SEPTEMBER 29, 1995
Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted. Ratings and comments by the panel (blue stars) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three Monitor staffers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews.
David Sterritt Staff Panel Meaning
O\ O\ Forget it
u u Only if it's free
uu uu Maybe a matinee
uuu uuu Wait in line
uuuu uuuu See it twice
DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (R)
uu Down on his luck, an unemployed black man agrees to track down a missing white woman with connections to the local political establishment and the African-American community. Carl Franklin's drama is stylishly filmed and has vivid late-1940s atmosphere. The story soon lapses into familiar private-eye formulas, though, and the characters aren't interesting enough to hold much attention on their own. Denzel Washington's talent shines like a beacon over the film's other elements. S V P
I, THE WORST OF ALL (Not rated)
uuu The setting is Mexico in the 17th century, and the heroine is a nun who infuriates her superiors by refusing to stop writing poetry, studying the stars, and insisting that pursuit of knowledge is not a male prerogative. Directed with an elegant, sometimes heavy touch by the late Argentine filmmaker Maria Luisa Bemberg; based on Octavio Paz's account of the real-life poet who inspired the drama.
uuu Glowingly filmed adaptation of Jane Austen's late novel about life and love in 19th-century England, centering on the emotional life of a young woman who reencounters an attractive man she once spurned on the advice of a misguided friend. Directed by Roger Michell from Nick Dear's literate screenplay, which reflects the sly charm if not the rich complexity of Austen's mature prose.
u A young woman finds unsatisfying success as a nude dancer. In its depiction of the Las Vegas nightclub scene and in its own cinematic strategies, the film is quite instructive about the intersection of sex, money, and entertainment in some areas of popular American culture. Joe Eszterhas's cliche-ridden screenplay is dully directed by filmmaker Paul Verhoeven. N S V P
O\ Dumb, degrading, violent.
STEAL BIG, STEAL LITTLE (PG-13)
uu Andy Garcia plays Hispanic twins in this ragged comedy about one brother's effort to salvage a family estate from the other brother's exploitative schemes. The story is uneven, unwieldy, and much too long, but its ambition and sheer goofiness give it an intermittent charm. Alan Arkin and Rachel Ticotin head the good supporting cast. Andrew Davis directed. S V P
TO DIE FOR (R)
uuu Convinced that her lackadaisical husband is weighing down her hoped-for career as a media star, a TV weatherwoman entices a high-school student into eliminating her spouse. This satire of middle-class media madness owes more to screenwriter Buck Henry than to director Gus Van Sant, who courts mass-market appeal by softpedaling his usually subversive style. The result is a conventional dark comedy with moments of unexpectedly biting wit. S V P N
Currently in Release
APOLLO 13 (PG)
uu A near-catastrophic NASA mission of 1970 is the subject of this fact-based drama about three astronauts who head for the moon, lose control of their expedition when an oxygen tank explodes, and refocus their attention on getting back to Earth in one piece. There's not much suspense, since audiences know the real-life incident ended safely, but director Ron Howard spins the story with enough gusto and gumption to make it reasonably entertaining. Tom Hanks heads a solid cast that includes Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, and Bill Paxton in lead roles. P
uuuu Intriguing, instructive, glorious.
uuu He's a pig who longs to be a sheepdog, to the consternation of his barnyard friends and the confusion of the humans who own him. The movie is at times raucous, but its spirits couldn't be higher, and the tale teaches a good-natured lesson about why cooperation is better than coercion. Best of all is the very funny climax, which should have grownups brushing away happy tears along with their kids. Directed by Chris Noonan.
uuu Hilarious, delightful, and appealing to adults.
BRAVEHEART (Re-Release, rated R)
uu Aye, here's a wee bit of three-hour epic about a handsome 13th-century hero freeing Scotland from its English overlords. Directed by and starring Mel Gibson, who puts more brawn than brain into both jobs. V S N P
uuu Engrossing history lesson, violent battle scenes.
THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN (R)
uu The personal, family, and romantic adventures of three Irish-American brothers in the New York City suburbs. The movie tries earnestly to blend wry humor with a no-nonsense charm deemed appropriate for its working-class characters, but the acting and scripting are too uneven for either the drama or the comedy to gather much steam. Written and directed by Edward Burns, who also plays one of the main characters. S P
uuu Unpretentious, funny, frank.
