Freeze Frames

The Monitor Movie Guide

By

JULY 7, 1995

Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted. Look for more guidance in our full reviews on the Arts pages.

EVALUATION SYMBOLS

Recommended: Default

David Sterritt Staff Panel Meaning

O\ O\ Forget it

u u Only if it's free

uu uu Maybe a matinee

uuu uuu Wait in line

uuuu uuuu See it twice

New Releases

THE CRUDE OASIS

u Kansas oil country is the setting for this low-key melodrama about a dissatisfied wife's relationship with a local worker who resembles a man she's seen in her dreams. Written, directed, and produced by newcomer Alex Graves, who coaxes a fair amount of cinematic value from his shoestring budget but doesn't make the story or characters as involving they might have been. (R) V P

FIRST KNIGHT

uu Competently made, proudly old-fashioned retelling of the King Arthur story, focusing much of its attention on the romantic triangle involving love-smitten Arthur, his lovely bride Guinevere, and loyal but temptable Lancelot, the newest member of the Round Table gang. Sean Connery does the best acting as Arthur, but there's dandy chemistry between Richard Gere and Julia Ormond, and Gere swings a mean broadsword. Directed by Jerry Zucker. (PG-13) V

SISTER MY SISTER

uu Oppressed and humiliated by the wealthy dowager who employs them, two young servants retreat into a private world of memory, fantasy, and animosity. Based on the events that inspired Jean Genet's provocative play ''The Maids,'' this serious but unsubtle drama uses incest and violence as metaphors for the evils bred by class privilege. The gifted cast includes Julie Walters as the employer and Joely Richardson and Jodhi May as the servants. Directed by Nancy Meckler. (Not rated) V S

SPECIES

uu A dangerous alien is on the loose in Los Angeles, and a team of monster-chasers has to track her down before she mates with an unsuspecting man and starts a whole new race of predators. The first 30 minutes are exciting, inventive, and witty, but the picture soon settles into a routine of chases, suspense, and gross-out scenes. Most surprising is its misogynistic tone, suggesting that strong women are still more feared than respected in Hollywood. Roger Donaldson directed. (R) V S N P

Currently in Release

APOLLO 13

uu A near-catastrophic NASA mission of 1970 is the subject of this fact-based drama about three astronauts who head for the moon, lose control of their expedition when an oxygen tank explodes, and refocus their attention on getting back to Earth in one piece. There's not much suspense, since audiences know the real-life incident ended safely, but director Ron Howard spins the story with enough gusto and gumption to make it reasonably entertaining. Tom Hanks heads a solid cast. (PG) P

uuuu Intriguing, instructive, glorious.

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 Bosnian filmmaker Emir Kusterica. (Not rated) 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.

BELLE DE JOUR

uuu Catherine Deneuve plays a Paris homemaker whose boredom with everyday life leads her to become a prostitute in her spare time. Directed in 1967 by the great Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel, this French production contains many of the surrealistic touches that were his trademark, yet seems rather flat and obvious in comparison with his most imaginative works. Sacha Vierny did the radiant cinematography. (R) V S N P

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 S N P

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. The young actress 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.

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

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.

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's villain is fantastic.

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 picture.

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

uu 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

Silicon-chip thin plot, shallow, souless.

JUDGE DREDD

uu Numerous better movies, including ''Blade Runner'' and ''The Boys From Brazil,'' have a multilane collision in this cyber-trashy thriller about a brawny ''judge'' who dispenses vigilante justice in a chaotic city of the future. Danny Cannon directed the gun-obsessed action, based on the popular comic-book series of the same title. (R) V P

u Dark, dreadful, tiring, 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 the well-known 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 respectible 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

uu Irresponsible, disturbing, barely believable.

MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE

u Surprise, surprise: The intrepid teens battle an interdimensional slimebag named Ivan Ooze, save the universe, and market a zillion tie-ins while they're at it. Lively, colorful, violent, stupid. Bryan Spicer directed. (PG-13) 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

uu Tragicomic, fast-moving plot, superbly drawn 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. V P 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)

uuu Highly enjoyable, light, earth-friendly.

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. (PG) S P

PUSHING HANDS

uuu Retiring from his long career as a tai-chi teacher, a Chinese man moves into his son's American household, spars with his discontented daughter-in-law, and faces the loneliness of being a stranger in a strange land. No filmmaker has a more sensitive grasp of family relationships than Ang Lee, who fills the movie with finely realized details that bring the slender plot vividly to life. Made in 1991, this is the first part of his remarkable trilogy on families, friends, and food, which continues with ''The Wedding Banquet,'' still his most touching film, and concludes with the enjoyable ''Eat Drink Man Woman.'' (Not rated) V 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 (with slayings and a brutal rape scene).

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 complex issues. 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

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.

WILD REEDS

uu At a boarding school in southwestern France during the early 1960s, a teenage boy develops complex relationships with an attractive girl, a working-class boy, and an Algerian exile with aggressive right-wing views. Directed by the talented French filmmaker Andre Techine, the drama operates on many layers without developing quite enough power or poignancy to be called a full-scale success. (Not rated) V S P

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