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The Monitor Movie Guide

FEBRUARY 16, 1996

Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted. Ratings and comments by the panel (blue stars) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other viewers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews.

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David Sterritt Monitor Panel Meaning

O\ O\ Forget it

u u Only if it's free

uu uu Maybe a matinee

uuu uuu Wait in line

uuuu uuuu See it twice

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New Releases

CATWALK (Not rated)

uu Robert Leacock's documentary on the high-fashion scene visits model Christy Turlington as she zooms from Milan to Paris to New York, decked out in designer goodies that are almost as glamorous as she is. The picture is colorful but offers few hints of analysis or insight. P


uu An ambitious New York City mayor copes with the complexities of urban government, helped by a young deputy who learns that nothing in life is as simple as it once appeared to his idealistic eyes. Al Pacino and John Cusack head a fine cast, but script problems keep the drama from achieving its ''Godfather''-inspired goals. Directed by Harold Becker with less intensity than he brought to earlier films like ''The Onion Field'' and ''Sea of Love.'' V P


uu He's an athlete with a temper too hot for the hockey rink, and when he switches his sport to golf, the country-club set has no idea how to handle him. Adam Sandler is funny as the volatile hero, and the screenplay is just abrasive enough to keep the story surprising. Dennis Dugan directed. P V N S


u Ellen DeGeneres thinks he's Mr. Right until she learns his poetry stinks, his money is inherited, and his idea of a good time is shoplifting from the corner store. Mighty thin stuff despite the contributions of Joan Cusack and Dean Stockwell in supporting roles. Directed by Nick Castle. V P

NUEBA YOL (Not rated)

uu This rare export from the Dominican Republic centers on a hard-working widower who mortgages his house in Santo Domingo, moves to a cousin's home in New York City, and quickly learns that American streets are not filled with the golden opportunities he'd hoped to find. Dominican comedian Luisito Marti is likable in the starring role, but first-time director Angel Muniz has trouble sustaining the picture's bittersweet tone. V P


uuuu Craig Baldwin's wildly inventive documentary tells the complicated tale of an artists' collective called Negativland. It released a record album containing ''sampled'' music from the rock group U2, and fought a resulting lawsuit by asserting that letters like U and numerals like 2 are public property - and so is the music of a band that sends its products into the marketplace for everyone to hear. Full of music, spectacle, and ideas, the movie is both an informative study and an excellent example of cut-and-mix culture. P N

Currently in Release

ANGELS & INSECTS (Not rated)

uu In the late 19th century, a young naturalist moves into the luxurious home of a wealthy nature enthusiast, where he develops complex relationships with his new fiancee and a woman who's less beautiful but shares his interests and enthusiasms. Mark Rylance, Patsy Kensit, and Kristin Scott Thomas head the cast of Philip Haas's period drama, which is handsomely filmed but less involving than its varied material would lead one to expect. Contains explicit sexual material. S N V P

ANTONIA'S LINE (Not rated)

uu A strong-willed woman returns to her ancestral home in the Netherlands after World War II and sets up an unusual household, run by and for the females of the family. Directed by Dutch filmmaker Marleen Gorris, known for her longtime interest in gender and sexuality, this feminist fable would be more effective if the male characters were well-rounded human beings instead of two-dimensional symbols who'd be more at home in a medieval morality play. Contains violence as well as sexual and homosexual activity. S N V P


uuu The lives, loves, lingering hopes, and occasionally sour grapes of several young men approaching their 30th birthdays in a small Massachusetts town where aspirations outstrip opportunities. Scott Rosenberg's screenplay is overwritten and Ted Demme's directing doesn't have much dash, but the picture is redeemed by sensitive acting from Timothy Hutton, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rapaport, Natalie Portman, Matt Dillon, Martha Plimpton, Max Perlich, and Rosie O'Donnell; only Uma Thurman and Annabeth Gish disappoint. P V


uu This film has all the ingredients for a great romance, but it never quite gels. Even first-rate actors Christian Slater and Mary Stuart Masterson deliver disappointing performances as two emotionally wounded characters who find each other. Together they appear to be learning to love again, but sparks never really fly. The flowers shown throughout the movie are exquisite; they steal the show. By Melanie Stetson Freeman P S

uu Flat, empty, beautifully filmed.


