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Freeze Frames: The Monitor Movie Guide

AUGUST 1, 1997

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

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o Forget It

+ Poor

++ Fair

+++ Good

++++ Excellent

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++ Amiable family comedy about a lonely boy, an unlovable clown played by Michael Jeter, and a basketball-shooting dog played by the year's most photogenic golden retriever. Wholesome fun, although several scenes longer than it needs to be. Directed by Charles Martin Smith.


++ Terrorists hijack the president's plane, threatening to kill hostages until a tyrant is released in the former Soviet Union, and everyone pitches in to beat the villains and preserve American honor. There's plenty of action, and Harrison Ford certainly puts the chief back in chief executive. But the movie wastes a good opportunity to look at important questions, such as who's responsible for American policy when the president is busy killing terrorists. Glenn Close is good as the vice president (!) and Gary Oldman is better as the head bad guy. Directed by action specialist Wolfgang Petersen. V P

++ Fast-paced, silly, flawed.


++ Smarting from romantic humiliations, two insensitive yuppies decide to woo a vulnerable woman by flattering and pampering her, then dump her as revenge on her entire gender. Although the plot is as repulsive as its main characters, the movie is far from gratuitous in its scathing portrayal of me-generation selfishness and insensitivity. Written and directed by newcomer Neil LaBute. P V S

LISBON STORY (Not rated)

++ Fact and fiction intermingle in this offbeat story of a movie crew recording the atmosphere of life in Portugal's capitol. The film's ambitions and accomplishments don't quite mesh with one another, but thoughtful German director Wim Wenders injects it with his usual passion for accurately pinning down the look and feel of everyday reality. P


++ Samuel L. Jackson plays a science teacher faced with the huge challenge of bringing civilized values to indifferent and sometimes dangerous young troublemakers in an inner-city high school. Kevin Reynolds's drama has plenty of energy and moments of hard-hitting power. But its melodramatic elements - including an apparent sympathy for vigilante violence - are so overdone that one suspects the filmmakers care less about outlining a social problem than stirring up the audience's vengeful instincts. A more responsible treatment would turn its focus from individual heroics to explanations of how the educational system reached this deplorable condition, and how political action might change it for the better. V P N S

SHall we dance? (PG)

+++ A Japanese businessman decides to take a departure from his routine and enter a ballroom-dance class, his interest initially piqued by an attractive instructor. His wife encourages him to pursue a new activity but suspects him of infidelity and hires a detective. Viewers are led into a revealing glimpse of the ballroom-dance competition circuit as well as Japanese society in the 1990s. P By Leigh Montgomery

+++ Powerful, touching, exquisite.

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++ The superheros battle coldhearted Mr. Freeze and venomous Poison Ivy, with help from Batgirl and the high-tech toys dangling from their overloaded utility belts. George Clooney looks great in a cape, but this fourth installment in the series has invested so much capital in razzle-dazzle special effects that it hardly matters whose head is under the pointy-eared helmet. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, and Chris O'Donnell join in the movie's video-game spirit. Contains a great deal of action-movie violence. V

++ Shallow, good costumes; sleep inducing.


+ A controversial sex therapist helps a young married couple find relief from maladjustment and repressed memories of an abused childhood. Lance Young's drama takes a compassionate approach to troubling problems that have received needed attention in recent years, but the movie is so superficially written and directed that much of it plays like a commercial for trendy psychobabble. Terence Stamp brings a certain conviction to the therapist character, and Sheryl Lee gives her strongest performance to date as the inwardly tormented wife. Contains a great deal of very explicit sex. S N P V


+ A decent-hearted inmate headed for parole finds himself stuck on a plane taken over by evil, violent criminals on their way to a new maximum-security prison. The movie sends two mean-spirited messages. One is that bad criminals are no better than animals and should be treated accordingly. The other is that hatred, mayhem, and destruction are rip-roaring ingredients for summer entertainment. Simon West directed the action-glutted story. Nicolas Cage, Ving Rhames, and Steve Buscemi are among the few performers who emerge with a shred of dignity at the end. P V

++ Absurd, simplistic, embarrassingly bad.


+++ Slowly paced science-fiction drama about an idealistic astronomer who detects a message from outer space with blueprints for a one-person spacecraft, and eventually sets out on a voyage guided by some superior intelligence. Meanwhile, an offbeat theologian becomes her lover, and they have an ongoing dialogue about the relationship between science and religion. Jodie Foster is excellent as the astronomer, and the screenplay (based on a Carl Sagan novel) is more thoughtful than most. But its discussions don't go very deep, and moviegoers with strong religious values may wonder why it comes down for humanism over spirituality. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. S V P

++++ Intelligent, smartly directed, exhilarating.

