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On the Screen

HHHH:Excellent

HHH:Good

HH:Average

H:Poor

HHH Apollo 13

Tom Hanks takes his Oscar-winning ways to the moon in Apollo 13. The film offers astronaut Jim Lovell's account of the nearly disastrous real-life mission to the moon in the spring of 1970; when things go wrong on board Apollo 13, it's up to Hanks - I mean, Lovell - to hold the crew together so they all get home safely. The cast for this film works well together, having met up on several fronts in the past. Hanks gives another solid performance in this film, but Ed Harris, as the main supervisor at Mission Control, has the best, most understated role. One of the movie's problems is that the script is too formulaic and casts the performances too much to the caricatures that they are: dependable family man Lovell; slightly insecure family man Haise; and young, swinging bachelor Swigert. The main problem, though, is the film's pacing, which feels too calculated and methodical. If you're looking for grandeur, try The Right Stuff. But if you can't see that film on a big screen, Apollo 13 may offer some instant, if only partial, gratification. -Scott Deskin. Sony Copley Place.

HHHBabe

Babe is about a talking pig. The pig can't talk to humans, mind you: The story is told primarily from the perspective of farm animals who converse in English. The pig is named Babe, and once he begins life on a rural farm, he finds he must overcome human and animal prejudice with his charm and resourcefulness, lest he end up the main course for Christmas dinner. It's a familiar fable, one whose moral could be "Don't judge a book by its cover." The best thing about the film is the impressive use of animatronics for the talking animals: Moreover, the film wins points by recapitulating social themes like communication and prejudice with a facile touch that never gets heavy-handed. Although adults will enjoy the film, Babe is more of a kids' movie. -SD. Sony Copley Place.

HHHH Before the Rain

This movie tries too hard to be everything to everyone. While director Milcho Manchevski scores big by beginning his movie in a Dostoyevski-era Russian Orthodox cathedral, he ultimately teases the audience by beginning an innocent love story and then shooting holes in the leading lady. Because the movie is about war, its violent content is to be expected; but Manchevski's move to switch the emphasis from a mute monk to a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer without finishing his original story could be construed as sneaky. However, the film is filled with stunning images, with an intricate structure that ties three separate stories together under an artistic exploration of life and death. If you like artsy political statements, this film's for you. -Teresa Esser. Brattle Theater, Wednesday.

HHH Desperado

Former indie-whiz-kid-turned-Hollywood-darling Robert Rodriguez delivers the goods in this tongue-in-cheek rewrite of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah westerns. Armed with a budget a thousand times greater than his debut feature El Mariachi, Rodriguez casts Antonio Banderas as a brooding man with no name who slays entire bars of hostile characters in search of a Mexican druglord (Joaquim de Almeida) who killed his woman and maimed his hand in the first film. Objectively, the story is weak and offers little pretense for Rodriguez's bloody, over-the-top action scenes. But in spite of the film's loose ends and rough plot edges, the supporting performers (Steve Buscemi, Cheech Marin, and Salma Hayek as Banderas' love interest) are memorable, if not charming. Time will tell if we have another Quentin Tarantino in our midst. -SD. Sony Cheri.

HHHHKids

Kids is a blunt, ugly horror film whose most frightening feature is that it is entirely believable. The film is not about Hollywood, or even Beverly Hills 90210; instead it is about unspectacular New York City youths who show less than marginal respect for their parents and want nothing more than to be left to wander the streets and hang out with their friends. Events in Kids do not take place behind screens or under blankets; rather, the camera is placed so close to the actors that it literally invades their personal space. And the viewer winds up squirming in his or her own chair, unwilling to watch the evils perpetrated against innocents, yet driven to watch in the blind hope that somehow the horror will be mitigated. -TE. Sony Nickelodeon.

HH1/2 Something to Talk About

Julia Roberts has come to a turning point in her career. Roberts' latest film, Something to Talk About, is change of pace for the 29-year-old actress. She goes out on a limb as Grace, a frazzled thirty-ish wife and mother who leads a fairly dull and unhappy life. Director Lasse Hallstrom handles the subject matter with delicacy and poignancy, not letting the characters' actions overwhelm the characters themselves and Roberts carries the film with the charm and earnestness she gives her role. Despite a shaky start and a slick finish, the movie's positive attributes outweigh its negative ones. It's certainly not the best movie to deal with such subject matter, but its offers a new, fresh perspective on who actually gets hurt in relationships. And Julia Roberts may have expanded her cinematic range at long last: Hopefully she won't have to return to any more obnoxious thrillers to revive her career. -SD. Sony Cheri.

HHWaterworld

For films with overblown budgets more impressive than their special effects, Waterworld is an unqualified success. Nevertheless, if one looks past all the hype and egos surrounding the project, Waterworld isn't so bad. Essentially an alternate version of the post-apocalyptic world in George Miller's epic The Road Warrior, Waterworld generates a fair amount of rough-and-tumble excitement when it gets going. Waterworld looks like a well-made but expensive flop. Although the special effects look nice on the big screen, the film probably doesn't lose much of its grandeur on video. -SD. Sony Copley Place.

HH1/2 While You Were Sleeping

A romantic comedy with a lot of classic scenes. Sandra Bullock plays Lucy, a lonely Chicago Transit Authority worker who falls in love with Peter, a nice guy who rides the train to work every day. She's waiting for the right opportunity to meet him when one day, she saves him from a speeding train. He's at the hospital in coma, and through some misunderstandings, his family believes that she's his fiance. Then she meets Peter's brother, Jack, and the plot thickens. The film is entertaining because from the starting situation, the story and characters evolve in a likeable way. It isn't jaded or cynical; it's a funny love story that your younger siblings, your girl/boyfriend, or your parents can enjoy. -Kamal Swamidoss. LSC, Friday.