D: Francis Coppola; with Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr, Raul Julia, Nastassia Kinski, Lainie Kazan, Harry Dean Stanton.
RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video
Some people celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks and other types of outdoor festivities. For me, it just wouldn't be Independence Day without an annual videotape rental of Francis Ford Coppola's One From the Heart. Coppola goes for broke, in more ways than one, in this aptly titled 1982 film. Set in a Las Vegas of the mind during a Fourth of July weekend, the movie tells the love story of Hank and Frannie (Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr). Celebrating the five-year anniversary of their meeting, the mood speaks more of disenchantment than romance, so they each provoke arguments and Frannie walks out the door with a declaration of independence. Over the weekend, Frannie finds a Latin lover (Raul Julia) and Hank finds an exotic circus performer (Nastassia Kinski). Each of them also has a colorful sidekick: Frannie has Lainie Kazan, who runs the travel agency where Frannie works and dreams of Bora Bora, and Hank has Harry Dean Stanton, with whom he co-owns a junkyard called Reality Wrecking. The Latin lover turns out to be an ordinary waiter and the circus performer's high-wire act is out of place in a junkyard. And, somehow, by the end of the weekend the state of Hank and Frannie's union is reunited. The real high-wire act here is Coppola's, however. Shot entirely on a sound stage, the big-budgeted One From the Heart is one of the products of Coppola's short-lived dream of an independent studio. His Las Vegas is a luxurious fabrication of a city that is already a fabrication to begin with. But it's the kind of neon strip that people can dance down the street to choreography by Gene Kelly or an airplane can take off so big and so low that you can practically reach out of your car and grab on. Coppola's frequent collaborators, designer Dean Tavoularis and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, were on hand for this project which followed up Apocalypse Now and Godfather II. The movie also features a fabulous soundtrack by Tom Waits and performed by Waits and Crystal Gayle. One From the Heart was fairly well brutalized by critics upon its release and performed miserably at the box office. Perhaps no one was ready for this most unusual of Coppola films: one that banks on artifice as a style for telling little stories of the heart. Maybe it's something like using fireworks displays to celebrate a country's independence. Happy holiday.
- Marjorie Baumgarten
THE NINTH CONFIGURATION
D: William Peter Blatty; with Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, Moses Gunn, Neville Brand, Robert Loggia, Joe Spinell, Tom Atkins.
New World Video
A unique, unusually thoughtful film experience that unfortunately seems doomed to disappear into obscurity, The Ninth Configuration is a solidly acted, beautifully written, and patiently directed drama that deserves a much better fate. Adapted from his own Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane, this 1980 picture marks the directorial debut of author William Peter Blatty, who continues his examination of religious concepts with a far more subtle hand than William Friedkin's 1973 adaptation of Blatty's most popular work, The Exorcist. Stacy Keach stars as Kane, a mysterious psychiatrist who comes to counsel mentally disturbed Vietnam War veterans at an atmospheric castle turned mental hospital located in the middle of New England. The assortment of characters awaiting him are impressively bizarre, with the patients doing everything from trying to walk through walls to adapting Shakespeare's plays for dogs. As the film progresses however, we begin to see that Kane may not be wholly sane himself, housing a shocking secret that could not only expose a dangerous military experiment, but could single-handedly destroy a young man's belief in the goodness of humanity. For a debut film, The Ninth Configuration is exceptionally confident and rich, as Blatty fills the screen with unforgettable characters, delirious allusions, powerful imagery, and enough incredible, quotable dialogue for at least ten movies. The performances are all top-notch, from Stacy Keach's quiet yet potentially explosive (as the brutal climactic barroom brawl makes disturbingly clear) Kane to Jason Miller's hilarious canine play director, but it's Scott Wilson's edgy portrayal of Cutshaw, an ex-astronaut who has serious doubts about the existence of God, that emerges as the movie's true standout - his electrifying religious debates with Keach provide the true heart of the picture. An emotionally draining, but ultimately uplifting, piece of work, The Ninth Configuration is many things - funny, powerful, harrowing, surreal - but it is never anything less than fascinating, and more often than not, it's brilliant. A religious picture every bit as brave and unconventional as Michael Tolkin's better known The Rapture, Blatty's film is in dire need of rediscovery, for to see a movie this special gathering dust on video store shelves is a shame indeed. - Joey O'Bryan
ATARI 2600 ACTION PACK
The Atari VCS, or 2600, was the first successful video game console and served as the backbone of the gaming industry for many years during the late Seventies. Although the hardware suffered from severe limitations, the designers at Activision made the most of what the machine had to offer, creating such classic games as Kaboom, Freeway, Pitfall, and many others. Whether the player's task was getting his chicken across the road as quickly as possible or thwarting a mad bomber, almost all of Activision's titles were distinguished by a high level of playability.
Assuming you loved those games but long ago trashed your 2600, Activision has put together a package of 15 games for PC users including the above-mentioned titles and other such hand-cramping favorites as River Raid, Chopper Command, and Spider Fighter. Not all of Activision's best games are included, to be sure. Enduro, Robot Tank, Tennis, and Skiing are nowhere to be found. Volume II is not too far down the road, I suspect, if this one sells well.
There are a few caveats to the package worth mentioning. In order for the games to run properly, your system must be at least a 486/33. I have a 486/50 and dragged out my old 2600 to make a fair comparison with regard to speed. The computer version was slightly slower, but since I am, too, that wasn't really a problem. A larger fly in the ointment is potential incompatibility with some sound cards and both Windows95 and WinG. Also, there is a feature that periodically interjects a mother's irritated voice saying such things as "go outside and play." Fortunately, it can be turned off. That aside, the Atari 2600 Action Pack for Windows is an interesting, if somewhat antique, cornucopia of diversions.
- Bud Simons