The Monitor Movie Guide
MAY 5, 1995
Movies that contain violence, sexual situations, nudity, and profanity are denoted V, S, N, and P respectively. Evaluations do not constitute a Monitor endorsement. Further guidance is supplied by full reviews on the Arts pages.
David Sterritt Staff Panel Meaning
O\ O\ Don't bother
u q Poor
uu qq Fair
uuu qqq Good
uuuu qqqq Excellent
7 1 Half rating point
O\ DESTINY TURNS ON THE RADIO
Turn it off, quick! Jack Baran's muddled adventure-comedy centers on a godlike character who dogs the trail of an escaped prisoner chasing a bundle of loot and a former girlfriend. Quentin Tarantino does the liveliest acting, which shows how low the picture's standards are. (R) P V S
u Lackluster thriller about a misunderstanding that leads an ordinary guy into a frantic flight from cops and killers. Directed by James Bruce. (Not rated) S V P
u Three major female directors with strong international reputations made this anthology film dealing with sexuality. Only the episode by Lizzie Borden, about an actress and a cop, has any cinematic interest. Clara Law's segment, about quarreling lovers in Hong Kong, is simply repetitious; and Monika Treut's tale of two predatory German women is incoherent. (Not rated) S N V P
uu Romantic comedy about an American woman who chases her straying Canadian fiance from Toronto to Paris, and picks up a new French boyfriend along the way. Kevin Kline has some amusing moments, but Meg Ryan's acting repeatedly runs out of energy, and Lawrence Kasdan's directing is too laid-back to help her out. Adam Brooks (''The Big Chill,'' ''The Accidental Tourist'') wrote the occasionally snappy screenplay. (PG-13) P N (See full review, above.)
MOVING THE MOUNTAIN
uu Documentary about the Chinese democracy movement and the Tiananmen Square massacre, with special attention to Li Lu's activities as a leader of the protest. Capably directed by Michael Apted, whose career swings between fiction and nonfiction cinema, usually succeeding best in the latter category. (Not rated) V
uu The rise and fall of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, founded in 1966 by African-American militants Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, and wildly controversial ever since. Bold and bombastic throughout, this action-filled docudrama blurs every line between fact and fiction by cramming hugely complicated issues into the simplistic confines of a streetwise genre piece overstuffed with shootouts and chases. The result is rarely artful or insightful, but it's undeniably hard-hitting. Directed by Mario Van Peebles from a screenplay by his father, Melvin Van Peebles, once a towering figure in black American cinema. (R) V P
uu Likable, sincere, but very uneven drama about Asian women brought as mail-order wives to live and work on a Hawaiian sugar-cane plantation. Directed by Hawaiian-born filmmaker Kayo Hatta. (Not rated) V P S
REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE
uuu James Dean gave his most indelible performance in this 1955 melodrama about a sensitive young man's painful efforts to find meaningful rapport with his family, his peers, and himself. Natalie Wood and Jim Backus are marvelous as his hard-to-get girlfriend and weak-willed father, but Sal Mineo stands out most as a desperately sad teenager whose emotional agonies spark the tragic climax. Directed by Nicholas Ray, and reissued in its original CinemaScope format for its 40th anniversary. (Not rated) V
SEARCH AND DESTROY
uu Griffin Dunne plays a small-time entrepreneur who wants to make a film version of a didactic novel written by a self-help guru. Dennis Hopper is hilarious as the guru and Illeana Douglas is appealing as the hero's new girlfriend. Others in the cast, including such excellent actors as Christopher Walken and John Turturro, give surprisingly weak performances. Directed by painter David Salle in his cinematic debut; unfortunately, he lacks the filmmaking savvy to unify the screenplay's inconsistent events and atmospheres. Written by Michael Almereyda from Howard Korder's play. (R) S V P N
uuu In the late '60s, politically committed filmmaker Robert Kramer went to Vietnam with the collective known as Newsreel to make a documentary on the war; in the early '90s he returned to Hanoi to trace the aftermath of events he had witnessed there. The result is a colorful, provocative, and proudly personal work. (Not rated) V N
uuu After a long absence from home, an irresponsible young man renews old relationships with his affectionate mother, his ambivalent brother, and a former girlfriend who's acquired a menacing new lover. Jealousies and resentments flare, and soon he's mixed up in a dangerous crime that could wreck the lives of all involved. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, this remake of the 1949 melodrama ''Criss Cross'' is stylish and surprising, if a bit arty at times. (R) V S P
VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED
uu Remake of John Wyndham's tale about a bunch of sinister children born into a sleepy town that's terrorized by their unearthly powers. Some scenes convey their unsettling plot twists with chilling restraint. Other sequences are violent and vacuous, losing the spirit of the 1960 version by Wolf Rilla, a model of crisp science-fiction storytelling. Directed by John Carpenter, who also composed the effective music with Dave Davies. (R) V
THE WORLD OF APU
uuuu The final installment of Satyajit Ray's renowned ''Apu'' trilogy is a portrait of the artist as a young man with a poetic sensibility, a wife he hardly knows, and much uncertainty about his future. It's hard to think of a filmmaker from India or anywhere else who has equaled Ray's ability to turn tragic events into life-affirming metaphors, or to portray the smallest details of everyday existence with an eye so keen and true. A masterpiece. (Not rated)
Currently in Release
uuu In the 27th documentary of his distinguished career, Frederick Wiseman turns his camera on the American Ballet Theater, charting activities as varied as rehearsing, performing, hiring new talent, and coping with the financial pressures facing a modern cultural institution. Life itself becomes a kind of choreography in Wiseman's artful view, which is sometimes as funny as it is beguiling. (Not Rated) P
THE BASKETBALL DIARIES
uu Jim Carroll's autobiographical book is a largely amoral account of his life as a street hustler, narcotics addict, and high-school athletic star. Scott Kalvert's movie adds a kicking-the-habit sequence to give the impression that it's an antidrug story, but the results are more sleazy than insightful. Leonardo DiCaprio heads a generally excellent cast. (R) S V N P
BURNT BY THE SUN
uu The time is 1936, the place is an estate in the USSR, and the main character is an aging Bolshevik hero confronted by a Stalinist rival. Directed with much warmth but little energy by Nikita Mikhalkov, who also plays the central role. (R) P S V
CIRCLE OF FRIENDS
uu The place is an Irish village in 1957, and the heroines are three young women negotiating the twists and turns of love, friendship, and family relations. Pat O'Connor directed this likable but unmemorable comedy-drama, which creates some vivid moments without quite managing to flesh out its commonplace characters. (PG-13) S P V
qqq Heartwarming, engaging, beautiful scenery.
