Movies

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• NASHVILLE is truly a landmark movie, not so much for its message as for its method of delivery. Like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, Robert Altman's incisive look at the lives of 24 characters gradually takes shape and comes together over a five-day period leading up to an unpredictable and violent climax. The locale is Nashville, Tennessee, and the occasion is the fusion of country music and politics, in preparation for a giant rally in honor of a Wallace-like presidential hopeful. Power and fame are the chief media of exchange here, and the movie brilliantly underscores the almost casual means by which these commodities take their toll on human dignity and happiness. As a larger commentary on the American success ethic, however, the film has only limited application. Joan Tewkesbury's script slides deftly back and forth among the characters, gradually bringing them into sharp focus and into contact with one another. The superb acting seems certain to catapult several unknown and semi-knowns to stardom. Standout performances include Henry Gibson as a country music star with political ambitions, Ronee Blakley as a sweet country singer driven past endurance by her manager-husband, Lily Tomlin as a gospel singer with two deaf children, Geraldine Chaplin as a BBC journalist hopelessly trying to make sense out of Nashville for her British audience, Keith Carradine as a rock musician with an apt theme song ("I'm Easy"), and Barbara Harris as a would-be singer who gets her unexpected big break in the film's stunning finale. Full of offbeat, sometimes savage humor, Nashville also features several lively new country songs, many of which were written by members of the cast. In Nashville, creativity is contagious. Rated "R." â€"Charles F. Barr

• The film adaptation of the best-selling novel JAWS has been described as gruesome, shocking and terrifying; and it lives up fully to this reputation, more successfully than its relatively tame rating would suggest. The story of a giant man-eating shark terrorizing a resort community is tailor-made for conjuring up nightmarish fantasies, and by the end of the movie nothing has been left to the imagination. The shark attacks are utterly believable and become progressively more graphic. It is all too easy to forget that a mechanical shark was used for much of the footage. But if the technical mechanics are well disguised, the plot mechanics are not. Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb's screenplay serves up too much meat (if such a word is appropriate here) and not enough potatoes. The novel's storyline has been hacked to pieces, and so many of the characters are stock that the situations become all too predictable. Roy Scheider as the Chief of Police, and Murray Hamilton as a merchant more afraid of the publicity than the shark, deliver their lines in emotional straitjackets. Robert Shaw, as the "colorful" local shark hunter, is merely a conventional eccentric. Richard Dreyfuss, as the "shark expert" with more book knowledge than experience, is the most real character in the movie. Much of the film's bloody impact, aided by Steven Spielberg's direction, is achieved by playing to the almost universal fear of violent and messy death, in a situation in which the victim is relatively helpless. But nearly all the shark's victims are minor characters, resulting in plenty of horror but little empathy. Rated "PG." â€"C.F.B.

• For his most ambitious and successful movie to date, Woody Allen has created a superb parody of dark, brooding Russian Literature. LOVE AND DEATH, a wild take-off on Leo Tolstoy's epic novel War and Peace, finds Woody as a reluctant soldier in the Czar's army, beset by physical and psychic anxieties and tormented by unrequited love for his cousin, Diane Keaton. Allen's brand of humor works surprisingly well for such an off-beat subject. He mocks the timeless Russian traditions (literary and otherwise), and sprinkles the plot with frequent anachronisms to keep the audience off balance. One hilarious episode features an 18th century version of an army V.D. training film, staged as a playlet. The action is frequently suspended for sustained bursts of philosophical dialogue between Allen and Keaton, which must be heard to be believed. (One shudders to think what he could do to Atlas Shrugged!) Production values are excellent, especially on the large-scale battle scenes. Woody Allen was evidently given a multi-million-dollar budget for Love And Death; and judging by the results, he's earned it. Rated "PG." â€"C.F.B.

• Norman Jewison's ROLLERBALL conjures up a futuristic vision of the world controlled by a giant cartel. Nations no longer exist, nor do wars, poverty or material want of any kind. The world is divided geographically into basic product sectors such as Energy, Food, Housing, Transport, Luxury and Communications, each sector managed by a corporation, all of the corporations run by a single Board of Directors. The corporations furnish all of the individual's physical needs and, in return, demand the surrender of individual freedom: all decisions affecting the individual are made by the corporate executives. Such an arrangement is inherently implausible, and no attempt is made to explain what holds this global society together or how it came into existence. Hero James Caan, whose less than memorable performance is worthy of the material he has to cope with, makes a halfhearted effort to uncover some answers, but he needn't have bothered. There are no answers. Rather than representing the triumph of capitalism, the cartel that dominates the world is in effect government masquerading under a corporate label. In this sense Rollerball is a singularly pretentious and unintelligent film. It serves merely as an excuse for presenting the game of rollerball, a game of violence that is supposed to provide a vicarious mass outlet for aggression and competition and to stress the insignificance of the individual and the supremacy of the mindless group. All of this nonsense might be forgiven if the game delivered the excitement and blood lust that the film's rating promises, but it is as clumsy and uninspired as the rest of the film. The one truly entertaining moment is provided by Ralph Richardson, who gives a brilliant cameo performance as a librarian bullying a computer that has lost all of the world's stored knowledge of the Thirteenth Century. As an attempt to suggest a world without government, Rollerball is a complete failure; as an attempt at entertainment, it is hardly more successful. Rated "R." â€"James F. Carey