Freeze Frames

Freeze Frames: The Monitor Movie Guide

Here are the week's reviews of both the latest releases and current films, rated according to the key below (''o'' for forget it). The capsule reviews are by Monitor film critic David Sterritt; the one liners from a panel of at lease three other Monitor reviewers. Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted.

o Forget it

Recommended: Default

* Only if it's free

** Maybe a matinee

*** Worth full price

**** Wait in line

New Releases

THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO (G)

**** The classic tale of a lonely man who carves a piece of wood into a marionette that comes to life and has many adventures before turning into a real boy. Martin Landau is a sturdy Geppetto and the animated Pinocchio is fun to watch, although the 1940 cartoon version from Walt Disney remains the story's best movie adaptation. Parents should be warned that the picture contains some frightening scenes that may be much too intense for young children. Steve Barron directed.

**** Heartwarming, magical, well-acted.

CHAIN REACTION (PG-13)

** Bright young physicist Keanu Reeves plays a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with CIA agent Morgan Freeman, who believes the world isn't quite ready for the plentiful new energy source our hero is cooking up. Hollywood blockbusters don't get much more discombobulated than this confused thriller, but Freeman is still a fine actor, and the nighttime shots of Chicago are an eyeful. Directed by Andrew Davis. V P

CREMASTER 1/CREMASTER 4 (Not rated)

*** Quirky videos by Matthew Barney, a widely acclaimed artist. The first one is best, playing visual games with a dirigible, a football field, a pile of grapes, and a platoon of dancers who'd feel at home in a Busby Berkeley musical. The other, involving a race car and a satyr played by Barney himself, is less engaging but equally inventive. N

EMMA (PG)

*** Gwyneth Paltrow is enchanting as a self-confident young woman who decides to while away her time by playing matchmaker for a friend whose romantic life would fare much better without interference. Directed by Douglas McGrath from his own screenplay, based on the same richly ironic Jane Austen novel that inspired "Clueless," the gorgeously filmed comedy features good supporting performances by Greta Scacchi and Juliet Stevenson.

JOE'S APARTMENT (PG-13)

** A college grad moves to the big city and meets an artist who helps him find an apartment with low rent but 50,000 talking cockroaches for roommates. With many comic moments and insect show tunes, the first feature film produced by MTV is surprisingly entertaining despite an unoriginal love story, much vulgar language, and a lot of roach-infested garbage. Written and directed by John Payson. P V By Allison Baldasare

KINGPIN (PG-13)

** A washed-up hustler tempts a gifted bowler to leave his Amish community, which needs money to save its farmland from foreclosure, and get rich by literally gambling on his talent. Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, and Bill Murray give riotous performances, but be warned that the comedy is overloaded with gross-out humor from beginning to end. Directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly, of "Dumb and Dumber" fame. V S P

MANNY & LO (R)

* A pregnant teenager and her little sister flee from society, kidnap a nurse to help them when the baby's born, and develop a strangely close relationship with their hostage. The acting is convincing, especially by Mary Kay Place as the nurse, but the rather flimsy drama never picks up much emotional power. Written and directed by Lisa Krueger. S V P

MATILDA (PG)

*** She's astonishingly smart, and on top of this she develops psychic powers, using them to defeat bad grown-ups including an evil principal who literally tortures the children in her school. Danny DeVito's film has energetic acting by himself and Rhea Perlman as Matilda's parents, Mara Wilson as Matilda, Embeth Davidtz as a loving teacher, and Paul Reubens as a bumbling cop. But parents should be strongly warned that the picture is packed with weird and violent details that could be extremely upsetting for youngsters. Based on Roald Dahl's book. V P

PICNIC (Not rated)

**** Reissue of Joshua Logan's brilliantly filmed 1955 drama about a handsome drifter who blows into a sleepy town just before the big Labor Day celebration, sweeps all the young women off their feet, and leads one of them to change her life forever. William Holden, Kim Novak, Cliff Robertson, and Rosalind Russell head the superb cast, and George Duning composed the irresistible score. Based on William Inge's play.

