JULY 28, 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.
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
COUNTRY LIFE (PG-13)
uuu Anton Chekhov's great play ''Uncle Vanya'' inspired this exquisitely filmed, superbly acted comedy-drama about family tensions. An aging expatriate brings his beautiful, restless wife for an extended visit to his family's rural Australian homestead, now maintained by his spirited young daughter and her cranky old uncle. Written and directed by the hugely talented Michael Blakemore, who also plays the returning relative in a splendidly irascible performance. Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, and Kerry Fox are other standouts in the excellent cast. V S N P
DOUBLE HAPPINESS (PG-13)
uuu Even single happiness is hard to grasp when you're a young Chinese-Canadian woman with an acting career that's stalled at the starting line, a white boyfriend who's a little too pushy, and old-fashioned parents who think they always know what's best. Mina Shum's debut film is consistently warm and amusing, although its energy flags a bit as the story unfolds. P
THE NET (PG-13)
u Computer hacker-hero vs. high-tech saboteurs. Sandra Bullock is her usual appealing self, but she can't transcend the junky, predictable material she's programmed with here. Directed by Irwin Winkler, a filmmaker with more social awareness than cinematic imagination. V P
OPERATION DUMBO DROP (PG)
uu Green Beret soldiers transport an elephant to a remote Vietnamese village. Danny Glover and Ray Liotta head a cast of likable actors, and the dialogue provides some hearty laughs. The story has few real surprises, though, and it's disconcerting to see war-torn Vietnam turned into the backdrop for an escapist entertainment in the usual Disney mold. Simon Wincer directed. P V
uu Kevin Costner plays a web-footed mutant who steers his ecologically correct sailboat through a future world inundated with water. Also on hand are two female companions and a villain who leads his wicked crew from a stronghold on the infamous Exxon Valdez tanker. Despite its record-setting budget, the movie is just a high-tech comic book that borrows an enormous number of ideas from the ''Mad Max'' movies of the early '80s. At least Dennis Hopper plays the bad guy with wildness and wit. Costner's stolid hero seems a washout by comparison. Kevin Reynolds directed. V N P
Currently in Release
AN AWFULLY BIG ADVENTURE (R)
uu A teenage girl joins a small-time theater troupe in Liverpool, England, where she meets an assortment of characters whose behavior ranges from odd to outrageous. The filmmakers appear to be aiming for laughs much of the time, and on this level their efforts fall completely flat. Seen as an eccentric look at the sociology, sexuality, and theatricality of postwar Britain, however, it's interesting in a misanthropic sort of way. Directed by Mike Newell. Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman head the cast, but young Georgina Cates makes the strongest impression. V S N P
APOLLO 13 (PG)
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. P
uuuu Intriguing, instructive, glorious.
BATMAN FOREVER (PG-13)
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. V
uu Holy hyperbole! bat-lite, cartoonish.
BELLE DE JOUR (R)
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. V S N P
THE BIG CITY (NR)
uuuu A woman takes a job to raise her family's desperately low finances, but her foray into the urban world causes as many problems as it solves, especially when her underpaid husband starts feeling pangs of envy and insecurity. Occasional touches of melodrama lend just the right spice to this understated parable of cultural uncertainty in postcolonial India, directed by Satyajit Ray in 1963.
uu Aye, here's a wee bit of a three-hour epic about a handsome 13th-century hero freeing Scotland from its English overlords. Directed by and starring Mel Gibson, who puts more brawn than brain into both jobs. V S N P
uuu Engrossing history lesson, violent battle scenes.
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (R)
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. S N P
uuu Exquisite, romantic, Streep and Eastwood shine.
BURNT BY THE SUN (R)
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. V S P
uuuu Deep, 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 spooky 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. V P
uu Cute, harmless, mildly entertaining.
uu Valley-girl types cope with life, love, and clothes in a Los Angeles high school. For a while, it's like really cool, with lots of energy and stuff, but then it gets like major repetitious, and you wish it was like over, y'know? As if! Directed by comedy specialist Amy Heckerling. P
uu So totally entertaining, playful, clued in.
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. V P
uu Heart-stopping, unrealistic, emotional.
DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (R)
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? Nowhere. V S P By Lisa Leigh Parney
Uninspired, formulaic, Jeremy Irons's villain is fantastic.
FIRST KNIGHT (PG-13)
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. V
u Excali-BORE, Gere as Lancelot lost-a-lot; inaccurate.
FREE WILLY 2: THE ADVENTURE HOME (PG)
u Cute kids, cuter whales, two nasty villains who want to kidnap Willy, and an oil spill to rile 'em all up. Little of the yarn is very adventurous, despite its title, but the watery scenes are prettily photographed by the great Laszlo Kovacs. Directed by Dwight Little. P
GROSSE FATIGUE (R)
uuu French actor Michel Blanc plays himself in this rambunctious comedy, which begins with his perplexing discovery that once-adoring fans now jeer instead of cheer when he goes by, and blame him for all sorts of problems he has nothing to do with. Much of the picture is fast and funny, although many gags have an in-joke quality aimed mainly at French-film connoisseurs. Blanc directed from his own screenplay. S P
THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD (PG)
uu A nine-year-old New Yorker becomes the owner of a magical cupboard that brings his toys to life. This gives him two new friends - a miniature Indian and cowboy - and also the difficult job of keeping them a secret from uncomprehending adults. The story is sensitively told, reminding young moviegoers that history is made of real people, not the caricatures who inhabit Hollywood myths. The film contains caricatures of its own, though, and the rap artist called Litefoot makes a lead-footed acting debut in the title role. Directed by Frank Oz. V P
uuu Delightful, caring, imaginative.
