F/X

US (1986): Thriller
106 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Robert Mandel directed this ingenious suspense film about a movie special-effects wizard (Bryan Brown), based in New York, who lets himself be bamboozled by a couple of men from the Justice Department's Witness Relocation Program; they hire him to stage the fake assassination of a Mafia boss (Jerry Orbach), so that this gangster can give evidence against his associates and be relocated without fear of reprisals. Bryan Brown underplays niftily, and he's joined by a second hero-swaggering Brian Dennehy, built like a barn and sporting a big, messy mustache, as a rogue cop. He grabs the movie in his choppers and shakes it up. This picture loses something when it takes a turn toward acceptance of corruption, but the script, by Robert T. Megginson and Gregory Fleeman, gives Dennehy some sharp tough-guy lines, and he sends them home like a master comedian. He's so enthusiastically overscaled that he fills the screen. Despite the film's high body count, it's not the kind of thriller that leaves a viewer feeling debauched; Mandel's work is clean and brisk. The cinematographer, Miroslav Ondrícek, gives the city a rich, dark glint. With Diane Venora as the wizard's actress-girlfriend, Joe Grifasi, Jossie de-Guzman, Cliff De Young, Mason Adams, and a few weak scenes with Martha Gehman. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

The Fabulous Baker Boys

US (1989): Drama/Comedy
113 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Two lounge pianists (brothers, played by Beau and Jeff Bridges) add a vocalist (Michelle Pfeiffer) to their act, and she changes their lives. This romantic fantasy has a 40s-movie sultriness and an 80s movie-struck melancholy. Put them together and you have a movie in which 80s glamour is being defined. The young writer-director Steve Kloves trips off your bluesy, narcissistic feelings about popular music and commercial-movie emotions; he invites you to laugh if you want to. (You feel the heat even if you're laughing.) The three stars seem perfect at what they're doing-newly minted icons. When Pfeiffer (who does her own singing) delivers "Makin' Whoopee," while crawling over a grand piano like a long-legged kitty-cat, she rivals Rita Hayworth in GILDA. With Jennifer Tilly as Monica. Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne

Czechoslovakia (1958): Fantasy
83 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as VYNALEZ ZKAZY and DEADLY INVENTION.

Among Georges Méliès' most popular creations was his 1902 version of Jules Verne's A TRIP TO THE MOON (which was used at the beginning of Michael Todd's production of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS). Another great movie magician, the Czech Karel Zeman, also turning to Jules Verne for inspiration, made this wonderful giddy science fantasy. (It's based on Facing the Flag and other works.) Like Méliès, Zeman employs almost every conceivable trick, combining live action, animation, puppets, and painted sets that are a triumph of sophisticated primitivism. The variety of tricks and superimpositions seems infinite; as soon as you have one effect figured out another image comes on to baffle you. For example, you see a drawing of half a dozen sailors in a boat on stormy seas; the sailors in their little striped outfits are foreshortened by what appears to be the hand of a primitive artist. Then the waves move, the boat rises on the water, and when it lands, the little sailors-who are live actors-walk off, still foreshortened. There are underwater scenes in which the fishes swimming about are as rigidly patterned as in a child's drawing (yet they are also perfectly accurate drawings). There are more stripes, more patterns on the clothing, the decor, and on the image itself than a sane person can easily imagine. The film creates the atmosphere of the Jules Verne books which is associated in readers' minds with the steel engravings by Bennet and Riou; it's designed to look like this world-that-never-was come to life, and Zeman retains the antique, make-believe quality by the witty use of faint horizontal lines over some of the images. He sustains the Victorian tone, with its delight in the magic of science, that makes Verne seem so playfully archaic. Released in the U.S. with narration and dialogue in English.

A Face in the Crowd

US (1957): Drama
125 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Andy Griffith as a hillbilly guitarist who rises to dangerous prominence on television in Elia Kazan's blast at the fascist potential in American mass culture. Some exciting scenes in the first half, but the later developments are frenetic, and by the end the film is a loud and discordant mess. With Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, and Anthony Franciosa. They could all use a good cold shower. Lee Remick, making her film début, is an amazingly sexy young baton-twirler. Budd Schulberg wrote the script; the music is by Tom Glazer. Warners.

