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The Monitor Movie Guide

APRIL 28, 1995

Movies that contain violence, sexual situations, nudity, and profanity are denoted V, S, N, and P respectively. Evaluations do not constitute a Monitor endorsement. Further guidance is supplied by full reviews on the Arts pages.

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David Sterritt Staff Panel Meaning

O\ O\ Don't bother

u q Poor

uu qq Fair

uuu qqq Good

uuuu qqqq Excellent

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7 1 Half rating point

New Releases


uu Based on real events, this unusual Chinese drama focuses on a young man's effort to have his mother prosecuted for the alleged murder of his father. Written, directed, and produced by Yim Ho, who keeps the story interesting and credible, if not as intellectually provocative or emotionally persuasive as one might wish. (Not rated) V P


uu Documentary about the Chinese democracy movement and the Tiananmen Square massacre, with special attention to Li Lu's activities as a leader of the protest. Capably directed by Michael Apted, whose career swings between fiction and nonfiction cinema, usually succeeding best in the latter category. (Not rated) V


uu Likable, sincere, but very uneven drama about Asian women brought as mail-order wives to live and work on a Hawaiian sugar-cane plantation. Directed by Hawaiian-born filmmaker Kayo Hatta. (Not rated) V P S


uuu James Dean gave his most indelible performance in this 1955 melodrama about a sensitive young man's painful efforts to find meaningful rapport with his family, his peers, and himself. Natalie Wood and Jim Backus are marvelous as his hard-to-get girlfriend and weak-willed father, but Sal Mineo stands out most as a desperately sad teenager whose emotional agonies spark the tragic climax. Directed by Nicholas Ray, and reissued in its original CinemaScope format for its 40th anniversary. (Not rated) V


uu Griffin Dunne plays a small-time entrepreneur who wants to make a film version of a didactic novel written by a self-help guru. Dennis Hopper is hilarious as the guru and Illeana Douglas is appealing as the hero's new girlfriend. Others in the cast, including such excellent actors as Christopher Walken and John Turturro, give surprisingly weak performances. Directed by painter David Salle in his cinematic debut; unfortunately, he lacks the filmmaking savvy to unify the screenplay's inconsistent events and atmospheres. Written by Michael Almereyda from Howard Korder's play. (R) S V P N


uuu In the late '60s, politically committed filmmaker Robert Kramer went to Vietnam with the collective known as Newsreel to make a documentary on the war; in the early '90s he returned to Hanoi to trace the aftermath of events he had witnessed there. The result is a colorful, provocative, and proudly personal work. (Not rated) V N


uuu After a long absence from home, an irresponsible young man renews old relationships with his affectionate mother, his ambivalent brother, and a former girlfriend who's acquired a menacing new lover. Jealousies and resentments flare, and soon he's mixed up in a dangerous crime that could wreck the lives of all involved. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, this remake of the 1949 melodrama ''Criss Cross'' is stylish and surprising, if a bit arty at times. (R) V S P

Currently in Release


uuu In the 27th documentary of his distinguished career, Frederick Wiseman turns his camera on the American Ballet Theater, charting activities as varied as rehearsing, performing, hiring new talent, and coping with the financial pressures facing a modern cultural institution. Life itself becomes a kind of choreography in Wiseman's artful view, which is sometimes as funny as it is beguiling. (Not Rated) P


uu Jim Carroll's autobiographical book is a largely amoral account of his life as a street hustler, narcotics addict, and high-school athletic star. Scott Kalvert's movie adds a kicking-the-habit sequence to give the impression that it's an antidrug story, but the results are more sleazy than insightful. Leonardo DiCaprio heads a generally excellent cast. (R) S V N P


uu The time is 1936, the place is an estate in the USSR, and the main character is an aging Bolshevik hero confronted by a Stalinist rival. Directed with much warmth but little energy by Nikita Mikhalkov, who also plays the central role. (R) P S V


uu The place is an Irish village in 1957, and the heroines are three young women negotiating the twists and turns of love, friendship, and family relations. Pat O'Connor directed this likable but unmemorable comedy-drama, which creates some vivid moments without quite managing to flesh out its commonplace characters. (PG-13) S P V

qqq Heartwarming, engaging, beautiful scenery.


uuu Absorbing but disturbing documentary about R. Crumb, a pioneer of kinky ''underground comix,'' bringing out both the vivid imagination and the raging sexual obsessions that have characterized his career. Directed by Terry Zwigoff over a six-year period, the film also gives a poignant account of Crumb's sadly dysfunctional family, providing clues as to why his talent evolved in such bizarre directions.(Not rated) P N S V


O\ Friendship develops between two boys, one of whom has AIDS, and they share various adventures before the unhappy ending. It's bad taste, bad filmmaking, and bad morality to use the AIDS crisis to prop up storytelling as trite and insipid as this. Directed by Peter Horton. (PG-13) P N V


uuu She's accused of murdering her obnoxious employer, and while her estranged daughter thinks that she might be innocent, she's being hounded by a police officer who's convinced this isn't her first homicide. Kathy Bates gives her most gripping performance since ''Misery,'' also based on a Stephen King thriller. The picture is weakened by a rambling and inconsistent screenplay, though. Taylor Hackford directed. (R) S V P

qqq Eerie, disturbingly violent; Kathy Bates is great.