THE POMPATUS OF LOVE (Not rated)

* A playwright, a therapist, and an avant-garde clothing designer are among the characters of this featherweight comedy-drama, which focuses on young New Yorkers who can't stop yakking about their personal and professional problems. Directed by Richard Schenkman from a screenplay he wrote with Jon Cryer and Adam Oliensis, who play two of the main roles. The odd title comes from an obscure line in a Steve Miller Band rock song. P S V

STONEWALL (R)

* The time is 1969, shortly before a police raid on a New York bar gave new force to the movement for gay civil rights; the main characters are homosexual men coping with various personal and romantic problems. The late Nigel Finch directed the drama, which would be more involving if it did a better job of integrating its fictional stories with the political issues raised by the Stonewall incident itself. V S P

A TIME TO KILL (R)

* A white attorney defends a black worker on trial in a Mississippi town for killing the men who abducted and raped his young daughter. There's strong acting by Matthew McConaughey as the lawyer, Samuel L. Jackson as the defendant, and Sandra Bullock as a law student eager to help, among others. But the drama's attack on racism would be more persuasive if it rejected vigilante justice and recognized that hatred and violence of all kinds must be condemned if evils like bigotry are ever to be eradicated. Directed by Joel Schumacher and based on John Grisham's popular novel. V S P

*** Riveting, unsettling, surprisingly witty.

WALKING AND TALKING (R)

** Amelia and Laura have been best friends for ages, but their relationship gets rocky as Laura prepares to marry her boyfriend while Amelia can't even decide whether to date the local video-store clerk. Perky performances by Catherine Keener and Anne Heche give warmth and humor to the cheerfully offbeat screenplay by Nicole Holofcener, who also directed the comedy. But it contains vulgar language and discussion of sex. P

WHEN PIGS FLY (Not rated)

*** An eccentric jazz musician makes the unexpected acquaintance of two ghosts, a woman and a little girl who lived very different lives a century apart. The story is a mere trifle, but it's energized by solid performances from Alfred Molina as the musician, Marianne Faithfull as the older ghost, and the wonderful Seymour Cassell as the villain. Sara Driver directed and Robby Mller did the fine-looking camera work. V

Currently in Release

BYE-BYE (Not rated)

o Troubled by family difficulties, two North African brothers leave their Paris slum to stay with relatives in a Marseilles slum, where the younger boy gets involved with drugs and the older one finds romantic complications with a young Arab woman. Imaginatively directed by Karim Dridi, this well-acted French production launches a devastating attack on the dehumanizing effects of poverty and racism. But it contains sex, nudity, violence, and foul language. S N V P

CELESTIAL CLOCKWORK (Not rated)

* A young Venezuelan woman leaves the altar on her wedding day and flees to Paris. There she dreams of becoming an opera star while sharing an apartment with four eccentric new friends, including a video artist who disapproves of her ambitions. Ariadna Gil gives a lively performance in Fina Torres's comedy. S N P

COURAGE UNDER FIRE (R)

*** Ordered by the White House to determine whether a female helicopter pilot should receive a posthumous medal, an army investigator hears a different version of her story from everyone he interviews, raising questions of military honor and the chaotic nature of wartime. Edward Zwick directed this thoughtful drama, helped by Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan in the main roles. Contains a great deal of explicit violence and foul language as well as alcoholism and drug addiction. V P

*** Intense, compelling, well-crafted, violent.

ERASER (R)

* Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a witness-protection agent battling his treacherous boss over a weapon-smuggling operation. The picture is effectively made, but viewers will want to erase the horrific violence that erupts in scene after scene, leading to an unusually mean-spirited finale. Charles Russell directed. V P

*** Classic Schwarzenegger, supercharged, grisly.

FLED (R)

* Two convicts, one black and one white, flee a Georgia road gang and enter a complicated mix of action and intrigue centering on a missing computer disk. Kevin Hooks's adventure movie starts like a rehash of the '50s classic "The Defiant Ones," then turns into a hackneyed chase picture full of sickening violence, thudding vulgarity, and silly jokes. Laurence Fishburne and Stephen Baldwin star. V P N S

* Intricate plot, fast-moving, disjointed, bloody.