Face to Face

US (1952): Drama
92 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Producer Huntington Hartford's two-part film comprising Stephen Crane's THE BRIDE COMES TO YELLOW SKY and Joseph Conrad's THE SECRET SHARER.

Faces

US (1968): Drama
130 min, Rated R, Black & White, Available on videocassette

John Cassavetes' semi-documentary method is peculiar in that its triumphs and its failures are not merely inseparable from the method but often truly hard to separate from each other. The acting that is so bad it's embarrassing sometimes seems also to have revealed something, so we're forced to reconsider our notions of good and bad acting. But working out of themselves (as his actors do), they can't create characters. Their performances don't have enough range, so we tend to tire of them before the movie is finished. Still, a lot of people found this psychodrama agonizingly true and beautiful. It's about the meaninglessness of life for the well-heeled middle-aged; the deliberately raw material is about affluence and apathy, the importance of sex, and the miseries of marriage. With John Marley, Gena Rowlands, Lynn Carlin, and Seymour Cassel.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

Fahrenheit 451

US (1967): Science Fiction
111 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Ray Bradbury's story about a future society in which books are forbidden was filmed in England by François Truffaut, with Julie Christie and Oskar Werner. The idea has an almost irresistible appeal, but Truffaut doesn't exploit the obvious possibilities. He barely dramatizes the material at all, and though there are charming, childlike moments, the performers seem listless, and the whole enterprise is a little drab.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

The Falcon and the Snowman

US (1985): Spy
131 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

As it was reported in the press in the late 70s, the story of the intelligent Chris Boyce and his coked-up buddy, Daulton Lee, the two boys from well-heeled, conservative Southern California backgrounds who sold key documents about U.S. surveillance satellites to the Russians, had everything-bravado, black humor, and a kind of all-American kinkiness. The movie version isn't really interested in what the boys did or in why they did it, either. The director, John Schlesinger, wants to shock the hell out of us by justifying Boyce, making the point that his actions weren't the traitorous ones-the C.I.A.'s were. The sumptuousness of Schlesinger's style is impressive. There's something lordly (and a little bored) in this director's command of the medium. While he gives you the feeling that he knows what he's doing, he has no staying power-he doesn't develop any of the ideas he tosses in. Timothy Hutton, who plays Boyce, makes you respond to the freak hidden inside the proper manners, and the flickers of subversive life under his clean-cut,regular-featured handsomeness suggest where the drama in the story is. But Schlesinger treats all this glancingly, and does his ritual song and dance, showing us how we are really the guilty ones. And the attention shifts to Sean Penn's whiny, strung-out Daulton Lee-an attention-getting bummer of a performance. (You feel as if the artist has disappeared and you were left watching a twerp playing a twerp.) With David Suchet as Alex, the K.G.B. man, and Dorian Harewood, Lori Singer, Pat Hingle, Boris Leskin, and Joyce Van Patten. The (disjointed) screenplay, by Steven Zaillian, is based on the book by Robert Lindsey; cinematography by Allen Daviau. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Falcon Takes Over

US (1942): Mystery
62 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

George Sanders played the Falcon (the suave, lighthearted detective created by Michael Arlen) four times, before turning the role over to his brother, Tom Conway. This was the third in the Sanders series-all brief, B-budget films scheduled for the lower half of double bills but still engaging. Its special interest is that the Michael Arlen character is placed inside the plot of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely (which was filmed again in 1945 as MURDER, MY SWEET, and again in 1976 under Chandler's original title). Lynn Root and Frank Fenton did the adaptation and Irving Reis directed. With James Gleason, Lynn Bari, Anne Revere, Allen Jenkins, and Ward Bond as Moose. RKO.

The Fall

Spain (1961): Drama
86 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as LA CAIDA.

The films of the Argentine director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson are very distinctive-atmospheric and sensitive, yet fragile, self-conscious, and not quite satisfying; they always promise more than they deliver. In this one, Elsa Daniel is a lonely young university student who takes a room with a fatherless family. The sickly, neurotic mother seems frightened of her callous, dreamy children; the family hero is an uncle, to whom the student is attracted. Banality sets in just when you hope for excitement. From a novel by the director's wife, Beatriz Guido. In Spanish.

