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 Monitor staffers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews.
David Sterritt Staff Panel Meaning
O O Forget it
* * Only if it's free
** ** Maybe a matinee
*** *** Wait in line
**** **** See it twice
Motion Picture Association of America ratings are as follows:
G General Audiences: All ages admitted.
PG Parental Guidance: Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned: Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
R Restricted: Children under 17 require accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 No Children Under 17 Admitted (age may vary in certain areas).
Looking for a movie to share with the whole family? Choose one of these Monitor favorites, and be sure to gauge age- appropriateness with our guide.
Across the Sea of Time (IMAX)
A Little Princess
The Indian in the Cupboard
Four-Star Films of 1995
Only 16 movies won the highest rating during the year from our reviewers.
Both Monitor critic and staff panel:
The Postman ("Il Postino") (PG)
Monitor critic David Sterritt:
Betty Boop Confidential (not rated)
The Big City (not rated)
Gorilla Bathes at Noon (not rated)
Jalsaghar (not rated)
The Middleman (not rated)
The World of Apu (not rated)
Monitor staff panel:
Apollo 13 (PG)
Burnt by the Sun (R)
The Madness of King George (not rated)
Sense and Sensibility (PG)
Toy Story (G)
We asked the 10 most avid moviegoers on the Monitor staff to name the film they enjoyed the most this year and to explain why. Here's what they had to say:
This superb rendering of Jane Austen's novel avoids predictability and cliches to deliver a love story that has viewers desperately wanting to see the protagonists united. No violence, no bad language, no sex. Just insightful character portrayals and warm humor amid gorgeous scenery. When the hero finally takes his stand, you just want to cheer.
- Terri Theiss, photo
A rip-roaring history lesson with Hollywood flair. This film not only entertains, but it also tells the stirring story of the Scots, including national hero William Wallace, fighting 13th-century English rule. Some moviegoers may object to the graphic violence. But the film wonderfully captures the courageous spirit of men and women struggling for freedom.
- John Dillin, managing editor
I would even take my parrot to see "Babe." There is absolutely nothing offensive about this movie. So how do you make a great movie with no violence, blood and gore, foul language, psychological melodrama, or sex? You take all the opposites: caring, laughter, humor, joy, and mix them with a delightful story. Every time I think about Babe the pig, all the other animals, and the people, I smile.
- Carol Hartman, information systems
The Brothers McMullen
Three Irish-American siblings put their morals to the test in this tale of love and fidelity in blue-collar Brooklyn. With a modest budget and an inexperienced cast, first-time director Edward Burns does a remarkable job of keeping three separate story lines moving along. And like Woody Allen, that other New York filmmaker, Burns saves the best lines for himself.
- Scott Baldauf, national news
This film was a real-life thriller, not a Hollywood make-believe tale. The actual events were terrifying enough; no one needed to spice it up. I was an adult during the 1970s when the flight took place, but I could not remember exactly what had happened, so I was on the edge of my seat with the younger members of the audience. Tom Hanks did a great job in the role of commander Jim Lovell, and Ron Howard's directing was superb. This movie is one the whole family could enjoy.
- Joyce McMillin, library
A Little Princess
The story of a young girl who attends an English boarding school while her father, a single parent, is away at war. This beautiful film is treated with moments of humor, seriousness, fantasy, and love. It will be enjoyed by all those with big hearts - not only children, but also adults of all ages.
- Bill Grant, photo
A movie billed for kids but delightful nonetheless for adults, who can learn a lesson or two themselves. The pig (actually 48 piglets were used), who forgets he is a pig and wants to be a sheep dog, tugs at heartstrings as he gets into one scrape after another. The sound effects are extraordinary as farm animals from husky-sounding sheep dogs to intelligent-sounding sheep "talk" their way through this hilarious movie.
- Kashmira Tumboli Baldauf, international news
As the ever-debonair Pierce Brosnan drove a rumbling Russian tank crashing through the streets - and a few buildings - of St. Petersburg, I was convinced: Bond really is back. But when a winged-horse statue fell on top of the tank and became a giant hood ornament triumphantly leading Bond's charge after the bad guys, it was clear this Bond-making team hadn't forgotten to have fun. They had lots. So did I.
- Abe McLaughlin, "The News in Brief"
This movie introduced me to the 1970s Swedish group Abba. The songs "Waterloo" and "Dancing Queen" stayed in my head for days afterward. I ended up purchasing the CD "Abba Gold," and ever since then, have considered myself an Abba fan. It's not the most intellectual film of 1995, but its humor and musical picks make it fun to watch.
- Lisa Leigh Parney, opinion/editorial
Aimed at a Generation-X audience, "Strange Days" is a masterly marriage of dazzling visual effects and creative cinematography that leaves the audience spinning. Although it has a relatively simple story line, the plot twists so often that you're better off just sitting back and watching rather than trying to figure out what's going to happen next. The film takes a dark view of the not-so-distant future, and if its violence doesn't create a stir, the social issues it addresses just might.
