The Monitor Movie Guide

JANUARY 26, 1996

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 other viewers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews.


David Sterritt Monitor 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

ANGELS & INSECTS (Not rated)

uu In the late 19th century, a young naturalist moves into the luxurious home of a wealthy nature enthusiast, where he develops complex relationships with his new fiancee and a woman who's less beautiful but shares his interests and enthusiasms. Mark Rylance, Patsy Kensit, and Kristin Scott Thomas head the cast of Philip Haas's period drama, which is handsomely filmed but less involving than its varied material would lead one to expect. Contains explicit sexual material. S N V P


u A musician takes a teaching job to support his family so he can do some serious composing, but gets sidetracked for 30 years by the demands and rewards of his new profession. The movie takes an admirable stand in favor of real support for culture and education; but soggy screenwriting and Richard Dreyfuss's unexciting perfor- mance make the result seem as dinky as the five-minute symphony our hero unveils. Stephen Herek directed. P

uu Inspiring, earnest, overwrought.


uuuu A little girl sets off to buy a new goldfish for her New Year's Day celebration, loses the money her mother has reluctantly provided, and races the clock to complete her mission before the shops close for a long holiday. Directed by newcomer Jafar Panahi, this Iranian comedy is charming and winning every step of the way, and shows unusual cinematic imagination by unfolding its story in real time rather than the stretched-and-squeezed time of conventional movies.

Currently in Release


uuu 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

uuu Clintonesque, lightweight, snappy dialogue.


uu 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


Two geeky guys bungle their way into a sealed-off scientific experiment, decide to check out the action, and end up trashing the joint. Pauly Shore is less a comedian than a class clown, and his dim-witted mugging makes Jim Carrey's antics seem creative triumphs by comparison. Vapid, vulgar, and more to the point, not funny. Jason Bloom directed. P S N V


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, 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

uu Self-indulgent, amoral, well-acted.


uuu 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

uuu Absorbing, melodramatic, evocative.


uu Dazzling opening stunts worthy of a James Bond pic can't begin to overcome a plot as lifeless as any one of the corpses strewn throughout the story. Glamorous Geena Davis stretches credibility as a 17th-century pirate captain trying to outwit a rival in the race for hidden treasure. The scenery and special effects are all that may save this big-budget effort from total oblivion. Matthew Modine also stars. Co-produced by Davis and her husband Renny Harlin, who also directs in a hyperkenetic style. S V P By Greg Lamb

uu Swashbuckling, showy, plotless.


uuu Fact-based story of a Roman Catholic nun who befriends a convicted murderer, helping him appeal his sentence and prepare for the death penalty that awaits him if their efforts fail. Although it's often preachy and self-conscious, Tim Robbins's drama is socially courage- ous in its critical dissection of capital punishment, and deeply moving in its insistence on the fundamental humanity of its characters. Superbly acted by Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn; vividly photographed by Roger Deakins. Contains reenactments of a harsh crime. V P

uuuu Profound, humane, thought-provoking.


A woman longs for vengeance after her daughter's murderer is set free by the legal system. The goal of this hate-filled movie is to stir up the lowest instincts of its audience, then satisfy the artificially induced rage with a burst of self-righteous bloodshed. Directed by John Schlesinger, who used to make constructive pictures like ''Sunday Bloody Sunday'' and ''Midnight Cowboy,'' but appears to have lost his way. Sally Field's overwrought acting doesn't help. S V N P


uu 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

uuu Sweet, light, unsurprising.


u Four creepy comedies set in a hotel. The episodes by Allison Anders and Alexandre Rockwell - about a coven of witches and a jealous husband, respectively - are as vacuous as they are vulgar. Offering small compensation, Robert Rodriguez brings glimmerings of imagination to a yarn about two feisty kids and a beleaguered bellman, and there are touches of stylistic interest in Quentin Tarantino's tale of an unconventional wager. In all, though, a dreary and disorganized stew. S V N P

O\ Pointless, vulgar, degrading to women.


uu 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


u Labored comedy about a lesbian who barges into a married couple's life. Written and directed by Josiane Belasko, whose lively performance is the most memorable asset of the French production, originally titled ''Gazon Maudit.'' S V P N


uuuu 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


uuu 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

uuuu Explosive, zany, Bondescent.


uu Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon return to Wabashau, Minn., in this sequel to ''Grumpy Old Men.'' It's summer instead of winter, but the fish are still biting and the pranks are still flying. Howard Deutch directed. By Yvonne Zipp P S

uu Light, slow, funny one-liners.

