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A Good Life During Wartime

November 01, 1990|MARK CHALON SMITH

The quality of John Boorman's autobiographical "Hope and Glory" comes from its perspective. Unlike most films that take a backward look at World War II, this one replaces the sad-cynical perspective of adults with the awe-struck recollections of youth--a London kid (fashioned in the image of Boorman himself) enjoying the air raids and bomb-pocked streets of his neighborhood.

There is little big-time bravado here--"Hope and Glory" has a meandering, lower-case style, but it's the freshness of observation that makes everything work.

We get to watch 7-year-old Bill (played without the usual child-actor face-making by Sebastian Rice-Edwards) roaming like a terrier through the back streets sniffing out fresh shrapnel to add to his collection. He wanders ruined homes with his chums, turning the destruction into amusement parks. He escapes from the basement shelter to see the bombs exploding, the best fireworks ever.

Despite the low-key vigor, Boorman avoids turning "Hope and Glory" into something flip or trivial. While Bill embraces the changes, his parents and headstrong 15-year-old sister (firmly drawn portraits by Sarah Miles, David Hayman and Sammi Davis) face them differently, trying to keep from being altered too much. Bill's confusion over trying to understand how they face the war underlines the complexity of human relationships.

Individual scenes are striking and softly comic: The women gathering to marvel at the absurd size of a protective barrage balloon, remarking that "they're lovely when full . . . and so sad when they sag." And Bill's sister gazing hungrily at a young German pilot forced to land in a nearby field as mum watches, chagrined by her daughter's interest in the enemy. Boorman tells us that life goes on, even during wartime.

"Hope and Glory" (1987), directed by John Boorman. 113 minutes. Rated PG-13.

"Things Change" (1988), directed by David Mamet. 100 minutes. Rated R. An Italian shoemaker (Don Ameche) agrees to take the rap for a mob hit, but gets one last fling with the low-level Mafioso (Joe Mantegna) assigned to protect him. It's a comic tarantella with a soft-shoe style, and lots of little moments that make up for sentimental excesses.

"The Thing" (1951), directed by Christian Nyby. 87 minutes. No rating. Among the first in a spate of '50s sci-fi films, this black-and-white movie is said to have inspired many contemporary filmmakers and movies. It's intentionally spare and direct, but there's wit in the script: the alien turns out to be a vegetable, of all things.

"Vampire's Kiss" (1989), directed by Robert Bierman. 96 minutes. Rated R. A contemporary spin on the vampire fantasy, with Nicolas Cage as a neurotic New Yorker who thinks a one-night stand (Jennifer Beals) has turned him into Dracula. May be too offbeat for devoted horror fans, but this clever, cartoon-ish metaphor has bite.

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