On the Screen
Pocahontas and Meeko the racoon star in Disney's summer blockbuster Pocahontas, showing Saturday at LSC.
The latest Spike Lee film uses the tried-and-true formula of the inner-city police drama, and it pays of nicely. The story, adapted from the novel by Richard Price, revolves around a young man from the housing projects who is charged with a murder and the police officer Rocco (Harvey Keitel) who refuses to believe the man's guilt. Instead, Rocco confronts the man's brother, Strike (Mekhi Phifer) whom he believes to have committed the murder as part of a drug-related matter for his boss (Delroy Lindo). If the movie at first appears to be Lee's defense of a criminal lifestyle, his depth of characterization partially compensates for this weakness. Lee's distinctive cinematography makes the film a visual treat, and that is reason enough to see it in a theater. -David V. Rodriguez. Allston Cinemas.
HHH Dead Presidents
After the independent success of the hard-hitting debut film Menace II Society, Allen and Albert Hughes tackle larger social issues in Dead Presidents. The story of Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate), a black high-school graduate who avoids the uncertainties of college only to confront the horrors of the outside world, unfolds against the tumult of the late 1960s and early '70s. He leaves his neighborhood mentor and father figure (Keith David) and his girlfriend to enlist in the Marine Corps with a couple of friends and plunges headlong into the Vietnam conflict. The graphic scenes of death and battle overseas, however, pales in comparison to the world that Anthony and his buddies face when they return to the old neighborhood just a few years later. His only key to salvation rides on a heist designed to steal the cash - "dead presidents" - that could be the ticket to a better life. From start to finish, the Hughes Brothers assemble a sympathetic portrait of the young man's life, due in large part to the superb performances. The film score (by veteran composer Danny Elfman) and early '70s R&B hits help enhance an otherwise standard period piece. -Daniel Ramirez. Sony Nickelodeon.
HHH Devil in a Blue Dress
Denzel Washington plays Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, a man who endeavors into smoky streets of 1940s Los Angeles as a detective. After being set up by bad guys, he must track down a mysterious woman, played by Jennifer Beals. Good performances all around and direction by Carl Franklin (One False Move) highlight the involving, humorous story. Watch for some excellent set production. -John Dunagan. Sony Copley Place.
HH First Knight
This latest offering in Hollywood escapism infuses the King Arthur myth with modern themes, but unfortunately forgets about the magic. Richard Gere plays a cocky Lancelot, who while wandering the countryside one day rescues Lady Guinevere (Julia Ormond) from kidnappers, and falls in love. Unfortunately for him, she's already betrothed to Sean Connery's King Arthur, and parries Lancelot's lustful advances. First Knight has a lot going for it - Ormond's subtle performance is never forced; Gere's Lancelot is cocky but reasonably convincing. But Connery is wasted as Arthur: Though he looks and sounds the part, the film makes Arthur a virtual nonentity. Arthur is set up from the start as nothing more than a lame duck amidst his young militia; the passion between Arthur and Guinevere is never developed. Also, the battle scenes are a letdown after the masterful ones in Braveheart. It's unlikely First Night will be remembered as a definitive rewrite of the myth of Camelot, much less an original one. When Arthur dies at the end of the film, all you're left with is the romance between Mancelot and Guinevere, but that's not enough to leave you satisfied. -Scott Deskin. LSC Friday.
If life imitates art, then one might cringe at the society Jade portrays. The film leaves the audience to consider how justice sways with human emotions. David Caruso, ex-star of NYPD Blue, again plays the role of a detective - actually, this time he is David Corelli, the assistant district attorney who investigates the murder of Kyle Medford, a millionaire and collector of artifacts. His biggest lead is an engraving of the Chinese character of Jade on a silver jewelry box. He wander into San Francisco's Chinatown, where the engraver reveals that the box was purchased by a woman. Jade, of course, has a double meaning - a gem and a disreputable woman - as the story follows David's search through city for the mystery.
Concurrently , David needs to resolve feelings for his ex-lover, Dr. Trina Gavin (Linda Fiorentino), who also happens to be married to his best friend, Matt Garvin (Chazz Palminteri). The plot takes so many twists and turns (especially during the car chases) and ultimately goes back to the leading characters. Everyone is somehow involved in Kyle Medford's death (even the Governor of California). The movie is exciting, and executive producer William McDonald does a wonderful job in mixing a little of everything (violence, sex, drugs, love, and humor). The ending is surprising and leaves the audience wanting more. -Charlene Chen. Sony Cheri.