HALFMOON (Not rated)

uuu Three dark, allusive dramas based on stories by Paul Bowles, the expatriate American author who has built his career on evocations of cultures dimly understood by most Western audiences. ''Merkala Beach'' is a muted tale of friendship and revenge. ''Call at Corazon'' puts an unhappy couple and a mischievous monkey on a boat trip, and ''Allal'' combines snakes and mysticism in the Sahara sands. Written and directed by Frieder Schlaich and Irene von Alberti, and narrated by Bowles with the quiet intensity that often marks his writing. V P S


uu 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

uu Bloody, intense, stereotypical.


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


u 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

uuu Fast-paced, fun, somewhat scary.


uu Theatrical enthusiasts gather for a summertime project, and echoes of Chekhov and Renoir abound as their personal and professional lives merge into a bubbling emotional stew. Much of the action is tinged with satire and irony, although darker shades enter when incest and jealousy become part of the mix. As in other Henry Jaglom pictures, the effect is like attending a party crowded with his favorite friends; it's diverting for a while, but you're glad to escape when it's over. Andre Gregory and Viveca Lindfors are among the guests. P S


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 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

uu Depressing, well-acted, overrated.

NICO ICON (Not rated)

uuu Stylishly made documentary about Nico, the model-turned-actress who appeared in Andy Warhol movies and sang with the Velvet Underground before drug addiction took a fatal toll. Contains splendid rock music and revealing glimpses of Warhol's extravagantly weird Factory for Pop-Art production. Also contains candid material about sex and drug abuse. Written and directed by Susanne Ofteringer. P N


uuu 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

uuu Long, entertaining, cathartic.


uuu 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

uuu Accessible, poignant, Fishburne is great.


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 prose.

uuuu Authentic, understated, a Jane Austen gem.


uu The life and times of a fun-loving physician, who falls in and out of favor with the king. England in the 17th-century goes through transforming experiences ranging from the enlargement of science to the ravages of the plague. Robert Downey Jr. gives a spirited performance, but the picture runs short of inventiveness after the high promise of its first 30 minutes. Based on Rose Tremain's novel. Directed by Michael Hoffman. Contains scenes of sexuality and illness. S V N P


uuu Richard Loncraine's harrowing adaptation makes Shakespeare's memorable villain a rising fascist dictator in Europe during the early 1930s. Ian McKellan gives a ferocious performance that makes up in urgency what it lacks in charisma. Annette Bening is less impressive as Queen Elizabeth; there's solid work by John Wood and Jim Broadbent, though. Often brilliant, but contains explicit violence and a hard-hitting atmosphere. V S

uuu Brilliant, audacious, understandable.


uu 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

uuu Delightful, slightly naive, great one-liners.


uuu 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.

uuuu Nuanced, majestic, brilliant.


uuu 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. V S


uuu Computer-animated film about two action toys, a cowboy and an astronaut, trying to reunite with the boy who's lost them. The picture starts off more like a promotional ploy than a kid-friendly entertainment. Happily, however, the plot and dialogue turn out to be hilarious, making this the most enjoyable picture of its kind in a long while. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen provide the heroes' voices. John Lasseter directed, and Randy Newman wrote the songs. V

uuuu Computerrific, highly creative, refreshing.


uuuu In a future society driven underground by a deadly epidemic, a convict travels into the bygone year of 1996, where a bizarre animal-rights group may hold clues to the illness's cause and cure. Bruce Willis is bruisingly good as the hero and Brad Pitt is suitably zany as the activist who dogs his trail. Directed by Monty Python veteran Terry Gilliam, whose talent for vivid imagery fills every shot with an anarchic energy that's manically appropriate to the unpredictable plot. Inspired by Chris Marker's masterpiece ''La Jetee,'' made in 1962. Contains violence and vulgarity. V P

uuu Dark, apocalyptic, thought-provoking.


uu This could have been a classic comedy of manners in the style of ''My Cousin Vinny,'' with two working-class art thieves trying to lie low in a rich Rhode Island resort town. Denis Leary and Sandra Bullock manage to be likable, but nothing they say is particularly interesting, and a good deal of it is unprintable. You won't walk out of the theater, but you'll wish you waited for it to come out on video. By Scott Baldauf P N S

uu Predictable, cute, a rental.


uu 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 sentiment coated with syrupy music and familiar story twists. The good cast includes Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Gregory Hines, Giancarlo Esposito. Contains sex scenes. P S

uuu Funny, opinionated, poignant.


u 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

uu Contrived, unpolished, powerful.

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