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On the Screen


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Harry (Arnold Scwarzenegger) and Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) Tasker in True Lies.

HHHH: Excellent

HHH: Good

HH: Average

H: Poor

HHH Bullets Over Broadway

Woody Allen's latest film deals with the Mafia, the theater, and trademark comic escapades in Roaring '20s-era New York City. It's a terrific, light-hearted portrait of playwright David Shayne, played by John Cusack, who struggles to resist the commercialism of show business during the film's time frame. His latest theater work, funded by Mafia boss Nick Valenti (Joe Viterelli), proceeds under the condition that the boss's speakeasy-dancer girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly) gets a lead role. Another actress, Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest), seduces Shayne into rewriting the script for her and her eccentric, over-the-hill career. The comic entanglements on screen are balanced by the splendid set design of Allen's set designer, Santo Loquasto, and the jazz soundtrack definitely adds to the film's general presence. - Carrie Perlman. Loews Nickelodeon.

HHH Interview with the Vampire

At many points, Interview with the Vampire risks drowning in the gloom that pervades it, but just enough comic relief keeps it afloat. Tom Cruise plays Lestat, a vampire who draws his vitality from his way of life, who bestows the gift of immortality on Louis (Brad Pitt), a sorrowful man who can't come out of the depression that he enters when his wife and infant daughter die. This film is basically a variation on the Bram Stoker legend, a cautionary tale about the dangers of our own animal. Director Neil Jordan, best known for his Oscar-winning film The Crying Game, does well to remain faithful to Rice's story and give emotional weight to the gruesome accounts on the screen. - Gretchen Koot. Loews Cheri.

HH1/2 Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Kenneth Branagh has remained fairly close to the original story in the newest film version of this tale of science-gone-bad. Branagh has created a film which is visually chilling - the cinematography is fantastic - but not as psychologically affecting as it should be. Doctor Victor Frankenstein (Branagh) becomes obsessed with immortality in medical school, where he gathers "raw materials" from the city morgue, stitches them together, and brings his creation to life via electricity. He's convincing as a lunatic-genius who later lives to regret his actions. As the monster, Robert DeNiro is nearly unrecognizable under his makeup, but he gives the character a lot of pathos and depth. Tom Hulce is enjoyable as Frankenstein's bumbling companion from medical school; but Helena Bonham Carter, as Frankenstein's adopted sister and love interest, becomes the weak link in the chain, making what is intended to be a climactic and dramatic scene rather silly. As a whole, the film is weakened by an eagerness to revel in Victorian-era excess, but the monster story remains a good one. - CP. Loews Cheri.

H1/2 Oleanna

This film, David Mamet's screen adaptation of his play, describes the increasingly hostile relationship between a female college student named Carol (Debra Eisenstadt) and her somewhat arrogant male professor, John (William Macy). Through a series of after-class meetings, Carol and John experience a breakdown in their lines of communication and have a brief, subdued physical confrontation. Carol consults with a politically correct group that tells her she has been sexually harassed, and she spends the remainder of the film in her newly-empowered state to destroy her professor's career. This disturbing take on the recent sexual harassment cases may be timely, but Mamet's treatment makes Carol a nasty, vengeful character who enjoys turning the tables on her tormentor. As such, it endeavors to reduce modern-day trials to 17th-century witch hunts. Mamet's writing style and sense of plotting doesn't lend much sympathy to either character, and makes it hard for the audience to care. - Teresa Esser. Loews Copley Place.

HHHH Pulp Fiction

Winner of the Palm d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, this movie combines standard plots of hit men, junkies, and criminals, with an amazing facility with storytelling. The plot consists of three principle stories: First, the daily experiences of two hit men (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson); second, Travolta's character involved with his gangster boss's wife (Uma Thurman) as an escort; and third, the plans of a boxer, who has been paid off to take a dive in the ring, instead choosing to win the fight and take off with the money and his girlfriend. Although these film noir concepts may seem a bit clichd, writer-director Quentin Tarantino infuses his characters with crackling dialogue and a sense of purpose (i.e., Jackson's hit-man character quoting Bible verses as a prelude to execution). Tarantino's career may still be young, beginning with the cult hit Reservoir Dogs (1992) and recently surfacing in his scripts for True Romance and Natural Born Killers, but his latest film confirms his mission to shake up the current course of cinema. - Rob Marcato. Loews Cheri.

HHH1/2 Reservoir Dogs

This film, above all others, resurrects the film noir label from the grave and baptizes it with a fresh, punk-like attitude for the '90s. The razor-sharp dialogue that flows readily from the professional thieves in the film complements the ultraviolent behavior and notions of betrayal conveyed in the characters. The film is writer-director Quentin Tarantino's debut, and his canny use of flashback to show the buildup to a jewel heist gone wrong forecasts his slick temporal control in Pulp Fiction. The characters meet in an abandoned warehouse after the robbery, where one of their number slowly bleeds to death. The atmosphere is crude and sometimes repellent, but it's also keen how Tarantino derives pleasure from pain for his characters and his audience. The '70s music that pervades the soundtrack creates a post-modern, post-disco style that is alternately hip and grotesque. The film has a sense of humor, too, and this helps diffuse the downbeat subject matter. The cast, which includes Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth, is excellent. - Scott Deskin. LSC Sunday.

