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  • Pennies from Heaven

    Pennies from Heaven

    “Dreamers”

    PENNIES FROM HEAVEN is the most emotional movie musical I've ever seen. It's a stylized mythology of the Depression which uses the popular songs of the period as expressions of people's deepest longings—for sex, for romance, for money, for a high good time. When the characters can't say how they feel, they evoke the songs: they open their mouths, and the voices on hit records of the thirties come out of them. And as they lip-sync the lyrics their…

  • Secret Honor

    Secret Honor

    “Arf”

    Robert Altman has more sheer stubborn effrontery than any other great American director, as he proved in the string of recklessly original movies he made in the first half of the seventies: M*A*S*H (1970), MCCABE & MRS. MILLER (1971), THE LONG GOODBYE (1973), THIEVES LIKE US (1974), CALIFORNIA SPLIT (1974), and NASHVILLE (1975). He has always been erratic, and he has an equally long list of bummers and valiant efforts that failed, but when he's working in top form there's…

  • Never Cry Wolf

    Never Cry Wolf

    “Retro Retro”

    Carroll Ballard's landscapes are peerless; they achieve a kind of superreality. His great scenes have a sensuous, trancelike quality; the atmosphere seems outside time. And in his first feature, the 1979 THE BLACK STALLION, this distilled atmosphere made it possible for a simple boy-and-animal story to be transformed into something mythological. The boy's sense of wonder—his way of finding the mysterious in the ordinary—recalled PATHER PANCHALI, but there were also elements of Arabian Nights fantasy that suggested the…

  • Terms of Endearment

    Terms of Endearment

    “Retro Retro”

    Sitting in the theatre where TERMS OF ENDEARMENT was being previewed, and listening to the sniffles and sobs of the audience that only a few minutes before had been laughing, I flashed back to PENNY SERENADE in 1941, the picture in which Irene Dunne and Gary Grant as a young married couple stood by helplessly as their little adopted daughter died. And I watched as, once again, the survivors overcame their pettiness and selfishness and showed the strength…

  • Pass the Ammo

    Pass the Ammo

    “Soft Light and Hellfire”

    Set in an Ozark community, PASS THE AMMO is a piece of rollicky backwoods Americana. This lampoon of television evangelists was shot in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where the civic auditorium was converted into the studios of the Tower of Bethlehem, a ministry that lays claim to an audience of twenty million people and is systematically bilking them. The story is about a young woman (Linda Kozlowski) from the hill country who's trying to recover fifty thousand…

  • High Season

    High Season

    “Soft Light and Hellfire”

    The melting beauty of Clare Peploe's HIGH SEASON has a lot to do with a great cinematographer, Chris Menges, and a great setting, a town on the Greek island of Rhodes. There's bliss in the soft light and the acropolis, on its hilltop, and the color of the sea. But the film's seductiveness has even more to do with Peploe's knowing how to frame the shots and then edit them so that the images move just…

  • RoboCop

    RoboCop

    “Siblings and Cyborgs”

    When the sounds of ROBOCOP came at me, amid the yells of the boiling-over audience, I attributed the bludgeoning line readings to the fact that the Dutch director, Paul Verhoeven (SOLDIER OF ORANGE, THE 4TH MAN), doesn't have a particularly subtle ear for English. But something bigger may be involved: maybe, working with only a rudimentary knowledge of the language, he embraced a mass-audience obviousness that he couldn't—or wouldn't—have settled for in a culture where he knew…

  • La Bamba

    La Bamba

    “Siblings and Cyborgs”

    LA BAMBA is the life story of the Chicano rock 'n' roller Ritchie Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips), who had three hit records before he died at seventeen in a plane crash, in 1959. But the writer-director Luis Valdez (who also made "Zoot Suit'') isn't primarily concerned with Ritchie Valens as the bullet of talent he must have been. The film's Ritchie has no special drive. Phillips is playing a Latino version of the boy next door; he's…

  • Good Morning, Babylon

    Good Morning, Babylon

    “Siblings and Cyborgs”

    GOOD MORNING, BABYLON, the first film made in English by the Taviani brothers, seems to shed its humor as it goes along. It's amiable at the start, when it shows us the exalted ideas of themselves that Italian workmen have. Two teenagers (Vincent Spano and Joaquim de Almeida), the youngest of seven boys in a family of Tuscan plasterers and masons, are the favorite sons of their patriarchal father (Omero Antonutti) and think no harm can befall…

  • My Beautiful Laundrette

    My Beautiful Laundrette

    “Yes, Yes”

    MY BEAUTIFUL LAUDRETTE is the unprepossessing title of a startlingly fresh movie from England. The director, Stephen Frears, threads his way through life in South London among the surly white street gangs who live on the dole with no hope of anything better and the Pakistani immigrants who are trying to make their way upward. The movie begins in a small apartment with a Pakistani father phoning his brother to arrange a summer job for his son, whom…

  • Chaos

    Chaos

    “Yes, Yes”

    KAOS, the latest film by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, the brothers whose earlier work includes the 1977 PADRE PADRONE and the 1982 THE NIGHT OF SHOOTING STARS, is composed of adaptations of four Pirandello stories set in Sicily, plus a prologue and an epilogue, and it runs three hours and eight minutes. Partly financed by Italian television, it was intended to be shown on TV, in four installments, as well as in theatres, and when foreign distributors bought…

  • Lady in White

    Lady in White

    “Outside”

    LADY IN WHITE is a ghost movie with an overcomplicated plot, but it has a poetic feeling that makes up for much of the clutter. And its amateurishness often adds to its effectiveness—gives the movie a naive power. The amateurishness helps you to open your imagination to it. (There's nothing slick to repel you.) The picture was written and directed by Frank LaLoggia, who also composed the score; the location shooting was done in the upstate New York town…