CONTEMPT (Not rated)

++++ Reissue of Jean-Luc Godard's legendary 1963 drama about a French screenwriter who takes a job adapting "The Odyssey" for a crass Hollywood producer, then loses the respect of his wife, who feels he has lowered his standards of loyalty and integrity. Godard's exquisitely graceful style is enhanced by expressive performances from Michel Piccoli as the writer, Brigitte Bardot as his spouse, Jack Palance as the producer, and the great German director Fritz Lang as himself. N V


+ Very dark comedy-drama about two young men, one fatally ill and the other suicidally depressed, who become friends and have various rowdy adventures. Parts of the movie focusing on drugs and wanderlust seem like throwbacks to the '60s, but most of the story is more self-indulgent than sociological. Written and directed by Finn Taylor. S N V P


++ A personally troubled FBI agent (John Travolta) tries to thwart an evil criminal (Nicolas Cage) by assuming his face and identity, and the crook strikes back by assuming the cop's face and identity in return. Action-movie director John Woo has built a thriving career with stories about men who develop complex relationships even though they're on opposite sides of the law. This is the ultimate Woo movie, but while his fans will enjoy every minute, others will find it too long, repetitive, and violent. Gina Gershon and Joan Allen head the supporting cast. V P S

++ Silly, extremely violent, hackneyed.


++++ A filmmaker agrees to produce a classic play in Sarajevo, but when the Bosnian war arrives he switches to a movie project that runs into a new set of difficulties. Jean-Luc Godard wrote and directed this French production, which sees war as a symbol of modern greediness and materialism, and cries out for a rebirth of art to heal society by guiding it toward more humane values. The intricate, puzzlelike story contains some violence and sexuality. V P S N


++++ Spike Lee's nonfiction account of a racially motivated 1963 bombing that killed four African-American girls in a Birmingham, Ala., church. The film's approach is highly instructive, deeply moving, and geared to deploring the racism that breeds violence rather than reactivating old hatreds. V

GABBEH (Not rated)

+++ A gabbeh is an Iranian carpet with symbolic weavings that reflect the lives of its makers. This stunningly beautiful Iranian drama uses a gabbeh to introduce the tale of a young woman who falls in love with a mysterious horseman, then waits for years while her father continually postpones his permission for their marriage. Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the most energetic of today's Iranian filmmakers. V

George of the Jungle

++ Pesky poachers and talking monkeys romp through this jungle romance between a fainting heiress, played by Leslie Mann, and the title character (Brendan Fraser). The plot can be guessed within the first three minutes, and the humor is uncreative and often crude. The heroine, however, is endearing in her quirkiness. Alcohol is imbibed by jungle beasts as well as people, and there are some violent, though cartoonlike, fight scenes. V By Laura Lipscomb


+++ A funeral procession traveling through the countryside is the background for this dramatic comedy about life, love, and bureaucracy in Cuba today. The story is slight, but the acting has great conviction, and the movie's underlying humanity shines brightly through the sometimes sad or suggestive details. Directed by Juan Carlos Tabio and the late Toms Gutirrez Alea, the most brilliant filmmaker Cuba has produced. S N V P


++ After being stolen from his parents as a baby, the superstrong Greek god battles a villain named Hades, discovers his Olympian origins, and finds time to romance a damsel in distress. The cartooning is lively, as always in feature-length animations from the Walt Disney studio, and the voice-performances by James Woods and Danny DeVito are lots of fun. Alan Menken's pop songs are closer to second-rate Motown than the first-rate gospel style they aim for, though, and the filmmakers flatten every element of the story to fit standardized Disney formulas. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. Contains scary and violent scenes that may be much too intense for young children. V

+++ Hip, fun, entertaining.


+++ You know those people you run across who look, talk, and act like aliens from outer space? They really are aliens from outer space, thinly disguised in human bodies they'll never learn to handle very well. That's the idea behind this hilarious comedy, directed with boisterous wit by Barry Sonnenfeld from Ed Solomon's laugh-a-minute screenplay. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith give uproarious comic performances as government agents ordered to keep New York's monsters in Manhattan, where they'll blend right in with the rest of the confusion. Contains some sexual innuendo and a lot of cartoonish violence in the "Ghostbusters" tradition. V P

+++ Original, clever, witty.


