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On the Screen

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' 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. Sony Nickelodeon.

HHH1/2 Faraway, So Close

Director Wim Wenders takes another look at the angels of his 1987 masterpiece Wings of Desire. Angels are not supposed to intervene directly in the lives of humans, but Cassiel (Otto Sander) breaks that rule and becomes human. Wenders follows Cassiel's adjustment to his new life, and builds a complicated plot involving gun runners, trapeze artists, and a crew of angels-become-humans. The plot is something of a mess, but Wender's brilliant visual style and Sander's bravuro performance more than compensates. The large cast also includes Willem Dafoe, Peter Falk, Heinz Ruhmann, Nastassja Kinski, and, in a cameo appearance as himself, Mikhail Gorbachev. --Jeremy Hylton. Brattle Theater

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, and 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 Anne Rice's story and give emotional weight to the gruesome accounts on the screen. - Gretchen Koot. Sony Cheri.

HH1/2 A Low Down Dirty Shame

The latest effort from Keenen Ivory Wayans (creator of the television series In Living Color) is a personal foray from pure comedy into the action genre, and it gives this film an identity crisis: A comedy trapped in the body of an action film. As the undercover-cop-turned-detective Andrew Shame, Wayans uses his comic talents as writer to give his character some genuinely funny lines. However, the uneasy mix of action and comedy detracts from the film that give it an overall feel of a parody (like Wayans' other action-comedy I'm Gonna Git You Sucka) - some scenes are played genuinely for dramatic effect, which only confuses the viewer. The film's serious side is developed in a love triangle between Shame's secretary, Peaches (Jada Pinkett), and femme fatale Angela Flowers (Salli Richardson); however, in the action sequences, one feels that Wayans would have done better if he didn't stray from comedy, the genre that gave him his start. - J. Michael Andresen. Sony Fresh Pond.

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 actions in the film are the hyperkinetic performances of the cast members, the e 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. LSC Saturday.

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 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. Sony Nickelodeon.

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' 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. - Teresa Esser. Sony 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. Sony Harvard Square.

HHH Star Trek Generations

The latest installment in the Star Trek series bridges the gap between the original crew, headed by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), and the "next generation," led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). The story is mostly fluff - a shadowy villain who wants to cast himself into a heaven/nirvana "nexus," at the expense of an entire solar system and countless life forms, must be stopped by the two captains, who are joined by fate and a bit of time-space trickery. The villain, Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell) joins forces with the Klingons, and Soran's plan is set in motion when he kidnaps Geordi (LeVarBurton), the chief engineer of Picard's Enterprise. Apart from stilted dialogue and the soap-opera-perfect female crew of the Enterprise contending with wounded bodies, this film delivers the requisite starpower and flashy special effects that a Trekker could hope for. - Charolette Iverson. Sony Cheri.

H1/2 Stargate

This is one of the strangest, most ill-conceived movies in quite a while. 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. Sony Copley Place.

A note to our readers: Loews Theatres has recently changed its name to Sony Theatres. This was done to reflect the ownership of the Loews chain by Sony Pictures Entertainment, Loews' parent corporation since 1989. All future movie reviews and listings in "On The Screen'' will reflect the new name.