• "We have seen the future and it doesn't work," proclaims an advertisement for ZARDOZ. I've seen the movie and it doesn't work, either. But many of its parts do, and the obvious dedication and craftsmanship that went into the picture will probably secure its position as the science fiction cult film of 1974. The story takes place in the year 2293, after the supposed ecological disasters of the twentieth century have come and gone. The intelligentsia, having discovered the secret of immortality, have sealed themselves off into Vortexes, small communities separated from the outside world by impenetrable force fields. The world at large is inhabited by the wretched remnants of ordinary humanity, called Brutals, and by the slightly more intelligent Exterminators, who worship Zardoz and hunt down and kill Brutals in his name. Zardoz, a phony god created by scientists in the Vortexes, is a massive flying carved stone head, circling the globe and dispensing weapons and instructions to the Exterminators. One day an Exterminator named Zed hides in the stone head, and thus penetrates a Vortex, where he discovers that all is not well in paradise. While death has been banished, boredom has taken its place, sex has disappeared, old age has become the supreme punishment for crimes, and a seemingly universal death wish is corroding what remains of morale and ambition. Sean Connery plays Zed as an earthy, intelligent savage, a stark contrast to the genteel, sterile culture of the Vortex. His fight to destroy the Vortex, aided by many of its residents, provides the dramatic focus of the movie. The acting is superior in both major and minor roles, and the photography and special effects are among the finest ever achieved. But the movie as a whole fails to work because, in an apparent effort to soften its dark vision of the future, highly stylized comic elements are scattered throughout the film, implying that it is not to be taken seriously. But the movie's explicit violence makes it clear that serious issues are, in fact, at stake. John Boorman, who wrote and directed ZARDOZ, may have been simply trying to avoid making a solemn "message" film; but by hedging his bets with the movie's tone, he has destroyed its essential unity, and cast the audience adrift in search of its true meaning. Rated "R."
• Stories about honest cops attempting to battle corruption in the ranks are nothing new, but even within this well-worn genre SERPICO is an exceptional movie. For one thing, the story it tells is true. For another, it bypasses the cliches of corruption-as-conspiracy, showing instead the metaphysical horror of a system in which graft and bribery are virtues, while honesty is a vice. Al Pacino delivers an intense performance as Frank Serpico, an unconventional New York City policeman trying vainly to coexist with the all-pervasive corruption, but forced into lonely exile by his unyielding integrity, despised and feared by all the others on the force. "How can you trust a cop who won't take money?" asks one of his associates, summing up the feelings of the rest of the department. His attempts to expose the corruption meet with open indifference and covert hostility; the system is too well entrenched. Serpico's one-man crusade reduces his personal life to a shambles, destroying two successive romantic relationships and making him an embittered outcast. So much does he suffer that, within the context of his characterization, one wonders why he is willing to sacrifice so much for the sake of an indifferent city. From a libertarian perspective, the movie contains one major flaw, and that is its maddening refusal to question the legal structure that permits police corruption to flourish. Gambling and narcotics are the basis for most of the policemen's illicit income, according to the movie. But the film never once explores the possibility that the legal prohibitions against such activities make widespread police corruption possible and profitable. In concentrating on the corruption itself instead of its root causes, SERPICO does a magnificent job of spotlighting the disease, but fails to come to terms with the cure. Rated "R."
• Not being a Woody Allen fan, I went to see SLEEPER because people kept telling me what a great libertarian movie it is. Well, there are a few digs at government which should please the anarchist contingent; but they are not essential to the film as a whole, and the only thing one could say with any assurance about the movie's political aspect is that it is antitotalitarian. Otherwise it is just Woody Allen, doing his thing in the year 2173. He wakes up after 200 years in suspended animation to discover that the United States has become a dictatorial and highly technological society, with a primitive pseudo-Marxist underground as the only opposition. Woody Allen spends most of his time trying to stay out of trouble, disguising himself at various times as a renowned surgeon and a humanoid robot. For some reason, the disguises always seem to work perfectly. In a few instances, having exhausted all other remedies, he temporarily becomes a self-assertive hero; these are the best moments in the film. The worst moments are the action sequences, in which he moves with all the grace of a drunk gorilla. Diane Keaton plays his not-so-faithful companion, and she looks much too intelligent to be trapped in a role which calls for her to scream insanely, become a freaked-out revolutionary, and inexplicably fall in love with Woody Allen after fighting with him through most of the movie. As a comedy, SLEEPER is a mixed bag. It is undeniable that Woody Allen (who co-authored the screenplay) has a gift for subtle and intelligent humor; but in SLEEPER he also displays a propensity for visual slapstick that sinks below the level of The Three Stooges. Rated "PG."
• "BESTS" OF '73: From the 50 movies I saw during 1973, here are my selections for "bests" of the year:
Best picture: THE EXORCIST.
Best actor: AL PACINO in SERPICO.
Best actress: BARBRA STREISAND in THE WAY WE WERE.
Best supporting actor: VINCENT GARDENIA in BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY.
Best supporting actress: LINDA BLAIR in THE EXORCIST, and DYAN CANNON in THE LAST OF SHEILA.