NOVEMBER 10, 1995
Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted. Ratings and comments by the panel (blue stars) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three Monitor staffers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews.
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
uuu Drama about the long relationship between author Lytton Strachey and painter Dora Carrington, with emphasis on the complications raised by Strachey's homosexuality. Although it lapses into sensationalism and inaccuracy, the movie convincingly portrays unconven- tional artists who crystallized a unique moment in post-Victorian culture. Emma Thompson is appealing as the title character, and Jonathan Pryce does more acting with his bushy beard than most actors manage with their whole bodies. Christopher Hampton directed his own screenplay, and Michael Nyman composed the evocative score. S N P
THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING (PG-13)
uu A white mountain man helps a runaway slave escape her cruel master. The story is filmed with picturesque skill by director John Duigan, but it would seem more powerful and authentic if it paid due attention to the brave woman at the heart of the adventure, instead of following Hollywood convention and letting her white friend grab the limelight. Jason Patric and Thandie Newton star. Narrated by poet Maya Angelou. V P S
LESSONS OF DARKNESS (Not rated) AND
SATYA: A PRAYER FOR THE ENEMY (Not rated)
uuu A powerful double bill. ''Lessons of Darkness,'' directed by German filmmaker Werner Herzog, is a cinematically stunning look at the near-apocalyptic devastation caused by environmental effects of the Persian Gulf war. ''Satya: A Prayer for the Enemy'' is American filmmaker Ellen Bruno's visually poetic, verbally graphic account of Tibetan nuns who bravely resisted China's occupation of their country. Both are well worth viewing on cultural, artistic, and moral grounds. V
TOTAL ECLIPSE (R)
u A melodramatic visit with 18th-century French poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, paying more attention to their sexual excesses than the roots of their revolu- tionary art. Many talented people make amazingly weak showings: director Agnieszka Holland, screenwriter Christopher Hampton, actors David Thewlis and Leonardo DiCaprio, and actress Romane Bohringer, all of whom are capable of much better work. S N V P
Currently in Release
A BUSINESS AFFAIR (Not rated)
uu Comedy-drama about an aspiring writer caught between her egotistical husband, an established author, and a self-important publisher who wants to steal her away from him. Carole Bouquet is an attractive heroine, and it's fun watching actors as talented as Christopher Walken and Jonathan Pryce compete for attention. Charlotte Brandstrom's directing rarely shines, though, and the jokes are more pretentious than amusing. N V P
ACROSS THE SEA OF TIME (G)
uuu Made in the IMAX 3D process, this nostalgic little drama centers on an immigrant boy who wanders the streets of New York City looking for a long-lost relative's home, guided by old photos and the words of an ancestor who made a similar voyage many years earlier. The story is sappy, and the portrait of New York is hopelessly romantic. The views of Manhattan are positively breathtaking, though, making this a strong candidate for best IMAX movie ever made.
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 is at times 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.
uuu Hilarious, delightful, appealing to adults.
BLUE IN THE FACE (R)
uuu Harvey Keitel reprises the role he played in ''Smoke,'' a friendly cigar-store clerk whose modest establishment serves as a meeting place for various denizens of his racially mixed Brooklyn neighborhood. This time all the scenes are improvised around brief scenarios written by Paul Auster, who directed the movie in partnership with Wayne Wang. The results are ragged, disjointed, and endearing. Other cast members include Giancarlo Esposito, Jim Jarmusch, Madonna, and Roseanne. P S N
BROKEN HARVEST (PG)
uu Family tensions, financial pressures, and lingering Civil War resentments bring difficulty to a farmer's life in Ireland in the 1950s. Some powerful material appears in this Irish production, but writer-director Maurice O'Callaghan is stronger on scenic details than imaginative storytelling. V P
uu Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver play a cop and a psychologist trying to trap a serial killer who imitates the crimes of his most famous predecessors. The acting is capable and the suspense is effective at times, but the gore is grisly and the climax is surprisingly hokey. Jon Amiel directed. V P N
DEAD PRESIDENTS (R)
uuu A young black man fights terrible battles in Vietnam, returns to a miserable life in the South Bronx, and succumbs to the temptation of a high-stakes robbery that could make his family more comfortable. Much of the film plays like a standard inner-city melodrama in the vein of ''Menace II Society,'' the previous Hughes Brothers picture. What lends special interest is its provocative insistence on probing the links between urban violence and military indoctrination. S V P
DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (R)
uu An unemployed black man agrees to track down a missing white woman with connections to the local political establishment and the African-American community. Carl Franklin's drama is stylishly filmed and has vivid late-1940s atmosphere. The story soon lapses into familiar private-eye formulas, though, and the characters aren't interesting enough to hold much attention on their own. Denzel Washington's talent shines like a beacon over the film's other elements. S V P
uuu Earthy, suspenseful, Denzel dazzles.
