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Capsule screen 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

* 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 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 interesting 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 Charles

**** Swing Kids

Set in 1939 Germany, this film concentrates on the "swing kids," who were a group of youth rebelling against the Nazi movement -- wearing their hair long, dressing up in English fashion, and dancing to American swing music. Peter (Robert Sean Leonard) and Thomas (Christian Bale) are best friends forced to join the Nazi Youth movement. Initially figuring they can have it all (Nazi Youth by day, swing kids by night), they find that it is impossible to be a part of the Nazi party without being a full-fledged member. This puts strains on their friendship at Peter rebels against the Nazis while Thomas gets sucked into their way of thinking. Incredible acting and wonderful direction allow the interesting material to overcome an unfortunately predictable plot. --JA. Loews Copley Place

**** 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