HH The Santa Clause

This vehicle for television-sitcom star Tim Allen is cute enough in its initial premise: Once Scott Calvin (Allen) climbs into Santa Claus's sleigh after the fat-man in the red suit has fallen dead in a pile of snow, he is committed to fill Santa's shoes by the little-known legal contract of the film's title. Not only does Allen's character feel a moral obligation to do this duty, but he undergoes the physical transformation into Santa as well. As the new Santa, he fights for the rights of children everywhere, much to the dismay of his ex-wife (Wendy Crewson) and her psychiatrist boyfriend (Judge Reinhold). In the end, the film scores high for its compassionate view of children, but it rings false when it condemns adults for not understanding the world as it really is. The film is tailored to children under 12: If you must go, take one with you. - TE. Loews Copley Place.

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 Harvard Square.

H1/2 The Specialist

The latest film in a long line of testosterone-dominated action flicks has a lot more going for it than its plot. It's a movie of moments, whether the scenes marvel at the modern-day sensitivity and chivalry of explosives expert Ray Quick (Sylvester Stallone) or succeed in evoking weak Basic Instinct/femme fatale parallels with the female lead May Munro (Sharon Stone). Everyone on camera is ideal - at least physically - with Stone dressed in black and perfectly coiffured for the pivotal explosion scenes and Stallone hardly breaking a sweat in his confrontations with the bad guys. The plot, which concerns Quick being lured out of retirement for some of Munro's personal revenge killings, is secondary to the spectacle of normal action-movie exploits: violence and sex. You can love it, but you don't have to watch it. -TE. Loews Cinema 57.

H1/2 Stargate

This is one of the strangest, most ill-conceived movies in recent memory. The previews for the film suggest the standard ingredients for a science-fiction film of this caliber - a distant planet, lots of good action, good special effects. It sort of plays like a hybrid between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi: In fact, the movie seems to borrow (or steal) a lot of its source material from other films such that Stargate is less than the sum of its parts. James Spader plays an expert on ancient Egypt and Kurt Russell is the serious army officer who brings his platoon, along with Spader, through an ancient alien space portal. The tyrannical leader of the alien civilization is played by Jaye Davidson, from The Crying Game, only now wearing a lot of eye shadow. Even the typical Hollywood fight between good guys and bad guys seems especially canned. This film isn't the worst I've ever seen, just the most disjointed. - Mark P. Hurst. Loews Copley Place.

HHHH 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould

This film really is what the title says: a series of 32 films, ranging in length from 45 seconds to between 10 and 15 minutes. A brilliant pianist, the eccentric Gould was known for his insightful interpretations of J. S. Bach's work, and this film is full of Bach-like preludes and fugues, some subtle and some bold, but all fascinating. Styles vary as much as length; there are dramatized scenes from Gould's life, interviews with friends and relatives, and avant-garde selections that explore Gould's music in the cinematic art form. Some of these experimental pieces seem aimless, but the joy of sitting in a darkened theater listening to Gould playing Bach or Hindemith is more than enough to sustain these few moments of visual emptiness. This is as thorough an outline of a man's life as can be presented in two hours, and it is cleverly disguised as total fiction. At the end of the film, you will be surprised to find that in addition to having had a wonderful time, you have learned something. Loews Copley Place.

HH1/2 True Lies

Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest action-adventure-comedy casts him as Harry Tasker, a top-secret government agent who hides his real identity from his wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), who thinks he is a computer salesman. That premise is no less believable than any of the other plot twists, which primarily involve the efforts of Middle Eastern terrorist of the "Crimson Jihad" (Art Malik) to hold America hostage with some nuclear warheads. The special effects are pretty impressive, considering the seamlessness of the final product - including some nifty scenes with Harrier jets and exploding bridges - which seems to be a direct counterpoint to the exotic morphing effects of director James Cameron's last effort, Terminator 2. But most of the movie drags between its main action sequences, especially some dumb plot involving an affair between Helen and Simon (Bill Paxton), a man pretending to be a spy. The film is partially redeemed by the easygoing performance of Tom Arnold as Harry's sidekick, but most of the performances seem forced. - SD. LSC Friday.

HHH Wes Craven's New Nightmare

Just when you thought it was safe to write off the Nightmare on Elm Street series and the Freddy Krueger character altogether, horror maven Wes Craven creates another horror confection that bridges the gap between the evil in cinema and in the real world. This clever device manifests itself in the life of Heather Langenkamp (who played Freddy's archnemesis Nancy in the first Nightmare on Elm Street film), who begins having nightmares that serve as omens in her personal life on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the first film. Her special-effects expert husband and her brooding son Dylan (Miko Hughes) are further causes for concern, as are the "prank" phone calls that she receives from someone who talks like Freddy and the sudden surge of earthquakes in Los Angeles. She first meets with other cast members for advice as she's convinced she's either going insane or has her fingers on the pulse of some source of evil. This is confirmed when she meets with Wes Craven himself, who describes a new script he's been working on - one which parallels what's been happening in Heather's life (and in the film we're watching) thus far. Eventually, she must confront the physical form of evil, in the guise of Freddy, at the end of the film, which is somewhat formulaic. But Craven cleverly pulls away from the screen to counterpose a new viewing frame of horror for his audience, with the twisted landscape of real-world LA to reflect mankinds' deepest subliminal fears. - SD. Loews Cinema 57.