Billy Jack

US (1971): Drama
114 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A fascinating, primitive, mixed-up movie, made by the director, Tom Laughlin, and his co-writer, co-producer wife, Delores Taylor. (The screen credits are pseudonyms.) They also star in it, he as Billy Jack, a half-breed who is also half man of action, half mystic, and she as a pacifist Southwestern woman who runs an experimental "freedom school." Its racially mixed students are being persecuted by the vicious bigots of the neighboring town. In plot and structure, the picture is a crude, shapeless mess, but the freedom school teachers (comedians from The Committee) and some loose, good-humored children (actually Herbert Kohl's students from The Other Ways school) give it a disarming, hip innocence. There's a sweet, na�ve feeling to the movie even when it's violent and melodramatic and atrocious, and when it's good it's good in an unorthodox, improvisatory style. This may be the first movie in which a rape victim talks about what happened to her in terms of a specific feminine anger at her violation: Delores Taylor speaks haltingly in a singsong monotone, as if she were working it out, and by normal dramatic standards the scene is a drag. Yet it stays with one. The picture has a special fairy-tale appeal to very young audiences, in part because Billy Jack uses his mystical powers on behalf of the young. Billy Jack, who wears his cowboy hat flat across his forehead, appeared for the first time in the Laughlins' first picture, the motorcycle-gang film BORN LOSERS (1967), and then, after BILLY JACK, in the grandiose sequel, THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK (1974), which had none of the charm of this film. Released by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings

US (1976): Sports
110 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Rowdy, good-natured comedy-melodrama about a barnstorming black baseball team. Set in 1939, in the period just before major-league clubs admitted black players, it shows the players' attitudes toward the cakewalking and clowning expected of them by white crowds. It's like a modern, black variant of the 30s lunatic football comedies, such as PIGSKIN PARADE. The cast is headed by Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams, Stan Shaw, and James Earl Jones, whose great, deep voice functions as a joke all by itself. The script, by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, has some sophisticated, double-edged ideas but is short on characterization; it settles for a few too many cheap laughs, such as those involving a loud, fat black woman, and too many cartooned black capitalistic club owners as well as sadistic white villains (who, for unexplained reasons, have sinister Scandinavian accents). Directed by John Badham (it was his first picture, followed by SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER); cinematography by Bill Butler. Universal.


US (1988): Biography
160 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Clint Eastwood, who directed, gives the life of the master of jazz improvisation-the bebop alto saxophonist Charlie Parker-the art-film treatment: flashbacks, rain, darkness, and a running time of 161 minutes. With the film flashing back and forth, you can't get the hang of Parker's life story, and you don't come out with much understanding of his achievement or what made him a legend-the potent archetype of the self-destructive jazz artist. As Parker, Forest Whitaker trudges off to his gigs like a jazz version of Willy Loman; he's always fouling up-boozing and doping and smashing things. Whitaker gives a richly felt performance, yet he comes across as just a genial big blob of a fellow who can't get his life together. Some of his scenes with Diane Venora (as Chan Parker) have tension and a pricklish originality, and a few of his scenes with Michael Zelniker (as Red Rodney) have something comic and unresolved in them-Parker shows a streak of "just kidding" sadism. But mostly it's an earnest, lifeless movie. Joel Oliansky wrote the script; the cast includes Samuel E. Wright as Dizzy Gillespie. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

Bird of Paradise

US (1932): Romance
80 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

The director, King Vidor, and his associates performed near-miracles on this outdated story (an adaptation of a stage melodrama) about a Polynesian princess (Dolores Del Rio) whose love for a white man (Joel McCrea) results in her being punished by the Polynesian priests (she's thrown into a volcano). The talk is fearfully silly, but Clyde De Vinna's rich, tactile cinematography, the foliage of the locations, and Max Steiner's overblown score contribute to some high romantic effects. (Remade by Delmer Daves in 1951, with Louis Jourdan and Debra Paget.) RKO.