CANADIAN BACON (PG)
uu Deciding the US needs a fresh enemy to rally against now that the cold war is over, the president declares a crusade against Canada, prompting a gung-ho Niagara Falls sheriff to launch a guerrilla raid on the new evil empire. Written and directed by Michael Moore, this over-the-top comedy blends sardonic political satire with dumb-and-dumber jokes aimed at fans of the late John Candy, who heads the cast. P V
uuu Spike Lee plunges into the world of underclass crime, focusing on a small-time cocaine dealer who agonizes over his brother's arrest for murder. All the while he must steer a course between a psychopathic drug supplier and a hard-nosed homicide detective. Lee tells this harsh-toned story through a bold cinematic style that calls as much attention to itself as to the real-world problems he wants to explore. While the result is visually brilliant, it's oddly disjointed and packs less emotional force t han Richard Price's novel. Delroy Lindo and Harvey Keitel give the best performances. V P
uu Valley-girl types cope with life, love, and clothes in a Los Angeles high school. For a while, it's like really cool, with lots of energy and stuff, but then it gets like major repetitious, and you wish it was like over, y'know? As if! Directed by comedy specialist Amy Heckerling. P
uu So totally entertaining, playful, clued in.
DANGEROUS MINDS (R)
u Michelle Pfeiffer plays a new teacher confronting a class of inner-city students with various chips on their shoulders. Movie stars have tamed sassy kids in movies from ''The Blackboard Jungle'' to ''Stand and Deliver,'' but it's hard to remember an example more patronizing or sentimentalized than this one. Directed by John N. Smith, whose earlier ''The Boys of St. Vincent'' is incomparably superior in every department. V P
uu Predictable, patronizing, shallow.
uu Vengeance and violence follow a man stalking an elusive enemy with a guitar case full of guns. There are enough clever cinematic setups to make this an improvement over Robert Rodriguez's previous picture, the hyperactive ''El Mariachi,'' and Steve Buscemi gives a winning performance that's over all too soon. But for the most part, this is just another exercise in snappy editing and over-the-top mayhem that will leave most grown-up moviegoers cold. Antonio Banderas stars. V S N P
uu El Pulpo Fictiono, ludicrous, satirical, shallow.
DOUBLE HAPPINESS (PG-13)
uuu Even single happiness is hard to grasp when you're a young Chinese-Canadian woman with an acting career that's stalled at the starting line, a white boyfriend who's a little too pushy, and old-fashioned parents who think they always know what's best. Mina Shum's debut film is consistently warm and amusing, although its energy flags a bit as the story unfolds. P
THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD (PG)
uu A nine-year-old New Yorker becomes the owner of a magical cupboard that brings his toys to life. This gives him two new friends - a miniature Indian and cowboy - and also the difficult job of keeping them a secret from uncomprehending adults. The story is sensitively told, reminding young moviegoers that history is made of real people, not the caricatures who inhabit Hollywood myths. The film contains caricatures of its own, though, and the rap artist called Litefoot makes a lead-footed acting debut in the title role. Directed by Frank Oz. V P
uuu Delightful, caring, imaginative.
uuu The film version of Paul Rudnick's hit Off Broadway comedy about a young gay man (Steven Weber of TV's ''Wings'') who decides against sex in the era of AIDS. The play's impressionistic tableaux of homosexual life doesn't translate with complete success to the screen, but there are many hilarious lines. Blatant sexuality shows up in some scenes. Patrick Stewart (of ''Star Trek'' fame) is a riot. S N P By Frank Scheck
uu Provocative, amusing, poignant.
A KID IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT (PG)
O\ Where he defeats a bad knight and befriends a princess before zooming back to the modern USA in time to win a ballgame. Rarely do the well-financed wizards at Walt Disney Pictures cook up a movie this badly written, acted, and directed. Released with ''Runaway Brain,'' a mildly amusing Mickey Mouse cartoon with a G rating, which is often featured just before the movie. The directors were Michael Gottlieb for the feature, Chris Bailey for the cartoon. V
LAST OF THE DOGMEN (PG)
uu Wistful tale of a solitary mountain man and a college professor who discover the last remaining group of native Americans living in the wild. These Indians are hidden in the mountains of Big Sky country. The plot is too schmaltzy to be believed and even has a chase scene reminiscent of the ''Electric Cowboy.'' Entertaining even if it is fantastic. By Joyce McMillin
u Flat, ho-hum, naive.