O\ Two geeky guys bungle their way into a sealed-off scientific experiment, decide to check out the action, and end up trashing the joint. Pauly Shore is less a comedian than a class clown, and his dim-witted mugging makes Jim Carrey's antics seem creative triumphs by comparison. Vapid, vulgar, and more to the point, not funny. Jason Bloom directed. P S N V


uu Patriotic pilot Christian Slater and treacherous rat John Travolta duel over a pair of stolen nuclear bombs, both equipped with digital timers that start tick-tick-ticking whenever the picture needs a shot of suspense. The screenplay has some amusing punch lines, and Samantha Mathis steals a scene or two as a park ranger who never expected so much excitement on her usually peaceful turf. But don't expect the kind of eye-popping kinetics that director John Woo cooked up before leaving Hong Kong for Hollywood. The great Duane Eddy plays the twangy guitar solos. V P

uu Lightning-paced, crazy, cartoonish.


uuu During South African apartheid, a black clergyman learns that his son has killed a white man known for opposing racism; he then receives unexpected comfort from the murdered man's father, a longtime apartheid supporter whose ideas are now radically changing. Although the film is slow and sometimes ungainly, it takes on surprising power from the dignity of its performances and the moral strength of its ideas. Based on Alan Paton's novel. Directed by Darrell James Roodt. V P

uuu Absorbing, melodramatic, evocative.


uuu Fact-based story of a Roman Catholic nun who befriends a convicted murderer, helping him appeal his sentence and prepare for the death penalty that awaits him if their efforts fail. Although it's often preachy and self-conscious, Tim Robbins's drama is socially courage- ous in its critical dissection of capital punishment, and deeply moving in its insistence on the fundamental humanity of its characters. Superbly acted by Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn; vividly photographed by Roger Deakins. Contains reenactments of a harsh crime. V P

uuuu Profound, humane, thought-provoking.


O\ A woman longs for vengeance after her daughter's murderer is set free by the legal system. The goal of this hate-filled movie is to stir up the lowest instincts of its audience, then satisfy the artificially induced rage with a burst of self-righteous bloodshed. Directed by John Schlesinger, who used to make constructive pictures like ''Sunday Bloody Sunday'' and ''Midnight Cowboy,'' but appears to have lost his way. Sally Field's overwrought acting doesn't help. S V N P


uu On the run after a crime spree, two psychopathic brothers take a pastor and his family as hostages, and the whole gang runs into a passel of vampires in a sleazy Mexican saloon. The combination of director-editor Robert Rodriguez and screenwriter-actor Quentin Tarantino means plenty of surprises, almost all of them nasty. Tarantino stars with George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, and the wonderful Harvey Keitel. Contains extremely graphic violence. V S N P

O\ Bizarre, lame, gory.


uuuu Jennifer Jason Leigh gives the performance of a lifetime as a deeply troubled rock singer who moves in with her sister, a country-music star who's achieved success at the expense of strained family relations. Directed by Ulu Grosbard, who has never done a better job of filling the screen with superb acting, and shows great ingenuity at interweaving music with other aspects of the story. Barbara Turner wrote the sensitive screenplay. Contains graphic portrayals of substance abuse and other unsavory material. S V P N

uuu Gritty, heartbreaking; Jason Leigh is superb.


uu Three young men get hold of a police officer's pistol in an ethnically mixed housing project near Paris, with tragic results. This hard-hitting French melodrama is less involving than Mathieu Kassovitz's previous picture, the spunky ''Cafe au lait,'' but it takes on historical impor- tance with its precedent-setting portrait of social despair in the ''banlieu'' neighborhoods that other French film- makers have since begun to explore. ''La Haine'' is the original French title. Contains violence, vulgarity. V S P


u Two children meet an overgrown kid who's been trapped for years in the exotic world of an adventure board game. Mostly trite and tacky despite Robin Williams's strenuous acting. Some scenes may be disturbing to young children. Based on Chris Van Allsburg's book. Directed by Joe Johnston. V

uuu Fast-paced, fun, somewhat scary.


