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 least three other Monitor reviewers. Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted.

o Forget it

* Only if it's free

** Maybe a matinee

*** Worth full price

**** Wait in line

New Releases

CITY OF INDUSTRY (R)

* A psychopathic hoodlum runs away with the loot after a successful burglary, and a hate-filled partner spends the rest of the movie tracking him down for a nasty revenge. Harvey Keitel lends a degree of professional panache to the cast, which also includes Stephen Dorff and Timothy Hutton; but in the end John Irvin's thriller is just another caper picture, with more hard-hitting violence than it needs to say the few things on its mind. V P S N

** Brutal, gloomy, deadly.

CRASH (NC-17)

* A young couple gets involved with a group of bizarre people who find erotic pleasure in automobile crashes. The original novel, written by J.G. Ballard in 1973, is a cautionary tale suggesting that new forms of amorality may flourish in today's highly technologized world. David Cronenberg's movie is a chilly meditation on this theme, carrying some cinematic interest but surprisingly dull given the story's outrageous subject. James Spader and Holly Hunter head the cast. Contains much explicit and perverse sex and violence. S N V P

THE GRADUATE (PG)

**** Reissue of the classic 1967 comedy about a recent college grad who drifts into an affair with an older woman, then falls goofily in love with her daughter and scrambles to escape the traps he's fallen into. Dustin Hoffman gives the inspired performance that launched his movie career, and director Mike Nichols shows a gift for social satire that has never glistened quite so brightly since. Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross head the marvelous supporting cast. Simon & Garfunkel spice up the soundtrack with "The Sound of Silence" and other hits. N P V

LIAR LIAR (PG-13)

** An overzealous lawyer hits personal and professional trouble when his little boy makes a birthday wish that his dad won't be able to lie for the next 24 hours. Jim Carrey proves that he's the most inspired clown in movies today, but parents should be warned that much of the picture's humor is extremely rude and crude. Tom Shadyac directed. S V P

LOVE JONES (R)

*** A woman pursues her photography career while coping with romantic dilemmas involving her one-time fiance, not the most reliable person around, and a young poet she just met, who's a little too pushy for comfort. The story is thin, but it's fun to spend time with more likable African-American characters than most Hollywood movies ever put under the spotlight. Larenz Tate and Nia Long star in the comedy, which was written and directed by Theodore Witcher. Contains explicit sexual situations and language. S P N

** Contemporary, sexy, strong cinematography.

MANDELA (Not rated)

*** A nonfiction look at the tumultuous life and history-making career of Nelson Mandela, touching on a wide range of issues that have influenced South Africa during the past several decades. Gives a colorful overview of a complex and fascinating subject, although there are many areas where more careful and detailed treatment would have been appropriate. Directed by Jo Menell and Angus Gibson. V

THE QUIET ROOM (PG)

*** This sensitive, imaginative drama is told from the perspective of a little girl whose parents' constant arguing has made her decide to stop talking altogether. Few movies have paid more sincere attention to the fact that children are full-fledged human beings with complicated inner lives; and few have depicted childhood with such skillful avoidance of simplistic or sentimental notions. Written and directed by Australia-based filmmaker Rolf de Heer.

RETURN OF THE JEDI (PG)

*** Reissue of the concluding 1983 chapter in George Lucas's celebrated "Star Wars" trilogy, with Han Solo and Princess Leia helping Luke Skywalker reclaim his father from the dark side of the Force while defeating the evil Empire that has terrorized the galaxy. Less original than the first "Star Wars" and less resonant than "The Empire Strikes Back," but packed with fast-paced action and downright cuddly when the Ewoks temporarily take over the tale. It stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford plus Billy Dee Williams and the great Alec Guiness. The supposedly improved "special edition" includes a brief musical number and fancy new shots during the final scene, among other small changes. V

*** Futuristic, inventive, fantastic but slow.

SELENA (PG)

