Films

A yule unspooled

Lawrence O’Toole December 25 1978
Films

A yule unspooled

Lawrence O’Toole December 25 1978

A yule unspooled

Films

Lawrence O’Toole

Day of the pods

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS Directed by Philip Kaufman

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a remake of the 1956 classic, is the ultimate urban horror story—a nightmare vision of automatons and neon. The possessed population of San Francisco, whose bodies are being taken over by a force from outer space through pods that reproduce sticky, embryonic duplicates of them, walk with shoulders slumped, their emotions rendered inert. They file by, holding those pods of procreation in their arms, afflicted with a Legionnaire’s disease of the spirit, ready to inform on survivors by emitting eerie ululations. The four survivors under siege—two health department employees (Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams) and a poet and his masseuse amour (Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright)—exist in the shadow world, terrified, knowing that the minute they sleep they’ll join the living dead.

In Body Snatchers—an extended, virtuoso chase scene—the director, Philip Kaufman (The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid), comes into his own with amazing audacity. He piles climax on top of climax, keeps the horrors mounting with cool, calculated assurance, and just when you think he has pulled off his final dazzler, there’s another one, and more after that. His movie-making, like Brian De Palma’s, is a supreme triumph of style over subject—hallucinogenic hype. No other movie this year has looked quite like it (De Palma’s The Fury comes closest). Michael Chapman’s camera squeezes every possible play of light into each frame; the night scenes that take up most of the movie are filled with steely halos and hazy vistas. The glare keeps growing as the grand finale edges unbearably closer

and San Francisco is bathed in an unrelenting steely blue light. The screen shimmers with unsettling imagery, imbuing the ordinary with the unnatural.

Great horror movies turn the preposterous (aliens creating a totalitarian, trouble-free state devoid of any human drama) plausible. Anything can happen. The depth of the cinematography in Body Snatchers is part of its suggestive power; something will slip into or out of the shadow in the background and you’re never exactly sure what it might be. Each image works as a threat, the movie by demonic design—ganglions of sound in the score as the pods’ tendrils inch closer, the tilted architecture, the heavily charged, clammy atmosphere—and makes the imaginative leap that the Byzantine plot twists couldn’t by themselves. Kaufman keeps you fidgeting in your seat for the first hour, squirming for the next, sealing off all exits.

Body Snatchers brings you to the point of no return (one of its most horrifying moments is a look at one of the mutants produced by the pods) and it plays on the subconscious fear of losing your mind; the survivors, the non-zombies, are literally in danger of doing just that. A different kind of night fever, it dredges your disbelief to the surface where, uncovered, it just wilts away.

Superfunk

SUPERMAN

Directed by Richard Donner

[“oAroof of the pall that money can buy, Li Superman, heralded as a kind of Second Coming with advanced aerodynamics to match Christ’s, is a passable entertainment. The long-awaited flying sequences work (i.e. you can’t see the wires), but they aren’t handled with much grace or rhythmic energy; when Superman takes Lois Lane for an excur-

sion over Metropolis it’s like a Cessna ride. The movie manages no magic. Richard Donner doesn’t bring the imaginative vision to the material that a director like Steven Spielberg might have: the superkid’s arrival from Krypton in a meteor (the movie is a special effects extravaganza, yet we don’t see the meteor landing) has no wonder in it and Geoffrey Unsworth’s images are big and behemothic, not awesome. It’s bigness that killed the beast.

Featuring the longest credit list ever unrolled, Superman isn’t a movie—it’s a catalogue, mostly of disaster movies. Krypton exploding, Lois in a helicopter hanging off a skyscraper, a train about to be derailed, an airliner losing an engine, and the Boulder Dam bursting. The plot (sort of) pits Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and his henchpeople (Valerie Perrine and Ned Beatty) against the Man of Steel, with Luthor redirecting nuclear warheads to land at the San Andreas Fault producing all the peril. Performances are little more than appearances: as the Kryptonians, Terence Stamp, Maria Schell, Trevor Howard and Susannah York are walk-ons. And then there’s Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman’s father, in a $3.7-million performance that is more like 10 cents a glance. John Barry’s sets for Krypton are virtually the same as those he did for Star Wars, Luthor’s underground lair little different from the villains’ hideaways in TV’s Batman.

