Freeze Frames

Movies that contain violence, sexual situations, nudity, and profanity are denoted V, S, N, and P respectively. Evaluations do not constitute a Monitor endorsement. Further guidance is supplied by full reviews on the Arts pages.

EVALUATION SYMBOLS

David Sterritt Staff Panel Meaning

O\ O\ Don't bother

u q Poor

uu qq Fair

uuu qqq Good

uuuu qqqq Excellent

7 1 Half rating point

New Releases

DOLORES CLAIBORNE

uuu She's accused of murdering her obnoxious employer, and while her estranged daughter thinks that she might be innocent, she's being hounded by a police officer who's convinced this isn't her first homicide. Kathy Bates gives her most gripping performance since ''Misery,'' also based on a Stephen King thriller. The picture is weakened by a rambling and inconsistent screenplay, though. Taylor Hackford directed. (R) S V P

LAST TANGO IN PARIS

uuu Reissue of Bernardo Bertolucci's melodrama about an American man and a French woman whose relationship is based entirely on physical attraction. Many call it a masterpiece, and it certainly contains one of Marlon Brando's most adventurous performances. Others find it as pretentious today as they did in 1972, even if the florid sex scenes appear a little less audacious with the passage of time. What's not debatable is the exquisite shine of Vittorio Storaro's dazzling cinematography. (NR) N S V P

LOSING ISAIAH

uuu Two years after losing her baby while in a drug-induced haze, an African-American woman tries to regain custody from the affluent white family that's adopted him. The drama raises many sensitive issues, and while it doesn't explore their complexities very deeply, it treats its characters with respect and compassion. Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal with strong visual imagination. (R) P V

MAJOR PAYNE

uu He's a tough-as-nails Marine who'd rather be dodging battlefield bullets than whipping a squad of prep-school kids into shape. Most of the jokes are dumb and dumber, but Damon Wayans is a riot as the hero, and military machismo is an excellent target for his satire. In all, the film is less painful than the title leads you to expect. Nick Castle directed. (PG-13) P V

PRIEST

uu While wrestling with questions of conscience arising from his homosexuality, a Roman Catholic priest agonizes over whether he should break the secrecy of his confessional and intervene in a child-molesting case involving a local family. Antonia Bird's drama is serious, heartfelt, but ultimately too superficial for comfort, especially when compared with a vastly superior effort like ''The Boys of St. Vincent,'' which addresses some related issues with far more depth and subtlety. (R) S V P

Currently in Release

BEFORE THE RAIN

u Three related tales rooted in Macedonia's current political strife. The first deals with a young monk and an Albanian runaway; the second with a Macedonian photojournalist and his British lover in London; the third follows the photojournalist back to his native village. The subjects are interesting, but Milcho Manchevski's filmmaking is too disjointed to build much intellectual or emotional energy. (NR) S V P

qqq1 Artistic, topical, evocative imagery.

BEFORE SUNRISE

uuu Romantic comedy about a young American and a French student who meet on a European train and decide to spend a spontaneous day together. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are attractive stars, but what's most appealing about the picture is the value it puts on sharing ideas and feelings through language. Directed by Richard Linklater. (R) P

qqq1 Engaging, talky, believable.

BOYS ON THE SIDE

uu Three women start on a cross-country trip, hoping for a better life: a gay singer, a businesswoman diagnosed with AIDS, and a hustler who's just killed her abusive boyfriend. The movie tries to outdo ''Thelma and Louise'' by upping the number of heroines, but it lacks the moral seriousness to tackle its sensitive material. Herbert Ross directed. Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker, and Drew Barrymore star. (R) N P V S

qqq Hilarious, heavy on social issues, tragic.

The Brady bunch movie

Those groovy Bradys are now living in the '90s, and they must raise $20,000 or else their house will be auctioned off. Based on the '70s TV show, the plot works well compared with most sitcom movies. The cast is a close match to the original. Avid ''Bunch'' fans will ''dig it,'' while others may find it hokey. Directed by Betty Thomas. (PG-13) By Shelley Coolidge.

qqq1 Nostalgic, campy; Marcia steals the show.

BULLETS OVER BROADWAY

uu A young playwright juggles art, romance, and gangsters while preparing his first big production. Woody Allen's comedy is rarely inspired, but provides some good laughs and an energetic depiction of the Roaring '20s. (R) V P S

qqq1 Snappy, clever; Dianne Wiest heads a remarkable cast.

BYE BYE, LOVE

uuu Three divorced men juggle relationships with their angry ex-wives, their frustrated kids, and each other. Sam Weisman's comedy has a couple of touching moments and several hilarious ones, although it's a little too polite to become the biting satire it might have been. Randy Quaid and Janeane Garofalo are priceless as a newly acquainted couple having the world's worst date. (PG-13) P S

CIRCLE OF FRIENDS

uu The place is an Irish village in 1957, and the heroines are three young women negotiating the twists and turns of love, friendship, and family relations. Pat O'Connor directed this likable but unmemorable comedy-drama, which creates some vivid moments without quite managing to flesh out its commonplace characters. (PG-13) S P V

EXOTICA

uuu A man tries to assuage family-related grief through an oblique relationship with a nightclub dancer. Atom Egoyan, perhaps the most imaginative filmmaker in Canada today, wrote and directed this explicit but serious-minded study of sexual obsessiveness. (R) P S N V

FARINELLI: IL CASTRATO

uu The life and loves of Europe's most renowned 18th-century castrato singer, focusing on his often peculiar relationships with composers, women, and his brother. The subject has historical and musical interest, and the technicians have done an impressive job of reproducing the hero's androgynous vocal quality on the soundtrack. But, director Gerard Corbiau shows more interest in sensational details than aesthetic insights, and the acting is uneven. (R) S N V P

HIDEAWAY

u An ordinary man becomes clairvoyant after a near-death experience, and finds himself on the trail of a serial killer. This new ripoff of ''The Silence of the Lambs'' is scuttled by dopey dialogue and silly situations, although there are a couple of snappy suspense scenes. Brett Leonard directed. (R) P S V

HOOP DREAMS

uuu A team of documentary filmmakers spent years tracking two young basketball players who hoped sports careers might be their ticket out of Chicago's inner city. The movie is a provocative commentary, but the material could have been shaped into a tighter, more cohesive structure. (PG-13) P

qqq Insightful, sensitive, but a tad slow.