Birdman of Alcatraz

US (1962): Prison/Biography
143 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Intelligent, affecting, clearly well-meaning-too well-meaning as it drones on and on, upliftingly. The director, John Frankenheimer, and the scenarist, Guy Trosper, are so sympathetic and discreet in their near-documentary approach to Robert Stroud (who was still in prison, at 75, when the film was made) that they never solve the problem of how to dramatize the life of a convicted killer who spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement, with birds as his only companions. We don't get enough understanding of Stroud (Burt Lancaster) to become involved in how he is transformed over the years. (Stroud wrote a book on bird diseases.) And though Lancaster has to get points for his willingness to tackle the diffcult role, he doesn't have much expressive range, and when he's cooped up like this and can't use his intense physicality he seems numb-half dead. With Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter, Betty Field, Edmond O'Brien, Neville Brand, Whit Bissell, Hugh Marlowe, and Telly Savalas. Based on the book by Thomas E. Gaddis; cinematography by Burnett Guffey. Released by United Artists.

The Birds

US (1963): Horror
120 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Some of the special effects are amusing, and a few are perverse and frightening, but the effects take over in this Hitchcock scare picture, and he fails to make the plot situations convincing. The script (by Evan Hunter) is weak, and the acting is so awkward that often one doesn't know how to take the characters. With Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, and Jessica Tandy. Universal.

The Birds Come to Die in Peru

France (1968): Drama
95 min, No rating, Color

An atrocity perpetrated by Romain Gary in which Jean Seberg plays a frigid nymphomaniac goddess who lures men to their doom. Sample dialogue: "Take me." With Maurice Ronet, Pierre Brasseur, Danielle Darrieux, and Jean-Pierre Kalfon; cinematography by Christian Matras. In French. Universal.


US (1984): War/Drama
120 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Part satire, part Christ myth, it's like The Little Prince rewritten by Kurt Vonnegut. It's about two boys from the drab working-class suburbs of Philadelphia; they have both been maimed in Vietnam. Al (Nicolas Cage), his mutilated face wrapped in bandages, comes to see the psychically injured Birdy (Matthew Modine), who squats naked on the floor of a military hospital, crumpled like a broken bird. The movie is about the purity of madness, about male bonding, sadism, violation, and so on. And, with Al sitting on the hospital floor holding the catatonic Birdy in his arms, it's one Piet� after another. In flashbacks, through the two boys' thoughts and fantasies, we see them in their high-school days, when Birdy used to escape the meanness of the corrupt society by creating an aviary world of his own. Directed by Alan Parker, the movie takes itself inordinately seriously as a moral fable expressing eternal truths. It feels morose and unrelieved, despite the efforts of the two actors. (In the flashback scenes, when Al and Birdy are just kids doing reckless teenage things, the actors have matching smiles, the way best friends with shared secrets often do. And they move together, as if they were both hearing the same signals, the same music.) The movie is based on the late-70s novel by William Wharton (a pseudonym). It probably needed a director who found the story lulling, tantalizing, its meanings hidden; Parker's technological sophistication nails everything down. The score is by Peter Gabriel; the cinematography is by Michael Seresin. The screenwriters, Sandy Kroopf and Jack Behr, updated the material from the Second World War. With John Harkins and Sandy Baron. Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Birth of the Blues

US (1941): Musical
85 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Harmless enough, though the trip from Basin Street recorded here is a puny, disingenuous fairy tale about a struggling band and its vocalist, demure Mary Martin, who makes the Dixieland style a public success. This is too stupid to function as an insult to history. Bing Crosby (with his clarinet playing dubbed by Danny Polo) comes off considerably better than smiling Martin, and among the cast are Jack Teagarden and Harry Barris, along with Eddie Anderson and Brian Donlevy (with his trumpet playing dubbed by Poky Carriere). The songs-a mixed bag-include "St. James Infirmary," "That's Why They Call Me Shine," "The Waiter and the Porter and the Upstairs Maid," and "Cuddle Up a Little Closer." Directed by Victor Schertzinger, who was probably responsible for the nauseating full-choir rendition of "St. Louis Blues." Paramount.

The Birthday Party

UK (1968): Drama
127 min, Rated G, Color

The early Harold Pinter play, directed by William Friedkin, with an expert cast (Sydney Tafler, Robert Shaw, Patrick Magee, and Dandy Nichols). Lacking the excitement that Pinter's plays usually generate on the stage, the material became frozen and arbitrary. Cinematography by Denys Coop.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

