David Sterritt Staff Panel Meaning
O\ O\ Don't bother
u q Poor
uu qq Fair
uuu qqq Good
uuuu qqqq Excellent
7 1 Half rating point
uuu A superb coming-of-age movie, following its hero's life from childhood to young adulthood, with special attention to the pains of family separation suffered by his mother and himself. Directed by Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray in 1956, as the second installment in his renowned ''Apu'' trilogy. Known as ''The Unvanquished'' in its English-subtitled version. (Not rated)
THE BASKETBALL DIARIES
uu Jim Carroll's autobiographical book is a largely amoral account of his life as a street hustler, narcotics addict, and high-school athletic star. Scott Kalvert's movie adds a kicking-the-habit sequence to give the impression that it's an antidrug story, but the results are more sleazy than insightful. Leonardo DiCaprio heads a generally excellent cast. (R) S V N P
BURNT BY THE SUN
uu The time is 1936, the place is an estate in the USSR, and the main character is an aging Bolshevik hero confronted by a Stalinist rival. Directed with much warmth but little energy by Nikita Mikhalkov, who also plays the central role. (R) P S V
uuu Absorbing but disturbing documentary about R. Crumb, a pioneer of kinky ''underground comix,'' bringing out both the vivid imagination and the raging sexual obsessions that have characterized his career. Directed by Terry Zwigoff over a six-year period, the film also gives a poignant account of Crumb's sadly dysfunctional family, providing clues as to why his talent evolved in such bizarre directions. (Not rated) P N S V
O\ Friendship develops between two boys, one of whom has AIDS, and they share various pranks and adventures before the unhappy ending. It's bad taste, bad filmmaking, and bad morality to use a phenomenon as serious as the AIDS crisis to prop up storytelling as trite and insipid as this. Directed by Peter Horton. (PG-13) P N V
KISS OF DEATH
uu David Caruso takes his ''NYPD Blue'' talent to the big screen, playing a New York City crook who lets himself get suckered into one last job, then agrees to squeal on his accomplices. Even nastier than the 1947 gangster film it's based on, this updated ''film noir'' is stronger on gruesome details than psychological involvement. It's well acted, though. Barbet Schroeder directed. (R) S V P
NEW JERSEY DRIVE
uuu Stealing cars and joy-riding become deadly pastimes for a group of African-American youngsters in a New Jersey ghetto. Nick Gomez doesn't recapture the full cinematic excitement of his first movie, ''Laws of Gravity,'' but he still shows himself to be a wildly talented young filmmaker with a piercing eye for life in the jungle of cities. (R) P V
WINGS OF COURAGE
u The first dramatic film in Imax 3-D is about an intrepid aviator trekking to civilization after crashing his plane in a South American mountain range. The snow is astoundingly real, the story is amazingly repetitious, and the movie is mercifully short, clocking in at around 40 minutes. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, it's designed to be shown as a regular large-screen attraction in Imax theaters not equipped for 3-D projection. (G)
Currently in Release
u A man with no memory of his past, a nun entering the secular world after 17 years of seclusion, and an actress of very dubious morality are the main characters of Hal Hartley's offbeat drama, which explores complicated issues of identity and sexual politics, but remains too schematic to gain the emotional impact it sorely needs. (R) S N V P
uuu In the 27th documentary of his distinguished career, Frederick Wiseman turns his camera on the American Ballet Theater, charting activities as varied 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
BYE BYE, LOVE
uuu 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. (PG-13) P S
qqq Insightful, funny, poignant.
CIRCLE OF FRIENDS
uu 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
qqq Heartwarming, engaging, beautiful scenery.
uu David Lean pulled out all the melodramatic stops in his film version of Boris Pasternak's novel about love and death in revolutionary Russia, but there's enough spark in the main performances to compensate for the top-heavy style. Robert Bolt wrote the ponderous screenplay and Freddie Young did the sumptuous cinematography. Restored to its full length of nearly 3-1/2 hours for its 30th-anniversary rerelease. (PG-13) S V
uuu 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
qqq Eerie, disturbingly violent; Kathy Bates is great.
DON JUAN DEMARCO
uu Romantic dreams abound as a burned-out psychiatrist (Marlon Brando) enters the make-believe world of a young patient (Johnny Depp) who thinks he's the famous Don Juan of bygone years. The picture has more charm than credibility, and its conquistador-like attitude toward women is mighty questionable; but the story becomes quite resonant if you see it as a fable about the once-legendary Brando vicariously regaining his youth by teaming with Depp in this all-stops-out movie fantasy. (PG-13) S N V P
qqq1 Refreshing, funny, clever.
uuu Desperate for some excitement in their humdrum lives, two teenage girls commit an appalling crime. Swinging between interviews with the main characters and flashbacks to their day of violence, Rafal Zelinsky's drama etches a chilling portrait of American society as a spiritual wasteland that's unwilling or unable to cultivate the vast potential of its youngest members. Produced about the same time as ''Heavenly Creatures,'' which it resembles in many ways. (Not rated) S V P
A GOOFY MOVIE
uu Single dads are so popular in Hollywood that even Goofy gets to be one, dragging his teenage son on a fishing trip so they can be better pals. Kevin Lima's feature-length cartoon has some funny moments, but why couldn't the gang at Walt Disney Pictures provide something for girls and moms to identify with, too? (G)
JEFFERSON IN PARIS
uuu 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. (PG-13) N S V
qq Slow, beautifully filmed; Nolte's Jefferson implausible.
uuu 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
uuu 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
qqqq Droll, powerful; fine acting by Nigel Hawthorne.
uu 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
uuu 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
qq1 Tragicomic, fast-moving plot, superb characters.
u 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
uu 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
uuu 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
qqq Surprising, wry, gory.
uu Sir Walter Scott's novel is turned inside-out by Michael Caton-Jones's movie, which transforms the title character from an elusive rogue into a conventional hero who swaggers across the screen from beginning to end. Liam Neeson plays him with conviction, and Tim Roth makes an uncommonly hissable villain. The adventure goes on too long, though, and wallows in nasty details that would have made Scott shudder. (R) S V P
qq1 Predictable plot, violent (sword slayings and brutal rape scene).
q The fearless comic strip-come-to-life ''Becca'' and her two mousy sidekicks face crisis after crisis in a violent futuristic world. Predictably, they fight off a legion of bad guys and enlist some weird victims-turned-good guys to help. Not successful at shattering stereotypes, the film ends as Becca is reunited with her team of girl fighters and smiles dreamily at her newly won, genetically altered man. (R) V N P By Christina Nifong.
q Chris Farley and David Spade (from ''Saturday Night Live'') star in this sophomoric slapstick comedy. Farley plays Tommy Boy, a witless kid who must save his father's auto-parts company from a conniving couple (played by Rob Lowe and Bo Derek); Spade is his smart-aleck sidekick. The two travel across the Midwest to sell brakes and find themselves in silly situations. There are a few good laughs in this corny movie, but overall, it's a no-brainer. (PG-13) P By Lisa Parney.