[ No headline ]
The Monitor Movie Guide
FEB. 17, 1995
Movies that contain violence, sexual situations, nudity, and profanity are denoted V, S, N, and P respectively. Evaluations do not constitute a Monitor endorsement. Further guidance is supplied by full reviews on the Arts pages.
David Sterritt Staff Panel Meaning
* o Poor
** oo Fair
*** ooo Good
**** oooo Excellent
** A white law professor defends a young black man sentenced to death for a horrible crime, and encounters jarring surprises. Although the first hour builds effective suspense, the story sags into a warmed-over combination of ''The Silence of the Lambs'' and both versions of ''Cape Fear,'' and the violent climax looks like it was shot in an Everglades theme park. Sean Connery is smooth as the lawyer, but Ed Harris steals the show as a Hannibal Lecter wannabe. Arne Glimcher directed. (R) V P
THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES
**** The setting is rural Iran after a major earthquake. One main character is a movie director trying to make a film with a nonprofessional cast; the other is a first-time actor who can't concentrate on his big scene because his costar won't speak to him, much less answer his marriage proposals. This brilliantly filmed comedy-drama is warm, funny, and deeply humanistic, confirming Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami as one of the world's master filmmakers. (G)
TOM & VIV
* The troubled marriage of poet T.S. Eliot and his first wife, Vivienne, whose lively intelligence gave way to mental and physical problems that Eliot proved sadly incapable of ameliorating. Eliot the poet is fascinating, but this dull movie is about Eliot the husband, whose pathetic failings are hardly the stuff of scintillating drama. Brian Gilbert directed. (NR) S P V
WINDOW TO PARIS
* Rowdy Russians discover a magical window that transports them to Paris, where they're seduced by the possibility of comfortable Western decadence. Yuri Mamin's boisterous comedy takes on the serious issue of East-West relations after the cold war, but settles for merely clowning around with its topic. (PG-13) P V S
THE WOODEN MAN'S BRIDE
*** A young woman is kidnaped by bandits, rescued by a faithful servant, then married to a wooden effigy in place of her fiance, who died during her absence. Made in China with Taiwanese funding, this period melodrama is thoughtfully acted and gorgeously photographed. Directed by Huang Jianxin, a member of China's gifted Fifth Generation filmmaking group. (NR) V S P
Currently in Release
*** Romantic comedy about a young American and a French student who meet on a European train and decide to spend a spontaneous day together. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are attractive stars, but what's most appealing about the picture is the value it puts on sharing ideas and feelings through language. Directed by Richard Linklater. (R) P
ooo Engaging, talky, believable.
BOYS ON THE SIDE
** Three women start on a cross-country trip, hoping for a better life: a gay singer, a businesswoman with AIDS, and a hustler who's just killed her abusive boyfriend. The movie tries to outdo ''Thelma and Louise'' by upping the number of heroines, but it lacks the moral seriousness to tackle its sensitive material. Herbert Ross directed. Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker, and Drew Barrymore star. (R) N P V S
ooo Hilarious, heavy on social issues, tragic.
DEATH AND THE MAIDEN
*** In a Latin American country after the fall of a dictatorship, a woman accuses a stranger of having tortured her when she was a political prisoner. The movie's fascination comes partly from uncertainty as to whether the woman's charges are correct. On a deeper level, her violent behavior raises troubling questions. Based on Ariel Dorfman's play, and capably directed by Roman Polanski. (R) N V P
oo Cliched, passionless; graphic descriptions of abuse.
*** A man struggles to save his career after being sexually harassed by his new boss, who happens to be an old girlfriend. The movie's social attitudes are ridiculous, suggesting that powerful women pose dangers their male counterparts wouldn't dream of. The story is told with great gusto by director Barry Levinson, though, making it fun to sit through despite its many failings. (R) S N P
ooo Intriguing, suspenseful, topical.
DUMB & DUMBER
* And how. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels play a couple of losers who get into stupid scrapes. The pointless plot and scatological humor are to be expected; more sur prising are the nasty undertones of the story. Peter Farrelly directed. (PG-13) V N P
o Third-grade bathroom humor, senseless, offensive.
*** A look at college race relations, focusing on three students: a white woman whose social awareness is raised after a date-rape incident; a black man who re sents unspoken racism; and a white man who's recruited by a skinhead gang. The film treats real istic subjects in a stylized way, putting its main energy into exploring ideas rather than building emotional power. Written and directed by John Singleton. (R) V S N P
oo Sobering, realistic, disturbing.
*** A team of documentary filmmakers spent years tracking two young basketball players who hoped sports careers might be their ticket out of Chicago's inner city. The movie is a provocative commentary, but the material could have been shaped into a tighter, more cohesive structure. (PG-13) P
ooo Insightful, sensitive, but a tad slow.
