• 8 Million Ways to Die

    8 Million Ways to Die

    “Drifters, Dopes, and Dopers”

    Hal Ashby’s 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE is about cops and robbers, coke and hookers. (These are the pillars of new American action movies—the ones that aren’t about showing the Commies how mighty is our moral wrath.) The Ashby film is based on Lawrence Block’s mystery novels featuring the detective Matthew Scudder; the best known of these books is “Eight Million Ways to Die” —which, of course, refers to New York City, where the stories are…

  • Wise Guys

    Wise Guys

    “Drifters, Dopes, and Dopers”

    WISE GUYS is a mafia burlesque—a broad, slapstick Mafia farce, spattered with gross-out humor. The two heroes—Danny DeVito as the bumptious Italian Harry, and Joe Piscopo as the Jewish simpleton Moe—have been best friends since childhood and still live in adjoining working-class houses in Newark. They’re on the lowest rung of the local organization; they’re hangers-on who are treated contemptuously and ordered to fetch the godfather’s groceries and dry cleaning, or start his car for him…

  • Vagabond


    “Drifters, Dopes, and Dopers”

    Agnés Varda wrote and directed VAGABOND—in France, SANS TOIT NI LOI (literally, “Without Roof or Law”)—a scrupulous, hardheaded film about an eighteen-year-old girl on the road. Mona (played by the eighteen-year-old Sandrine Bonnaire, who came to prominence in Maurice Pialat’s 1983 A NOS AMOURS) is a deliberately homeless wanderer in a leather jacket. The movie begins with the discovery of her body in a ditch. Like other French drifters, she had headed south for the winter,…

  • Uncommon Valor

    Uncommon Valor

    “Vanity, Vainglory, and Lowlife”

    A reasonably accurate test of whether an action movie is racist: Do the white heroes slaughter people of color in quantity, either affectlessly or triumphantly? This test isn't foolproof. In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Arabs are casually dispatched—it's as if the hero were skeet shooting—but the tone is clearly a parody of old-movie conventions, and I wouldn't call the picture racist. Thoughtless, maybe, but not racist. UNCOMMON VALOR, a realistic action fantasy in which a…

  • Blame It on Rio

    Blame It on Rio

    “Comedy, Epic, Sitcoms”

    BLAME IT ON RIO is about father-daughter incest, in a disguised form. It's about a forty-three-year-old father's guilt and confusion be- cause of his affair with his best friend's fifteen-year-old daughter, who is also his own teen-age daughter's best friend. Yet it's also meant to be a rollicking romantic comedy. The forty-three-year-old father is played by Michael Caine—he was born in 1933, and this picture seems to have aged him another ten years. I think this is…

  • El Norte

    El Norte

    “Comedy, Epic, Sitcoms”

    EL NORTE is about the flight of two oppressed, terrorized young Guatemalans—Rosa (Zaide Silvia Gutierrez) and her brother Enrique (David Villalpando)—who travel from their Mayan village in the highlands, which probably hasn't changed much since pre-Columbian times, to modern Los Angeles, where they pass themselves off as Mexicans and become part of the Hispanic cheap-labor force. Written by the director, Gregory Nava, and his wife, Anna Thomas, who was the producer, the film was made on a…

  • The Lonely Guy

    The Lonely Guy

    “Comedy, Epic, Sitcoms”

    In THE LONELY GUY, Steve Martin, thrown out by his girl-friend, falls into a subculture of Lonely Guys, and we accompany him as he enters this secret society of men who recognize each other. (It's like the closeted gay subculture of the fifties.) The fun of the movie is Martin's stumbling into this world of outcasts and his earnestness in trying to conceal the signs that he's one of "them." Martin, who can't quite believe the situation…

  • Bed and Board

    Bed and Board

    “How Boys Grow Up”

    François Truffaut can seem to be inside one’s head in some movies and a total stranger, who barely interests one, in others. It would, however, be arrogant to assume that the Truffaut films one really loved (in my own case, SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER, JULES AND JIM and THE WILD CHILD) were works he had done for himself, while films one cared for not at all (in my case, say, THE BRIDE WORE BLACK) and films…

  • Trafic


    “New Thresholds, New Anatomies”

    Jacques Tati is praised so extravagantly by others that maybe I will be forgiven if I say that he lost me on MON ONCLE and that his new film, TRAFFIC, could be a whole lot funnier. Tati has a nice spare buoyancy in JOUR DE FÊTE and was poignantly quick and eccentric in MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY, but he really isn’t much of a performer, and by the time of MON ONCLE his spontaneity had vanished. At…

  • Child's Play

    Child's Play

    “New Thresholds, New Anatomies”

    Making his debut as a motion-picture producer with CHILD’S PLAY, David Merrick does not exactly arrive in style; in fact, it's hard to believe he traveled first class. The Robert Marasco play is a stylish bit of artifice—evil on the loose in a Catholic boarding school for boys. The trouble with this kind of Victorian gothic job is that there's never any way to resolve the situation satisfactorily (the explanations are always a let-down), and so…

  • The Poseidon Adventure

    The Poseidon Adventure

    “New Thresholds, New Anatomies”

    THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is about an ocean liner that turns turtle. The suspense is in the method of escape and the narrowing number of survivors; you watch as fate ticks them off in photogenically horrible ways—engulfing water, flames, scalding liquids, falling chandeliers. In order to lend a movie cataclysm some spiritual importance, it is customary to clue us in on who will perish and who will survive by making the former cowardly, life-denying types and the…

  • The Heartbreak Kid

    The Heartbreak Kid

    “New Thresholds, New Anatomies”

    Nothing is as rare in American movies now as comedy with a director's style and personality. Elaine May finds her comic tone in THE HEARTBREAK KID, and she scores a first, besides: No American woman director has ever before directed her daughter in a leading role. As Lila, Jeannie Berlin not only is her mother's surrogate but plays the Elaine May addled nymph probably better than Elaine May could on the screen. As a performer, Elaine…