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On the Screen

****: Excellent

***: Good

**: Average

*: Poor

***1/2 The Age of Innocence

The film version of Edith Wharton's novel homes in on of the conflict felt by Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), who must balance the rigid social code of 1870s New York and his passion for Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), his fiancee's independent and intellectual sister. Despite the Victorian setting, this is obviously the work of director Martin Scorsese, who specializes in movies about people's struggles to make decisions. The directing is meticulous and the sense of authenticity is impressive. The chemistry between Day-Lewis and Pfeiffer is also powerful, but the camera focuses on the internal struggles of the two and thankfully avoids the torrid sex scene typical of Hollywood movies. --Craig K. Chang. Loews Nickelodeon

** Demolition Man

Although the advertising for this film has portrayed this film as primarily about a 21st century duel between a cop and a criminal from the 20th century, the actual emphasis of this film lies elsewhere. It is the exploration of the futuristic society that dominates the film's screen time and is one of the film's few success. In 1996, LAPD Sgt. John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) and psychopathic criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) are both sentenced to a cryopenitentiary. When they resurface in 2032, they resume the battle where they left off. Although this provides the plot for the film, the actual emphasis is in exploring the futuristic, Orwellian society the writers envisage, complete with a big brother figure in Mayor/Govenor Raymond Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne). Cocteau's society is devoid of social evils like violent crime and foods high in cholesterol. This film features a rather interesting virtual sex scene in place of the standard Hollywood fare, as well. Ultimately, however, Demolition Man is unsatisfying. The lame plot combined with the woefully banal dialogue is only partially salvaged by the clever picture of the 21st century. It is interesting, but not all that exciting. --Joshua Andresen. Showcase Cleveland Circle

*** Cool Runnings

Based on the true story of 1988 Jamaican Bobsled Team, the film is actually quite enjoyable despite its overused themes. Starring Leon (remember Madonna's "Like a Prayer" video?), Doug E. Doug, and John Candy, the film follows four Jamaican athletes and their coach on an adventure from a sunny island to the Calgary Winter Olympics. The underdog story has its own unique scenario, and manages to pass as a sweet mixture of comedy and heart. --CKC. Loews Copley Place

***1/2 The Fugitive

The ultimate chase movie begins with the ultimate special effect -- a train and bus wreck staged not with miniatures, but with the real thing. The wreck frees Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), wrongfully convicted of murder, from the bus transporting him to prison, setting up a two-hour chase between Ford and his pursuer, the dedicated federal marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones). Ford is the big name star, and though he gives a great performance, Jones gets all the good lines. His single-minded devotion to upholding the law makes him, in a strange way, a more interesting character than intelligent nice guy Kimble. "I didn't kill my wife," insists Kimble, trapped in a drainage pipe; "I don't care," replies Gerard, and attempts to bring in his suspect. The Fugitive is an exciting movie, and a well-paced one, too, as Kimble's escapes grow ever more narrow and improbable, eventually leading up to a taut climax and a satisfying ending. For once, the hype was worth the wait. --Deborah A. Levinson. Loews Copley Place

*** Jurassic Park

Michael Crichton's dinosaur epic translates well to the big screen (not surprising given that the book read like a screenplay), and Steven Spielberg does a good job in metamorphizing the dinosaurs from harmless cutesies to malevolent predators. Despite fine acting from Sam Neill and Laura Dern as an archaeologist and his paleobotanist girlfriend, the dinosaurs, both animatronic and computer-generated, are clearly meant to be the stars of the film. Most realistic of the menagerie is the sick triceratops lolling on her side; least, the herd of grazers that stampede across a field as Neill and two children run for cover. It's good to see Neill, a talented actor and star of many British and Australian films (including My Brilliant Career) and Dern, who finally started to get plum roles after her success in Rambling Rose, get the exposure they so richly deserve. Jurassic Park isn't stellar filmmaking, but its individual elements add up to make it a whirlwind, entertaining ride. --DAL. Loews Charles

*1/2 Malice

A clever, but underdeveloped plot dooms Malice to mediocrity. The movie centers around an egocentric, young doctor with a God complex (Alec Baldwin). The doctor saves the life of a college student who is raped; then he rents a room from one of the college's deans (Bill Pullman) and his wife (Nicole Kidman). But what starts out as a thriller about a killer on a college campus, ends up as a confusing story with a plot line that has more twists than a bag of pretzels. Kidman and Baldwin act well, but Pullman is both dull and boring. Malice also suffers from the Hollywood syndrome of unnecessary violence and pointless sex. Neither help the plot any, and often they are completely out of character. As a thriller, this movie fails miserably. As a mystery, it fails too. I don't think anyone can be expected to come close to figuring this movie out. --Patrick Mahoney. Loews Cheri

*** Manhattan Murder Mystery

Woody Allen's latest tale of angst-ridden New York intellectuals tells the story of a mild-mannered book editor (Allen) and his energetic but bored wife (Diane Keaton) as they become involved in solving an alleged murder case. As in any Allen film, sexual tensions complement the action, with old friend Ted (Alan Alda) coming on to Keaton's character, and sexpot author Marcia (Anjelica Huston) setting her sights on Allen. The result is $6.75 worth of stakeouts, soulful stares, sexual stress, and silliness. Manhattan Murder Mystery may center upon a rather bland murder plot, but it also provides a tight script, savagely spastic Allen performances, and the excellent supporting cast audiences have come to expect from an Allen film. --Matthew H. Hersch. Loews Charles

**1/2 Mr. Jones

This movie's namesake, Mr. Jones (Richard Gere), suffers from extreme bouts of euphoria and depression. The movie follows Jones and his psychiatrist Elizabeth (Lena Olin) as Elizabeth treats Jones and falls in love in the process. Gere's acting is superb, playing his part with flamboyance and energy. Olin's performance holds its own, but she is dwarfed by Gere. The movie is about mental illness, but it doesn't address the issue very well. It glosses over much of what is done for Gere and the plot ends up being muddled and slightly confused. Still, see Mr. Jones for the performance of Gere -- it's one of his best and most convincing. --PM. Loews Copley

*** Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas

The animation of this film is incredible, as are the characters, though sadly this level of excellence is not matched in the writing or the music. Set in a land where each holiday has its own world, Nightmare gives the account of Jack Skellington, the leader of Halloweentown. Tired of exporting Halloween each year to the "real" world, Jack decides instead to bring Christmas to everyone. His plan includes kidnapping "Sandy Claws" so that he himself may deliver all the toys made for him by the ghouls and goblins in Halloweentown. Unfortunately, his good intentions do not translate into a successful Christmas. The most striking feature of the film is the impeccable animation. The movements of the extremely lanky Skellington are impossibly smooth as he dances across the screen. Tim Burton's characters are what make this film truly entertaining, from the ebullient Skellington to the nasty Oogie-Boogie (who wants to eat Santa Claus for dinner). Unfortunately, the plot lacks interesting twists, and the songs lack originality. Despite the flaws, this remains a fun film overall. --JA. Loews Harvard Square