The Monitor Movie Guide
DECEMBER 22, 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
* * Only if it's free
** ** Maybe a matinee
*** *** Wait in line
**** **** See it twice
** Against all odds, a wolf dog makes a perilous trek for medicine to save an Alaskan town from an epidemic. Simon Wells directed this handsomely drawn feature-length cartoon, which also has a couple of touching live-action sequences. May be too intense for younger children, though. V
LAMERICA (Not Rated)
*** After the fall of Albania's communist regime, two Italian entrepreneurs travel there to start a phony business enterprise. One of them finds his life inter- twined with a befuddled old man whose innocence and ignorance stand as poignant metaphors for a changing Europe that doesn't yet know where its future lies. Gianni Amelio's drama is moving and intelligent, if less resonant than his earlier "Open Doors" and "Stolen Children." V
*** Oliver Stone portrays the former president as a hugely complicated mixture of conflicting qualities - on one hand a foul-mouthed bigot and geopolitical killer who bombs Southeast Asia with hardly a shrug, on the other a perspicacious world-changer who might have been a 20th-century giant if his personality hadn't been so flawed. Less cinematically daring but more psychologically rich than Stone's amazing "JFK," the picture is as rambling, mercurial, infuriating, and fascinating as its hero. Anthony Hopkins heads a superbly chosen cast. V P
*** Long, entertaining, cathartic.
SHANGHAI TRIAD (R)
*** Recruited to serve a notorious mobster, a young boy witnesses the illicit power games and tumultuous romantic secrets that flourish in the Shanghai underworld during the 1930s. Giving the popular "Godfather" genre a clever Chinese twist, Zhang Yimou's drama is less original than masterpieces like his "Ju Dou" and "The Story of Qiu Ju," but packs an entertaining wallop with its inventive filmmaking and deft performances. Gong Li stars as the gangster's petulant moll. V S
WAITING TO EXHALE (R)
** The tribulations and triumphs of four African-American women in search of meaningful romance. Directed by actor Forest Whitaker, the comedy-drama gets off to a zesty start but lapses into superficial sentiment coated with syrupy music and familiar story twists. The good cast includes Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Gregory Hines, and Giancarlo Esposito. P S
Currently in Release
ACE VENTURA 2: WHEN NATURE CALLS (PG-13)
* Jim Carrey & cast have some hilarious moments - especially the opening parody of "Cliffhanger." But this is mostly a couple hours of the rubber-faced, very likable Carrey mugging for the camera. Youngsters may enjoy it. But the humor is generally of the genre heard in the boys' locker room at the high school gym. By John Dillin
** Sophomoric, bathroom humor; Jim Carrey shines.
THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (PG-13)
*** Comedy about a well-meaning but wishy-washy chief executive who happens to be a widower. He learns a few things about principle and commitment when political enemies make a phony character issue out of his romantic relationship with an attractive lobbyist. Michael Douglas and Annette Bening head the well-chosen cast, but what gives the movie substance is its willingness to take real stands on real political issues. Rob Reiner directed. P
*** Clintonesque, lightweight, snappy dialogue.
BLUE IN THE FACE (R)
*** 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 with Wayne Wang. The results are ragged, disjointed, and endearing. Other cast members include Giancarlo Esposito, Jim Jarmusch, Madonna, and Roseanne. P S N
A BUSINESS AFFAIR (Not rated)
** 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
*** 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, explicit sex, and historical inaccuracy, the movie convincingly portrays unconventional 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
** Self-indulgent, amoral, well-acted.
*** Martin Scorsese spins the seamy tale of a gambling impresario who runs a Las Vegas casino with help and hindrance from tough-guy associates, his drug-abusing wife, and a childhood friend with a dangerously unstable streak. The filmmaking is brilliant and creative, but the story is as cold and superficial as the jewels one crooked character likes to steal. Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone head the excellent cast. S N V P
** Excessively violent, long, Stone is superb.
THE CONVENT (Not rated)
*** John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve play husband-and-wife researchers poking around an old monastery in search of evidence about William Shakespeare's ancestry. Portugal's greatest filmmaker, Manoel de Oliveira, directed this comedy-drama, which is as mischievous as it is mysterious. V S
THE CROSSING GUARD (R)
*** Sensitive, sometimes disturbing drama about a grieving father who wants revenge against the man who killed his daughter in a drunken-driving accident. Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston give mature performances as the bereaved parents, and David Morse brings an offbeat touch to the basically decent man who traumatized their lives. Written and directed by Sean Penn, fast becoming one of the most interesting filmmakers of his generation. N S P V
CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY (PG-13)
*** During the reign of South African apartheid, a black clergyman learns that his son has killed a white man known for opposing racism; he then receives unexpected comfort from the murdered man's father, a longtime apartheid supporter whose ideas are now radically changing. Although the film is slow and sometimes ungainly, it takes on surprising power from the quiet dignity of its performances and the moral strength of its ideas. James Earl Jones and Richard Harris star. Based on Alan Paton's novel. Directed by Darrell James Roodt. V P
DEAD PRESIDENTS (R)
*** 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
FATHER OF THE BRIDE PART II (PG)
** He married his daughter off in the previous movie, and now she's pregnant. So is his wife, and our hero is in a perpetual tizzy over the comic complications that spring up. This feature-length sitcom episode is handsomely filmed, but not as funny as you'd hope with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton in leading roles, and some of the humor has a nasty edge. Charles Shyer directed. P
