VIDEO / Conscientious objections: John Lyttle reviews the latest releases, including Bette Midler in For The Boys and Jodie Foster in Little Man Tate

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The Independent Culture
FOR THE BOYS (FoxVideo 15 139mins)

Long, lumbering musical-comedy-drama spans three American wars - the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam - though viewers may feel they have sat through every military clash from the siege of Troy to the current Yugoslavian conflict. Obviously, the original intention was to deconstruct all those old flag-waving propaganda movies of yore, but the originals had an advantage. They, at least, could cleave to the certainty of their morale-boosting purpose. This venture, the first from Bette Midler's All-Girl Productions, wants to adopt a liberal position, yet, courting the widest possible box-office, refuses seriously to challenge the unthinking American nationalism personified by Midler's showbiz partner Eddie Sparks (James Caan, stranded on screen with nothing to do). A sentimental script wobbles about and finally ends up saying something deep like 'war kills'. Best to concentrate on Midler's hyperactive Dixie Leonard, an Oscar-nominated performance, and her lilting treatment of such songs as 'I Remember You' and, memorably, the Beatles' 'In My Life'. On release.

LITTLE MAN TATE (20/20 Video PG 96mins)

Jodie Foster's compelling directorial debut, the story of a working-class mother (Foster) unable to provide the intellectual stimulation that her child genius son (Adam Hann-Byrd) requires. So she delivers him to the tender, if chilly, mercies of prodigy expert Dianne Weist, only to see the boy become further isolated. Foster's treatment is modest and moving even when the compromised script stumbles in its rather unforgiving juxtaposition of Good Mother-Bad Mother. On release.

DECEIVED (Touchstone 15 104mins)

So-so Goldie Hawn woman-in-peril thriller marred by predictability - is our heroine's husband dead or alive, a psychopath or a man in danger? - and half an hour's worth of excess plot. While Goldie agonises, audiences are two steps ahead of each twist, wondering why she has consented to star in a warmed-over TV movie of the week. Available 25 August.

BARTON FINK (Columbia Tristar 15 112mins)

Dazzling, if finally incoherent parable based on the undeniable premise that between heaven and hell there's always Hollywood, a truth politically active Broadway writer Barton Fink (John Turturro) discovers to his cost when summoned to Beverly Hills to impart 'that Barton Fink feeling' to a less than gripping wrestling saga. Gleeful satire soon yields to surreal melodrama - one can see the joins - as Fink meets crazy neighbour John Goodman, develops writer's block and allows his imagination full paranoid sway. The picture eventually disintegrates but there's plenty of demented, accurate observation on how the writer oils the wheels of the dream machine along the way. On release. See Competition.

DEAD AGAIN (CIC 15 103mins)

A Hitchcock pastiche a thousand times funnier than High Anxiety, though it's impossible to judge how much of the humour is intentional. Detective Kenneth Branagh is called on to discover the truth about amnesia victim Emma Thompson and damned if the truth isn't that Thompson was Branagh's wife in a previous life: he went to the electric chair for killing her with a pair of scissors. A splendidly camp plot unfolds with the added treats of the battle between the duo's American accents and British body language, Derek Jacobi's fey antiques dealer and Robin Williams's bizarre turn as a philosophical ex-psychiatrist. Popcorn Movie of the Month. On release.

COMPANY BUSINESS (Warner 15 95mins)

Cheerful, straight-to-video post-Cold War thriller teams ex-CIA spy Gene Hackman with former KGB agent Mikhail Baryshnikov, both about to be made 'redundant' by their past bosses, as they undertake a final mission involving a captured pilot and a ransom of two million dollars. Good jokes and better stunts make for unexpectedly satisfying lightweight entertainment. On release.

BLAME IT ON THE BELLBOY (Hollywood Pictures 15 75mins)

Pitiful comedy has the structure of classic farce - a crowd of characters, multiple mistaken identities, large doses of saucy sex, romantic love - and none of the wit, wasting the talents of Dudley Moore, Bryan Brown and Penelope Wilton. It's hard to laugh at the various misunderstandings after seeing Moore tortured by Mafia sadists. Available 13 August.

