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March 19, 1980 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1980-03-19

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The Michigan Daily-Wednesday, March 19, 1980-Page 5

Another season, another Simon

Peter Davis' 1974
HEARTS AND MINDS
With WALT ROSTON, CLARK CLIFFORD, and GENERAL WESTMORELAND.
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature of 1974, this is
one of the most talked-about films of the 70's and one of tremendous emo-
tional impact: U.S. policy-makers are interviewed, as are Vietnamese lead-
ers, and American Vietnam veterans. Although the film deals particularly
with America's involvement in Vietnam, it is a conplex study of politics and
ideals, of human nature and the nature of war itself. In color.
Thurs.: Ichikawa's THE BURMESE HARP

By DENNIS HARVEY
Neil Simon cranks out an average of
One film and one Broadway comedy or
musical per year - sometimes more -
and if sheer productivity is still held as
an admirable quality, then it's easy
to forgive the fact that his latest movie,
Chapter Two (adapted from his stage
production), isn't up to standard, and to
chalk up its failures to experience.
The film's mediocrity isn't par-
ticularly disastrous or even very in-
teresting. Simon has done better in the
past and, given his general batting
average, will doubtlessly do better in
the future.
Still, the new movie is a nagging
reminder that the writer has been
doing, with very few alterations,
basically the same thing for the last
twenty years. The repetition is begin-

The Goodbye Girl in drag, with Caan as
the Goodbye Guy and Mason trading
her old role for a drabber version of
Richard Dreyfuss' in the 1977 film.
Caan glumly resists happiness because
he's suffering from Memories of The
One He Loved, and Mason is the cheery
outsider who wants to change that. As
she says at one point, George offers
"two shows a day of suffering" - and
when his depressing state of depression
begins to turn the marriage into a
fiasco in the middle of their
honeymoon, the movie loses the small
amount of canned charm it has worked
up and becomes a tedious procession of
verbal battles moving toward a predic-
table reconciliation.
GEORGE IS A very typical Simon
character - an angst-ridden lowbrow
artist, facing the prospect of Love with

The actress has been considerably
more at ease for other filmmakers in
the past, and she's good in Chapter Two
- her delivery of the climactic
desperation speech contains more
genuine emotion than the words deser-
ve, and she's consistently pleasant to
watch. But while she's clearly com-
petent, she just doesn't have a star per-
sonality. You can appreciate her rising
-above the material here and still walk
away not particularly caring whether
you ever see her again or not. It's cruel
but on-target to say that Mason
wouldn't be likely to be getting stellar
roles without her husband's influence.
If James Caan's meek attempts to
find the right rhythm for speaking con-
stant one-liners is a total thud, then Joe
Bologna is almost alarmingly suc-
cessful. He whips out those knee-
slappers with such perfect plastic em-
phasis that the effect is close to being
irritating. His mechanical delivery
matches the passionless yocks of
Simon's jokes all too well. As Jenny's
best friend, Valerie Harper seems ex-
cessively tense; perhaps her problem is
that her current state of physical
emaciation makes the entire perfor-
mance seem starved and anxious.
NEIL SIMON is a genuine auteur, if
only because he chooses directors
(Gene Saks, Herbert Ross, now Robert
Moore) with no personalities of their
own. Presumably a filmmaker with
some ideas might undermine the in-
fallibility of the Simon formula: sch-
maltzy laughs, schmaltzy heartbreak.
All of these directors came from
television or the stage, and the number
of camera shots worth taking a hard
look at in all of their films could be
counted on the fingers of one hand.
These men can be counted on to stage
the action with banal competency and
nothing more, and to make sure that the
one-liners are delivered in the manner
familiar to TV sitcoms and bad Broad-
way comedies.
Simon is probably the only writer
these days who gets billed bigger than
his stars or directors. The only time a
Simon screenplay has been directed by
a real creative force, as opposed to a
journeyman hack, was with The Hear-
tbreak Kid - not a total success, but a
vision still more eccentric and
engaging than any of his other films,
due mainly to Elaine May's guiding
hand. At their best, his movies effec-
tively showcase the kind of phony but
often enjoyable "star" performances
that his characters encourage (Richard
Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl is still the
best example) and manage at least to
provide an easy evening of safe enter-
tainment. At their worst, as in last

