A weekly update of film releases

* A BRONX TALE - Robert De Niro makes his directing debut with this bittersweet story of an Italian-American boy who does an unavoidable favor for a local mobster, then finds himself caught between the affection of his crooked new friend and the guidance of his honest and loving father. Chazz Palminteri plays the gangster and wrote the screenplay, which takes its starting point from a dramatic incident in Palminteri's own childhood. The movie labors honorably to criticize the false glamour of mob-connected life and to celebrate the virtues of decent, hard-working men like the protagonist's dad. Still, it never becomes as touching or thrilling as it would like to be. De Niro has done much of his finest acting in urban dramas by Martin Scorsese, and the chief trademark of his directing style is its heavy borrowing from Scorsese's bag of tricks, right down to the rock-and-roll songs that flood the soundtrack. His performance as the boy's father also disappoints, although Palminteri's acting is solid and original. (Rated R)

* M. BUTTERFLY - Based on true events, this drama chronicles the bizarre love affair of a French diplomat and a Chinese opera singer who pretended to be a woman in order to become sexually intimate and coax official secrets out of him. The movie is candid about the perverse relationship between the main characters, but its real purpose is to expose the dangers of becoming trapped in social roles and private fantasies instead of seeking true and honest contact with others. This message is underscored by the sensitive performances and stylized appearance of the film, which unfolds its ultimately tragic events as if they were plucked from some mysterious real-world opera. Directed by David Cronenberg from a screenplay by David Henry Hwang based on his Broadway play. Peter Suschitzky did the impeccable cinematography. (Rated R)

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