Article: 19871201023

Title: Movies

19871201023
00058743
200050_19871201_058743.xml
Movies
0032-1478
Playboy
HMH Publishing Co., Inc.
Review-Films
20
20,22
review
On the honors list of movies that really matter, reserve a top spot for Cry Freedom (Universal), from producer-director Richard Attenborough. Picking the right high-minded subject at the right time may be the secret of Attenborough's success. In another fruitful collaboration with writer John Briley, whose screenplay snagged one of Gandhi's eight Oscars, Sir Richard mounts an epic, enthralling adaptation of two books by Donald Woods about his dangerous friendship with Stephen Biko, a young Bantu leader who died in jail in 1977 after interrogation by South Africa's ruthless security police. Writing about the Biko tragedy made Woods, a white newspaper editor, an officially banned person under constant surveillance. How he smuggled his family of six to safety and managed to flee his native land, disguised as a priest, is the spine of the story. As Woods, Kevin Kline delivers his best screen performance ever, with some ultrasensitive counterpoint by Penelope Wilton as his angry but steadfast wife. Playing Biko, Denzel Washington (of TV's St. Elsewhere) is also superb. The huge sweep of events in incendiary South Africa before and after the Soweto massacre of 1976 gives Cry Freedom emotional validity despite Attenborough's sometimes clunky, too-literal style. It's not a great picture, but it is a great escape drama, with a passionate one-two punch of timeliness--bashing the fascist monster known as apartheid. Rest assured there will be no gala premiere in Pretoria, where Woods and his works remain prohibited. [rating]4 bunnies[/rating]
Bruce Williamson
20
22

On the honors list of movies that really matter, reserve a top spot for Cry Freedom (Universal), from producer-director Richard Attenborough. Picking the right high-minded subject at the right time may be the secret of Attenborough's success. In another fruitful collaboration with writer John Briley, whose screenplay snagged one of Gandhi's eight Oscars, Sir Richard mounts an epic, enthralling adaptation of two books by Donald Woods about his dangerous friendship with Stephen Biko, a young Bantu leader who died in jail in 1977 after interrogation by South Africa's ruthless security police. Writing about the Biko tragedy made Woods, a white newspaper editor, an officially banned person under constant surveillance. How he smuggled his family of six to safety and managed to flee his native land, disguised as a priest, is the spine of the story. As Woods, Kevin Kline delivers his best screen performance ever, with some ultrasensitive counterpoint by Penelope Wilton as his angry but steadfast wife. Playing Biko, Denzel Washington (of TV's St. Elsewhere) is also superb. The huge sweep of events in incendiary South Africa before and after the Soweto massacre of 1976 gives Cry Freedom emotional validity despite Attenborough's sometimes clunky, too-literal style. It's not a great picture, but it is a great escape drama, with a passionate one-two punch of timeliness--bashing the fascist monster known as apartheid. Rest assured there will be no gala premiere in Pretoria, where Woods and his works remain prohibited. [rating]4 bunnies[/rating]

Her portrayal of a weathered backwoods woman in Shy People (Cannon) brought Barbara Hershey a best-actress award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Hershey is fine, and so are the misty images of the Louisiana bayou country caught by cinematographer Chris Menges (an Oscar winner for The Killing Fields). The rest is ridiculous and all but incomprehensible hokum, with Jill Clayburgh obviously swamped by her role as a Cosmopolitan magazine writer doing a story about her own family roots. From a screenplay that would be fogbound in any language, Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky has thrashed out some laughable drivel involving the hicks, half-wits and disadvantaged types who are said to be the Cosmo author's kin. If you're tempted by such backwater sociology, stop to consider that wrestling an alligator might be more fun. [rating]1 bunny[/rating]