- Marianne Le Pelley, photo
It May Have Been a Lackluster Year, But Our Critic Still Digs Up 10 Gems
By David Sterritt, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
IT hasn't been a great year at the movies. Hollywood studios pounded away at tried-and-true formulas with even less originality than usual, and theater owners continued to fill their screens with this high-profile trash rather than independent and international films considered too risky at the box office.
It's hard to come up with a 10-best list under these circumstances, but hey, danger is my business. I've bent the rules a little to fill the quota - putting a 1964 revival onto the roster and combining two not-quite-great Shakespeare movies into a single entry.
Here are the most substantial pictures of a disappointing year, listed in alphabetical order. Moviegoers should remember that some contain violent or otherwise distasteful moments, and may not be suitable for all viewers.
* "Dead Man Walking," directed by Tim Robbins. Opening at the tail end of the year, this fact-based melodrama stars Susan Sarandon as a Roman Catholic nun who befriends a convicted murderer played by Sean Penn. She helps him appeal his sentence and prepare for the death penalty that awaits him if their efforts fail. While preachy and self-conscious at times, the picture is richly intelligent in its critical view of capital punishment and deeply moving in its insistence on the ultimate humanity of all its characters.
* "Georgia," directed by Ulu Grosbard. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Mare Winningham play sisters with rival pop-music careers and a complex offstage relationship. Grosbard's filmmaking is inventive and Barbara Turner's screenplay is insightful, but what makes the film indelible is Leigh's harrowingly real portrayal of the drug-abusing loser of the family. It's easily the performance of the year.
* "I Am Cuba," directed by Mikhail Kalatozov. American filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola unearthed this overlooked 1964 gem, a Soviet drama about Cuban political rebels in the period just before Fidel Castro's revolution. The picture's forced nostalgia for Soviet-style socialism seems largely irrelevant today, but its visual style is explosively exciting, turning dry material into a brilliantly cinematic tone poem.
* "Nixon," directed by Oliver Stone. Carrying less visual interest but more psychological involvement than "JFK," this new venture into Stone-style history is as rambling, mercurial, infuriating, and fascinating as the politician it's about. Anthony Hopkins heads a superbly chosen cast, and the screenplay strikes a provocative balance between criticism and compassion toward its unpredictable hero. Sure to be the most talked-about of the year's late releases.
* "Il Postino" ("The Postman"), directed by Michael Radford. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda spends a period of exile in an Italian fishing village, making friends with a poor postman who finds magic in the literary world he's discovering for the first time. Philippe Noiret and the late Massimo Troisi give standout performances in this quietly moving tale, which is also a cogent exploration of the relationship between nature and culture in a slowly modernizing European town.
* "Richard III," directed by Richard Loncraine, and "Othello," directed by Oliver Parker. The former makes Shakespeare's greatest villain a 20th-century fascist, and the latter goes multicultural with a strikingly international cast. Ian McKellan is a scary and spellbinding Richard, and Kenneth Branagh's insidious Iago is the best achievement of his screen career.
* "Safe," directed by Todd Haynes. The year's best movie focuses on a woman who thinks her mysterious illness is caused by toxins in the environment and pursues a "new age" cure that slowly isolates her from all she once held dear. At once an emotionally rich drama and a scathing critique of pseudo-psychological fads, the film is also a landmark in film style, refusing to manipulate its audience with standard cinematic cues. Julianne Moore is close to perfect as the heroine.
* "Through the Olive Trees," directed by Abbas Kiarostami. A man courts a woman while acting in a film within the film we're watching. This exquisite Iranian production is funny, tender, and engrossing - everything we complain Hollywood doesn't give us, but frequently ignore when it comes to us from abroad. Miramax had the courage to release it (hurray!) but whisked it off the market (boooo!) when audiences didn't materialize. Here's hoping it resurfaces soon.
* "Tsahal," directed by Claude Lanzmann. The great documentarist spends five hours exploring Israel's military culture. Not likely to show up at your local multiplex, but an absorbing and instructive experience.
* "Twelve Monkeys," directed by Terry Gilliam. Not since "Brazil" has the former Monty Python cartoonist cooked up such a thrilling blend of high adventure, social satire, and filmic wizardry. Bruce Willis plays a time-traveler trying to save Earth from ecological disaster, and Brad Pitt is the manic animal-rights activist who dogs his trail. Always wild, often weird, and downright wonderful at times.
In the runner-up department, several good documentaries focus on talented people: "Unzipped," on a fashion designer; "Crumb," on an underground cartoonist; "Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Meant for These Times," on a rock musician.
Good family films included the animated "Toy Story," the live-action "A Little Princess," and the indescribable "Babe." In retrospect, "Clueless" was the most clever of three Jane Austen adaptations.
New director Lodge H. Kerrigan made a stunning debut in the scalding "Clean, Shaven." Surprises abounded in the suspenseful "Fun" and "The Usual Suspects," and new perspectives on African-American life enriched "The Glass Shield."
The big winner in the New York Film Critics Circle awards, "Leaving Las Vegas," had the imagination to make miserable, self-destructive lifestyles look as miserable and self-destructive as they really are.
