY NIGHT premiere film at the festival was "The Grifters," with star John Cusack and director Stephen Frears in attendance. Anjelica Huston co-stars in the darkly comic tale of con artists.
Cusack is a regular festival visitor, ever since his film "Tapeheads" had its world premiere in Park City a couple of years ago. And last year I embarrassed myself by misspelling his name in stories as "Cusak" - not once, but twice.
I don't feel so bad anymore, though. Not since noticing that the festival film guide spelled Anjelica Huston's name as "Angelica."
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Griffin Dunne, co-producer of "Once Around," at the press conference preceding the opening night event, when asked about the rather obnoxious character played by Richard Dreyfuss in that film:
"He was never despicable. Just very annoying."