Beyond and below everything else is the script, which nearly everyone and his mother has worked on. A lot of the fun—and there is a lot of fun in the movie—is spoiled by the attitude taken to Superman by the movie-makers. He’s not treated as a camp object and he’s not played straight, either—he’s an

anachronism given to hip banter. T never drink when I’m flying,” he tells Lois. Lois,landedfrom her ride, says,

a super man.” Ah, hem.

As Superman him self, Christopher Reeve is a gifted comedian and Margot der’s a saucy, sexy, wiseacre Lois. Only one scene has that unblemished eye for the newness and astonishment in things that draws us to movies: the big, lovable, dashing lunk orbiting around the earth at so supersonic a speed that he turns back time and saves Lois’ life. Otherwise, there’s no real flight. No supernal skies. Just small, technological sorceries. In a way, Superman never really leaves Smallville.

Sometime! me toy«

MOMENT BY MOMENT Directed by Jane Wagner

crphe dialogue in Moment by Moment U has an edge on Edge of Night and you sit there aghast that anyone could have strung together that many banalities in a row. “Sometimes I feel that it’s all been a waste,” says Trisha Rawlings (Lily Tomlin), a bored California matron about to be divorced from her rich husband and who is tired of sunning herself all day and sipping white wine. She has insomnia, drives her Mercedes aimlessly around town and is so uptight she’s barely breathing. Along comes Strip (yes, Strip) who is a loafer and a runaway and who is also John Travolta. He opens up the Venetian blinds to her heart. “Yes, I love you in bed,” she tells him . “Then you don’t love me out of bed,” he replies with a sniffle. There are sniffles moment by moment: Travolta cocks back his head, does a swift turn away from the camera, then returns to face it, eyes brimming with tears. But

he can’t hold a bottle of Murine to Lily Tomlin as the Maid of the Mist. “Oh, Strip,” she keeps moaning, creating in record time one of the great camp lines of all time.

Moment by Moment, basically a twocharacter movie, was shot in Panavision; each time Strip and Trisha flash their teeth in joy at one another or tease up another tear from those miracle springs,

it’s

like Godzilla and Rodin having an encounter session.

Written and directed by Tomlin’s longtime associate, Jane Wagner, Moment by Moment is quite possibly the most embarrassing and unintentionally funny item since At Long Last Love. Strip and Trisha have so many feelings and so much going against them. It’s all very intense. Maybe if they got out of the house a little? Nope. The age problem you know. Why is Lily Tomlin taking seriously the same material she flays mercilessly as a comedienne? And how can you have a serious love scene when one of the partners keeps purring, softly, “Oh, Strip?”

What you see is what you get

SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR Directed by Robert Mulligan

□ n Bernard Slade’s hip play, George (Alan Alda) and Doris (Ellen Burstyn) have a one-night affair in 1951 and keep returning on the sly once a year thereafter—for 26 years. They laugh a lot, cry as much, have terrific sex, trade cracks, and watch each other grow old. It’s the perfect romantic fantasy: love and companionship without the attenuation of “real” life. Between trysts their attitudes are slowly, even movingly altered, but everything is reduced to jokes and emotional souvenirs.

The movie goes one further than the play’s nostalgia: bridging the five-year period between the meetings are collages of photographs, from Howdy Doody to Vietnam, and, like the songs in Coming Home, they bring back the recent, lived-in past so forcefully that the audience begins to weep.

It’s so manipulative, but one of the secret, guilty pleasures of going to movies has always been enjoying the working-over you get. Same Time, Next Year gives it to you in Slades. The jokes are crass, the contrivances arch, and the direction merely “blocking out” scenes. Burstyn and Alda respond with curveball wit and warmth: George and Doris survive their tiffs, their tragedies and even BerSlade.

Time,

Next Year is a lousy film, but a better moviewhat you get is what you bring to it.

Drab violins

KING OF THE GYPSIES Directed by Frank Pierson

'ou think you got problems? What if _ you’re born a gypsy and your name is Dave (Eric Roberts) and your father (Judd Hirsch) beats up on you and your mom (Susan Sarandon) and forces your sister (Brooke Shields) into an adolescent marriage? And what if your grandpa (Sterling Hayden), king of all the gypsies in New York, wants to pass down his power to you, and you don’t want it? What if your grandmother is Shelley Winters? If you are having a miserable time this Christmas, or if you’re given to misery in general, King of the Gypsies is for you. You’ll feel better: nobody, not even you, is as miserable as Dave.

