FILM / Time: the acid test: . . . plus, if you can remember it, you missed it first time out. Peter Guttridge on the re-released Woodstock and the week's other new films

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Twenty-four years on, Woodstock, Mike Wadleigh's Oscar-winning account of those three emblematic days of Peace, Love and Music is a triumph of form over content. Thelma Schoonmaker's editing (aided by her future boss, Wadleigh's New York Film School chum Martin Scorsese), in which she used split screen magnificently, still brings high excitement to what were on the whole pretty standard performances by second-rank bands.

In 1970, Wadleigh, given complete freedom to make the film he wanted, reduced three days of music and footage of the half a million members of the audience to 184 minutes. The director's cut - remixed, remastered and restored - is an hour longer and there are inevitable longueurs, especially for new audiences coming mainly to see Jimi Hendrix (there's now more of him) and Janis Joplin (in the film for the first time).

They're a long time coming - over three hours into the film. Joplin's section is an extraordinarily poignant piece of filming. And Hendrix's valedictory performance appropriately enough ends the film. He has a far-off look about him, but then far off is where he longed to be. Like almost everybody else who performed at Woodstock, he went on stage unwillingly. (The exceptions were those, like John Sebastian, so out of it they didn't even know they were on stage). Hendrix was reportedly so embarrassed by the playing of his backing band that the minute his set had finished he was in a helicopter and out of there with a severe case of bad vibes.

The bad vibes the name Barry Manilow may bring when you see it on the opening credits of Thumbelina should be quickly soothed. His scoring and song compositions for Don Bluth and Gary Goldman's animated version of the Hans Christian Andersen classic, about the vertically challenged girl born in the centre of a flower, is no more banal than the music for any of the recent animated successes. Unfortunately, Thumbelina is rather, well, unanimated.

It starts brilliantly, with a swallow's dizzy flight through the streets of Paris, and there are some magical moments, particularly the fairy court's progress through a wood, dusting the leaves with gold at the onset of autumn. But the story itself is flat, with conventionally cute animals and baddies who aren't bad enough.

It may be that we are seeing the dread hand of Manilow when this Old World story gets a bit of New World razzmatazz. A trio of singing Spanish toads want Thumbelina to perform with them, Copacabana-style. And she later appears at the Beetle Ball dressed as a disco diva in a haute couture beetle costume. There's little here for adults - the script would need to be a lot sharper - but there's probably enough for children to enjoy.

Lucy (Leslie Hope), wears an outfit similar to Thumbelina's disco gear in one of many flashbacks to her passionate past in the Canadian Gerard Ciccoritti's Paris, France. However, Thumbelina hasn't been known to wear the uniform of a dominatrix, at least not in the children's version. Lucy does, when she starts to shave her lover's pubic hair in order to conquer writer's block.

Yup, it's that kind of film. 'Do you think sex can make you a better writer?' someone asks facetiously. The problem is, Lucy really does think that, recalling her sexual explorations with cliched stud Minter (Raoul Trujillo) in Paris and embarking on a new affair with boxer-poet (no, really) Sloan (Peter Outerbridge) to rekindle her lost creativity.

Sloan is also having sex with William (Dan Lett), the business partner of Lucy's publisher husband, Michael (Victor Ertmanis). Michael, a couple of chapters short of a manuscript, believes that John Lennon has left a message on his answering machine warning him he has only three days to live.

The dialogue is frequently witty, the acting knowing, but the film founders on its pretentiously solemn approach to sex. There are many unintentionally funny moments. It might be Lucy's story but Sloan's naked body is the camera's real object of desire, and he is frequently shown full-frontal during the supposedly passionate sex scenes. This frankness deflates such scenes since Sloan is always looks pretty deflated himself.

A bunch of winning performances by its child actors makes The Sandlot Kids slight but passable summer viewing. Set in Salt Lake City in 1962, it meanders through a summer in which a group of 11-year-old children play baseball every day in the sandlot (a fenced-in playing- field) and have minor - very minor - adventures.

There's not much more to it, except for a terrible, jaunty voice-over by one of the gang, now grown-up, who tries to whip up enthusiasm by telling you what is about to happen: ' . . . and after that we got into the biggest pickle of all time'. There are sly references to adult baseball movies (especially a shot-by-shot mimicking of a scene in The Natural in which Robert Redford knocks the stuffing out of a ball), and James Earl Jones has a Field of Dreams- like cameo, but there are no weighty intentions. The grown-up but clearly not mature narrator's conclusion about it all is: 'Baseball is life.' And he's the egghead of the gang.

'You gotta learn to swing the bat if you want to hit the ball,' is the equally deep message that the cult Japanese director Takeshi Kitano wants us to take from his 1990 film Boiling Point, about an amateur baseball player and petrol pump attendant who gets mixed up with the yakuza when he hits back at a customer who is picking on him.

Kitano, a stand-up who has become a media celebrity in Japan for his weekly appearances on eight TV shows, plays an off-the-wall misogynist thug. This quirky but entertaining film is a must for anyone who wants to learn a fool-proof way of getting a rucksack full of machine-guns through airport security.

Necronomicon, inspired by H P Lovecraft's bizarre works, is, with its buckets of blood, slimy latex, whipping tentacles and melting bodies, definitely for horror fans only. The three stories in the portmanteau are briskly told, the characters two- dimensional. But then nothing must get in the way of the effects. Living people have their limbs lopped off and their bone marrow sucked out, others ooze worms and slippery sea creatures.

The film does, however, have a campy sense of humour. In one segment, David Warner, playing a mad scientist, is confronted by his young lover, whose stepfather, Sam, he has been obliged to chop into small pieces. 'I don't care what you did to Sam,' she complains, 'but you lied to me]'

(Photograph omitted)