year's spectacularly unfunny Califor-
nia Suite, they're elongated Love
American Style episodes without the
canned laughter.
Chapter Two isn't godawful, but it's
depressing and bland and the laugh
lines aren't very funny ("Are you
sleeping?" "I was just falling off."
"Then I caught you just in time.") any-
more. Mason's big running-through-
the-streets scene at the end is absurdly
close to the finale of Manhattan, but it
has none of Allen's feel for the city.
Chapter Two is set in N.Y.C., but it
might just as well be Anytown, U.S.A.;
the film is just a lot of talk in some nice
rooms, and the occasional ventures
outside offer a city of total, cozy af-
fluency - the extras look as if they
stepped out of New Yorker clothing ads,
and all of the locations are (God help
us) cb,n.
Like the movie itself, this view of*
New York is pretty, pleasant and
vacuous, a nice sanitized model for
those who would rather not bother with
the real thing. Neil Simon may think
that this film can stand as a major
autobiographical statement but, alas,
it's just more angst at Disneyland, with
perky plastic people trying to sound
cynical by cracking jokes. That's not
cynicism. That's television.

CINEMA GUILD

TONIGHT AT
7:00 & 9:05

OLD ARCH. AUD.
$1.50

FI

Fm

Now Playing at Butterfield Theatres

WEDNESDAY IS
"BARGAIN DAY"
$1.50 UNTIL 5:30

I

I

ADULTS FRI SAT SUN.
EVE & HOLIDAYS $3 50
MON THRU THURS
EVENINGS' $3.00
MATINEES UNTIL 5 30
EXCEPT HOLIDAYS $2.50
CHILDREN 14 9 UNDER S1 50

MONDAY NIGHT IS
"GUEST NIGHT"
Two Adults Admitted
For $3.00I

a

. .

EEEeeeyyuchhh! Kissy-kissy and all that, as James Caan and Marsha
Mason swap slobber right there in the middle of Neil Simon's latest effort,
Chapter Two. The title makes the film sound a lot more interesting than it
really is.

ning to grate. He's been working with
films as an increasingly powerful
collaborator for at least twelve years,
yet his movies remain little more than
vehicles for his scripts. They're still
photographed stage plays, "cinematic"
only in that they happen to be printed on
film\ stock and projected on blank
screens.,
Chapter Two offers everything that
one expects from a Simon picture: the
usual pedestrian photography, the
usual souiless rat-tat-tat of one-liners
delivered by slumming stars, and the
usual souttdtracked easy-liftening
Muzak from a composer as comfor-
tably bland as (in this case) Marvin
Hamlisch. No one is as commercially
successful at resisting progression as
Neil Simon.
Chapter Two is supposedly the
author's bid for seriousness, though the
expected coy zingers haven't been
dropped in the attempt. George
Schneider (James Caan) is a New York
City-based writer of pulp novels, recen-
tly widowed and critically morose over,
it. Jenny MacLaine (Marsha Mason) is
a recently divorced Broadway actress
who has been set up to meet George by
his brother, "self-styled swinger" Leo
(Joseph Bologna). George and Jenny
meet-cute, date-cute and soon wed-
cute.
ALL OF THIS is closely modelled on
the writer's own wedding to actress
Mason in 1973 under similar circum-
stances. Unfortunately, the characters
in the film make the off-screen Simons
look like bores by association; when
Simon's fictional personalities aren't
amusing caricatures, they're usually
rather dull and middle-class, as they
Ware here. George and Jenny are very
nice, and very dull, folk. Spending two
hours watching them is like being at a
.suburban dinner party where the major
topic of conversation is the stock ex-
change; after a while you may long for.
someone to do something rude, or at
least moderately eccentric, to break up
the monotonous good cheer.
The story, for all of its resemblance
to the Simons' courtship, is basically

