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
uuuu ''The Music Room'' is the English-language title of this 1958 masterpiece by Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, about a declining aristocrat who descends into unwinnable class warfare with a local businessman by competing to see which of them can stage the most elaborate entertainments in his home. Only a melodramatic ending mars the excellence of Ray's superbly acted and exquisitely photographed tale, which is packed with an unusually large quantity of wonderful Indian music. (Not rated)
uu A mob assassin returns to his Russian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn for a killing he's been ordered to commit and becomes reentangled with his estranged father, his admiring young brother, and a girlfriend with ambivalent feelings toward him and his violent work. Written and directed by newcomer James Gray, who makes up in melancholy atmosphere what he loses in dramatic urgency. (R) S V N P
Currently in Release
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
BETTY BOOP CONFIDENTIAL
uuuu One of the all-time-great cartoon compilations, serving up 11 classics made in the early to mid-'30s by Max and Dave Fleischer, with a few photographed in vivacious color. Some have dull stretches, especially when a bouncing ball invites us to croon some boring tune along with Ethel Merman or Lillian Roth, but others are dreamlike and dazzling. The likes of ''Dancing on the Moon'' and the astonishing ''Bimbo's Initiation'' have never been encountered since. (Not rated)
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.
uuu The setting is a submarine on its way to confront nuclear-armed Russian rebels. The main action is a showdown between the sub's commander, a flinty veteran of many conflicts, and the executive officer, a thoughtful young fellow with more book-learning than experience. The movie has nothing intelligent to say about post-cold-war tensions or anything else, but it's great fun to watch Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington square off in a submarine that looks like a cross between the Starship Enterprise and something you'd get in a cereal box. Tony Scott directed. (R) V P
qqq Suspenseful, intense, two main actors are excellent.
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
DESTINY TURNS ON THE RADIO
Turn it off, quick! Jack Baran's muddled adventure-comedy centers on a godlike character who dogs the trail of an escaped prisoner chasing a bundle of loot and a former girlfriend. Quentin Tarantino does the liveliest acting, which shows how low the picture's standards are. (R) P V S
u Lackluster thriller about a misunderstanding that leads an ordinary guy into a frantic flight from cops and killers. Directed by James Bruce. (Not rated) S V P
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 resonant if you see it as a fable about 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.
The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain
qq A whimsical, small-scale item about a surveyor (Hugh Grant) in Wales, circa 1917, who arrives in a village to measure the terrain. When the residents discover that their pride and joy is going to be designated a hill instead of a mountain (it's short by 20 feet), they conspire to keep him there while they lug buckets of dirt to the top. Even Grant's comic skills and charm can't save the film from triviality. (PG) By Frank Scheck
ETERNITY/ IS THAT ALL THERE IS?
uuu ''Is That All There Is?'' is a sly and intimate self-portrait by the late Lindsay Anderson, who directed such celebrated movies as ''If...'' and ''This Sporting Life'' as well as many important stage productions. ''Eternity'' is an artful semidocumentary about an Englishman who devoted much of his life to scrawling the word ''eternity'' on streets and sidewalks. These essays make a stimulating double bill. (Not rated) P
uu Romantic comedy about an American woman who chases her straying Canadian fiance from Toronto to Paris, and picks up a new French boyfriend along the way. Kevin Kline has some amusing moments, but Meg Ryan's acting runs out of energy, and Lawrence Kasdan's directing is too laid-back to help her out. Adam Brooks (''The Big Chill,'' ''The Accidental Tourist'') wrote the occasionally snappy screenplay. (PG-13) P N
qq Interminable, too cute, Kevin Kline carries the film.
A GoofY MOVIE
uu Single dads are so popular in Hollywood that even Goofy gets to be one, dragging his 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.
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
q Ugly, sexist, extremely violent.
A LITTLE PRINCESS
uuu When her father goes to fight in World War I, a creative young girl finds herself trapped in a nasty boarding school where she's reduced to the status of a mistreated servant. This comedy-drama for children is made with more intelligence and imagination than many of the so-called art films that come our way, filling the screen with vivid images that ideally suit its fanciful plot. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron from a screenplay by Richard LaGravenese and Elizabeth Chandler, based on a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel. (G) V
MY FAMILY (Mi Familia)
qqq ''My Family'' is the tale of a Mexican family in East L.A. related through the narration of its eldest son. The story is told with great humor, but it attempts to make a few too many social statements. Thoughtful performances and a strong sense of family love and moral values make it an enjoyable work. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. P V By Terri Theiss
qqq Picturesque, instructive, original plot.
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.
THE PEREZ FAMILY
uu Eager to enter the United States after the Mariel boatlift in 1980, four Cuban emigrants with the same last name assemble themselves into a phony family to improve their chances of joining American society. Mira Nair's romantic comedy-drama has a generous heart and a lively spirit, but it's rarely as funny or touching as it sets out to be. Marisa Tomei and Alfred Molina head the energetic cast. (R) S V P
qqq Thought-provoking, lively, unrealistic ending.
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, violent (sword slayings, brutal rape scene).
SEARCH AND DESTROY
uu Griffin Dunne plays a small-time entrepreneur who wants to make a film version of a didactic novel written by a self-help guru. Dennis Hopper is hilarious as the guru and Illeana Douglas is appealing as the hero's new girlfriend. Others in the cast, including such excellent actors as Christopher Walken and John Turturro, give surprisingly weak performances. Directed by painter David Salle in his cinematic debut; unfortunately, he lacks the filmmaking savvy to unify the screenplay's inconsistent events and atmospheres. Written by Michael Almereyda from Howard Korder's play. (R) S V P N
uuu After a long absence from home, an irresponsible young man renews old relationships with his affectionate mother, his ambivalent brother, and a former girlfriend who's acquired a menacing new lover. Jealousies and resentments flare, and soon he's mixed up in a dangerous crime that could wreck the lives of all involved. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, this remake of the 1949 melodrama ''Criss Cross'' is stylish and surprising, if a bit arty at times. (R) V S P
VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED
uu Remake of John Wyndham's tale about a bunch of sinister children born into a sleepy town terrorized by their unearthly powers. Some scenes convey the unsettling plot twists with chilling restraint. Other sequences are violent and vacuous, losing the spirit of the 1960 version by Wolf Rilla, a model of crisp science-fiction storytelling. Directed by John Carpenter, who also composed the effective music with Dave Davies.(R) V
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING
qqq A lonely train-token collector (Sandra Bullock) saves the life of an attorney she's had a crush on from afar. Now he's in a coma, and his boisterous family is misled to believe that she's his fiancee (and they couldn't be happier). Reluctant to upset them with the truth and enjoying family life during the holidays -- she plays along. Enter the sensitive brother (Bill Pullman) who is suspicious of the engagement, but can't resist her unassuming charm. This light, romantic comedy is somewhat predictable, but well-acted, and its message that ''nice things happen to nice people'' is refreshing. (PG) P By a staff panel
qqq Delightful, predictable, a film to please all generations.