JANUARY 12, 1996
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 other viewers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews.
David Sterritt Monitor 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
FRENCH TWIST (R)
u Labored comedy about a lesbian who barges into a married couple's life. Written and directed by Josiane Belasko, whose lively performance is the most memorable asset of the French production, originally titled ''Gazon Maudit.'' S V P N
A SHORT FILM ABOUT LOVE (Not rated)
uuu Echoes of Alfred Hitchcock's classic ''Rear Window'' flow through this moody melodrama about a man whose romantic life overlaps with voyeurism. Directed by the great Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski. S N P V
Currently in Release
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.
uu Against all odds, a wolf dog makes a perilous trek for medicine to save an Alaskan town from an epidemic. Simon Wells directed this handsomely drawn feature-length cartoon, which also has a couple of touching live-action sequences. May be too intense for younger children, though. V
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.
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 drunken-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
CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY (PG-13)
uuu During the reign of South African apartheid, a black clergyman learns that his son has killed a white man known for opposing racism; he then receives unexpected comfort from the murdered man's father, a longtime apartheid supporter whose ideas are now radically changing. Although the film is slow and sometimes ungainly, it takes on surprising power from the quiet dignity of its performances and the moral strength of its ideas. James Earl Jones and Richard Harris star. Based on Alan Paton's novel. Directed by Darrell James Roodt. V P
DEAD MAN WALKING (R)
uuu Fact-based story of a Roman Catholic nun who befriends a convicted murderer, helping him appeal his sentence and prepare for the death penalty that awaits him if their efforts fail. Although it's often preachy and self-conscious, Tim Robbins's drama is socially courageous in its critical dissection of capital punishment, and deeply moving in its insistence on the fundamental humanity of its characters. Superbly acted by Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, and vividly photographed by Roger Deakins. Contains reenactments of a harshly violent crime. V P
FATHER OF THE BRIDE PART II (PG)
uu He married his daughter off in the previous movie, and now she's pregnant. So is his wife, and our hero is in a perpetual tizzy over the comic complications that spring up. This feature-length sitcom episode is handsomely filmed, but not as funny as you'd hope with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton in leading roles, and some of the humor has a nasty edge. Charles Shyer directed. P
uuu Sweet, light, unsurprising.
FOUR ROOMS (R)
u Four creepy comedies set in a hotel. The episodes by Allison Anders and Alexandre Rockwell - about a coven of witches and a jealous husband, respectively - are as vacuous as they are vulgar. Offering small compensation, Robert Rodriguez brings glimmerings of imagination to a yarn about two feisty kids and a beleaguered bellman, and there are touches of stylistic interest in Quentin Tarantino's tale of an unconventional wager. In all, though, a dreary and disorganized stew. S V N 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
uuuu Jennifer Jason Leigh gives the performance of a lifetime as a deeply troubled rock singer who moves in with her sister, a country-music star who's achieved success at the expense of strained family relations. Directed by Ulu Grosbard, who has never done a better job of filling the screen with superb acting, and shows great ingenuity at interweaving music with other aspects of the story. Barbara Turner wrote the sensitive screenplay. Contains graphic portrayals of substance abuse and other unsavory material. S V P N
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, great lines, a to-die-for car, a beautiful woman, a wicked woman, and a couple of nasty bad guys. Bond is still a ''sexist misogynist dinosaur,'' but Brosnan makes him irresistible fun. A few editing flaws and a combat scene that goes on too long can't keep the film from being highly entertaining. By Carol Hartman S V P N
uuuu Explosive, zany, Bondescent.
GRUMPIER OLD MEN (PG-13)
uu Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon return to Wabashau, Minn., in this sequel to ''Grumpy Old Men.'' It's summer instead of winter, but the fish are still biting and the pranks are still flying. Still, the movie is light on plot and long on gags. Howard Deutch directed. By Yvonne Zipp P S
uu Light, slow, funny one-liners.
uu Robert De Niro plays a nasty criminal and Al Pacino plays the obsessive cop who's determined to bring him down. The performances are persuasive but the plot rattles on much too long. Written and directed by Michael Mann in his usual moody style. V P
uu Bloody, intense, stereotypical.
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
u Two children meet an overgrown kid who's been trapped for years in the exotic world of an adventure board game. Mostly trite and tacky despite Robin Williams's strenuous acting. Some scenes may be disturbing to young children. Based on Chris Van Allsburg's book. Directed by Joe Johnston. V
uuu Fast-paced, fun, somewhat scary.
LAMERICA (Not Rated)
uuu After the fall of Albania's communist regime, two Italian entrepreneurs travel there to start a phony business enterprise. One of them finds his life inter- twined with a befuddled old man whose innocence and ignorance stand as poignant metaphors for a changing Europe that doesn't yet know where its future lies. Gianni Amelio's drama is moving and intelligent, if less resonant than his earlier ''Open Doors'' and ''Stolen Children.'' V
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 visual details and a brilliant ear for visual underpinnings. A tacked-on ''uplifting'' finale and a scene of needless brutality against the heroine provide the only false notes. Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue head the excellent cast. Viewers should be warned that the film contains explicit depictions of jarringly objectionable material. S N V P
NICO ICON (Not rated)
uuu Stylishly made documentary about Nico, the model-turned-actress who appeared in Andy Warhol movies and sang with the Velvet Underground before drug addiction took a fatal toll. Contains splendid rock music and revealing glimpses of Warhol's extravagantly weird Factory for Pop-Art production. Also contains candid material about sex and drug abuse. Written and directed by Susanne Ofteringer. P N
uuu Oliver Stone portrays the former president as a hugely complicated mixture of conflicting qualities - on one hand a foul-mouthed bigot and geopolitical killer who bombs Southeast Asia with hardly a shrug, on the other a perspicacious world-changer who might have been a 20th-century giant if his personality hadn't been so flawed. Less cinematically daring but more psychologically rich than Stone's amazing ''JFK,'' the picture is as rambling, mercurial, infuriating, and fascinating as its hero. Anthony Hopkins heads a superbly chosen cast. V P
uuu Long, entertaining, cathartic.