uu Chosen for the jury in a mobster's murder trial, a woman fights for her son's life after he's kidnapped by a psychotic crook who wants a not-guilty verdict for his boss. Everybody betrays everybody in this twisty-turny thriller, basically just another Hollywood exercise in tormenting female characters so audiences will cheer the vengeful finale. Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin cook up an effective mix of chemistry and tension. Contains sex and violence. S V N P

u Superficial, dumb, one big yawn.


uu Theatrical enthusiasts gather for a summertime project, and echoes of Chekhov and Renoir abound as their personal and professional lives merge into a bubbling emotional stew. Much of the action is tinged with satire and irony, although darker shades enter when incest and jealousy become part of the mix. As in other Henry Jaglom pictures, the effect is like attending a party crowded with his favorite friends; it's diverting for a while, but you're glad to escape when it's over. Andre Gregory and Viveca Lindfors are among the guests. P S


uuu The ill-starred love affair of two misfits in an uncaring world. Rarely have the miseries of alcoholism and prostitution been portrayed with such cautionary force, or such an unshakable sense of compassion for their victims. Directed by Mike Figgis with a keen eye for visual details and a brilliant ear for visual underpinnings. A tacked-on ''uplifting'' finale and a scene of needless brutality against the heroine provide the only false notes. Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue head the excellent cast. Viewers should be warned that the film contains explicit depictions of jarringly objectionable material. S N V P

uu Depressing, well-acted, overrated.


uu An actor tries to revitalize his career by herding a low-talent cast through an offbeat ''Hamlet'' production with a poverty-row budget and a drafty old church for a theater. Kenneth Branagh's comedy has few memorable moments but paints an affectionate portrait of a theatrical subculture. Joan Collins and Richard Briers are among the hardy troupers. P S


u A musician takes a teaching job to support his family so he can do some serious composing, but gets sidetracked for 30 years by the demands and rewards of his new profession. The movie takes an admirable stand in favor of real support for culture and education; but soggy screenwriting and Richard Dreyfuss's unexciting perform- ance make the result seem as dinky as the five-minute symphony our hero unveils. Stephen Herek directed. P

uu Inspiring, earnest, overwrought.


uuu Oliver Stone portrays the former president as a hugely complicated mixture of conflicting qualities - on one hand a foul-mouthed bigot and geopolitical killer who bombs Southeast Asia with hardly a shrug, on the other a perspicacious world-changer who might have been a 20th-century giant if his personality hadn't been so flawed. Less cinematically daring but more psychologically rich than Stone's amazing ''JFK,'' the picture is as rambling, mercurial, infuriating, and fascinating as its hero. Anthony Hopkins heads a superbly chosen cast. V P

uuu Long, entertaining, cathartic.


uuu William Shakespeare's towering tragedy about a jealous husband manipulated by an evil companion. Laurence Fishburne gets off to a shaky start as the title character, and director Oliver Parker has trouble integrating the accents of his international cast into a convincing ensemble. His visual style is both pungent and poetic, though, and Kenneth Branagh's insidious Iago is far and away the best performance of his uneven screen career. Irene Jacob is radiant as Desdemona. S N V

uuu Accessible, poignant, Fishburne is great.


uuu Glowingly filmed adaptation of Jane Austen's late novel about life and love in 19th-century England, centering on the emotional life of a young woman who reencounters an attractive man she once spurned on the advice of a misguided friend. Directed by Roger Michell from Nick Dear's literate screenplay, which reflects the sly charm if not the rich complexity of Austen's prose.

uuuu Authentic, understated, a Jane Austen gem.


uuu Richard Loncraine's harrowing adaptation makes Shakespeare's memorable villain a rising fascist dictator in Europe during the early 1930s. Ian McKellan gives a ferocious performance that makes up in urgency what it lacks in charisma. Annette Bening is less impressive as Queen Elizabeth; there's solid work by John Wood and Jim Broadbent, though. Often brilliant, but contains explicit violence and a hard-hitting atmosphere. V S

uuu Brilliant, audacious, understandable.


