The Monitor Movie Guide
APRIL 26, 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
s p Only if it's free
ss pp Maybe a matinee
sss ppp Worth full price
ssss pppp Wait in line
MULHOLLAND FALLS (R)
s Four muscular cops enforce the law on their own nasty terms in Los Angeles during the 1950s, but meet their match when a murder leads them to a scandal involving nuclear experiments and cold-war secrecy. The picture appears to be partly inspired by the 1955 classic "Kiss Me Deadly," but is far less biting and original despite the efforts of Nick Nolte, Chris Penn, John Malkovich, Melanie Griffith, and others in the hard-working cast. Directed by New Zealand filmmaker Lee Tamahori, whose earlier "Once Were Warriors" coaxed more credibility from the sledgehammer style he favors. V P S N
THE QUEST (PG-13)
s Action star Jean-Claude Van Damme makes his movie-directing debut with this bone-cruncher about an American vying for the grand prize in a Tibetan fighting contest some 70 years ago. Also on hand is Roger Moore, giving a one-note portrayal of a British aristocrat. There are a few catchy sequences and the scenery is lovely, but most of the adventure is aimed squarely at the video-game set. V P
SUNSET PARK (R)
ss Rhea Perlman plays the white female coach of a black male basketball team at an inner-city high school. Like every scrappy coach in the history of movies, she gets involved in the personal lives of her players while boosting their morale for the big game at the climax. Although a few scenes develop a little human interest, most of the way it's one clich after another. Steve Gomer directed. P V
THE TRUTH ABOUT CATS & DOGS (PG-13)
sss Janeane Garofalo and Uma Thurman make a bright-eyed comedy team in this romance about a handsome photographer who falls in love with the voice of a radio veterinarian and the face of an air-headed model, mistakenly thinking they're the same ideal woman. Directed by comedy specialist Michael Lehmann. Contains a fairly explicit phone-sex scene. S P V
Currently in Release
ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED (PG)
sss 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)
ss A woman returns to her 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 Marleen Gorris, 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; sexual and homosexual activity. S N V P
ppp Individualistic, original, powerful.
AUGUST (Not rated)
sss Anthony Hopkins makes his movie-directing debut with this adaptation of Chekhov's classic play "Uncle Vanya." He also plays the key role of a middle-aged man whose modest life on a country estate is disrupted by a visit from its absentee owner and his attractive American wife. While the film is more sturdy than inspired, good-looking cinematography and Hopkins's own music score provide an appealing background for sensitive performances by a well-chosen cast. P V
THE BIRDCAGE (R)
sss 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
ppp Hilarious, frenetic, and touching, but stereotyped and superficial in its treatment of both homosexuals and conservatives.
CARRIED AWAY (R)
ss 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)
sss 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
DEAD MAN WALKING (R)
sss 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; vividly photographed by Roger Deakins. Contains reenactments of a harsh crime. V P
pppp Profound, humane, thought-provoking.
ss 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)
sss 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
ppp Tense, occasionally brutal, tip-top formula.
A FAMILY THING (PG-13)
sss 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
ppp Touching, superbly acted, simplistic.
ss 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
ppp Whacked-out, bizarre, funny, great camera work, but violence erupts out of nowhere.
O Macho pop defends precocious daughter against psycho boyfriend. Dull, dirty, dismal, derivative. S V P
FLIRTING WITH DISASTER (R)
ss With his wife and new baby in tow, a young man sets out to find the parents who gave him up for adoption years ago, but his search runs into one zigzag after another. Directed by David O. Russell, whose earlier "Spanking the Monkey" was more original. Ben Stiller leads a cast that includes Mary Tyler Moore, Alan Alda, and Lily Tomlin in supporting roles. Be warned that the comedy includes a great deal of verbally and visually explicit sexual humor. S P V
pp Zany, crass, dumb plot.
GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER (R)
O Somebody sure did when Hollywood made this flick. Dan Ackroyd plays an ethics professor with an ethical dilemma of his own. His kindly neighbor (Jack Lemmon) may be a Nazi mass killer. But what's supposed to be light moral comedy comes across as scatterbrained. And its awkward performances are no better than a first rehearsal. Worst is the final sex scene, meant to be humorous, but merely revolting. V S P By Katherine Dillin
p Asinine, pointless, incredibly boring.
HOMEWARD BOUND II: LOST IN SAN FRANCISCO (G)
ss 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
ppp Funny, sassy, good lines from the cat.
JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH (PG)
sss James is an orphan living with two horrible aunts, but his life takes a magical turn when a giant peach springs up in his backyard, populated with insects who launch it on an adventurous ocean voyage. Told through both animation and live action, the fantasy is almost too inventive for its own good, filling the screen with unsettling pictures and situations that could be much too scary for young viewers. The noisy soundtrack features voice-only performances by Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss, and Jane Leeves. Directed by Henry Selick, who made "The Nightmare Before Christmas." V
pppp Far-out fun, wildly creative, action-packed.
