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Most new films offer viewers time for long winter's nap

Blink. Nod. Blink. Nod. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Sorry. You caught me right as I was nodding off - something that's nearly happened a few times lately in the movie theater. And if you've been to the your neighborhood cinema lately, you may have felt the urge to nap during the featured presentation as well.That's not to say that everything that's playing right now is boring . . . well, not all of it, at any rate. But frankly, there are a lot of movies in current release that seem to take days or weeks, rather than hours, to get over.

In fact, the major studios have released more than a dozen movies over the past four months that have been more than two hours long - some of them much, much longer than that!

Prime examples of bad time management include "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (155 minutes), "Jackie Brown" (150 minutes), "Boogie Nights" (150 minutes), "Amistad" (152 minutes) and "The Postman" (168 minutes). Much has been made about the fact that "Titanic" (197 minutes) is even longer, but in comparison to the other five movies, it almost feels like a short feature.

And there isn't a one of the aforementioned films that wouldn't have been better with a scene or two snipped or trimmed somewhat (well, a case could be made that "The Postman" is unsalvageable, but that's neither here nor there). It goes to show that even skillful directors like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino can mistake leisurely pacing and overindulgent storytelling for cleverness if no one's brave enough to tell them what they're doing wrong.

Why, even two off-beat variations on the romantic-comedy theme, "As Good As It Gets" (132 minutes) and "Good Will Hunting" (125 minutes), have gotten into the act - though not quite to such ridiculous extremes, obviously.

To be fair, some of these movies are watchable in spite of their excessive lengths. And perhaps the studio heads and filmmakers are giving moviegoers credit by believing they have attention spans that are longer than two hours. But it certainly makes you wonder how the trend started and when it's going to end.

Some in the know trace the film-time excesses back to the recent success of "The English Patient" (162 minutes) or the revival of films such as "Dr. Zhivago" (176 minutes) and the re-edited "Lawrence of Arabia" (a staggering 222 minutes) - the theory being that directors are following an "if-they-can-do-it, then-why-can't-we?" mentality.

However, the real culprits are the new crop of film editors, who are too afraid to lop out needless footage and extraneous scenes because they are afraid to offend the current crop of filmmaking prima donnas.

All this points out is that when the Academy Awards are handed out next month, there definitely shouldn't be one in the Best Editing category (it's always one of those boring technical ones that ceremony watchers usually don't pay attention to anyway). Instead, what these film editors deserve is a big raspberry, as do their directing counterparts.

- BRIEFER ISN'T ALWAYS BETTER: Of course, there are a few movies out there that are less than two hours in length, as well as a couple under 90 minutes (both "Bean" and "The Replacement Killers" clock in at 80 and 88 minutes, respectively).

But when some of the ones in question are the clinkers "Phantoms," "An American Werewolf in Paris" and "Spice World," even 80 or 90 minutes can feel like an eternity.

- QUOTE OF THE WEEK, NO. 1: "In my first movie in America . . . I personally didn't want to clutch a gun, but I have to follow the (motion picture) market. (It) wants Chow Yun-Fat to hold a gun. With a gun I found success in this business, but I'd rather be in dramatic roles, which are less physical and laborious." - actor Chow Yun-Fat, currently appearing in "The Replacement Killers"

- QUOTE OF THE WEEK, NO. 2: "I think I was making rock videos before there was such a thing. I haven't changed my editing style since then at all; it would be to punch the projector and punch the tape recorder and watch it before it slipped out of sync. I never went to film school, but I used to make films for people in film school. I was Cyrano de Filmiac." - Alan Rudolph, writer/director of the upcoming drama "After-glow"

- QUOTE OF THE WEEK, NO. 3: "Then (producer Robin Dalton) rang to say, `Guess what? Ralph's been cast in a Steven Spielberg film. And I said, `Fantastic. What's he playing?' She said a Nazi. I said, `Well, that's not going to do anyone's career any good. My famous last words." - "Oscar and Lucinda" director Gillian Armstrong, talking about the role her film's star, Ralph Fiennes, played in "Schindler's List"