Freeze Frames: The Monitor Movie Guide
Here are the week's reviews of both the latest releases and current films, rated according to the key below (''o'' for forget it). The capsule reviews are by Monitor film critic David Sterritt; the one liners from a panel of at lease three other Monitor reviewers. Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted.
o Forget it
* Only if it's free
** Maybe a matinee
*** Worth full price
**** Wait in line
BYE-BYE (Not rated)
o Troubled by family difficulties, two North African brothers leave their Paris slum to stay with relatives in a Marseilles slum, where the younger boy gets involved with drugs and the older one finds romantic complications with a young Arab woman. Imaginatively directed by Karim Dridi, this well-acted French production launches a devastating attack on the dehumanizing effects of poverty and racism. But it contains sex, nudity, violence, and foul language. S N V P
CELESTIAL CLOCKWORK (Not rated)
* A young Venezuelan woman leaves the altar on her wedding day and flees to Paris. There she dreams of becoming an opera star while sharing an apartment with four eccentric new friends, including a video artist who disapproves of her ambitions. Ariadna Gil gives a lively performance in Fina Torres's comedy. S N P
COURAGE UNDER FIRE (R)
*** Ordered by the White House to determine whether a female helicopter pilot should receive a posthumous medal, an army investigator hears a different version of her story from everyone he interviews, raising questions of military honor and the chaotic nature of wartime events. Edward Zwick directed this reasonably thoughtful drama, helped by Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan in the main roles. Contains a great deal of explicit violence and foul language as well as alcoholism and drug addiction. V P
*** Intense, compelling, well-crafted, violent.
* Two convicts, one black and one white, flee a Georgia road gang and enter a complicated mix of action and intrigue centering on a missing computer disk. Kevin Hooks's adventure movie starts like a rehash of the '50s classic "The Defiant Ones," then turns into a hackneyed chase picture full of sickening violence, thudding vulgarity, and silly jokes. Laurence Fishburne and Stephen Baldwin star. V P N S
THE FRIGHTENERS (R)
* A cut-rate ghostbuster, played by Michael J. Fox, feuds with an ectoplasmic bad guy who's continuing a murder spree he started when he was still alive. The special effects are more impressive than in Peter Jackson's earlier horror comedy, "Dead Alive," but the story is mostly an excuse for exaggerated mayhem and violent jokes about unfunny subjects. V P S
HARRIET THE SPY (PG)
*** A bright sixth-grader keeps tabs on her urban environment and jots her observations in a notebook. But grown-ups gripe when this interferes with school, and kids complain when her writing criticizes them. Spunky acting and bright, color-filled photography make the picture fun to watch even when the story wanders. Directed by Bronwen Hughes and based on Louise Fitzhugh's hugely popular novel. P V
*** Snappy, relevant, funny.
*** Caught up in major family problems, a 12-year-old boy meets a 3,000-year-old genie who dispenses good advice - and a wish or two - that helps both of them weather the storm. The plot is hamstrung by trite formulas, and there's too much violence and family tension for very young viewers. Shaquille O'Neal is likable as the title character, though, and the screenplay has somewhat less vulgarity and innuendo than many Hollywood comedies. Directed by Paul M. Glaser. V P
** Caught in a job that allows him too little time with his family, a busy man allows a scientist to clone him - which seems like a great idea until more clones start arriving, each of lower quality than the last. Michael Keaton gives a game performance, but the comedy isn't very inventive and the second half is taken over by a string of smarmy bedroom jokes. Andie MacDowell co-stars. Directed by Harold Ramis. S V P
