The Monitor Movie Guide
APRIL 5, 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 Worth full price
uuuu uuuu Wait in line
THE LAST SUPPER (R)
uu Pitch-dark comedy about a group of graduate students who invite strangers to their home for dinner and conversation, then murder the ones with political ideas they don't like. The movie is an equal-opportunity satire, mocking ideologues of all persuasions, but its message is muted by its dubious pleasure in grim details. Stacy Title directed Dan Rosen's screenplay, which echoes the classic "Arsenic and Old Lace" at times. Annabeth Gish, Ron Perlman, Courtney B. Vance, and Charles Durning are in the talented cast. V S N P
PRIMAL FEAR (R)
u A hard-nosed attorney defends a nervous young man accused of a vicious crime. The violent story is long on nastiness, short on credibility. Richard Gere provides the star power but Edward Norton gives the best performance. Gregory Hoblit directed. V S N P
SGT. BILKO (PG)
uu "You'll Never Get Rich," starring Phil Silvers as an Army man with a zillion con games up his sleeve, was among TV's most reliably hilarious shows in the 1950s, the golden age of sitcoms. Steve Martin's gift for blending sentiment and cynicism makes him a good Silvers surrogate, but only a few fleeting moments recapture the spark of the old series. Directed by comedy specialist Jonathan Lynn. P V
THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (Not rated)
uuuu Reissue of Jacques Demy's classic French tale about a young couple who drift into very different lives after their love is thwarted by tricks of time and circumstance. All the dialogue is sung, but few Hollywood-style musicals ever wove beauty, irony, and sadness into such a bittersweet emotional tapestry. Michel Legrand composed the haunting music and Jean Rabier did the exquisite cinematography. The picture was hugely popular with American audiences in 1964, and seems even more compelling with the passage of time. Catherine Deneuve heads the cast.
Currently in Release
ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED (PG)
uuu Informative, very moving documentary on the life and times of the articulate Jewish girl whose diary, written while her family hid from Nazi genocide in an Amsterdam attic, has touched countless millions since it was published almost 50 years ago. Written and directed by Jon Blair. Contains explicit images of concentration-camp carnage. V
ANTONIA'S LINE (Not rated)
uu A strong-willed woman returns to her ancestral home in the Netherlands after World War II and sets up an unusual household, run by and for the females of the family. Directed by Dutch filmmaker Marleen Gorris, known for her longtime interest in gender and sexuality, this feminist fable would be more effective if the male characters were well-rounded human beings instead of two-dimensional symbols who'd be more at home in a medieval morality play. Contains violence as well as sexual and homosexual activity. S N V P
uuu Individualistic, original, powerful.
BEAUTIFUL GIRLS (R)
uuu The lives, loves, lingering hopes, and occasionally sour grapes of several young men approaching their 30th birthdays in a small Massachusetts town where aspirations outstrip opportunities. Scott Rosenberg's screenplay is overwritten and Ted Demme's directing doesn't have much dash, but the picture is redeemed by sensitive acting from Timothy Hutton, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rapaport, Natalie Portman, Matt Dillon, Martha Plimpton, Max Perlich, and Rosie O'Donnell; only Uma Thurman and Annabeth Gish disappoint. P V
uuu Moody, self-conscious, funny.
THE BIRDCAGE (R)
uuu Armand and Albert are homosexual, but Armand's son wants to marry the daughter of a conservative senator, so they agree to "act straight" for a while. Based on the popular French movie "La Cage aux Folles," the fast-moving comedy was directed by Mike Nichols from Elaine May's screenplay. Robin Williams and Gene Hackman head the well-chosen cast. Contains a great deal of material about homosexuality. P N
uuu Hilarious, frenetic, and touching, but stereotyped and superficial in its treatment of both homosexuals and conservatives.
BONJOUR TRISTESSE (Not rated)
uuu Revival of Otto Preminger's lavish 1958 melodrama about a manipulative teenager whose mischievous schemes cause unhappiness for her father and his fiancee. Jean Seberg's pert performance and Preminger's views of the French Riviera steal the show.
BOTTLE ROCKET (R)
uuu Three unbelievably boring young men decide to form a gang and enter a life of criminal adventure. This deliciously offbeat comedy gets much of its oomph from a loopy screenplay and lead performances that can only be called hilariously bland, or is it blandly hilarious? Wes Anderson directed the picture and wrote the screenplay with Owen C. Wilson, who stars with Luke Wilson and Robert Musgrave. Kudos to all. P V S
uu Zany, cult wannabe, twentynothing.