JUST CAUSE

uu A white law professor defends a young black man sentenced to death for a horrible crime, and encounters jarring surprises. Although the first hour builds suspense, the story sags into a warmed-over combination of ''The Silence of the Lambs'' and ''Cape Fear,'' and the violent climax looks like it was shot in an Everglades theme park. Ed Harris steals the show as a Hannibal Lecter wannabe. Arne Glimcher directed. (R) V P

q Brutal, unoriginal; waste of fine cast.

LEGENDS OF THE FALL

u The story begins as a family saga in old Montana, but turns into a hackneyed tale of rivalry between two brothers who love a beautiful widow. The scenery is pretty in a calendar-art sort of way, but nothing else is worth the price of admission. Directed by Edward Zwick. (R) V S N P

qq1 Tear-jerker, melodramatic, beautiful scenery.

THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE

uuu Maybe it's family problems, or the stress of losing the American colonies; but whatever the cause, the monarch's mental health has become shaky, and this is of enormous interest to friends and enemies alike. Excellent acting undergirds this historical comedy-drama, directed by Nicholas Hytner. (Not Rated) P

qqqq Droll, powerful; fine acting by Nigel Hawthorne.

MINA TANNENBAUM

uu The lives and loves of two Jewish women in Paris between the late 1960s and early '90s. Romane Bohringer and Elsa Zylberstein are nicely unassuming as the heroines. The plot doesn't quite hang together, though, and the dramatic climax seems more arbitrary than affecting. Written and directed by Martine Dugowson. (Not Rated) P S V

MURIEL'S WEDDING

uuu Muriel is a misfit who's desperate to get married, but has everything from overbearing parents to nasty friends stand ing in her way. Australian newcomer P. J. Hogan wrote and directed this high-energy comedy, which earned several of this year's Australian Academy Awards. (NR) S N P

qq1 Tragi-comic, fast-moving plot, Muriel is superb.

NOBODY'S FOOL

uuu Paul Newman does his best acting in years as Sully, a likable loser juggling relationships with friends and relatives who can't figure out why he's still drifting aimlessly through life after passing his 60th birthday. Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis head the strong supporting cast. Directed by Robert Benton. (R) V S N P

qqq Sad, honest, well-acted.

ONCE WERE WARRIORS

uuu A harrowing visit to the New Zealand household of an ethnic Maori woman whose white husband has scarred their 18-year marriage with bouts of drunken violence. The drama is not so much artful as powerful, in the way a locomotive or a sledgehammer is powerful; but its cry against domestic abuse is strong and unflinching. Lee Tamahori directed. (R) S V P

qq1Powerful, harsh, degrading portrayal of sex.

OUTBREAK

u A virus developed for biological warfare breaks loose in a California town, and military brass debate the issue while Dustin Hoffman tries to save the day. It's sad to see such an empty-headed movie on such an attention-worthy subject. Clunkily directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Morgan Freeman and Rene Russo head the hard-working but ill-fated supporting cast. (R) P V

PULP FICTION

uuu Four interlocking stories about sex, drugs, violence, and other sensational stuff, tempered with an interest in redemption that suggests filmmaker Quentin Tarantino might be growing up a little. John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson are terrific as talkative hit men, and Bruce Willis is equally good as a boxer who refuses to throw a fight. Look out for over-the-top scenes of mayhem and brutality, though. (R) V S N P

qqq Surprising, wry, gory.

THE QUICK AND THE DEAD

uuu A vengeful woman takes on a sadistic sheriff who keeps order by staging shootouts in the town square. Sam Raimi's western parodies the western genre with energy and affection. Contains lots of violence, but done in a cartoonish way that diminishes its impact. (R) V P N

qqq Suspenseful, violent, Sharon Stone's best film.

ROOMMATES

uu The up-and-down friendship of a hard-working young physician and his crotchety old grandpa. The story never gets beyond stereotypes and cliches, although Peter Falk manages to build some touching moments. Peter Yates directed. (PG) P S V

THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH

uu Living on the Irish coast with her grandparents, a little girl hears local legends that take on vivid meaning in her life. John Sayles normally steers toward social realism in his movies, and while this fairy tale has many ingredients for effective family entertainment, he's not a graceful enough filmmaker to create the mystical mood he seeks. (PG)

qq1 Enchanting, slow; seals and seagulls are captivating.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

uuu Morgan Freeman gives a superb performance and Tim Robbins isn't far behind in Frank Darabont's intelligent drama about hope, loyalty, and friendship in a top-security prison. (R) S V P N

qqqq Uplifting, powerful, distinct and believable characters.

SON OF THE SHARK

uuu Rejecting society, which has given them no sense of belonging, two young French brothers struggle to survive in hostile urban surroundings. Agnes Merlet's debut film is admirably direct and unsentimental, and acted with stunning forcefulness. But it's so derivative of ''The 400 Blows'' that fans of French cinema will have attacks of deja vu. (NR) S N V P

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