The Monitor Movie Guide
OCTOBER 20, 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
ACROSS THE SEA OF TIME (G)
uuu Made in the IMAX 3D process, this nostalgic little drama centers on an immigrant boy who wanders the streets of New York City looking for a long-lost relative's home, guided by old photos and the words of an ancestor who made a similar voyage many years earlier. The story is sappy, and the portrait of New York is hopelessly romantic. The views of Manhattan are positively breathtaking, though, making this a strong candidate for best IMAX movie ever made.
GET SHORTY (R)
uu A mob money-collector flies into Hollywood on the trail of a client who's absconded with a bagful of cash. There he meets a Grade Z producer with Grade A ambitions, an actress with similar credentials, and a Major Star who wants to learn gangster-speak by hanging around with our hero. John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, and Danny DeVito give appealing perfor- mances, but director Barry Sonnenfeld has reduced the bite of Elmore Leonard's novel, making this more a smart-alecky trifle than the wicked Tinseltown satire it might have been. V P S
LES MISeRABLES (R)
u French filmmaker Claude Lelouch intertwines themes from Victor Hugo's great novel "Les Miserables" with a tale of suffering, intrigue, and triumph in France during the Nazi years. The movie is colorful, ambitious, and useful insofar as it brings French collaboration with Nazi Germany into a film aimed at popular audiences. But writer-director Lelouch drenches the story in the breezy romanticism that's always been his trademark, swamping the moral seriousness of the troubling material he's chosen to depict. S V P
Currently in Release
THE ADDICTION (Not rated)
uuu A graduate student becomes a vampire, stalking her prey through Greenwich Village streets and school- rooms. Barely under control at times, Abel Ferrara's ambitious shocker takes huge risks by using horror-movie conventions to explore profoundly serious issues of modern humanity's capacity for evil. The result is flawed, ferocious, and grimly fascinating. Lili Taylor stars. S V P
u Two hit men try to rub each other out while feuding over a woman who peddles industrial secrets. It's all very slick and action-packed, but there's not an original moment to be seen or heard. Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas, and Julianne Moore play the leads. Richard Donner directed. V P
u Improbable, tiring, meaningless.
AUGUSTIN (NOT RATED)
uuu He's a natural-born actor who supports himself with run-of-the-mill jobs while awaiting the stardom that's surely just around the corner. Jean-Chretien Sibertin-Blanc gives a priceless performance in this short-and-sweet French comedy, directed by Anne Fontaine, his very talented sister. P
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, appealing to adults.
BLUE IN THE FACE (R)
uuu Harvey Keitel reprises the role he played in "Smoke," a friendly cigar-store clerk whose modest establishment serves as a meeting place for various denizens of his racially mixed Brooklyn neighborhood. This time all the scenes are improvised around brief scenarios written by Paul Auster, who directed the movie in partnership with Wayne Wang. The results are ragged, disjointed, and endearing. Other cast members include Giancarlo Esposito, Jim Jarmusch, Madonna, and Roseanne. P S N
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.
BROKEN HARVEST (PG)
uu Family tensions, financial pressures, and lingering Civil War resentments bring difficulty to a farmer's life in Ireland in the 1950s. Some powerful material appears in this Irish production, but writer-director Maurice O'Callaghan is stronger on scenic details than imaginative storytelling. V P
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 than Richard Price's novel. Delroy Lindo and Harvey Keitel give the best performances. V P
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.
DEAD PRESIDENTS (R)
uuu A young black man fights terrible battles in Vietnam, returns to a miserable life in the South Bronx, and succumbs to the temptation of a high-stakes robbery that could make his family more comfortable. Much of the film plays like a standard inner-city melodrama in the vein of "Menace II Society," the previous Hughes Brothers picture. What lends special interest is its provocative insistence on probing the links between urban violence and military indoctrination. S V P
DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (R)
uu 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
uuu Earthy, suspenseful, Denzel dazzles.
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
FEAST OF JULY (R)
u Two brothers feud over a somewhat mysterious young woman who's moved into their household and is trying desperately to overcome memories of her difficult past. This prettily photographed English drama has much appealing 19th-century atmosphere, but the story is unsurprising, and we've met these characters too many times before. Directed by Christopher Menaul. V S P
HALFAOUINE (Not RATED)
uuu A boy comes of age amid the complexities of Arab folk culture in this colorful and instructive drama. Also known as "Boy of the Terraces." S N V
HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT (PG-13)
uu While visiting her grandmother's house, where she plans to finish a school project and decide whether to marry her boyfriend, a student gets caught up in the reminiscences of older women who gather to work on a quilt with "Where Love Resides" as its theme. The movie does a nice job of stitching together several different stories. Unfortunately, director Jocelyn Moorhouse works against the screenplay's diversity by filming all the action in the same syrupy style. The cast includes Winona Ryder, Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Alre Woodard, and Maya Angelou. S N P
uuu Heartwarming, sentimental, insightful.
THE JAR (Not rated)
uuu A crack develops in the water-storage jar at a school in Iran's central desert, sparking a series of comic and dramatic events. Ebrahim Foruzesh's quietly realistic film is slender but endearing. V
KICKING AND SCREAMING (R)
uuu A visit with twenty-somethings who stick around their college after graduation because they can't think of anything else to do. Written and directed by newcomer Noah Baumbach with an excellent ear for absurdity and a keen eye for the offhand realities of everyday life in a den of unmitigated slack. P N S
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.
uuu Enchanting, gentle, comic.
MOONLIGHT AND VALENTINO (R)
uuu Friendship, marriage, and motherhood are considered in this film about a group of women including a best friend, two sisters, and an ex-stepmother helping the central character cope with the sudden loss of her husband. While it is not a masterpiece, there are some great moments of insight and humor. It includes some sexual content and commentary, but none is explicit. Cast includes Kathleen Turner, Elizabeth Perkins, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jon Bon Jovi. S By Terri Theiss
uuu Compassionate, introspective, funny.
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 straggly-haired hero. V S P
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.
uuuu Authentic, understated, a Jane Austen gem.
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 the 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 cast. S V P N
u Horrifying, repulsive, masterly cinematography.
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.
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
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
STRANGE DAYS (R)
uuu On the eve of the 21st century, a former cop hustles an illegal entertainment device that pumps sensory impressions into the brain, and could provide clues to a murder that's threatening a massive race riot. Kathryn Bigelow's science-fiction epic is a stunning technical achievement and a bold catalog of provocative social issues, converging in a finale that's either a Hollywood happy ending or a blatant ideological cop-out, depending on your point of view. The picture contains enough violence to spark a controversy all its own. Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Lewis, and Angela Bassett star. S V N P
u Perverse, caustic, leaves you spinning.
TO DIE FOR (R)
uuu Convinced that her lackadaisical husband is weighing down her hoped-for career as a media star, a TV weatherwoman seduces 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 (Includes explicit sex scenes.)
uuu Captivating, sly; Kidman's role is a scream.
TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING... (PG-13)
u Three female impersonators from Manhattan spend an unexpected weekend in a remote little town. Presumably 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.
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 him- self in a complex relationship with her Mexican-American family. The tale is far from original, but director Alfonso Arau bathes it in a golden glow that goes beyond nostalgia to sheer dreaminess. Keanu Reeves and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon make appealing protagonists, although Giancarlo Giannini and Anthony Quinn get the best lines. V
uu Touching, unconvincing, beautifully filmed.