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On The Screen

HHHH: Excellent

HHH: Good

HH: Average

H: Poor

HHH Easy Rider

A signpost for the height of the hippie movement in the United States, this film embodied the feelings of its era (late 1960s) and its generation (disenchanted, disaffected young adults). Dennis Hopper (who also directed the film) and Peter Fonda star as a couple of freewheeling drifters who, on motorcycles, "went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere." Jack Nicholson gives an inspired, off-the-wall performance as a lawyer trying to find his roots who joins Hopper and Fonda in their quest. The cultural and sexual obstacles they encounter hints at an underlying subversion of America's esteemed values of life and liberty by the hand of its own citizens. It's not an easy film to watch, and the film is dated by its hippie mannerisms and psychedelic imagery, but its brand of social commentary is quite interesting and insightful. - Scott Deskin. Brattle Theatre, Saturday and Sunday.

HHH1/2 Henry V

Kenneth Branagh's impressive feature debut tackles Shakespeare's famous historical play, and gives it a dark, brooding edge. As the title character, Branagh assumes a less theatrical air than Laurence Olivier and infuses a passionate urgency in his performance. His screen adaptation moves fairly well, evoking both heartfelt sadness and joy in all the right places. Aside from the director's vision, he is backed by a full-fledged Shakespearean acting ensemble that performs admirably (including Branagh's future wife and co-star, Emma Thompson, who appears briefly). Branagh certainly has a genuine feel for his subject, which carries emotional weight through the climactic battle sequence: His title as "the next Olivier" may suit him well. - SD. LSC Sunday.

HHHH In the Name of the Father

Daniel Day-Lewis offers a riveting portrayal of a young man named Gerry Conlon who is convicted, along with friends and family, of an IRA bombing of a British pub in 1974. The film addresses the grave injustice that the British government dealt the Conlons, but it uses the relationship in prison between Gerry and his father Guiseppe (an excellent Pete Postlethwaite) to carry the film's message of hope and redemption. Director Jim Sheridan's pro-Irish bias provides an effective retaliation against England's tendency to make Ireland a scapegoat for the IRA's actions. And Emma Thompson gives a solid performance as the lawyer who struggles to bring freedom to the Conlons. Quite simply, it ranks as one of the best films of 1993. - SD. LSC Friday.

HHH Natural Born Killers

Oliver Stone's latest film focuses on a marauding couple (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) whose sensational mass-killing spree catapults them into the national spotlight. Their lives are consequently exploited by a TV tabloid journalist (Robert Downey Jr.), a sadistic cop (Tom Sizemore), and a somewhat dimwitted prison warden (Tommy Lee Jones). All elements of justice and the media machine are represented as cartoonish caricatures, which degenerate as the film goes on. The main problem is the director's somewhat hypocritical attitude that fails to recognize that he is part of that same machine. The main attractions in the film are the hyperkinetic performances of the cast members, the excessive violence, and the bizarre, rapid-fire editing of picture and sound - all of which Stone executes brilliantly. By the end of the film, audiences will either revel its visual audacity or deplore its apparent lack of message. - SD. Loews Cheri.

HHH Speed

Keanu Reeves stars as Los Angeles SWAT team member Jack Traven, who effectively becomes a hero when he incurs the wrath of Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), a mad bomber who seeks to extort money from the city. As with every great action vehicle, there has to be a gimmick: Payne has wired a transit bus with explosives that become armed when the bus exceeds 50 miles per hour, and will detonate if the bus dips below that speed. After that, it's up to Jack, along with a perky damsel on the bus (Sandra Bullock) and Jack's expendable partner Harry (Jeff Daniels), to save the day. If all this sounds rather corny, rest assured that director Jan DeBont (former cinematographer who shot Die Hard) knows his action pictures well, and keeps Speed going at a frenetic pace. The dialogue is patchy and the characters are pretty simplistic, but the real drama is carried by the thrilling stuntwork and explosions. Plus, the New Yorker called Speed the "movie of the year." What more could anyone ask of a no-brainer action film? - SD. Somerville Theater (Davis Square).