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The Lion King

The movie is never less interesting than when it's trying to be the original Lion King, and never more compelling than when it's carving out…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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'Volcano' Erupts With Surprises

There is, of course, no such thing as a movie "so bad, it's good." If it is good, it is not bad. This is obvious to everyone except those who make up lists of "good bad movies." Nor should there be such a thing as a film you're ashamed to admit you like. If it is a good film, where is the shame?

It is with pride, then, that I nominate for your consideration "Joe Versus the Volcano" (1990). It is certainly one of the oddest films ever made, the surrealistic story of a wage slave in a job so vile it is literally killing him, who escapes to the South Seas and is at every step of the way assisted by one of three women, all played by the same actress.

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The movie stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, currently appearing together in the big romantic hit comedy "Sleepless in Seattle." That is a good movie, but this is a better one. As I wrote in my original review, I watched the movie with mounting hopes, as I gradually realized an astonishing thing: I had not seen this movie before! Most movies are much the same, windup mechanisms of the same formulas and basic standby plots, but this one is a comic fable that invents situations and realities as it goes along.

The movie was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, hot on the heels of his enormous success and Academy Award for the screenplay of "Moonstruck." Hanks and Ryan must have been attracted to the project - a risky one, with a first-time director - simply by its brilliant screenplay. Seeing the film, you realize that the writing isn't all that's original. So is its whole visual look.

The movie announces its individuality in its opening shot, which is of a loathsome factory - a vast block of ugliness set down in the middle of a field of mud. Into this factory every morning trudge the broken spirits and unhealthy bodies of its employees, among them, the ashen-faced Joe (Tom Hanks). He has felt sick for years and believes the buzzing fluorescent tubes above his desk may be driving him mad.

He may be right. Meg Ryan appears, as a woman who works at the factory, and she will keep right on appearing throughout the movie, in two more roles, documenting here that she is a gifted comic actress. Hanks already had made his reputation, but it's a shame more people didn't see this film. It may be his best work.

Unfortunately, not many critics agreed with me, and the studio had little faith in the film, which disappeared before it could find an audience. It is not a Good Bad Film, but a Good Good Film, and I even propose it for a new category: Good Movies That Ignorant People Think Are Bad.

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