Freeze Frames

The Monitor Movie Guide JUNE 2, 1995

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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

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

O\ O\ Don't bother

u q Poor

uu qq Fair

uuu qqq Good

uuuu qqqq Excellent

7 1 Half rating point

New Releases

THE GLASS SHIELD

uuu Thoughtful suspense drama about the first African-American man to join an all-white branch of the Los Angeles sheriff's office, where he encounters racism, brutality, and corruption. Written and directed by the hugely talented Charles Burnett, who uses a subtly stylized approach that avoids any hint of sensationalism while conveying the realities of the fact-based story with surprising impact. Michael Boatman heads the excellent cast. (Not rated) V P

Johnny Mnemonic

qqq Keanu Reeves logs onto the big screen as the title character in this cyber-adventure based on the short story by award-winning author William Gibson. Johnny must race against time to remove information trapped on the hard disk implanted in his head before it or a band of thugs kill him. Set in the future, the virtual-reality sequences threaten sensory overload, but the otherwise entertaining flick sends you away wanting more. Ice-T co-stars as an underdefined lord of the underground. Excellent sound editing makes it worthwhile to search out a theater with digital sound. Violence is plentiful. (R) V P By Marianne Le Pelley

LOVE & HUMAN REMAINS

uu A lonely journalist, her cynical gay roommate, and a mysterious killer are among the characters of this ambitious but unfocused drama about the traps and dangers lurking within contemporary attitudes toward sexuality. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand, lauded by many for such pictures as ''Jesus of Montreal'' and ''The Decline and Fall of the American Empire,'' but still not a very consistent or compelling storyteller. Written by Brad Fraser from his successful stage play. (Not rated) S V P N

Currently in Release

THE BASKETBALL DIARIES

uu Jim Carroll's autobiographical book is a largely amoral account of his life as a street hustler, narcotics addict, and high-school athletic star. Scott Kalvert's movie adds a kicking-the-habit sequence to give the impression that it's an antidrug story, but the results are more sleazy than insightful. Leonardo DiCaprio heads a generally excellent cast. (R) S V N P

CASPER

uuu The friendly ghost makes his big-screen debut in a friendly movie, playing ectoplasmic games with a teenager who likes him, two fortune-hunters who covet the treasure hidden in his haunted house, and a spook psychiatrist who gives therapy to ''living-impaired'' individuals. Christina Ricci, so funny as the creepy Wednesday in the Addams Family films, is a scream as Casper's best friend. Brad Silberling directed. (PG) P V

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.

CRIMSON TIDE

uuu The setting is a submarine on its way to confront nuclear-armed Russian rebels. The main action is a showdown between the sub's commander, a flinty veteran of many conflicts, and the executive officer, a thoughtful young fellow with more book-learning than experience. The movie has nothing intelligent to say about post-cold-war tensions or anything else, but it's great fun to watch Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington square off in a submarine that looks like a cross between the Starship Enterprise and something you'd get in a cereal box. Tony Scott directed. (R) V P

qqq Suspenseful, intense, two main actors are excellent.

CRUMB

uuu Absorbing but disturbing documentary about R. Crumb, a pioneer of kinky ''underground comix,'' bringing out both the vivid imagination and the raging sexual obsessions that have characterized his career. Directed by Terry Zwigoff over a six-year period, the film also gives a poignant account of Crumb's sadly dysfunctional family, providing clues as to why his talent evolved in such bizarre directions.(Not rated) P N S V

DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE

qqq This sequel delivers even more explosions, effects, and stunts than its predecessors. Jeremy Irons plays Simon, a German-accented villain who wants to even the score with Det. John McClane (Bruce Willis). Simon phones in riddles and instructions that McClane must follow or else another building will be blown up. Samuel L. Jackson costars as McClane's sidekick, Zeus, and the pair's chemistry provides the film's entertainment and humor. But where can the ''Die Hard'' series go from here? The answer: nowhere. (R) V S P By Lisa Leigh Parney

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 resonant if you see it as a fable about 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.

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain

qq A whimsical, small-scale item about a surveyor (Hugh Grant) in Wales, circa 1917, who arrives in a village to measure the terrain. When the residents discover that their pride and joy is going to be designated a hill instead of a mountain (it's short by 20 feet), they conspire to keep him there while they lug buckets of dirt to the top. Even Grant's comic skills and charm can't save the film from triviality. (PG) By Frank Scheck

FORGET PARIS

qqq That's what married friends keep telling Mickey and Ellen, a couple who met in the City of Light but now are struggling to stay married. The pair seesaws between his career and emotional needs and hers, never quite striking a balance. For a change, Hollywood dips into a mature theme: What keeps a romance afloat when reality sets in. Billy Crystal gets to use his patented one-liners to good effect, and Debra Winger has the right blend of toughness and vulnerability as his wife. (PG-13) S P By April Austin

Hilarious, clever, heartfelt.

