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: Garry Marshall: 10 stories from his memoir

* Only if it's free

** Maybe a matinee

*** Worth full price

**** Wait in line

New Releases

AMERICAN STRAYS (R)

* A homicidal vacuum-cleaner salesman, a killer for hire, and a destitute dad are among the seedy characters of Michael Covert's lurid comedy-drama. It fulfills the dire prediction that Quentin Tarantino's vicious "Reservoir Dogs" would spawn imitators with all of its offensiveness and none of its cinematic talent. John Savage, Jennifer Tilly, Carol Kane, and Eric Roberts are among the wasted performers. S V P

BOGUS (PG)

*** A young orphan makes friends with an imaginary Frenchman, who brightens his days and helps him come to terms with his new stepmom. The story is wholesome, but the movie has many more dull stretches than one would expect from veteran filmmaker Norman Jewison and a cast led by Whoopi Goldberg and Gerard Depardieu. V

BROTHER OF SLEEP (R)

* The mysterious tale of a young, prodigiously gifted musician whose artistic talents and passionate nature lead to complex, often stormy relationships with the people close to him. The story is imaginatively filmed but often teeters under the weight of its heavily romantic ambitions. Joseph Vilsmaier directed the German production. S N P V

FLY AWAY HOME (PG)

*** While coping with family problems, a teenage girl hatches a bunch of goose eggs for fun, then realizes her new pets won't know how to migrate south for the winter unless someone shows them the way - an ideal job for her and her father, an inventor who loves tinkering with lightweight aircraft. Nature specialist Carroll Ballard directed this eye-dazzling family film, which has superb airborne cinematography to compensate for some soggy spots in the story. Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin star. V P

HIGHWAY OF HEARTACHE (Not rated)

o Cartoonish comedy about an unhappy homemaker who shoots her spouse and hits the road to become a country-music star. Gregory Wild directed the racist, sexist, misogynistic mess. S V P N

KIDS OF SURVIVAL: THE ART AND LIFE OF TIM ROLLINS AND K.O.S. (Not rated)

*** Well-crafted documentary about a dedicated inner-city schoolteacher who helps disadvantaged high-school students develop their artistic talents and display their collaborative works at major museums and galleries. Always engrossing and sometimes inspiring. Directed by Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine. P

MABOROSI (Not rated)

*** A young woman tries to adjust to a new home with a new husband after her spouse inexplicably kills himself. Directed with moody intensity and great visual expressiveness by Hirokazu Koreada, and splendidly acted by a gifted and dedicated cast. S

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 too intense for young children. Steve Barron directed.

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

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

*** Adventurous, exciting, beautiful scenery.

AVENTURERA (Not rated)

*** Reissue of a flamboyant Mexican melodrama about a young woman who leaves her unhappy family for life as an unwilling prostitute and then as a singing star in nightclubs. Directed by Alberto Gout in 1949, this "musical tragedy" treats its unsavory material with relative taste and restraint despite its amusingly excessive style. 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

*** Moving, depressing, believable acting.

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.

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.

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

* Endless violence, retrograde, depressing, goofy special effects.

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

FOXFIRE (R)

* Unhappy with their boring lives in a small-minded community, several high school girls form an angry gang under the leadership of a new friend with a powerful but enigmatic personality. The screenwriters have borrowed the basic plot but not the disturbing political implications of Joyce Carol Oates's propulsive novel "Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang," pushing the film toward well-crafted exploitation rather than thought-provoking commentary on American sexism. Directed by Annette Haywood-Carter. V N P

GIRLS TOWN (R)

* Three ethnically diverse high school girls are shocked into a new awareness of violence and sexism when their best friend commits suicide after being raped. The screen-play was derived from long sessions of improvised acting, and some scenes are more like acting-class workshops than fully developed dramatic episodes. But the material is powerful and most of the performances are excellent. Lili Taylor heads the cast. Directed by Jim McKay. V P

THE GREEN HOUSE (Not rated)

** After his son is executed by the Nazis despite a willingness to cooperate with them, an old Frenchman shields his little granddaughter from the truth. He tells her she's a Resistance fighter and makes up "missions" for her to carry out. Philippe de Broca's comedy takes on social importance by dealing with issues of Nazi-French collaboration, but there's something distasteful about its whimsical treatment of life-and-death themes. V 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

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.

THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (PG-13)

** A man is stranded on a tropical island run by a mad scientist who's trying to fuse humans with animals in cruel genetic experiments. Based on H.G. Wells's haunting novel about the dangers of uncontrolled science, John Frankenheimer's movie uses a great deal of violence, killing, and horrific weirdness to make the same point with a lot less subtlety. Not as memorable as the old Charles Laughton version, but better directed than the Burt Lancaster remake. Marlon Brando is sensational, giving his wittiest performance in years. Also with Val Kilmer, David Thewlis, and Fairuza Balk. V N P

* Moronic, silly, disappointing.

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. V P

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.

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.

SHE'S THE ONE (R)

* Comedy about the increasingly strained relationship between two brothers with overlapping marital and romantic problems. Written by, directed by, and starring Edward Burns, who makes little improvement over the glib superficiality of "The Brothers McMullen," his previous picture. P V

*** Funny, relationship-oriented, recycled.

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

THE SPITFIRE GRILL (PG-13)

** Just released from prison, a young woman moves into a small New England community, takes a job at a modest restaurant, and puts together a new life that helps uplift many of the people around her. The story's traditional moral values are refreshing to encounter in today's movie atmosphere, but the film would be more effective if it seemed less calculated and sentimental. P V

**** Thoughtful, endearing, optimistic.

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.

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. P S N V

*** Exciting sports scenes, romantic, witty, excessive alcohol.

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.

THE TRIGGER EFFECT (R)

* Power and telephone lines go haywire and so do the people caught in the disaster, fleeing town or barricading themselves in their homes and buying guns to shoot anyone who seems too threatening. A couple of effective suspense scenes can't outweigh the silliness and senselessness of the overall story. Kyle MacLachlan and Elisabeth Shue star. Written and directed by David Koepp. V P S

** Intense, thought-provoking, disturbing, reveals powerful insight into human nature.

A VERY BRADY SEQUEL (PG-13)

** The lovable Brady family is still stuck in a 1970s time warp, oblivious to the changing world around them. They're easy prey for a crook who tries to con them by pretending to be Mrs. Brady's first husband, lost at sea years ago. The comedy has some mischievous laughs, but it's less original than the first Brady movie and relies on a considerable amount of sexual innuendo about the teenagers of the family. V P

** Funny, groovy, farcical, tired.

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

** Slow-moving, endearing, flighty.

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

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