Maybe it wasn't such a bad year after all.
And the Winner Is ...
Best-picture "Oscars" went to these films during the past 67 years:
1928-29 The Broadway Melody
1929-30 All Quiet on the Western Front
1931-32 Grand Hotel
1934 It Happened One Night
1935 Mutiny on the Bounty
1936 The Great Ziegfeld
1937 The Life of Emile Zola
1938 You Can't Take It With You
1939 Gone With the Wind
1941 How Green Was My Valley
1942 Mrs. Miniver
1944 Going My Way
1945 The Lost Weekend
1946 The Best Years of Our Lives
1947 Gentleman's Agreement
1949 All the King's Men
1950 All About Eve
1951 An American in Paris
1952 The Greatest Show on Earth
1953 From Here to Eternity
1954 On the Waterfront
1956 Around the World in 80 Days
1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai
1960 The Apartment
1961 West Side Story
1962 Lawrence of Arabia
1963 Tom Jones
1964 My Fair Lady
1965 The Sound of Music
1966 A Man for All Seasons
1967 In the Heat of the Night
1969 Midnight Cowboy
1971 The French Connection
1972 The Godfather
1973 The Sting
1974 The Godfather Part II
1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
1977 Annie Hall
1978 The Deer Hunter
1979 Kramer vs. Kramer
1980 Ordinary People
1981 Chariots of Fire
1983 Terms of Endearment
1985 Out of Africa
1987 The Last Emperor
1988 Rain Man
1989 Driving Miss Daisy
1990 Dances With Wolves
1991 The Silence of the Lambs
1993 Schindler's List
1994 Forrest Gump
1995 To be announced
- From 'The 1996 Information Please Entertainment Almanac'
Top-Grossing Films Of the Year
As of Dec. 11
1. Batman Forever
Opened: June 16
2. Apollo 13 (Universal) June 30 $172,036,360
3. Pocahontas (Buena Vista) June 16 $141,395,135
4. Casper (Universal) May 26 $100,280,870
5. Die Hard With a Vengeance (FOX) May 19 $100,003,359
6. Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls (Warner Bros.) Nov. 11 $98,539,453
7. Crimson Tide (Buena Vista) May 12 $91,381,194
8. Waterworld (Universal) July 28 $88,214,660
9. Seven (New Line Cinema) Sept. 22 $86,507,192
10. Dangerous Minds (Buena Vista) Aug. 11 $83,294,447
- Provided by Exhibitor Relations Co., Los Angeles. Profits from Pocahontas, Ace Ventura 2, Seven, and Dangerous Minds are still being tracked.
What Other Veteran Critics Say About the Year in Film
MANY movie critic knows there are two Hollywoods. The first glitters for better or worse on the screen of your neighborhood multiplex. The second looms behind the screen where business decisions usually determine content and costs. In excerpts from interviews with staff writer David Holmstrom, four veteran film critics comment on the two Hollywoods in 1995.
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
One of the worst years for inventive movies in quite some time, even though [total box office] should reach around $5 billion, a record, but costs are so high.... Some really decent little movies did try to do something with the medium and push it forward - movies like "Leaving Las Vegas" or "Crumb" or "Get Shorty."... But most people are less willing to pay $8 to take a chance on a new director or small film. What they want is spectacle, some kind of event, something not seen before, and that is becoming harder for Hollywood to produce.... "Toy Story" will wind up being the most successful [earnings] film of the year, but "Batman Forever" is tops now. Batman is not an enduring film. It's just a product, and that is what Hollywood is in business for, making a product that worked before.... Oscars will go to "Apollo 13" because this is the kind of movie that fits the traditional Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] view of what movies should be - to celebrate America even in adversity.
Jack Kroll, Newsweek
The entertainment business caters to appetites, and appetites are not ideals or ideologies. The society that makes a lot of harrumphing noises about sleaze and violence in films is the same society that turns around and buys all the goodies right next door.... There has been an amazing number of Jane Austen movies. The fact that filmmakers want to make these movies, and there is an audience for them, is very significant. They won't make $200 million, but they are high-class works.... What is at the center of filmmaking is new, younger people like Quentin Tarantino ("Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs") who sense new rhythms in the culture, and the smart, young part of the audience latches on to the rhythms. They say, "Yeah, that's it," and the "it" is a cynical culture which is driven by a kind of corrupted individualism.... Violence in 1930s movies violated a principle.... Today, violence doesn't seem to violate anything, but is an energy totally let loose on its own.
Michael Medved, 'Sneak Previews,' PBS
Many of the best films this year were basically made for children: "Toy Story," "Babe," "The Indian in the Cupboard," "Jumanji," and "A Little Princess." This is encouraging because the percentage of G- and PG-rated films that did well at the box office is higher than R-rated films, usually over 60 percent of all films.... But this was not a year of "Schindler's List" or "Forrest Gump," where people say the films will still be watched 50 years from now. "Toy Story" could be a classic because it is a technological triumph as well as witty, and "Babe" could be a classic.... "Showgirls" was a terrible movie. It completely misread the American public, which is not demanding new, envelope-pushing sexual material.... "Jade," "Strange Days," "The Scarlet Letter," and "Never Talk to Strangers" all did badly.
Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer
It was not a good year for [writer] Joe Eszterhas movies.... "Showgirls" is everything that is ugly and bad about Hollywood; it was exploitive and cynical, and "Jade" was the same, yet he got paid millions for them.... "Toy Story" is probably an instant classic, a timeless story. It's a shame that Disney is so great at merchandising and marketing because the movie has all the ads in it, and they detract from the genuine fun and intelligence of the movie.... "Smoke" is on my 10-best list because it addressed a lot of issues about the good side of humankind, and it was a wonderful piece of ensemble filmmaking.... "Waterworld" was a rehash of "Mad Max" movies, a soggy "Road Warrior" that just didn't have charm or spark. I didn't think the money that was spent on the movie was on the screen at all.... Interactive film so far has not been successful. They are just video games on a big screen without appeal to the general audience, but the virtual-reality people in Hollywood are aiming at the multiplexes of the future. I'm old-fashioned. I like to go to the movies and see someone else's creation. I don't want to be a participant in the narrative.
The Duds. These films earned a "Forget it" rating from either Monitor critic David Sterritt or the staff panel.
Destiny Turns on the Radio
A Kid in King Arthur's Court
The Monitor's 1995 Movie Guide
MOVIES teach us, touch us, and take us to different places than we've been before, media observer Brian Stonehill says of one of America's favorite pastimes.
Movie-going today can be an "excellent adventure" - amusing, exhilarating, thought-provoking, satisfying. Yet, depending on the films one sees, it can also be disappointing, depressing, even frightening.
To help you find the kind of adventure you value, we've put together a special road map - a master list of Monitor "freeze frames" for the entire year. Compiled from our Friday movie guide, it includes star ratings from film critic David Sterritt and evaluations by moviegoers from the Monitor staff.
Not everyone plots the route to a new place the same way. So we've included several waymarks for making your choices. Lists of our reviewers' four-star films and family favorites, Oscar winners, and top staff picks are included as quick-glance alternatives to scanning the master list. Mr. Sterritt and other film critics share their thoughts on the year. And crossword buffs can test their knowledge of movie trivia with our special puzzle in the Friday, Dec. 29, Monitor.
Like road maps stashed for quick reference in your car, this eight-page guide can be kept handy to direct you to rewarding choices at the movie theater and the video store - not just during this holiday season but for months to come.
1995 Theater Releases
ACE VENTURA 2: WHEN NATURE CALLS (PG-13)
* Jim Carrey & cast have some hilarious moments - especially the opening parody of "Cliffhanger." But this is mostly a couple hours of the rubber-faced, very likable Carrey mugging for the camera. Youngsters may enjoy it. But the humor is generally of the genre heard in the boys' locker room at the high school gym. By John Dillin
** Sophomoric, bathroom humor; Jim Carrey shines.
ACROSS THE SEA OF TIME (G)
*** Made in the IMAX 3D process, this nostalgic little drama centers on an immigrant boy who wanders the streets of New York City looking for a long-lost relative's home, guided by old photos and the words of an ancestor who made a similar voyage many years earlier. The story is sappy, and the portrait of New York is hopelessly romantic. The views of Manhattan are positively breathtaking, though, making this a strong candidate for best IMAX movie ever made.
THE ADDICTION (Not rated)
*** A graduate student becomes a vampire, stalking her prey through Greenwich Village streets and school- rooms. Barely under control at times, Abel Ferrara's ambitious shocker takes huge risks by using horror-movie conventions to explore profoundly serious issues of modern humanity's capacity for evil. The result is flawed, ferocious, and grimly fascinating. Lili Taylor stars. S V P
* A man with no memory of his past, a nun entering the secular world after 17 years of seclusion, and an actress of very dubious morality are the main characters of Hal Hartley's offbeat drama, which explores complicated issues of identity and sexual politics, but remains too schematic to gain the emotional impact it sorely needs. S N V P
The Amazing Panda Adventure (G)
* A 10-year-old American boy, a product of divorce and shopping malls, visits his father in China and finds him too distracted to give him any attention. Despite beautiful scenery and sets, the adventure of finding a wounded panda and cub, and fighting off the poachers, is predictable and marred by bad dialogue. By Carol Hartman
* Disappointing, stilted; wooden acting.
THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (PG-13)
*** Comedy about a well-meaning but wishy-washy chief executive who happens to be a widower. He learns a few things about principle and commitment when political enemies make a phony character issue out of his romantic relationship with an attractive lobbyist. Michael Douglas and Annette Bening head the well-chosen cast, but what gives the movie substance is its willingness to take real stands on real political issues. Rob Reiner directed. P
*** Clintonesque, romantic, snappy dialogue.
AN AWFULLY BIG ADVENTURE (R)
** A teenage girl joins a small-time theater troupe in Liverpool, England, where she meets an assortment of characters whose behavior ranges from odd to outrageous. The filmmakers appear to be aiming for laughs much of the time, and on this level their efforts fall completely flat. Seen as an eccentric look at the sociology, sexuality, and theatricality of postwar Britain, however, it's interesting in a misanthropic sort of way. Directed by Mike Newell. Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman head the cast, but young Georgina Cates makes the strongest impression. V S N P
APARAJITO (Not Rated)
*** A superb coming-of-age movie, following its hero's life from childhood to young adulthood, with special attention to the pains of family separation suffered by his mother and himself. Directed by Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray in 1956, as the second installment in his renowned "Apu" trilogy. Known as "The Unvanquished" in its English-subtitled version.
APOLLO 13 (PG)
** A near-catastrophic NASA mission of 1970 is the subject of this fact-based drama about three astronauts who head for the moon, lose control of their expedition when an oxygen tank explodes, and refocus their attention on getting back to Earth in one piece. There's not much suspense, since audiences know the real-life incident ended safely, but director Ron Howard spins the story with enough gusto and gumption to make it reasonably entertaining. Tom Hanks heads a solid cast that includes Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, and Bill Paxton in lead roles. P
**** Intriguing, instructive, glorious.
ARIZONA DREAM (Not Rated)
** A young man visits his eccentric Arizona family, whose members include a high-pressure automobile dealer, a self-destructive woman with a gift for music, and an aging widow who can't think of anything but aviation. The cast is just as varied, with Johnny Depp and Jerry Lewis playing opposite Faye Dunaway and Lili Taylor, plus other famous faces in smaller roles. It's all barely held together by Bosnian filmmaker Emir Kusterica. V S N P
ART FOR TEACHERS OF CHILDREN (NOT RATED)
*** Deliberately rough-hewn, commendably serious-minded docudrama about a teenage girl who has an affair with a photographer who teaches in her high school, then gets harassed by authorities who investigate her former lover years afterward. Written, directed, photographed, and edited by Jennifer Montgomery, who based the film on her own experiences and the lessons she learned from them. S N P
* Two hit men try to rub each other out while feuding over a woman who peddles industrial secrets. It's all very slick and action-packed, but there's not an original moment to be seen or heard. Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas, and Julianne Moore play the leads. Richard Donner directed. V P
* Improbable, tiring, meaningless.
AUGUSTIN (NOT RATED)
*** He's a natural-born actor who supports himself with run-of-the-mill jobs while awaiting the stardom that's surely just around the corner. Jean-Chretien Sibertin-Blanc gives a priceless performance in this short-and-sweet French comedy, directed by Anne Fontaine, his very talented sister. P
BAB EL-OUED CITY (NOT RATED)
*** The theft of a loudspeaker from the rooftop of a mosque in Algiers sparks a string of dramatic events in a working-class neighborhood where poverty and intolerance are everyday facts of life. Directed by Merzak Allouache, who turns authentic locations and a largely nonprofessional cast into the makings of an urgent and compelling tale with much to reveal about urban life in Algeria today. V
*** He's a pig who longs to be a sheepdog, to the consternation of his barnyard friends and the confusion of the humans who own him. The movie is at times raucous, but its spirits couldn't be higher, and the tale teaches a good-natured lesson about why cooperation is better than coercion. Best of all is the very funny climax, which should have grownups brushing away happy tears along with their kids. Directed by Chris Noonan.
*** Hilarious, delightful, appealing to adults.
THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB (PG)
** A teenage girl renews her relationship with her estranged father (Peter Horton) while helping her friends run a backyard summer camp for little kids. The movie is fresh and friendly, but it doesn't have many surprises and the story sags at times. Based on Ann M. Martin's popular book series and directed by Melanie Mayron.
BALLET (NOT RATED)
*** 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. P
BALLOT MEASURE 9 (NOT RATED)
*** Engrossing documentary about the political fight over a 1992 ballot measure in Oregon designed to curtail civil rights for homosexuals, with attention to the horrific rise in antigay violence that accompanied the campaign. Includes nudity and sexually blunt language in material circulated by conservative groups supporting the measure. Heather MacDonald directed. V N P
** Against all odds, a wolf-dog makes a perilous trek for medicine to save an Alaskan town from an epidemic. Simon Wells directed this handsomely drawn feature-length cartoon, which also features a couple of touching live-action sequences. May be too intense for younger children, though. V
BANDIT QUEEN (NOT RATED)
*** Drama based on the real-life exploits of Phoolan Devi, who allegedly committed a series of explosive crimes - or revolutionary acts, depending on one's perspective - before her arrest in 1983. Directed by Shekhar Kapur, the Indian production characterizes Devi as a sort of female Robin Hood whose rage is aimed at an unjust social system based on systematic oppression of poor people and women. The film's indignation is righteous and vivid, although Kapur's weakness for repetitious violence tends to lengthen his social indictments without deepening them. V P
THE BASKETBALL DIARIES (R)
** 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. V S N P
BATMAN FOREVER (PG-13)
** As usual, the Caped Crusader (Val Kilmer) is less fun to watch than the villains he's chasing, especially the maniacal Riddler, played by Jim Carrey in a zany performance that's over the top even by his lofty standard. Tommy Lee Jones tries to match him as Two-Face, but quickly falls behind, and Nicole Kidman is fetching as the psychologist who tries to help our hero get in touch with his repressed memories. Directed by Joel Schumacher with occasional gestures toward social commentary, and enough spectacle to mask the movie's deep down emptiness. V
