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 least three other Monitor reviewers. Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted.

o Forget It

+ Poor

++ Fair

+++ Good

++++ Excellent

New Releases

All Over Me (PG-13)

+++ A 15-year-old girl struggles with her sexual identity as her dream of starting a rock band is sidetracked by a disintegrating friendship and inner-city problems. The story is slow and sometimes bleak, but also compassionate and original. Directed by Alex Sichel, the performances are fresh, believable, and appealing. By Jean Hacklander V S P

+++ Original, bleak, bittersweet.


++++ An intense and dedicated pro-Soviet radical in Australia of the 1950s has a brief encounter with Joseph Stalin, which may (or may not) have produced an offspring. Back home, "Little Joe" (Richard Roxburgh) joins his mother (Judy Davis) and mild-mannered step-father (Geoffrey Rush of "Shine") on the barricades. But over the years as young Joe learns of his background, and of the use of manipulative political power, the story turns more sober and somewhat surreal. Writer/director Peter Duncan's first film is darkly humorous, with dashes of slapstick, brilliant, and original material. Great music and scenery. Two brief sex scenes, a glimpse of nudity, and some profanity earn its "R." S N P By Brad Knickerbocker

FAthers' Day (PG-13)

++ Based on the 1984 French movie "Les Comperes," the film is good but doesn't compare with the original. A 16-year-old runs away, and his desperate mother cons former boyfriends into searching for him on the pretext he is their son. Robin Williams plays a suicidal writer, and Billy Crystal portrays a grounded lawyer fearful of parenting. Likable performances, but the story's brash and hyper, though sweet, delivery grows wearing, especially the sexual innuendo. V By Katherine Dillin

++ Lightweight, bland, frenetic.

The Fifth Element (PG-13)

++ The time is 300 years from now, and the hero is Bruce Willis as a cabdriver helping a mysterious woman fulfill her destiny of saving the world from extraterrestrial doom. The action is fast, furious, and as wacky as science fantasy gets. Directed by French filmmaker Luc Besson in his most over-the-top mode. Contains nudity and much cartoonish violence. V N P

+ Vacuous, predictable, lame special effects.

LA PROMESSE (Not rated)

++++ This thoughtful, powerful drama focuses on a 15-year-old boy whose promise to a grieving widow pits him against his father, a ruthless exploiter of immigrant labor. Stunningly acted by a fine cast and vividly directed by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. V P S

RIPE (Not rated)

++ Running away from society after their parents' death in an accident, twin 14-year-old girls start living on a military base where the male population treats them with a mixture of amusement, condescension, and lust. Parts of the story aren't very imaginative, and the ending is weak. But filmmaker Mo Ogrodnik shows keen insight into the menacing aspects of male bonding and the predatory behavior this can breed. Daisy Eagan and Monica Keena head the uniformly excellent cast. Contains sex and violence. S V P N

Currently in Release


+++ Coil up with a tub of popcorn, get a stranglehold on your soda - this is a creepy, action-packed boat ride down a jungle river with lots of huge snakes dropping by for man-sized snacks. Filmmakers in search of tribal footage let an anaconda hunter (Jon Voight) slither into their midst, and the trouble begins. Not for the squeamish or those in a cerebral mood, but the film packs many thrills. P V By Katherine Dillin

++ Gripping, predictable, a no-brainer.


+++ The classic tale of two intertwined love affairs: one between a married woman and a handsome military officer, which brings tragedy to all concerned, and another between a ditsy princess and a thoughtful but insecure aristocrat. Much gets eliminated when a 1,000-page epic is squeezed into less than two hours of screen time, but filmmaker Bernard Rose has adapted Leo Tolstoy's timeless masterpiece with skill and understanding, capturing a tumultuous array of human emotions against a backdrop of imperial elegance that recalls the golden age of historical movies. Sophie Marceau is a radiant Anna and Alfred Molina is perfect as Levin, the character closest to Tolstoy himself. V S N

+++ Great costumes, authentic period piece, opulent.


++ Mike Myers plays Austin Powers as well as the archenemy Dr. Evil in this goofy take on the James Bond series. After being frozen for 30 years, Powers thaws out to save the world, but his swinging sexual attitude from the '60s gets him in a bit of trouble in the politically correct '90s. The drawn-out, lowbrow humor is either "love it" or "hate it," so it may not be your bag, baby. Elizabeth Hurley and Robert Wagner star. S P N V By Chas Sabatine

++ Tasteless, juvenile, silly.