+++ Judi Dench gives a rich and riveting performance as Queen Victoria in this colorful drama about the aging monarch's loving friendship with a feisty Scots horseman. Billy Connolly is equally good as the unconventional companion, and filmmaker John Madden keeps the action moving at a rattling good clip. V P

+++ Poignant, witty, historically illuminating.


+++ When her longtime pal decides to marry someone else, a young woman sets out to snag him for herself. The story is fast and funny, although it takes an unexpectedly dark turn in the second half. Julia Roberts is brighter and spunkier than usual, and Rupert Everett steals the show as the heroine's other best friend, a gay man pretending to be battily in love with her. Directed by P.J. Hogan. P S V

+++ Funny, touching, uplifting.


++ Convinced that his wife and boss are both cheating on him, a white yuppie burns his bridges and embarks on a life of crime with a black holdup artist. Steve Oedekerk's dark comedy swings between the genuinely amusing and the simply silly, but the acting by Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence is often uproarious. S V P

++ Sophomoric, lighthearted, unrealistic.


++ "Raiders of the Lost Ark" meets "Police Squad" as action star Jackie Chan tracks down a treasure left over from World War II, dogged by sinister villains and sidetracked by spectacular stunts every step of the way. The adventure is perky and colorful, but takes an unfortunate pleasure in ethnic stereotypes and violence aimed at women. Chan directed. Contains sexual innuendo and nudity. V N

+++ Tiring, amazing stunts, good action.


++ Grumpy old dance instructors. Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau play two aging curmudgeons who join a cruise-ship entertainment staff, hoping to sweep rich female passengers right off their feet. The farce has some amusing moments, and the supporting cast includes fine talents like Donald O'Connor, Dyan Cannon, Gloria DeHaven, Hal Linden, Brent Spiner, Rue McClanahan, and Elaine Stritch. Unfortunately, though, crude language and crass attitudes toward women give the glossily produced picture a vulgar undertone that rarely lets up. Directed by Martha Coolidge. P V

+++ Great comical timing, corny, sweet.


++ A young Japanese woman becomes enthralled by the sensual pleasure of having calligraphy written on her skin, and doing the same to other people. Peter Greenaway's unorthodox drama treats the movie screen less as an entertainment device than a postmodern canvas upon which he writes, photographs, and records an intricate multicultural collage. Vivian Wu ("The Last Emperor" and "The Joy Luck Club") stars. Merits four stars for its sumptuous style and originality, but contains explicit sex scenes that will put the film out of bounds for many viewers. S N V P

PONETTE (Not rated)

+++ A four-year-old girl copes with differences between fantasy and reality after her mother is killed in an accident. Jacques Doillon's poignant, precise filmmaking paints a vivid portrait of life as seen through very young eyes, and little Victoire Thivisol gives a remarkable performance in the title role. V


+++ Early in this century, a young Chinese boy is tricked into becoming the servant of a decadent family, starting him on a series of intrigues and adventures that go on for many years. Directed by Chen Kaige, celebrated for internationally acclaimed pictures like "Farewell My Concubine" and "Life on a String," the sumptuously filmed drama combines an unpredictable story with lush cinematography by Chris Doyle and lively performances by Chinese superstars Leslie Cheung and Gong Li. S V P


+ Already engaged in an incestuous relationship, a brother and sister get involved in other illegal activities aimed at improving their position in life. Based on a story by hard-boiled crime specialist Jim Thompson, the movie is long on flashiness and perilously short on substance. Billy Zane, Gina Gershon, and Rue McClanahan star. Michael Oblowitz directed. S N V P


+++ A reclusive Florida beekeeper must come to terms with the real world when his household is threatened by thugs demanding money that his misguided son stashed away before going to jail. Victor Nunez's family drama benefits greatly from Peter Fonda's best performance in years, and also from Virgil Mirano's superbly atmospheric camera work. Contains some violence, raunchy dialogue, and drug-related scenes. V P S

+++ Engaging, quietly suspenseful, realistic.


+++ A family hides away when war breaks out in Yugoslavia, and every time one of the clan surfaces, a new set of insanities seems to have erupted in the land. Emir Kusterica's pitch-dark comedy is energetic, colorful, and ambitious. It's also repetitious and much too long for what it has to say. S V P N


+++ Looking for her runaway cat, a shy young woman ventures into Paris and starts developing the first real relationships she's ever allowed herself to have. Cdric Klapisch directed this small, smart, amiable French comedy. S P V

++ Slow, self-indulgent, creative.

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