Mixing the New York punk scene with wild-West hoss opera is a risky proposition. In Dudes (New Century/Vista), director Penelope Spheeris loses more than she wins while wooing her target audience--presumably a bunch who are young, restless and wear Mohawk haircuts. Jon Cryer and Daniel Roebuck play two California-bound freaks on a quest for vigilante justice out West after a chum has been wasted by murderous road warriors. All of which leads to a highway duel between the lads' battered VW bug and a black van, pit stops with a gas-station gamine (Catherine Mary Stewart), occasional rescue missions by a shadowy phantom cowboy, along with a barrage of music by Sting, The Vandals, The Little Kings and others of that ilk. Get the picture? I didn't. Dudes is different, for sure, but its mini-macho fantasies finally go thud, courtesy of uninspired casting and overkill. [rating]2 bunnies[/rating]

The best-actor award at Cannes '87 went to Marcello Mastroianni as a charming, indolent ne'er-do-well in Dark Eyes (Island). Mastroianni's masterly buffoonery makes the show, fresh proof--as if any were needed--that he is a genius at revealing human frailty to a movie camera. Dark Eyes presents him as a sad but exuberant old faker telling a cruise-ship companion about his three long-lost loves of yesteryear--the beautiful rich woman he married (Silvana Mangano), his bold, bemused mistress (Marthe Keller) and the young Russian matron (Elena Sofonova) whom he wanted most of all. Sumptuously filmed in Italy and the U.S.S.R. by Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov, Dark Eyes is a series of flashbacks, exquisite and drawn like a fine, fruity old wine from the short stories of Anton Chekhov. Such old-fashioned fiction holds few surprises but leaves a highly agreeable aftertaste. [rating]3 bunnies[/rating]

One long, hot weekend of nonstop extramarital sex games turns into a nightmare for the New York lawyer played with tight-jawed intensity by Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction (Paramount). Glenn Close is dynamic as the blonde psycho who responds to rejection by launching a reign of terror, and Anne Archer makes the most of her largely passive role as the chastened philanderer's wife. Some predictable glitches in plotting are swept aside by director Adrian Lyne (whose previous movies range from Flashdance to 9-1/2 Weeks) in a sleek and scary grown-up shocker cleverly disguised as a nouveauchic sermon on the wages of sin. [rating]3 bunnies[/rating]

Director Rob Reiner recruited a slew of talented friends to fool around in The Princess Bride (Fox), a fairy-tale romance adapted by William Goldman from a prankish novel he wrote some years ago. On film, the mischief gets under way with Peter Falk's reading a bedtime story to his hip grandson (ten-year-old Fred Savage, who looks disconcertingly like a miniaturized Jay Leno). "Hold it, hold it," cries the indignant tyke as Falk begins. "Is this a kissing book?" The answer is yes, sort of. Princess Bride recounts the dopey misadventures of a beautiful princess named Buttercup (Robin Wright) and a princely lowborn youth named Westley (Cary Elwes) who woos her but loses her to an amoral prince (Chris Sarandon). Mandy Patinkin, as a fighting soldier of fortune, Wallace Shawn, as a vicious kidnaper, Christopher Guest, as an evil count, and Billy Crystal, as an ancient, madcap wizard, Miracle Max, are among the forces for good or evil unleashed by Reiner with airy disregard for traditional kid stuff. Laughs are what he's after, and Bride, despite a few clinkers, is the kind of broad, handsome, rollicking and irreverent nonsense that Mel Brooks might envy. [rating]3 bunnies[/rating]

His natural film sense is seldom enhanced by first-rate screenplays, so director Abel Ferrara's reputation rests on such stylish B-movie schlock as Ms. 45 and Fear City. New York's his turf, and in China Girl (Vestron), Ferrara explores sex, violence and racial enmity between neighboring youth gangs on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Two pretty new faces, Sari Chang, as Tyan-Hwa, and Richard Panebianco, as Tony Monte, play the star-crossed lovers, each with a roughneck sibling to create panic in the streets. The movie too often resembles West Side Story shorn of take-home tunes and choreography, yet Ferrara and writer Nicholas St. John do offer some interesting side lights on the ruthless but practical adults--both Chinese and Italian--who enforce peace in order to protect their cash flow. [rating]2 bunnies[/rating]