** The life of Selena Quintanilla Perez, the hugely popular Latina singer, from her beginnings in a family pop group to her tragic death at an early age. The dialogue swings between platitudes and clichs, but the acting is lively and the music will set even lazy toes tapping. Directed by Gregory Nava. V P

Oscar Nominations in Release

Breaking the Waves (R)

** Not long after she begins a happy married life, a deeply religious woman's new husband becomes severely disabled and asks her to start relationships with other men. Lars von Trier's drama poses complicated moral questions, leaving the audience to decide whether the wife is engaging in noble self-sacrifice or allowing unhealthy impulses to rule and ruin her life. Unfortunately, the film is more successful at setting up ethical conundrums than at profitably exploring them. Robby Mller did the striking cinematography, using the unusual combination of wide-screen format and hand-held camera work. V S N P

*** Jarring, eerie, a movie that isn't easily forgotten.

THE ENGLISH PATIENT (R)

** Badly wounded in World War II, a pilot attempts to recover under the care of a sensitive nurse while remembering his wartime experiences and his earlier involvement with another woman. Told through persuasive performances and stunning camera work, the sweeping story shows how pressures of war may shake up conventional notions of loyalty, integrity, and even identity itself. But the film doesn't gather the emotional momentum that would make it compelling as well as impressive. Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, and Kristin Scott Thomas head the cast. Directed by Anthony Minghella. S V N P

*** Profound, engaging, beautiful cinematography.

FARGO (R)

** 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 grotesque violence. S V P

*** Wacked-out, funny, great camera work, but violence erupts out of nowhere.

JERRY MAGUIRE (R)

** An athletics agent tries to start his own company after losing his job, and learns a lot about human decency from a family-loving football player who stays loyal to him. The movie takes a refreshing stance in favor of family life, but the repetitious story moves erratically and runs on too long. Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. are fine as the agent and client, and Rene Zellweger is better yet as the hero's new girlfriend. Contains foul language and a very explicit sex scene. S P V N

*** Laugh-out-loud humor, action-oriented, gives viewer a window into the sports business.

MARVIN'S ROOM (R)

** Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton play estranged sisters who renew their relationship when their family is hit with serious illnesses. The movie places a wholesome emphasis on the importance of family ties and the invaluable support these can provide. But the story often seems unfocused, and the talented cast doesn't appear to be fully in synch with its heart-wrenching material. Also featuring Robert DeNiro, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Gwen Verdon. Directed by Jerry Zaks from the late Scott McPherson's screenplay, based on his stage drama. P V

*** Heartwarming, touching, emphasis on medical problems.

the people vs. larry Flynt (r)

*** The story of a real-life pornographer who turned a sleazy magazine into a publishing empire. One of his battles involved the leader of the Moral Majority organization, who sued the trash-peddler over a vicious parody but lost the cast in a unanimous Supreme Court opinion written by one of the most conservative justices. Milos Forman's drama is full of outrageous material that will offend liberals and conservatives alike, but it's positioned on the cutting edge of contemporary debates about free speech, feminism, and the effects of mass media on modern society. Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love play the title character and his drug-addicted wife. S V N P

* Raunchy, maudlin, superficial.

Secrets and Lies (R)

**** Looking for the biological mother who gave her up for adoption, a middle-class black Englishwoman is surprised to discover that her mom is poor, uneducated, and white. Mike Leigh's sensitive comedy-drama is superbly acted but contains much vulgar language, and some moviegoers may be troubled by its treatment of extramarital sex and promiscuity. P

*** Sensitive, realistic, life-affirming.

SHINE (PG-13)

*** The fact-based story of a brilliant pianist whose musical gifts are offset by mental and emotional problems, made more severe by conflicts with his father, who never recovered from seeing the Holocaust destroy his family. The movie benefits from an involving story and sparkling music, and it avoids easy clichs about music's power to solve every problem in time for a happy ending. Scott Hicks directed the Australian production. P V

*** Tragic, moving, music is beautifully performed.

Sling Blade (R)

