Freeze Frames

The Monitor Movie Guide

MARCH 8, 1996

Recommended: Gore Vidal: 10 quotes from the legendary author

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.

EVALUATION SYMBOLS

David Sterritt Monitor Panel Meaning

O O Forget it

s p Only if it's free

ss pp Maybe a matinee

sss ppp Worth full price

ssss pppp Wait in line

New Releases

THE BIRDCAGE (R)

sss Armand and Albert are homosexual, but Armand's son wants to marry the daughter of a conservative senator, so they agree to "act straight" for a while. Based on the popular French movie "La Cage aux Folles," the fast-moving comedy was directed by Mike Nichols from Elaine May's screenplay. Robin Williams and Gene Hackman head the well-chosen cast. Contains a great deal of material about homosexuality. P N

CHUNGKING EXPRESS (PG-13)

sss Two separate stories about Hong Kong policemen with romantic problems. One meets a female smuggler who helps him forget his former girlfriend, and the other gets involved with a music-loving waitress who pokes into his life behind his back. Written and directed by Wong Kar-wai, the film is an imaginative piece of filmmaking and an evocative essay on the mood in contemporary Hong Kong as it prepares for a return to Chinese rule. V S P

DOWN PERISCOPE (PG-13)

ss Kelsey Grammer of TV's "Frasier" commands a crew of misfit submariners in his first big screen role. The loopy plot and hijinks of Grammer's sailors provide some laughs as he captains a 1950s diesel sub in war games against the Navy's best. Critics may consign this farce to the briny deep, but teens could enjoy its good-natured spoof of all things nautical. P S By John Dillin

pp Outlandish, mischievous, coarse jokes.

FARGO (R)

ss Strapped for cash, a small-time businessman arranges for his wife to be kidnapped to get the ransom. Directed by Joel Coen and produced by Ethan Coen, the pitch-dark comedy has good acting by William H. Macy as the devious husband and Frances MacDormand as the pregnant policewoman who cracks the case. Contains explicit sex and much grotesquely exaggerated violence, though. S V P

THE FLOWER OF MY SECRET (R)

ss Leo has been writing popular romance novels for years, but lately her personal problems have grown so oppressive that she can't muster her old enthusiasm for entertaining plots and happy endings. Pedro Almodovar's Spanish drama is his most involving work since the comedy "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," but its mood of ironic melancholy doesn't hold up enough to make the picture a full success. P S N

HOMEWARD BOUND II: LOST IN SAN FRANCISCO (G)

ss Two dogs and a cat have an adventurous outing in the Bay Area after their family loses them during a vacation. The story is lively enough, but kids will know these talkative pets are strictly from Hollywood. Directed by David R. Ellis. Contains some vulgar humor. V

IF LUCY FELL (R)

O Years earlier, painter Joe and psychotherapist Lucy decided they'd jump off the Brooklyn Bridge if they didn't find romance by their 30th birthdays. Now the deadline is near - but if anyone jumps it's likely to be moviegoers who paid to see this amazingly dumb comedy, about which there's nothing good to say except that the Brooklyn Bridge looks as handsome as ever. Directed by Eric Schaffer, who made the somewhat better "My Life's in Turnaround" two years ago. He also stars with Sarah Jessica Parker. P S

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL (PG-13)

ss Robert Redford plays a veteran TV newsman with a handsome face, an impressive resume, and a dubious record of broken marriages. Michelle Pfeiffer plays an eager new journalist with a pretty face, a mostly faked resume, and more interest in reporting than romance - until she meets our hero, and they become teammates both in and out of the newsroom. This promising material is undermined by a meandering screenplay and slow-motion directing by Jon Avnet. S V P

pp Unbelievable, mushy, no chemistry between stars.

Oscar Nominees in Release

BABE (G)

sss 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 it teaches the lesson that 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. (Best picture, supporting actor, director)

ppp Hilarious, delightful, appealing to adults.

BRAVEHEART (R)

ss Aye, here's a wee bit of a three-hour epic about a handsome 13th-century hero freeing Scotland from its English overlords. Directed by and starring Mel Gibson, who puts more brawn than brain into both jobs. V S P N (Best picture, director)

ppp Engrossing history lesson, violent battle scenes.

DEAD MAN WALKING (R)

sss 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 (Best actor, actress)

pppp Profound, humane, thought-provoking.

GEORGIA (R)

ssss 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 (Best supporting actress)

ppp Gritty, heartbreaking; Jason Leigh is superb.

LEAVING LAS VEGAS (R)

sss 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 (Best actor, actress, director)

pp Depressing, well-acted, overrated.

MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS (PG)

s 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 performance make the result seem as dinky as the five-minute symphony our hero unveils. Stephen Herek directed. P (Best actor)

pp Inspiring, earnest, overwrought.

NIXON (R)

sss Oliver Stone portrays the former president as a 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 superb cast. V P (Best actor, supporting actress, original screenplay)

ppp Long, entertaining, cathartic.

THE POSTMAN ('IL POSTINO') (PG)

ssss 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 (Best picture, actor, director)

pppp Poetic, tender, quietly humorous.

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (PG)

sss 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. (Best picture, actress, adapted screenplay)

pppp Nuanced, majestic, brilliant.

TWELVE MONKEYS (R)

ssss 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 comedy-troupe 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 (Best supporting actor)

ppp Dark, apocalyptic, thought-provoking.

Currently in Release

ANGELS & INSECTS (Not rated)

ss 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)

sss 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)

ss 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

ppp Individualistic, original, powerful.

BEAUTIFUL GIRLS (R)

sss 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

ppp Moody, self-conscious, funny.

BED OF ROSES

ss 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 people who find each other. The flowers shown throughout the movie are exquisite; they steal the show. By Melanie Stetson Freeman P S

pp Flat, empty, beautifully filmed.

BEFORE AND AFTER (PG-13)

sss 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

BLACK SHEEP (PG-13)

s 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)

sss 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

pp Zany, cult wannabe, twentynothing.

BROKEN ARROW (R)

ss 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

pp Lightning-paced, crazy, cartoonish.

CITY HALL (R)

ss 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

ppp Energetic, well-crafted, intense.

FROM THE JOURNALS OF JEAN SEBERG (Not rated)

ssss 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 relevant movies. S N P V

HAPPY GILMORE (PG-13)

ss 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

THE JUROR (R)

ss 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

p Superficial, dumb, one big yawn.

MARY REILLY (R)

s 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 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

MR. WRONG (PG-13)

s 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

pp Sad, corny, comic nightmare.

MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND

ssss 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. Ratso the rat runs a Carribbean cruise business on the side selling tickets to "ugly American" rats on a 19th-century sailing ship. Great for the whole family. By Jim Bencivenga

pppp Rib-tickling, adventurous, clever.

THE NEON BIBLE (Not rated)

sss 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

SONIC OUTLAWS (Not rated)

ssss 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

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