THE FRIGHTENERS (R)

* A cut-rate ghostbuster, played by Michael J. Fox, feuds with an ectoplasmic bad guy who's continuing a murder spree he started when he was still alive. The special effects are more impressive than in Peter Jackson's earlier horror comedy, "Dead Alive," but the story is mostly an excuse for exaggerated mayhem and violent jokes about unfunny subjects. V P S

** Ghoulish, extremely violent, and idiotic, but has good acting and special effects.

HARRIET THE SPY (PG)

*** A bright sixth-grader keeps tabs on her urban environment and jots her observations in a notebook. But grown-ups gripe when this interferes with school, and kids complain when her writing criticizes them. Spunky acting and bright, color-filled photography make the picture fun to watch even when the story wanders. Directed by Bronwen Hughes and based on Louise Fitzhugh's hugely popular novel. P V

*** Snappy, relevant, funny.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (G)

**** This feature-length animation turns Victor Hugo's tragic hero into a candidate for the Seven Dwarfs, frolicking with cute little gargoyles when he isn't busy helping a handsome soldier save a gorgeous gypsy from an evil judge. The cartooning is expertly done in keeping with the Walt Disney tradition. But some may question the wisdom of turning a serious, complex, and often tormented literary classic into a feel-good musical comedy. Some scenes are much too intense or violent for young children. V

*** Thought-provoking, breathtaking, sophisticated.

INDEPENDENCE DAY (PG-13)

** A likable scientist, a feisty soldier, a goofy crop-dusting pilot, and the president of the United States are among the heroes who save Earth from an evil intergalactic empire. The action is fast, furious, and loaded with explosive effects, but the theme is a regrettable return to the us-against-them paranoia that dominated much science fiction in the cold-war era. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Will Smith star. Contains a great deal of violence. V P

*** Explosive, disjointed, spirited.

KAZAAM (PG)

*** Caught up in major family problems, a 12-year-old boy meets a 3,000-year-old genie who dispenses good advice - and a wish or two - that helps both of them weather the storm. The plot is hamstrung by trite formulas, and there's too much violence and family tension for very young viewers. Shaquille O'Neal is likable as the title character, though, and the screenplay has somewhat less vulgarity and innuendo than many Hollywood comedies. Directed by Paul M. Glaser. V P

LONE STAR (R)

** A skeleton is discovered near a small Texas community, rekindling old debates about whatever happened to a sheriff who once ruled the county with a violent and racially bigoted hand. John Sayles's offbeat western shows how public controversies often overlap with private grudges and conflicting memories. It contains violence and a surprise ending with strong sexual overtones that many will find objectionable. Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson, and Matthew McConaughey star. S V P N

** Humane, intelligent; message of tolerance takes unhealthy twist at end.

THE LOW LIFE (R)

* An aspiring writer holds down tedious jobs, hangs out with boring friends, and mopes about the awfulness of it all. The story offers a bit of pathos and ironic humor, but most of the time it's just another slacker movie. Directed by George Hickenlooper. P V

MOLL FLANDERS (PG-13)

** The adventures of an 18th-century woman who falls into prostitution but finds a better life with an idealistic painter who falls in love with her. Daniel Defoe's great novel combines frequent ribaldry with explicitly feminist views of his society's ills. Pen Densham's movie has strong female characters but stresses sensuality over the story's other themes. Robin Wright, Stockard Channing, and Morgan Freeman star. S V N

** Idealistic, victim-filled, too long.

MULTIPLICITY (PG-13)

** Caught in a job that allows him too little time with his family, a busy man allows a scientist to clone him - which seems like a great idea until more clones start arriving, each of lower quality than the last. Michael Keaton gives a game performance, but the comedy isn't very inventive and the second half is taken over by a string of smarmy bedroom jokes. Andie MacDowell co-stars. Directed by Harold Ramis. S V P

*** Zany, light; versatile acting by Michael Keaton.

THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (PG-13)

