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Freeze Frames

Freeze Frames: The Monitor Movie Guide

Here are the week's reviews of both the latest releases and current films, rated according to the key below (''o'' for forget it). The capsule reviews are by Monitor film critic David Sterritt; the one liners from a panel of at lease three other Monitor reviewers. Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted.

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o Forget it

* Only if it's free

** Maybe a matinee

*** Worth full price

**** Wait in line

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* Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a witness-protection agent battling his treacherous boss over a weapon-smuggling operation. The picture is effectively made, but viewers will want to erase the horrific violence that erupts in scene after scene, leading to an unusually mean-spirited finale. Charles Russell directed. V P


**** This feature-length animation turns Victor Hugo's tragic hero into a candidate for the Seven Dwarfs, frolicking with cute little gargoyles when he isn't busy helping a handsome soldier save a gorgeous gypsy from an evil judge. The cartooning is expertly done in keeping with the Walt Disney tradition. But some may question the wisdom of turning a serious, complex, and often tormented literary classic into a feel-good musical comedy. Some scenes are much too intense or violent for young children. V


* A corpse is discovered near a small Texas community, rekindling old debates about whatever happened to a sheriff who once ruled the county with a violent and racially bigoted hand. John Sayles's offbeat western shows how public controversies often overlap with private grudges and conflicting memories. It also contains violence and a surprise ending with strong sexual overtones that many will find objectionable. Kris Kristofferson and Matthew McConaughey star. S V P N


** A policeman protects a famous chess player whose life has been threatened, and subplots connect this with medieval tales about people and animals saved from harm by their simple faith. Hungarian filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi directed this life-affirming fantasy with great imagination, but it contains small amounts of violence and nudity. Gary Kemp stars. S V N


*** Revealing and riveting account of conservative Oliver North's failed campaign for a Virginia seat in the United States Senate. Tautly directed by R.J. Cutler and David Van Taylor. Contains extremely foul language from North's political operatives. P


* Reissue of Jack Hill's cheaply made melodrama about an all-girl gang, first released in 1975. The action has a certain campy energy, but its obsession with sexual violence is extremely offensive. V P S N

Currently in Release


** Screenwriter David Twohy ("The Fugitive," "Waterworld") makes his directorial debut with this visitors-from-Outer-Space film that seems like a half-baked episode of TV's "The X-Files." Charlie Sheen plays a researcher who stumbles onto a visit by extraterrestrials and a conspiracy led by bad guy Ron Silver to cover it up. Consider this a warm-up for the mega-budget, similarly themed blockbuster "Independence Day" next month. V P By Frank Scheck

BLUSH (Not rated)

* After the new Communist government cracks down on their illegal trade, two Chinese prostitutes turn their lives in fresh directions, but remain linked by romantic attachments and memories of their shared past. Directed by Li Shaohong, this historical drama is varied and ambitious, but suffers from uninspired acting and a wooden visual style. S V P

BOYS (PG-13)

*** Leisurely tale of the relationship between a troubled prep-school student and a somewhat mysterious young woman he rescues after a horseback-riding accident. Winona Ryder and Lucas Haas are quietly convincing as the main characters. Written and directed by Stacy Cochran, who has grown considerably as a filmmaker since her debut movie, the suburban satire "Her New Gun." S V P


** Jim Carrey plays a weird TV technician who thinks you're his best friend if you accept a free hook-up to the pay channels. The acting is energetic, but there's more violence and vulgarity than many moviegoers will find acceptable. Ben Stiller directed the comedy. V S P

* Revolting, moronic, boring.


