St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri on April 15, 1988 · Page 89
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St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri · Page 89

St. Louis, Missouri
Issue Date:
Friday, April 15, 1988
Page 89
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FRIDAY, APRIL 15, 1988 ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH 3F REVIEWS FILM BILL McCLELLAN "M'V-U-'gJ' -i J V t -J Wm.:,4B,t "STAND AND DELIVER" Rating: PG. Running time: 1 :42. "COLORS" Rating: R, violence, language. Running time: 1:57. By Joe Pollack Of the Post-Dispatch Staff THE COINCIDENCE is uncanny. Two motion pictures opening today "Stand and Deliver" and "Colors" deal with East Los Angeles and the Hispanics who live there, but in such a diametrically opposed manner that those in one film could live in a different galaxy from those in the other. And while both movies are important, they suffer from the standard Hollywood syndrome. They're simplistic and slick, and tell only part of a story. "Stand and Deliver" is the optimist; everyone goes to school, studies calculus and learns the importance of college. "Colors" is the pessimist; everyone belongs to a gang, carries a weapon and learns the importance of the bail bondsman. Obviously, truth lies somewhere in between, in that gray area that is too difficult for most Hollywood producers to find and depict and sell. There's no question but that Jaime Esca-lante, the dedicated mathematics teacher of Garfield High School, deserves to be honored. And Edward James Olmos, best known for his work on "Miami Vice," turns in a superior performance as Escalante in a film based on truth. But the kids of "Stand and Deliver" are simply too easy, too logical, to be real. A new teacher comes to take over a math 1-A class; within days he has created perfect discipline. In weeks, the students are algebra experts. And a short time later, they have advanced to calculus, taking extra classes at night, on weekends and in the summer, with the only lures the force of Escalante's personality and the opportunity to earn college credit. Good teachers can work wonders, and it's to Escalante's advantage that he also is a Hispanic, speaks Spanish as well as the kids, knows the street talk and is not intimidated. There are records to back up his achievements, and the scores are undeniable. But this is only one class in a large school, and I couldn't help but wonder what was going on in the rest of it. These are poor kids who take care of a coughing grandmother, or large numbers of siblings, or who work in their parents' restaurant. These are kids whose boundaries are not very wide. Problems are glossed over continually. The school is short of money, there is a criminal element, teachers whine and resist change, but none of these difficulties seems to last more than a scene or two. Even Olmos' heart attack seems to be no more serious than a mild case of the flu. On the bright side is a solid performance by Olmos, who shows an iron fist in a velvet glove and who is totally believable. Lou Diamond Phillips, last seen as Ritchie Valens in "La Bamba," is the class' incipient thug, but he comes around to . Olmos' way of thinking with uncommon ease. The unspoken strength of "Stand and Deliver" is that it provides a Hispanic hero, a man who overcame his own obstacles and is battling the system to teach others how to do the same. It is a film written, produced and directed by Hispanics. That also is important, because it brings this mi- -jwrjr 1 Daniel Villarreal (left) and Edward James Olmos in "Stand and Deliver." I : . X'S mi a. i -ft . : , -v-v Tom Burlinson and Sigrid Thornton in "Return to Snowy River." nority closer to the mainstream, which we all know flows green the color of money. (At the Chesterfield, Crestwood Plaza, Galleria, Northwest Plaza.) "Colors" is an altogether different kettle of fish, or maybe it's the well-known horse of a different color. It's a war picture, a story of senseless gang violence between blacks and Hispanics in East Los Angeles, and it's a sad commentary on today's world that it makes headlines almost every day. The attitudes of writers Michael Schiffer and Richard DiLello seem to cast a plague on both their houses, not really caring why the fighting goes on except as something to serve as a movie backdrop. Oh, it's an exciting film, and there are some pretty good performances, but once again, we have cops-as-buddies (or almost), and the policemen are white, representing the power structure. There's an older policeman (Robert Duvall), conservative and only a,year from retirement. And there's a young one (Sean Penn), macho and