Movies

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• An artful re-creation of the 1930's private eye genre is brought to life in CHINATOWN. Jack Nicholson sets the tone with an astonishingly good portrayal of a Bogart-type hero, whose outward veneer of cynicism masks an underlying honesty and integrity. It is easily his best role. Faye Dunaway is a perfect foil, a haughty, mysterious woman hiding some terrible secrets. Nicholson becomes involved in the mysterious death of Faye Dunaway's husband after he is tricked into helping to create a scandal about him. His sleuthing activities lead him into an intricate web of politics and deception, with the future of a drought-ridden city at stake. The plot is developed with meticulous attention to detail, in tandem with the unfolding of the characterizations. The delicate, crystal- clear photography is imbued with a burnished golden hue, imparting an ever-so-slightly faded look suggesting that the film itself might have been made in the 1930's. Robert Evans' production and Roman Polanski's direction establish a suspenseful atmosphere and well-paced momentum; and Robert Towne's screenplay, while grittier than would have been allowed in a 1930's film, avoids the excesses of the 1970's "blood and gore" dramatics. Only the ending is messy and less than satisfying, though it does proceed logically from the earlier events, and leaves open the possibility of a sequel. Rated "R."

• FOR PETE'S SAKE is a wild, entertaining caper film that finds Barbra Streisand rustling cattle, delivering bombs and trying to succeed as a live-in hookerâ€"all so her husband can make a fortune in the commodities market speculating in pork belly futures. The premise sounds wildly improbable, but the film is played strictly for laughs, and generates them by the multitude. Michael Sarrazin is the husband, a wide-eyed innocent unaware of his wife's escalating criminal career; Estelle Parsons is an insufferable sister-in-law; and Vivian Bonnell is the maid, who calls herself "the colored woman" and specializes in reverse exploitation. Streisand has a reservoir of seemingly nonstop energy as the loyal wife with more enthusiasm than brains, trapped in bondage to the underworld, bungling every assignment, yet finding the value of her "contract" rising with each successive disaster. The film sags somewhat in the middle, but the political commitments are so unabashedly statist? No doubt a great many of the reports are correct and untainted. But when distrust is warranted, even the truth comes under suspicion. E comedy in the beginning and ending portions more than makes up for it. Rated "PG."

• THE PARALLAX VIEW is Hollywood's latest rip-off of the public's fascination with conspiracy theory. While slicker and superficially more plausible than last year's entry, Executive Action, the movie is essentially a put-up job about fallible human beings battling an invincible conspiratorial organization, which is seemingly always one step ahead of its enemies and able to eliminate them with methodical precision. Warren Beatty gives a wooden performance as a misfit reporter probing the assassination of a popular U.S. senator at the top of Seattle's Space Needle. Beatty's undercover work leads him to an organization called Parallax, which recruits violent misfits and psychotics to do the dirty work for various and unnamed large organizations. His attempt to infiltrate Parallax forms the dramatic focus of The Parallax View; but the lack of character development and the fuzzy outlines of the conflict prevent the movie from ever coming fully to life. Although the story is fictionalized, it operates rather obviously within the framework of the conspiracy theory of President Kennedy's assassination, including such details as the "lone gunman," the mysterious deaths of several witnesses, and an investigative "whitewash" by a special government commission. The Parallax organization itself, and the motives of the people behind it, are never explained; it simply exists, and that's all there is to it. It seems paradoxical that those filmmakers who affect such an obsessive interest in conspiracies apparently have no interest in examining their nature. Rated "R."

• The newest wrinkle in film technology is Universal's "sensurround" system, which will get its first test this fall in the company's latest spectacular, EARTHQUAKE. As employed in this particular movie, and demonstrated recently in a studio screening room, the system delivers subsonic waves through a set of side and rear speakers, creating a "rumble" effect that bears an uncanny resemblance to the sound and feel of the real thing. Even the seats in the theater shake slightly from the vibration, as the destruction of Los Angeles takes place on the screen. The film features an all-star cast and realistic special effects. If the rest of the movie is as good as the five- minute promotion sequence, Universal could have a giant hit on its hands.

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