LIVING IN OBLIVION (R)
uuu This is a low-budget independent film about the making of a low-budget independent film; fortunately, the picture we're watching is a zillion times more entertaining than the movie-within-the-movie appears to be. Written and directed by Tom DiCillo, the comedy reaches out most strongly to movie buffs who enjoy peering behind the scenes. But even casual spectators should enjoy its frequently hilarious satire on cinematic pretensions. Steve Buscemi leads the smartly chosen cast. S N P
LORD OF ILLUSIONS (R)
uu A private eye pursues a magician whose illusions are supernatural tricks of the most sinister kind. Clive Barker's horror yarn starts with a really original wallop, then sinks into standard chiller-diller gore. Scott Bakula stars. V N P
MAGIC IN THE WATER (PG)
uu Orky is a sea monster who loves chocolate cookies, and while most folks in town don't believe he exists, he helps two kids develop a closer relationship with their workaholic dad during an adventure-filled vacation. Rick Stevenson directed this mildly entertaining fantasy. P
A MONTH BY THE LAKE (PG)
uu Vanessa Redgrave and Edward Fox give amiable performances in this lightweight comedy about four characters who almost pair off with the wrong partners during a sun-struck vacation in an Italian resort. Directed by John Irvin with a self-consciously playful touch.
qqq Enchanting, gentle, comic.
MUTE WITNESS (R)
uu Working after hours in a Moscow movie studio, a mute woman witnesses a brutal murder, discovers it's part of a sinister conspiracy, and runs from killers who're determined to eliminate her before she can blow the whistle. Anthony Waller's violent drama has little depth but lots of twists, turns, and surprises. V P S N
uu She's a Transylvanian vampire on the loose in New York, and a dedicated monster-hunter is on her trail. The story has little to offer, but the movie takes on strong visual interest when director Michael Almereyda allows it to get really weird, creating some of his effects with a toy Pixelvision camera. Elina Lowensohn is convincing as the title character, but Galaxy Craze is irritatingly self-absorbed in the other key female role, and it's hard to imagine what Peter Fonda thinks he's doing as the str aggly-haired hero. V S P
National Lampoon's Senior Trip (R)
O\ Whatever significance the National Lampoon trademark may have had is dissipated by this witless slapstick comedy about a disastrous road trip undertaken by a group of high school students. The only saving graces are Matt Frewer's well-timed comic performance as a hapless principal, and, for 1970s cultists, Tommy Chong reprising his shtick as a blissed-out druggie. S P By Frank Scheck
THE NET (PG-13)
u Computer hacker-hero vs. high-tech saboteurs. Sandra Bullock is her usual appealing self, but she can't transcend the predictable material she's programmed with here. Directed by Irwin Winkler, a filmmaker with more social awareness than cinematic imagination. V P
uuu Fast-paced, exciting, implausible.
THE POSTMAN (''IL POSTINO'') (PG)
uuuu Exiled by his 1950s political foes to a fishing village off the Italian coast, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda strikes up an unexpected friendship with a meek postman who's one of the island's few literate inhabitants. Directed with exquisite care by Michael Radford, this loosely fact-based drama is both a touching story of mutual affection and a deeply intelligent essay on the relationship between nature and culture. Philippe Noiret is a fully believable Neruda, even if the screenplay doesn't reflect th e rich variety of the actual poet's work, and the late Massimo Troisi is brilliant as his unlikely companion. S P
uuuu Poetic, tender, quietly humorous.
