The Monitor Movie Guide
MARCH 1, 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
BEFORE AND AFTER (PG-13)
uuu The bonds of a middle-class family are sorely tested when a teenage son is arrested for murder and his father destroys evidence that might be vital to the case. Ted Tally's screenplay is graceless at times, but thoughtful performances and low-key directing by Barbet Schroeder make the picture a vivid exploration of how complex and ambiguous ''family values'' can be in the real world. Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep are convincing as the parents. Edward Furlong stands out as the teenager and Alfred Molina provides a fine shot of energy as his lawyer. V P S
FROM THE JOURNALS OF JEAN SEBERG (Not rated)
uuuu The life and career of actress Jean Seberg, from her debut as a 17-year-old star to her untimely death after many unsuccessful movies and harassment by the FBI for her left-wing political involvements. Mary Beth Hurt provides commentary as Seberg's on-screen alter ego, but the picture's real excitement comes from filmmaker Mark Rappaport's ingenious juxtapositions of clips and stills from an enormous variety of relevant movies. S N P V
THE NEON BIBLE (Not rated)
uuu A young Southern boy copes with challenges posed by his irresponsible father, his lonely mother, and an exotic aunt who comes to live with them. Based on John Kennedy Toole's sensitively written novel, Terence Davies's film is less a compelling story than an impressionistic journey through a troubled teenager's inner life. While earlier Davies films use gliding camera movements to evoke a sort of visual music, this one uses exquisitely framed images to create a more painterly effect. Gena Rowlands, newcomer Jacob Tierney, and Diana Scarwid lead the fine cast. V
TARGET (Not rated)
uuu In failing health after a life of excess, an upper-caste Indian landowner hires an untouchable servant to take his place in the hunting parties that are his favorite pastime. Directed by Sandip Ray from the last screenplay completed by his late father, master filmmaker Satyajit Ray, this vividly filmed drama is at once a gripping psychological fable and a thoughtful allegory on class stratification in contemporary India. V P
Currently in Release
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
ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED (PG)
uuu Informative, very moving documentary on the life and times of the articulate Jewish girl whose diary, written while her family hid from Nazi genocide in an Amsterdam attic, has touched countless millions since it was published almost 50 years ago. Written and directed by Jon Blair. Contains explicit images of concentration-camp carnage. V
ANTONIA'S LINE (Not rated)
uu A strong-willed woman returns to her ancestral home in the Netherlands after World War II and sets up an unusual household, run by and for the females of the family. Directed by Dutch filmmaker Marleen Gorris, known for her longtime interest in gender and sexuality, this feminist fable would be more effective if the male characters were well-rounded human beings instead of two-dimensional symbols who'd be more at home in a medieval morality play. Contains violence as well as sexual and homosexual activity. S N V P
BEAUTIFUL GIRLS (R)
uuu The lives, loves, lingering hopes, and occasionally sour grapes of several young men approaching their 30th birthdays in a small Massachusetts town where aspirations outstrip opportunities. Scott Rosenberg's screenplay is overwritten and Ted Demme's directing doesn't have much dash, but the picture is redeemed by sensitive acting from Timothy Hutton, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rapaport, Natalie Portman, Matt Dillon, Martha Plimpton, Max Perlich, and Rosie O'Donnell; only Uma Thurman and Annabeth Gish disappoint. P V
BED OF ROSES
uu This film has all the ingredients for a great romance, but it never quite gels. Even first-rate actors Christian Slater and Mary Stuart Masterson deliver disappointing performances as two emotionally wounded characters who find each other. Together they appear to be learning to love again, but sparks never really fly. The flowers shown throughout the movie are exquisite; they steal the show. By Melanie Stetson Freeman P S
uu Flat, empty, beautifully filmed.
