‘The Women’ a banal, whinny remake of a classic

Posted Sept. 18, 2008, at 3:47 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.

In theaters

THE WOMEN, written and directed by Diane English, 114 minutes, rated PG-13.

It takes ovaries the size of Alaska to update a classic like George Cukor’s 1939 catfight “The Women,” but that’s just what Diane English has done — and nobody should thank her for it.

Certainly not women, who instead should turn to reruns of “Sex and the City” or even “The Golden Girls” if they want to have a good time with a clutch of female friends, who had more to say about what it means to be a woman in today’s world than this irritatingly whiny movie does.

English based her script on Clare Boothe Luce’s play by way of Anita Loos and Jane Murfin’s original screenplay. Essentially, she murdered them both with banality and kindness, which is odd since English created the edgy and once-relevant television series, “Murphy Brown.”

Apparently, time away from her pen has softened its tip.

Oh, there are a few laughs here and there, and it’s nice to see that 47-year-old Meg Ryan, looking like a 30-year-old Muppet, has finally fallen into her facelift. But other than that, this disappointing comedy about the ramifications of what happens when sweet Mary Haines (Ryan) learns that her husband is having an affair with a sexy perfume girl named Crystal (Eva Mendes) all but neuters the necessary, cutting meanness that made the original such a bitchy delight.

Joining Ryan in the comedic dreary is a fine cast, all of whom for the most part, are less loose to starve in a pasture free of wit and bon mots. Annette Bening is a dull magazine editor (she has the Rosalind Russell role, but she’s no Rosalind Russell); Debra Messing huffs and puffs, and produces bales of children; Jada Pinkett Smith is a hot-to-trot cougar lesbian; Debi Mazar does nails and gossip.

An underused Cloris Leachman, Bette Midler and Candice Bergen liven up the proceeding a bit, but that’s probably because they’re old enough to remember that the original had substance within its run of stinging barbs, and also a free-wheeling air of camp. All three bring each.

One of the chief reasons Cukor’s movie worked as well as it did is that in real life, there was no love lost between Joan Crawford, who played Crystal, and Norma Shearer, who played Mary. Read any biography about either woman, and it’s so well documented that they loathed each other, this turned out to be a boon for Cukor’s movie, which felt alive with authentic tension because of it.

Not so for English, who is stuck with Ryan and Mendes, two women who, in this tepid remake, might as well be slapping each other will pansies in comparison.

Grade: C-

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

Just out on Blu-ray disc is Mikael Hafstrom’s “1408,” a horror film that gets back to the basics. In this case, that means forgoing torture porn in favor of shrieking ghosts, clock radios that spring to life even though they’re unplugged, scratchy sounds that come from behind bleeding walls, and a sense of claustrophobia that nibbles away at the screen like one of the rats in “Ratatouille.” You know, the good stuff.

From Stephen King’s 2002 short story, John Cusack is Mike Enslin, a trash-writer of kitschy guide books that seek out presumably haunted locales for those interested in visiting them. Though Enslin himself doesn’t believe in ghosts, he soon changes his tune after a stay at New York City’s dusty Dolphin Hotel, where 56 people have died tragic deaths over the years in room 1408 and where the manager (Samuel L. Jackson) tells him he won’t live to see the next hour.

Enslin scoffs at the idea. Besides, if there is a satanic hellfire burning in that room — and he seriously doubts it — it’s nothing he can’t handle. Naturally, those who believe he’s wrong — and there wouldn’t be a movie if he wasn’t — should raise up their Bibles now and turn up their Christian rock, because for Enslin, he’s in for one hell of a ride.

The eighth and final season of “Will & Grace” now is available, with Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes having a final go of it in a series that came to mean plenty to plenty for good reason.

Whether it was just in how the show provided mostly consistent laughs through the bizarre behavior of its shallow characters or in how it dealt directly with sexuality (usually with humor, though unfortunately sometimes with sentiment), the show succeeded in taking the latter half of that conversation to a primetime audience, which had little choice but to chew it over when they weren’t distracted by laughs.

The week’s best new release is the DVD and Blu-ray appearance of “The Godfather Collection: The Coppola Restoration.” Fully remastered and restored literally pixel by pixel, this impressive, five-disc set includes all three “Godfather” films, with the high-definition Blu-ray release especially noteworthy since it’s the first time many fans will see the movies as closely as Coppola intended them to be seen.

The crisp transfers and top-notch sound quality are on par with the film’s theatrical releases and, if you have the right television and sound equipment, perhaps even better than what was shown in theaters.

While no amount of restoration can save the third film in the series from being the weakest in the lot, the other two are among the greatest gangster movies of all time. As a bonus, the set is filled with documentaries, interviews and featurettes, all presented by the director himself. So, take the cannoli — and if you’re a fan of these movies, definitely take this set.

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of hundreds of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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