** Holy hyperbole! bat-lite, cartoonish.
BEFORE SUNRISE (R)
*** Romantic comedy about a young American and a French student who meet on a European train and decide to spend a spontaneous day together. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are attractive stars, but what's most appealing about the picture is the value it puts on sharing ideas and feelings through language. Directed by Richard Linklater. P
*** Engaging, talky, believable.
BEFORE THE RAIN (NOT RATED)
* Three related tales rooted in Macedonia's current political strife. The first deals with a young monk and an Albanian runaway; the second with a Macedonian photojournalist and his British lover; the third follows the photojournalist back to his native village. The subjects are interesting, but Milcho Manchevski's filmmaking is too disjointed. S V P
*** Artistic, topical, evocative imagery.
BELLE DE JOUR (R)
*** Catherine Deneuve plays a Paris homemaker whose boredom with everyday life leads her to become a prostitute in her spare time. Directed in 1967 by the great Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel, this French production contains many of the surrealistic touches that were his trademark, yet seems rather flat and obvious in comparison with his most imaginative works. Sacha Vierny did the radiant cinematography. V S N P
BETTY BOOP CONFIDENTIAL (NOT RATED)
**** One of the all-time-great cartoon compilations, serving up 11 classics made in the early to mid-'30s by Max and Dave Fleischer, with a few photographed in vivacious color. Some have dull stretches, especially when a bouncing ball invites us to croon some boring tune along with Ethel Merman or Lillian Roth, but others are dreamlike and dazzling. The likes of "Dancing on the Moon" and the astonishing "Bimbo's Initiation" have never been encountered since.
BEYOND RANGOON (R)
* On a trip to Burma in 1988, hoping to forget sad events in her recent past, an American woman finds herself running from murderous armed forces that oppose the country's student democracy movement.
John Boorman's political adventure calls admirable attention to dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, a courageous foe of Burma's military dictatorship. But the movie puts more emphasis on endless chase scenes and jungle heroics, and Patricia Arquette's performance is terribly weak. V S P
** Informative, troubling, too long.
THE BIG CITY (NOT RATED)
**** A woman takes a job to raise her family's desperately low finances, but her foray into the urban world causes as many problems as it solves, especially when her underpaid husband starts feeling pangs of envy and insecurity. Occasional touches of melodrama lend just the right spice to this understated parable of cultural uncertainty in postcolonial India, directed by Satyajit Ray in 1963.
BILLY MADISON (PG-13)
* Adam Sandler's creative songs and silly expressions on "Saturday Night Live" may have turned him into a celebrity, but this movie based solely on his antics doesn't work. Sandler plays Billy, whose father who owns a multimillion-dollar hotel chain. When his father decides to pass along the company to him, Billy is forced to repeat grades K-12 (in six months) so he can prove his mettle. By Lisa Parney S P
BLESSING (NOT RATED)
** Sincere, modestly crafted tale of a young woman's effort to shake off the emotional pressures of life on her family's farm. Written and directed by Paul Zehrer, a promising new filmmaker. V P
BLUE IN THE FACE (R)
*** Harvey Keitel reprises the role he played in "Smoke," a friendly cigar-store clerk whose modest establishment serves as a meeting place for various denizens of his racially mixed Brooklyn neighborhood. This time all the scenes are improvised around brief scenarios written by Paul Auster, who directed the movie in partnership with Wayne Wang. The results are ragged, disjointed, and endearing. Other cast members include Giancarlo Esposito, Jim Jarmusch, Madonna, and Roseanne. P S N
BOYS ON THE SIDE (r)
** Three women start on a cross-country trip, hoping for a better life: a gay singer, a businesswoman diagnosed with AIDS, and a hustler who's just killed her abusive boyfriend. The movie tries to outdo "Thelma and Louise" by upping the number of heroines, but it lacks the moral seriousness to tackle its sensitive material. Herbert Ross directed. N P V S
*** Hilarious, heavy on social issues, tragic.
The BRADY BUNCH MOVIE (PG-13)
Those groovy Bradys are now living in the '90s, and they must raise $20,000 or else their house will be auctioned off. Based on the '70s TV show, the plot works well compared with most sitcom movies. The cast is a close match to the original. Avid "Bunch" fans will "dig it," while others may find it hokey. Directed by Betty Thomas. By Shelley Coolidge.
