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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

**1/2 Carlito's Way

Ostensibly, this is a comeback for director Brian De Palma that tries to recapture the successful formula of De Palma's hit The Untouchables. Somehow, though, it falls short of that mark. Al Pacino is the title character who, after getting released early from prison by his lawyer (Sean Penn), wants to go straight after years of dealing heroin. His dream of retiring to a car rental service in the Bahamas with his girlfriend (Penelope Ann Miller) is soon shattered by Penn's character, and in no time the sparks fly. Pacino is good (Puerto Rican accent notwithstanding), but is overshadowed by Penn's inspired performance as a dirty-dealing cokehead lawyer. De Palma pulls off an enjoyable, action-filled finale, but overall the movie runs a bit long and rings a bit hollow. --Scott Deskin. Loews Cheri

*** The Firm

Director Sydney Pollack has assembled a fine ensemble cast in this screen adaptation of John Grisham's The Firm. Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) graduates from Harvard Law School and accepts a huge salary from a small Memphis, Tenn. firm. He discovers the firm works for the mob and develops a risky plan to expose the firm without going to jail or getting killed (with a little prodding from the FBI). The plot is fast paced -- a two-and-a-half hour movie feels like only two hours -- and the cast is outstanding. Cruise acts relatively well, but his co-stars sparkle. Gene Hackman gives a performance that virually guarantees him another Oscar nomination as Avery Tolar, a lawyer who has been corrupted by years at the firm, but still recognizes the idealism he once had; Holly Hunter is devastatingly funny as the secretary who helps Mitch pull off his scheme. Ed Harris, as the FBI agent working to expose the firm, and Wilfred Brimley, as the sinister security chief for the firm, are also noteworthy. --Jeremy Hylton. LSC Saturday

* Flesh and Bone

A boy (Dennis Quaid) resents his criminal father (James Caan) forcing him to witness the massacre of an entire family. Forgotten remnants of this act catch up with both of them decades later, as they find themselves tangled in a web of irony linked to their past. Labored, slow, and unrevealing, Flesh and Bone manages to introduce numerous high-brow themes without ever making us give a damn. Truly pitiful. --CKC. Loews Cinema 57

*** Mrs. Doubtfire

After a messy divorce, Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) will do anything to see his kids again. His plot involves becoming a woman. As Mrs. Doubtfire, he manages to turn around his life and the lives of others. Williams' hilarious performance and a few touching scenes make up for a dismal beginning and much run-of-the-mill slapstick. --CKC. Loews Cheri

**1/2 The Muppet Christmas Carol

The latest film featuring the late Jim Henson's Muppets provides a few solid laughs and is a fair version of Charles Dickens' perennial classic, but it is easily the weakest of the four Muppet movies. Michael Caine does a commendable job at playing a straight Scrooge while his more lively artificial co-stars contrast nicely with the dark London setting. And the movie makes the most it can out of amusing scenes involving singing vegetables, Dr. Bunsen Honneydew and Beaker as charity collectors, and Fozzie Bear as Scrooge's former employer, Fozziwig, but most of the humor comes from the audience's prior knowledge of the Muppets rather than any genuine wit. LSC Friday

***1/2 Rudy

Rudy Ruedicker (Sean Austin) plays a poor boy whose only dream is to make it to Notre 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. --Patrick Mahoney. Capitol

***1/2 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn

The best of the Star Trek movies. It stars the regular cast from the series and Ricardo Montalban as Kahn, a superhuman who was exiled by Kirk years before, who has stolen a starship and is now determined to exact revenge on Kirk. The battle scenes are superb. Shatner and all the actors do a very good job, but Montalban is extremely convincing. This movie is must seen for anyone who likes Star Trek. If you have never seen this movie on the big screen, then you haven't really seen the movie. --PM. LSC Sunday

***1/2 The Three Musketeers

Wit and charm abound in The Three Musketeers. The star-studded cast, including Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O'Donnell, Oliver Platt, Tim Curry, and Rebecca DeMornay, brings excitement, action, and humor to the screen. The story is set in France, and begins with D'Artagnan (O'Donnell) setting out for Paris to become a musketeer, as his father had been. Upon arrival he finds that the musketeers have been disbanded by Cardinal Richelieu (Curry) who seeks to steal the throne from the king. D'Artagnan stumbles upon the last three musketeers (Sheen, Sutherland, and Platt), the four of them uncover Richelieu's treasonous plot, and seek to stop him. The movie was filmed in Austria, which lends the film a sense of realism and history. The most enjoyable part of this movie was the balance between comedy, action, and plot. The film was funny, but most of the humor came from casual witty one-liners. I enjoyed the sword-fighting scenes throughout the film. They were well choreographed and exciting to watch. On the whole I found The Three Musketeers very entertaining, so much so that I plan to see it again. --PM. Loews Copley Place

*** 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. --J. Michael Andresen. Loews Copley Place