On the Screen
HHH Black Sheep
This film, the latest attempt by Lorne Michaels to milk money out of Saturday Night Live, is truly funny. Chris Farley and David Spade revive their roles as big fat spaz and wimpy sarcastic guy, both the same type of characters they played on SNL. The story is predictable, but the film works because Farley's wild antics make the film fun. The fact that their routine still seems fresh shows that Farley and Spade are a great comedy team. -Rob Wagner. Sony Copley Place.
HHHH Dead Man Walking
Dead Man Walking, directed by Tim Robbins and starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, addresses the death penalty issue unflinchingly and comprehensively. It follows convicted killer Matthew Poncelet (Penn) from the murders, through his several appeals, and finally to his execution in excruciating detail, escorted by his spiritual adviser, Sister Helen Prejean (Sarandon). Don't look to this movie for much action, adventure, or excitement. Rather, this emotionally brutal film challenges you to think about the issues surrounding the death penalty. You'll walk away from the theater with a profound sense of the tragedy that any murder is, whether it is committed by a person or by the government. And you will leave with a bitter sense of pity both for the original victims and the convicts on death row. -Audrey Wu. Sony Nickelodeon.
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 loan shark on assignment in Hollywood to track down people who skipped payment of their debts. He meets Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), an independent filmmaker who pitches an idea for a screenplay that 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. LSC, Friday.
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 Copley Place.
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.
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 Fresh Pond.
HHH Richard III
Even when translated to the big screen, many Shakespeare plays can often feel too rote or constrained. Writer-director Richard Loncraine's version of Richard III tries to dispel this feeling of "boredom." As the title character, Ian McKellen (also co-screenwriter) remakes Richard as an Anglicized Hitler in the midst of an updated, 1930s England. Richard's reign of terror doesn't end with the brutal killing of the opposing monarchs at the beginning of the film; he sets his sights on the throne, secretly implicating his younger brother Clarence (Nigel Hawthorne) as traitor to the royal court headed by his older brother King Edward (John Wood). Along the way, Richard must get rid of his brothers, deal with Queen Elizabeth (Annette Bening) and prevent Edward's young sons from reaching the throne. McKellen is the standout, playing his villainous part to gleeful, devilish perfection. This latest Shakespeare adaptation may not be a masterpiece, but it helps revitalize the genre in much the same way Pulp Fiction did for gangster pictures. -SCD. Kendall Square Cinema.
HHH1/2 Sense and Sensibility
Director Ang Lee (The Wedding Banquet) and screenwriter-actress Emma Thompson present just one of the newest Jane Austen adaptations this year. Despite the similarities in outcome and narrative structure to BBC-TV's Pride and Prejudice, the film is a treat to watch. Thompson plays Elinor, the older, more sensible sister of the family, while Kate Winslet plays Marianne, her younger, more passionate sister. When struck by the loss of their father, the family must look to its daughters to seek out prospective husbands; through their trials and misfortunes (including liaisons with prospective suitors Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman), the family stands together and never forsakes its honor. The dialogue and ruminations on sexual impropriety may seem quaint by today's standards, but Thompson's screenplay does justice to 18th-century romance and chivalry. -SCD. Sony Nickelodeon.
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. Eventually, Lenny and Mace must solve a mystery surrounding bizarre 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. -SCD. Sony Cheri.
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 come 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.
HH1/2 Twelve Monkeys
In this science-fiction offering from director Terry Gilliam (Brazil, The Fisher King) and writer David Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven), Bruce Willis plays Cole, a prisoner in a post-apocalyptic future. Scientists hand-pick him as a "volunteer" to go back in time to uncover information regarding a mysterious virus that wiped out most of the earth's population. He runs into problems, however, when he gets thrown in a mental institution and meets a sympathetic doctor (Madeleine Stowe) and a defective inmate (Brad Pitt). Cole trips through time much like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Unlike Pilgrim, Cole seems trapped in an infinite loop; he's haunted by an image from his childhood, and once we see what this means for his mission, we pity him even more. But what results is an incredibly bleak picture; a romantic development between Stowe and Willis toward the end is a pretentious and unsuccessful attempt to offset the film's inevitable, depressing conclusion. However, Twelve Monkeys is partially redeemed by some comic relief from Pitt's character and Gilliam's distinctive, engaging visuals. -SCD. Sony Cheri.
HH1/2 Waiting to Exhale
Waiting to Exhale, the provocative motion picture based on the bestseller of the same name by Terry McMillan, addresses how four thirty-something women cope with the many losers they stumble over in their search for a decent man. The film should be commended for bringing the vibrant voices of middle-class African-American women to the fore. In addition, the performances by the four heroines are quite good. Although the characters oftentimes act as dumb as dishwater, the actresses manage to shine and the camaraderie among the four women appears heartwarmingly genuine. In addition, the film does make some rather incisive observations of post-relationship-trauma female behavior. The film's weakness, however, lies in its disjointedness and the extreme blindness of the characters. If you are male, I would suggest not choosing this film for your first date. Furthermore, unless you want to watch two hours of male bashing, I wouldn't suggest seeing it at all. -AW. Sony Copley Place.
1/2 White Squall
"Dead Sailors Society" is a more apt title for this drivel. Although the plot is a true story and the film arguably contains the best "at sea" action sequence this season, the movie is awful. Seeing half-naked teenage boys prance around a ship, exposing more flesh and buttocks than a Calvin Klein ad, is not what I want out of a movie. The only recognizable star in the movie is Jeff Bridges, who is awful. The boys who makes up his crew are supposedly inspired by his monotone voice - so much so that when the ship goes down and he winds up on trial, all the boys support him. The film in general is unbelievably emetic and completely worthless. -RW. Sony Copley Place.