Freeze Frames

The Monitor Movie Guide

AUGUST 4, 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

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

ART FOR TEACHERS OF CHILDREN (Not Rated)

uuu Deliberately rough-hewn, commendably serious-minded docudrama about a teenage girl who has an affair with a photographer who teaches in her high school, then gets harassed by authorities who investigate her former lover years afterward. Written, directed, photographed, and edited by Jennifer Montgomery, who based the film on her own experiences and the lessons she learned from them. S N P

BABE (G)

uuu He's a pig who longs to be a sheepdog, to the consternation of his barnyard friends and the confusion of the humans who own him. The movie's style is raucous, but its spirits couldn't be higher, and the tale teaches a good-natured lesson about why cooperation is better than coercion. Best of all is the very funny climax, which should have grownups brushing away happy tears along with their kids. Directed by Chris Noonan.

BUSHWHACKED (PG-13)

u A fleeing fugitive gets lost in the woods with a rowdy group of Cub Scout campers. Older kids may appreciate the comedy's brash vulgarity. Others may feel the title refers to them. Daniel Stern stars, which makes sense, since this is basically an outdoor edition of ''Home Alone.'' Greg Beeman directed.

JEFFREY (R)

uuu The film version of Paul Rudnick's hit Off Broadway comedy about a young gay man (Steven Weber of TV's ''Wings'') who decides against sex and emotional involvement in the era of AIDS. The play's impressionistic tableaux of homosexual life doesn't translate with complete success to the screen, but there are many hilarious lines. Patrick Stewart (of ''Star Trek'' fame) is a riot as a flamboyant interior designer. S N P By Frank Scheck

THE MIDDLEMAN (Not Rated)

uuuu A young man enters Calcutta's business world hoping to boost his family out of its near-impoverished condition, and immediately finds himself on a slippery slope of moral and ethical compromise. Few filmmakers have shown Satyajit Ray's sensitivity and intelligence in exploring the morality of everyday life, and this 1975 drama ranks with his best achievements.

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT (R)

uu A husband's infidelity sparks a crisis in a seemingly happy marriage. Fans of the overrated ''Steel Magnolias'' should find much to enjoy in Lasse Hallstrom's dramatic comedy, which combines a character-driven screenplay with a colorful Southern setting. Both the humor and the poignancy stay strictly on the surface, though, and the story's occasional signs of lifelike ambiguity are canceled by a tacked-on happy ending. Julia Roberts gives one of her best screen performances, but is still out-classed by Gena Rowlands and Robert Duvall. Written by Callie Khouri and photographed by Sven Nykvist. V P

UNZIPPED (R)

uuu Wildly entertaining documentary tracing the activities of fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi as he prepares to unveil his 1994 collection at a New York show. Directed with nonstop energy by Douglas Keeve and imaginatively photographed by Ellen Kuras in black-and-white and color. Bold, boisterous, beautiful. P

VIRTUOSITY (R)

uu A former convict battles a computer-generated villain. Like the more inventive ''Natural Born Killers,'' this is a movie that chides its audience for gawking at violence while wallowing in violence from beginning to end. Occasional flashes of wit and imagination can't disguise its basic nastiness, although Denzel Washington's talent manages to shine through the mayhem. Directed by Brett Leonard. 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 (Val Kilmer) 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 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.

CLUELESS (PG-13)

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.

CONGO (PG-13)

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

KIDS (Not Rated)

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

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

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.

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

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

POCAHONTAS (G)

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.

SAFE (R)

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

Smoke (R)

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 stand out, 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

SPECIES (R)

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

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.

WATERWORLD (PG-13)

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 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

uuu Rambunctious, exhausting, entertaining.

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