eager and desperate to be tested. Sound familiar? As always, Duvall is totally competent. No matter what the role, he wears it like a glove. He's the "good cop" to complement Penn in any "good cop, bad cop" scenario, and he knows that flies come faster to honey than to vinegar. Penn, an angry young man, is ready to pull his revolver at a moment's notice. As far as his performance is concerned, Penn shows very little. When he gets angry, he pouts, and I never felt a presence in the unjform. But then, I've not found any of Penn's acting impres sive except tor "Taps" and "The Falcon and the Snowman." Dennis Hopper directs, his first big-budget film ever and his first since "Easy Rider" to get general release. After that classic, he directed "The Last Movie," which never was released in recognizable form, and a 1980 Canadian production, "Out of the Blue." His direction here shows sadly, to this fan a major move to the right in his political and social thinking. I expected more from Hopper as a director, at least something different from the tried-and-true formula pictures. Technically, the film is fine, if not imaginative as it might be, but a fight scene in a restaurant stands out as something special. In addition, like so many cops-buddies films, "Colors" is extremely sexist. Duvall's wife exists to cook and rear children. Maria Conchita Alonso, who has a brief fling with Penn, exists for another purpose, no more rewarding. (At the Clarkson, Des Peres, Halls Ferry, Ken-rick, Northwest Square, Ronnie's, Shady Oak, St. Charles.) "RETURN TO SNOWY RIVER" Rating: PG. Running Time: 1:38. By Joe Pollack Of the Post-Dispatch Staff THE VICTORIAN ALPS of Australia make a perfect setting, and the thundering herds of horses bring back fond memories of the classic Western film. Somehow, chases on horseback are more exciting than those in automobiles. And while the story is one we've seen many times before, "Return to Snowy River" plays' up its strengths to become a warm and enjoyable movie. , The first film, based on the classic Australian poem by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson, followed mountain man Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson) through his adventures with wild horses and his meeting with lovely Jessica Harrison (Sigrid Thornton). Then he went off to seek fame and fortune alone in the classic Western tradition. , ( Now he has returned to pursue his courtship, but of course things are different. Her father, played with proper crustiness by Brian Dennehy, is seeking someone of higher class, like the smarmy son (Nicholas Eadie) of the smarmy banker (Rhys McConnochie). You know the type. Burlinson has hopes of going into the horse business, using the great black stallion and his own stallion, to service the mares who graze the wild' country. But the banker, who also breeds horses, has other ideas, and so does his son. The nearby mining town has grown in Burlin-son's absence, and once again the landowners and the wealthy are pitted against the working class and the poor. Australian miners and horsemen don't carry guns, so there isn't much shooting. And when Burlinson and Eadie square off, it's basically in old-fashioned fisticuffs. Eadie has a cutlass and Burlinson has a horse, when additional weapons are required. Burlinson has a proper earnestness, and looks great on the horse, wind in his hair and jacket flying out behind him. Thornton, also repeating from the earlier film, also is a good rider and has the proper frontier spunk, stiff upper lip, determined chin and so on. The characters are pretty trite, but the horses and the scenery more than make up for it. (At the Clarkson, Creve Coeur, Galleria, Halls Ferry, Kenrick, Regency, Ronnie's) Uncle Sugar Sometimes Goes Less-Taxing Way IT'S TAX DAY, and many Americans have not yet done their taxes.. If you're one of these people, you're probably worried. Relax. Uncle Sugar is not nearly so heartless as you think. In faci let me tell you the government's attitude about deadlines. It's this: No big deal. If you're late, you're late. You don't even have to explain anything. Get around to it when you get around to it. At least that's the message the government sent to Renata V. when she tried to do her taxes last year. Renata is a retired person, and she lives alone. That's why she asked me not to use her last name. It's not that she's afraid of the IRS. Why should she be? She's willing to pay her taxes. She wants to pay her taxes. It's the government that doesn't seem too concerned about the matter. Renata worked for the government in World War II. She was an occupational therapist. Because of that service, she receives a small civil service