**** A prim young Londoner takes up residence on her family's ancestral farm, inhabited by a conglomeration of oddballs and presided over by a cranky old matriarch who hasn't ventured from her bedroom in decades. John Schlesinger's rollicking version of Stella Gibbons's novel is acted with the highest of spirits by Kate Beckinsale, Joanna Lumley, Eileen Atkins, Ian McKellen, Freddie Jones, and many others. Malcolm Bradbury wrote the screenplay for the brightly filmed British production. P V

*** Quirky, amusing, Faulty Towers meets the Addams Family.


** Johnny Depp plays an accountant named William Blake who wanders through the Old West with an Indian friend named Nobody. Wounded by gunfire, Blake dodges three hired killers who want to finish him off. Jim Jarmusch wrote and directed this mystical western, which gains much of its resonance from Robby Muller's rich black-and-white cinematography and Neil Young's moody music. Contains a few moments of jarringly explicit sex and violence meant to debunk simplistic myths about the values held by frontier society. S V N P

* Nihilistic, gruesome, amoral, puzzling, twisted humor, but unconventional and poetically filmed.


** Dennis Quaid gets top billing as a medieval dragon slayer, but the main attraction is Draco himself, a nasty-looking critter who's really an overgrown Muppet with a friendly disposition. His abilities include fighting, flying, and synchronizing his lips with Sean Connery's off-screen voice. David Thewlis plays the villain, a dangerous despot whose survival is magically linked with Draco's life. Rob Cohen's movie has flashes of wit, but there's little substance to the story, and Draco's charms are surrounded by too much graphic violence. V P S

*** Whimsical, fantastic, noble.


** An ordinary fan becomes coach of a pro-basketball team and gets to whip the players into shape while saving the franchise from the machinations of its greedy owner. The comedy is silly and sometimes vulgar, but sports enthusiasts and Whoopi Goldberg aficionados should enjoy it. Directed by Steve Rash and colorfully filmed by Victor Kemper. Contains vulgar language and a brief sexual encounter. P S


** Strapped for cash, a small-time businessman arranges for his wife to be kidnapped to get the ransom. Directed by Joel Coen and produced by Ethan Coen, the pitch-dark comedy has good acting by William H. Macy as the devious husband and Frances MacDormand as the pregnant policewoman who cracks the case. Contains explicit sex and grotesque violence. S V P

uuu Whacked-out, bizarre, funny, great camera work, but violence erupts out of nowhere.


** A boy and his dolphin, and the crusty old uncle who loves them both. The scenery is great, and the story is often cute, even if it borrows liberally from "Free Willy" as well as Flipper's old TV series. But some fishing scenes may be upsetting for children. Elijah Wood and Paul Hogan star. Written and directed by Alan Shapiro. V P

*** Squeaky clean, family fare; Flipper is a big ham.


** With his wife and new baby in tow, a young man sets out to find the parents who gave him up for adoption years ago, but his search runs into one zigzag after another. Directed by David O. Russell, whose earlier "Spanking the Monkey" was more original. Ben Stiller leads a cast that includes Mary Tyler Moore, Alan Alda, and Lily Tomlin in supporting roles. Be warned that the comedy includes a great deal of verbally and visually explicit sexual humor. S P V

** Zany, crass, dumb plot.


*** The cautionary fable of a selfish king in precolonial Africa who allows shameless favoritism and preoccupations with sex to undermine the power he wields so recklessly. The moral lesson is seriously conveyed but the style of the director, Mali filmmaker Cheick Oumar Sissoko, often fills the screen with festive color, commotion, and comedy. S V P


** Alec Baldwin stars as an ex-cop caught up in a complicated plot involving the fatal crash of a small plane filled with illegal immigrants. The steamy New Orleans atmosphere and the performances of an attractive cast, including Kelly Lynch, Mary Stuart Masterson, Teri Hatcher (of TV's "Lois and Clark") are the main reasons to see this muddled, overlong thriller. Baldwin brings his charisma to the lead role, and Eric Roberts makes a dependably hissable villain. V N P By Frank Scheck

*** Moody, suspenseful, gritty.

HEAVY (Not rated)

** Victor didn't worry much about his weight until an attractive young woman came to work at his mother's diner, sparking new emotions that his limited experience hasn't taught him how to handle. Written and directed with uncommon sensitivity by James Mangold, a strikingly talented newcomer. Superbly acted by a well-chosen cast including Pruitt Taylor Vince as the title character, Shelley Winters as his mom, Deborah Harry as the diner's other employee, and Liv Tyler as the new face in town. S P


