Unsettled by his experience in World War I, Lake Forest cutup Bill Murray resigns the shallow materialism of his friends and fiancee and sets out on the narrow path to spiritual enlightenment. This intensely embarrassing film clearly has great personal value for Murray (the real-life parallels become chillingly explicit when a subplot introduces a dope- and booze-addicted friend whom Murray is unable to save), but if the motivations are authentic, the result is anything but. The screenplay (cowritten by Murray and director John Byrum) shies away from specifying Murray’s spiritual achievements; instead of maturing, the character simply becomes more smug and condescending, and the movie’s ultimate subject is his fatuous self-satisfaction in the face of the other characters’ carefully delineated weaknesses. Not one moment in the film works the way it was plainly meant to. With Theresa Russell, Catherine Hicks, and Denholm Elliott. PG-13, 128 min.
Prince‘s 1984 movie debut seems more like his deification, with an aggressively stupid plot line (supposedly autobiographical, but if that’s true, Prince must have grown up in a retirement community for burned-out screenwriters) that serves only to set him up as a paragon of artistic integrity, sexual prowess, and superhuman sensitivity. The story dynamics dictate that the film should have climaxed with Prince graciously accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, but instead director Albert Magnoli casually tosses the story aside, ending with half an hour of the concert footage that is the film’s only reason for being. The project would have been much more palatable as a TV special; as it stands, it’s just another symptom of the American cinema’s addiction to facile myth-making.
This 1984 film’s few and unimpressive special effects evidently qualify it as science fiction, but the genre it really belongs to is the male weepie: there hasn’t been a gooier buddy romance on the screen since Joe Buck took Ratso Rizzo to Miami. William Shatner‘s blubbering Captain Kirk sacrifices everything he has—his career, his ship, his son—in his quest to reassemble his cosmically disincorporated sidekick, Mr. Spock. Though we are largely spared Leonard Nimoy‘s stentorian presence as a performer, we must endure his miscalculations as a director: the dialogue scenes are often hilariously turgid; the action scenes—when Nimoy can be bothered to descend from his podium and film them—are zanily maladroit. With DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Robin Curtis, and Christopher Lloyd.
Craftsmanship, intelligence, and refined sentiment are the hallmarks of Bertrand Tavernier’s exquisite French feature (1984), a model of how much ground can be covered with the smallest movements. In 1912 an elderly painter (Louis Ducreux) is visited at his country home by his straitlaced son (Michel Aumont) and his family; the old man’s daughter, a flighty vision in white (Sabine Azema), arrives unexpectedly but leaves early. That’s about all that happens, yet Tavernier, through his fluid, concentrated camera style, control of light, and nuanced direction of actors, turns the anecdotal material into a penetrating study of family dynamics and a moving account of an elderly artist realizing his work may not withstand the test of time. The two themes are woven together with beauty and force, emotionally fused in a climactic sequence that links the white of the daughter’s gown to the summoning blankness of a fresh canvas.
Steven Spielberg’s 1984 sequel is quite a bit better than Raiders of the Lost Ark: the pacing is much more assured and effective (there are actual peaks and valleys in the action) and the situations are more imaginative and varied. Spielberg has developed the spatial contrasts of his visual style (particularly his trick of lighting his backgrounds more brightly than his foregrounds), creating a seductively dimensional look that at moments suggests Raoul Walsh. Yet the blunt Freudian images of George Lucas’s story (the film is a male birth fantasy in which the hero must deliver a tribe of children from slavery in a dark, damp mine shaft) and the relentlessly juvenile focus of Spielberg’s mise-en-scene come to seem oppressive and pandering; the film betrays no human impulse higher than that of a ten-year-old boy trying to gross out his baby sister by dangling a dead worm in her face. With Harrison Ford and Kate Capshaw. PG, 118 min.