The Cable Guise

Carrey, Quaid, and the IFC

Add to the long list of 20-year overnight successes in show business the name of Jim Carrey. Or James Carrey, as he is billed in some of the 20 film and television appearances he has made to this date.

Twenty credits seems an unbelievable number for someone who burst upon the scene only a couple of years ago in that nutty comedy Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Yet it says right here in the Internet Movie Database (enter this into your Web browser and you'll get one of several sites with the same info) that he first showed up in 1983 in something called The Sex and Violence Family Hour. His first credit possessing any visibility came in 1984 in Richard Lester's somewhat disappointing comedy, Finders Keepers.

Today, of course, the same Jim Carrey who played bit parts in such films as Once Bitten, Peggy Sue Got Married, The Dead Pool, Pink Cadillac and Earth Girls Are Easy is now the jillion-dollar star of comedies tailored specifically to his talents. And if some studio wants to pay him the equivalent of the gross national product of some not-so-underdeveloped countries, that's their business. It's not as if he has failed to deliver the goods at the box office. Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber and Batman Forever were great successes thanks to his contributions.

Whether he is delivering the goods in the sense of evolving his talents is another proposition. While I yield to no one in my admiration of the first Ace Ventura, which was kind of like an old Jerry Lewis comedy thrown into warp drive, his subsequent films tend to leave a viewer wanting more -- and not just more of the same.

You don't have to tell me that tinkering with success is risky business, and in the case of blockbuster comedies perhaps even downright stupid. But even the most easily amused eventually tire of seeing the face metamorphose into a thousand wacky poses, of hearing the famous brush-off, "Loo-hoo-hoo-hoo-SEEEERRRR!

His next film, The Cable Guy, opens this week. It will do terrific business on Carrey's name alone, and the buzz is that the film is not bad and that co-star Matthew Broderick more than manages to keep up with the scenery-chewing star. For some of us, and not just the extremely picky, this will be show-and-tell time for Carrey. Can he manage to find new ways of delighting his fans without abandoning the methods that have served him so well? Can he assume a character -- really assume a character -- and still be funny?

There can be little doubt he has it in him to do it. The question is, at $14 million per picture, will he want to?

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If you're a cable guy or gal you may have already heard that the Independent Film Channel is coming to CableVision beginning June 18.

There is only one problem: For now the channel will be shown only on Round Rock CableVision. Austin subscribers must wait until the cable company and the city reach a new franchise agreement.

The desirability of a channel devoted to independent films is self-evident in a place like Austin. With one of the smartest movie audiences anywhere, a large market exists for foreign and off-mainstream films. Otherwise, the screens at the Texas Union, Dobie, and Village wouldn't be as busy as they are.

The Independent Film Channel has been available to DirectTV satellite subscribers for a few months now. Programming is only at night, from 7pm-5am local time. Usually, three films are on each night's bill with each being repeated once. On the day this is written, IFC will show Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water, Ron Nyswaner's excellent Prince of Pennsylvania and Amos Kollek's Goodbye, New York. Other titles for June include Life Is a Long Quiet River, Tatie Danielle, Scorsese's Who's That Knocking at My Door, and two Luis Buñuel greats, That Obscure Object of Desire and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Satellite subscribers can also get the somewhat edgier Sundance Channel, named for the institute founded by you know who. Here you're more likely to see things like John Cassavetes films and the grainy black-and-white movies of the shoestring-budgeted mavericks.

A source at CableVision said that it is unlikely the service will provide two alternative movie channels.

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This is a minority view in the critical community, but Dragonheart strikes me as an almost perfect summer time-killer, especially for older children.

The thing is so synthetic you can practically see the rivet lines; half the time I felt like I was watching scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Braveheart stirred the same memories, but in Dragonheart you get the feeling that the artificiality is half intentional.

It was especially pleasing for those of us who have watched Dennis Quaid sink into the quicksand of self-parody to see this undeniably charming actor be, well, charming again. We were heartened when the formerly burned-out or distracted actor of Suspect, D.O.A., and Great Balls of Fire! returned to form in Costner's Wyatt Earp. His wry, emaciated Doc Holliday was easily the best thing in one of the worst movies of that year. He is very much fun to watch again.

The other remarkable thing about Dragonheart is, of course, the special effects. It seems that through Jurassic Park, Jumanji, Twister, and a couple others that escape memory, the magical art of computer imagery has reached perfection. The beast in Dragonheart is as real as anything on screen. No jerky movements, a la Ray Harryhausen; no fake skins, no glassy, lifeless eyes, no servo-driven movements.

I'm just worried that, now that literally everything and anything can be created on screen, we will grow jaded. Jurassic Park provoked gasps of "how did they do that...?" Now, when a magnificent dragon sits down at a campfire, cooks a chicken with a fiery breath and talks to the hero about life, death, and morality with lip movements as lifelike and exact as if you were talking, we take it for granted. n

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