BROKEN ARROW (R)
uu Patriotic pilot Christian Slater and treacherous rat John Travolta duel over a pair of stolen nuclear bombs, both equipped with digital timers that start tick-tick-ticking whenever the picture needs a shot of suspense. The screenplay has some amusing punch lines, and Samantha Mathis steals a scene or two as a park ranger who never expected so much excitement on her usually peaceful turf. But don't expect the kind of eye-popping kinetics that director John Woo cooked up before leaving Hong Kong for Hollywood. V P
uu Lightning-paced, crazy, cartoonish.
CARRIED AWAY (R)
uu In a conservative Midwest community, a middle-aged teacher becomes sexually involved with one of his high school students. The film paints a convincing portrait of middle-class life in the sort of modest environment Hollywood often overlooks, and Dennis Hopper gives a touching performance as the schoolteacher. But many moviegoers who'd appreciate these aspects of the film will be repelled by its scenes of graphic sex and nudity. Amy Irving, Hal Holbrook, Julie Harris, and Gary Busey are also in the cast. Directed by the respected Brazilian filmmaker Bruno Barreto. S N V P
THE CELLULOID CLOSET (R)
uuu Lily Tomlin narrates this documentary on the treatment of homosexuality in films, giving a historical overview and suggesting that biased screen images have contributed to real-life violence against homosexuals. Stars like Tom Hanks and Whoopi Goldberg provide commentary; film clips range from silent pictures to hits like "Some Like It Hot" and "The Color Purple." Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Based on Vito Russo's book. Contains a few sexually explicit excerpts. S N V P
CHUNGKING EXPRESS (PG-13)
uuu Two separate stories about Hong Kong policemen with romantic problems. One meets a female smuggler who helps him forget his former girlfriend, and the other gets involved with a music-loving waitress who pokes into his life behind his back. Written and directed by Wong Kar-wai, the film is an imaginative piece of filmmaking and an evocative essay on contemporary Hong Kong as it prepares for a return to Chinese rule. V S 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 courage- ous 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; vividly photographed by Roger Deakins. Contains reenactments of a harsh crime. V P
uuuu Profound, humane, thought-provoking.
DENISE CALLS UP (PG-13)
uuu This must be a sign of the times: a movie in which nearly all communication takes place via phone, fax, and other media-age devices. The picture is both an amusing satire and a telling reflection of the ways high-tech communication both brings people together and encourages them to stay apart. It would be a major film if its characters were more fully developed and its story, about life and love in the yuppie world had more depth. Cleverly directed by newcomer Hal Salwen. Contains some heavy sexual innuendo. S P V
uu A private school is the backdrop for a murder scheme leading to deceit, duplicity, and death. The story won't have much suspense for viewers who've seen the 1955 original by Henri-Georges Clouzot, rightly regarded as an all-time suspense classic. The remake goes for camp as well as chills, providing a few good laughs alongside some needlessly nasty violence. Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani, and Chazz Palminteri star, but Kathy Bates is best as a detective snooping around the evil doings. Directed by Jeremiah Chechik. S N V P
EXECUTIVE DECISION (R)
uuu There's nerve gas on the plane with a big bomb attached, and disaster looms if Kurt Russell and company don't outwit the terrorists who planted it. The movie wants to be an airborne "Speed," and director Stuart Baird stirs up some terrific suspense scenes. Some of the violence is nasty and unnecessary, though. V P
uuu Tense, occasionally brutal, tip-top formula.
A FAMILY THING (PG-13)
uuu A man who's always considered himself an ordinary white Southerner learns that his biological mother was a black woman, and he leaves rural Arkansas for crowded Chicago to meet a black half-brother he never knew he had. The story is thin, but the film has rich emotions and a highly constructive moral sense, showing how racial divisions crumble once people recognize their artificiality. It's a pleasure to see Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones sharing the screen, proving yet again that they're among the world's greatest movie actors. Richard Pearce directed. P V N
uu Strapped for cash, a small-time businessman arranges for his wife to be kidnapped to get the ransom. Directed by Joel Coen and produced by Ethan Coen, the pitch-dark comedy has good acting by William H. Macy as the devious husband and Frances MacDormand as the pregnant policewoman who cracks the case. Contains explicit sex and grotesquely exaggerated violence S V P
uuu Whacked-out, bizarre, funny, great camera work, but violence erupts out of nowhere.
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
uuu Gritty, heartbreaking; Jason Leigh is superb.