MY GIRL (Columbia Tristar PG 98mins)

It's the Seventies and 11-year-old Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky) and her undertaker father (Dan Aykroyd) are about to fall in love, he with embalmer Jamie Lee Curtis, she with new boy Macaulay Culkin. A touch too sweet for complete enjoyment, this quiet, pleasant little comedy about the pains of growing up is nevertheless better than the plot synopsis might suggest. The performances are unfussy, the script a notch above average, and the 'message' - death is hard, but life harder - is unpretentious enough not to need labouring. Available 19 August.

SHINING THROUGH (FoxVideo 15 127mins)

To be double-billed with Dead Again for maximum effect. Melanie Griffith plays a half-Jewish German-speaking secretary to mysterious Michael Douglas, who is head of America's spy network in Second World War Europe. Before you know it, Griffith is baking strudel and demanding to be sent to Germany while Douglas sets his jaw and says nein. Cut to Germany and Griffith smacking a passing housewife with a piece of fish - really - and cooking dinner for a table full of Nazi generals of the Ja Ja variety. Completely terrible and wholly enjoyable, the latest addition to the It's-So-Bad-It's-Good school of film making, a genre Mr Douglas is rapidly making his own. Rent it as soon as possible. Available 10 August.

CROOKED HEARTS (Warner 15 108mins)

Unusually literate comedy-drama about the Warren family, each member of which harbours a secret or a resentment against another family member. The picture's not more than a whisper about how Sixties parents erred on the side of permissive child-raising, but the clan dynamics are instantly recognisable, particularly the pressures felt by the troubled eldest son, Charlie (Vincent D'Onofrio). A straight-to-video release, which may prove that there's little market for small, flawed quirky films any more. On release.

ANOTHER YOU (20/20 15 91 mins)

At slightly over an hour and a half, the latest Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder venture is around 90 minutes too long. Last time Pryor was blind and Wilder was deaf, this time Wilder is a pathological liar and Pryor is a generally unsuccessful swindler. Needless to say, the couple are forced together to deal with the wife (Mercedes Ruehl, wasted) of a missing billionaire. On release.

COMPETITION WINNERS

Logic winners: R Sowerby, London; R Niblock, London; T Rothwell, Cheshire; H Knight, Southampton; C Clark, London; P Lawrance, Herts; J Davis, Herts; A Corben, Sheen; A Kirk, London; K Jarrett, W Malvern.

Suspicion winners: P Smyth, Glasgow; R Young, Renfrewshire; M Nicholas, London NW10; Leslie Fay, London; Molly Smart, Chelmsford; Erica Baker, Exeter; Kay Bright, London; Charlie Nairne, London SW11; Fiona MacIntosh, London; L Heap, London.

Walk winners: A A Liddell, Liverpool; I Dovey, Nottingham; J Savory, South Humberside; N Pate, Redditch; J McDonough, Liverpool; E Beamish, St Helens; R Rimmer, Liverpool; V Kerrigan, Liverpool; S Lewis, Chester; N Taylor, Cheshire; P Lawrance, Barnet; K Thompson, London; S Allanson, Liverpool; R Atkinson, Tyne and Wear; Godfrey Atkins, London; R Pugh, London; S Potter, London; Bob Schuman, London; Sue Joseph, London; Helen Ageh, London; E Forrest, London.

Allow six weeks for delivery.

COMPETITIONS

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe, we have 17 videos to give away, from her earliest starring performance in Ladies of the Chorus (Columbia TriStar) to Monkey Business, Don't Bother to Knock, Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, River of No Return, The Seven Year Itch, There's No Business Like Show Business, Bus Stop, Let's Make Love, all from FoxVideo, on to Warner Home Video's The Asphalt Jungle, The Prince and the Showgirl, Some Like it Hot and The Misfits. Also included in the package are FoxVideo's Something's Got to Give, on the making of Monroe's final, uncompleted film and a copy of Jane Ellen Wayne's Marilyn's Men, published by Robson Books.

To win the collection simply answer the following question: Frank Sinatra gave Marilyn Monroe a pet poodle. What did Monroe name the poodle?

Columbia Tristar has also unleashed its Shakespeare collection, comprising Mel Gibson's Hamlet, Roman Polanski's excellent Macbeth, Kenneth Branagh's wide-screen Henry V and the rousing Burton-Taylor Taming of the Shrew. We have five sets of the four videos to give away.

To win, answer this question. Who were the leads in the 1929 mounting of The Taming of the Shrew?

All answers, on postcards only please, to either Monroe or Shakespeare, Listings, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB. One entry per competition per household. Closing date: 14 August.

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