MOVIES . . . VOLCANO: "We're pretty sure that Nostradamus predicted a pre-millennial Hollywood plague of natural-disaster movies," says TIME's Richard Corliss. Last year, 'Twister;' this fall, 'The Flood.' In February, 'Dante’s Peak' sent small-town folk scurrying from their local Vesuvius; now Mick Jackson’s 'Volcano' has man tamper in God’s domain, by daring to build a subway in L.A. "The script," Corliss notes, "thus exploits two major fears of Angelenos: getting demolished by a horrid subterranean force, and having to take public transportation. The gookum-like lava is less smothering than the plot clichés: our hero (Tommy Lee Jones) and his perpetually hysterical child (Gaby Hoffman), ever blundering into catastrophe; the spiky geologist (Anne Heche) who has to exclaim, “Oh, God!” 46 times; silliest of all, the ornery whites and blacks who, when covered with gray ash, learn that, gee, Armageddon is colorblind. And just once in a disaster film, could a dog please die? All right, nobody cares. You just want to see the volcano that ate L.A. If so, you’ll have a hell-lava time."
MOVIES . . . THE SHINING: Never pleased with Stanley Kubrick's 1980 filmed version of his novel, Stephen King was persuaded to remake "The Shining" into a three-part, six-hour miniseries. Featuring a teleplay by King himself, it would be sweet irony to report that this venture, starring Wings’ Steven Weber in the Jack Nicholson role of Jack Torrance, is richer, more horrific than Kubrick’s take. Sadly, notes TIME's Ginia Bellafante, this is not the case. "Strip away a zombie or two, and the menacing topiary animals that grace the lawn of the deserted Overlook Hotel, which Torrance, his wife Wendy (Rebecca De Mornay) and son Danny (Courtland Mead) are entrusted to care for over a long winter, and 'Stephen King’s The Shining' is no different from the standard movie-of-the-week that reminds us—in a third of the time—just how destructive substance abuse can be to an otherwise decent family."
BOOKS . . . THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE SON: You needn’t be a Christian to find Norman Mailer's new novel (Random House; 242 pages; $22) purporting to be a first-person memoir written by Jesus a dubious and ultimately failed enterprise. Conceivably, imaginative literature at its highest pitch could do what tons of historical research and theological studies have failed to accomplish: present a convincing account of what it may have felt like to be the man Jesus, human like his contemporaries but given a divine vision, mission and fate that they have been spared. But not even the Christ-haunted Dostoyevsky tried to go where Mailer has now rushed in. Mailer anticipates and tries to soothe the initial uneasiness that his book will arouse in most of those who pick it up. Mailer’s Jesus suggests that the New Testament is rife with errors and exaggerations and that the time has come to set the record straight: “What is for me to tell remains neither a simple story nor without surprise, but it is true, at least to all that I recall.” But believing Christians are going to have a little problem with the Son of God portraying himself as if he can’t remember all the details of his own life. "If a purpose can be found for the existence of The Gospel According to the Son, it must be sought in Mailer’s interpretation of what Jesus’ life and death actually mean," says TIME's Paul Gray. "That is fair enough reason to write a book, but merely attributing the author’s opinions to Jesus himself seems like dirty pool. Mailer’s Jesus remembers Satan’s words during the temptation: “Your Father is but one god among many.” That is of course what the Devil would say, but Mailer’s Jesus comes to agree that his father is not omnipotent. Mailer’s Jesus now views his death on the cross as a “debacle and disaster” that Christianity was invented to disguise. In a better book, this conclusion might seem unbearably wrenching and provocative; here it is as unconvincing as all that precedes it."