MY LEFT FOOT
R, 1989, 103 minutes, closed captioned, HBO Video, $89.99.
Jim Sheridan's "My Left Foot" must be the most passionately empathetic film about a physical affliction ever made. As Christy Brown, the Dublin-born painter-writer afflicted with cerebral palsy, Daniel Day-Lewis clenches his teeth so hard and blinks his eyes so ferociously that you'd think he was trying to force steam out of his ears. Watching him, with his frail body straining against itself as he tortures out his words, we feel we're watching an essential struggle -- not simply a man fighting against his affliction, but the fight to express ourselves that all of us wage. Day-Lewis and the Irish playwright-director Sheridan plunge us so deeply into the hell of this wrecked body that we can't look away. This astounding young actor spares himself nothing. He takes the intensity of Christy's emotions to a point almost past belief, and way past the point where most actors would have stopped. He confronts us with Christy's physical wretchedness, his anger and frustration and self-pity and sexual aggressiveness, and asks for not one shred of mercy, not one tear. And the results are devastating and unforgettable. If a performance on film can leaves scars, this one will. As magnificently fierce as Day-Lewis is, the film is far from a one-man show. Sheridan's direction has a pitch-perfect dryness and simplicity, and the supporting performances -- particularly Brenda Fricker's portrayal of Christy's stubbornly protective mother -- are burly and robust. At its base, the film is a lesson in the functions of rage. It shows us how Christy's struggles are translated into art and, in particular, into clear-eyed angry wit. Hal Hinson
THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS
R, 1989, 116 minutes, closed captioned, International Video Entertainment, $89.95.
"The Fabulous Baker Boys" is a grand piano movie, all sophisticated rhythms, visual glissandi and three-part harmony. The Baker Boys, played by Jeff and Beau Bridges, are cocktail-lounge pianists, the kind who play "Feelings" to a smattering of applause. In this stunning, cynically funny first outing together, the brothers dignify these human cliches, portraying Jack (Jeff) and Frank (Beau) as if they were a has-been boxer and his manager. The jewel in this setting is Susie Diamond, a chanteuse in the rough played by Michelle Pfeiffer, more Bacall than Bacall here. In an attempt to resuscitate their act, the brothers invite Susie to join them on the road. The act prospers, but the sparks between Susie and Jack touch off the rivalry that the men have repressed for 31 years. The movie, however, belongs to Pfeiffer, who had an Oscar nomination for a performance highlighted by her scorching rendition of "Making Whoopee." Slithering atop the piano, she catches Jack's eye, crooning so suggestively that "a little shoes, a little rice" comes out steaming. Have you ever seen a Steinway blush? As written and directed by Steve Kloves, whose only other movie credit is the screenplay of the '40s-era "Racing With the Moon," the movie is a heady mesh of Ella Fitzgerald sentiments, film noir and romantic melodramatics. It's an American rhapsody. Rita Kempley
BACK TO THE FUTURE PART IIEND NOTES
PG, 1990, 108 minutes, MCA/Universal Home Video, $91.95.
Thick with corporate plugs and chest-beating, "Back to the Future Part II" is a shameless feature-length billboard for Pepsi, Miller, Nike, Texaco, Pizza Hut, Black & Decker and, of course, "Back to the Future Part III." History repeats itself again and again in this glossily mean-spirited yarn, which shuttles up and down the space-time continuum like a commuter train. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) has just kissed his girlfriend, Jennifer (Elizabeth Shue), when Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) squeals back into Hilldale 1985 in his souped up DeLorean from 2015 to warn: "It's your kids, Marty. Something's got to be done." Hurrying the couple into the time machine, the agitated genius flies into a popsicle-colored future where every home is equipped with a scenery channel and a pizza hydrator. Alas, the McFlys' once-idyllic neighborhood is a seedy shambles, and Marty and Jennifer (Fox and Shue in lumpy makeup) are losers, as Marty's parents were before he altered the space-time continuum in the prequel. The heroes avoid their future selves as they tangle with Griff (Thomas F. Wilson) and his curmudgeonly grandfather, Biff (Wilson), who borrows the DeLorean to turn the 1985 they knew into a laissez-faire nightmare of violence, homelessness, spouse abuse and toxic waste. The 21st-century McFlys are left to their own devices when the heroes return to 1955 to repair the damage in the fabric of time. Unhappily, "BTTF II" is to "BTTF I" as "The Temple of Doom" is to "Raiders of the Lost Ark": rambunctious giggles gone sour and mumpish.Rita Kempley
PG, 1989, 92 minutes, RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, $89.95
If you think you were traumatized when they shot Bambi's mother, just wait till you see "The Bear." Mud-and-guts director Jean-Jacques Annaud of "Quest for Fire" leaves little to the imagination in this buddy movie for bears. Told in ursine language and set to a thundering score, "The Bear" stars a real live teddy bear, Douce, as a fuzzy cub orphaned when her mommy is squashed in a rock slide. Mewling and pawing at her fallen parent, Douce finally realizes she cannot rouse her and timidly sets off on her own. Playing games with giant frogs in a meadow pond, she is adorably distracted. Meanwhile, in another part of the woods -- Italy's magnificent Dolomites standing in for the Canadian Rockies -- a huge male (the superb Bart) is shot by hunters as he enjoys a lunch of bright orange berries. Mad with pain, the bear mauls the hunters' pack animals, and the woodsmen (Jack Wallace and Tcheky Karyo) swear to kill him. Following at a distance, the orphaned cub seeks the protection of the wounded male and together they journey across the unspoiled wilderness in hopes of eluding the hunters and their slobbering hounds. Based on a 1916 novel by naturalist James Oliver Curwood, the movie ultimately teaches peace among the species, but it is nevertheless a grizzly business with Douce, the little love, constantly in peril. Rita Kempley