Movies

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• CABARET is an offbeat but superbly executed musical, dealing with the life and times in Berlin shortly before the rise of the Nazis. The film evokes an eerie, almost hypnotic fascination as it recreates an atmosphere of tawdry decadence and despair. Creating and sustaining this mood is Joel Grey as the leering "master of ceremonies," a role he originally created on Broadway. Bob Fosse's choreography and directionâ€"especially of the smoky, dimly lit scenes inside the cabaretâ€"contribute mightily to the effect. The musical numbers are skillfully integrated into the movie, adding to the atmosphere without interrupting the action. But all this merely serves as a backdrop for a breathtaking performance by Liza Minnelli as the brash, amoral but somehow lovable Sally Bowles, an American expatriate and cabaret singer who is trying desperately, fruitlessly to become a star. She dominates the movie with infectious energy, singing, dancing and attempting to crowd everything possible into her life. The film also boasts fine supporting performances. Joel Grey emerges (intentionally) as a cartoon rather than a person; but Michael York as Sally's lover, Helmut Griem as a playboy who plays around too much, Marisa Berenson and Fritz Wepper as Jewish lovers caught in the Nazi surge, are all fully developed characters. Like several recent films, CABARET contains no nudity, but does have quite a bit of explicit language. It is not a cheerful movie by any means, but its intense, driving energy and its artful recreation of a collapsing culture make CABARET a film that audiences will not soon forget. Rated "PG".

• THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE, originally a Broadway play and now a movie, is basically an account of the trial of Rev. Daniel Berrigan, his brother Philip and seven others in 1968 on charges of seizing and burning records of the local Selective Service board at Catonsville, Maryland. Both the play and the movie were written by Daniel Berrigan, for the apparent purpose of confronting a wider audience with the moral issues raised by their dramatic act of defiance, and their subsequent trial and conviction. The movie will probably accomplish this goal, as it effectively blends courtroom drama with skillful advocacy and a sense of moral outrage.

The effect of the courtroom testimony, for instance, is heightened by film clips of the suffering in Vietnam, which are interspersed throughout the movie. Whether the film will convert antagonists is another question. For the philosophy of the Catonsville Nine, as brought out in their testimony, is a melange of Christian social welfarism, muddled Kennedy-type idealism and New Left anti-Americanism. The movie subjects the audience to a barrage of ritualistic attacks on "American capitalism," American foreign policy in general and the Vietnam War in particular. In the process, a whole host of fundamental issues are ignored. The morality of the draft itself, for instance, is never questionedâ€"only the purposes to which it is put. Members of the original Broadway cast are featured in the film, and the performances are good. Especially noteworthy are Ed Flanders as the superbly articulate Daniel Berrigan; Davis Roberts as the prosecutor and William Shallert as the judge. Rated "PG".

• During the past several years, filmmakers have begun to use conventional, even idyllic settings as backdrops for movies about the macabre and the supernatural. The theory is that bringing such subjects "closer to home" will cause the viewer to identify more closely with the strange events taking place on the screen. For many movies, this technique has been highly successful. but in THE OTHER, based on Thomas Tryon's best-selling novel, a curious reversal takes place. Instead of heightening the terror, the film's mundane settingâ€"a New England farming community in 1935â€"tends to dampen the horror, and slow down the pace, until late in the plot. The characters are fairly well defined-including some marvelous eccentrics-but no one character seems strong enough to generate audience identification and sympathy. Ultimately, nearly half the population of the movie dies under mysterious circumstances, but most of the terror is generated by the events themselves, rather than by empathy with the people to whom they occur. On the plus side, however, THE OTHER unfolds a fiendishly clever plot, which will keep the audience guessing right up to the last minute. It also features a talented cast of relative unknowns. Especially good are Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, as the 11-year-old twins who are more or less the protagonists of the whole affair; and stage actress Uta Hagen, making her movie debut as the grandmother who places her Old World powers into the hands of a mentally deranged boy. The film requires some "audience participation" in separating fantasy from reality. Rated "PG".

• THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN is going to confuse a lot of people, as it shifts from sophisticated comedy to sentimentalism to farce to who knows what. Like the television series "My World and Welcome To It," the movie is based somewhat loosely on the writings of James Thurber, and like the television series it contains some excellent cartoon fantasy sequences. But the humor in the movie is darker and more cutting. Jack Lemmon is well cast as a misanthropic author who discovers that his eyesight is failing. Barbara Harris somewhat underplays her role as his nemesis, a harried housewife complete with three children, dog and puppies. Lisa Gerritsen (who played the daughter on the television series) gives a solid supporting performance as a 12-year-old girl with a speech impediment. Jason Robards is delightfully obnoxious as the ex-husband who drops in for visits at inappropriate moments. What keeps the movie from being a completely enjoyable experience is that too much of the humor seems to be at somebody's expense. It's difficult to cheer someone one minute, and then laugh at him the next. The film's occasional lapses into sticky sentimentality also detract from the overall effect. Even so, there are enough moments of genuine comedy and sophisticated wit to make the viewing worthwhile. Rated "PG".