Article: 19820701034

Title: Movies

19820701034
00048987
200050_19820701_048987.xml
Movies
0032-1478
Playboy
HMH Publishing Co., Inc.
Review-Films
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39,40,41,42
review
Superproducer Ray Stark has made mostly smart moves with Annie (Columbia). The unendurable long-run Broadway musical has picked up a lot of speed, style and pizzazz as big-screen entertainment. Eons ago, when I staggered out of the stage show to get a stiff drink--and maybe burn down an orphanage--I felt as if a large, scruffy dog had been licking my face for a couple of hours. Let's just admit that a musicalized Little Orphan Annie was simply not for me--besides which, the Charles Strouse--Martin Charnin hit song Tomorrow tops my list of abrasive show tunes to file and forget in a deeply buried time capsule.
Bruce Williamson
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42

Superproducer Ray Stark has made mostly smart moves with Annie (Columbia). The unendurable long-run Broadway musical has picked up a lot of speed, style and pizzazz as big-screen entertainment. Eons ago, when I staggered out of the stage show to get a stiff drink--and maybe burn down an orphanage--I felt as if a large, scruffy dog had been licking my face for a couple of hours. Let's just admit that a musicalized Little Orphan Annie was simply not for me--besides which, the Charles Strouse--Martin Charnin hit song Tomorrow tops my list of abrasive show tunes to file and forget in a deeply buried time capsule.

Well, perhaps low expectations work in the film Annie's favor. After about an hour, I began melting to the charms of Aileen Quinn, a precocious moppet who belts out her title role like a Shirley Temple doll wound up to imitate the early Debbie Reynolds. All of the orphans mugging through Annie's misguided choreography, in fact, are chillingly accomplished little troupers who bear no resemblance to real kids. The wonder is that veteran director John Huston, breezing through his first outright musical, doesn't seem to give a damn about them, either, and wisely lets a bunch of grownups steal the show. In general, it's grand larceny--with Carol Burnett performing hilariously as Miss Hannigan, who loathes her brood of orphaned waifs and sums up her contempt in a broad showstopper called Little Girls. Bernadette Peters and Tim Curry connive with her amusingly. Geoffrey Holder plays Punjab, while leggy Ann Reinking, as girl Friday to Daddy Warbucks, adds a couple of song-and-dance turns that count as capital improvements. Another nice surprise is Albert Finney as the bald Warbucks, who loves money, power and capitalism but has no use for children. Until, of course, his latent liberal tendencies are brought out by Annie and F.D.R. (the latter portrayed, once more with feeling, by Edward Herrmann). Most of what Warbucks does, he did in the original musical; but his scenes play like new because of Finney's authority and relish. You may still come away from Annie wondering whether or not child abuse is all bad. I suspect that's what Huston had in mind--the perverse pleasure of seeing dozens of those otherworldly professional tots mercilessly upstaged by Burnett, Curry, Peters, Reinking and Finney. In such fast company, even the mutt playing Sandy hardly gets a scrap of scenery to chew. [rating]3 bunnies[/rating]

His Pennies from Heaven was an honorable, ambitious box-office flop, but comedian Steve Martin seems determined to keep doing the unexpected. More power to him, I say, and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (Universal) ought to win back some of the disgruntled fans who wouldn't give a nickel for Pennies. This time, Martin's a tough private eye having a hell of a good time in a spirited spoof of those classic Forties melodramas--a potpourri concocted by Steve, writer George Gipe and author-directoractor Carl Reiner. Although it plays like a vintage TV-comedy sketch a bit past comfortable length, Dead Men is genuinely laugh-packed. More a stunt of movie editing than anything else, it offers Steve in stark black-and-white photography of the film noir school as a Philip Marlowe clone opposite a husky-voiced beauty (Rachel Ward, the girl Burt Reynolds had a yen for in Sharky's Machine) who hires him to solve a murder. Shrewd splicing of familiar footage fosters the illusion that Martin is actually playing scenes opposite Alan Ladd (in This Gun for Hire) and Humphrey Bogart (in both Dark Passage and The Big Sleep). He also turns up doing love scenes with Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner and Fred MacMurray. (Yes, Fred MacMurray. Steve is in drag, looking eerily like Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, cooing to an ardent Fred--or his double--"That's as far as I go on a first date.") The lewd new comedy fits snugly into the old footage, making a great game of "guess which classic we're goosing now" for certified movie nuts. The more you know, the better you'll like it; yet Martin's orgy of movie madness provides fun for all. [rating]3 bunnies[/rating]