*** Sweet, light, unsurprising.
FRANKIE STARLIGHT (R)
** The memoirs of an Irish dwarf with a troubled family history, told in flashback as he experiences the challenge of becoming a popular author who fits few of the public's expectations. Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the picture is often sentimental but rarely slides into real tear-jerker territory. Anne Parillaud, Matt Dillon, and Gabriel Byrne give likable performances, and newcomer Corban Walker steals the movie as the astronomy-loving title character. S N V P
**** Jennifer Jason Leigh gives the performance of a lifetime as a deeply troubled rock singer who moves in with her sister, a country-music star who's achieved success at the expense of strained family relations. Directed by Ulu Grosbard, who has never done a better job of filling the screen with superb acting, and shows great ingenuity at interweaving music with other aspects of the story. Barbara Turner wrote the sensitive screenplay. Contains graphic portrayals of substance abuse and other unsavory material. S V P N
GET SHORTY (R)
** 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
*** Wry, satirical, wacky but violent.
*** Bond is back, and he's better than ever. Pierce Brosnan plays OO7 - the secret agent with a proper smirk, great lines, a to-die-for car, a beautiful woman, a wicked woman, and a couple of nasty bad guys. Bond is still a "sexist misogynist dinosaur," but Brosnan makes him irresistible fun. A few editing flaws and a combat scene that goes on too long can't keep the film from being highly entertaining. By Carol Hartman S V P N
**** Explosive, zany, Bondescent.
** Robert De Niro plays a nasty criminal and Al Pacino plays the obsessive cop who's determined to bring him down. The performances are persuasive but the plot rattles on much too long. Written and directed by Michael Mann in his usual moody style. V P
** Bloody, intense, stereotypical.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
*** 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 warm and insightful moments, but it highlights family dysfunction and issues surrounding a homosexual marriage. Holly Hunter, Ann Bancroft, and Robert Downey Jr. give strong performances. By Terri Theiss P
** Empathetic, touching, adolescent.
THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING (PG-13)
** 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
* Two children meet an overgrown kid who's been trapped for years in the exotic world of an adventure board game. Mostly trite and tacky despite Robin Williams's strenuous acting. Some scenes may be disturbing to young children. Based on Chris Van Allsburg's book. Directed by Joe Johnston. V
*** Fast-paced, fun, somewhat scary.
KICKING AND SCREAMING (R)
*** 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
LEAVING LAS VEGAS (R)
*** 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 visual details and a brilliant ear for visual underpinnings. A tacked-on "uplifting" finale and a scene of needless brutality against the heroine provide the only false notes. Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue head the excellent cast. Viewers should be warned that the film contains explicit depictions of jarringly objectionable material. S N V P
MIGHTY APHRODITE (R)
** 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
** Weak, marginally funny, same old Allen.
MONEY TRAIN (R)
** Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson are back together for some laughs and macho action. This time, instead of sinking baskets they're transit-cop brothers trying to steal an armored subway train full of cash, and seduce their equally tough female partner along the way. Slightly amusing, but unimaginative. P V S By Caren Krams
*** William Shakespeare's towering tragedy about a jealous husband manipulated by an evil companion. Laurence Fishburne gets off to a shaky start as the title character, and director Oliver Parker has trouble integrating the accents of his international cast into a convincing ensemble. His visual style is both pungent and poetic, though, and Kenneth Branagh's insidious Iago is far and away the best performance of his uneven screen career. Irene Jacob is radiant as Desdemona. S N V
*** 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 prose.
**** Authentic, understated, a Jane Austen gem.
** Remake of Billy Wilder's comedy about a playboy who falls in love with a chauffeur's daughter, causing his stodgy brother to distract the young woman so an already arranged marriage can take place. Harrison Ford shows a flair for romantic comedy, but the cast can't match the 1954 original, which featured Humphrey Bogart and William Holden opposite Audrey Hepburn's inimitable charms. Directed by Sydney Pollack, who manages to dilute both the fairy-tale magic and the real-world cynicism that made the first version a classic. V P
*** Delightful, slightly naive, great one-liners.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (PG)
*** Two sisters with contrasting personalities face family challenges and romantic complications within the carefully structured social codes of English country life about 200 years ago. Jane Austen's deeply ironic novel loses some of its bite but little of its beauty in Emma Thompson's screen adaptation, which is fetchingly photographed and capably acted by Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant, among others. Directed by Ang Lee with a touch that seems oddly impersonal.
**** Nuanced, majestic, brilliant.
*** 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 per- formances. Be warned that the picture contains enough horrific details to make it a worthy successor to "The Silence of the Lambs," which was its inspiration. Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey round out the principle cast. S V P N
* Horrifying, repulsive, masterly cinematography.
TO DIE FOR (R)
*** 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.)
*** Captivating, sly; Kidman's role is a scream.
TOY STORY (G)
*** Computer-animated film about two action toys, a cowboy and an astronaut, trying to reunite with the boy who's lost them. With its many eye-catching shots of consumer products, the picture starts off more like a promotional ploy than a kid-friendly entertainment. Happily, the plot and dialogue turn out to be hilarious, making this the most enjoyable picture of its kind in a very long while. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen provide the heroes' voices. John Lasseter directed, and Randy Newman wrote the songs. V
**** Computerrific, highly creative, refreshing.
WHITE MAN'S BURDEN (R)
* In a fictional US where race relations are reversed, a white laborer kidnaps a black executive who ruined his life, and each grows a bit wiser before events take a tragic turn. The novelty of the premise doesn't keep the story from seeming trite and arbitrary, and despite its good intentions the film can be seen as just another exercise in making African-Americans look unappealing on the screen. Harry Belafonte and John Travolta give earnest performances. Desmond Nakano wrote and directed. V P
** Contrived, unpolished, powerful.