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On The Screen

HHHH: Excellent

HHH: Good

HH: Average

H: Poor

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. - Scott Deskin. Loews Cheri.

HHHH Quiz Show

The quiz-show scandals of the 1950s forced America to probe the changing face of morality. Robert Redford directs this fresh look at television and honesty in an age of illusions and image-making. Excellent performances by Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro, as quiz-show contestants Charles Van Doren and Herbert Stempel, make this reality-based drama worth the contemplation and dissection of ethical issues amid the phoniness of television. - Craig K. Chang. Loews Copley Place.

HHH Reality Bites

Finally, here is a 20-something movie with a message. Winona Ryder stars as a recent college graduate grappling with questions of identity. Following her dream of making documentary films, she interns with a television program and encounters a world of people too self-absorbed to pay her efforts much attention. She meets a nice TV executive named Michael (Ben Stiller), doesn't fall in love, and is forced to choose between having fun with him and having a true connection with her old friend Troy (Ethan Hawke). And through all these trials, the movie still succeeds as a comedy, full of crazy details and witty one-liners. The actors' wonderful performances, as well as insightful writing by Helen Childress and directing by Ben Stiller, make this a very entertaining movie. - Gretchen Koot. LSC Saturday.

HHHH The Shawshank Redemption

This extraordinary movie about hope, friendship, and renewal in the face of suffering in life is much more heartfelt than its title suggests. Tim Robbins embodies the classic protagonist in Andy Dufresne, a banker who is imprisoned for two murders he swears he did not commit, and he is forced to face the abrasive reality of prison life. He eventually comes out of his shell and cultivates a friendship with Red (Morgan Freeman), whose connections inside the prison provide a neat counterpart to Andy's own talents as a financial planner, which he eventually exploits to get on the good side of the prison guards. Through all of Andy's suffering in prison, he never loses the hope of being free, and this carries both Andy and Red through the tough times. This film transcends its short-story basis (originally written by Stephen King) with excellent performances and artful direction - it has "Oscar" written all over it. - John Jacobs. Loews Copley Place.

HH Terminal Velocity

A suspense-action-comedy, in that order. The first few minutes seem terminal, but the film slowly picks up the pace. Charlie Sheen plays a daredevil skydiver who gets drawn into a battle against an international military conspiracy. Nastassja Kinski is the woman who tricks him into fighting KGB bad guys ("KG-used-to-be" agents) and foiling their money laundering scheme in Arizona. Fans of Charlie Sheen will see less of his characteristic humor because this film focuses more on suspense and action than on comedy. However, he has enough funny lines to make the action scenes more entertaining. Terminal Velocity doesn't have as many action scenes as Speed, but those it does have are very impressive. The plot is thin and seems unbelievable, but who goes to the movies for reality? The action and comedy recommend this film more than does its story. - Kamal Swamidoss. Loews Copley Place.