DECEMBER 1, 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
THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD (R)
u Seeing this movie isn't one of them. Accepting one last job, a retired hit man finds himself on the wrong side of a nasty enemy, and the outcome is like a nincompoop version of ''The Usual Suspects,'' which unfolds a somewhat similar story with more success on every level. Gary Fleder directed Scott Rosenberg's screenplay. Andy Garcia and Christopher Walken head the unfortunate cast. S N V P
WHEN BILLY BROKE HIS HEAD ... AND OTHER TALES OF WONDER (Not rated)
uuu Refusing to accept limitation in his busy and fulfilling life, Billy Golfus wrote and narrated this autobiographical film about the ongoing campaign of disabled Americans to be recognized as complete and productive members of society. The movie is by turns charming, harrowing, and remarkably funny. Directed by Golfus with David E. Simpson. P
WHITE MAN'S BURDEN (R)
u In a fictional US where race relations are reversed, a white laborer kidnaps a black executive who inadvertently ruined his life, and each grows a bit wiser before events take a tragic turn. The novelty of the premise doesn't keep the story from seeming trite and arbitrary, and despite its apparently good intentions the picture can be seen as just another exercise in making African-Americans look unappealing on the screen. Harry Belafonte and John Travolta give earnest performances, though. Written and directed by Desmond Nakano. V P
WILD BILL (R)
uu Raucous retelling of the Wild Bill Hickok story, portraying the frontier hero as dirty, dangerous, lecherous, and so ill-tempered you wonder why any sane person would stay in the same town with him. Jeff Bridges has a good time wallowing in his down-and-dirty role, and Ellen Barkin almost makes Calamity Jane into a character from life instead of legend. Directed by action specialist Walter Hill, the movie is a job well done but not necessarily one worth doing. V S N P
Currently in Release
ACE VENTURA 2: WHEN NATURE CALLS (PG-13)
u Jim Carrey & cast have some hilarious moments - especially the opening parody of ''Cliffhanger.'' But this is mostly a couple hours of the rubber-faced, very likable Carrey mugging for the camera. Youngsters may enjoy it. But the humor is generally of the genre heard in the boys' locker room at the high school gym. By John Dillin
uu Sophomoric, bathroom humor; Jim Carrey shines.
THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (PG-13)
uuu Comedy about a well-meaning but wishy-washy chief executive who happens to be a widower. He learns a few things about principle and commitment when political enemies make a phony character issue out of his romantic relationship with an attractive lobbyist. Michael Douglas and Annette Bening head the well-chosen cast, but what gives the movie substance is its willingness to take real stands on real political issues. Rob Reiner directed. P
uuu Clintonesque, lightweight, snappy dialogue.
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
A BUSINESS AFFAIR (Not rated)
uu Comedy-drama about an aspiring writer caught between her egotistical husband, an established author, and a self-important publisher who wants to steal her away from him. Carole Bouquet is an attractive heroine, and it's fun watching actors as talented as Christopher Walken and Jonathan Pryce compete for attention. Charlotte Brandstrom's directing rarely shines, though, and the jokes are more pretentious than amusing. N V P
uuu Drama about the long relationship between author Lytton Strachey and painter Dora Carrington, with emphasis on the complications raised by Strachey's homosexuality. Although it lapses into sensationalism, explicit sex, and historical inaccuracy, the movie convincingly portrays unconventional artists who crystallized a unique moment in post-Victorian culture. Emma Thompson is appealing as the title character, and Jonathan Pryce does more acting with his bushy beard than most actors manage with their whole bodies. Christopher Hampton directed his own screenplay, and Michael Nyman composed the evocative score. S N P
uu Self-indulgent, amoral, well-acted.
uuu Martin Scorsese spins the seamy tale of a gambling impresario who runs a Las Vegas casino with help and hindrance from tough-guy associates, his drug-abusing wife, and a childhood friend with a dangerously unstable streak. The filmmaking is brilliant and creative, but the story is as cold and superficial as the jewels one crooked character likes to steal. Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone head the excellent cast. S N V P
uu Excessively violent, long, Stone is superb.
uu Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver play a cop and a psychologist trying to trap a serial killer who imitates the crimes of his most famous predecessors. The acting is capable and the suspense is effective at times, but the gore is grisly and the climax is surprisingly hokey. Jon Amiel directed. V P N
THE CROSSING GUARD (R)
uuu Sensitive, sometimes disturbing drama about a grieving father who wants revenge against the man who killed his daughter in a drunk-driving accident. Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston give mature performances as the bereaved parents, and David Morse brings an offbeat touch to the basically decent man who traumatized their lives. Written and directed by Sean Penn, fast becoming one of the most interesting filmmakers of his generation. N S P V
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
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
FRANKIE STARLIGHT (R)
uu The memoirs of an Irish dwarf with a troubled family history, told in flashback as he experiences the challenge of becoming a popular author who fits few of the public's expectations. Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the picture is often sentimental but rarely slides into real tear-jerker territory. Anne Parillaud, Matt Dillon, and Gabriel Byrne give likable performances, and newcomer Corban Walker steals the movie as the astronomy-loving title character. S N V P
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 perform- ances, 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
uuu Wry, satirical, wacky but violent.
uuu Bond is back, and he's better than ever. Pierce Brosnan plays OO7 - the secret agent with a proper smirk, some great lines, a to-die-for car, a beautiful woman, a wicked one, and a couple of nasty bad guys. Bond is still a misogynist dinosaur, but Brosnan makes him irresistible fun. A few editing flaws and a scene of one-on-one combat that goes on too long can't keep ''Goldeneye'' from being highly entertaining. By Carol Hartman S V P N
uuuu Explosive, zany, Bondescent.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
uuu When 30-something Claudia goes home for Thanksgiving, she takes us along on a disjointed but often hilarious ride through family and Americana. The film has several warm and insightful moments, but it highlights family dysfunction and issues surrounding a homosexual marriage. Holly Hunter, Ann Bancroft, and Robert Downey Jr. give strong performances. By Terri Theiss P
uu Empathetic, touching, adolescent.