JANE EYRE (PG)
sss Smartly acted, handsomely filmed adaptation of Charlotte Bront's classic coming-of-age tale about a spirited young woman who becomes a governess for a wealthy man with a handsome face, a dour demeanor, and a family secret locked away in the attic. Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt acquit themselves well in the leading roles, and smaller parts are superbly handled by a roster of first-rate British talents, including Joan Plowright, John Wood, and Billie Whitelaw. Anna Paquin portrays the young Jane. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. V
pppp Elegant, faithful, enriching.
THE LAST SUPPER (R)
ss 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, but its message is muted by its dubious pleasure in grim details. Stacy Title directed Dan Rosen's screenplay. Annabeth Gish, Ron Perlman, Courtney B. Vance, and Charles Durning are in the talented cast. V S N P
LEAVING LAS VEGAS (R)
sss 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
pp Depressing, well-acted, overrated.
s Young film enthusiasts gather in a country home to make a movie but get sidetracked by sex, drugs, and a tragic accident. Directed by Anna Campion, the picture is imaginatively made but has little of value to say about the social and moral issues it raises. S N P V
MA SAISON PRFRE (Not rated)
ss An adult brother and sister are reunited when their mother becomes ill, and their strained relationship goes through complicated changes. The respected Andr Techin directed this moody French drama with his usual combination of strong technique, emotional distance, and sexual frankness. Catherine Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil star. The title translates as "My Favorite Season." S N P
THE MONSTER (Not rated)
ss Dark comedy about a brave policewoman who moves in with a mild-mannered crook after her supervisors mistake him for a notorious sex maniac. The title role is energetically played by Roberto Benigni, the hugely popular comedian who also directed this Italian production. But there's a distasteful undertone to the farce, which tries to coax laughs from material related to sexual violence. V S P
MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS (PG)
s 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
pp Inspiring, earnest, overwrought.
MRS. WINTERBOURNE (PG-13)
sss Mistaken identity allows a down-and-out young mother and her newborn baby to move in with a wealthy family, masquerading as relatives and hoping the secret won't be discovered. The comedy is appealing as Hollywood's umpteenth variation on the Cinderella story, but think about its patrician views of upper-class privilege and you might find it too simplistic for comfort. Ricki Lake and Shirley MacLaine head the amiable cast. V P
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (G)
ssss 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
pppp Rib-tickling, adventurous, clever.
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE MOVIE (PG-13)
sss A demented scientist forces a man and his robot friends to watch an old Hollywood movie, which they greet with a nonstop torrent of jokes, gags, and smart-alecky remarks. The picture they're heckling is a shorten-ed version of "This Island Earth," an entertaining 1955 fantasy that deserves more respect than the MST3K folks give it. But some of their wisecracks are funny, and the show is short enough (well under 90 minutes) to pass pretty painlessly. Jim Mallon directed the satire, which is identical to the award-winning TV series that spawned it. P V
NELLY & MONSIEUR ARNAUD (Not rated)
sss At a difficult time in her life, a young woman takes a job typing the memoirs of a professional man much older than herself. They develop a complicated friendship that touches emotional chords deeper than either of them expected. Directed with taste and precision by Claude Sautet, the French drama also benefits from sensitive acting by Emmanuelle Bart, perhaps the most luminous actress in European film today, and Michel Serrault, a veteran star whose many credits include the original "Diabolique" and "La Cage aux Folles." P
OLIVER & COMPANY (G)
sss 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." V
PRIMAL FEAR (R)
s 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
pp Grisly, graphic, edgy.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (PG)
sss 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.
pppp Nuanced, majestic, brilliant.
SGT. BILKO (PG)
ss "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 Jonathan Lynn. P V
p Tedious, silly, boring.
THE SILENCES OF THE PALACE (Not rated)
sss Uncertain how to handle her unwanted pregnancy, a young woman visits friends and relatives in the palace where she grew up as a servant. She remembers the past and reassesses the options allowed her by gradually changing trends in her tradition-bound society. Moufida Tlatli directed this Tunisian drama, which doesn't build much storytelling momentum but sheds light on issues of feminism, colonialism, and the relationships between personal and political liberty. N V
THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (Not rated)
ssss 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 today. Catherine Deneuve heads the cast.
WALLACE AND GROMIT: THE BEST OF AARDMAN ANIMATION (NOT RATED)
sss A collection of British cartoons. The grand finale, "A Close Shave," won an Academy Award for best animated short with its amusing story of a rather dull inventor and his dog tracking down a flock of kidnapped sheep. Other entries include a hilarious interview session with zoo animals and a sharp satire of children's TV shows that contain too much violence. In all, uneven but lively. Directed by Nick Park and others. V