Fallen Angel

US (1945): Mystery
97 min, No rating, Black & White

There was a brief period when Otto Preminger made well-paced, engaging melodramas, and this is one of them; it isn't in the class of his LAURA, but it's tolerable, in a tawdry sort of way. Dana Andrews arrives in a small California town with a dollar to his name, gets an itch for a money-loving waitress (Linda Darnell, so it's easy to sympathize with him), and marries the local rich girl (Alice Faye) to get the dough to win the waitress. But his sordid plan misfires: the waitress is murdered, and he becomes the prime suspect. Dana Andrews is saturnine and convincing, and although Alice Faye isn't altogether comfortable playing Brahms on a church organ and poring over Proust, the good cast includes Charles Bickford, Bruce Cabot, Jimmy Conlin, John Carradine, Anne Revere, and Percy Kilbride. Harry Kleiner adapted Marty Holland's novel. 20th Century-Fox.

The Fallen Idol

UK (1948): Thriller
94 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Carol Reed and Graham Greene collaborated on this tricky, highly original thriller. It's about the muddled attempt of an 8-year-old boy (Bobby Henrey), the son of the French ambassador to England, to protect the embassy butler, Baines (Ralph Richardson), whom he idolizes, from a charge of murder. The plot is just about perfect, and there are two wonderful parallel episodes, when the child attempts to impart vital information, which two sets of adults ignore because they think he's just prattling nonsense. There are terrifying, tense moments, too; the whole movie is very cleverly worked out. Maybe it's too deliberate, though, with its stylized lighting and its rigid pacing-you wait an extra beat between the low-key lines of dialogue. It's too deliberate and too hushed to be much fun. It's a polite thriller-which is close to a contradiction in terms. And the key characters-the decent Baines and the typist (Michèle Morgan) whom he loves-are too ordinary, too controlled, too nice. They're unexciting people. The child actor, however, is wonderfully jittery and intelligent. (Carol Reed had a way with child performers.) And as the unhappy Mrs. Baines, the embassy housekeeper who's a malignant disciplinarian with the child, Sonia Dresdel is really good at evil; she brings the film something out of the ordinary-something clammy and horrible. Greene based the screenplay on his short story "The Basement Room;" cinematography by Georges Périnal.

Falling in Love

US (1984): Romance
107 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A piece of big-star packaging in which Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep play two prosperous Westchester commuters, each married to someone else, in marriages that have become empty. It's pleasant to see these two in a picture where they're not carrying all the sins of mankind on their shoulders, but they've gone too far in the opposite direction-they're not carrying anything. The picture has been called an 80s BRIEF ENCOUNTER, but it's interminable, and in some ways it's more like an East Coast TENDER MERCIES-it's about two anomics who inch their way to spiritual rebirth. Directed by Ulu Grosbard, from a vacuous, would-be-romantic script by Michael Cristofer. Peter Suschitzky's cinematography has a vibrancy that makes you feel hopeful, and Michael Kahn's editing has an elating precision, but after a while the pleasures of technical proficiency shrivel. With Jane Kaczmarek (who's lively in her first scenes), Harvey Keitel, George Martin, Dianne Wiest, and David Clennon. The music by Dave Grusin is ultra-mediocre. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Fame Is the Spur

UK (1946): Drama
116 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

A study of human weakness and social pressures, with Michael Redgrave as a man from the working class who sheds his socialist ideals as he rises to power and eminence. The material suggests the career of Ramsay MacDonald, yet except for a few good scenes there's no real illumination, and the picture doesn't stay in your mind. With Rosamund John, Anthony Wager, Carla Lehmann, and Bernard Miles. From the Howard Spring novel; Nigel Balchin did the adaptation. John and Roy Boulting produced and directed.

Family Life

UK (1971): Drama
105 min, No rating, Color
Also known as WEDNESDAY'S CHILD/ZYCIE RODZINNE.

Valuable as an attack on the use of shock therapy and drugs in the care of disturbed people, but simplistic in its brief for R.D. Laing's methods of treatment. Ken Loach directed this cinéma-vérité-style English movie, which centers on a passive, weak-willed 19-year-old girl (Sandy Ratcliff) crushed by her rigid family and falling apart because of her regimented existence. Sent to a hospital, she is at first treated in a relaxed, informal experimental ward run by a Laingian, and it appears that she merely needs to learn to stand up to her family. But the Laingian is dismissed and she is given shock treatment and is left, at the end, a vegetable. David Mercer wrote the script, from his play In Two Minds. There are a few striking performances in the simulations of documentary footage. If you're not convinced by the Laing thesis, though, you may get very impatient.

