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Critic's Notes : Filmgoers' Guide For Lazy Days Of Summer

July 12, 1987|SHEILA BENSON

Summertime. Moviegoin' is easy, or so the studios devoutly hope.

We have very nearly the full complement of summer movies and once Snow White, Ritchie Valens ("La Bamba"), that dashing new James Bond ("The Living Daylights") and that revenge-bent shark (you need to ask?) arrive, we will have landed the big commercial films of the season, at least through July. Let's not forget "Jean de Florette," the first two hours of a pair of films by Claude Berri based on Marcel Pagnol's epic novel of Provence, which may prove to be the juicy big one on the art-house circuit, since its cast includes Gerard Depardieu and Yves Montand.

How does the summer stack up overall? What are its delights as well as its pitfalls? Glad you asked. Here is a quick clip-and-save to work your way through when the pleasures of the sun have left you burned and nothing sounds better than a few hours with ice cream bonbons and air conditioning.

NOT TO BE MISSED

"Roxanne." The essence of the summer feel-good movie, which brings romance back to a romance-starved world and, wonder of wonders, values intelligence as highly as beauty. The balletic grace and skewering self-deprecation of Steve Martin in his own updating of the Cyrano story has a tenderness to it that's magnetic. And it's hard to know what is more alluring: the sublimely beautiful, slightly salty Daryl Hannah as Roxanne incarnate, or the way director Fred Schepisi paints their surroundings, a hilly, old-fashioned ski town so glowingly warm you ask yourself why you don't move.

"Full Metal Jacket." Stanley Kubrick's rethinking of Vietnam is as cool, as lethal and as perfectly fashioned as the bullet casing from which it gets its name. It's a far cry from the polarized good-bad of "Platoon," more likely to haunt you afterwards than exert its full power while you see it, but Kubrick's harrowing method--to show us the molding of a 17-year-old into a killing machine, then the uses to which those machines are put--becomes ecstatically effective.

"My Life as a Dog." Never, never to be confused in any way with Benji, this award-winning Swedish import by Lasse Hallstrom covers a crucial year in the life of a wonderful 12-year-old boy who zigzags between being rambunctious as a puppy and thoughtful as any young Truffaut hero. Set in the 1950s, partly in a Swedish small town as idyllic as "Roxanne's," it is a film that understands childhood-to-adolescence as few films do, with dark and loving affection.

STRONG CONTENDERS

"Tampopo." Who'd have thought to look to noodles as a source for slurpily delicious satire? Only Juzo Itami, the same director who could find the comedy lurking under the Japanese rituals of funerals. His subject is the intrinsic connection between food and sex: His targets include the Western, the spaghetti Western, Olympic training (and documentaries about it), gangster movies and the sort of sex-and-food scenes that lit up "Tom Jones," "In the Realm of the Senses" or "The Decline of the American Empire." Funny and uninhibited, this.

"Withnail and I." A darkly comic character study from autobiographical roots, about a pair of young actors barely surviving London's drugged-out '60s who repair for a week in the country and barely survive that. The film's first-time director, Bruce Robinson, the "and I" of the portrait, did make it through, to eventually be cast as Adele's British lover in Truffaut's "Adele H." and to see his screenplay for "The Killing Fields" win an Academy Award nomination. The film, held together by the fine pairing of Richard E. Grant as the gaunt, histrionic Withnail and Paul McGann as his only slightly more down-to-earth roommate, is a collection of marvelously sketched characters, best of which is Withnail's aristocratic, cooingly aggressive homosexual uncle, a magnificent performance by Richard Griffiths.

"Innerspace." If somehow Canadian actor-comedian Martin Short's career has eluded you, what delights you have in store in this variation on "Fantastic Voyage," and at the hands of director Joe Dante. Dante likes cluttered, cartoonish comedy, and while this one gets a leetle long, the combination of Dennis Quaid as the macho pilot miniaturized and trapped in Short's smallish body, and the unleashed Short, frugging, romancing, careening on the edge of disaster, is frequently hilarious. Summer silliness at its most pleasant.

"Gardens of Stone." The elegaic other side to Vietnam, with Francis Coppola in complete control of a splendid cast: James Caan and James Earl Jones playing Army lifers who've drawn ceremonial duty at Arlington National Cemetery in 1968, D. B. Sweeney as the surrogate son to both, Anjelica Huston as a Washington Post reporter and Mary Stuart Masterson as a Colonel's daughter in love with non-com Sweeney. Muted but moving, and definitely worth catching up with if you have missed it.

THE BUZZ IS ABOUT ...

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