• JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is a powerful, flawed giant of a movie whose cumulative impact transcends its often obscure symbolism and parched atmosphere. The story centers around the last days of Jesus Christ, who is portrayed as a charismatic figure (and somewhat of an ego-tripper), idolized by his followers in much the same manner as the pop heroes of today. The question of his divinity is deliberately left open. Judas, the other central figure in this musical drama, is portrayed as an intense idealist who is fearful that Jesus' activities will bring down the wrath of the Roman state upon himself and his followers. Carl Anderson as Judas delivers far and away the best performance in the film. He has a rich, deep singing voice and is able to sustain a high level of emotional intensity. Ted Neeley is rather weak in the role of Jesus, and he tends to underplay the dramatic confrontations between himself and Judas. (I think Bruce Scott, who replaced Neeley in last year's Los Angeles stage production, would have been a better choice.) Even so, Neeley is possessed of a rich singing voice, and performs brilliantly in two big scenes: the casting of the money-changers from the temple, and the Gethsemane soliloquy. Yvonne Elliman delivers a rich, moving portrayal of Mary Magdalene, attempting vainly to provide an oasis of tranquility in the midst of the headlong rush of events. The lesser roles are played exceptionally well, with Barry Dennen insecure as a fence-straddling Pilate, Bob Bingham villainous as the high priest Caiaphas, Larry Marshall energetic as Simon Zealotes, Joshua Mostel campy as Herod. The entire production was filmed on location in the deserts of Israel, but curiously enough the awesome backdrops serve to shrink the spectacle rather than augment it; the events appear to be taking place in a kind of vacuum. The occasional, puzzling intrusion of unexplained anachronisms, such as tanks, planes and a bus, tend to be distracting. The movie is by no means intended to be a model of realism, and many of its devices are effective, but just as many others fall flat. Virtually the entire production is sung and danced, and Rob Iscove's choreography is energetic and effective. Norman Jewison's direction is quite good, although he tends to play too many tricks with the camera. Devotees of the earlier recorded version, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, will be delighted to discover that the original orchestrations have been rendered almost intact by Andre Previn. Despite its shortcomings, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is one of the most exciting spectaculars to come along in several years. Rated "G".
• Since Desmond Morris' best-seller, THE NAKED APE, is a non-fiction study in anthropology, it would appear exceedingly difficult to translate this work into a movie with any degree of fidelity. Nevertheless, through selective condensation and smooth integration of diverse film styles and techniques, the film is a faithful rendition of the author's basic concepts. The book dealt with human behavior patterns from a zoological point of view (man as primate), demonstrated that much of this behavior was derived from his evolutionary (as opposed to cultural) background, and concluded that man could ignore his basic "animal" nature and needs only at his peril. Because of time limitations, the movie version encapsulates the book's premises without its mass of supporting documentation, and confines its study of human behavior to the two areas of presumably greatest interest to a general audience: sex and violence. Since the movie contains no plot, continuity is maintained via an interwoven series of comedic sketches, photographic special effects, animation and fantasy, the net effect of which is a multi-media collage with a semi-documentary flavor. The success of this mixture is due in large part to the talents of producer Zev Bufman and writer-director Donald Driver, who earlier collaborated on the off-Broadway multi-media stage hit, YOUR OWN THING. Although THE NAKED APE does not call for prodigious feats of acting, the performances are all creditable. Johnny Crawford and Victoria Principal make winning lovers, Dennis Olivieri a believable sidekick. The more interesting bit parts include Robert Ito as a menacing Samurai, and Norman Grabowski as an archetypal Army Sergeant. The philosophy presented in THE NAKED APE may not be to everyone's liking (and I have some serious reservations of my own), but the movie is not so much a propaganda piece as a fresh look at some of the more fascinating forms of human behavior. Rated "PG".
• Time is beginning to take its toll on the James Bond films. The cheap thrills are becoming cheaper, the plots more absurd, the special effects more strained. Sean Connery added a touch of dash, polish and genteel cynicism to the role of Bond in most of the previous films; but he's gone now, and Roger Moore, to judge by his performance in LIVE AND LET DIE, is a thoroughly inadequate replacement. Looking more like New York Mayor John Lindsay than a professional spy, Moore sleepwalks through the part, seemingly bent on making Bond as colorless a character as possible. Yaphet Kotto, as the notorious "Mr. Big." portrays intensity and purpose, but does not appear particularly villainous, and certainly not as powerful as the character created by Ian Fleming in the book upon which this movie is loosely based. Jane Seymour, as the mysterious, mystical Solitaire, delivers the best performance in the film, though in the last half she seems to exist mainly for the purpose of being repeatedly rescued by Bond. Some of the visual sequences are quite stunning, especially the voodoo rituals that take place in Haiti. Production values are excellent, as usual. The plot is thin: Mr. Big has an ingenious plan to set up a huge narcotics operation, and Bond is out to stop him. Suitable amounts of simulated mayhem and simulated sex are dished out, and a semi-comic speedboat chase provides the highlight of the action. In many respects LIVE AND LET DIE is the mixture as before, but the lack of characterization reduces it to the level of a series of revue sketches. Rated "PG".
• THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING is as improbable a love story as you are likely to find; and the fact that it succeeds is due in large measure to the performances of Burt Reynolds and Sarah Miles. The inner characters which they portray stand in sharp contrast to their outer roles. The setting is the old West. Sarah Miles plays a prim, intensely private woman, running away from an obnoxious husband. She is kidnapped during a train robbery by a gang of outlaws led by Burt Reynolds. Despite his seeming indifference, a kind of bond grows between the two of them, which is heightened when the outlaws begin fighting among themselves, leaving Reynolds as the sole survivor. The two are relentlessly pursued by a posse, led by Lee J. Cobb (a Wells Fargo agent) and including George Hamilton (the vengeful husband). Reynolds' aloof, silent character is gradually brought into focus as the details of his past life are revealed during a stopover at an Indian village; but his subsequent career as a bandit is not satisfactorily explained. Sarah Miles plays a character who is, if anything, even more mysterious. Her attraction to Reynolds, in the context of the story, seems incomprehensible; yet, thanks to the chemistry of their performances, it becomes believable. The plot suffers by comparison, being carried along principally by the sketchily-defined supporting players. The script is often second-rate, but contains occasional moments of brilliance and a satisfactory climactic scene. The direction and photography are just average. But the performances of Burt Reynolds and Sarah Miles alone make this a movie worth seeing. Rated "PG".