uuu William Shakespeare's towering tragedy about a jealous husband manipulated by an evil companion. Laurence Fishburne gets off to a shaky start as the title character, and director Oliver Parker has trouble integrating the accents of his international cast into a convincing ensemble. His visual style is both pungent and poetic, though, and Kenneth Branagh's insidious Iago is far and away the best performance of his uneven screen career. Irene Jacob is radiant as Desdemona. S N V
uuu Accessible, poignant, Fishburne is great.
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 prose.
uuuu Authentic, understated, a Jane Austen gem.
uu The life and times of a fun-loving physician, who falls in and out of favor with the king. England in the 17th-century goes through transforming experiences ranging from the enlargement of science to the ravages of the plague. Robert Downey Jr. gives a spirited performance, but the picture runs short of inventiveness after the high promise of its first 30 minutes. Based on Rose Tremain's novel. Directed by Michael Hoffman. Contains scenes of sexuality and illness. S V N P
RICHARD III (R)
uuu Richard Loncraine's harrowing adaptation makes Shakespeare's memorable villain a rising fascist dictator in Europe during the early 1930s. Ian McKellan gives a ferocious performance that makes up in urgency what it lacks in charisma. Annette Bening is less impressive as Queen Elizabeth; there's solid work by John Wood and Jim Broadbent, though. Often brilliant, but contains explicit violence and a hard-hitting atmosphere. V S
ROUJIN Z (PG-13)
uu Japanese animated film about a young woman who saves an elderly man from a computerized health-care system that's really a front for a sinister new military operation. Crisply designed and directed, although not as imaginative or exciting as fans of the ''Japanimation'' genre might wish. Contains violence, vulgar language, and scenes of illness. Devised by Katsuhiro Otomo and directed by Toshiaki Hontani. V P
uu Remake of Billy Wilder's comedy about a playboy who falls in love with a chauffeur's daughter, causing his stodgy brother to distract the young woman so an already arranged marriage can take place. Harrison Ford shows a flair for romantic comedy, but the cast can't match the 1954 original, which featured Humphrey Bogart and William Holden opposite Audrey Hepburn's inimitable charms. Directed by Sydney Pollack, who manages to dilute both the fairy-tale magic and the real-world cynicism that made the first version a classic. V P
uuu Delightful, slightly naive, great one-liners.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (PG)
uuu Two sisters with contrasting personalities face family challenges and romantic complications within the carefully structured social codes of English country life about 200 years ago. Jane Austen's deeply ironic novel loses some of its bite but little of its beauty in Emma Thompson's screen adaptation, which is fetchingly photographed and capably acted by Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant, among others. Directed by Ang Lee with a touch that seems oddly impersonal.
uuuu Nuanced, majestic, brilliant.
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 Freeman gives another of his superbly understated per- formances. 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.
SHANGHAI TRIAD (R)
uuu Recruited to serve a notorious mobster, a young boy witnesses the illicit power games and tumultuous romantic secrets that flourish in the Shanghai underworld during the 1930s. Giving the popular ''Godfather'' genre a clever Chinese twist, Zhang Yimou's drama is less original than masterpieces like his ''Ju Dou'' and ''The Story of Qiu Ju,'' but packs an entertaining wallop with its inventive filmmaking and deft performances. V S
A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING (Not rated)
uuu A young thug murders a stranger, goes on trial for the crime, and suffers the death penalty. Krzysztof Kieslowski's relentlessly grim Polish drama, made in 1987, shows random homicide and state-sponsored execution as equally brutal and dehumanizing. Contains explicit violence. V P
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. The picture starts off more like a promotional ploy than a kid-friendly entertainment. Happily, however, the plot and dialogue turn out to be hilarious, making this the most enjoyable picture of its kind in a 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.
TWELVE MONKEYS (R)
uuuu In a future society driven underground by a deadly epidemic, a convict travels into the bygone year of 1996, where a bizarre animal-rights group may hold clues to the illness's cause and cure. Bruce Willis is bruisingly good as the hero and Brad Pitt is suitably zany as the activist who dogs his trail. Directed by Monty Python veteran Terry Gilliam, whose talent for vivid imagery fills every shot with an anarchic energy that's manically appropriate to the unpredictable plot. Inspired by Chris Marker's masterpiece ''La Jetee,'' made in 1962. Contains violence and vulgarity. V P
uuu Dark, apocalyptic, thought-provoking.
WAITING TO EXHALE (R)
uu The tribulations and triumphs of four African-American women in search of meaningful romance. Directed by actor Forest Whitaker, the comedy-drama gets off to a zesty start but lapses into superficial sentiment coated with syrupy music and familiar story twists. The good cast includes Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Gregory Hines, and Giancarlo Esposito. Contains sex scenes. P S
uuu Funny, opinionated, poignant.
WHITE MAN'S BURDEN (R)
u In a fictional US where race relations are reversed, a white laborer kidnaps a black executive who 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 good intentions the film can be seen as just another exercise in making African-Americans look unappealing on the screen. Harry Belafonte and John Travolta give earnest performances. Desmond Nakano wrote and directed. V P
uu Contrived, unpolished, powerful.