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: Charlie Chaplin: 10 quotes on his birthday

* Only if it's free

** Maybe a matinee

*** Worth full price

**** Wait in line

New Releases

ALASKA (PG)

*** Two youngsters trek through the Alaskan wilderness in search of their father, whose plane has crashed, and run into trouble with unscrupulous poachers during their journey. The adventure is colorful, suspenseful, and entertaining, and Charlton Heston plays one of the bad guys with the kind of masterful movie-star presence that Hollywood rarely comes up with anymore. Some animal scenes might be upsetting for young children. Directed by Fraser Heston. V

BASQUIAT (R)

* Jean-Michel Basquiat was a young black painter who became a protg of pop artist Andy Warhol, captivated the celebrity scene with his offbeat work, and tragically died young from drug abuse. Written and directed by Julian Schnabel, himself a gifted painter, this is one of the rare art-world movies that succeeds as both human drama and visual artistry. The acting is also excellent, with Jeffrey Wright imaginatively supported by Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Parker Posey, and David Bowie as Warhol. But it contains vulgar language and drug use. P V S

ESCAPE FROM L.A. (R)

* The year is 2013, the place is a lawless island called Los Angeles, and the hero is a rough-and-ready outlaw who must find the president's runaway daughter and retrieve an electronic device that could return the industrialized world to the stone age. Although the special effects are cheesy, the social-satire wisecracks are pretty funny. Kurt Russell heads the cast, but Cliff Robertson, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, and Peter Fonda are more fun to watch. Directed by John Carpenter, who also made the earlier "Escape From New York." V P

THE FAN (R)

* Wesley Snipes plays a major-league star who's stuck in a bad slump, and Robert De Niro plays a down-on-his-luck salesman who's become dangerously obsessed with the ballplayer and turns to violent crime to get his attention. The first half has some scary insights into modern-day competitiveness in business and sports, but the second half sinks into suspense-movie clichs and bone-crunching mayhem. Tony Scott directed Phoef Sutton's screenplay. V P

FLIRT (Not rated)

* A simple story, about young people caught in an uncertain romantic situation, is repeated three times with different characters in different settings. Hal Hartley's innovative comedy-drama is more ambitious than successful, but it deserves credit for trying something genuinely unusual. V N P

HOUSE ARREST (PG)

*** Some youngsters lock their feuding parents in a basement, hoping the experience will help the moms and dads grow up a little. There's some amusing satire on middle-class mores, but too much time is wasted on aimless shenanigans. Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Pollack head the cast. Harry Winer directed. V P

JACK (PG-13)

** Jack is diagnosed with an illness that causes him to mature at quadruple the normal rate, and his parents aren't sure how to handle a four-year-old boy in a full-grown body. Don't be misled by the idea of Robin Williams as a cuddly child-man. The movie takes several turns into sexual and scatological humor, and much of the story is haunted by loneliness, anxiety, and death. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, best known for the "Godfather" films. V P S

** Humorous, uninspired, sad.

KANSAS CITY (R)

* Two interrelated stories set in Kansas City during the 1930s jazz age. In one, a white man botches his plan to rob a black tourist and enters the clutches of a threatening gangster. In the other, his wife kidnaps the spouse of a presidential adviser, hoping the powerful man's influence can save her husband. Robert Altman's film works less effectively as a drama than as an atmospheric visit to a bygone era, but there's lively music along with punchy acting by Harry Belafonte, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Miranda Richardson. Contains violence and profanity. V P

RENDEZVOUS IN PARIS (Not rated)

**** Three enchanting tales of youthful love and courtship, set against an exquisitely filmed backdrop of Parisian parks, cafes, studios, and museums. The delightfully diverting stories were written and directed by Eric Rohmer, a founding member of France's great New Wave group and still one of Europe's most skillful and sensitive filmmakers.

SMALL FACES (R)

* The setting is Glasgow in the late '60s, and the main characters are three young brothers who get into various tangles with friends, relatives, and members of a dangerous gang that both tempts and terrifies the youngest member of the family. The drama wanders a bit during its first half but develops real emotional power near the end. Directed by Gillies MacKinnon. V P N

TIN CUP (R)

* Kevin Costner plays a golf pro who's loaded with talent but hasn't got a disciplined bone in his body. Can he clean up his act and win the US Open, thereby impressing the psychologist he's fallen in love with and putting her present boyfriend - a conceited golf star - in his place? Ron Shelton's romantic comedy has no more visual excitement than a televised golf tournament, but the climax is truly surprising, and there's solid acting by Don Johnson and Cheech Marin. Contains profanity, sex, nudity, and a little violence. P S N V

THE WIFE (Not rated)

*** A long, sometimes-crazy evening with two psychotherapists and a troubled couple that's dropped in for dinner. All the characters are a few degrees out-of-kilter, but filmmaker Tom Noonan digs into their personalities with the same insight, humor, and compassion he showed in his previous picture, the excellent "What Happened Was ..." Wallace Shawn, Julie Hagerty, Karen Young, and the multitalented Noonan provide the splendid performances. P

Currently in Release

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.

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

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

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.

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 wile 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.

**** Genteel, sprightly, romantic.

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.

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.

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

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

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

** Juvenile, screwball, stereotypical characters.

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

** Positive images of kids, cliched, occasionally scary.

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 cliches 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.

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.

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.

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

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