GIRL 6 (R)
uu A would-be actress goes to work for a phone-sex company. Much of the movie exploits its subject for low-grade laughs, but in the end it takes a foursquare stand against the sleazy business it portrays, exposing its capacity for decadence and degradation. Spike Lee directed Suzan-Lori Parks's screenplay. Theresa Randle heads a cast that also includes Madonna, Ron Silver, Halle Berry, John Turturro, and Quentin Tarantino. Contains much explicit sex-related talk. P S N V
HOMEWARD BOUND II: LOST IN SAN FRANCISCO (G)
uu Two dogs and a cat have an adventurous outing in the Bay Area after their family loses them during a vacation. The story is lively enough, but kids will know these talkative pets are strictly from Hollywood. Directed by David R. Ellis. Contains some vulgar humor. V
uuu Funny, sassy, good lines from the cat.
IT'S MY PARTY (R)
u A man diagnosed with AIDS throws a farewell party before ending his life. A compassionate attitude and vivid acting by Eric Roberts don't outweigh the picture's superficial approach to a sadly serious subject. Randal Kleiser directed. The good cast includes Bronson Pinchot, Olivia Newton-John, George Segal, Marlee Matlin, Lee Grant, and Roddy McDowell. P
JACK & SARAH (R)
uu Faced with the daunting prospect of raising his baby daughter alone, a young English widower shoos away his fussbudget mother and teams up with an American nanny who makes up in enthusiasm what she lacks in experience. The movie has a warm heart and a lively spirit, although its romantic subplot is mighty predictable. The stars are Richard E. Grant and Samantha Mathis, but memorable moments are also provided by Ian McKellen and Judy Dench, who head the stellar supporting cast. Directed by newcomer Tim Sullivan. P 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 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
uu Depressing, well-acted, overrated.
LITTLE INDIAN, BIG CITY (PG)
uu You can take the boy out of the rain forest, but can you take the rain forest out of the boy? Learning that he has a son who's grown up in the wilds of Venezuela, a French businessman takes him to Paris and tries to civilize him a bit, only to find the kid's values are more solid than his own in many ways. Herve Palud directed the corny but colorful French comedy, dubbed into English for the American market. P V
MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS (PG)
u A musician takes a teaching job to support his family so he can do some serious composing, but gets sidetracked for 30 years by the demands and rewards of his new profession. The movie takes an admirable stand in favor of real support for culture and education; but soggy screenwriting and Richard Dreyfuss's unexciting perform- ance make the result seem as dinky as the five-minute symphony our hero unveils. Stephen Herek directed. P
uu Inspiring, earnest, overwrought.
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND
uuuu Robert Louis Stevenson's classic about a boy's coming of age will never be the same. Kermit the frog replaces Errol Flynn as swashbuckling buccaneer. Miss Piggy replaces, well, Miss Piggy is too original to be compared to anyone. Ratso the rat runs a Caribbean cruise business on the side selling tickets to "ugly American" rats on a 19th-century sailing ship. Great for the whole family. By Jim Bencivenga
uuuu Rib-tickling, adventurous, clever.
OLIVER & COMPANY (G)
uuu First released in 1988, the animated Disney version of Dickens's great "Oliver Twist" is about a stray kitten who teams with a gang of rascally dogs to outwit a wicked kidnapper. There are some exciting sequences, but the picture ranks far below classic animal-toons like "Lady and the Tramp" and "101 Dalmatians," and the atmosphere is rather wan despite the pioneering use of computer-animation techniques. Directed by George Scribner. Bette Midler, Roscoe Lee Browne, Dom DeLuise, and Cheech Marin are among the voice-only stars. V
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.
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, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman, among others. Directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee.
uuuu Nuanced, majestic, brilliant.
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 comedy-troupe 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.
TWO MUCH (PG-13)
uu Antonio Banderas pretends to be twins so he can romance two very different sisters - feisty Melanie Griffith and thoughtful Daryl Hannah - while evading thugs hired by Danny Aiello, his victim in a recent con-man scheme. The cast also includes Eli Wallach as the hero's father, Joan Cusack as his assistant, and Austin Pendleton as a befuddled psychiatrist. But while the cast is loaded with talent, the jokes often fall flat, and the story rambles on longer than the paper-thin plot requires. Directed by Fernando Trueba. S N V P
UP CLOSE & PERSONAL (PG-13)
uu Robert Redford plays a veteran TV newsman with a handsome face, an impressive resume, and a dubious record of broken marriages. Michelle Pfeiffer plays an eager new journalist with a pretty face, a mostly faked resume, and more interest in reporting than romance - until she meets our hero, and they become teammates both in and out of the newsroom. This promising material is undermined by a meandering screenplay and slow-motion directing by Jon Avnet. S V P
uu Unconvincing, mushy, no chemistry between stars.