uu Remake of Billy Wilder's comedy about a playboy who falls in love with a chauffeur's daughter, causing his stodgy brother to distract the young woman so an already arranged marriage can take place. Harrison Ford shows a flair for romantic comedy, but the cast can't match the 1954 original, which featured Humphrey Bogart and William Holden opposite Audrey Hepburn's inimitable charms. Directed by Sydney Pollack, who manages to dilute both the fairy-tale magic and the real-world cynicism that made the first version a classic. V P

uuu Delightful, slightly naive, great one-liners.


uuu Two sisters with contrasting personalities face family challenges and romantic complications within the carefully structured social codes of English country life about 200 years ago. Jane Austen's deeply ironic novel loses some of its bite but little of its beauty in Emma Thompson's screen adaptation, which is fetchingly photographed and capably acted by Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman, among others. Directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee with a touch that seems oddly impersonal.

uuuu Nuanced, majestic, brilliant.


uuu Recruited to serve a notorious mobster, a young boy witnesses the illicit power games and tumultuous romantic secrets that flourish in the Shanghai underworld during the 1930s. Giving the popular ''Godfather'' genre a clever Chinese twist, Zhang Yimou's drama is less original than masterpieces like his ''Ju Dou'' and ''The Story of Qiu Ju,'' but packs an entertaining wallop with its inventive filmmaking and deft performances. V S


uuuu In a future society driven underground by a deadly epidemic, a convict travels into the bygone year of 1996, where a bizarre animal-rights group may hold clues to the illness's cause and cure. Bruce Willis is bruisingly good as the hero and Brad Pitt is suitably zany as the activist who dogs his trail. Directed by Monty Python comedy-troupe veteran Terry Gilliam, whose talent for vivid imagery fills every shot with an anarchic energy that's manically appropriate to the unpredictable plot. Inspired by Chris Marker's masterpiece ''La Jetee,'' made in 1962. Contains violence and vulgarity. V P

uuu Dark, apocalyptic, thought-provoking.


uu This could have been a classic comedy of manners in the style of ''My Cousin Vinny,'' with two working-class art thieves trying to lie low in a rich Rhode Island resort town. Denis Leary and Sandra Bullock manage to be likable, but nothing they say is particularly interesting, and a good deal of it is unprintable. You won't walk out of the theater, but you'll wish you waited for it to come out on video. By Scott Baldauf P N S

uu Predictable, cute, a rental.

VUKOVAR (Not rated)

u A modern version of ''Romeo and Juliet,'' focusing on a Croatian woman and a Serbian man who marry just before civil war erupts in Yugoslavia, separating them. The drama doesn't have as much emotional impact as one would hope, but it's a vivid reminder of war's unspeakable consequences. Directed by Boro Draskovic on real locations in Vukovar, a bombed-out border town where Serbs and Croats used to intermarry without a second thought. V S N P


uu The tribulations and triumphs of four African-American women in search of meaningful romance. Directed by actor Forest Whitaker, the comedy-drama gets off to a zesty start but lapses into sentiment coated with syrupy music and familiar story twists. The good cast includes Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Gregory Hines and Giancarlo Esposito. Contains sex scenes. P S

uuu Funny, opinionated, poignant.


uuuu A little girl sets off to buy a new goldfish for her New Year's Day celebration, loses the money her mother has reluctantly provided, and races the clock to complete her mission before the shops close for a long holiday. Directed by newcomer Jafar Panahi, this Iranian comedy is charming and winning every step of the way, and shows unusual cinematic imagination by unfolding its story in real time rather than the stretched-and-squeezed time of conventional movies.


uu Based on real events, this old-fashioned boys' adventure details the troubled voyage of a square-rigged sailing ship run by a salty adventurer-turned-teacher and crewed by 13 teenagers learning responsibility and teamwork on the high seas. The psychology of the story is shallow, but the action scenes pack a good visual punch. Jeff Bridges leads the mostly young cast. Directed by action specialist Ridley Scott. V S P

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