Seeing Los Angeles through a glass darkly has been a career for roustabout poet-novelist Charles Bukowski, whose screenplay for Barfly (Cannon) recalls his own early years as a writer on the sauce and on the skids in La La Land. The hackneyed notion that there is some intrinsic nobility in characters who drink themselves blind instead of joining the nine-to-five rat-race obviously beguiles French director Barbet Schroeder, but Gallic film makers habitually relish Stateside slumming on any pretext. Actors enjoy letting their hair down, too, and Barfly's premium hams are Faye Dunaway and Mickey Rourke. Both have lots of seedy scenery to chew, with booze and sex for chasers, plus barroom brawls between binges--his with a muscular barkeep (Frank Stallone, Sly's look-alike brother) who periodically beats him to a pulp, hers a claws-out caterwaul with a literary editor (Alice Krige) whose talent search takes her pretty far afield. In the cinematic scheme of things, the movie doesn't amount to much more than an acting exercise, but it's always a pleasure to see thoroughbreds put through their paces, even on a muddy track. Dunaway's disheveled glamor is a sight for bleary eyes, and Rourke is hardly recognizable as the shambling, unshaven slob who picks her up because he likes her antisocial attitude. Although it's doggedly downbeat, Barfly slips us a Mickey more potent than any maverick he has played since Body Heat and Diner. [rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]

Mikhail Baryshnikov gets Dancers (Cannon) soaring with a lushly photographed and breath-takingly performed version of the ballet classic Giselle. Baryshnikov's supple, sexy partner in the ballet's title role is Alessandra Ferri. Leslie Browne and Julie Kent play other ambitious ballerinas. All are beautiful as well as gifted, and they seem to swirl on tiptoe through the tedium of the plot. Pay no attention to it. Something about a womanizing ballet superstar who's in Rome to make a movie of Giselle and habitually makes out with the comelier members of his company. He's a heartbreaker, yes; but a bit of dalliance seems obligatory for a ballerina on her way up. Director Herbert Ross, who established Baryshnikov's movie-star charisma in The Turning Point, should have scrapped Giselle's romantic bubble wrap and filmed the ballet as is, minus all the movie-within-a-movie fluff. This way, Dancers plays like a sappy half-hour TV soap, with a masterpiece tacked on for good measure.

[rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]

Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Ann Sothern and Vincent Price are a scintillating quartet of cinematic senior citizens who have richly earned the right to do just about anything they please. The Whales of August (Alive), their recent group activity, directed by Lindsay Anderson, looks as though Andrew Wyeth had painted it--the rocky Maine seascape, the bleak old house on a bluff, even its crusty inhabitants. Davis and Gish are the resident sisters (Sothern and Price merely drop by to visit), dear old things whose most urgent problem, at the time we encounter them, is whether or not to install a large bay window. They finally decide they will, but not until they have doddered through a duet of grande dame tics and crotchets, plainly guided by on-with-the-show instincts that age cannot wither. I'd call Whales the movie equivalent of "over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go." [rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]

Anyone who can explain the muddled subtext of Siesta (Lorimar) in 100 words or less deserves tickets to a much better movie. Ellen Barkin, wearing a bright-red dress--and shortly to be wearing nothing at all--wakes up at the end of an airport runway in Spain, penniless and emotionally distraught. Seems her life is a mess, though she may not actually be alive at all. Besides, she's an aerial stunt person who's booked to parachute out of a plane over Death Valley on July fourth, only a few days hence. Ponder that for symbolism. Barkin does, while moving in body or spirit from Martin Sheen to Gabriel Byrne to Julian Sands, and from bed to worse. Jodie Foster has the most seductive secondary role, while Isabella Rossellini looks as though she might have wandered onto the wrong film set. The cast is stellar, but even at its sexiest, this surreal psychodrama is gloom-inducing--born to snooze. [rating]1 bunny[/rating]

Star turns by Kevin Kline, Barbara Hershey and Marcello Mastroianni.

Rourke, Dunaway bum around and ham it up in Barfly; Barkin deserves better than Siesta.

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Kline exults in Cry Freedom.
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Rourke, Dunaway boozing in Barfly.
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