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On The Screen

HHHH:Excellent

HHH:Good

HH:Average

H:Poor

HHHH Dr. Strangelove

The world stands on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. The Russian Doomsday Machine will trigger a full-scale nuclear assault on the United States if the president (Peter Sellers) cannot recall a bomber squadron ordered to attack the Soviet Union by the psychotic Air Force Commander Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), who fears Russian contamination of his "precious bodily fluids." Meanwhile, Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) argues for a preemptive all-out attack; Dr. Strangelove (Sellers) warns that the United States "cannot allow a mine-shaft gap;" and Capt. Mandrake (Sellers) contends with Col. Bat Guano (if that is his real name), the Coca-Cola Co., and the telephone service as he tries to deliver the code that will call back the bombers. There is never a false moment in Stanley Kubrick's savagely satiric black comedy about the military mind. -Jeremy Hylton. LSC, Wednesday.

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 diminutive, 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. And while the ending is too neat and the production values are a little too slick, Travolta's cool on-screen demeanor is a treat to watch. -Scott C. Deskin. Kendall Square Cinema.

HHHH Goldfinger

Probably one of the best films of the James Bond series, Goldfinger places the secret agent (Sean Connery) in the midst of an international gold dealer's plot to raid Fort Knox. Gert Frobe plays the title villain to icy perfection; as the female foil/love interest, Honor Blackman is one of the standout "Bond women" as Pussy Galore. This film is probably the first of the series not to get totally carried away with its budget, and still retains its vitality and sense of controlled mayhem even today. -SCD. LSC, Sunday.

HHH Heat

Rarely do Hollywood films play both sides of the fence in a cops-and-robbers saga, but that's exactly what writer-director Michael Mann does in his latest film. Robert De Niro is the robber determined to make one last big score, but complications develop when he falls in love with a young graphic designer won over by his candor; Al Pacino is the cop who doggedly pursues De Niro at the expense of his crumbling third marriage. Although the dialogue is a bit excessive at times - the film is about three hours long - Mann's sense of pacing serves him well in setting up the pulse-pounding action sequences. The supporting actors, too, deserve a lot of credit for bringing life and credibility to the scores of characters in the film. -SCD. Sony Cheri.

HHH Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The third installment in Steven Spielberg's adventure saga is a return to form after the darkness of Temple of Doom. The prize in this film is the Holy Grail, and the swashbuckling archaeologist (Harrison Ford) must work with his father (Sean Connery) to thwart the Nazis' obtaining the Grail first. The love interest (Alison Doody) is a bit perfunctory, but this is compensated by the splendid action scenes and the rapport between Ford and Connery. And, if nothing else, Spielberg has proved himself to be one of the masters of the tongue-in-cheek adventure genre. -SCD. LSC, Friday.

HHHH Leaving Las Vegas

This sometimes-harrowing, often-redemptive look at a relationship between a destructive alcoholic (Nicholas Cage) and a prostitute (Elisabeth Shue) could be a spiritual antidote to the excesses of Showgirls. Cage is a newly-fired screenwriter whose vices have torn apart his family and led him to Las Vegas, where he resolves to drink himself to death. Shue falls in love with him for his lack of pretense, and both embark on a journey of love and self-revelation. Director Mike Figgis completely redeems himself for the bathetic Mr. Jones; here, he paints the characters with warm, natural emotions and uses the garish backdrop of the Vegas Strip (where even the golden arches of McDonalds are adorned with a multitude of flashing lights). The soundtrack of soulful contemporary songs by Sting, Don Henley, and other performers is hypnotic and artfully used. It's definitely worthwhile and uplifting for those who can take it. -SCD. Sony Nickelodeon.

HHH Nixon

Oliver Stone's most recent flick, Nixon, manages to capture the essential features of Richard Nixon's twisted character. While Anthony Hopkins doesn't exactly resemble Nixon, he does effectively mimic many of the president's nervous mannerisms. Nixon contains a number of fictional scenes created by director Stone - scenes that blur the already unseemly facts of the Nixon scandal. In spite of the canards, Stone accurately lays out some of the late president's strange psychoses, including phantasms of his saintly mother, dead brothers, and "enemies." The outstanding supporting cast helps weave the entire story into a tapestry of deceit and betrayal that can't fail to impress even true Nixon afficionados. -Anders Hove. Sony Cheri.

HHH1/2 Shanghai Triad

Director Zhang Yimou's (Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern) latest film, is absolutely stunning. Set in the westernized Shanghai of 1930, the film deals primarily with the fate of a woman living in a society controlled by the Mafia. The result of this shift of focus is refreshing - rest assured that there is not a bloody horse head to be found. Although there are impressive performances all around - most notably Li Baotian in his role as Mr. Tang, the ruthless godfather chief of the Tang family-run underground Green dynasty, and Shun Chun as Song, his backstabbing number two man - it is the incomparable Gong Li's performance as the conceited, hot-tempered prostitute/singer Xiao Jinbao that grips the audience's attention for almost two hours. -Audrey Wu. Kendall Square Cinema.

HHH Toy Story

Toy Story, Disney's most innovative feature-length film to date, not only is a landmark in computer animation, but also manages to retain the action-packed plot line and light-hearted comedy that have given Disney a virtual stranglehold on children's films. But besides the fact that the film is practically one big special effect, its premise is also a lot of fun: the supporting characters of the film are such familiar toys as Mr. Potato Head, Etch-a-Sketch, Slinky, and those miniature green plastic army men that are packaged in buckets. The film stars a talking cowboy doll named Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) and a "Space Ranger" named Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen). The villain is the bully who lives next door, a juvenile delinquent named Sid who thoroughly enjoys torturing his toys. Woody and Buzz ultimately become "lost toys" trapped in Sid's house with his hideous toy creations, and have to escape before Andy's family moves away without them. Toy Story is a lot of fun and the computer animation is, for lack of a better phrase, really cool. -AW. Sony Copley Place.