Fan-Fan the Tulip

France (1951): Comedy/Adventure
104 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as FANFAN LA TULIPE.

This is a sort of Louis XV Western and its humor is of the type that can best be described as "irrepressible" or "roguish." Fanfan (Gérard Philipe) is a handsome peasant lout with good physical equipment and no excess weight of mind or morals; his agility in bed and battlefield provides a light burlesque on the arts of love and war. Gina Lollobrigida is his most decorative playmate; other ladies bursting their bodices include Geneviève Page as La Pompadour and Sylvie Pelayo as Henriette de France. With Marcel Herrand as the king, and Noël Roquevert. Christian-Jaque directed-as usual, he seems to mistake archness for style. Cinematography by Christian Matras. In French.

Fanny

France (1932): Drama
120 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Though the three films of the Marcel Pagnol trilogy are interrelated, each is complete in itself. This second one was directed by Marc Allégret (and Pierre Prévert), with the same cast as the first, MARIUS. After Marius (Pierre Fresnay) goes to sea, his pregnant fiancée, Fanny (Orane Demazis), marries the sailmaker (Charpin); Marius's father, César (the great Raimu), acts as godfather to his grandson. César's dominating, expansive character is the central force of the film. When Marius returns, he finds that his leaving was an irremediable mistake-that the sailmaker is acknowledged as the father of his son and that there is no place for him (until the concluding film, CESAR). You need a lot of tolerance for warm comic invention; it drags fearfully. In French.

Fanny and Alexander

Sweden (1983): Drama
197 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as FANNY OCH ALEXANDER.

Ingmar Bergman's festive and full-bodied dream play-a vision of family life as a gifted boy might have perfected it, replacing his strict family (Bergman's father was a clergyman) with a generous-hearted theatrical clan. In what Bergman said would be his final movie, his obsessions are turned into stories, and he tells them to us-he makes us a beribboned present of his Freudian-gothic dream world. The movie is scaled big; it runs for 3 hours and 10 minutes, and its lovingly placed warm gingerbreading is enormously enjoyable. But the conventionality of the thinking in the film is rather shocking. It's as if Bergman's neuroses had been tormenting him for so long that he cut them off and went sprinting back to Victorian health and domesticity. With Gunn Wållgren, Ewa Fröling, Jan Malmsjö, Erland Josephson, Pernilla Wållgren, Harriet Andersson, Jarl Kulle, Allan Edwall, Gunnar Björnstrand, Börje Ahlstedt, Mona Malm, Christina Schollin, and Bertil Guve as Alexander and Pernilla Allwin as Fanny. Cinematography by Sven Nykvist. Academy Awards: Best Foreign-Language Film, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design. In Swedish.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Fantasia

US (1940): Animated
120 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Disney enlisted an odd assortment of collaborators (among them Stokowski, who did it voluntarily, and Stravinsky, who was brought in involuntarily), and this grab bag of ambitious animated shorts-an attempt to combine high art and mass culture-was publicized as if it were an artistic landmark. Disney's animators provided visual interpretations of Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" (in Stokowski's transcription, which is a precursor of the musical processing in 2001) and of hyped-up excerpts from "The Nutcracker Suite," "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," "The Rite of Spring," the "Pastoral Symphony," "The Dance of the Hours," and "A Night on Bald Mountain" (which somehow leads into the "Ave Maria"). Volcanoes erupt and dinosaurs battle during "The Rite of Spring;" garlanded girl centaurs cavort during Beethoven's "Pastoral." Initially, the film was a box-office failure, but it proved successful in revivals, especially in the early 70s, when it became a popular head film, because of such ingredients as the abstract first section, the mushroom dance during "The Nutcracker" (one of the liveliest sequences), and the overly bright-somewhat psychedelic-color. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," featuring Mickey Mouse, and parts of other sequences are first-rate Disney, but the total effect is grotesquely kitschy.