** Juliette Binoche and Olivier Martinez flee a raging epidemic in France during the early 18th century. Fans of old-fashioned epics will enjoy the dashing heroics, but look out for graphic scenes of violence and illness. Directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, who honed his historical skills on a sweeping screen version of "Cyrano de Bergerac" a few years ago. Several famous French faces appear in cameo performances. V S N P


*** James is an orphan living with two horrible aunts, but his life takes a magical turn when a giant peach springs up in his backyard, populated with insects who launch it on an adventurous ocean voyage. Told through both animation and live action, the fantasy is almost too inventive for its own good, filling the screen with unsettling pictures and situations that could be much too scary for young viewers. The noisy soundtrack features voice-only performances by Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss, and Jane Leeves. Directed by Henry Selick, who made "The Nightmare Before Christmas." V

**** Fun, wildly creative, action-packed.


* Energetic drama about events in an 18th-century German town where a young man mysteriously appeared after being raised in a dungeon, then set free to make his way in a world he could barely comprehend. Written and directed by Peter Sehr, who sees the episode as part of a clandestine scheme to manipulate the royal succession. Andre Eisermann's strong performance as the title character appears to have been influenced by Bruno S.'s unusual acting in Werner Herzog's classic film on the Hauser legend. Contains sex and violence. V S N


*** Sharon Stone gives her most mature performance to date in this sometimes thoughtful, sometimes melodramatic story of a woman sentenced to death for a horrible crime she committed in a drug-induced daze and now regrets. Rob Morrow plays a young bureaucrat who befriends her and tries to have her sentence commuted. Bruce Beresford directed. V P


** Political intrigue in Haiti during the 1960s is the subject of Raoul Peck's thoughtful drama, which treats fascinating themes but is too low-key and elliptical to gather much dramatic power. V P


** Espionage expert Tom Cruise cracks a case teeming with trickery, treachery, and twists. Some of the suspense set-pieces are impressive, but the picture would pack a greater wallop if it were stitched together more tightly and consistently. Directed by Brian De Palma in the strictly commercial, by-the-numbers mode he polished in earlier epics like "Scarface" and "Carlito's Way." Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Henry Czerny, Ving Rhames, and Vanessa Redgrave head the supporting cast. Based on the popular '60s television series. V P

** Cloak-and-dagger, snazzy, loud, suspenseful.


** The adventures of an 18th-century woman who falls into prostitution but finds a better life with an idealistic painter who falls in love with her. Daniel Defoe's great novel combines frequent ribaldry with explicitly feminist views of his society's ills. Pen Densham's movie has strong female characters but stresses sensuality over the story's other themes. Robin Wright, Stockard Channing, and Morgan Freeman star. S V N


*** Odd circumstances lead to a young man giving the eulogy at the funeral of a fellow student he can't remember having known. Afterward he finds himself involved with two very different women: the mother of the deceased "friend" and an acquaintance he's adored since high school. This ironic comedy-drama is like a milder version of "The Graduate," with David Schwimmer working hard to equal Dustin Hoffman's star-making performance. The story leads its characters to morally dubious situations, but the outcome reaffirms traditional values. Directed by Matt Reeves with a gentle touch. S P V

** Shallow, trendy, tedious, uninspired.


*** Billy Zane scampers between New York City and an exotic jungle, scavenging for magic skulls also coveted by all sorts of bad guys. Superman bends steel with his bare hands and Batman has amazing tools, and next to them the Phantom's mere pistols look kind of old-fashioned. At least the dialogue packs an occasional campy laugh, and while there's some nasty violence the picture is a bit more restrained than much of its mid-'90s competition. Based on the inexplicably popular comic strip. V

