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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 Harvard Square

** 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 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

*** Much Ado About Nothing

Actor/director Kenneth Branagh once again brings Shakespeare to the big screen, this time with a frothy comedy set in a sun-drenched Tuscan villa. Though the list of supporting cast members is impressive -- Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, and Brian Blessed, to name a few -- all are outshone by Branagh's Oscar-winning wife, Emma Thompson. As sharp-tongued Beatrice, Thompson steals nearly every scene she's in; every scene, that is, except those with Branagh, who plays certified bachelor Benedick. The screen fairly sparkles when the pair is on and conversely, is merely ordinary when they are not. Of course, this is not so much the fault of the actors or directors as it is of the play, which surrounds Beatrice and Benedick with a cast of one-note characters (particularly lovers Claudio and Hero, who define young, beautiful, and vapid). The cinematography, however, is lush and gorgeous, and Branagh brings a lightness to Shakespeare's often slapstick and off-color humor that makes the film well worth watching. --DAL. LSC Friday

***1/2 Rudy

Rudy Ruedicker (Sean Austin) plays a poor boy who's only dream is to make it to Norte Dame and play football. Austin's performance is tremendous. From the outset, we see him as a man driven by a single desire in life. Ned Beatty plays the groundskeeper who befriends Rudy. Over time, the friendship between the two of them grows. What adds a lot of clout to this movie is the role of the coach who transfers in from the Green Bay Packers. He's a mean guy and doesn't really care how hard Rudy plays because the fact remains that Rudy has no talent. The movie is inspirational, though; it shows that hard work can make dreams come true. It's an overly sentimental movie, but that's okay. It's a story with a happy ending, and sometimes happy endings are sappy. Much of the sentimentality can be explained because the movie is based on a true story. All of the characters are developed and there is plenty of substance to the film. The music score also succeeds in setting the moments well throughout the film. On the whole, this is an excellent film, right up there with The Natural and Field of Dreams. See it. It will make you happy. --PM. Loews Copley Place

*** Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in this science fiction action movie as a captured and reprogrammed cyborg -- a terminator -- who travels back in time to protect John Connor, the person who is responsible for destroying him in the future. Robert Patrick stars at the T-1000, another terminator that travels back to destroy Connor. Linda Hamilton stars as Connor's mother, who is suspicious of Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger plays his role excellently as does Patrick, who tends a near perfect performance as the T-1000 determined to kill Connor at all cost. The special effects in this movie are incredible, especially the T-1000. Terminator 2 has among the best special effects ever. --PM. LSC Saturday.

*** 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 lank 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