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Roxanne Review

At the beginning of Roxanne, C.D. Bales (Steve Martin), sporting a black baseball cap, white Oxford shirt, and a nose as big as Pinocchio's, walks down the street in a confident strut -- for whatever reason, carrying a tennis racket. He is approached by two slack-jawed losers who spew "big nose" insults. Rather than slump down and walk on by, C.D. springs into action, engaging in an extended, acrobatic sword fight involving his tennis racket and the other men's ski poles. C.D. wins handily. He is very nearly the most skilled, able-bodied, complete man -- if it weren't for that huge nose.

That sword-fighting scene is indicative of the entire movie's attitude. Roxanne is an intelligent, playful flight of fancy, meant to be judged by the merits of its own universe, not the real world. Martin is a brilliant mind and a beautiful writer, and the light touch of his screenplay allows for this story to be set in the "real world," but graces it with such good cheer and unexpected whimsy that this film is like a fairy tale with jokes.

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Making Love Review

It would be unfair to expect a gay-themed movie made in 1982 to be the least bit au courant given all that's happened in the past quarter century, but no matter how much slack you cut Making Love and no matter how much credit you give it for existing at all, it's still not much of a movie. The story of a man coming to terms with himself and wrecking his marriage in the process is tepid where it should be intense, vague where it should be piercing.

Zack (Michael Ontkean) and Claire (Kate Jackson) have a seemingly perfect LA marriage. He's a young doctor on the rise, and she's the kind of TV executive you always see in the movies, ensconced in her large office reading scripts, juggling the fall schedule, and monitoring the three televisions built into the wall. Her big plan: to bring live classic plays back to prime time. (Good luck, Claire!) They've just bought their dream house, and all is right with the world, except...

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All That Jazz Review

Now that both Chicago and Cabaret have been dusted off and remounted as seemingly eternal fixtures on Broadway, and the film version of Chicago was such a rousing critical and commercial success, it's a good time to take a look back at one of the stranger entries in the career of choreographer/director Bob Fosse: All That Jazz.

On the surface, the movie is the autobiographical story of Fosse going through a physical/emotional breakdown during the making of the original stage version of Chicago in the mid-1970s. Roy Scheider plays the Fosse stand-in, Joe Gideon, as a pill-popping, compulsively womanizing, perfectionist, son of a bitch who finds happiness only in his work. But Fosse rips apart the standard showbiz puff piece right from the start, by dropping viewers right into the frenzied mess of Gideon's life, and mixing up the already-fractured storyline with a recurring sequence where Gideon talks over his life with a glowing, radiant Muse figure (Jessica Lange).

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Straw Dogs Review

The movies you love best aren't always the ones whose ideas you agree with. D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation is easy to admire for its technical innovation but easy to despise for its virulent racism; the Nazi hagiography Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will has similar pleasures - and problems. Sam Peckinpah's 1971 masterpiece Straw Dogs isn't as overtly problematic as those films. It's not viciously racist, nor does it glorify totalitarianism. But it's messy stuff all the same. The surface violence that made it famous in 1971 looks more or less timid now, but the deep cynicism at the core of the movie - this is a world where intelligence is suspect, murder equals redemption, and rape is almost tolerable - is still chilling.

Dustin Hoffman plays the hero, David Sumner, and at first he seems to be continuing in the string of nebbishy neurotic roles he took previously in The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy. A mild-mannered American college professor, he's arrived in western England with his wife Amy (a brave and brilliant Susan George) so he can have peace and quiet to work on his "astral mathematics." The small town, full of sad stone houses and often cloaked in fog, is where Amy grew up, and she's almost immediately stalked by a passel of alcoholic locals. The film's first five minutes has some virtuosic foreshadowing in it, giving us shots of David and Amy carrying a large and intimidating "mantrap" (basically a man-sized bear trap); tight shots of thuggish locals like Charlie (Del Henney) getting too close to the pair; a shot of Amy's sweatered chest, noticeably bra-less, which will become an important plot point later. Subtly and quickly, Peckinpah announces his three themes: sex, intimidation, and violence. It's gonna be interesting, but it's not gonna be easy to get through.

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L.A. Story Review

Steve Martin's treatise on Los Angeles vapidity (and how love can be the same way) is lighthearted yet plenty of fun, even though its satire is often ridiculously over the top -- most notably when Steve Martin's TV weatherman records his segments in advance so he can get away for the weekend. (Choreographed gas station attendants aren't much more subtle.) The fun is contagious, and the movie's worth seeing for its innumerable cameos, fun supporting roles, and clever jokes. If nothing else, it will remind you how funny Martin used to be.
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