uu Romantic dreams abound as a burned-out psychiatrist (Marlon Brando) enters the make-believe world of a young patient (Johnny Depp) who thinks he's the famous Don Juan of bygone years. The picture has more charm than credibility, and its conquistador-like attitude toward women is mighty questionable; but the story becomes quite resonant if you see it as a fable about the once-legendary Brando vicariously regaining his youth by teaming with Depp in this all-stops-out movie fantasy. (PG-13) S N V P

qqq1 Refreshing, funny, clever.


uu Single dads are so popular in Hollywood that even Goofy gets to be one, dragging his son on a fishing trip so they can be better pals. Kevin Lima's feature-length cartoon has some funny moments, but why couldn't the gang at Walt Disney Pictures provide something for girls and moms to identify with, too? (G)


uuu Living in Paris as American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson observes France's growing revolutionary fervor while striking up two romantic relationships: one with the wife of a foppish French painter, the other with the African-American nursemaid of his youngest daughter. Calling on the civilized intelligence that is their enduring trademark, director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala use their historical material to explore issues related to democracy, revolution, and the psychological complexities of a sensitive man who couldn't entirely separate the concepts of womanhood and property. (PG-13) N S V

qq Slow, beautifully filmed; Nolte's Jefferson implausible.


uu David Caruso takes his ''NYPD Blue'' talent to the big screen, playing a New York City crook who lets himself get suckered into one last job, then agrees to squeal on his accomplices. Even nastier than the 1947 gangster film it's based on, this updated ''film noir'' is stronger on gruesome details than psychological involvement. It's well acted, though. Barbet Schroeder directed. (R) S V P


uuu Muriel is a misfit who's desperate to get married, but has everything from overbearing parents to nasty friends stand ing in her way. Australian newcomer P. J. Hogan wrote and directed this high-energy comedy, which earned several of this year's Australian Academy Awards. (R) S N P

qq1 Tragicomic, fast-moving plot, superb characters.


uuu Stealing cars and joy-riding become deadly pastimes for a group of African-American youngsters in a New Jersey ghetto. Nick Gomez doesn't recapture the full cinematic excitement of his first movie, ''Laws of Gravity,'' but he still shows himself to be a wildly talented young filmmaker with a piercing eye for life in the jungle of cities. (R) P V


u A virus developed for biological warfare breaks loose in a California town, and military brass debate the issue while Dustin Hoffman tries to save the day. It's sad to see such an empty-headed movie on such an attention-worthy subject. Clunkily directed by Wolfgang Petersen. (R) P V


uu While wrestling with questions of conscience arising from his homosexuality, a Roman Catholic priest agonizes over whether he should break the secrecy of his confessional and intervene in a child-molesting case involving a local family. Antonia Bird's drama is serious, heartfelt, but ultimately too superficial for comfort especially when compared with a vastly superior effort like ''The Boys of St. Vincent.'' (R) S V P


uuu Four interlocking stories about sex, drugs, violence, and other sensational stuff, tempered with an interest in redemption that suggests filmmaker Quentin Tarantino might be growing up a little. John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson are terrific as talkative hit men, and Bruce Willis is equally good as a boxer who refuses to throw a fight. Look out for over-the-top scenes of mayhem and brutality, though. (R) V S N P

qqq Surprising, wry, gory.


uu Sir Walter Scott's novel is turned inside-out by Michael Caton-Jones's movie, which transforms the title character from an elusive rogue into a conventional hero who swaggers across the screen from beginning to end. Liam Neeson plays him with conviction, and Tim Roth makes an uncommonly hissable villain. The adventure goes on too long, though, and wallows in nasty details that would have made Scott shudder. (R) S V P

qq1 Predictable plot, violent (sword slayings and brutal rape scene).


q q he's good enough. He's smart enough. But doggone it, do people really like him? That's the question for viewers who may or may not be famililar with ''Saturday Night Live's'' Al Franken who plays the pathetic 12-step neurotic, Stuart Smalley. In this sometimes silly, sometimes funny film, Stuart makes his movie debut as he tries to save his own mixed-up, addiction-prone relatives from driving one another crazy. And even if Stuart isn't totally successful, that's okay, because he really needs to accept himself as he is. (PG-13) By Elizabeth Ross

Tommy boy

q Chris Farley and David Spade (from ''Saturday Night Live'') star in this sophomoric slapstick comedy. Farley plays Tommy Boy, a witless kid who must save his father's auto-parts company from a conniving couple (played by Rob Lowe and Bo Derek); Spade is his smart-aleck sidekick. The two travel across the Midwest to sell brakes and find themselves in silly situations. There are a few good laughs in this corny movie, but overall, it's a no-brainer. (PG-13) P By Lisa Parney.


q q q A lonely train-token collector (Sandra Bullock) saves the life of an attorney she's had a crush on from afar. Now he's in a coma, and his boisterous family is misled to believe that she's his fiancee (and they couldn't be happier). Reluctant to upset them with the truth and enjoying family life during the holidays -- she plays along. Enter the sensitive brother (Bill Pullman) who is suspicious of the engagement, but can't resist her unassuming charm. This light, romantic comedy is somewhat predictable, but well-acted, and its message that ''nice things happen to nice people'' is refreshing. (PG) P


u The first dramatic film in Imax 3-D is about an intrepid aviator trekking to civilization after crashing his plane in a South American mountain range. The snow is astoundingly real, the story is amazingly repetitious, and the movie is mercifully short, clocking in at around 40 minutes. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (G)

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