O\ 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
BLACK SHEEP (PG-13)
u Chris Farley and David Spade once made quite a funny film, ''Tommy Boy,'' but this dopey dud is no ''Tommy Boy.'' While the release of this raucous political spoof coincides nicely with America's presidential primaries, the cliched antics outnumber the effective joke-slinging. Farley plays a kid brother who gets in the way of his sibling's ambitions for the governor's mansion. Spade plays Farley's unsuccessful baby sitter. If this slapstick duo ever campaigns for a third movie together, they need a new speechwriter. By Katherine Dillin P V
BOTTLE ROCKET (R)
uuu Three unbelievably boring young men decide to form a gang and enter a life of criminal adventure. This deliciously offbeat comedy gets much of its oomph from a loopy screenplay and lead performances that can only be called hilariously bland, or is it blandly hilarious? Wes Anderson directed the picture and wrote the screenplay with Owen C. Wilson, who stars with Luke Wilson and Robert Musgrave. Kudos to all. P V S
uu Zany, cult wannabe, twentynothing.
BROKEN ARROW (R)
uu Patriotic pilot Christian Slater and treacherous rat John Travolta duel over a pair of stolen nuclear bombs, both equipped with digital timers that start tick-tick-ticking whenever the picture needs a shot of suspense. The screenplay has some amusing punch lines, and Samantha Mathis steals a scene or two as a park ranger who never expected so much excitement on her usually peaceful turf. But don't expect the kind of eye-popping kinetics that director John Woo cooked up before leaving Hong Kong for Hollywood. The great Duane Eddy plays the twangy guitar solos. V P
uu Lightning-paced, crazy, cartoonish.
CATWALK (Not rated)
uu Robert Leacock's documentary on the high-fashion scene visits model Christy Turlington as she zooms from Milan to Paris to New York, decked out in designer goodies that are almost as glamorous as she is. The picture is colorful but offers few hints of analysis or insight. P
CITY HALL (R)
uu An ambitious New York City mayor copes with the complexities of urban government, helped by a young deputy who learns that nothing in life is as simple as it once appeared to his idealistic eyes. Al Pacino and John Cusack head a fine cast, but script problems keep the drama from achieving its ''Godfather''-inspired goals. Directed by Harold Beckers with less intensity than he brought to earlier films.V P
uuu Energetic, well-crafted, intense.
CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY (PG-13)
uuu During 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 dignity of its performances and the moral strength of its ideas. Based on Alan Paton's novel. Directed by Darrell James Roodt. V P
uuu Absorbing, melodramatic, evocative.
DEAD MAN WALKING (R)
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.
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 Gritty, heartbreaking; Jason Leigh is superb.
HAPPY GILMORE (PG-13)
uu He's an athlete with a temper too hot for the hockey rink, and when he switches his sport to golf, the country-club set has no idea how to handle him. Adam Sandler is funny as the volatile hero, and the screenplay is just abrasive enough to keep the story surprising. Dennis Dugan directed. P V N S
uu Three young men get hold of a police officer's pistol in an ethnically mixed housing project near Paris, with tragic results. This hard-hitting French melodrama is less involving than Mathieu Kassovitz's previous picture, the spunky ''Cafe au lait,'' but it takes on historical impor- tance with its precedent-setting portrait of social despair in the ''banlieu'' neighborhoods that other French film- makers have since begun to explore. ''La Haine'' is the original French title. Contains violence, vulgarity. V S P
THE JUROR (R)
uu Chosen for the jury in a mobster's murder trial, a woman fights for her son's life after he's kidnapped by a psychotic crook who wants a not-guilty verdict for his boss. Everybody betrays everybody in this twisty-turny thriller, basically just another Hollywood exercise in tormenting female characters so audiences will cheer the vengeful finale. Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin cook up an effective mix of chemistry and tension. Contains sex and violence. S V N P
u Superficial, dumb, one big yawn.
LAST SUMMER IN THE HAMPTONS (R)
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
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 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.
MARY REILLY (R)
u Here's your chance to find out how Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde looked to one of their servants, a quiet young woman who's endured various kinds of abuse before coming into her unexpectedly strange new job. Philippe Rousselot's carefully shaded cinematography looks great, but the screenplay is pretentious and there's little to applaud in the top-heavy acting by John Malkovich and Julia Roberts. Contains explicit violence and other distasteful material. V P S
A MIDWINTER'S TALE (R)
uu An actor tries to revitalize his career by herding a low-talent cast through an offbeat ''Hamlet'' production with a poverty-row budget and a drafty old church for a theater. Kenneth Branagh's comedy has few memorable moments but paints an affectionate portrait of a theatrical subculture. Joan Collins and Richard Briers are among the hardy troupers. P S
MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS (PG)
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 perform- ance make the result seem as dinky as the five-minute symphony our hero unveils. Stephen Herek directed. P
uu Inspiring, earnest, overwrought.
