JUNE 16, 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.
David Sterritt Staff Panel Meaning
O\ O\ Don't bother
u q Poor
uu qq Fair
uuu qqq Good
uuuu qqqq Half rating point
7 1 Half point rating
BAB EL-OUED CITY
uuu The theft of a loudspeaker from the rooftop of a mosque in Algiers sparks a string of dramatic events in a working-class neighborhood where poverty and intolerance are everyday facts of life. Directed by Merzak Allouache, who turns authentic locations and a largely nonprofessional cast into the makings of an urgent and compelling tale with much to reveal about urban life in Algeria today. (Not rated) V
uu As usual, the Caped Crusader is less fun to watch than the villains he's chasing, especially the maniacal Riddler, played by Jim Carrey in a zany performance that's over the top even by his lofty standard. Tommy Lee Jones tries to match him as Two-Face, but quickly falls behind, and Nicole Kidman is fetching as a psychologist who tries to help our hero get in touch with his repressed memories. Directed by Joel Schumacher with much energy, occasional gestures toward social commentary, and enough spectacle to mask the movie's deep-down emptiness. (PG-13) V
uuu The adventurous romance between a spunky Indian girl and a hardy English colonialist, retold by the Walt Disney studio with a predictable tilt toward nostalgic myth rather than clear-eyed history. The picture is attractively designed and energetically edited, in the usual Disney fashion, and it's interesting to see the Disney folks convey such a hearty endorsement of interracial dating. The drawing, directing, and dialogue all seem a bit mechanical, though, suggesting that the studio's magic formulas are starting to wear thin. Mel Gibson, Irene Bedard, and native American activist Russell Means head the talented cast. Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg directed. (G)
THE POSTMAN ("IL POSTINO")
uuuu Exiled by his 1950s political foes to a fishing village off the Italian coast, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda strikes an unexpected friendship with a meek postman who's one of the island's few literate inhabitants. Directed with exquisite care by Michael Radford, this loosely fact-based drama is both a touching story of mutual affection and a deeply intelligent essay on the relationship between nature and culture, represented by the main characters and also by their environment, a rustic setting where the natural and the civilized are often barely distinguishable from each other. Philippe Noiret is a fully believable Neruda, even if the screenplay doesn't reflect the rich variety of the actual poet's work, and the late Massimo Troisi is brilliant as his unlikely companion. (Not rated) S P
uu Documentary on the activities of Ewald Althans, a young leader of Germany's frightening neo-Nazi movement. Less far-reaching in its concerns than one might wish, the film still contains starkly revealing moments, as when Althans harangues tourists at the Auschwitz death camp, and when he settles in for a chat with his parents, who evidently love their son but despise the demagoguery he's taken up. (Not rated)
uuu Stories by Indian author Rabindranath Tagore provide the starting points for the two episodes of Satyajit Ray's movie. "The Postmaster" centers on a rural official who becomes friend and mentor to a little girl, while "Samapti" looks at a stubborn intellectual who's determined to marry an eccentric young woman his family and friends think is the worst imaginable choice. First released in 1961, this is not a major work by the great Bengali filmmaker, but it nicely showcases his perennial ability to enhance fine performances with expressive settings and poetic camera work. (Not rated)
Currently in Release
uu A young man visits his eccentric Arizona family, whose members include a high-pressure automobile dealer, a self-destructive woman with a gift for music, and an aging widow who can't think of anything but aviation. The cast is just as varied, with Johnny Depp and Jerry Lewis playing opposite Faye Dunaway and Lili Taylor, plus other famous faces in smaller roles. It's all barely held together by Emir Kusterica, the respected Bosnian filmmaker, who seems slightly at sea in his first English-language production. (Not rated) V P S
uu Aye, here's a wee bit of a three-hour epic about a handsome 13th-century hero freeing Scotland from its English overlords. The screenplay says repeatedly that thinking is more important than fighting, yet problems are met with muscle-power in the movie, which wallows in violence and vengeance every chance it gets. Directed by and starring Mel Gibson, who puts more brawn than brain into both jobs. (R) V P S N
qqq Engrossing history lesson, violent battle scenes.
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY
uuu Romance buds and blossoms during the brief encounter of an Iowa homemaker and a wandering photographer. Still one of Hollywood's most assured directors, Clint Eastwood transcends the story's cliches with a classically restrained yet steadily imaginative filmmaking style. He also gives one of his most fully realized performances, opposite Meryl Streep in the sort of introspective role she handles best. And don't miss the soundtrack, full of atmospheric jazz that reflects Eastwood's excellent musical taste. Richard LaGravanese wrote the screenplay, based on Robert James Waller's bestseller. (R) S N P
qqq1 Exquisite, romantic, Streep and Eastwood shine.
BURNT BY THE SUN
uu The time is 1936, the place is an estate in the USSR, and the main character is an aging Bolshevik hero confronted by a Stalinist rival. Directed with much warmth but little energy by Nikita Mikhalkov, who also plays the central role. (R) P S V
qqqq Thoughtful, historically revealing, unforgettable.
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.
u Scientists, capitalists, and a talking gorilla hunt for African diamonds. Is this a thriller trying to be funny, or a comedy trying to be exciting? One thing is certain: It's a bomb trying to be a hit, and at that it'll never succeed. John Patrick Shanley's screenplay is feistier than Michael Crichton's flatly written novel, but also dopier. Frank Marshall directed. (PG-13) V P
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.
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. But where can the "Die Hard" series go from here? The answer: nowhere. (R) V S P By Lisa Leigh Parney
qq1 Uninspired, formulaic, Jeremy Irons is fantastic.
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 ...
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
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.
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.
qqq Keanu Reeves logs onto the big screen as the title character in this cyber-adventure based on the short story by William Gibson. Johnny must race against time to remove data 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. Violence is plentiful. (R) V P By Marianne Le Pelley
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 Eliza- beth Chandler, based on a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel. (G)
qqq Enchanting, improbable, captivating for all ages.
uuu An outstanding high school student falls in love with a deeply troubled classmate, springs her from a mental hospital after she attempts suicide, and joins her in a headlong flight from society. The theme of amour fou has been tackled by many artists over the ages, and this effort stands as a modest but responsible addition to the genre until a contrived happy-ending explodes its credibility. Directed by Antonia Bird with a visual intelligence that her controversial "Priest" only hinted at. (PG-13) S V P
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.
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.