*** Zany, light; versatile acting by Michael Keaton.
* The life and times of several young Scottish drug addicts. It's hard to recall a movie that etches the horrors of drug dependence more shatteringly than this British tragicomedy, which Danny Boyle has directed with ferocious energy. But moviegoers should be strongly warned that it contains over-the-top vulgarity of every description in nearly every scene. S V N P
TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (R)
* Revival of Monte Hellman's minor 1971 classic about two car-crazed drifters and an aimless yuppie who race their souped-up autos across the Southwest, meeting new acquaintances and wallowing in existential angst. Much of the acting is barely recognizable as such, but the movie provides a vivid portrait of styles, attitudes, and behaviors once considered quintessentially cool. James Taylor and Warren Oates star. P S
THE VISITORS (R)
* Relentlessly silly comedy about a medieval knight and a bumbling servant who're abruptly transplanted to the 20th century. The humor is fast, furious, and vulgar. Jean Reno and Christian Clavier star, but Valerie Lemercier steals the show as their quick-talking modern friend. Jean-Marie Poire directed the farce, originally called "Les Visiteurs" and a record-breaking hit in its native France. P V S
Currently in Release
THE CABLE GUY (PG-13)
** Jim Carrey plays a weird TV technician who thinks you're his best friend if you accept a free hook-up to the pay channels. The acting is energetic, but there's more violence and vulgarity than many moviegoers will find acceptable. Ben Stiller directed the comedy. V S P
* Revolting, moronic, boring.
COLD COMFORT FARM (PG)
**** A prim young Londoner takes up residence on her family's ancestral farm, inhabited by a conglomeration of oddballs and presided over by a cranky old matriarch who hasn't ventured from her bedroom in decades. John Schlesinger's rollicking version of Stella Gibbons's novel is acted with the highest of spirits by Kate Beckinsale, Joanna Lumley, Eileen Atkins, Ian McKellen, Freddie Jones, and many others. Malcolm Bradbury wrote the screenplay for the brightly filmed British production. P V
*** Quirky, amusing, Fawlty Towers meets the Addams Family.
** Dennis Quaid gets top billing as a medieval dragon slayer, but the main attraction is Draco himself, a nasty-looking critter who's really an overgrown Muppet with a friendly disposition. His abilities include fighting, flying, and synchronizing his lips with Sean Connery's off-screen voice. David Thewlis plays the villain, a dangerous despot whose survival is magically linked with Draco's life. Rob Cohen's movie has flashes of wit, but there's little substance to the story, and Draco's charms are surrounded by too much graphic violence. V P S
*** Whimsical, fantastic, noble.
* Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a witness-protection agent battling his treacherous boss over a weapon-smuggling operation. The picture is effectively made, but viewers will want to erase the horrific violence that erupts in scene after scene, leading to an unusually mean-spirited finale. Charles Russell directed. V P
*** Classic Schwarzenegger, supercharged, grisly.
HEAVY (Not rated)
** Victor didn't worry much about his weight until an attractive young woman came to work at his mother's diner, sparking new emotions that his limited experience hasn't taught him how to handle. Written and directed with uncommon sensitivity by James Mangold, a strikingly talented newcomer. Superbly acted by a well-chosen cast including Pruitt Taylor Vince as the title character, Shelley Winters as his mom, Deborah Harry as the diner's other employee, and Liv Tyler as the new face in town. S P
THE HORSEMAN ON THE ROOF (R)
** Juliette Binoche and Olivier Martinez flee a raging epidemic in France during the early 18th century. Fans of old-fashioned epics will enjoy the dashing heroics, but look out for graphic scenes of violence and illness. Directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, who honed his historical skills on a sweeping screen version of "Cyrano de Bergerac" a few years ago. Several famous French faces appear in cameo performances. V S N P
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (G)
**** This feature-length animation turns Victor Hugo's tragic hero into a candidate for the Seven Dwarfs, frolicking with cute little gargoyles when he isn't busy helping a handsome soldier save a gorgeous gypsy from an evil judge. The cartooning is expertly done in keeping with the Walt Disney tradition. But some may question the wisdom of turning a serious, complex, and often tormented literary classic into a feel-good musical comedy. Some scenes are much too intense or violent for young children. V
*** Thought-provoking, breathtaking, sophisticated.
INDEPENDENCE DAY (PG-13)
** A likable scientist, a feisty soldier, a goofy crop-dusting pilot, and the president of the United States are among the heroes who save Earth from an evil intergalactic empire. The action is fast, furious, and loaded with explosive effects, but the theme is a regrettable return to the us-against-them paranoia that dominated much science fiction in the cold-war era. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Will Smith star. Contains a great deal of violence. V P