*** Nostalgic, campy; Marcia steals the show.
** Aye, here's a wee bit of a three-hour epic about a handsome 13th-century hero freeing Scotland from its English overlords. Directed by and starring Mel Gibson, who puts more brawn than brain into both jobs. V S N P
*** Engrossing history lesson, violent battle scenes.
BRIAN WILSON: I JUST WASN'T MADE FOR THESE TIMES (NOT RATED)
*** Rocking, rolling, highly entertaining portrait of the great guiding force behind the Beach Boys, one of the most important groups in pop-music history. The picture would be stronger if it had more footage and music from bygone years, instead of focusing on Wilson's present-day musings. It's mighty captivating, though. Directed by Don Was. Shown in some places with "Gentle Giants," director Bruce Weber's brief, beautiful look at favorite movie stars, pop-culture icons, and dogs. P
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (R)
*** Romance buds and blossoms during the brief adulterous encounter of an Iowa homemaker and a wandering photographer. Still one of Hollywood's most assured directors, Clint Eastwood transcends the story's cliches with a classically restrained yet steadily imaginative filmmaking style. He also gives one of his most fully realized performances, opposite Meryl Streep in the sort of introspective role she handles best. And don't miss the soundtrack, full of atmospheric jazz that reflects Eastwood's excellent musical taste. Richard LaGravanese wrote the screenplay, based on Robert James Waller's bestseller. S N P
*** Exquisite, romantic, Streep and Eastwood shine.
BROKEN HARVEST (PG)
** Family tensions, financial pressures, and lingering Civil War resentments bring difficulty to a farmer's life in Ireland in the 1950s. Some powerful material appears in this Irish production, but writer-director Maurice O'Callaghan is stronger on scenic details than imaginative storytelling. V P
THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN (R)
** The personal, family, and romantic adventures of three Irish-American brothers in the New York City suburbs. The movie tries earnestly to blend wry humor with a no-nonsense charm deemed appropriate for its working-class characters, but the acting and scripting are too uneven for either the drama or the comedy to gather much steam. Written and directed by Edward Burns, who also plays one of the main characters. S P
*** Unpretentious, funny, frank.
UN BRUIT QUI REND FOU (THE BLUE VILLA) (NOT RATED)
uuu In a remote European town, pulses quicken when a legendary criminal returns to collect a debt, raising questions about what really happened in a long-ago murder case. This labyrinthine drama was written and co-directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet, a key figure in modern French literature but less distinguished as a filmmaker, partly because of his proclivity for sensationalistic material. He succeeds unusually well here, partly because a sense of self-parodying humor runs through his maze-like screenplay. Co-directed by Dimitri de Clercq. S V
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (R)
** A young playwright juggles art, romance, and gangsters while preparing his first big production. Woody Allen's comedy is rarely inspired, but provides some good laughs and an energetic depiction of the Roaring '20s. V P S
*** Snappy, clever; Dianne Wiest heads a remarkable cast.
BURNT BY THE SUN (R)
** 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. V S P
**** Deep, historically revealing, unforgettable.
* A fleeing fugitive gets lost in the woods with a rowdy group of Cub Scout campers. Older kids may appreciate the comedy's brash vulgarity. Others may feel the title refers to them. Daniel Stern stars, which makes sense, since this is basically an outdoor edition of "Home Alone." Greg Beeman directed.
A BUSINESS AFFAIR (Not rated)
** Comedy-drama about an aspiring writer caught between her egotistical husband, who's an established author, and a self-important publisher who wants to steal her away from him. Carole Bouquet is an attractive heroine, and it's fun watching actors as talented as Christopher Walken and Jonathan Pryce compete for attention. Charlotte Brandstrom's directing rarely shines, though, and the jokes are more pretentious than amusing. N V P
BYE BYE, LOVE (PG-13)
*** Three divorced men juggle relationships with their angry ex-wives, their frustrated kids, and each other. Sam Weisman's comedy has a couple of touching moments and several hilarious ones, although it's a little too polite to become the biting satire it might have been. P S
*** Insightful, funny, poignant.
CANADIAN BACON (PG)
** Deciding the US needs a fresh enemy to rally against now that the cold war is over, the president declares a crusade against Canada, prompting a gung-ho Niagara Falls sheriff to launch a guerrilla raid on the new evil empire. Written and directed by Michael Moore, this over-the-top comedy blends sardonic political satire with dumb-and-dumber jokes aimed at fans of the late John Candy, who heads the cast. P V
*** Drama about the long relationship between author Lytton Strachey and painter Dora Carrington, with emphasis on the complications raised by Strachey's homosexuality. Although it lapses into sensationalism, explicit sex, and historical inaccuracy, the movie convincingly portrays unconventional artists who crystallized a unique moment in post-Victorian culture. Emma Thompson is appealing as the title character, and Jonathan Pryce does more acting with his bushy beard than most actors manage with their whole bodies. Christopher Hampton directed his own screenplay, and Michael Nyman composed the evocative score. S N P