Fantastic Voyage

US (1966): Science Fiction
100 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The sci-fi idea is ingenious, promising both poetry and excitement: a medical team is miniaturized so it can go into the bloodstream of a scientist to destroy a blood clot on his brain; the team has only sixty minutes for the journey and operation and getting out. But there's the usual little argument about whether to take the heroine, Raquel Welch, along ("A woman has no place on a mission like this"), and we know who the villainous saboteur is as soon as we hear one of the scientists spouting atheism. The body entered looks pretty, shiny clean, and expensive, like a new refrigerator, and the adventures inside are no more mysterious than a trip through Disneyland. (The action doesn't go below the waist.) Stephen Boyd is the stout-hearted hero; with Edmond O'Brien, Donald Pleasence, Arthur Kennedy, William Redfield, Arthur O'Connell, and a lot of bubbly special effects. The process shots are so clumsy that the actors look as if a child has cut them out with a blunt scissors-an effect that might be witty in a different context. It isn't terrible, just disappointing. Directed by Richard Fleischer, from Harry Kleiner's script. (The script was novelized by Isaac Asimov.) Produced by Saul David, for 20th Century-Fox. CinemaScope.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Far From the Madding Crowd

UK (1967): Drama
169 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

John Schlesinger's misconceived attempt to bring the great Hardy novel to the screen is in some ways a very beautiful film. It's a botch, but you can feel that it was made with love. With Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp, and Peter Finch. The script is by Frederic Raphael; the cinematography is by Nicolas Roeg; the music is by Richard Rodney Bennett; the production design is by Richard MacDonald. Dorset stands in for Wessex. Released in the U.S. by MGM.

Farewell Uncle Tom

Haiti-US (1972): Docudrama
No rating, Color

In this Italian pseudo-documentary about the horrors of black slavery, the Italian moviemakers Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi (whose previous films include MONDO CANE) claim to show exactly what slavery was like, from slave ship to plantation life. They feature scenes such as a slave-breeding farm, Southern white women rolling in the hay with their young slaves, and blacks in cages used for mad scientific experiments. And all this prurience and voyeuristic hypocrisy is thrown together with scenes on board a slave ship which can't help affecting you; your emotions get all tangled up, caught in Jacopetti and Prosperi's porno fantasies. Set in the United States but shot mostly in Haiti. Released by Cannon.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

The Farmer's Daughter

US (1947): Political/Comedy
97 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

This political comedy was enormously popular-maybe because of its smooth, bland, apolitical cheerfulness, which some people considered fresh. It's amiable but unrelentingly clean and nice. With blond braids wound in clusters over her ears, and turning j's into y's, Loretta Young plays a Swedish housemaid who finds a job in the home of a patrician, politically influential family (dominated by Ethel Barrymore), and gets to be a congresswoman. With Joseph Cotten, Charles Bickford, Rose Hobart, Rhys Williams, Harry Davenport, Lex Barker, Don Beddoe, and Jason Robards (père). Directed by H.C. Potter, from a screenplay by Allen Rivkin and his partner-wife, Laura Kerr. RKO.

Fashions

US (1934): Musical/Dance
78 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Bette Davis at her blondest as a fashion artist professionally and romantically involved with suave, shady promoter William Powell. Elaborate piffle, directed by William Dieterle; it mixes fashions and show business in the sort of bewildering combination that used to come off the Hollywood assembly line. With Hugh Herbert, Henry O'Neill, and Frank McHugh (as Snap), Verree Teasdale (as the Duchess), and Reginald Owen (as Baroque). Written by F. Hugh Herbert and Carl Brickson; choreography by Busby Berkeley; songs by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal. Warners.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

US (1982): Comedy
92 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Not bad. It may fall into the general category of youth-exploitation movies, but it isn't assaultive. The young director, Amy Heckerling, making her feature-film début, has a light hand. If the film has a theme, it's sexual embarrassment, but there are no big crises; the story follows the course of several kids' lives by means of vignettes and gags, and when the scenes miss they don't thud. In this movie, a gag's working or not working hardly matters-everything has a quick, makeshift feeling. If you're eating a bowl of Rice Krispies and some of them don't pop, that's O.K., because the bowlful has a nice, poppy feeling. The friendship of the two girls-Jennifer Jason Leigh as the 15-year-old Stacy who is eager to learn about sex and Phoebe Cates as the jaded Valley Girl Linda who shares what she knows-has a lovely matter-of-factness. With Sean Penn as the surfer-doper Spicoli-the most amiable stoned kid imaginable. Penn inhabits the role totally; the part isn't big but he comes across as a star. Also with Robert Romanus, Judge Reinhold, Brian Backer, and Ray Walston. The script, by Cameron Crowe, was adapted from his book about the year he spent at a California high school, impersonating an adolescent. The music-a collection of some 19 pop songs-doesn't underline things; it's just always there when it's needed. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Fat City