*** Explosive, disjointed, spirited.
KASPAR HAUSER (Not rated)
* Energetic drama about events in an 18th-century German town where a young man mysteriously appeared after being raised in a dungeon, then set free to make his way in a world he could barely comprehend. Written and directed by Peter Sehr, who sees the episode as part of a clandestine scheme to manipulate the royal succession. Andre Eisermann's strong performance as the title character appears to have been influenced by Bruno S.'s unusual acting in Werner Herzog's classic film on the Hauser legend. Contains sex and violence. V S N
LONE STAR (R)
** A skeleton is discovered near a small Texas community, rekindling old debates about whatever happened to a sheriff who once ruled the county with a violent and racially bigoted hand. John Sayles's offbeat western shows how public controversies often overlap with private grudges and conflicting memories. It contains violence and a surprise ending with strong sexual overtones that many will find objectionable. Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson, and Matthew McConaughey star. S V P N
** Humane, intelligent; message of tolerance takes unhealthy twist at end.
THE LOW LIFE (R)
* An aspiring writer holds down tedious jobs, hangs out with boring friends, and mopes about the awfulness of it all. The story offers a bit of pathos and ironic humor, but most of the time it's just another slacker movie. Directed by George Hickenlooper. P V
THE MAGIC HUNTER (Not rated)
** A policeman protects a famous chess player whose life has been threatened, and subplots connect this with medieval tales about people and animals saved from harm by their simple faith. Hungarian filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi directed this life-affirming fantasy with great imagination, but it contains small amounts of violence and nudity. Gary Kemp stars. S V N
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (PG-13)
** Espionage expert Tom Cruise cracks a case teeming with trickery, treachery, and twists. Some of the suspense set-pieces are impressive, but the picture would pack a greater wallop if it were stitched together more tightly and consistently. Directed by Brian De Palma in the strictly commercial, by-the-numbers mode he polished in earlier epics like "Scarface" and "Carlito's Way." Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Bart, Henry Czerny, Ving Rhames, and Vanessa Redgrave head the supporting cast. Based on the popular '60s television series. V P
** Cloak-and-dagger, snazzy, loud, suspenseful.
MOLL FLANDERS (PG-13)
** The adventures of an 18th-century woman who falls into prostitution but finds a better life with an idealistic painter who falls in love with her. Daniel Defoe's great novel combines frequent ribaldry with explicitly feminist views of his society's ills. Pen Densham's movie has strong female characters but stresses sensuality over the story's other themes. Robin Wright, Stockard Channing, and Morgan Freeman star. S V N
** Idealistic, victim-filled, too long.
THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (PG-13)
** An overweight science teacher slims down with a laboratory potion that turns him into a loud and obnoxious woman-chaser, but he realizes in the end that cultivating your own good qualities is the only honest way to win affection from others. Eddie Murphy has impressive energy, but he needs mountains of makeup and special effects to accomplish what Jerry Lewis did with sheer talent in the original 1963 version of the comedy. Parents should be strongly warned that the movie contains an extremely large amount of bathroom humor and other gratuitous vulgarities. P V
*** Sophomoric, amusing, predictable.
A PERFECT CANDIDATE (Not rated)
*** Revealing and riveting account of conservative Oliver North's failed campaign for a Virginia seat in the United States Senate. Tautly directed by R.J. Cutler and David Van Taylor. Contains extremely foul language from North's political operatives. P
THE PHANTOM (PG)
*** Billy Zane scampers between New York City and an exotic jungle, scavenging for magic skulls also coveted by all sorts of bad guys. Superman bends steel with his bare hands and Batman has amazing tools, and next to them the Phantom's mere pistols look kind of old-fashioned. At least the dialogue packs an occasional campy laugh, and while there's some nasty violence the picture is a bit more restrained than much of its mid-'90s competition. Based on the inexplicably popular comic strip. V
*** Comic-bookish, raw, scenic beauty.
*** John Travolta gives a gentle and touching performance as an ordinary man whose brainpower miraculously zooms after a mysterious light-flash from the sky zaps him one night. John Turteltaub directed the drama, which lapses into medical jargon and new-age clichs near the end, but it scores telling points with its respect for intelligence and optimistic view of human potential. V P S
