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Movie Spotlight

April 19, 1998|Kevin Thomas

Melvin Van Peebles' 1967 The Story of a Three-Day Pass (TMC Sunday at 10:40 p.m.) tells of a handsome, likable African-American soldier (West Indian actor Harry Baird) who finds romance in Paris with a lovely French girl (Nicole Berger). Van Peebles tells their story with a simplicity, freshness and spontaneity of the early New Wave films. Rarely does the camera capture so intensely the sense of exhilaration that accompanies liberation as Baird's arrival in Paris. Just as Baird is sustained by his self-mockery, this tender and witty film is saved from sentimentality by its satirical edge. Indeed, because Van Peebles is so good-natured and gentle, the implications of Baird's moments of ecstatic happiness and increasing sense of worth, as a black man who happens to be involved with a white woman, are all the more stinging.

RoboCop (KTLA Thursday at 8 p.m.), Paul Verhoeven's 1987 comic book style sci-fi actioner about a automated cop (Peter Weller)--in a futuristic Detroit where private industry has taken over the police-- has been assembled with ferocious, gleeful expertise. It's crammed with humor, cynicism and jolts of energy. The script nastily parodies everything from vacuous TV commentators to dope dealers to cut-throat corporate warfare; it satirizes a society--an exaggeration of our won--where every tendency toward dehumanization and centralization has gone hellishly out of control; and it suggests that the RoboCop's private struggle between humanity and his programming is a noble one. (Note: the disappointing "RoboCop 2" screens Friday on KTLA at 8 p.m.).

Smart, funny, touching and sensual, Dirty Dancing (KCOP Friday at 8 p.m.), the phenomenally popular 1987 musical/love story set in the Catskills in the early '60s, stars Patrick Swayze as a sexy vacation resort dancer and Jennifer Grey as the bright student beguiled by him on the dance floor-and off.

In Beetlejuice (KCOP Saturday at 7 p.m.) Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis have the perfect, bucolic small-town life--until they die. Their sadness at being suddenly immaterial is compounded when (a) the hereafter turns out to involve an even more depressing bureaucracy than the here, and (b) a new family of squawky squatters moves into their haunt, compelling this ghost couple that merely wants to be alone to learn how to be scary. Their tentative partners in reluctant terror are Michael Keaton in the demonic title role, and Winona Ryder as a teen so suicidal she's the only human cognizant of these otherworldly denizens. Few film comedies have taken as many tone-shifting chances as Tim Burton's 1988 instant classic, which slowly graduates from poignant romanticism to otherworldly Kafka-isms to slapstick.

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