** Who is the mysterious woman to whom Beethoven left his worldly goods? That's what the executor of his will has to discover. Everything about this crazy ''biopic'' is barely under control, from Gary Oldman's acting to Bernard Rose's directing. The result is fascinating in a creepy sort of way. (R) V S N
oo Predictable, shallow, but good soundtrack.
IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS
** Tracking down a horror-novel author who's mysteriously vanished, an investigator enters a real-life nightmare straight from the pages of the missing writer's books. John Carpenter's thriller is too clever for its own good, swamping its potential thrills in self-conscious tricks, twists, and special effects. (R) P V
THE JERKY BOYS: THE MOVIE
(Don't bother) Johnny Brennan and Kamal may have created a cult following with their two albums of obnoxious prank phone calls, but they will scare away fans with ''The Jerky Boys: The Movie.'' This picture proves that Brennan and Kamal should stick to what made them famous in the first place: vinyl. The plot is weak, the lines are unimaginative, and the humor is dull. Fans can only hope that a sequel won't surface. (R) V P
LEGENDS OF THE FALL
* The story begins as a family saga in old Montana, but turns into a hackneyed tale of rivalry between two brothers who love a beautiful widow. The scenery is pretty, in a calendar-art sort of way, but nothing else is worth the price of admission, including Anthony Hopkins's weak acting. Directed by Edward Zwick. (R) V S N P
oo Tear-jerker, melodramatic, beautiful scenery.
*** Sweetly filmed, sensitively acted retelling of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, plunging us into an idealized American past that's as seductive as it is mythical. Directed by Gillian Armstrong. (PG)
ooo Poignant, wholesome; death scene is disturbing.
THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE
*** Maybe it's family problems, or the stress of losing the American colonies; but whatever the cause, the monarch's mental health has become shaky, and this is of enormous interest to friends and enemies alike. Excellent acting undergirds this historical comedy-drama, directed by Nicholas Hytner, who also supervised the well-received stage production of Alan Bennett's play. (Not Rated) P
oooo Droll, powerful; fine acting by Nigel Hawthorne.
** The adventures of a Miami family, focusing mainly on sex, romance, and marriage. Sarah Jessica Parker and Mia Farrow are ideally matched as a daughter and mother who fall for the same guy, and Paul Mazursky and Antonio Banderas stand out as two of the men in their lives. Written and directed by David Frankel, whose attempt to follow in Woody Allen's footsteps would be more productive if it weren't so slavish. (PG-13) S N P
o Vapid, self-indulgent characters; zzzzzzz .
MURDER IN THE FIRST
** Fresh out of law school, a young attorney takes the case of an Alcatraz prisoner who murdered another inmate, arguing that the killer's mind was warped beyond control by the tortures of solitary confinement. Based on real events, the story poses important questions about penology and rehabilitation, but it's too heavy-handed to be very effective. Directed by Marc Rocco. (R) V S N P
ooo Grim, unsettling, upbeat ending.
** Jodie Foster plays a young woman who's been raised in almost total isolation. Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson play scientists who try to befriend her, but can't protect her from the world. The movie wants to explore the secrets of a person who evades all categories, but the filmmakers place her in their own categories, transforming their fascinating subject into a very ordinary drama. (PG-13) V N
ooo Engrossing, touching; fine work by Jodie Foster.
*** Paul Newman does his best acting in years as Sully, a likable loser juggling relationships with friends and relatives who can't figure out why he's still drifting aimlessly through life after passing his 60th birthday. Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis head the strong supporting cast. Directed by Robert Benton. (R) V S N P
ooo Sad, honest, well-acted.
*** Four interlocking stories about sex, drugs, violence, and other sensational stuff, tempered with an interest in redemption that suggests filmmaker Quentin Tarantino might be growing up a little. John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson are terrific as talkative hit men, and Bruce Willis is equally good as a boxer who refuses to throw a fight. Look out for over-the-top scenes of mayhem and brutality, though. (R) V S N P
ooo Surprising, wry, gory.
** Intrigue and bloodshed in the 16th century, starting with the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre and continuing with hardly a letup. Isabelle Adjani is striking as Marguerite of Valois, but the main attraction is Philippe Rousselot's moody cinematography. Directed by Patrice Chereau, who captures the turbulence if not the epic scale of Alexandre Dumas's sweeping novel. (Not rated) N V S
ooo Vivid, bloody, historical soap opera.
THE QUICK AND THE DEAD
*** A vengeful woman takes on a sadistic sheriff who keeps order by staging nonstop shootouts in the town square. Sam Raimi's western parodies the western genre with energy and affection. Contains a great deal of violence, but done in a cartoonish way that diminishes its impact. (R) V P N
STRAWBERRY AND CHOCOLATE
*** In contemporary Cuba, a Castro loyalist strikes up an acquaintance with a gay artist to gather evidence of his moral decadence, but grows to understand and respect his many good qualities. Directed by legendary Cuban filmmaker Tomas Gutierrez Alea in collaboration with Juan Carlos Tabio, the movie is tame in style but has lively performances and a tolerant spirit. (R) S N P