*** A mentally slow man is released from a "nervous hospital" in Arkansas years after he killed his mother and her lover, who shocked him with their immoral behavior. The story has many unsavory elements including some strongly suggested violence, but most of the picture focuses on positive elements such as the hero's capacities for friendship, loyalty, and self-sacrifice. Directed with skill and compassion by Billy Bob Thorton, who also plays the protagonist. V P

Currently in Release

THE DAYTRIPPERS (Not rated)

*** Worried that her husband might be philandering on her, a suburban woman packs her mother, father, sister, and future brother-in-law into the car, and they head for the city to find out what's really going on. The slender story gains humor and warmth from excellent acting by Hope Davis, Anne Meara, Parker Posey, Stanley Tucci, Campbell Scott, Liev Schreiber, and others. Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Greg Mottola. P S V

*** Smart, funny, real.

DONNIE BRASCO (R)

*** A young FBI agent infiltrates a Mafia family by becoming the protg of an aging hoodlum, jeopardizing his safety and alienating his wife in the process. This sort of story has been told many times before, but thoughtful performances by Al Pacino and Johnny Depp make it more engrossing than expected. Directed by Mike Newell, who's known mainly for lighter fare like "Enchanted April" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Contains some very strong violence. S V P

*** Intense, gruesome, strong characters.

THE EIGHTH DAY (Not rated)

** French star Daniel Auteuil plays an uptight executive who embarks on an unlikely journey with a mentally slow man as his companion. The movie deserves credit for its compassionate approach to a subject most filmmakers steer away from, but it eventually cops out with a manipulative ending that's more superficial than insightful. Directed by Belgian filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael, who explored similar terrain in "Toto the Hero," a more exciting and original adventure. S P V N

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (PG)

*** The best of the "Star Wars" trilogy is a trifle darker and more thoughtful than the other installments. It develops real mythic power in the escalating conflict between Luke Skywalker, the budding Jedi knight, and Darth Vader, the enigmatic supervillain now revealed as our hero's secret father. The upgraded "special edition" is almost identical to the 1980 original, but if a movie isn't broken, why fix it? V

**** Explosive, superb, action-packed.

GENTLEMEN DON'T EAT POETS (R)

* They don't watch silly movies like this, either. Sting plays a new butler who brings uproarious instability to the eccentric household of a British aristocrat (Alan Bates) and his motley group of friends and relatives. Patrick McGrath directed the dank and dour comedy from his own screenplay - a blend of the scatterbrained, the sensational, and occasionally the sick. S N V P

HAMLET (PG-13)

*** The most ambitious screen version of Shakespeare's most celebrated tragedy, shown in a dazzling big-screen format and featuring an all-star cast. Kenneth Branagh's acting and directing are equally immodest, but he keeps the action hopping at a lively pace. Most noteworthy in supporting roles are Derek Jacobi as the king, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, the wonderful Julie Christie as Gertrude, and Billy Crystal as the gravedigger. Other familiar faces, from Robin Williams to Charlton Heston are pretty much wasted. S N V

**** Riveting, exquisite, well-directed.

Jungle 2 Jungle (PG)

*** A simple and light-hearted film for children, which parents can watch without being bored. Tim Allen plays a father who discovers that he has a son by his estranged wife (Jo-Beth Williams), a doctor living with an Indian tribe. The son, who has been raised in the jungle, accompanies Allen back to New York City on a quest to get fire from the Statue of Liberty. What ensues is a series of adventures that bring father and son closer together. Martin Short and Lolita Davidovich also star in the film. By Sharon Johnson-Cramer

*** Family-oriented, funny, simple.

KAMA SUTRA: A TALE OF LOVE (Not rated)

** Rivalry simmers for years between an aristocrat and her beautiful servant, who wind up competing for the attention of a handsome ruler. Mira Nair's sensuous drama decks out a trite and predictable tale with exquisite colors, textures, and music. Contains a number of heavily erotic sequences. S N V P

** Romantic, exotic, sensual.

KOLYA (PG-13)

