NC-17, poor movie manners, some earnest exhibitors, good Clint and bad Clint

December 30, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The year had more than its share of the good, the bad and the ugly, so let's get right to it.

Jeers: to the Motion Picture Association of America for its ludicrous NC-17 rating, toward which already pornographers are flocking. By dumping the X altogether, the MPAA is in effect saying to the public, "Anything goes," "Don't call us, we'll call you," and "The check is in the mail." Now here's an industry that takes a billion dollars out of the American economy every year, whose successes live in a style which only a few maharajahs and steel barons could afford in the last century, and which has had an unparalleled reign of prosperity in the last few years. And it is refusing to police its own bottom feeders and refusing to acknowledge even the slightest responsibility to the public on which it feeds. Shame.

Cheers: to three local exhibitors who have struggled to keep the moviegoing experience civilized and memorable: Tom Kiefaber, owner of the Senator, who sustains the tradition of the movie palace, makes presentation and comfort the highest values in the wonderful deco museum on York Road, and who actually tells people to shut up during the movie in his daily preshow routine; to David Levy, Pat Moran and Gary Lambert of the Charles, as well as the folks at the Baltimore Film Forum, who manage heroically to keep the art film alive in Baltimore during these lean times; and to Sylvester Craig, who manages the always clean, quiet and efficient Security Square multiplex for National General Cinema, and proves that national chain ownership doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Jeers: to the general breakdown in movie courtesy. This is not restricted to any particular group or class; it's sadly universal. Perhaps it's the influence of VCR viewing habits, which take the special event of the "movie" and make it part of family discourse; perhaps it's merely that most people are slobs; perhaps it's the collapse of "ushers" from authoritarian figures to wimpy, pimply Holden Caulfield types. Whatever the reason, more and more people seem to think it's a constitutional right to turn to friend, child or spouse and discuss what's on the screen in conversational tones; moreover, they act insulted when asked to quiet down. If you must talk, you must whisper. Big Critic says so.

Cheers: to the Samuel Goldwyn company, for releasing Charles Burnett's beautiful, heartfelt and tough-minded -- but commercially doomed -- "To Sleep With Anger." And cheers, also, to Danny Glover for investing his talent and clout in the process of getting the film made.

Jeers: to the cheapest shot of the year. This is in "Dances With Wolves," which, while a fine film, isn't averse to arguing political correctness rather than personal responsibility. The case in point involves the sleazy scene where the brutal white soldiers who have captured Kevin Costner's Lt. John Dunbar shoot the wolf that he's befriended. It's a scene calculated to make you hate them in a second, and it does. But think about it. The true author of the situation is Dunbar: He's the idiot who's seduced the animal from its normal behavior patterns with gifts of bacon and kindness. He's semitamed it and out of his own slobby self-indulgence weaned it of its fear of man. So . . . he's the one who kills it. Responsibility, responsibility.

Cheers: to Clint Eastwood, for his gutty, ridicule-attracting turn as John Huston in "White Hunter, Black Heart." The big guy clearly aspires to do the right thing, at least in some of his movies, and he took a big step into the void in a hammy, gruff-voiced and theatrical turn as the flamboyant Huston. Critics laughed, audiences stayed away, but guts are to be admired in any enterprise, no matter how foolish.

Jeers: to Clint Eastwood for the lethargic and ugly "The Rookie," particularly its ending, where Clint executes a wounded man. In Eastwood's legendary "Dirty Harry" of 1971, he also executed a wounded man, and critics howled. But in that movie, the execution was part of an argument: The movie was an authoritarian fantasy raised in protest to a liberal Supreme Court's loosening of evidentiary and rights rules. You may agree, you may disagree; but it was an argument. In "The Rookie," the execution has no meaning except to end the movie. It's listless, perfunctory and pathetic. And, saddest of all, where were the howling critics this time?

Jeers: to Elizabeth Perkins for trashing Baltimore on the "Tonight" show. This poor young woman was forced to earn several hundred thousand dollars appearing successively in movies shot in this city, "Avalon" and the as-yet-unreleased "He Said, She Said." I'm certain as a protest to our Formstone-front tackiness she refused to cash the checks. What was it Gilda Radner's Emily Latella used to say of anchorwoman Jane Curtin on "Saturday Night Live"?

Cheers: to the American moviegoing public for generally rejecting the body-bag bonanzas of the summer -- "Die Hard II," "Another 48 HRS," "RoboCop II" and, to a lesser extent, "Total Recall" -- in favor of the sweetly romantic "Ghost." Readers with long memories and even longer noses for hypocrisy may recall that I was not an admirer of "Ghost." I'm still not; it was stupid. But it was about people, not machine guns, and that alone is a very healthy sign.

Cheers: to January 1991, with some interesting titles set to arrive -- "Hamlet," "Awakenings," "Not Without My Daughter," "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge" and Stephen Frears' much anticipated "The Grifters."

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