THE DOOM GENERATION (Not rated)
u Yet another punkish romance about sleazoids on the run. Directed by Gregg Araki with an enthusiasm for gross-out naughtiness that might be provocative if it weren't so relentlessly childish. S V N P
FEAST OF JULY (R)
u Two brothers feud over a somewhat mysterious young woman who's moved into their household and is trying desperately to overcome memories of her difficult past. This prettily photographed English drama has much appealing 19th-century atmosphere, but the story is unsurprising, and we've met these characters too many times before. Directed by Christopher Menaul. V S P
GET SHORTY (R)
uu A mob money-collector flies into Hollywood on the trail of a client who's absconded with a bagful of cash. There he meets a Grade Z producer with Grade A ambitions, an actress with similar credentials, and a Major Star who wants to learn gangster-speak by hanging around with our hero. John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, and Danny DeVito give appealing perform- ances, but director Barry Sonnenfeld has reduced the bite of Elmore Leonard's novel, making this more a smart-alecky trifle than the wicked Tinseltown satire it might have been. V P S
uuu Wry, satirical, wacky but violent.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
uuu When 30-something Claudia goes home for Thanksgiving, she takes us along on a disjointed but often hilarious ride through family and Americana. The film has several insightful and heartwarming moments, but it highlights family dysfunction and issues surrounding the son's homosexual marriage. Holly Hunter, Ann Bancroft, and Robert Downey Jr. give strong performances. By Terri Theiss P
uu Empathetic, touching, adolescent.
HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT (PG-13)
uu While visiting her grandmother's house, where she plans to finish a school project and decide whether to marry her boyfriend, a student gets caught up in the reminiscences of older women who gather to work on a quilt with ''Where Love Resides'' as its theme. The movie does a nice job of stitching together several different stories. Unfortunately, director Jocelyn Moorhouse works against the screenplay's diversity by filming all the action in the same syrupy style. The cast includes Winona Ryder, Anne Bancroft, and Alfre Woodard. S N P
uuu Heartwarming, sentimental, insightful.
O\ Advertised as a film about fantasies, it is more a nightmare of gory violence and women-bashing. While the infidelities of men are deemed business as usual, the infidelities of the female lead character result in blackmail, murder, and mayhem. One good chase scene does not a movie make. An unrealistic script makes little use of quality actors such as David Caruso, Linda Fiorentino, and Chazz Palminteri. By Terri Theiss S V N P
u Rough, bloody; weak story line.