The Prophecy (R)
uu This wacky horror film written and directed by Gregory Widen (he also wrote ''Highlander'') revolves around a group of wayward angels fighting over people's souls. The main reason to see it is Christopher Walken's wild turn as the baddest angel of all; this gifted actor pulls out the stops with his outrageous mannerisms, and is clearly having the time of his life (even if his career is threatening to turn into Bela Lugosi's). Be prepared for many gruesome scenes of charred corpses, and much profane, hard-boiled dialogue. V P N By Frank Scheck
uuu Two cops, a fresh newcomer, and a jaded veteran track down a serial killer whose grisly crimes echo the seven deadly sins. Although the story's basic setup is anything but original, it's powerfully directed by David Fincher, and Morgan Freeman gives another of his superbly understated performances. Be warned that the picture contains enough horrific details to make it a worthy successor to ''The Silence of the Lambs,'' which obviously inspired it. Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey round out the principle c ast. S V P N
SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT (R)
uu A husband's infidelity sparks a crisis in a seemingly happy marriage. Fans of the overrated ''Steel Magnolias'' should find much to enjoy in Lasse Hallstrom's dramatic comedy, which combines a character-driven scrrenplay with a colorful Southern setting. Both the humor and the poignancy stay strictly on the surface, though, and the story's occasional signs of lifelike ambiguity are canceled by a tacked-on happy ending. Julia Roberts gives one of her best screen performances, but is still out-classed by Gena Rowlands and Robert Duvall. Written by Callie Khouri and photographed by Sven Nykvist. V P
uu Funny, uneven, not high-reaching.
THE STARS FELL ON HENRIETTA (PG)
uu A rascally but lovable old coot gets the notion that dowsing for oil is his ticket out of the Depression that's causing heartache for his rural Texas neighbors. Robert Duvall gives another of his compulsively watchable performances, but the story is trite and few of the char- acters are very interesting. Directed by James Keach. V
THEREMIN - AN ELECTRONIC ODYSSEY (PG)
uuu The life and times of Leon Theremin, the Russian inventor who dreamed up the first electronic musical instrument in 1920, and also pioneered sur- veillance ''bugs'' for the Soviet government, which showed its appreciation by having the KGB kidnap him. This informative and entertaining documentary was smartly directed by Steve M. Martin, no relation to the other Steve Martin.
TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR (PG-13)
u Three female impersonators from Manhattan spend an unexpected weekend in a remote little town. Pre- sumably this comedy wants to promote tolerance and diversity - so why is its attitude toward rural people, working men, and other ''normal'' targets so insulting and condescending? Directed by Beeban Kidron from Douglas Carter Beane's aimless screenplay. In all, a pathetic echo of ''The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,'' which had real insights into its unconventional subject. Wesley Snipes , Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo star, with a cameo by Robin Williams. P V
uu Droll, tolerant, poorly written.
UNSTRUNG HEROES (PG)
uu Buffeted by family problems, a 12-year-old boy goes to live with two uncles whose eccentricities make his own troubled household seem almost tame. Diane Keaton directed this ragged but lively comedy-drama from Richard LaGravenese's imaginative screenplay. Michael Richards and Maury Chaykin play the rowdy relatives, supported by Andie MacDowell as the boy's dying mother and John Turturro as his brainy father. Nathan Watt is best of all as the young hero. V P
uu Heavy, bittersweet, often slow-moving.
uuu Wildly entertaining documentary tracing the activities of fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi as he prepares to unveil his 1994 collection at a New York show. Directed with nonstop energy by Douglas Keeve and imaginatively photographed by Ellen Kuras in black-and-white and color. Bold, boisterous, beautiful. P
uuu Eclectic, good-humored, lively.
uu A former convict battles a computer-generated villain. Like the more inventive ''Natural Born Killers,'' this is a movie that chides its audience for gawking at violence while wallowing in violence from beginning to end. Flashes of wit and imagination can't disguise its basic nastiness, although Denzel Washington's talent still shines through the mayhem. Directed by Brett Leonard. V N P
uu Amateur, cybertrash, laughable.
A WALK IN THE CLOUDS (PG-13)
uuu A recently returned World War II veteran poses as the husband of an unwed mother-to-be, and finds himself in a complex relationship with her Mexican-American family, who operate a vineyard as traditional as the Old World values they espouse. The tale is far from original, but director Alfonso Arau bathes it in a golden glow that goes beyond nostalgia to sheer dreaminess, lending a touch of Latin-style magic realism that suits the picture perfectly. Keanu Reeves and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon make appealin g protagonists, although Giancarlo Giannini and Anthony Quinn get the best lines. V
uu Touching, unconvincing, beautifully filmed.