** Self-indulgent, amoral, well-acted.
*** Martin Scorsese spins the seamy tale of a gambling impresario who runs a Las Vegas casino with help and hindrance from tough-guy associates, his drug-abusing wife, and a childhood friend with a dangerously unstable streak. The filmmaking is brilliant and creative, but the story is as cold and superficial as the jewels one crooked character likes to steal. Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone head the excellent cast. S N V P
** Excessively violent, long, Stone is superb.
*** The friendly ghost makes his big-screen debut in a friendly movie, playing ectoplasmic games with a teenager who likes him, two fortune-hunters who covet the treasure hidden in his haunted house, and a spooky psychiatrist who gives therapy to "living-impaired" individuals. The young actress Christina Ricci, so funny as the creepy Wednesday in the Addams Family films, is a scream as Casper's best friend. Brad Silberling directed. V P
** Goofy, unrealistic, fabulous special effects.
CHARULATA (NOT RATED)
*** A publisher's wife becomes fascinated with her visiting brother-in-law, a handsome young man with a poetic sensibility. This reissued work from 1964 is too dramatically diffuse to stand with the greatest works of Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, but it contains ravishing images and sensitive performances, and the screenplay does a splendid job of mingling deeply personal matters with political and cultural overtones of Calcutta in the late 19th century. Also known as "The Lonely Wife."
CIRCLE OF FRIENDS (PG-13)
** 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. V S P
*** Heartwarming, engaging, beautiful scenery.
THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (R)
** A little girl and a strongman search for a child kidnapped by a mad scientist, who steals children's fantasies because he's lost his ability to dream. Directed by the French team of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, this delirious film is overflowing with energy and effects, but it lacks the heart and soul that would have made it important as well as impressive. V P
CITY UNPLUGGED (NOT RATED)
** Mindful of the responsibilities his new baby will bring, a young man gets involved in a plot to steal a fortune in gold from the treasury of Estonia by causing a temporary blackout in the capitol of the newly independent country. The scathingly sardonic story was filmed in Estonia by Finnish director Ilkka Jarvilaturi, from a screenplay by American writer Paul Kolsby. Also known as "Darkness in Tallinn." V S N P
CLEAN, SHAVEN (NOT RATED)
*** A schizophrenic man searches frantically for a young daughter who has been removed from his care. Written and directed by newcomer Lodge H. Kerrigan, this extraordinary debut film combines innovative cinematics with unmistakable compassion for its tormented protagonist; its nonstop intensity may be too unsettling for many spectators, however. V P S
*** Spike Lee plunges into the world of underclass crime, focusing on a small-time cocaine dealer who agonizes over his brother's arrest for murder. All the while he must steer a course between a psychopathic drug supplier and a hard-nosed homicide detective. Lee tells this harsh-toned story through a bold cinematic style that calls as much attention to itself as to the real-world problems he wants to explore. While the result is visually brilliant, it's oddly disjointed and packs less emotional force than Richard Price's novel. Delroy Lindo and Harvey Keitel give the best performances. V P
** Valley-girl types cope with life, love, and clothes in a Los Angeles high school. For a while, it's like really cool, with lots of energy and stuff, but then it gets like major repetitious, and you wish it was like over, y'know? As if! Directed by comedy specialist Amy Heckerling. P
** So totally entertaining, playful, clued in.
* Scientists, capitalists, and a talking gorilla hunt for African diamonds. Is this a thriller trying to be funny, or a comedy trying to be exciting? One thing is certain: It's a bomb trying to be a hit, and at that it'll never succeed. John Patrick Shanley's screenplay is feistier than Michael Crichton's flatly written novel, but also dopier. Frank Marshall directed. V P
** Heart-stopping, unrealistic, emotional.
THE CONVENT (Not rated)
*** John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve play husband-and-wife researchers poking around an old monastery in search of evidence about William Shakespeare's ancestry. Portugal's greatest filmmaker, Manoel de Oliveira, directed this comedy-drama, which is as mischievous as it is mysterious. V S
** Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver play a cop and a psychologist trying to trap a serial killer who imitates the crimes of his most famous predecessors. The acting is capable and the suspense is effective at times, but the gore is grisly and the climax is surprisingly hokey. Jon Amiel directed. V P N
COUNTRY LIFE (PG-13)
*** Anton Chekhov's great play "Uncle Vanya" inspired this exquisitely filmed, superbly acted comedy-drama about family tensions. An aging expatriate brings his beautiful, restless wife for an extended visit to his family's rural Australian homestead, now maintained by his spirited young daughter and her cranky old uncle. Written and directed by the hugely talented Michael Blakemore, who also plays the returning relative in a splendidly irascible performance. Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, and Kerry Fox are other standouts in the excellent cast. V S N P
CRIMSON TIDE (R)
*** The setting is a submarine on its way to confront nuclear-armed Russian rebels. The main action is a showdown between the sub's commander, a flinty veteran of many conflicts, and the executive officer, a thoughtful young fellow with more book-learning than experience. The movie has nothing intelligent to say about post-cold-war tensions or anything else, but it's great fun to watch Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington square off in a submarine that looks like a cross between the Starship Enterprise and something you'd get in a cereal box. Tony Scott directed. V P