FREEZE FRAMES

The Monitor Movie Guide

By

APRIL 14, 1995

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

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

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

BLESSING

uu Sincere, modestly crafted tale of a young woman's effort to shake off the emotional pressures of life on her family's farm. Written and directed by Paul Zehrer, a promising new filmmaker. (Not rated) V P

CLEAN, SHAVEN

uuu A schizophrenic man searches frantically for a young daughter who has been removed from his care. Written and directed by newcomer Lodge H. Kerrigan, this extraordinary debut film combines innovative cinematics with unmistakable compassion for its tormented protagonist; its nonstop intensity may be too unsettling for many spectators, however. (Not rated) V P S

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO

uu David Lean pulled out all the melodramatic stops in his film version of Boris Pasternak's novel about love and death in revolutionary Russia, but there's enough spark in the main performances to compensate for the top-heavy style. Robert Bolt wrote the ponderous screenplay and Freddie Young did the sumptuous cinematography. Restored to its full length of nearly 3-1/2 hours for its 30th-anniversary rerelease. (PG-13) S V

FUN

uuu Desperate for some excitement in their humdrum lives, two teenage girls commit an appalling crime. Swinging between interviews with the main characters and flashbacks to their day of violence, Rafal Zelinsky's drama etches a chilling portrait of American society as a spiritual wasteland that's unwilling or unable to cultivate the vast potential of its youngest members. Produced about the same time as ''Heavenly Creatures,'' which it resembles in many ways. (Not rated) S V P

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH

uuu Also known as ''Stairway to Heaven,'' this 1946 fantasy has its climax in a heavenly courtroom where David Niven asks to be spared a wartime death so his love for Kim Hunter can blossom over the years. Written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who never created a more widely loved picture. (PG) V

PATHER PANCHALI

uuu The first film by Indian director Satyajit Ray explores the life of a poor rural family with wit, understatement, and a gracefulness rarely found in today's hectic movie world. Originally released in 1955, and known as ''Song of the Little Road'' in its English-subtitled version. Ravi Shankar composed the superb music. (Not rated)

RED FIRECRACKER, GREEN FIRECRACKER

u In rural China, a young woman renounces her femininity in order to rule her family's fireworks business with an iron hand, but this arrangement is threatened by an artist who falls in love with her. The story makes a good metaphor for conflicts between selfhood and tradition, but director He Ping shows a weakness for melodramatic excess that outweighs the film's assets of colorful cinematography and earnest acting. (Not rated) S V

ROB ROY

uu Sir Walter Scott's novel is turned inside-out by Michael Caton-Jones's movie, which transforms the title character from an elusive rogue into a conventional hero who swaggers across the screen from beginning to end. Liam Neeson plays him with conviction, and Tim Roth makes an uncommonly hissable villain. The adventure goes on too long, though, and wallows in nasty details that would have made Scott shudder. (R) S V P

qq1 Predictable plot, violent (sword slayings and brutal rape scene).

Currently in Release

AMATEUR

u A man with no memory of his past, a nun entering the secular world after 17 years of seclusion, and an actress of very dubious morality are the main characters of Hal Hartley's offbeat drama, which explores complicated issues of identity and sexual politics, but remains too schematic to gain the emotional impact it sorely needs. (R) S N V P

BALLET

uuu In the 27th documentary of his distinguished career, Frederick Wiseman turns his camera on the American Ballet Theater, charting activities as varied as rehearsing, performing, hiring new talent, and coping with the financial pressures facing a modern cultural institution. Life itself becomes a kind of choreography in Wiseman's artful view, which is sometimes as funny as it is beguiling. (Not Rated) P

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. (PG-13) P S

qqq Insightful, funny, poignant.

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

qqq Heartwarming, engaging, beautiful scenery.

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

qqq Eerie, disturbingly violent; Kathy Bates is great.

DON JUAN DEMARCO

uu Romantic dreams abound as a burned-out psychiatrist (Marlon Brando) enters the make-believe world of a young patient (Johnny Depp) who thinks he's the famous Don Juan of bygone years. The picture has more charm than credibility, and its conquistador-like attitude toward women is mighty questionable; but the story becomes quite resonant if you see it as a fable about the once-legendary Brando vicariously regaining his youth by teaming with Depp in this all-stops-out movie fantasy. (PG-13) S N V P

qqq1 Refreshing, funny, clever.

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

A GOOFY MOVIE

uu Single dads are so popular in Hollywood that even Goofy gets to be one, dragging his teenage son on a fishing trip so they can be better pals. Kevin Lima's feature-length cartoon has some funny moments, but why couldn't the gang at Walt Disney Pictures provide something for girls and moms to identify with, too? (G)

GORILLA BATHES AT NOON

uu A lonely Soviet soldier wanders through Berlin after the cold war, looking for love, companionship, and fresh fruit to munch on while he remembers a more heroic past. Written and directed by Dusan Makavejev, once a towering figure in Yugoslavian cinema, this low-key comedy needs more than melancholy jokes and time-traveling montage to overcome its unfortunate shortages of energy and imagination. (Not rated) V

JEFFERSON IN PARIS

uuu Living in Paris as American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson observes France's growing revolutionary fervor while striking up two romantic relationships: one with the wife of a foppish French painter, the other with the African-American nursemaid of his youngest daughter. Calling on the civilized intelligence that is their enduring trademark, director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala use their historical material to explore issues related to democracy, revolution, and the psychological complexities of a sensitive man who couldn't entirely separate the concepts of womanhood and property. (PG-13) N S V

qq Slow, beautifully filmed, Nolte's Jefferson implausible.

THE LAST GOOD TIME

uuu In a rundown urban neighborhood, unlikely friendship develops between a dignified old man and a streetwise young woman who hides in his apartment after escaping from her abusive boyfriend. Bob Balaban has directed the slender story with commendable sensitivity, helped by excellent performances from Armin Mueller-Stahl and Olivia d'Abo. (Not rated) S N 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

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.

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. The film is less painful than the title leads you to expect. Nick Castle directed. (PG-13) P 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. (R) S N P

qq1 Tragicomic, fast-moving plot, superb characters.

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

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.'' (R) S V P

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.

TANK GIRL

q The fearless comic strip-come-to-life ''Becca'' and her two mousy sidekicks face crisis after crisis in a dark and violent futuristic world. Predictably, they fight off a legion of bad guys and enlist some weird victims-turned-good guys to help. Not successful at shattering stereotypes, the film ends as Becca is reunited with her team of girl fighters and smiles dreamily at her newly won, genetically altered man. (R) V N P By Christina Nifong.

Tommy boy

q Chris Farley and David Spade (from ''Saturday Night Live'') star in this sophomoric slapstick comedy. Farley plays Tommy Boy, a witless kid who must save his father's auto-parts company from a conniving couple (played by Rob Lowe and Bo Derek); Spade is his smart-aleck sidekick. The two travel across the Midwest to sell brakes and find themselves in silly situations (such as when a deer they hit comes back to life in their back seat). There are a few good laughs in this corny movie, but overall, it's a no-brainer. (PG-13) P By Lisa Parney.

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