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On The Screen

Ralph Flennes and Angela Bassett in the futuristic Strange Days.





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 Lovell (Hanks) to hold the crew together so they all get home safely. The cast of Apollo 13 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. LSC Saturday.

HH Assassins

Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon) made this astonishingly mediocre exploration of intrigue and espionage. Even Latin superstar Antonio Banderas, who spices up the otherwise dull story, cannot rescue a explosion-laden production. Even more disappointing in Sylvester Stallone, who has yet to step out of a line of flops. As Robert Rath, Stallone is a player in a deadly game and a combatant on a battlefield most people never knew existed. It's a game played in the shadows - existence depends on isolation, on leaving no trace, on having no contact. While Assassins does have its share of bangs and booms, it offers little plot and depth as lover. Unlike Donner's other movies, which combine action with a good story, Assassins seems more like a kiddie ride. -Daniel Ramirez. Sony Copley Place.

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. -DR. Sony Cinema 57.

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. Brattle Theatre, Wednesday.

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 Fresh Pond.

HHH1/2 The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain

The Englishman is a low-budget, feel-good movie that excels at providing an in-depth look at provincial life in early twentieth-century Wales. The plot is simple: Two English surveyors (Hugh Grant and Colm Meaney) discover that "The First Mountain in Wales" is but a 984-foot hill. Outraged, the townspeople take it upon themselves to add sixteen feet of dirt to their beloved Fillan Garoo. Humor and World War I references add poignancy to this piece; in all, it is extremely well done, if a bit too patriarchical. -Teresa Esser. LSC Friday.

HHH Get Shorty

John Travolta continues his astonishing career comeback, proving that there is life after Pulp Fiction. In this tongue-in-cheek adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, Travolta plays Chili Palmer, a Miami loanshark on assignment in Hollywood to track down people who skipped payment of their debts: In particular, he meets Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), an independent filmmaker who pitches an idea for a screenplay which Chili thinks has some promise - enough for Chili to consider producing Harry's film. In the process, Chili becomes involved with Harry's actress-girlfriend (Rene Russo), fends off the predatory advances of Harry's drug-dealing investor (Delroy Lindo), and woos the elusive, but diminuitive, star for the film (Danny DeVito). The story may be slow compared to the slam-bang approach of Pulp Fiction, but the acting and dialogue are rich in dark, subtle comic undertones. The ending is too neat and the production values are a little too slick, but Travolta's cool on-screen demeanor is a treat to watch. -SD. Sony Cheri.

HHH Jade

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. At the same time, 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 Copley Place.

HHH Mallrats

Mallrats is director Kevin Smith's follow-up to Clerks, and although the movies are not related, many of the components that made the first a success are still here. The story is about two guys in their early twenties who have no ambition and no plans for the future. When they both get dumped by their girlfriends they head off for the mall where they hope to find some comfort, or failing that kill some time. This is a not-too-original setup but it is carried out well. The jokes are funny, and although many of them are about sexual subjects they rely more on the humor of the situation than on a vulgar punchline. A re-occurring (and representative) joke is when one of the characters is talking about "sex in a very uncomfortable place," and someone will reply, "Like in the back of a Volkswagon?" -David V. Rodriguez. Sony Copley Place.

HH Seven

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.

HH Strange Days

This futuristic action film tries to address a lot of things: virtual reality technologies, an ominous police state, and an unruly populace on the verge of the new millenium. Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes, doing his best to manage an American dialect) peddles virtual reality "clips" to willing customers, while his occasional friend and bodyguard, Mace (Angela Bassett) tries to get him out of the business. In the meantime, tempers flare surrounding the murder of a rap star, and two renegade L.A. cops emerge who each make Mark Fuhrman look like a choirboy. Soon, it's up to Lenny and Mace to solve a mystery surrounding bizzare murders of Lenny's acquaintances - before Lenny gets killed himself. Add Juliette Lewis as Lenny's ex-flame, now turned minor rock star, and you have a jumble of good visual ideas that don't really come together in James Cameron's convoluted story (whose social commentary seems half-assed compared to the simplicity of The Terminator or Aliens). Bassett is striking in her strong, neo-feminine pose, but Fiennes (who saw this film as a legitimate star vehicle) simply doesn't have the star quality that his sleazy, heroic role demands. On top of everything, director Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break) builds everything to a fever pitch at the film's climax, but is finally unable to resolve it with a believable ending. -SD. Sony Cheri.

HHHH To Die For

Nicole Kidman stars in the role of her life: a beautiful and ambitious woman who is willing to step over (or on) anyone to reach her dream of getting on television. This includes her husband, who she has killed by a high school student that she is romancing for just this reason. The story is incredibly well told, given in the form of interviews with each of the major characters. This allows us to get into the heads of each of characters, who are all very interesting. One of the year's best films. -DR. Sony Copley Place.