indigestion and an exaggerated idea of
the importance of his own gloom. Jack
Lemmon, thankfully, has not been
allowed to play this role for the twen-
tieth time. But the casting of James
Caan is a mistake. The part calls for a
romantic comedian, and Caan is
neither.
As Sonn in The Godfather, still by far
his best role, Caan was a stunningly
physical presence, a cobra always
ready to strike. Since then he's accep-
ted too.-many banal parts for money,.
doing increasingly weak revisions of
the same characterization in in-
creasingly forgettable movies. Only
Howard Zieff's neglected Slither in-
dicated that he was capable of
something different. In that film he
showed an unexpected gift for a kind of
wry, amused bewilderment in the face
of Zieff's weirdly comic situations that
was quietly appealing and funny.
But in Chapter Two Caan's physical
power is buried, and the bemused
charm of Slither is only flashed once or
twice. Prematurely grey and worn-
looking, he looks appropriately bookish,
but there doesn't seem to be anything
going on under his new exterior of mid-
dle-class contentment; when Caan sub-
dues himself, he's almost dead. He has
no instinct for comedy, nothing more
than a bland earnestness when doing
drama, and he delivers all of his lines in
a droning monotone. Simon films are
usually a safe springboard for laun-
ching or resuscitating a movie career,
and doubtlessly there are hopes that
Chapter Two will breathe some life into
Caan's, but they're likely to prove as
flat as his performance.
MARSHA MASON was given the
backhanded honor of playing the title
role in The Goodbye Girl by her
husband. Richard Dreyfuss got all the
good lines and she got all the weepy
monologues. When Mason acted
hysterical, she was . . . well,
hysterical. The performance was
nominated for an Oscar (anyone who
suffers on screen for 90 minutes is vir-
tually guaranteed that lately), but it
nearly sank the movie.

Join
the
Arts
Page

11

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rCampus,
1214 S. Unive ity 668-6416
Mon. Tues, Thurs, Fri ar 7:30,9:V
Wed, Sat, Sun at
1 :00 3:00, 5:00. 7:00. 9:15

IT'S COLD
IT'S WEET
IT'S HERE!
(R)

I
I

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19

ii

k'

Wavside
3020 Mhtenaw 434-1782
Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri., 7:30-9:15
Sat., Sun., Wed.,
1:30-3:30-5:30-7:30-9:15

ENDS
THUR.
MAR.
20th

C

I

I1

A

m

A curse
from hell!

I

The Second Annual
ANITA PBRYANT FOLLIES
original gay musical by Tom Simmonds
March 20-22 and March 26-29
$t C$nterby Loft, 332 S. State, second floor
Admission $2.50 Showtime 8:00 p.m.

CANNON FILMS RELEASE R
Mon., Tues ,Thurs., Fri.
7:159:45
Sat., Sun., Wed.
u(I.?? 1:30-4:30-7:15-9:45
Stage
231 S. State-662-2
(UPPER LEVEL)
Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri. 7:10-9:40
Sat., Sun., Wed.
1:25-4:25-7:10-9:40
GEORGE SEGAL - NATALIE WOOD
The comedy
that fools around a lot!
ENDS
THURS.
MARRIED
C)UPLE
a -

An American Dream
oes a 1ovt.stor.
Mon., Tues. ,Thurs., Fri.
7:00-9:307 ..t
Sat., Sun., Wed.
1:00.4:00-7:00-9:30

I

.

lw m3w4 :mmmmm
164- 662-42" I
Mon Tues., Thurs., Fri.
7:00-9:30
Sat., Sun., Wed.
1:00-4:00-7:00-9:30
NOMINATED FOR
2 ACADEMY AWARDS
PETER SELLERS
SHIRLEY MacLAINE
BEING
THERE
United Artists

1

ON

THE

__

1

DAVID
BROMBERG
BAND

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April 16
Michigan Theatre
with special guests
Dick Siegel and the Ministers
..t uAs.*IJ

Old2v1aster Paintings
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