*** Not long before the fall of the Soviet bloc and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, a middle-aged Czech musician agrees to a marriage of convenience with a Russian woman, then finds himself caring for her five-year-old son after she unexpectedly leaves the country. This thoughtful comedy-drama demonstrates how difficult it is to draw lines between the personal and political in the rapidly changing modern world. N S P

*** Moving, endearing, film does good job of weaving in Czechoslovakian context.

LOST HIGHWAY (R)

** The elusiveness of identity is the theme of David Lynch's latest excursion into the world of pitch-dark dreams and delusions, which begins when a man is convicted of a savage crime he never would have dreamed of committing. Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette star, with Balthazar Getty and Robert Blake in other key roles. The film actually deserves four stars for its imaginative style and astonishing suspense, zero stars for its shameless exploitation of violent shocks and loveless sensuality. Contains moments of over-the-top sex and violence in Lynch's patented "Blue Velvet" mode. S V N P

** Dark, confusing, erotic.

PRIVATE PARTS (R)

* The life and times of radio personality Howard Stern, who has turned a flair for vulgarity and sensationalism into superstar status and a zillion-dollar career. Some scenes paint a convincing portrait of Stern as a witty opponent of stuffiness, prudery, and hypocrisy. Others mix gross-out humor with nasty doses of racism, sexism, and homophobia that reveal a dark side to Stern's professional personality. Stern and his co-host, Robin Quivers, play themselves. Directed by Betty Thomas. S V N P

** Hilarious, juvenile, insightful.

ROSEWOOD (R)

*** In a segregated Florida community during the 1920s, a white woman falsely says a black fugitive has beaten her, touching off a rampage by bigoted whites that takes a horrifying toll in death and destruction. The fact-based story is so riveting and revealing that the filmmakers needn't have used melodramatic formulas to boost its impact. But even with its flaws, the movie carries strong messages about the hurtfulness of hate, bias, and conceptions of "manhood" based on power and domination. Ving Rhames and Jon Voight head the excellent cast. Directed by African-American filmmaker John Singleton, of "Boyz N the Hood" fame. S V P N

**** Educational, disturbing, haunting.

SMILLA'S SENSE OF SNOW (R)

* The setting is wintry Copenhagen, and the heroine is a lonely woman from Greenland who uncovers a sinister conspiracy while investigating the death of a little Inuit boy who'd become her only friend. The movie is gorgeously filmed and contains some fascinating lore about life in northern climes. But the plot is tritely predictable and far-fetched. Director Bille August lets the acting slide into stereotypes and clichs. Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne, and Vanessa Redgrave are among the performers who deliver less than their best. V S N P

** Suspenseful, improbable, intriguing mystery.

STAR WARS (PG)

*** Heroic rebels battle an oppressive empire, and the Force is with them all the way. George Lucas's legendary 1977 science-fiction epic still packs an entertaining punch with its blend of old-movie formulas, new-age philosophies, and video-game visuals. A small amount of new material, added for the 20th-anniversary reissue, is fun to look for but doesn't make much difference to the story or its impact. V

**** Great special effects, inspiring, awesome.

WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (R)

*** The quirky, sometimes hilarious tale of a Broadway wannabe staging a community-theater production to celebrate the 150th birthday of a small Missouri town. Christopher Guest directed the picture, co-wrote the mischievous screenplay with Eugene Levy, and plays the leading role. The humor is uneven and sometimes crude, but much of the mock-documentary is surprising and amusing. P

*** Offbeat, a little bizarre, very funny at times.

WHEN WE WERE KINGS (PG)

*** Nonfiction account of Muhammad Ali's famous 1974 prizefight with George Foreman in Zaire, dubbed "the rumble in the jungle" and credited with making Ali a leading figure in American sports. Fascinating footage goes beyond the boxing ring to document Ali's brilliance as a public personality. Shot at the time of the bout, and edited years later into final form. Spike Lee and Norman Mailer are among several interested parties who comment on the material from a '90s perspective. V N P

*** Awe-inspiring, stimulating, honest.

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