pension. Although she is retired, she does fine financially. She has some investments, and she gets Social Security and another pension in addition to her civil service pension. At any rate, she has to pay taxes, and her civil service pension counts as income. So when she was figuring her taxes last year, she wanted a W-2 for her civil service pension income. She made some phone calls, and was transferred from one federal dffice to another. She was finally told to contact the Office of Personnel Management, Retirement and Insurance. There is, in our local directory, a listing for a federal office called Office of Personnel Management, but the only number listed under that heading is the Federal Job Information Center. Renata called that number several times, but always got a recording that dealt with possible job openings. So she called information in Washington, and got the number for the office there. She spent most of a day calling that number. It was constantly busy. When she finally got through, she got another recording. Oh well. It was only February. Renata decided to send a letter to the office in Washington. She did, and nothing happened except that February turned into March. Renata then decided to try Western Union. She chose the most inexpensive option a night letter, in which the Western Union office in Washington delivers a phone message the next morning. But a woman from Western Union called Renata the next day and said Western Union was unable to reach anybody by phone in the Office of Personnel Management, Retirement, and Insurance. .-n So Renata decided to pay the extra money, and have the message delivered by hand. It was. But still nothing happened,,, March turned into April. , Renata's accountant told her to forget the W-2. You keep accurate records, he said. You know, how much they sent you. We'll just go ahead and figure your taxes and include a note to the government explaining that the government won't send you a W-2, the accountant said. Well, it still wasn't April 15, and Renata is not the kind of person who gives up easily, so she tried one more time. She wrote a letter to Congressman William Clay, and explained the problem. They won't answer the phone. They won't answer my letters. Tbey won't even answer a telegram, she wrote. The congressman wrote1 back, and said he would look into it. " .Meanwhile, Renata followed her accountant's advice, and filled out her tax returns without the Wr2, I A week after tax day, Renata got a letter from the congressman. He wrote that he had contacted,, Constance Horner, the director of the Office of Personnel Management. A month later, Renata received a W-2 in the mail. ; Just that. No not e',' n b explanation. ,M1 By now, Renata was upset. ; She wrote a letter to Horner.!. i "No one responded to a, .letter written on February 23rd. No one responded to a telegram delivered on March 24th. It was impossible to reach anyone by phone. I urge you to send me a letter of explanation," Renata wrote. , There was no response. In fact, there has never been a response. So if you're a little late filing this year, there's nothing to worry about. If the government holds us taxpayers to the same standards it holds itself to, a few weeks here or there won't bother anybody. You won't even have to explain anything. Just ignore the letters if the government starts complaining. ,, Of course, if you think the gov ernment holds us to a higher standard, then maybe you should worry. By the way, Renata has already filed this year. So have I. . ; Attic From page one businessman who in 1933 brought his German Jewish family from Frankfurt to what he thought was the safety of Holland. Reliving Frank's story was not easy for the Gieses and the members of the cast and crew. They experienced many of them for the first time just what the war and the Nazi occupation did to this old city known for peace and tolerance, what it was like to be forced to wear a yellow Star of David, to be banned from public places, to live in fear and hiding with another family in cramped attic quarters, with all the windows papered black, sealed off from the outside world. ' It was especially difficult for many of the Dutch people caught up in the realism of re-creating the tormented period of 1942-44. Dutch anger about the occupation still runs so deep that even for a film many businesses categorically refused to hang out Nazi flags. And during a scene showing Gestapo officers jumping from a truck, some of the Dutch extras could not help bursting into tears. Making her international screen debut as Anne is a young British actress named Lisa Jacobs. Like Anne, Jacobs is Jewish, quick-witted, inquisitive, painfully