Though not notably superior to the campus-horror epics it aims to spoof, Pandemonium (MGM/UA) provides some fleeting moments of respite from the usual schlock. Tom Smothers, Carol Kane and Tab Hunter pop up in this mock Carrie about a cheerleaders' summer camp bedeviled by a series of unlikely murders--the first and worst noted by authorities when a javelin, apparently self-propelled, turns a string of comely cheerleaders into shish kabob. That gruesome sight gag is the best of Pandemonium's parody. The rest is under-achieved and overdone. [rating]2 bunnies[/rating]

Nastassia Kinski, the girl who achieved international stardom as Tess and then survived Coppola's god-awful One from the Heart, once again lights my fire with her extraordinary screen presence in Cat People (Universal). Promoted as "an erotic fantasy," director Paul Schrader's moody, atmospheric remake of the tingling 1942 mystery about a kittenish girl who has inherited an ancient curse is nuder and sexier than the original, quite stunningly photographed in and around New Orleans. Malcolm McDowell as Nastassia's catlike, kinky brother, John Heard as the zoologist she loves and Annette O'Toole as the girl who loves him are all effective. So is Ruby Dee as a voodoo woman who is a sort of family retainer. Cat People has hypnotic moments, because Schrader is no slouch, though his movies--from Blue Collar to Hardcore and American Gigolo--tend to be rough studies with more promise than polish. Here, too, the movie laughably defies logic throughout and ends with a whimper. Also, I begin to wonder whether a director nowadays feels he must provide gore to satisfy the audience's blood lust. I see the winsome Kinski as a cooler cat. [rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]

OK, Rocky III (MGM/UA) is far superior to Rocky II, which was simply a Rocky rehash. Does that help? If you like the original and were able to sit through the first sequel, relax. Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, who returns as an affluent, troubled champ with some doubts about success, Rocky III reunites that old gang of his--wife, trainer, friend and former foe (Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed)--in a crowd pleaser constructed to wring maximum suspense from three big fight scenes. After a brutal benefit fought mostly for laughs with a wrestling monster known as Thunderlips, there are two tough title matches against a formidable contender known as Clubber, who more than lives up to his name. Stallone has done a creditable job of rounding out this trilogy with new twists. It's clearly time to hang up the gloves, though, because that go-get-'em Rocky theme music by Bill Conti just doesn't set off the adrenaline flow the way it did back in 1976. [rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]

Titled Mad Max 2 on its native turf down under and already an international hit from London to Tokyo, Australian director George Miller's The Road Warrior (Warner) is an unstoppable, sureshot action drama with enough supercharged excitement to fill a couple of movies. Mel Gibson, the original Mad Max (also a round-the-world smash but poorly handled and generally ignored in the U.S.), made a strong bid for stardom in last year's Gallipoli. He's ruggedly handsome, elemental and dynamic, again raising hell in a part they would have begged Steve McQueen to do a decade ago. Road Warrior moves with zinging rhythm, launching us into a dreaded future in which all the world's oil has either dwindled away or gone up in flames. The highways are alive with violence and blind fortune brings Max to one stop where there's an assault in progress on a primitive oil refinery and depot held against all odds by a character named Pappagallo (Mike Preston), a blonde warrior woman (gorgeous Virginia Hey), a feral child (Emil Minty) and other residents of the compound. Max, his killer dog and a weirdo known as Gyro Captain ally themselves with the compound vs. such colorful villains as The Humungus, Wez (who sports a red Mohawk hairdo) and a half-naked, epicene Golden Youth. From then on, Road Warrior is cowboys and Indians, with tons of exotic jerry-built hardware and a final pursuit sequence as breath-taking as the big chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark--though dead serious, to be sure. What's happening here, I suspect, amounts to a pure celebration of anarchy. Like it or not, it works wickedly and offers new evidence that the energetic Aussies are giving world cinema a great shake. [rating]3 bunnies[/rating]

There are too many wrong notes in I Ought to Be in Pictures (20th Century-Fox), a fair-to-middling human comedy, but it's still several cuts above the Broadway original. Dinah Manoff (Lee Grant's daughter) repeats her role as a Brooklyn gamine who goes to Hollywood to look up her estranged father, a scriptwriter of sorts. Since Walter Matthau plays the part, it is played to shambling perfection, and Ann-Margret is almost as good in a surprisingly subdued role as the father's girlfriend, a studio make-up artist. There's substantial evidence here that Manoff is a damned good actress, though she's handicapped by some of Neil Simon's schmaltziest conceits--particularly scenes in which she converses heart-to-heart with her late beloved grandma. That sort of thing puts my teeth on edge like a fork scraped on a plate. Fine tuning by three top performers helps to ease the pain. [rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]

