The Monitor Movie Guide
MARCH 31, 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 O Don't bother
* o Poor
** oo Fair
*** ooo Good
**** oooo Excellent
1/2 1/2 Half rating point
*** In the 27th documentary of his distinguished career, Frederick Wiseman turns his camera on the American Ballet Theater, charting activities as different as rehearsing, performing, hiring new talent, and coping with the financial pressures facing a modern cultural institution. Life itself becomes a kind of choreography in Wiseman's artful view, which is sometimes as funny as it is beguiling. (Not Rated) P
I AM CUBA
*** In content, this 1964 epic by Mikhail Kalatozov is poetic propaganda for Cuban-Soviet solidarity. In style, it's a dazzling series of imaginative shots that transform landscapes and cityscapes into transcendent visions of almost hallucinatory power. Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Cuban poet Enrique Pineda Barnet wrote the screenplay. (Not Rated) V
JEFFERSON IN PARIS
*** Living in Paris as American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson observes France's growing revolutionary fervor while striking up two romantic relationships: one with the wife of a foppish French painter, the other with the African-American nursemaid of his youngest daughter. Calling on the civilized intelligence that is their enduring trademark, director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala use their historical material to explore issues related to democracy, revolution, and the psychological complexities of a sensitive man who couldn't entirely separate the concepts of womanhood and property in his thinking. (PG-13) N S V
THE WILD BUNCH
** Reissued in a ''director's cut'' that includes a few minutes of previously excised material, Sam Peckinpah's violent 1969 western looks in retrospect like neither a transgressive triumph nor an orgy of immorality, but just an unusually ambitious genre piece that's more troubling for its misogyny than for its itchy trigger finger. William Holden and Robert Ryan star. (R) S V P N
Currently in Release
BEFORE THE RAIN
*Three related tales rooted in Macedonia's current political strife. The first deals with a young monk and an Albanian runaway; the second with a Macedonian photojournalist and his British lover; the third follows the photojournalist back to his native village. The subjects are interesting, but Milcho Manchevski's filmmaking is too disjointed. (Not Rated) S V P
ooo1/2 Artistic, topical, evocative imagery.
*** 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
ooo1/2 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 diagnosed 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. (R) N P V S
ooo Hilarious, heavy on social issues, tragic.
The Brady bunch movie
Those groovy Bradys are now living in the '90s, and they must raise $20,000 or else their house will be auctioned off. Based on the '70s TV show, the plot works well compared with most sitcom movies. The cast is a close match to the original. Avid ''Bunch'' fans will ''dig it,'' while others may find it hokey. Directed by Betty Thomas. (PG-13) By Shelley Coolidge.
ooo1/2 Nostalgic, campy; Marcia steals the show.
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY
** A young playwright juggles art, romance, and gangsters while preparing his first big production. Woody Allen's comedy is rarely inspired, but provides some good laughs and an energetic depiction of the Roaring '20s. (R) V P S
ooo1/2 Snappy, clever; Dianne Wiest heads a remarkable cast.
BYE BYE, LOVE
*** Three divorced men juggle relationships with their angry ex-wives, their frustrated kids, and each other. Sam Weisman's comedy has a couple of touching moments and several hilarious ones, although it's a little too polite to become the biting satire it might have been. Randy Quaid and Janeane Garofalo are priceless as a newly acquainted couple having the world's worst date. (PG-13) P S
ooo Insightful, funny, poignant.
CIRCLE OF FRIENDS
** The place is an Irish village in 1957, and the heroines are three young women negotiating the twists and turns of love, friendship, and family relations. Pat O'Connor directed this likable but unmemorable comedy-drama, which creates some vivid moments without quite managing to flesh out its commonplace characters. (PG-13) S P V
ooo Heartwarming, engaging, beautiful scenery.