honest and, as Frank described herself in the diary, an incurable "chatterbox." To look the part of Anne at 13, Jacobs, 25, had to girdle down her womanly lines and raise her voice by an octave or so. Jacobs came to the celebrated role as an almost perfect reflection of her 1980s generation: jeans, tennis shoes, nursed on rock music, raised in the physical and mental comforts of peacetime London. As a "schoolgirl, she had read Frank's diary, and distant relatives had died in Nazi death camps. But what Jacobs personally understood of World War II and the Holocaust still felt like a distant, half-told story. So, in the beginning, could this child of the '80s Identify with Frank? "If I am completely honest with you, no," the actress said. "In my 25 years of being alive, I have never been in a wartime situation. Anne's family was not particularly religious; mine is no either. She was outspoken; so am I. But do I identify with her? Do I feel how it was to be trapped in that room? I have to use my imagination. "I was worried," she said. "When I got to the arrest scene, would I be afraid, would I feel real emotion? Then the trucks came with the soldiers in their uniforms, with their guns, and suddenly this feeling surged in me. It was pure emotion, a total shock. This was real. It had happened." Like Jacobs, Steenburgen knew the story of Frank, but she did not easily slide into the role of Miep, the loyal, self-effacing, iron-willed heroine who saw herself only as an ordinary woman doing her duty, doing what was right. Born and raised in Newport, Ark., the daughter of a freight-train conductor, with Steenburgen roots tracing back to Holland, the actress instinctively felt the quiet strength of Miep. And it was for her a delight to find a strong "woman's role" of timeless appeal. "As an actress," Steenburgen said, "you often have a choice between a supporting, arbitrary role, or with these new women's movies, some sort of gun-toting, wind-in-your-hair heroine, much larger than life. Miep was real. Her story happened." Still, there were barriers. Steenburgen never had worked for network television; she did not know director Erman; and she loved staying at home on the ranch in California with her husband, British actor Malcolm McDowell, their two children and assorted horses and farm animals. Although she plunged into the script for "The Attic," she said, she ' had trouble making the cultural and historical jump into the role of Miep. As with Jacobs, however, once in Amsterdam, visiting the Anne Frank House, seeing the attic, Steenburgen felt the power of the story; the characters in the script and in the diary suddenly became real. Fittingly, it was Gies herself who finally provided the actress her decisive link into the rich, vibrant inner world of Frank. As Steenburgen, explained: "I was talking with Miep, trying to understand, then I saw it: Anne's family was totally dependent on her, she was nourishing them, caring for them. And I asked her, 'Miep, did you feel like a mother to these people?' " This was the key moment closing the gulf between these two very different, very similar women. From here on, it no longer was the real-life Dutch heroine Gies and the American actress Steenburgen; it was Miep and Mary, two mothers with strong common bonds. Both women come from Christian backgrounds; both have clear, strong ideas about injustice and racism. Steenburgen put off having children in favor of her career; for Gies, it was six years after the war, when she and Henk had all but given up, that the couple had their only child, Paul. "Yes, Miep told me, that was exactly how it felt she had become their mother," Steenburgen said. "Then Miep said something else that worked for me: She did nothing from the head; she did everything from the heart." On one cold afternoon, Steenbur-' gen's two children were with her in Amsterdam, sightseeing while . she' was on the set trying to do justice to the role of Miep. Steenburgen was riding her bike, take after take,.jin-der the downpour of the rain machine. Though drenched to the bone, off camera she never thought ,of complaining to her friend Miep. "In television," she said, "you just, do what you gotta do." Hearing this, Miep Gies gave her a knowing nod. Reliving the past,, seeing her own story come to. life, watching Steenburgen pick up the plain brown bundles she carries past i the eyes of the Gestapo and hides in ; the attic, Gies eyes fill with tears,!' Just as they do every time she tries I to talk about Frank. : . ; "Mary is good," she said. "She has the feel of it." ;', Paul Chutkow is a free-lance; writer ba3ed in Paris. 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