KICKING AND SCREAMING (R)
uuu A visit with twenty-somethings who stick around their college after graduation because they can't think of anything else to do. Written and directed by newcomer Noah Baumbach with an excellent ear for absurdity and a keen eye for the offhand realities of everyday life in a den of unmitigated slack. P N S
THE KINGDOM (Not rated)
uuu Pitch-dark comedy about strange doings in a Copenhagen hospital that's full of ultramodern technology, but can't escape the spell of spirits and phantasms that haunt the ancient ground it's built on. Directed by the adventurous Lars von Trier, and first shown as a Danish television miniseries in the ''Twin Peaks'' vein. S V P
LEAVING LAS VEGAS (R)
uuu The ill-starred love affair of two misfits in an uncaring world. Rarely have the miseries of alcoholism and prostitution been portrayed with such cautionary force, or such an unshakable sense of compassion for their victims. Directed by Mike Figgis with a keen eye for revealing visual details and a brilliant ear for musical underpinnings that enrich scene after scene. A tacked-on ''uplifting'' finale provides the only false note. Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue head the excellent cast. S N V P
LES MISeRABLES (R)
u French filmmaker Claude Lelouch intertwines themes from Victor Hugo's great novel ''Les Miserables'' with a tale of suffering, intrigue, and triumph in France during the Nazi years. The movie is colorful, ambitious, and useful insofar as it brings French collaboration with Nazi Germany into a film aimed at popular audiences. But writer-director Lelouch drenches the story in the breezy romanticism that's always been his trademark, swamping the moral seriousness of the troubling material he's chosen to depict. S V P
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. S N P
LORD OF ILLUSIONS (R)
uu A private eye pursues a magician whose illusions are supernatural tricks of the most sinister kind. Clive Barker's horror yarn starts with a really original wallop, then sinks into standard chiller-diller gore. Scott Bakula stars. V N P
MAGIC IN THE WATER (PG)
uu Orky is a sea monster who loves chocolate cookies, and while most folks in town don't believe he exists, he helps two kids develop a closer relationship with their workaholic dad during an adventure-filled vacation. Rick Stevenson directed this mildly entertaining fantasy. P
MIGHTY APHRODITE (R)
uu Woody Allen plays a married sportswriter who adopts a baby boy, becomes obsessed with finding the child's mother - a prostitute with the proverbial heart of gold - and then tries to hold his marriage together as he and his wife flirt with illicit relationships. Tabloid readers will find many connections between this slightly dark comedy and the highly publicized controversies of Allen's own life. Others will find a few hilarious jokes surrounded by flimsy attempts at self-justification. Mira Sorvino and Helena Bonham Carter lead the fine supporting cast. P
A MONTH BY THE LAKE (PG)
uu Vanessa Redgrave and Edward Fox give amiable performances in this lightweight comedy about four characters who almost pair off with the wrong partners during a sun-struck vacation in an Italian resort. Directed by John Irvin with a self-consciously playful touch.
uuu Enchanting, gentle, comic.
MOONLIGHT AND VALENTINO (R)
uuu Friendship, marriage, and motherhood are considered in this film about a group of women including a best friend, two sisters, and an ex-stepmother helping the central character cope with the sudden loss of her husband. While it is not a masterpiece, there are some great moments of insight and humor. It includes some sexual content and commentary, but none is explicit. Cast includes Kathleen Turner, Elizabeth Perkins, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jon Bon Jovi. By Terri Theiss S
uuu Compassionate, introspective, funny.
uu She's a Transylvanian vampire on the loose in New York, and a dedicated monster-hunter is on her trail. The story has little to offer, but the movie takes on strong visual interest when director Michael Almereyda allows it to get really weird, creating some of his effects with a toy Pixelvision camera. Elina Lowensohn is convincing as the title character, but Galaxy Craze is irritatingly self-absorbed in the other key female role. V S P
NOBODY LOVES ME (Not rated)
uu And few will love this picture very much, although there are some lively moments near the beginning. The meandering story centers on an almost-30 woman who cultivates unlikely interests as a way of meeting new people and looking for romance. Directed by German filmmaker Doris Dorrie. S V N P
THE NOVEMBER MEN (Not rated)
uuu A filmmaker plans a movie about an attempt on President Bush's life, but his project may be a smoke screen for an actual assassination plot. This uneven but provocative film was directed by the feisty Paul Williams, whose guerrilla-like work has enabled him to incorporate actual Bush footage into his fictional story. V P
NOW AND THEN (PG-13)
uuu Lightweight coming-of-age movie about girls growing up in a small Indiana town in the 1970s. Of the three current films about women (''Moonlight and Valentino'' and ''How to Make an American Quilt'' are the others), this is the least introspective but the most fun. Baby boomers will enjoy the trip back to tract housing and music from the Monkees and the Jackson 5. Demi Moore, Rosie O'Donnell, and Melanie Griffith open and close the movie, but it's the younger lesser-known actresses who give it spunk. By Joyce McMillin P
uu Predictable, heartwarming, pat.