HHH Much Ado About Nothing
Actor/director Kenneth Branagh once again brings Shakespeare to the big screen, this time with a frothy comedy set in a sun-drenched Tuscan villa. Though the list of supporting cast members is impressive (Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, and Brian Blessed, to name a few) all are outshown by Branagh's Oscar-winning wife, Emma Thompson. As sharp-tongued Beatrice, Thompson steals nearly every scene she's in; every scene, that is, except those with Branagh, who plays certified bachelor Benedick. The screen fairly sparkles when the pair is on and conversely, is merely ordinary when they are not. Of course, this is not so much the fault of the actors or directors as it is of the play, which surrounds Beatrice and Benedick with a cast of one-note characters (particularly lovers Claudio and Hero, who define young, beautiful, and vapid). The cinematography, however, is lush and gorgeous, and Branagh brings a lightness to Shakespeare's often slapstick and off-color humor that makes the film well worth watching. -LSC Sunday.
Pocahontas overflows with many trademarks of a Disney animated film: a bosomy heroine with great marketing potential, a villain who takes his character flaws to an unhealthy extreme, catchy songs, and animal characters that have more personality than most of the humans. There are, however, other important qualities that audiences have come to expect from Disney flicks, such as dazzling animation, an entertaining story, and humorous lines of dialogue. But this film falls short of its predecessors on these points. The writers do not adequately develop the romantic relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith, and the trademark-Disney exciting, climactic fight scene in which good conquers evil is tedious, predictable, and disappointing. But overall, Pocahontas is in itself an entertaining movie, replete with many funny and poignant moments. More importantly, it contains a timely message that speaks out against discrimination and emphasizes the importance of respect for all people and the environment. At less than ninety minutes in length, Pocahontas is successful in delivering to its audiences a brief diversion of animated fun. -Audrey Wu. LSC Saturday.
Sankofa is an African word that means to return to the past in order to go forward. In the story an African- American model visits a castle on Africa's Gold Coast that was used to hold captives before they were shipped off to the New World. She imaginatively connects with one of these captives from a previous century and experiences the brutality of enforced hard labor on a Louisiana sugar plantation. The film explores many dimensions of this situation, and intertwines its Western narrative style with African folktale traditions that strengthens the power of the story. Haile Gerima, an independent Ethiopian filmmaker, spent almost ten years gathering the resources to make this movie. It has won film festival prizes prizes for its cinematography as well as its content, and may someday soon be available on video. -Stephen Brophy. 5:30 p.m. Monday, 26-100.
The latest entry in the genre of psychological thrillers, Seven offers viewers the gimmick of a serial killer who masterminds his murders based on the seven deadly sins. Morgan Freeman is the archetypal police detective on the verge of retiring, and Brad Pitt plays his young, idealistic counterpart. Together, they must join forces to outsmart the criminal. The film is filled with darkness, and it employs this effect to represent the moralistic undercurrents of the movie. However, this theme fades to a mere afterthought in the wake of a murky plot, incomprehensible dialogue, and a predictable conclusion. Director David Fincher (Alien3) does little to distinguish the film from being a clone of films like The Silence of the Lambs. -Benjamin Self. Sony Cheri.
Director Paul Verhoeven's latest exercise in cinematic exploitation turns out to be a real bore, and lacks the wit of Verhoeven's earlier films. Partner-in-crime Joe Eszterhas (who wrote Verhoeven's Basic Instinct) deserves blame for a weak script and laughably bad dialogue. But the acting isn't much better in this story of a young woman whose dream is to make it big as a dancer in a Las Vegas casino. There are plenty of naked bodies (enough to garner an infamous NC-17 rating), but the promise of sex and eroticism is weak, even in the mechanical dance numbers. If overacting and a propensity to prance around naked is all that newcomer Elizabeth Berkley has to offer, she ought to be exiled back to television for the rest of the decade. However, the phony moralism that accompanies the narrative makes the film truly repellent. -SD. Sony Fresh Pond.
HH To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar
This recent film expands the repertoire of Wesley Snipes and Patrick Swayze, who play dragsters stuck in middle America during a cross-country road trip. About the changes the drag queens bring to rural America, the film remains too haphazard to be believable - even among funny slapstick. The film also borrows too often from the better Australian production, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. -Teresa Esser. Sony Nickelodeon.
In this sentimental, oddball coming-of-age tale, a boy (Nathan Watt) must face the growing complications he faces in junior high, the sudden illness of his mother (Andie MacDowell), and the increasing estrangement he feels from his scientist father (John Turturro). The boy doesn't find his bearings until he moves in with his eccentric uncles: Arthur (Maury Chaikin), a soft-spoken but unkempt soul who wraps gifts in toilet paper and scavenges trash dumps for valuable items; and Danny (Michael Richards, aka Kramer from the TV sitcom Seinfeld), a paranoid communist whose belief in fascist conspiracies is topped by his inclination for physical humor. As in most tearjerkers, we know there isn't a happy ending, but at least director Diane Keaton gives the characters enough wit to deal with the pain. -SD. Sony Nickelodeon.