Bitter Sweet

US (1940): Musical
92 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

It is said that when Noel Coward saw how his ironic, romantic costume operetta of 1929 (the book, the lyrics, and the music are all his) had been turned into a clumsy, sentimental vehicle for the overgrown kitten Jeanette MacDonald and dim, stalwart Nelson Eddy he wept. He also vowed to sell nothing more to Hollywood and-surprisingly-he kept that vow. MacDonald (born in 1903) is meant to be a proper, inexperienced English girl of 18, and Eddy, who could never manage dash or fire (he always looked pained from the effort; you could see the dull ache of someone who recognized his limitations), is supposed to be a Viennese rake. This is by no means the worst of the MacDonald-Eddy love-duet films-the songs are still mostly by Coward, and they include "I'll See You Again"-but this isn't one of the rare ones redeemed by high spirits, either. It's bad enough: you pass the time watching the actors ladling on their characterizations. And this being a big MGM production, MacDonald, even when she is supposed to be starving, is dressed in Adrian's plushiest low-camp creations. All the women in the large cast are decked out in ruffles and puffs and bows. Victor Saville produced; W.S. Van Dyke directed from Lester Samuels' adaptation. The cast includes George Sanders, Ian Hunter, Felix Bressart, Curt Bois, Veda Ann Borg, Sig Rumann, Herman Bing, Fay Holden, Edward Ashley, Janet Beecher, Diana Lewis, Lynne Carver, Greta Meyer, Paul Oman as the Zigeuner, and, in bits, Hans Conried and Jeff Corey. (Also filmed in England in 1933, with Anna Neagle.)

The Bitter Tea of General Yen

US (1933): Drama
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

This story about a cool, straitlaced girl from New England (Barbara Stanwyck) who is sexually drawn to the Chinese warlord who kidnaps her was the opening attraction at Radio City Music Hall. Tall, Swedish Nils Asther was a very peculiar Oriental, but he was certainly dazzlingly elegant and a highly exotic love object-too exotic, maybe, for moviegoers of the time, because despite the tensions of the daring interracial romance, the picture was not a box-office success. One of the most sensuously atmospheric (and least cloying) of Frank Capra's films, it suggests the influence of von Sternberg's SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932). With Gavin Gordon, Walter Connolly, Toshia Mori, Richard Loo, and Lucien Littlefield. The screenplay by Edward Paramore was adapted from a story by Grace Zaring Stone. Cinematography by Joseph Walker; produced by Walter Wanger for Columbia

Bizarre Bizarre

France (1937): Romance/Comedy
54 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as DR�LE DE DRAME.

Dadaist frivolity, with sequences that one giggles over happily for years. Jacques Pr�vert wrote and Marcel Carn� directed this romantic, satirical comedy about the English mania for detective fiction, set in Edwardian England. Jean-Louis Barrault is the detective-story reader who decides to commit his own perfect crime by murdering the author (Michel Simon). With Fran�oise Rosay as Barrault's inamorata (he gathers a bouquet for her by stealing the boutonnieres of men who have been clobbered in the Limehouse alleys); Louis Jouvet as a clergyman; and Jean-Pierre Aumont as a lovesick milkman. A memorable, deadpan dinner conversation about Duck � l'Orange is the source of the American title. In French.

The Black Bird

US (1975): Mystery/Comedy
98 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

George Segal is engagingly peppy as Sam Spade, Jr., in this attempted takeoff on THE MALTESE FALCON. Spade Junior's San Francisco is the zonked city of fantasists, and he's scrounging around for a living in an inherited trade that makes no sense to him. Something could have been done with the idea of a renewed search for the falcon in these changed circumstances if this new film, written and directed (more or less) by David Giler, had been able to roll along, moving among the street people and their throwaway conversations, and parodying modern filmmaking techniques as against the controlled studio style of the Huston film. There are bits of this attempted, and there's potential humor in seeing Effie (Lee Patrick), who was Bogart's proper, adoring secretary, arrive at Segal's office in a hostessy caftan and make no bones about her loathing of her boss. But the movie was shot in LA, with only a few days of actual location work in San Francisco, and Giler, a writer making his d�but as a director, is too inexperienced to achieve anything like the slouchy, wacked-out style that might have released the humor in some of his gag ideas. Instead, it's a dumb comedy, with an insecure tone and some good ideas mixed with some terrible ones. With St�phane Audran, Lionel Stander (dressed in a frogman's suit, he's grotesque to the point of adorability), the enigmatic John Abbott, Elisha Cook, Jr., as Wilmer the Gunsel again, and Signe Hasso, who speaks with a precision that recalls the gilt-edged intonations of the 40s. Produced by Ray Stark; Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Black Cat

US (1934): Horror
65 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were fated to meet; the encounter took place in this nutty, nightmarish m�lange of Black Masses and chess games, shadows and dungeons, Satanism and necrophilia. (They actually stalk each other.) It's a crepehangers' ball. Edgar G. Ulmer directed. With David Manners, being as ineffectual as ever, and Jacqueline Wells (later Julie Bishop). Universal.