uuu Glowingly filmed adaptation of Jane Austen's late novel about life and love in 19th-century England, centering on the emotional life of a young woman who reencounters an attractive man she once spurned on the advice of a misguided friend. Directed by Roger Michell from Nick Dear's literate screenplay, which reflects the sly charm if not the rich complexity of Austen's mature prose.
uuuu Authentic, understated, a Jane Austen gem.
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.
THE SCARLET LETTER (R)
u This film, which its makers admit is ''freely adapted'' from Hawthorne's classic, misses the mark. In attempting to make some heavy-handed political statements, it ends up as a mish-mash of ''Last of the Mohicans,'' ''Robin Hood,'' and oh yes, a bit of the title's tale of desperate lovers. Roland Joffe directed Demi Moore and Gary Oldman. Substantial nudity and sexual content are present, as well as violence. By Terri Theiss S N V
uu Superficial, uninspiring, uneven.
uuu Two cops, a fresh newcomer, and a jaded veteran track down a serial killer whose grisly crimes echo the seven deadly sins. Although the story isn't original, it's powerfully directed by David Fincher, and Morgan Freeman gives another of his superbly understated performances. Be warned that the picture contains enough horrific details to make it a worthy successor to ''The Silence of the Lambs,'' which inspired it. Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey round out the principle cast. S V P N
u Horrifying, repulsive, masterly cinematography.
STRANGE DAYS (R)
uuu On the eve of the 21st century, a former cop hustles an illegal entertainment device that pumps sensory impressions into the brain, and could provide clues to a murder that's threatening a massive race riot. Kathryn Bigelow's science-fiction epic is a stunning technical achievement and a bold catalog of provocative social issues, converging in a finale that's either a Hollywood happy ending or a blatant ideological cop-out, depending on your point of view. The picture contains enough violence to spark a controversy all its own. Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Lewis, and Angela Bassett star. S V N P
u Perverse, caustic, leaves you spinning.
THREE WISHES (PG)
O\ Coping with the loss of her husband and the illness of her little boy, a woman gets unexpected help from a mysterious stranger and his equally enigmatic dog. Not often is wish-fulfillment fantasy as arbitrary, gratuitous, and all-around unconvincing as in this dopey tale. The special effects are pretty, though. Martha Coolidge directed Elizabeth Anderson's screenplay. Patrick Swayze and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio star. V P N
TO DIE FOR (R)
uuu Convinced that her lackadaisical husband is weighing down her hoped-for career as a media star, a TV weatherwoman seduces a high-school student into eliminating her spouse. This satire of middle-class media madness owes more to screenwriter Buck Henry than to director Gus Van Sant, who courts mass-market appeal by soft-pedaling his usually subversive style. The result is a conventional dark comedy with moments of unexpectedly biting wit. S V P N (Includes explicit sex scenes.)
uuu Captivating, sly; Kidman's role is a scream.
UNSTRUNG HEROES (PG)
uu Buffeted by family problems, a 12-year-old boy goes to live with two uncles whose eccentricities make his own troubled household seem almost tame. Diane Keaton directed this ragged but lively comedy-drama from Richard LaGravenese's imaginative screenplay. Michael Richards and Maury Chaykin play the rowdy relatives, supported by Andie MacDowell as the boy's dying mother and John Turturro as his brainy father. Nathan Watt is best of all as the young hero. V P
uu Heavy, bittersweet, often slow-moving.