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Avoid any flick that mentions St. Nick

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002

Beware the advent of Christmas season movie hype.

A longtime musician friend called me a few weeks ago and asked me to write something nice about her music for a promotional package. Not in this column, just for her use.

This particular time it was not a strain. She is a talented, witty woman, and I had no dearth of good things to say about her and her work.

It's not always that easy. It reminds me of the story about a military fitness report that included the sentence, "His men would follow him anywhere, if only out of morbid curiosity."

Bombast and hyperbole, not truth, are usually the language of commerce. I have never been invited to cover or attend a concert by "a fairly mediocre musician who experiences occasional flashes of adequacy" or had anyone suggest a movie as a sure-fire way to get an uninterrupted 90-minute snooze.

I warn you now because the Christmas release season is the time of year when moviemakers dump loads of cinematic offal on holiday crowds who, they believe, will watch anything if it will get them out of the mall and away from having to pretend they actually like eggnog.

I love movies. I like burying myself in the darkness, as alone as possible. Sometimes that includes wearing a raincoat and hat and muttering loudly to myself until the lights go dim so that people sitting near me will move away.

Then I like becoming completely immersed in the big screen before me and holding the rest of the world at bay while I try to be entertained.

Picking a movie, though, is getting harder and harder.

I find myself relying more and more on my old friend, Times movie critic Steve Persall, and teen prodigy Billy Norris. Both have a pretty good eye for a good movie and aren't afraid to point out a turkey if it gobbles loudly enough.

Persall has two added advantages for me. He knows how my mind works and knows what movies might be for me even though they aren't for everyone, and he hardly ever uses the word "cinema" in polite conversation, so I don't have to hit him, which is a good thing because he is both younger and larger than I.

Movie advertising, however, has become a fine example of taking obfuscation to the level of an art form.

I have learned to be on the lookout for flashy high-praise quotes when they run in a print medium or on television. If the type is extremely small or the quote is only on the screen for a few seconds, there might be something fishy about it.

You will see something like, "Absolutely the greatest movie of all time," which would be a pretty good recommendation if it didn't come from the Auto Trader or the Screw Thread Standardization Inspectors Union Magazine.

"Amazing" might be high praise if the rest of the original quote wasn't, ". . .ly juvenile and completely devoid of anything remotely resembling a plot."

The hype is so bad this time of year that going to the "date movie of the year" is a sure-fire predecessor to enforced celibacy, the "feel good movie of the year" will probably depress you, and anything that promises to "keep you on the edge of your seat" probably means that the people behind you will be bored and talking so loudly that sitting on the edge of your seat is the only way you can hear what is on the screen passing for dialogue.

It's a good idea to avoid any movie with the word "Santa" in its title or in which any tinsel, colored lights or snow appear in the trailer. It is, generally, a good time of year to avoid anything starring Chevy Chase, Tim Allen or Pauly Shore.

Actually, any time of year is a good one to avoid movies starring Pauly Shore.

You'll note that the coming attractions trailers being shown in the theaters are presenting what look like some pretty good flicks. You will also note that they are going to be released in June.

My advice?

Go catch the double feature Australia: Land Beyond Time and Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees at the IMAX Dome Theater at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. Documentaries are short on plot, but with IMAX, who cares?

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