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, and Alfre Woodard. S N P
uuu Heartwarming, sentimental, insightful.
THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING (PG-13)
uu A white mountain man helps a runaway slave escape her cruel master. The story is filmed with picturesque skill by director John Duigan, but it would seem more powerful and authentic if it paid due attention to the brave woman at the heart of the adventure, instead of following Hollywood convention and letting her white friend grab the limelight. Jason Patric and Thandie Newton star. Narrated by poet Maya Angelou. V P S
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
LEAVING LAS VEGAS (R)
uuu The ill-starred love affair of two misfits in an uncaring world. Rarely have the miseries of alcoholism and prostitution been portrayed with such cautionary force, or such an unshakable sense of compassion for their victims. Directed by Mike Figgis with a keen eye for revealing visual details and a brilliant ear for musical underpinnings that enrich scene after scene. A tacked-on ''uplifting'' finale provides the only false note. Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue head the excellent cast. S N V P
LESSONS OF DARKNESS (Not rated) AND
SATYA: A PRAYER FOR THE ENEMY (Not rated)
uuu A powerful double bill. ''Lessons of Darkness,'' directed by German filmmaker Werner Herzog, is a cinematically stunning look at the near-apocalyptic devastation caused by environmental effects of the Persian Gulf war. ''Satya: A Prayer for the Enemy'' is American filmmaker Ellen Bruno's visually poetic, verbally graphic account of Tibetan nuns who bravely resisted China's occupation of their country. Both are well worth viewing on cultural, artistic, and moral grounds. V
MIGHTY APHRODITE (R)
uu Woody Allen plays a married sportswriter who adopts a baby boy, becomes obsessed with finding the child's mother - a prostitute with the proverbial heart of gold - and then tries to hold his marriage together as he and his wife flirt with illicit relationships. Tabloid readers will find many connections between this slightly dark comedy and the highly publicized controversies of Allen's own life. Others will find a few hilarious jokes surrounded by flimsy attempts at self-justification. Mira Sorvino and Helena Bonham Carter lead the fine supporting cast. 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.
MONEY TRAIN (R)
uu Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson are back together for some laughs and macho action. This time, instead of sinking baskets they're transit-cop brothers trying to steal an armored subway train full of cash, and seduce their equally tough female partner along the way. Slick and slightly amusing at times, but for the most part unimaginative. Still, the public will sleep better knowing this duo has our best interests in mind. Directed by Joseph Ruben. P V S By Caren Krams
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. By Terri Theiss S
uuu Compassionate, introspective, funny.
NICK OF TIME (R)
u Johnny Depp's daughter is kidnapped, and he has 90 minutes to assassinate the governor of California or the kid gets it. What can he do? If you're him or anyone in the audience, you keep looking at your watch. The story is told in real time, starting at noon and ending at 1:30 - probably how long it took to shoot the movie. Christopher Walken walks through his role as the looming psycho in this misdirected action thriller, where the gimmick runs out of time before the film does. Directed by John Badham. P V By Caren Krams
NOW AND THEN (PG-13)
uuu Lightweight coming-of-age movie about girls growing up in a small Indiana town in the 1970s. Of the three current films about women (''Moonlight and Valentino'' and ''How to Make an American Quilt'' are the others), this is the least introspective but the most fun. Baby boomers will enjoy the trip back to tract housing and music from the Monkees and the Jackson 5. Demi Moore, Rosie O'Donnell, and Melanie Griffith open and close the movie, but it's the younger lesser-known actresses who give it spunk. By Joyce McMillin P
uu Predictable, heartwarming, pat.
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.
uu Dark, often crazy comedy about a woman who flees her dangerous husband, moves in with an unconventional couple she's just met, and tries to find herself through new friendships and relationships. The film deserves credit for taking a risk a minute, but few of the gambles pay worthwhile dividends. Mia Farrow and Mary-Louise Parker star. Norman Rene directed Craig Lucas's screenplay. V P
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 isn't original, it's powerfully directed by David Fincher, and Morgan Free- man gives another of his superbly understated perfor- mances. Be warned that the picture contains enough horrific details to make it a worthy successor to ''The Silence of the Lambs,'' which was its inspiration. Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey round out the principle cast. S V P N
u Horrifying, repulsive, masterly cinematography.
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 soft-pedaling 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.
TOY STORY (G)
uuu Computer-animated film about two action toys, a cowboy and an astronaut, trying to reunite with the boy who's lost them. With its many eye-catching shots of consumer products, the picture starts off more like a promotional ploy than a kid-friendly entertainment. Happily, the plot and dialogue turn out to be hilarious, making this the most enjoyable picture of its kind in a very long while. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen provide the heroes' voices. John Lasseter directed, and Randy Newman wrote the songs. V
uuuu Computerrific, highly creative, refreshing.
TWO BITS (PG-13)
uu A boy scavenges his Depression-ravaged neighborhood for the price of a movie ticket, diverting his attention from the imminent death of his much-loved grandfather. Al Pacino and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio are fun to watch, but the picture's main asset is Juan Ruiz-Anchia's luminous cinematography. James Foley directed. V P
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