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On The Screen

****: Excellent

***: Good

**: Average

*: Poor

**** Blue Velvet

Director David Lynch earned an Oscar nomination for his dark, disturbing look at the underside of an all-American town -- a film that is at once impossible to forget and difficult to describe. Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns home from college to care for his sick father, and discovers a severed ear in a field; his curiosity about the ear and its owner leads him to the closet of lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), where he watches her undress (among other things), and into a freakish underworld of thugs and men in makeup who lip sync to Roy Orbison. The plot doesn't quite work, but Lynch's impressive visual skills more than compensate. It is a bizarre movie and Lynch's erotic, violent, and voyeuristic images embrace that quality; the movie is haunting and hypnotic. MacLachlan is perfect as the all-American boy with a taste for the kinky, and Dennis Hopper, as Frank the sadistic crime boss, is terrifyingly brilliant. --Jeremy Hylton. LSC Friday

**** Dr. Strangelove

The world stands on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. The Russian Doomsday Machine will trigger a full-scale nuclear assault on the United States if the president (Peter Sellers) cannot recall a bomber squadron ordered to attack the Soviet Union by the psychotic Air Force Commander Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), who fears Russian contamination of his "precious bodily fluids." Meanwhile, Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) argues for a pre-emptive all-out attack; Dr. Strangelove (Sellers) warns that the United States "cannot allow a mine-shaft gap;" and Capt. Mandrake (Sellers) contends with Col. Bat Guano (if that is his real name), the Coca Cola Co., and the telephone service as he tries to deliver the code that will call back the bombers. There is never a false moment in Stanley Kubrick's savagely satiric black comedy about the military mind. --JH. LSC Wednesday

*** Philadelphia

Hollywood's film "about" AIDS is really about discrimination and human dignity. Tom Hanks is the HIV-positive lawyer who alleges he was fired from his prestigious law firm because of AIDS discrimination, and Denzel Washington is the homophobic lawyer that agrees to take his suit to court. The film's power lies in its message, but at times it suffers from Jonathan Demme's heavy-handed direction, mistaking stilted sentiment for raw emotion. Still, the performances of Hanks, Washington, and a fine supporting cast carry the film to a near-triumphant conclusion. --Scott Deskin. Loews Cheri

*** 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. --Craig K. Chang. Loews Cheri

** The Pelican Brief

Julia Roberts is a law student who has created a legal brief which details her ideas on who recently murdered two Supreme Court justices and how it relates to the president. Denzel Washington is a reporter for the Washington Herald whom Roberts contacts when her lover and his friend are killed after they see the brief. Roberts is near perfect, and plays the stressed and paranoid student to the hilt. Washington is convincing playing the determined reporter who will stop at nothing to get a story. The strength of the film is in how it is able to carefully develop its plot and keep the audience's attention until contents of the brief are revealed at the very end. --Patrick Mahoney. Loews Cheri

**** Schindler's List

Director Steven Spielberg triumphs in this historical drama about Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who was responsible for saving the lives of more than a thousand Jews during the Holocaust. Shot almost entirely in black and white, the film takes you to Poland of the late 30s and early 40s. Neeson is great, carefully portraying the slow change from a man who cares only about money to one who cares only about saving lives. Ben Kingsley perfectly plays Itzhak Stern, Schindler's Jewish accountant who cunningly sidesteps Nazi officials. Ralph Fiennes portrays the unswervingly-loyal Amon Goeth, the Commandant of the Nazi labor camp. Through Fiennes, the audience is able to witness the hatred, brutality, and widespread death of Hitler's "final solution." Overall, the movie is incredibly powerful, and brings to light one of the darkest periods of human history. --PM. Loews Nickelodeon