*** Sentimental, gentle, depressing.
PURPLE NOON (PG-13)
** Reissue of Rene Clement's minor classic about a young man who kills a wealthy friend and takes over his identity as well as his bank account. The story is involving and suspenseful, but it falls far short of Patricia Highsmith's original novel "The Talented Mr. Ripley," which has more psychological depth on every page than the movie offers in its whole two hours. Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, and Marie Laforet star in the French production, first released in 1960 as "Plein Soleil." V
THE ROCK (R)
* A loony general hijacks a pile of poison-gas missiles and stashes them on Alcatraz, threatening to wipe out San Francisco if the government doesn't meet his demands. Can a mild-mannered toxicologist and an eccentric Alcatraz veteran stop him before it's too late? Learning the answer means sitting through more than two hours of violence, vulgarity, and all-around excess, served up with high-tech trimmings by director Michael Bay. Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery star. Contains a great deal of mayhem and foul language as well as a brief sex scene. V P S
** Mind-numbing, Connery is great, entertaining but some scenes are shockingly violent.
SPY HARD (PG-13)
** Yet another Leslie Nielsen movie parody, targeted this time at James Bond pictures and their spinoffs. Most of the laughs come near the beginning, before Rick Friedberg's klutzy directing becomes annoyingly monotonous. Andy Griffith and Charles Durning lend the satire a bit of class as a supervillain and a spymaster. V P
** Slapstick, vulgar, laugh out loud.
STEALING BEAUTY (R)
* A young American comes of age while visiting old friends of her parents in the Italian countryside. Bernardo Bertolucci's romantic drama has great visual beauty but little new to say about life or love. Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack, Jean Marais, and newcomer Liv Tyler head the cast. Contains explicit sex and a frequently sensual atmosphere. S N P
** Picturesque, voyeuristic, slow.
* After losing her secretarial job, a woman becomes a stripper to support her daughter. She caters to the whims of a demented politician in hopes of regaining custody of the child from her ex-husband, a petty crook. Andrew Bergman's comedy is aggressively vulgar every chance it gets and surprisingly violent to boot. Demi Moore, Burt Reynolds, and Ving Rhames head the cast. N V P
* Daft, excessive, boring.
THE SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (R)
* Reissue of Jack Hill's cheaply made melodrama about an all-girl gang, first released in 1975. The action has a certain campy energy, but its obsession with sexual violence is extremely offensive. V P S N
** A handsome scientist spends half his time studying tornadoes from a front-row seat, the other half wobbling between his about-to-be-divorced wife and his new girlfriend. Audiences may howl at the hackneyed plot and dialogue, but you won't hear them over the Dolby sound effects assaulting your eardrums at a gazillion decibels. Directed by Jan de Bont, who made "Speed" last year and will reach escape velocity soon if he keeps accelerating at this pace. Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt head the windblown cast. People living in real tornado zones may not be amused by the thriller's exploitative attitude. V P
*** Visual wow! Comical thriller, lame plot.
VIVE L'AMOUR (Not rated)
* French title, Taiwanese movie. The main characters are a real-estate broker and two largely aimless men who form a love triangle even though they only occasionally cross one another's paths. Stylishly directed by Tsai Ming-Liang, who seems more interested in shots of Taipei than in the people of the tale. Contains explicit sex. S N V
WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE (R)
** The heroine is an 11-year-old girl who's not as pretty or popular as the other kids in 7th grade. Todd Solondz's movie begins like a suburban ugly-duckling tale with many comic overtones, but it grows darker as it goes along, evoking dangers that youngsters must be alert to in today's world - from drugs to child abuse - and showing how cruel children can be to one another when grownups aren't around. Moviegoers should be strongly warned that the film contains sexual material and a great deal of extremely foul language spoken by its young cast. P V S
*** Provocative, endearing, brings back memories.
WHO KILLED PASOLINI? (Not rated)
* Poet, novelist, and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini was among the most noteworthy figures in postwar Italian culture, but his violent death was shrouded in mystery and innuendo related to his open homosexuality. This capably made docudrama suggests his murder was encouraged by government figures outraged at his intolerance for corruption and dishonesty. Marco Tullio Giordana directed the Italian production. V S N