Black Girl

US (1972): Drama
97 min, Rated PG, Color

Peggy Pettitt is the young girl, living in a matriarchal family, who tries to free herself from the patterns of ghetto apathy and become a dancer. The structure resembles the well-made second-rate serious play of thirty years ago, and the movie is faltering and clumsy, but it's an honest, straightforward attempt to express black experiences. The actors embody these experiences even when the theatrical mechanisms get in the way. Ossie Davis directed, from J.E. Franklin's adaptation of her own off-Broadway play. With the talented, queenly Louise Stubbs as the girl's mother; that powerhouse Claudia McNeil as the grandmother; Brock Peters; and, regrettably, the miscast Leslie Uggams. Produced by Lee Savin; released by Cinerama.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Black Legion

US (1936): Drama
83 min, No rating, Black & White

In 1936, there were press accounts that a new Klan had sprung up, selecting Jews, Catholics, and Communists as its targets, and Warners, always eager for topical stories, leaped in. In the movie, the organization is against foreigners in general, and Humphrey Bogart is the young factory worker who joins up in anger because a Pole got the job he wanted. He is soon involved with black sheets, masks, copper-studded whips, and guns. Though the film flaunts its cautionary message and assumes a virtuous, civics-lesson stance, the story is tacky and primitive. Tolerable, but not in a class with the best of the Warners socially conscious melodramas. Archie Mayo directed; with Ann Sheridan, Erin O'Brien-Moore, and Dick Foran.

Black Moon

France (1975): Fantasy/Drama
100 min, No rating, Color

Louis Malle is temperamentally unsuited to the meandering, enigmatic, post-apocalypse fantasy he attempts here; he's a sane man trying to make a crazy man's film. Fifteen-year-old Cathryn Harrison is Alice in a bombed-out Wonderland, where flowers squeal when they're stepped on and a unicorn talks. There's no obsessive quality in the disordered vision, and no wit. It's deadly. With Joe Dallesandro, Alexandra Stewart, and Th�r�se Giehse; cinematography by Sven Nykvist.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Black Pirate

US (1926): Adventure
85 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., in an exhilarating, lighthearted swashbuckler, filmed in a soft, golden, early Technicolor process. This is the film with the memorable sequence of the hero sliding down a sail on a knife, and it's probably the Fairbanks film that children like best. Billie Dove is the beautiful leading lady; Sam de Grasse is the sour, sneering villain, and Donald Crisp plays an aged, goodhearted pirate who scratches himself a lot. Albert Parker directed. Silent.

The Black Stallion

US (1979): Children's/Adventure
118 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

One of the rare movies that achieves a magical atmosphere. Seeing it is like being carried on a magic carpet; you don't want to come down. (It may be the greatest children's movie ever made.) In this first feature by Carroll Ballard (as in his earlier short films and documentaries), the visual imagination that he brings to the natural landscape is so intense that his imagery makes you feel like a pagan-as if you were touching when you're only looking. His great scenes have a sensuous, trancelike quality: the movie is set in 1949, but it seems outside time. And this distilled atmosphere makes it possible for a simple boy-and-animal story to be transformed into something mythological. The boy's sense of wonder recalls PATHER PANCHALI, but there are also elements of Arabian Nights fantasy that suggest the 1940 THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, without that film's theatricality. When the boy, alone on a desert island with the horse, woos him with a gift of seaweed and finally rides him, you may agree with the man who said that when he saw this movie he felt that he was rediscovering the emotional sources of mystery and enchantment. With Kelly Reno as the 11-year-old boy, and Mickey Rooney, Hoyt Axton, Teri Garr, and Clarence Muse. Based on the 1941 novel by Walter Farley; the screenplay is by Melissa Mathison (who later wrote E.T.), Jeanne Rosenberg, and William D. Wittliff. The cinematography is by Caleb Deschanel; the editing is by Robert Dalva. (A 1983 sequel, THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS, was not directed by Ballard.) Produced under the aegis of Francis Ford Coppola (he had been at UCLA at the same time as Ballard), and released by United Artists.

