FREEZE FRAMES

A weekly update of film releases

MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN - Man makes monster. Stylishly filmed by Kenneth Branagh, who spices the well-known story with unearthly sights, outlandish sounds, and over-the-top performances. The violence is excessive, the screenplay is loaded with cliches, and not even the ingenious Baron could breathe new life into the ultraconservative message that humans shouldn't peek too curiously into Mother Nature's secrets. Still, it's good to see Branagh get beyond his usual pretentiousness and have some wide-eyed cinematic fun, and crazier set designs haven't hit the screen in ages. Robert

De Niro makes the monster both horrific and pathetic, while Branagh makes Frankenstein as feisty as he's been since Peter Cushing redefined the role 40 years ago. The gothic goofiness is only for moviegoers with strong stomachs, though, since many scenes are drenched in convincingly faked gore.

(Rated R)

THE DEVIL, PROBABLY - A young man searches for meaning in contemporary France, which he finds disastrously shallow and materialistic. Robert Bresson wrote and directed this 1977 masterpiece, which is less a psychological drama than a cinematic inquiry into the tendency for moral and ethical pollution to obscure spiritual values. The resonant, purposefully ambiguous story is filmed with razor-sharp clarity. (Not rated)

THE WAR - Domestic fallout from the Vietnam War underlies this overambitious drama about a racially mixed Mississippi community, featuring Kevin Costner as a veteran with emotional problems and Elijah Wood as a youngster whose feud with a local bully takes on warlike intensity. Kathy McWorter's screenplay veers between ``Our Gang'' cuteness and ``Lord of the Flies'' pugnacity, a queasy mixture if ever there was one. Directed by Jon Avnet, whose willingness to falsify history in the name of entertainment is an example of the Forrest Gump Syndrome in full flower.

(Rated PG-13)

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