US (1972): Sports
100 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Set and shot in Stockton, California, this John Huston movie about boxing is almost a really memorable movie, but it suffers from a central piece of miscasting. Stacy Keach is catatonically drab as Tully, the boxer on the skids. The film is beautifully acted and directed around the edges, but it also suffers from a tragic tone that has a blurring, antiquing effect. You watch all these losers losing, and you don't know why they're losing or why you're watching them. Their losing appears to be a plot necessity for the sake of a faded idea of classical structure. In the role of a nice, dumb young fighter, Jeff Bridges helps to compensate for the missing center. He doesn't have much chance for characterization, but the way he moves is so unobtrusively natural and right that you feel you know the kid and understand him. Curtis Cokes, a fighter who had never acted before, is remarkable as Earl. Also with the flamboyant Susan Tyrrell as the drunken Oma, and Candy Clark, Art Aragon, and Nicholas Colosanto. The screenplay, by Leonard Gardner, is adapted from his novel; the cinematography is by Conrad Hall. With the song "Help Me Make It Through the Night," by Kris Kristofferson. Produced by Ray Stark; he later acknowledged he'd made a mistake in rejecting Huston's choice for Tully-Marlon Brando, who wanted to play the part. Columbia.

Fat Man and Little Boy

US (1989): Historical/Drama
126 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It's about how the collaboration of General Leslie R. Groves (Paul Newman) and J. Robert Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz) resulted in the two atomic bombs' being dropped on Japan. The director, Roland Joffe, and his co-screenwriter, Bruce Robinson, took this inherently dramatic subject and got lost in it; the script is a shambles. Newman, though miscast, is still too smooth to be matched by Schultz-he isn't a forceful enough actor to suggest Oppenheimer's Joan of Arc presence, which kept the collection of scientists together. In this version, both men are diminished: Oppenheimer is just an arrogant, ivory-tower idealist, and the gruff, deceitful Groves seems to pick him for his weakness. With John Cusack, Laura Dern, Natasha Richardson, Bonnie Bedelia, Gerald Hiken, John C. McGinley, and Fred Dalton Thompson. Music by Ennio Morricone. (The TV docudrama Day One, featuring Brian Dennehy as Groves and David Strathairn as Oppenheimer, shows how the Manhattan Project developed its own momentum; it has the complexity and drive that Joffe's version lacks.) Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

Fatal Attraction

US (1987): Thriller/Romance
119 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A primer on the bad things that can happen if a man cheats on his wife. There's sometimes a fine line between sexiness and craziness, and the hero (Michael Douglas), a Manhattan corporate lawyer-a settled married man-isn't hip enough to catch the danger signals when he lets a woman book editor (Glenn Close) talk him into going with her to her loft. Once this woman begins behaving as if she had a right to a share in the lawyer's life, she becomes the dreaded lunatic of horror movies. But with a difference: she parrots the aggressively angry, self-righteous statements that have become commonplaces of feminist fiction, and they're so inappropriate to the circumstances that they're proof she's loco. They're also the director Adrian Lyne's and the screenwriter James Dearden's hostile version of feminism. The film is about men seeing feminists as witches, and the way the facts are presented here, the woman is a witch. Brandishing a kitchen knife, she terrorizes the lawyer and his family. Basically this is a gross-out slasher movie in a glossy format. It's made with swank and precision, yet it's gripping in an unpleasant, mechanical way. The violence that breaks loose doesn't have anything to do with the characters who have been set up; it has to do with the formula they're shoved into. The picture enforces conventional morality (in the era of AIDS) by piling on paranoiac fear. With Anne Archer as the beautiful homebody wife, Ellen Hamilton Latzen as the bright little daughter, and Stuart Pankin as the clowning pal. Tip-top editing by Michael Kahn and Peter E. Berger. (Dearden's script is an expansion of the 42-minute film DIVERSION, which he wrote and directed in England in 1979.) Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

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