Black Sunday

Italy (1961): Horror
83 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A rich draught of vampire's blood. With its crypts and cobwebs and eerie old castles set in batty, steamy forests, it's sumptuous enough to have acquired a considerable reputation. The resurrected 200-year-old witch Princess Asa and the beautiful Princess Katia are both played by the English actress Barbara Steele in a deadpan manner that makes evil and good all but indistinguishable; in both roles, she looks like Jacqueline Kennedy in a trance. But you wouldn't want her to be any different in this studio-made Moldavia of 1830. The cinematographer-director, Mario Bava, who specialized in occult horror, and most of the actors are Italian; the story is derived from Gogol. Dubbed into English. Released by A.I.P.

Black Widow

US (1954): Crime
95 min, No rating, Color

This gaudy whodunit features a group of murderous, lascivious upper-crusters in the kind of Manhattan apartments that are found only in Hollywood. Van Heflin and Gene Tierney live on one floor, Ginger Rogers and Reginald Gardiner above them, and the remarkable Peggy Ann Garner commutes from one to the other. Nothing in this hothouse movie is remotely believable, but nothing is meant to be, either. Ginger Rogers, who is somewhat more fleshy than one expects, dominates the film in a rather entertaining way. The cast includes George Raft, Virginia Leith, Otto Kruger, Cathleen Nesbitt, Hilda Simms, Skip Homeier. Nunnally Johnson directed and wrote the screenplay, based on Patrick Quentin's novel Fatal Woman. 20th Century-Fox. (Caution: Some of the Fox films of this period have faded to pale, pale blue.) CinemaScope.

Black Widow

US (1986): Mystery/Crime
103 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Theresa Russell plays a slinky, cat-eyed dame who is somehow driven to marry a series of the richest millionaries in the country and murder them; Debra Winger plays an investigator at the Justice Department who notices the pattern in the sudden deaths and gets on the widow's trail. This may sound irresistibly succulent and trashy, but the director, Bob Rafelson, can't seem to give trash its due; he intellectualizes it. You expect the women to share identities or the picture to go lesbian, or something. But you're wrong. This is postmodernist film noir. Rafelson and the writer, Ronald Bass, disdain motivation and they don't develop the characters. The picture doesn't bother with suspense, either, but it has a high-tech swank, and though you may want to giggle at the fanciness, there are a few moments when the near-pornographic texture is actually amusing. Dennis Hopper and Nicol Williamson liven up their brief scenes as two of the widow's husbands; also with James Hong as a drugged-out private investigator, Terry O'Quinn as Winger's boss, and Sami Frey, Diane Ladd, Lois Smith, Leo Rossi, Rutanya Alda, Mary Woronov, and David Mamet as a poker player. Cinematography by Conrad Hall. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Blackboard Jungle

US (1955): Drama
101 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It was a shocking movie at the time and was said to provoke violence, and when Clare Boothe Luce, then American ambassador to Italy, protested its showing at the Venice Film Festival, its international fame was assured. The subject-contempt for authority (in a metropolitan trade school)-is treated as a problem with a definite solution. Surrounded by hostile and delinquent boys, the hero, an idealistic teacher, played by Glenn Ford, tries to reach the salvageable one among them-Sidney Poitier, who gives an angry, exciting performance. (He makes you feel his tensions and heat.) The director, Richard Brooks, wrote the script, adapted from Evan Hunter's novel, and it's sane and well worked out, though it's hard for audiences to believe in the hero's courage, and not hard at all for them to believe in the apathetic cowardice of the other teachers. If you excavate Evan Hunter's short story on which the rather shoddy novel was based, it's no big surprise to find that in the original account, "To Break the Wall," the teacher did not break through. Once again, a "daring" Hollywood movie exposes social tensions-touches a nerve-and then pours on the sweet nothings. But along the melodramatic way, there are some startling episodes (and one first-rate bit of racial interchange), and recordings by Bix Beiderbecke, Stan Kenton, Bill Holman, and others set quite a pace. (The music behind the opening titles-Bill Haley and the Comets on "Rock Around the Clock"-really made people sit up.) Glenn Ford seethes all the time, but he's fairly competent. With Louis Calhern, who's always fun to watch; Margaret Hayes, as the teacher who's a candidate for rape; Anne Francis in the tiresome role of Ford's pregnant wife; Richard Kiley, as the embarrassingly weak-kneed teacher whose jazz records get smashed. Also with John Hoyt, Paul Mazursky, Emile Meyer, Horace McMahon, Warner Anderson, and Vic Morrow as the Brando-style hoodlum. Cinematography by Russell Harlan. Produced by Pandro S. Berman, for MGM.


