On the Screen
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. -Scott Deskin. Sony Copley Place.
Mel Gibson's Braveheart is a curious combination of historical legend and modern dramatic techniques woven together into a tapestry of connected stories. With the plot based loosely on Scotland's real-life struggle for independence from England and the screenplay straight from modern Hollywood, the three-hour show reminds one more of Lethal Weapon than Rob Roy. A Scottish commoner, William Wallace (Mel Gibson) returns to his native land after an education in continental Europe with his uncle. His domestic bliss with a childhood sweetheart is shattered when British lords kill his beloved wife; in response, Wallace leads friends and clansmen in an assault on British forts and charges toward the English border. Braveheart increases its appeal by contrasting these highland goings-on with portrayals of British royalty, especially the powerful, evil King Edward I (Patrick McGoohan) The queen-to-be, Princess Isabelle (Sophie Marceau), is bored with her marriage to the king's homosexual son and becomes infatuated with Wallace in a distracting subplot. The battle scenes in Braveheart may be gruesome and a bit extreme, but the film as a whole is immensely satisfying. -Teresa Esser. Sony Cheri.
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. -TE. LSC, Friday.
HHH The Brady Bunch Movie
The film version of the (in)famous sitcom avoids the mistake of the TV-reunion movie, A Very Brady Christmas, by recasting the entire Brady family and by playing on '70s nostalgia in a '90s setting. Shelley Long is surprisingly convincing as Florence Henderson's concerned, loving mother Carol, and Gary Cole emulates Robert Reed's Mike Brady, often giving confusing lectures that the children accept as gospel. The film is enlivened by several cameo appearances, from Michael McKean as the Bradys' scheming next-door neighbor to RuPaul as Jan's high school counselor; the Monkees (Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones) also turn up. Yet the funniest scenes are either parodies of the source material, to campy send-ups of the Brady mystique, as seen in a singing parade around a Sears store. The film crumbles under any critical analysis, but is an unqualified success, especially when compared to the likes of The Beverly Hillbillies and Coneheads. -Rob Wagner. LSC, Saturday.
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.
HHHH 2001: A Space Odyssey
Director Stanley Kubrick's mind-bending science-fiction spectacle stands as one of the defining moments of the late 1960s and of the sci-fi genre itself. Beginning with the physical savagery of proto-humans and climaxing with the cool, intellectual savagery of mankind and computers, the film is rich with social commentary and religious symbolism. The special effects are still amazing, a full 27 years after the film's original release: Kubrick's obsessive attention to detail with the set design and photography laid the groundwork for a new aesthetic in American cinema. The acting has very little depth or expression, especially when compared with Kubrick's comic satire Dr. Strangelove or his exercise in ultraviolence, A Clockwork Orange. But this film bypasses human primitivism almost entirely in order for mankind to achieve spiritual deliverance from self-serving, dehumanizing technology. Based on Arthur C. Clarke's short story The Sentinel, 2001 remains Kubrick's defining masterwork. - SD. LSC, Sunday.
This documentary traces several months in the life of fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. Devastated after a disastrous presentation of his spring, 1994 collection, he begins anew for his next collection in the fall. Along the way, he recounts his many inspirations: his mother and Mary Tyler Moore have obviously shaped Mizrahi's sense of fashion as well as his flamboyant personality. But too much of the film seems over-eager - encounters with world-renowned fashion models and a media-blitz surrounding Mizrahi's fall collection seem staged, and the grainy black-and-white photography is an understated, but mixed, visual blessing. Such films play better on PBS than in a movie theater. -Audrey Wu. Sony Copley Place.