In the hands of an artist, say Coppola, Scorsese or Bertolucci, Peter Maas’s book could have been a sensational

movie—a richly textured narrative bursting with feeling for an anachronistic way of life, tackling the tensions that lie in tenebrous family ties. But former screenwriter Pierson (Dog Day Afternoon), lately, but not late enough, a director as well (A Star Is Born), can’t handle simple crowd scenes, much less handle the range and incident of Maas’s epic story. His idea of directing scenes is to arrange them, inform his actors as to “motivation,” then let Sven Nykvist create Pastel City with his fog filters. King of the Gypsies is one of the largestscaled, seemingly longest, episodic, totally uninvolving movies featuring Shelley Winters.

Dave, the illiterate tugged by conflicting feelings of freedom and loyalty to his gypsy roots, calls for a young Robert De Niro. But Eric Roberts, where did they get himl A dynamo it needs; a dimwit dip it has got. Several burning questions, however, are answered: can Brooke Shields act? No. Who is the new King of the Pig People? Bad dad Judd Hirsch. Will Sterling Hayden ever live down his patriarch image from 19001 Apparently

not.

If you

make a movie about gypsies do you have to nearly always have violin music and dancing? Apparently so. What is large, smokes a pipe, wears a bandanna, whines a lot, and is described in this movie as “a wreck?” Shelley Winters.

The pursuit of haplessness

CALIFORNIA SUITE Directed by Herbert Ross

®n the stage, Neil Simon’s California Suite was a series of extended vignettes—four playlets about different and differing couples at a

swank L.A. hotel—devised for sufferers of Crippled Attention Span. The director, Herbert Ross (The Goodbye Girl), has cross-cut from story to story, but his editing techniques are slow and without surprise, too coyly labored for slapstick. But he’s a decent craftsman and he has tried to humanize some of the material. In one segment, Jane Fonda, a sharp Newsweek editor, flies back to the Coast to retrieve her runaway daughter from her ex-husband (Alan Alda); in another, a British actress (Maggie Smith) arrives to attend the Oscars with her bisexual husband (Michael Caine). These show Neil Simon in a new phase. It could be called Badinage and Bandage: segue to sadness while unleashing all the laffs—send in the clowns followed by Send in the Clowns. Simon’s responses to people have, by now, been so programmed for the cheap shot that nothing Ross does can veil the venality—it’s all as slick as a crock of Vaseline.

If, however, you think Jane Fonda is the most interesting American actress around, or that Maggie Smith is her British counterpart, California Suite is worth some thumb-twiddling. Smith, her hands drooping like wilted ferns, is just a joy. All gussied up in a new gown, she embarks from the bathroom convinced she has a hump on her shoulder. Her august adenoids go to work at once: “I paiddE 500 for this and I look like Richard

III.”

Carping on Caine’s behavior at dinner, she snaps hopelessly, “You did everything but lick his artichoke.” There isn’t an actress alive who can make one basic routine so consistently entertaining. Fonda, a smashing 40, bristles with nerve, her lines have edge.

Arresting the development of the modern, flinty, warm woman she has so mysteriously found mired here, the

movie heads for the pursuit of haplessness in two lesser segments. One deals with accident-prone vacationers from Chicago (Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and two actresses bound for oblivion); another finds a hung-over husband (Walter Matthau) waking up with a call girl as his wife (Elaine May) arrives. And both are pits-shtik-skits.

Every which misty

PUf iUCfiO

EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE Directed by James Fargo

CKMint Eastwood is a mean mother and his mother, Ruth Gordon, is a mean mother, too (probably the most foul-mouthed octagenarian actress around). Clint’s sidekick as he hightails it across the Southwest after Sondra Locke is an orangutan, who beats Clint up. Clint beats everybody else up. Lots of C&W songs. Eleven fights. A hardhat’s heaven.

Sad violins

OLIVER'S STORY Directed by John Korty

mi alf bad. When we last saw Jenny, in ÜÜ Love Story, she was dying rather sweetly; this time she’s being interred. One hopes for good. Determined to live on the memory of her, Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) is staunchly seclusive until he meets Marcie Bonwit (Candice Bergen) whose hair is lovely. Despite his money, Oliver has become a reform-minded lawyer. He and Marcie have conflicting ideas on class. They part. He decides to “plug back into life.” Director Korty

does everything but stage a tap routine to make the movie inter esting.If only somebody plug Erich Segal back somewhere.