*** Comic-bookish, raw, scenic beauty.


* Action star Jean-Claude Van Damme makes his movie-directing debut with this bone-cruncher about an American vying for the grand prize in a Tibetan fighting contest some 70 years ago. Also on hand is Roger Moore, giving a one-note portrayal of a British aristocrat. There are a few catchy sequences and the scenery is lovely, but most of the adventure is aimed at the video-game set. V P

** Stunning fight scenes, predictable, empty, colorful.


* A loony general hijacks a pile of poison-gas missiles and stashes them on Alcatraz, threatening to wipe out San Francisco if the government doesn't meet his demands. Can a mild-mannered toxicologist and an eccentric Alcatraz veteran stop him before it's too late? Learning the answer means sitting through more than two hours of violence, vulgarity, and all-around excess, served up with high-tech trimmings by director Michael Bay. Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery star. Contains a great deal of mayhem and foul language as well as a brief sex scene. V P S

** Mind-numbing, Connery is great, entertaining but some scenes are shockingly violent.

SGT. KABUKIMAN N.Y.P.D. (Not rated)

o Gross-out comedy about an urban cop who fights crime with help from an ancient Japanese spirit. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz directed the Troma production, which isn't smart or savvy enough to compensate for its racist, sexist, and antihomosexual overtones. S N V P


** Yet another Leslie Nielson movie parody, targeted this time at James Bond pictures and their spinoffs. Most of the laughs come near the beginning, before Rick Friedberg's klutzy directing becomes annoyingly monotonous. Andy Griffith and Charles Durning lend the satire a bit of class as a supervillain and a spymaster. V P


* A young American comes of age while visiting old friends of her parents in the Italian countryside. Bernardo Bertolucci's romantic drama has great visual beauty but little new to say about life or love. Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack, Jean Marais, and newcomer Liv Tyler head the cast. Contains explicit sex and a frequently sensual atmosphere. S N P


** Rhea Perlman plays the white female coach of a black male basketball team at an inner-city high school. Like every scrappy coach in the history of movies, she gets involved in the personal lives of her players while boosting their morale for the big game at the climax. Although a few scenes develop human interest, it's mostly one clich after another. Steve Gomer directed. P V

*** Fairly realistic, hopeful, unpredictable.


*** Janeane Garofalo and Uma Thurman make a bright-eyed comedy team in this romance about a handsome photographer who falls in love with the voice of a radio veterinarian and the face of an air-headed model, mistakenly thinking they're the same ideal woman. Directed by comedy specialist Michael Lehmann. Contains a fairly explicit phone-sex scene. S P V

*** Warm, lightweight; one disconcerting scene.


** A handsome scientist spends half his time studying tornadoes from a front-row seat, the other half wobbling between his about-to-be-divorced wife and his new girlfriend. Audiences may howl at the hackneyed plot and dialogue, but you won't hear them over the Dolby sound effects assulting your eardrums at a gazillion decibels. Directed by Jan de Bont, who made "Speed" last year and will reach escape velocity soon if he keeps accelerating at this pace. Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt head the windblown cast. People living in real tornado zones may not be amused by the thriller's exploitative attitude. V P

*** Visual wow! Comical thriller, lame plot.

TWO DEATHS (Not rated)

o While revolution rages in a Romanian city, several men hold an impassioned conversation that exposes many of the social and personal dysfunctions leading to war, exploitation, and other ills. Michael Gambon and Sonia Braga lead the cast. Vigorously directed by Nicolas Roeg. Contains sexuality and some graphic views of wartime carnage. S V N P


** The heroine is an 11-year-old girl who's not as pretty or popular as the other kids in 7th grade. Todd Solondz's movie begins like a suburban ugly-duckling tale with many comic overtones, but it grows darker as it goes along, evoking dangers that youngsters must be alert to in today's world - from drugs to child abuse - and showing how cruel children can be to one another when grownups aren't around. Moviegoers should be strongly warned that the film contains sexual material and a great deal of extremely foul language spoken by its young cast. P V S

*** Provocative, endearing, brings back memories.

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