*** She's accused of murdering her obnoxious employer, and while her estranged daughter thinks that she might be innocent, she's being hounded by a police officer who's convinced this isn't her first homicide. Kathy Bates gives her most gripping performance since ''Misery,'' also based on a Stephen King thriller. The picture is weakened by a rambling and inconsistent screenplay, though. Taylor Hackford directed. (R) S V P
*** A man tries to assuage family-related grief through an oblique relationship with a nightclub dancer. Atom Egoyan, perhaps the most imaginative filmmaker in Canada today, wrote and directed this explicit but serious-minded study of sexual obsessiveness. (R) P S N V
* An ordinary man becomes clairvoyant after a near-death experience, and finds himself on the trail of a serial killer. This new ripoff of ''The Silence of the Lambs'' is scuttled by dopey dialogue and silly situations, although there are a couple of snappy suspense scenes. Brett Leonard directed. (R) P S V
*** 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.
** 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. Ed Harris steals the show as a Hannibal Lecter wannabe. Arne Glimcher directed. (R) V P
o Brutal, unoriginal; waste of fine cast.
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
oo1/2 Tear-jerker, melodramatic, beautiful scenery.
*** Two years after losing her baby while in a drug-induced haze, an African-American woman tries to regain custody from the affluent white family that's adopted him. The drama raises many sensitive issues, and while it doesn't explore their complexities very deeply, it treats its characters with respect and compassion. Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal with strong visual imagination. (R) P V
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. (Not Rated) P
oooo Droll, powerful; fine acting by Nigel Hawthorne.
** He's a tough-as-nails Marine who'd rather be dodging battlefield bullets than whipping a squad of prep-school kids into shape. Most of the jokes are dumb and dumber, but Damon Wayans is a riot as the hero, and military machismo is an excellent target for his satire. The film is less painful than the title leads you to expect. Nick Castle directed. (PG-13) P V
** The lives and loves of two Jewish women in Paris between the late 1960s and early '90s. Romane Bohringer and Elsa Zylberstein are nicely unassuming as the heroines. The plot doesn't quite hang together, though. Written and directed by Martine Dugowson. (Not Rated) P S V
*** Muriel is a misfit who's desperate to get married, but has everything from overbearing parents to nasty friends stand ing in her way. Australian newcomer P. J. Hogan wrote and directed this high-energy comedy, which earned several of this year's Australian Academy Awards. (R) S N P
oo1/2 Tragicomic, fast-moving plot, Muriel is superb.
*** 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.
ONCE WERE WARRIORS
*** A harrowing visit to the New Zealand household of an ethnic Maori woman whose husband has scarred their 18-year marriage with bouts of drunken violence. The drama is not so much artful as powerful; but its cry against domestic abuse is strong and unflinching. Lee Tamahori directed. (R) S V P
oo1/2Powerful, harsh, degrading portrayal of sex.
* A virus developed for biological warfare breaks loose in a California town, and military brass debate the issue while Dustin Hoffman tries to save the day. It's sad to see such an empty-headed movie on such an attention-worthy subject. Clunkily directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Morgan Freeman and Rene Russo head the hard-working but ill-fated supporting cast. (R) P V
** While wrestling with questions of conscience arising from his homosexuality, a Roman Catholic priest agonizes over whether he should break the secrecy of his confessional and intervene in a child-molesting case involving a local family. Antonia Bird's drama is serious, heartfelt, but ultimately too superficial for comfort especially when compared with a vastly superior effort like ''The Boys of St. Vincent.'' (R) S V P
*** 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.
**The up-and-down friendship of a hard-working young physician and his crotchety old grandpa. The story never gets beyond stereotypes and cliches, although Peter Falk manages to build some touching moments. Peter Yates directed. (PG) P S V
THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH
** Living on the Irish coast with her grandparents, a little girl hears local legends that take on vivid meaning in her life. John Sayles normally steers toward social realism in his movies, and while this fairy tale has many ingredients for effective family entertainment, he's not a graceful enough filmmaker to create the mystical mood he seeks. (PG)
oo1/2 Enchanting, slow; seals and seagulls are captivating.
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
*** Morgan Freeman gives a superb performance and Tim Robbins isn't far behind in Frank Darabont's intelligent drama about hope, loyalty, and friendship in a top-security prison. (R) S V P N
oooo Uplifting, powerful, distinct and believable characters.