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Capsule film reviews

****: Excellent

***: Good

**: Mediocre

*: Poor

**** Aladdin

Never less than enormously entertaining, Disney's latest animated delight is a hilarious musical adventure based loosely on the Arabian Nights tale of a peasant boy and a magical lamp. Thanks to the vocal talents of comedians Robin Williams and Gilbert Gottfried and clever animation by Disney artists, this is probably the funniest animated film ever, but it never loses sight of the exuberant sense of wonder that permeates all of Disney's best works. And with a breakneck pace and an abundance of wonderful images, only a second viewing reveals most of the background gags and beautiful artistry that went into producing this absolute pleasure. --Chris Roberge. Loews Copley Place

*** Bad Lieutenant

Not a movie for the squeamish, writer/director Abel Ferrara's story about the self-destruction of a once proud and successful New York City homicide Lieutenant is a fiery and poignant character study exploring the landscapes of the human soul. Keitel does a magnificent job with his portrayal of the reprehensible man, who is being corrupted by alcoholism, cocaine addiction, gambling, infidelity, extortion, and theft. At no point can we sympathize with the Lieutenant's plight, but on some level we can all identify with his pain and desperation. --Douglas D. Keller. Loews Nickelodeon

**** The Crying Game

Neil Jordan's story of an IRA terrorist (Stephen Rea) is a remarkably well-written piece of work that at first seems to follow its protagonist in aimless yet intriguing directions, but eventually reveals itself to be a perfectly structured look at violence, race, love, and sexuality. Rea is ordered to guard a kidnapped British officer (Forest Whitaker), but he begins to care for the hostage and later flees to London, where he meets the officer's girlfriend (Jaye Davidson). The two halves of the film, which contain some completely unpredictable plot twists, become mirrors of one another, reflecting how understanding and compassion may be a means of salvation. --CR. Loews Harvard Square

***1/2 Death Becomes Her

Robert Zemeckis' horror/comedy about the violent quest of two women for immortal beauty is cut from the same cloth as his cable program Tales From the Crypt. Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn purchase undead bodies only to discover that being able to take a lickin' and keep on tickin' may not be such a great thing after all. Don't expect much by way of satirical slants on society's obsession with appearance, though. This type of movie exists solely for the cheap thrill and sick joke, but the cast which also includes Bruce Willis, director Zemeckis, and a great effects team prove themselves masters of these concepts. --CR. LSC Friday

* Falling Down

When Michael Douglas cracks under the pressures of society and lashes out with violence and rage, his actions should provide the basis for an intense and important movie, but this is an inane attempt to comment on the problems of America today, a thriller that is laughable at best, and a film that deserves to be deplored for the enjoyment it derives from the violence it claims to be critical of. Rather than strive for scathing realism, the story bloats into a ludicrous cartoon by portraying all of Douglas' victims as caricatures that offer mostly comic relief. And Douglas is really nothing more than a psychotic control freak, not a normal person the audience can feel empathy towards. --CR. Loews Cheri

***1/2 A Few Good Men

Nearly every element of director Rob Reiner's adaptation of the military murder/courtroom drama clicks into place with the efficiency of a finely tuned machine designed to churn out entertainment. Sure it's unoriginal, but it's also extremely effective. The performances by Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson are stirring, and the photography, with crystal clarity and frequent symmetry in its images, is polished until it shines. For the officers in the story, precision leads to tragedy, but for the film it leads to a triumph of sorts. --CR. Loews Harvard Square

***1/2 Groundhog Day

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is an arrogant, self-centered weatherman for a Pittsburgh television station who is sent to Punxsutawney, Pa. to cover the annual Groundhog Day festival. All is well until Phil wakes up the next morning to find that first, it is Groundhog Day all over again, and second, he is the only one who realizes it. Phil soon recognizes that no matter what he does there are no consequences for his actions, and he therefore aims to try anything he can think of. Credit is due to director Harold Ramis who manages to keep the premise fresh through hundreds of repeated Groundhog Days. This is one of the freshest comedies to come out in recent memory. --DDK. Loews Cheri

***1/2 Homeward Bound

Despite being aimed at a juvenile audience, the latest Disney release about two dogs and a cat traveling cross country to find their family is sophisticated enough to appeal to even a college audience. Michael J. Fox and Don Ameche provide the voices of the two dogs and Sally Field provides the voice of the cat as all three pets think aloud while making their perilous journey. The script is well written and is quite funny overall, despite the corny morals that are presented. The hilarious and amazing footage of the animals in action truly makes this film, though. --Joshua Andresen. Loews Copley Place

**** 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. --CR. Loews Copley Place

** Love Field

Michelle Pfieffer plays Lurene, a Dallas beautician whose obsession with the current president, John Kennedy, and his wife leads to a cross-country adventure and an interracial romance in this technically well-made and well-meaning drama that nonetheless fails to rise above mediocrity. After Kennedy's assassination, Lurene leaves her husband to travel to the funeral by bus, but after a series of mishaps she is driving east on the run from the FBI in a stolen car with a soft-spoken black man (Dennis Haysbert) and his daughter (Stephanie McFadden). The three grow close in a number of predictable ways as the movie treats racism and bigotry in an unimaginative and simplified manner. This dated and trite film is for Pfieffer fanatics only. --CR. Loews Copley Place

***1/2 Malcolm X

Spike Lee has translated the complex life of Malcolm X into a fascinating and involving epic which, like most of Lee's work, raises more questions than it does answers. Despite occasional lapses into excess and the omission of some of Malcolm's more incendiary remarks, the film is a well-balanced portrayal of a man who went through many different phases, each flawlessly acted out by Denzel Washington, in an attempt to right the injustices done to blacks. Although the film, like Malcolm, never comes to a truly workable solution, it expresses the racist problems at the roots of society more powerfully than any other recent movie. --CR. Loews Charles

**1/2 The Temp

Though entertaining, this psychological thriller set in the business world is not very cohesive. Peter Derns (Timothy Hutton) is a low-level manager who hires a temporary secretary (Lara Flynn Boyle) who rises quite far in the corporate ladder after a series of convenient accidents. Before long Peter suspects foul play and sets out to find the truth. The concept is wonderful and the suspense scenes are very well done, thanks especially to refreshingly original cinematography. The biggest problem of this film though, is that at the end nothing is explained. Instead, the film offers a culprit whose involvement is merely implied, rather than revealed. Go to be thrilled but do not expect to be challenged intellectually. --JA. Loews Charles

**** Unforgiven

One of the better westerns ever made, David Webb People's story about a retired gunslinger (Clint Eastwood) who agrees to hunt down two men for reward money is a richly written deconstructionist work that relishes its elliptical morality. In this version of the west, "sheriffs" beat men to keep violence out of their towns, "villains" are remorseful for what they've done, "heroes" only feel alive when killing, and no one can be forgiven when no one can really define a sin. Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris are all excellent, and Eastwood's direction has a slowly building pace that allows even the most minor characters and events to be embellished with fine detail. --CR. Loews Charles