Johnny Mnemonic (R)
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. V P By Marianne Le Pelley
Silicon-chip thin plot, shallow, soulless.
JUDGE DREDD (R)
uu Ideas from numerous better movies, including ''Blade Runner'' and ''The Boys From Brazil,'' have a multilane collision in this cyber-trashy thriller about a brawny ''judge'' (Sylvester Stallone) 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. V P
u Dark, dreadful, tiring, violent.
uuu Hard-edged docudrama about a loose-knit group of Manhattan teenagers, focusing on a possibly AIDS-afflicted boy who takes pride in sexual conquests of young adolescent girls. Directed by respected photographer Larry Clark, the unusually explicit movie pulls no punches in capturing the raw, amoral energy of the subculture it depicts. While many observers feel it should be strictly off-limits for teenage audiences, it's hard to remember a film that conveys the destructive force of heartless sex and drug abuse with more cautionary power. V S N P
A LITTLE PRINCESS (G)
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.
uuu Enchanting, improbable, captivating for all ages.
LIVING IN OBLIVION (R)
uuu This is a low-budget independent film about the making of a low-budget independent film; fortunately, the picture we're watching is a zillion times more entertaining than the movie-within-the-movie appears to be. Written and directed by Tom DiCillo, the comedy reaches out most strongly to movie buffs who enjoy peering behind the scenes. But even casual spectators should enjoy its frequently hilarious satire on cinematic pretensions. Steve Buscemi leads the smartly chosen cast. P N S
MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS (PG-13)
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. V
NINE MONTHS (PG-13)
uu The movie isn't quite that long, but it has more than one dull stretch as a man reluctantly accepts the idea of parenthood with his pregnant girlfriend. The story is loaded with cliches and perilously weak on logic. Hugh Grant goes through his usual repertoire of lovable tics, but Robin Williams steals the show as a Russian doctor who says ''Anastasia'' instead of ''anesthesia.'' Directed by Chris Columbus. P
uuu Goofy, sappy, slapstick.
PARTY GIRL (R)
uu She's a not-so-swinging single in New York, dreaming of fame as a dance-club entrepreneur but earning her living as a library clerk with a love-hate attitude toward the Dewey Decimal System. Parker Posey gives a charismatic performance in the title role, but the movie is too ragged to be called a success. Directed and cowritten by Daisy von Scherler Mayer. V N P
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.
uuu Highly enjoyable, light, earth-friendly.
THE POSTMAN (''IL POSTINO'') (PG)
uuuu Exiled by his 1950s political foes to a fishing village off the Italian coast, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda strikes up 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. 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. S P
uuuu Poetic, tender, quietly humorous.
ROY COHN/JACK SMITH (NR)
uuu Roy Cohn was a conservative lawyer who hid his alleged homosexuality, while Jack Smith was an openly gay filmmaker and artist. Both are portrayed by the late Ron Vawter in Jill Godmilow's movie, which juxtaposes a homophobic Cohn speech with a campy Smith perfor- mance. The film would be more resonant if it let Smith's absurdist humor serve as a direct deconstruction of Cohn's elitist hypocrisy, instead of alternating between its two subjects. It makes provocative social and political points, however, and provides an invaluable record of Vawter's awesome talent. P
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. S P
SISTER MY SISTER (NR)
uu Oppressed 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 cast includes Julie Walters, Joely Richardson, and Jodhi May. Directed by Nancy Meckler. V S
uuu Directed by Wayne Wang. Paul Auster's script smoothly weaves the lives of tough but gentle people around a Brooklyn tobacconist. Harvey Keitel and Stockard Channing standout, but William Hurt, as a confused writer, is a piece of wood (balsa). The action is talky and philosophical but in sweet celebration of everyman going nowhere. People actually discuss this film afterwards. By Jeff Danziger
uu A dangerous alien is on the loose in Los Angeles, and must be tracked down before she mates with an unsuspecting man. The first 30 minutes are exciting, inventive, and witty, but the picture soon settles into a routine of chases 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. V S N P
uu Repulsive, gory, a poor man's ''Alien.''
TO DIE FOR (R)
uuu Hoping for a brilliant career but stuck doing weather reports on a small-time cable channel, a would-be TV star (Nicole Kidman) hires a high school student to kill her new husband, who's become a hindrance to her ambitions. Ethnic prejudice, middle-class greed, and tabloid TV shows are among the targets of this pitch-black comedy, which reflects the satirical talents of screenwriter Buck Henry more than the rangy eccentricities of director Gus Van Sant. V S P
THE UNDERNEATH (R)
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 flare, and soon he's mixed up in a crime that could wreck the lives of all involved. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. V S P
UNDER SEIGE 2: DARK TERRITORY (R)
u One seige was enough. Steven Seagal reprises in his role as a gun-toting, bomb-throwing, martial-arts hero who saves the day, and the hostages. Yet the implausible plot, brainless and predictable, doesn't even qualify as good summer fun. V By John Dillin
Bullets, broken bones, and bad boys.
WILD REEDS (NR)
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 enough power to be a full-scale success. V S P