uuu Absorbing but disturbing documentary about R. Crumb, a pioneer of kinky ''underground comix,'' bringing out both the vivid imagination and the raging sexual obsessions that have characterized his career. Directed by Terry Zwigoff over a six-year period, the film also gives a poignant account of Crumb's sadly dysfunctional family, providing clues as to why his talent evolved in such bizarre directions.(Not rated) P N S V
uuu She's accused of murdering her obnoxious employer, and while her estranged daughter thinks that she might be innocent, she's being hounded by a police officer who's convinced this isn't her first homicide. Kathy Bates gives her most gripping performance since ''Misery,'' also based on a Stephen King thriller. The picture is weakened by a rambling and inconsistent screenplay, though. Taylor Hackford directed. (R) S V P
qqq Eerie, disturbingly violent; Kathy Bates is great.
DON JUAN DEMARCO
uu Romantic dreams abound as a burned-out psychiatrist (Marlon Brando) enters the make-believe world of a young patient (Johnny Depp) who thinks he's the famous Don Juan of bygone years. The picture has more charm than credibility, and its conquistador-like attitude toward women is mighty questionable; but the story becomes quite resonant if you see it as a fable about the once-legendary Brando vicariously regaining his youth by teaming with Depp in this all-stops-out movie fantasy. (PG-13) S N V P
qqq1 Refreshing, funny, clever.
A GoofY mOVIE
uu Single dads are so popular in Hollywood that even Goofy gets to be one, dragging his son on a fishing trip so they can be better pals. Kevin Lima's feature-length cartoon has some funny moments, but why couldn't the gang at Walt Disney Pictures provide something for girls and moms to identify with, too? (G)
JEFFERSON IN PARIS
uuu Living in Paris as American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson observes France's growing revolutionary fervor while striking up two romantic relationships: one with the wife of a foppish French painter, the other with the African-American nursemaid of his youngest daughter. Calling on the civilized intelligence that is their enduring trademark, director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala use their historical material to explore issues related to democracy, revolution, and the psychological complexities of a sensitive man who culdn't entirely separate the concepts of womanhood and property. (PG-13) N S V
qq Slow, beautifully filmed; Nolte's Jefferson implausible.
KISS OF DEATH
uu David Caruso takes his ''NYPD Blue'' talent to the big screen, playing a New York City crook who lets himself get suckered into one last job, then agrees to squeal on his accomplices. Even nastier than the 1947 gangster film it's based on, this updated ''film noir'' is stronger on gruesome details than psychological involvement. It's well acted, though. Barbet Schroeder directed. (R) S V P
uuu Muriel is a misfit who's desperate to get married, but has everything from overbearing parents to nasty friends stand ing in her way. Australian newcomer P. J. Hogan wrote and directed this high-energy comedy, which earned several of this year's Australian Academy Awards. (R) S N P
qq1 Tragicomic, fast-moving plot, superb characters.
uu Sir Walter Scott's novel is turned inside-out by Michael Caton-Jones's movie, which transforms the title character from an elusive rogue into a conventional hero who swaggers across the screen from beginning to end. Liam Neeson plays him with conviction, and Tim Roth makes an uncommonly hissable villain. The adventure goes on too long, though, and wallows in nasty details that would have made Scott shudder. (R) S V P
qq1 Predictable plot, violent (sword slayings and brutal rape scene).
STUART SAVES HIS FAMILY
q q he's good enough. He's smart enough. But doggone it, do people really like him? That's the question for viewers who may or may not be familiar with ''Saturday Night Live's'' Al Franken who plays the pathetic 12-step neurotic, Stuart Smalley. In this sometimes silly, sometimes funny film, Stuart makes his movie debut as he tries to save his own mixed-up, addiction-prone relatives from driving one another crazy. And even if Stuart isn't totally successful, that's OK, because he really needs to accept himself as he is. (PG-13) By Elizabeth Ross
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING
q q q A lonely train-token collector (Sandra Bullock) saves the life of an attorney she's had a crush on from afar. Now he's in a coma, and his boisterous family is misled to believe that she's his fiancee (and they couldn't be happier). Reluctant to upset them with the truth and enjoying family life during the holidays -- she plays along. Enter the sensitive brother (Bill Pullman) who is suspicious of the engagement, but can't resist her unassuming charm. This light, romantic comedy is somewhat predictable, but well-acted, and its message that ''nice things happen to nice people'' is refreshing. (PG) P
qqq Delightful, predictable, a film to please all generations.