TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
PG, 1990, 95 minutes, Family Home Entertainment, closed captioned, $24.99.
As a triumph of marketing and licensing, the TMNT are a force to be reckoned with. Their elevation from their debut in black-and-white comics six years ago to television cartoon/action figure/live-action stardom is the biggest toy merchandising story of the decade (this side of Nintendo, anyway). This movie, one of the year's highest-grossing films (even at mostly matinee prices, because its youthful constituency saw it again and again) is more "Howard the Duck" than "Batman," though "Duck" had better production values and special effects and came up with a convoluted plot aimed as much at adults as at kids. It's the kids alone who will love these surf-bred, Valley Boy-talking turtle warriors, whose quips are so constant they must be part mock. They live for pizza, speak in TV and advertising jargon and somehow manage to champion truth, honor and the American way, thanks to their martial arts training. Yes, it's amusingly surreal to watch man-size (and Jim Henson-suited) terps engaging in punch-and-kickouts with the evil Foot gang. The one-liners come frequently enough and even the transformation of cartoon violence is achieved without resorting to realism. But the end result is slight. -- Richard Harrington
ELVIS: THE GREAT PERFORMANCES, VOLUMES 1 AND 2
Unrated, 1990, Buena Vista, 52 and 54 minutes, $19.99 each.
Andrew Solt almost makes up for Albert Goldman with this pair of 50-minute tapes celebrating Presley's music and abandoning any pretense at understanding the man. The choice material is taken from television appearances (including the 1956 lineup of Tommy Dorsey, Steve Allen, Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan), movies (home and studio, the latter thankfully absent the acting) and newsreels. Though it is somewhat explicated by Peter Guralnick's informative notes and Memphis Mafioso George Klein's hagiographic narration, those seeking Presley insights should look elsewhere; this video is just sights. Volume 1 includes Presley's long-lost Technicolor screen test in which he strums a stringless guitar and eye-moons the camera on a fervent lip-syncing of "Blue Suede Shoes" (maybe the best work he ever did) and some priceless shots of a 1955 (pre-hysteria) concert at Lubbock (Tex.) High School with homeboy Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Also included: the recently uncovered "My Happiness," Presley's very first recording, done at Sun Studio as a birthday present for his mom. The two videos are offered up without any sense of chronology or context, but the performances are mostly uninterrupted, allowing Elvis to fend for himself, which he does quite well, particularly in the pre-Army days when his shows were fueled by instinct rather than artifice. One can trace the raw sexuality and innate savvy of that early work through its gradual disintegration into the fluff of the Hollywood films, a decline from character to caricature marked by occasional redemption. Solt has done several revealing rock packages ("Elvis," "Imagine: John Lennon" and "The Rolling Stones: 25x5"), but one questions the decision to release this project on two tapes when it warrants only one. -- Richard Harrington
STANLEY & IRIS
PG-13, 1990, 100 minutes, MGM/UA Home Video, $89.98.
Jane Fonda just can't get enough blue-collar bathos. She's happiest when she's got her little muck rake out, scraping the American landscape for causes. Here, she plays a new widow with a dead-end job in a bakery, a pregnant teenager, an abused sister, a grieving son and a beau who can't read so much as a street sign. All this trouble is borrowed, relished and ballyhooed in "Stanley & Iris," an oh-woe-is-me romance that costars Robert De Niro, who took the part even though he doesn't get to fatten up, or suffer half as much as Fonda. Iris realizes that Stanley, a bachelor fry cook, is illiterate, gets him fired, then tries to make amends by teaching him to read. As it happens, Stanley is attracted to this spunky martyr. Although he throws in the towel temporarily, he comes back to Iris with his hat in his hand. "How -- how've you been?" he asks, his longing for her evident. "I've had colitis," she whimpers. Is it any wonder that the two finally end up in bed together? They might as well be ironing the sheets -- it's that sizzling. It doesn't help that Iris is always talking about visiting her husband's grave. This overwrought effort reunites "Norma Rae" screenwriters Irvin Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. with director Martin Ritt, who even went and took the fun out of cookies. These gal bakers let their hairnets slip, lick the marzipan rosettes, spit in the frosting and get migraines from smelling the chocolate chips. This movie's main contribution to society may well be weight reduction. -- Rita Kempley
THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER
Unrated (123 minutes) or R (100 minutes), 1990, Vidmark, closed captioned, $89.95.
In "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover," British director Peter Greenaway is audacious enough to stage a metaphor so grand, so lavishly comprehensive, that it can stand as a definitive assessment of the state of Western civilization. To articulate his views, he references politics, art, economics, even fashion. Yet his conclusions, when boiled down, couldn't be more basic: As a culture, we are what we eat -- or, to take it even further, what we eliminate. If anatomy is destiny, then it's the bowels that dictate history. Greenaway, the bemused, coolly ironic truth-teller, has painted a cruel portrait for a cruel time. The film is savagely confrontational, and its assaults begin almost immediately. In the opening divertissement, Spica, Greenaway's gangster protagonist, demonstrates to a victim the price of not keeping up in his payments by stripping him down and force-feeding him excrement. This bestial prelude sets the movie's brutally scatological tone. And before the film's end, the director will have showcased a vast number of perversions, including cannibalism, to make the emphatic point that we are craven, puerile animals, choking on our own waste. The bulk of the action takes place in a cavernous temple of haute cuisine called Le Hollandais, where Spica (Michael Gambon) and his wife, Georgina (Helen Mirren), dine every night. In symbolic terms, Spica is the ultimate consumer -- a glutton ruled entirely by his amoral drive to gobble down everything and everyone in sight. With all its allusions to high culture, its imperial camera movements, classically composed tableaux and opulent production design, the film certainly carries the air of profundity. But perhaps "air" is the wrong word to use. After a time, you begin to feel soiled by the film's excesses. -- Hal Hinson