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Capsule Screen Reviews

****: Excellent

***: Good

**: Mediocre

*: Poor

*** Bram Stoker's Dracula

Director Francis Ford Coppola has fashioned a film with a frenetic pace and ubiquitous visual tricks in a style that is closer to that of MTV and Batman director Tim Burton than it is to the Victorian gothic horror of Dracula author Bram Stoker. The movie's appearance completely dominates the disjointed plot and poorly drawn characters, making most of the film an attractive but muddled mess. But the effects, sets, and costumes are so vivid and excessive that Dracula manages to be very interesting even as it frustrates with a lack of coherence and drama. Loews Cheri

**** Howards End

The filmmaking trio of James Ivory, Ismail Merchant, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala have translated E. M. Forster's novel of class struggles in 20th-century England into a brilliant film that is an astonishing achievement. The screen is filled with contrasting elements such as the rich and the poor, the romantic and the pragmatic, and the urban and the pastoral. The alternately funny and moving story considers which group will ultimately inherit the nation. Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter, and Samuel West are excellent, and Vanessa Redgrave and Emma Thompson are outstanding. Arlington Capitol Theater

*** Husbands and Wives

Bleak and powerful, Woody Allen's new film examines the state of relationships today and decides that unending love is little more than a myth. Shot as a documentary, it follows the members of two marriages as they grow disillusioned with one another and begin to look for happiness elsewhere. Judy Davis gives a wonderfully neurotic comic performance, Sydney Pollack is amazing as a man full of frustration but still deserving pity, and Allen and Mia Farrow appear to be haunted by pain. The movie is occasionally funny, but it is more convincing when it dramatizes its characters inabilities to find fulfillment. Loews Harvard Square

**** School Ties

This is an amazing film dealing with anti-Semitism in the 1950's. Brendan Fraser delivers a powerful performance as David Greene, who is recruited from a poor town to play football for an elite preparatory school. David at first hides the fact that he is Jewish and fits in well with his new group of friends. When they find out that he is Jewish, each reacts differently. The movie examines different forms of prejudice in the actions of David's friends after their discovery. Overall, the acting is convincing, the story is feasible, and the moral well presented. The film properly balances a humorous and serious side, yielding a final product that is as meaningful as it is enjoyable to watch. Loews Copley Place

(no stars) Simple Men

A fugitive criminal and his younger brother seek their escaped father,who was convicted for bombing the Pentagon. The younger brother feels like he needs to know the truth about his father. The older one thinks that the old guy wasn't much of a father anyway and doesn't care if he's a terrorist/murderer. Their journey takes them to a small town where each of the brothers fall in love. The older brother discovers that he's a "simple man" and incapable of womanizing. The younger brother discovers his separate identity. Director Hal Hartley takes a potentially interesting script and simply butchers it. A film recommended for people who don't know what a "third-rate" artist is. Coolidge Corner Theatre

*** Singles

This light and entertaining film focuses on the struggles of six singles in their 20s as they try to understand love and relationships. Steve Cambell, Kyra Sedgwick, Bridget Fonda, and Matt Dillon are all good, the script by director Cameron Crowe is often extremely funny, and Seattle locations and music provide an interesting backdrop. Although it is not as realistic as Crowe's Say Anything, the movie is filled with wonderful isolated moments that are filled with truthful familiarity. Loews Copley Place

** Under Siege

Under Siege is poorly written film that relies on violence rather than substance to be entertaining. Steven Seagal is Casey Ryback, an ex-Navy SEAL who is masquerading as a cook on the USS Missouri when a gang of hijackers (led by Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey) takes over the ship. Ryback must single-handedly eliminate all the bad guys and save the day, which turns into Ryback scouring the ship and coming up with new and creative ways to eliminate the enemy. The martial arts sequences are impressive and Tommy Lee Jones delivers a powerful performance as the mastermind terrorist, but the bad writing, evidenced in the incredibly weak female role and the lack of any interesting plot twist ruins everything. Loews Fresh Pond