+++ Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan play a couple who run into trouble when their car breaks down on an empty stretch of desert road. The not-so-original story is a cross between "The Vanishing" and "Frantic," with a bit of "Duel" thrown in. It starts slowly, but builds to a spectacular climax with hearty sound effects and deftly directed stunts. V P By Chas Sabatine

+++ Intense, action-packed, not believable.


++ After fleeing war-torn Croatia and settling in New Zealand with her family, a young woman falls in love with a man of the Maori minority, enraging her traditionally minded father. Gregor Nicholas's drama paints a vivid portrait of multicultural conflict in a community that has received little attention from media in other parts of the world. Rade Serbedzija, known for "The Saint" and "Before the Rain," heads the solid cast. The film earns its rating mostly with one explicit sex scene. S N V P


++ A young man discovers his new girlfriend is a lesbian. The filmmaking technique of writer-director Kevin Smith has matured since the raunchy "Clerks," his popular debut movie; but although his dialogue is often witty, he still relies on blunt sexual humor to get his point across.

S P V By Chas Sabatine

++ Vulgar, original, probing.


++ A rare manuscript teaches a man about the life of his father, a French chef who moved to the Georgian Republic in the early 1920s and was swept up by romantic and political intrigue. French comedian Pierre Richard heads a lively cast, but Nana Djordjadze's dramatic comedy is held down by the limitations of its screenplay, which seems to regard cooking as an all-purpose metaphor for just about everything in life. S V P


++++ A famous intellectual, his intelligent daughter, and her somewhat out-of-place husband narrate their experiences in an unnamed country where two of them fall into disfavor with the government for showing too much social compassion, while the third struggles to understand his role in the family and political structures that surround him. Wallace Shawn's brilliant drama has been directed by David Hare as a minimalist movie that delivers an extraordinary punch even though it's played entirely by performers sitting around a table. Miranda Richardson and David de Keyser are excellent, and Mike Nichols is even better in his first on-screen role. Haunting, gripping, utterly unpredictable. Contains some dialogue related to sex and violence. P


++ A member of the Irish Republican Army comes to New York and moves into the home of an Irish-American police officer, who doesn't know the guest is planning a deal to buy heavy weaponry for his organization. Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford have good chemistry, and the story takes a few interesting turns. The dramatic situations aren't intense or knotty enough to match the moral issues behind them, however. Treat Williams, Ruben Blades, and Simon Jones head the supporting cast. V P S

++ Disturbing, fine acting, unrealistic.


++ This dark, mildly amusing French comedy takes its title from a novel by philosopher Soren Kierkegaard - a book that affects the lives of a literature teacher and his students as they pass it around among themselves. Chiara Mastroianni and the great Jean-Pierre Laud are featured along with Danile Dubroux, who wrote and directed the tale. S V P


++ On the eve of her appointment to a judgeship, a lawyer temporarily shelves her ambitions to help her sister, a bright but unstable young woman in trouble with the police. The movie's title refers not just to sexual deviance but to the "perversion" of conforming with social norms that steer women toward secondary roles in politics and culture. Based on Louise J. Kaplan's respected book. Contains some explicit sexual activity. Loses a star for sensationalistic title. S N V P

FLAMENCO (Not rated)

++++ A magnificent feast of flamenco music and dance, performed by one towering artist after another. Directed by Carlos Saura, one of Spain's most distinguished filmmakers, and photographed by Vittorio Storaro, one of the world's most gifted cinematographers.


+++ John Cusak plays a hit man who returns to his hometown for his 10-year high school reunion. Along the way he rekindles an old romantic flame and dodges a few attacks on his life. This clever and original movie is like a John Hughes comedy for the '90s, with a jukebox of a soundtrack that plays one great song after another. People who don't really want to attend their own reunions should consider seeing this movie instead. V P By Chas Sabatine

+++ Unconventional, hilarious, quirky.

