FILM / Turning turtle, talking turkey

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The Independent Culture
Tom and Jerry: The Movie (U). . . . .Phil Roman (US)

Ninja Turtles III (PG). . . . . . . .Stuart Gillard (US)

Puerto Escondido (15). . . . . . . . Gabriele Salvatores (It)

Night and Day (15). . . . . . . . . .Chantal Akerman (Fr)

The Last Bolshevik (no cert). . . . .Chris Marker (UK)

Just as some old-fashioned poets believe that they must try to purify the dialect of the tribe, so some film-makers still think that it is their business to question the compromised, mendacious language of moving pictures. Hey, it's a dirty job, but someone has to do it, and it has seldom been done so memorably as in Chris Marker's The Last Bolshevik, far and away the most fascinating release of the week, which will be playing to a coterie of buffs in the ICA cinematheque.

For anyone who considers that Marker's analysis is too gloomy, however, a roll-call of mainstream products should begin with the disgraceful Tom and Jerry: The Movie. Among the many strokes of idiocy in this libel on the old double-act are: making the cat and mouse chums rather than ruthless enemies (which is not so much Hamlet without the Prince as War and Peace without the battles); giving them cute wittle voices; setting them loose in an emetic plot about an orphan girl; and perforating the resulting dreariness with a line of insipid songs by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse.

The animation is competent if uninspired, which means that the cartoon's one decent gag - a lighting cameo by Droopy - serves simply as a reminder of how Warner Brothers always had the comic edge on the Hanna-Barbera team anyway. Intertextual jokes are handled rather more deftly in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, largely because its pubescent amphibians have all seen exactly the same movies as their target audience, including Wayne's World and Backdraft.

Despite representing the late dregs of a craze, Turtles III at least has the decency to come up with a first-rate preening aesthete of a baddie (Stuart Wilson) - a buccaneer from the Basil Fawlty school of personnel management who faces off against our pizza-loving heroes when they are whisked back to feudal Japan. Fairly superior rubbish, in short, with the odd flash of personality amid the formulae; Stuart Gillard directed.

Edging closer towards art- house territory, Puerto Escondido is a reasonably agreeable adventure comedy - rambling yet schematic, too - about a stiff bank official (Diego Abatantuono) who, fleeing from the psychopathic cop who is out to kill him, runs to Mexico. Like a figure from an allegory, he loses all his possessions and starts to mutate into his opposite, falling in with a pair of hippies (Valeria Golina, Claudio Bisio) and ultimately turning to the drug trade and armed robbery.

Gabriele Salvatores, who also made Mediterraneo, has said that Puerto Escondido is meant to concern the relationship between the privileged and the Third World, but that intent would be hard to deduce from its air of hallucinatory exoticism - the grittiness of its Mexican sequences is just a more subtle form of escape, a Rough Guide adventure to Mediterraneo's Club Med trip.

Meanwhile, back in Europe: the city is Paris, and the tale is about two clean-limbed young chaps whose Christian names both begin with J (one of them pronounced in the hard English rather than the soft French manner) and who share the affections of a beautiful, enigmatic woman. A re-release of Jules et Jim? No, Chantal Akerman's Night and Day, which looks suspiciously like a feminist rebuke to Truffaut's film, especially since its heroine (Julie with a French J, played by Guilaine Londez) is given to wandering the streets all night with a copy of Truffaut's The Adventures of Antoine Doinel.

Pedantic details like that aren't hard to notice, since there's so little else in Night and Day to engage the mind. Julie lies in bed with Jack all day, talking theatrically between bouts of love-making; then, while Jack is off driving his cab all night, she enters into an affair with Joseph, who drives his cab by day. Matters attain a pulse-pounding crescendo when Julie and Jack decide to go in for a spot of DIY. Night and Day would be easier to appreciate if only one could be confident that Akerman recognised that one of her film's minor subjects - insomnia - is also its major irony.

The Last Bolshevik, by contrast, is an eye-opener. A documentary essay in the form of personal 'letters' to Chris Marker's friend, the overshadowed Russian director Alexander Medvedkin (1900-89), it ruminates not only on the atrocities of Soviet history but on the place of film-making in that history: Stalin's taste for musicals, the fakery of Eisenstein's Odessa Steps sequence and the last place on earth where one can be adressed as 'tovarish' - the replica agit-train at Momi. By turns suave, anguished and comic, it is like nothing else in cinema except Marker's other films. If you can't make it to the ICA, keep an eye out for the upcoming screening by Channel 4.

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