WHO'S THAT GIRL
PG, 1987, 94 minutes, Warner Home Video, $89.95.
There's no way to watch Madonna in this out-of-control, screwball heist picture without a sense of profound puzzlement: The main question isn't "Who's that girl?" -- the young lady's identity has been sufficiently established -- but "What the hell's she doing?" The movie is outrageously inept, but not in a routine manner. It's not a snooze, like "Shanghai Surprise"; it's deeply, strangely, fascinatingly bad. The "girl" in the title is an ex-con named Nikki Finn who has just gotten out of the can after serving four years for a trumped-up murder rap and is determined to clear her name. Heedless is the word that best describes Nikki. Deranged would also fit. About the most generous thing that can be said regarding Madonna's performance here is this: She made a radical choice and went with it. Within the parameters of that choice she works out some kinky business, and some of her line readings are snapped off and bright. On the other hand, she comes up with things that make you wince, and, with her platinumed hair and Kabuki harlot makeup, she's become increasingly hard to look at. This said, I admit to laughing at much of the movie. This, I also understand, is not a wholly defensible position. But go ahead, shoot me -- I laughed. Hal Hinson
R, 1987, 105 minutes, MCA Home Video, $79.95.
Real-life husband and wife Colin Friels and Judy Davis portray Richard and Harriet Somers in Tim Burstall's laborious adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel based on the writer's stay in the Outback during World War I. The Somerses, fictional alter egos of the fractious, fruity Lawrences, leave wartime England for Australia because Harriet is German and Richard is thought a traitorous pornographer. Shocked and yet seduced by the robust Aussies, the wimpy writer Richard takes up with a fictional fascist underground led by a chubby charismatic, code named Kangaroo. Richard's political proclivities are tested when he takes up with the fascist leader (Hugh Keays Byrne), but he quickly withdraws when the violence he has courted ensues. Meanwhile, the Somerses also engage in coy flirtations with their neighbors (the first of the wife swappers), but nothing much comes of it except a lot of Sturm und Drang. Sexual politics mix with political ideology with incredible tedium in this boorish ego drama from down under. Ponderous piffle.
HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS
PG, 1987, 11 minutes, MCA Home Video, $89.95.
You've heard of him, I'm sure, but perhaps haven't seen him. He goes by many names -- Sasquatch, Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman -- but the Hendersons just call him Harry. It's not a bad name for him actually. He's about the size of your average sofa, but with Joan Crawford shoulders and a debutante's waist. The Hendersons bump into him quite by accident. One day as they're returning home from a camping trip, he streaks out in front of their car and is knocked cold. At first, it looks as if Dad has run smack into Chewbacca -- but Chewy never stank like this thing. Directed by William Dear for Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, "Harry and the Hendersons" is about the little lessons that a Seattle family learns from living with the Big Guy. It's about learning to be human, and on that level, it's utter schlock -- manipulative and overcute. You could look at it on another level, though -- as a comedy about an obnoxious house guest -- and feel a little kindlier toward it. When Harry shows up in the Hendersons' kitchen rummaging through the refrigerator for late-night snacks, he's every host's nightmare of the unwanted overnighter. In the early scenes, Harry looks as if he might turn into a great character -- he's like a giant troll out of the Brothers Grimm. And some of the other performers -- particularly Melinda Dillon and John Lithgow, who's the bestest Disney Dad ever -- are engaging. But the movie is an epiphany machine made by people with a mission. Single-handedly, they want to restore wondrousness to our lives -- and it's not a proposition we get to vote on, either.
CLAUDIO ARRAU: VOLUME ONE: THE 80TH BIRTHDAY RECITAL; Unrated, 1983, 111 minutes, Video Artists International, $49.95.
In 1983, the music world went slightly wild for the 80th birthday of Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau, now 84 and still going strong. Philips Records issued a 59-record collection, "The Arrau Edition," and when he gave his birthday recital in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, the audience overflowed into hundreds of extra seats crowded on the stage. That recital, with Martin Bookspan as host, has now been issued as the first of a series of video recordings that will eventually include a substantial part of Arrau's vast repertoire. The birthday program presents a fair sample: Beethoven's "Waldstein" and "Appassionata" sonatas, Debussy's "Reflets dans l'Eau," Chopin's Scherzo in B Minor, and two works by Liszt -- "The Fountains in the Villa d'Este" and the Ballade in B Minor. The pianist's technique and musicianship are impressive in all the varied styles represented on the program, though the grounds for choosing Arrau rather than another of the world's top dozen pianists are ultimately a matter of personal taste. Video and its "you-are-there" feeling are very appropriate right at the end, when a piano-shaped birthday cake is brought out and Placido Domingo makes a surprise appearance to lead the audience in singing "Happy Birthday."
PARTISANS OF VILNA; Unrated, 1986, in English, Yiddish and Hebrew, 120 minutes, European Classics, $69.95.
"Better to perish than die 'heroically.' Stretch our throats to the knife? No! Forever no!" Inspired by these folk song lyrics, the Jewish men and women of the Lithuanian town of Vilna began to fight back aggressively against their Nazi persecutors, both inside and outside their cramped and chaotic Jewish ghetto. "Partisans," a stirring documentary, recounts their heroism via some of the "talking heads" techniques familiar to those who saw the 9 1/2-hour "Shoah." In his thorough work, writer-director Josh Waletzky reconstructs a gripping narrative from an international chorus of voices. One of the most poignant is that of the poet Abba Kovner, a founder of the partisan movement whose wife committed the first known act of sabotage by a Jew against the Germans. "Partisans" was produced by Washington filmmaker Aviva Kempner, conceived the project.