For his engaging directorial debut, writer Barry Levinson--whose screen credits include Mel Brooks's Silent Movie and High Anxiety as well as Best Friends, an upcoming comedy with Goldie Hawn and Burt Reynolds--has gone back to reminisce about the misspent youth of some guys he knew around Baltimore in 1959. The result is Diner (MGM), a rambling, rueful slice of life that offers genuine comic insight into the minds of good middle-class American boys who desperately want to remain boys, even as they approach careers, marriage and other inescapable responsibilities of manhood. Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke (Body Heat's arsonist), Kevin Bacon and Timothy Daly head a roster of young actors who ought to become much better known after this excursion into nostalgia--an orgy of seductions, real or imagined, sexual-anxiety attacks and intramural horseplay, plus a funny running gag about an avid Colts fan named Eddie (Guttenberg), who won't agree to marry his girl until she passes a multiple-choice Football quiz. We never really see the girl, because she's home studying. That's the kind of detail that makes Diner a treat, especially for those who remember when the jokers who hung out at the neighborhood greasy spoon actually wore suits and ties. [rating]3 bunnies[/rating]

James Caan plays a top swing band-leader, circa 1941, first name Glenn, married to a singer, played by Geraldine Chaplin, who stays home with their two kids while he goes to make music for our guys over there. A generation later, Chaplin and Caan reappear as the bandleader's grown-up kids--and this time seem strikingly miscast, she as a top pop songstress with a veritable Garland of emotional problems, he as her gay manager (Jimmy Caan gay? No way). You ain't heard nothin' yet about what goes on in French writer-director Claude Lelouch's mad, mad, multilingual musical soap opera Bolero (Double 13). The movie spans 40 years in the lives of three families--American, French and Russian--whose interlocked destinies are set to music by Michel Legrand and Francis Lai, among others. We also encounter Nicole Garcia, as a violinist at the Folies-Bergère in Paris, who leaves her infant son beside the railroad tracks en route to a Nazi concentration camp. Meanwhile, in Russia, there's a frail ballerina who will bear a son destined to become a great dancer and famous Cold War defector not unlike Nureyev. Bolero ends, believe it or not, with a spectacular gala benefit for UNICEF in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower; virtually all the survivors turn up, including a famous German conductor (that's still another story) who has suffered postwar disgrace as a Nazi sympathizer. Lelouch's lengthy epic could not be cornier, yet there's disarming warmth--or maybe contagious delirium--about the way he tackles his subject, sometimes over-whelming us with sheer showmanship, making us enjoy it even when we ought to know better. I was flabbergasted but never bored. [rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]

You will have heard by now that Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip (Columbia) is a through-the-roof hit. It you haven't seen it, find it. This matchless one-man concert comedy may not be a movie in the strict sense, but it is an extraordinary experience. Because he calls every animate or inanimate object "motherfucker," Pryor's vocabulary seems limited at the outset--until his innate humanity begins to bleed through the belly-laughable gags about sex, race, marriage, prison. Duded up in a fire-red suit as he describes how he turned himself into a human torch while free-basing cocaine, Pryor brings down the house and simultaneously delivers one of the most cogent, personal and dynamic antidrug sermons ever. Effortlessy directed by Joe Layton, this man's psychodrama carries on the Lenny Bruce tradition--minus its haranguing tone--as Pryor fashions art from stand-up comedy. [rating]3-1/2 bunnies[/rating]

What Pryor needs now is a great part to match his gifts. Meanwhile, he proves himself a superlative actor in the middling comedy-drama Some Kind of Hero (Paramount). The gritty early scenes in a North Vietnamese prison camp--with Ray Sharkey as a fellow POW--are followed by lots of predictable adversity when Pryor returns from six years of internment. He's a hero who has lost his wife, his child, his savings, his honor--and who finds his dear old mom in a convalescent home. All he's got is Margot Kidder, as a likable but unlikely Beverly Hills hooker with a heart of gold, who tries to dissuade him from a desperate scam to separate some shady characters from their money. Hero throws clichés his way thick and fast, yet Pryor unfailingly finds the juice of life in them--he's hilarious, honest but still doing more or less a one-man show. [rating]2 bunnies[/rating]

Summer fun from Annie, Steve Martin and an eerily erotic Cat People.

James Caan plays two roles in one movie; Richard Pryor does it in two.

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Quinn, Finney in smashing Annie.
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Film noir gumshoe Martin, with Ward.
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A fantastic, feline Kinski.
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Bolero: Lelouch's showy Caan game.
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Hero's Pryor, Kidder.
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