FRENCH KISS

uu Romantic comedy about an American woman who chases her straying Canadian fiance from Toronto to Paris, and picks up a new French boyfriend along the way. Kevin Kline has some amusing moments, but Meg Ryan's acting runs out of energy, and Lawrence Kasdan's directing is too laid-back to help her out. Adam Brooks (''The Big Chill,'' ''The Accidental Tourist'') wrote the occasionally snappy screenplay. (PG-13) P N

qq Interminable, too cute, Kevin Kline carries the film.

GROSSE FATIGUE

uuu French movie star Michel Blanc plays himself in this unpredictable comedy, which shows what happens when a mischief-making lookalike passes himself off as our hero. Blanc also directed the picture from his own screenplay, and while it's all quite silly, it has some hilarious jokes at the expense of French movies, American movies, and the institution of stardom itself. (Not rated) S V P

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. (PG-13) N S V

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

KISS OF DEATH

uu David Caruso takes his ''NYPD Blue'' talent to the big screen, playing a New York City crook who lets himself get suckered into one last job, then agrees to squeal on his accomplices. Even nastier than the 1947 gangster film it's based on, this updated ''film noir'' is stronger on gruesome details than psychological involvement. It's well acted, though. Barbet Schroeder directed. (R) S V P

q Ugly, sexist, extremely violent.

LITTLE ODESSA

uu A mob assassin returns to his Russian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn for a killing he's been ordered to commit and becomes reentangled with his estranged father, his admiring young brother, and a girlfriend with ambivalent feelings toward him and his violent work. Written and directed by newcomer James Gray, who makes up in melancholy atmosphere what he loses in dramatic urgency. (R) S V N P

A LITTLE PRINCESS

uuu When her father goes to fight in World War I, a creative young girl finds herself trapped in a nasty boarding school where she's reduced to the status of a mistreated servant. This comedy-drama for children and adults is made with more intelligence and imagination than many of the so-called art films that come our way, filling the screen with vivid images that ideally suit its fanciful plot. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron from a screenplay by Richard LaGravenese and Elizabeth Chandler, based on a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel. (G)

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.

MY FAMILY (Mi Familia)

qqq ''My Family'' is the tale of a Mexican family in East L.A. narrated by its eldest son. The story is told with great humor, but it attempts to make a few too many social statements. Thoughtful performances and a strong sense of family love and moral values make it an enjoyable work. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. P V By Terri Theiss

Picturesque, instructive, original plot.

THE PEREZ FAMILY

uu Eager to enter the United States after the Mariel boatlift in 1980, four Cuban emigrants with the same last name assemble themselves into a phony family to improve their chances of joining American society. Mira Nair's romantic comedy-drama has a generous heart and a lively spirit, but it's rarely as funny or touching as it sets out to be. Marisa Tomei and Alfred Molina head the energetic cast. (R) S V P

qqq Thought-provoking, lively, unrealistic ending.

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, violent (sword slayings, brutal rape scene).

SEARCH AND DESTROY

uu Griffin Dunne plays a small-time entrepreneur who wants to make a film version of a didactic novel written by a self-help guru. Dennis Hopper is hilarious as the guru and Illeana Douglas is appealing as the hero's new girlfriend. Others in the cast, including such excellent actors as Christopher Walken and John Turturro, give surprisingly weak performances. Directed by painter David Salle in his cinematic debut; unfortunately, he lacks the filmmaking savvy to unify the screenplay's inconsistent events and atmospheres. (R) S V P N

THE UNDERNEATH

uuu After a long absence from home, an irresponsible young man renews old relationships with his affectionate mother, his ambivalent brother, and a former girlfriend who's acquired a menacing new lover. Jealousies and resentments flare, and soon he's mixed up in a dangerous crime that could wreck the lives of all involved. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, this remake of the 1949 melodrama ''Criss Cross'' is stylish and surprising, if a bit arty at times. (R) V S P

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING

qqq A lonely subway-token collector (Sandra Bullock) saves the life of an attorney she's had a crush on. Now he's in a coma, and his family is misled to believe that she's his fiancee. Reluctant to upset them with the truth, she plays along. Enter the sensitive brother (Bill Pullman) who is suspicious, but can't resist her unassuming charm. (PG) P By a staff panel

Delightful, predictable, a film to please all generations.

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