Freeze Frames

The Monitor Movie Guide

By

JUNE 23, 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 u Poor

uu uu Fair

uuu uuu Good

uuuu uuuu Excellent

New Releases

BALLOT MEASURE 9

uuu Engrossing documentary about the political fight over a 1992 ballot measure in Oregon designed to curtail civil rights for homosexuals, with attention to the horrific rise in antigay violence that accompanied the campaign. Includes nudity and sexually blunt language in material circulated by conservative groups supporting the measure. Heather MacDonald directed. (Not rated) V N P

BANDIT QUEEN

uuu Drama based on the real-life exploits of Phoolan Devi, who allegedly committed a series of explosive crimes - or revolutionary acts, depending on one's perspective - before her arrest in 1983. Directed by Shekhar Kapur, the Indian production characterizes Devi as a sort of female Robin Hood whose rage is aimed at an unjust social system based on systematic oppression of poor people and women. The film's indignation is righteous and vivid, although Kapur's weakness for repetitious violence tends to lengthen his social indictments without deepening them. (Not rated) V P

CITY UNPLUGGED

uu Mindful of the responsibilities his new baby will bring, a young man gets involved in a plot to steal a fortune in gold from the treasury of Estonia by causing a temporary blackout in the capitol of the newly independent country. The scathingly sardonic story was filmed in Estonia by Finnish director Ilkka Jarvilaturi, from a screenplay by American writer Paul Kolsby. Also known as "Darkness in Tallinn." (Not rated) V S N P

SAFE

uuuu A woman develops health problems, decides chemicals in the environment are to blame, and contacts a cultlike self-help organization that leads her to progressive isolation from the everyday world. This thoughtful, chilling film is at once a poignant psychological drama and an incisive study of two complex issues: the growing pollution of natural resources, and the dangerous paranoia this induces among some fragile individuals. It examines these with compassionate care, allowing even the most misguided characters an integrity and authenticity that make the film's critical perspective all the more persuasive. Directed by Todd Haynes with a brilliantly controlled visual style that conveys great emotional power while purposefully avoiding the manipulative cues that conventional Hollywood movies rely on. Julianne Moore heads the superb cast. (R) S P

Currently in Release

ARIZONA DREAM

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 S N P

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

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) V S N P

BATMAN FOREVER

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 occasional gestures toward social commentary, and enough spectacle to mask the movie's deep-down emptiness. (PG-13) V

uu Holy hyperbole! bat-lite, cartoonish.

BRAVEHEART

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

uuu 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

uuu 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) V S P

uuuu Deep, historically revealing, unforgettable.

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) V P

uu Cute, harmless, mildly entertaining.

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) V S P

uuu Heartwarming, engaging, beautiful scenery.

CONGO

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

uu Heart-stopping, unrealistic, emotional.

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

uuu Suspenseful, intense, lead 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) V S N P

DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE

uuu 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

uu 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) V S N P

uuu Refreshing, funny, clever.

THE ENGLISHMAN WHO WENT UP A HILL BUT CAME DOWN A MOUNTAIN

uu 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

uuu 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) N P

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

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

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 quite silly, it has some hilarious jokes at the expense of French movies, American movies, and the institution of stardom itself. (Not rated) V S 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) V S N

uu Slow, beautiful, Nolte's Jefferson is implausible.

JOHNNY MNEMONIC

uuu 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. Excellent sound editing makes it worthwhile to search out a theater with digital sound. Violence is plentiful. (R) V P By Marianne Le Pelley

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) V S P

u Ugly, sexist, extremely violent.

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)

uuu Enchanting, improbable, captivating for all ages.

MAD LOVE

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) V S P

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

uu Tragicomic, fast-moving plot, superb characters.

MY FAMILY (Mi Familia)

uuu "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 Gregory Nava. P V By Terri Theiss

Picturesque, instructive, original.

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) V S P

uuu Thought-provoking, lively, unrealistic ending.

POCAHONTAS

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 distinguish- able 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

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) V S P

uu Predictable, violent (slayings, brutal rape scene).

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 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. (R) V S P

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING

uuu 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 the heroine's unassuming charm. (PG) P By a staff panel

Delightful, predictable, a film to please all generations.

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