UK (1929): Mystery
86 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A London-set Hitchcock silent thriller that was in part reshot and in part dubbed to make it a sound film-and an unusually imaginative and innovative one. With its trick shots in the British Museum and a chase on the museum roof, the film seems almost German in its pictorial style, and the heroine is indeed played by the German actress Anny Ondra, who married Max Schmeling. (Her voice is dubbed.) Cyril Ritchard, who didn't look very different half a century later, plays the artist who tries to rape the heroine. Also with Sara Allgood, John Longden, and Donald Calthrop. Hitchcock turns up being pestered by a little boy while he tries to read a book.

Blade Runner

US (1982): Science Fiction
118 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Ridley Scott's futuristic thriller is set in a hellish, claustrophobic city, dark and polluted, and with a continual drenching rainfall-it's Los Angeles in the year 2019. The congested-megalopolis sets are extraordinary: this is the grimy, retrograde future-the future as a black market, made up of scrambled, sordid aspects of the present. A visionary sci-fi movie that has its own look can't be ignored: it has its place in film history. But you're always aware of the sets as sets-it's 2019 back lot. And the movie forces passivity on you. It puts you in this lopsided maze of a city, with its post-human feeling, and keeps you persuaded that something bad is about to happen. Harrison Ford is the blade runner-a police officer who kills "replicants," the powerful humanoids manufactured by genetic engineers, if they rebel against their drudgery in the space colonies and show up on Earth. He tracks down four of these replicants (Brion James; Joanna Cassidy; Daryl Hannah, who has killer thighs and does a punk variation on Olympia, the doll automaton of The Tales of Hoffmann; and the blue-eyed scenery-chewer Rutger Hauer), but Ford's mission seems of no particular consequence. The whole movie gives you the feeling of not getting anywhere-of being part of the atmosphere of decay. With Sean Young as Rachael and William Sanderson as the toymaker. From the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick; adapted by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples. Produced by Michael Deeley; a Ladd Company Release (in association with Run Run Shaw), through Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Blame It On Rio

US (1984): Comedy
100 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Travel-folder footage of Rio mixed with father-daughter incest (in a disguised form). The movie is about a 43-year-old father's guilt and confusion because of his affair with his best friend's 15-year-old daughter, who is also his own teenage daughter's best friend. Michael Caine and Joseph Bologna are the fathers who take their daughters (Demi Moore and Michelle Johnson, respectively) for a month's holiday in Rio. On the beach, ogling the bare-breasted women, the fathers see the backs of two beauties, who turn, and their bare-breasted daughters come bobbing over to them, laughing at their discomfort and hugging them. It's as if a Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedy of the early 60s had gone topless. Most of the movie is an attempt to squirm out from under its messy erotic-parental subject. Directed by Stanley Donen, from a final script by Larry Gelbart (a revision of Charlie Peters' version), the picture degenerates into a smarmy sit-com. It oozes self-consciousness. Caine's near-incest keeps him sweating and rushing about anxiously, while the ripe-to-bursting Michelle Johnson pouts and wiggles. With Valerie Harper. Cinematography by Reynaldo Villalobos. (Claude Berri's 1977 film ONE WILD MOMENT, which has the same plot, isn't credited on the screen.) A Sherwood Production, released by 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.


US (1989): Biography
119 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The love story of that old raspy-voiced rooster Earl K. Long, three-time governor of Louisiana, and the young red-headed stripper Blaze Starr is bawdy and satirical-it's Rabelaisian. Life was a banquet for Earl, and when he met Starr he'd found the centerpiece. Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed, cherishes Blaze (Lolita Davidovich, in her first major screen role), and he adores Ol' Earl (Paul Newman), who used his swamp smarts to fight the white supremacists. But Shelton doesn't quite engage with the material; the picture is lame and rhythmless. Still, it's never boring, and it offers a ribald view of Southern politics that contrasts with the stern, melodramatic portrait of Earl's older brother Huey as a fascistic demagogue in the 1949 film ALL THE KING'S MEN. Newman, using the low, hoarse voice of a lifelong stump speaker, seems an eccentric husk of a man. He begins too far into the character; we have to catch up. By the end, we're with him. With Robert Wuhl, Jerry Hardin, Gailard Sartain, Jeffrey DeMunn, Garland Bunting, and, in one scene, the real Blaze Starr. Touchstone (Disney).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

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