HOLLOW REED (Not rated)

++ An abused child gets caught in a custody battle between his feuding parents in this British production, which asks whether two gay men are suitable for raising a young boy. Samuel Bould is brilliant as the child, but Martin Donovan's clearly American mannerisms make him somewhat out of place as the gay English father. Angela Pope's directing is often slow and clunky, although she handles sensitive situations with the delicacy they need. S N V P By Chas Sabatine

IRMA VEP (Not rated)

++++ An actress known for action-adventure roles travels from Hong Kong to Paris, where she's been asked to star in the remake of a silent-film classic for a burned-out director who has only the foggiest notion of what he hopes to accomplish. Maggie Cheung, a real-life Hong Kong movie star, plays herself in this continually amusing and inventive comedy. Directed by Olivier Assayas, one of France's most gifted young filmmakers. S V P


+++ Not long before the fall of the Soviet bloc and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, a middle-aged Czech musician agrees to a marriage of convenience with a Russian woman, then finds himself caring for her five-year-old son after she unexpectedly leaves the country. This thoughtful comedy-drama demonstrates how difficult it is to draw lines between the personal and political in the rapidly changing modern world. N S P

+++ Moving, endearing, film does good job of weaving in Czechoslovakia context.


++ An overzealous lawyer hits personal and professional trouble when his little boy makes a birthday wish that his dad won't be able to lie for the next 24 hours. Jim Carrey proves that he's the most inspired clown in movies today, but parents should be warned that much of the picture's humor is extremely rude and crude. S V P

+++ Energetic, hilarious, Carrey at his best.

MURDER AT 1600 (R)

++ A homicide cop tries to find out who murdered a young woman after a sexual rendezvous in the White House, and gets temporarily stymied when government insiders block his path. Wesley Snipes is terrific as the hero. Diane Lane and Alan Alda back him up as a Secret Service agent and a White House operative, respectively. Dwight Little directed. V P S N

+++ Worthwhile, fast-paced, good plot twists.


++ Two old friends, a Protestant and a Roman Catholic, confront personal and political challenges brought by their opposing positions in a struggle between rival Irish militias during the mid-1970s. John Lynch, James Frain, and Michael Gambon star in Thaddeus O'Sullivan's drama, which develops impressive power before a disappointingly unoriginal climax. V S N P


++ Held under horrific conditions in a Japanese prison camp during World War II, a diverse group of women form a "vocal orchestra" and elevate their spirits through the inspiring power of great music. The story has charming and uplifting moments as well as strong performances by an impressive cast. Moviegoers interested in the film's music may be put off by its scenes of harrowing and explicit violence, though. Glenn Close and Frances McDormand star. V N P

++ Powerful, inspiring, overwrought.


++ Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino play bubbleheaded social misfits trying to show they've made something of their lives at their 10th high school reunion. This offbeat, light-as-fluff comedy covers ground similar to the superior "Grosse Pointe Blank," but approaches the material from an eccentric Valley Girl perspective. Quick wit, quirky acting, and stylish camera work make it like pretty funny, y'know? P S By Chas Sabatine

++ Upbeat, hilarious, uneven.


++ He's more of a trickster than his nickname would suggest, but he's ultimately on the right side in an action-packed conflict between a nasty Russian schemer and a gifted American scientist. Val Kilmer is fun as the mercurial hero, and Elisabeth Shue would be great as the physicist if she didn't waste so much time making googoo-eyes at her handsome new boyfriend. And will someone tell Hollywood the cold war is over? Relations between Russia and the US are confused enough without suspicion-mongering pictures like this. S V P

++ Unoriginal, gripping, suspenseful.


+++ A boy hides a mistreated dog from its hard-boiled owner and hopes the incident won't be discovered by his parents, who share his regard for animals but disapprove of lying. Dale Rosenbloom's family film takes a sophisticated view of the moral issues it raises, recognizing that "doing the right thing" is difficult when you're caught between two right things to do. Based on the award-winning children's book by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. V


++ Tommy Lee Jones saves the day when lava starts flowing in Los Angeles. Nipping at the heels of the less-exciting "Dante's Peak," this disaster film has action from the get-go; but its awesome special effects hide a laughably corny plot, and for a picture about terror from the depths, its characters are ridiculously shallow. Mick Jackson directed. V P By Chas Sabatine

++ Tense, terrifying, destructive.


+ Taunted by bullies, a boy is magically transported to a faraway realm where good and evil are locked in a deadly battle that could be decided by knowledge contained in a mysterious book. The action is colorful but extremely violent, and the screenplay steals so much from earlier movies that Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi should sue for royalties. V P

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