Byline: GEOFF BROWN
Kino - Soviet Cinema Now Metro The Man With Two Brains (15) Scala The Stuff (15) Prince Charles Fright Night (18) Warner West End Creepers (18) Times Centa Baker Street Mixed Blood (18) Cannon Oxford Street
The new Metro cinema, just east of Piccadilly Circus, is currently presenting Kino - Soviet Cinema Now, a highly enterprising two-week season with nine films changing daily. If the season proves anything about the climate of current productions it is that generalizations are dangerous: how can you pigeon-hole a head scratcher like Vadim Abdrashitov's Parade of the Planets (April 22 and 28), in which a group on army manoeuvres lead a charmed fantasy existence, flitting from a town full of female beauties to a deserted island? The most accomplished films, however, tend to follow established conventions. Private Life, by the veteran Yuli Raizman, explores the plight of a retired factory manager with exemplary craftsmanship and human wisdom (April 29); while Eldar Shengelaya's Blue Mountains (April 20 and 27) offers a buoyant comic treatment of familiar Russian ills - bureaucracy, laziness, inefficiency.
Shengelaya hails from a notable family of Georgian film-makers; his father Nikolai made his mark in the late Twenties and Thirties, while his younger brother Georgy directed Pirosmani, a visually luscious account of the 19th-century Georgian painter. Eldar's earlier films have leaned towards whimsical fantasy, but Blue Mountains roots its exaggerations in precise, sardonic observations. The action is set within the labyrinthine rooms, corridors and stairways of a publishing house in an advance state of disrepair. A neophyte author scatters among the staff duplicate copies of his grand work 'Blue Mountains', eager for a response. Spring rain follows winter snow; the ceiling cracks grow bigger, and the staff plough through the daily round - playing chess, learning French from records, arguing over the position of a drab Arctic painting. The manuscripts, meanwhile, are lost, drenched in water, forgotten: when the staff gather to discuss them, no one can venture any clear opinion.
The film's path is clearly laid out early on, but Shengelaya keeps the journey diverting through constant variations on running jokes (like the malfunctioning lift) and the lively interplay between characters. Among the admirably controlled cast, Teymuraz Chirgadze, an amateur, cuts a particularly delicious figure as the firm's editor, too busy being busy to get anything done. The film deserves far wider exposure than the two days of screenings already scheduled.
'Leaping lizards!' Steve Martin cries in The Man With Two Brains, faced with a mad scientist's lair housed within a condominium. 'Yes, we have those' replies David Warner, just as several rubber lizards jump on to the walls. Such is the tone and tempo of this extraordinarily bizarre comedy, belatedly released in Britain after three years. Verbal, filmic and gestural cliches are gleefully put through the mincer, though the main subjects for parody remain mad-scientist movies like Donovan's Brain.
This might seem overworked comic territory, but Martin and his director Carl Reiner pull their film way beyond the level of simple spoofery. Martin is one of the few performers who can make his craziness seem real, even when he falls in love with a brain in a jar, puts a hat on it and takes it boating. The film's sheer fecundity ultimately leads to a structural collapse, but there is so much here to be grateful for, from the nonsensical fleeting references to 'England's greatest one-armed poet' to the rampaging sexual allure of the co-star, Kathleen Turner. The Man With Two Brains certainly keeps audiences on their toes.
Larry Cohen's The Stuff recalls another part of Hollywood's horrific past - those cheap Fifties movies in which monsters oozed rather than stalked. The stuff in question is a delicious yoghurt-like dessert, found bubbling from the ground and aggressively marketed to a susceptible nation with the slogan 'Enough is never enough'. Indeed it is not: once ingested, the dessert eats up your insides, warps the mind and oozes from every orifice. It even erupts from a motel pillow, settling, leech-like, on the baby face of Michael Moriarty, cast as a droll industrial spy. Cohen - one of the liveliest independent film-makers working in America - is aiming his satire at some over-familiar targets (fast-food culture, the advertising game, industrial conspiracies), but the film's irreverent spirit is most infectious. And how encouraging to find special effects designed for modest charm rather than gruelling realism.
Fright Night bows out with some fashionable shocks, yet the bulk of this vampire tale is pleasurably restrained. The writer-director Tom Holland, previously responsible for the script of Psycho II, takes great delight in updating the vampire's image. Instead of Lugosi's sepulchral Hungarian, we find a swarthy, polo-necked charmer (Chris Sarandon) who picks up clients on the disco floor. The film also pokes fun at the horror cult through the character played by Roddy McDowall - a washed-up horror actor summoned by the hero to destroy the vampire with his prop kit. Barring the last reel, Fright Night is delightful.
Not so Dario Argento's Creepers, in which a crippled Donald Pleasence sits enthroned with a Scottish accent and a chimpanzee while the young heroine sets forth with a super-sleuth fly to locate corpses through their attendant maggots. Pleasence is swiftly dispatched by the butcher at large; the heroine survives; but the fly's fate is buried within the untidy script. Survivors of Argento's earlier work will recognize the trade marks: the finishing-school setting, the driving rock music, the bizarre violence. But the march of time and commercial success seem to have dulled the director's previous panache: Creepers just drags its feet from one absurdity to the next.
Our first indication that Mixed Blood is peculiar comes when the foot-tapping music persists through the opening slayings. Then we meet Rita La Punte, expatriate queen of Brazilian drug-pushers, played by Marilia Pera as a combinatin of Carmen Miranda and Tod Slaughter. The director, Paul Morrissey, a former cinema associate of Andy Warhol, brings little individual flavour to the mayhem smeared over Manhattan's meanest streets; but, when his characters simply talk or listen, the screen often simmers with off-beat humour. A taste for bad taste is a prerequisite for full enjoyment; but Pera is indubitably funny, whether issuing laundry instructions to her brood or singing 'Tico-Tico' at a clan christening. Copyright (C) The Times, 1986