MR. WRONG (PG-13)
u Ellen DeGeneres thinks he's Mr. Right until she learns his poetry stinks, his money is inherited, and his idea of a good time is shoplifting from the corner store. Mighty thin stuff despite the contributions of Joan Cusack and Dean Stockwell. Directed by Nick Castle. V P
uu Sad, corny, comic nightmare.
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND
uuuu Robert Louis Stevenson's century-old classic about a young boy's coming of age will never be the same. Kermit the frog replaces Errol Flynn as swashbuckling buccaneer. Miss Piggy replaces, well, Miss Piggy is too original to be compared to anyone. Fate abandons her to pirates. Ratso the rat runs a Carribbean cruise business on the side selling tickets to ''ugly American'' rats on a 19th-century sailing ship. This sophisticated children's movie blends 1880s decorum with 1990s sensibilities. Great music and singing for the whole family. College students laughed as loud as any seven-year-old in attendance. By Jim Bencivenga
uuuu Rib-tickling, adventurous, clever.
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.
NUEBA YOL (Not rated)
uu This rare export from the Dominican Republic centers on a hard-working widower who mortgages his house in Santo Domingo, moves to a cousin's home in New York City, and quickly learns that American streets are not filled with the golden opportunities he'd hoped to find. Dominican comedian Luisito Marti is likable in the starring role, but first-time director Angel Muniz has trouble sustaining the picture's bittersweet tone. V P
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (PG)
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, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman, among others. Directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee.
uuuu Nuanced, majestic, brilliant.
SHANGHAI TRIAD (R)
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
SONIC OUTLAWS (Not rated)
uuuu Craig Baldwin's wildly inventive documentary tells the complicated tale of an artists' collective called Negativland. It released a record album containing ''sampled'' music from the rock group U2, and fought a resulting lawsuit by asserting that letters like U and numerals like 2 are public property - and so is the music of a band that sends its products into the marketplace for everyone to hear. Full of music, spectacle, and ideas, the movie is both an informative study and an excellent example of cut-and-mix culture. P N
u Great title for a movie you'll forget before you leave the theater. Troubled cop Ray Liotta injects himself with brilliant scientist Linda Fiorentino's memory serum to get the goods on his wife's killer. The plot is corny, contrived, and sometimes crazy; only the lyrical ending provides a minute or two worth watching. Directed by thriller specialist John Dahl, leagues below his best form. Contains much graphic violence. V P N
VUKOVAR (Not rated)
u A modern version of ''Romeo and Juliet,'' focusing on a Croatian woman and a Serbian man who marry just before civil war erupts in Yugoslavia, separating them. The drama doesn't have as much emotional impact as one would hope, but it's a vivid reminder of war's unspeakable consequences. Directed by Boro Draskovic in Vukovar, a bombed-out border town where Serbs and Croats used to intermarry without a second thought. V S N P
WAITING TO EXHALE (R)
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 and Giancarlo Esposito. Contains sex scenes. P S
uuu Funny, opinionated, poignant.
THE WHITE BALLOON (Not rated)
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.
WHITE SQUALL (PG-13)
uu Based on real events, this old-fashioned boys' adventure details the troubled voyage of a square-rigged sailing ship run by a salty adventurer-turned-teacher and crewed by 13 teenagers learning responsibility and teamwork on the high seas. The psychology of the story is shallow, but the action scenes pack a good visual punch. Jeff Bridges leads the mostly young cast. Directed by action specialist Ridley Scott. V S P
THE YOUNG POISONER'S HANDBOOK (Not rated)
uuu Pitch-dark comedy about a young man whose enthusiasm for chemistry and murder makes him a menace to his family and friends. Imaginatively directed by Benjamin Ross, who wrote the screenplay with Jeff Rawle, based on a real case history. Snazzily photographed by Hubert Taczanowski, but contains graphic scenes of illness and death. V P