** An overweight science teacher slims down with a laboratory potion that turns him into a loud and obnoxious woman-chaser, but he realizes in the end that cultivating your own good qualities is the only honest way to win affection from others. Eddie Murphy has impressive energy, but he needs mountains of makeup and special effects to accomplish what Jerry Lewis did with sheer talent in the original 1963 version of the comedy. Parents should be strongly warned that the movie contains an extremely large amount of bathroom humor and other gratuitous vulgarities. P V

*** Sophomoric, amusing, predictable.

PHENOMENON (PG)

*** John Travolta gives a gentle and touching performance as an ordinary man whose brainpower miraculously zooms after a mysterious light-flash from the sky zaps him one night. John Turteltaub directed the drama, which lapses into medical jargon and new-age clichs near the end, but it scores telling points with its respect for intelligence and optimistic view of human potential. V P S

*** Sentimental, gentle, depressing.

PURPLE NOON (PG-13)

** Reissue of Rene Clement's minor classic about a young man who kills a wealthy friend and takes over his identity as well as his bank account. The story is involving and suspenseful, but it falls far short of Patricia Highsmith's original novel "The Talented Mr. Ripley," which has more psychological depth on every page than the movie offers in its whole two hours. Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, and Marie Laforet star in the French production, first released in 1960 as "Plein Soleil." V

STEALING BEAUTY (R)

* A young American comes of age while visiting old friends of her parents in the Italian countryside. Bernardo Bertolucci's romantic drama has great visual beauty but little new to say about life or love. Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack, Jean Marais, and newcomer Liv Tyler head the cast. Contains explicit sex and a frequently sensual atmosphere. S N P

** Picturesque, voyeuristic, slow.

STRIPTEASE (R)

* After losing her secretarial job, a woman becomes a stripper to support her daughter. She caters to the whims of a demented politician in hopes of regaining custody of the child from her ex-husband, a petty crook. Andrew Bergman's comedy is aggressively vulgar every chance it gets and surprisingly violent to boot. Demi Moore, Burt Reynolds, and Ving Rhames head the cast. N V P

* Daft, excessive, boring.

TRAINSPOTTING (R)

* The life and times of several young Scottish drug addicts. It's hard to recall a movie that etches the horrors of drug dependence more shatteringly than this British tragicomedy, which Danny Boyle has directed with ferocious energy. But moviegoers should be strongly warned that it contains over-the-top vulgarity of every description in nearly every scene. S V N P

** Iconoclastic, jarring, complex; ranges from the hilarious to the horrific; compelling but difficult to watch.

TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (R)

* Revival of Monte Hellman's minor 1971 classic about two car-crazed drifters and an aimless yuppie who race their souped-up autos across the Southwest, meeting new acquaintances and wallowing in existential angst. Much of the acting is barely recognizable as such, but the movie provides a vivid portrait of styles, attitudes, and behaviors once considered quintessentially cool. James Taylor and Warren Oates star. P S

THE VISITORS (R)

* Relentlessly silly comedy about a medieval knight and a bumbling servant who're abruptly transplanted to the 20th century. The humor is fast, furious, and vulgar. Jean Reno and Christian Clavier star, but Valerie Lemercier steals the show as their quick-talking modern friend. Jean-Marie Poire directed the farce, originally called "Les Visiteurs" and a record-breaking hit in its native France. P V S

VIVE L'AMOUR (Not rated)

* French title, Taiwanese movie. The main characters are a real-estate broker and two largely aimless men who form a love triangle even though they only occasionally cross one another's paths. Stylishly directed by Tsai Ming-Liang, who seems more interested in shots of Taipei than in the people of the tale. Contains explicit sex. S N V

WHO KILLED PASOLINI? (Not rated)

* Poet, novelist, and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini was among the most noteworthy figures in postwar Italian culture, but his violent death was shrouded in mystery and innuendo related to his open homosexuality. This capably made docudrama suggests his murder was encouraged by government figures outraged at his intolerance for corruption and dishonesty. Marco Tullio Giordana directed the Italian production. V S N

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