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Freeze Frames: The Monitor Movie Guide

May 2, 1997



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.

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o Forget it

* Poor

** Fair

*** Good

**** Excellent

New Releases

BREAKDOWN (R)

*** Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan play a couple who run into trouble when their car breaks down on an empty stretch of desert road. The not-so-original story is a cross between "The Vanishing" and "Frantic" with a bit of "Duel" thrown in. It starts slowly, but builds to a spectacular climax with hearty sound effects and deftly directed stunts. V P By Chas Sabatine

BROKEN ENGLISH (NC-17)

** After fleeing war-torn Croatia and settling in New Zealand with her family, a young woman falls in love with a man of the Maori minority, enraging her traditionally minded father. Gregor Nicholas's drama paints a vivid portrait of multicultural conflict in a community that has received little attention from media in other parts of the world. Rade Serbedzija, known for "The Saint" and "Before the Rain," heads the solid cast. The film earns its rating mostly with one explicit sex scene. S N V P

A CHEF IN LOVE (PG-13)

** A rare manuscript teaches a man about the life of his father, a French chef who moved to the Georgian Republic in the early 1920s and was quickly swept up by romantic and political intrigue. French comedian Pierre Richard heads a lively cast, but Nana Djordjadze's dramatic comedy is held down by the limitations of its screenplay, which seems to regard cooking as an all-purpose metaphor for just about everything in life. S V P

COLOR OF A BRISK AND LEAPING DAY (Not rated)

** A young Chinese-American man works to revive a narrow-gauge railroad in danger of extinction, convinced that America's past and future are welded together by this undervalued industry. Directed by Christopher Mnch with the same flair for streamlined filmmaking he showed in "The Hours and Times," although the new movie is less crisp and engrossing. The cast includes Henry Gibson and Michael Stipe. S V

THE DESIGNATED MOURNER (R)

**** A famous intellectual, his intelligent daughter, and her somewhat out-of-place husband narrate their experiences in an unnamed country where two of them fall into disfavor with the government for showing too much social compassion, while the third struggles to understand his role in the family and political structures that surround him. Wallace Shawn's brilliant drama has been directed by David Hare as a minimalist movie that delivers an extraordinary punch even though it's played entirely by performers sitting around a table. Miranda Richardson and David de Keyser are excellent, and Mike Nichols is even better in his first on-screen role. Haunting, gripping, utterly unpredictable. Contains some dialogue related to sex and violence. P

DIARY OF A SEDUCER (Not rated)

** This dark, mildly amusing French comedy takes its title from a novel by philosopher Soren Kierkegaard - a book that affects the lives of a literature teacher and his students as they pass it around among themselves. Chiara Mastroianni and the great Jean-Pierre Laud are featured along with Danile Dubroux, who also wrote and directed the tale. S V P

FEMALE PERVERSIONS (R)

** On the eve of her appointment to a judgeship, a lawyer temporarily shelves her ambitions to help her sister, a bright but unstable young woman in trouble with the police. The movie's title refers not just to sexual deviance but to the "perversion" of conforming with social norms that steer women toward secondary roles in politics and culture. Based on Louise J. Kaplan's respected book. The cast includes Amy Madigan and Karen Sillas, and the extraordinary Tilda Swinton as the attorney. Directed by Susan Streitfeld, who wrote the screenplay with Julie Hebert. Contains some explicit sexual activity. Loses a star for sensationalistic title. S N V P