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On the Screen

HHHH:Excellent

HHH:Good

HH:Average

H:Poor

HHH1/2 The Birdcage

The American version of the French farce La Cage aux Folles succeeds on many levels, thanks in part to the ebullient performances of Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Armand (Williams) is the owner and musical director of a nightclub in Miami's South Beach section, while his lover Albert (Lane) is the diva-in-drag who's the star performer at the club. The trouble starts when Armand's son (Dan Futterman) starts courting the daughter of a conservative U.S. Senator (Gene Hackman) whose election platform is steeped in "moral order" and "family values." By the time the film reaches its climactic, comic showdown between the two families, the message of "family" and the characters' foibles are so skillfully exploited that one overlooks the expected degrees of slapstick, even when resorting to gay stereotypes. Director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May have struck the appropriate comic and social chords for this film to be a witty, beguiling, and relevant film. --Scott C. Deskin. Sony Copley.

HHHH The Celluloid Closet

The Celluloid Closet unclosets queers in the American cinema, starting with an eerily provocative little clip filmed 100 years ago in the studios of Thomas Edison. To the sound of a silent violin we see two men dancing, very obviously at affectionate ease with each other. Until recently, it's been mostly downhill in film depictions of lesbians and gays. Based on the groundbreaking book of the same name by the late Vito Russo, this documentary features clips from various representative movies, talking head shots with famous actors and directors, and a voice-over narration by Lily Tomlin. The movie relentlessly aims to ingratiate itself and is firmly situated in the assimilationist mainstream of gay politics ("We're just the same as everybody else, except for what we do in bed..."). Still, there are many pleasures to be had from watching the clips under discussion, and it's great to hear Harvey Fierstein speak up in defense of "sissies." --Stephen Brophy. Kendall Square..

HHH Fargo

Joel and Ethan Coen revisit familiar territory, both personal and professional, in this tale of crime in the heartland. Set in the wintry Minnesota landscape from which the two brothers escaped a few years ago, this story of a kidnapping plot gone bad retreads the success of the Coens' first movie, Blood Simple. This revisiting is underlined by the casting of Frances McDormand, Blood Simple's femme fatale, but in a very different role -- a pregnant police chief with more brains, determination, and grit, not to mention moral sense, than anyone else in the movie. --SB. Sony Nickelodeon.

HH1/2 James and the Giant Peach

For James and the Giant Peach, Disney brings together the team from The Nightmare Before Christmas to create another film that is visually intriguing and virtually oozes with its dark, surreal stop-animation style. The story, adapted from the children's tale by Roald Dahl, is given the full the Disney treatment and is full of characters with exuberant personalities and a plot full of adventure. For the most part, it's an fascinating film, but falls apart after the giant peach crash lands in New York City. Overall, the film is fascinating, visually appealing, and at only eighty minutes long, it certainly won't bore you (until maybe the end). --Audrey Wu. Sony Copley.

HH1/2 Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

This Island Earth gets the MST3000 treatment in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, but it really doesn't deserve it. As you surely know, MST3000 is an experiment by the evil Dr. Clayton Forrester who wants to take over the world by forcing its entire population to watch the worst movies ever made, thereby rendering it defenseless. But Mike Nelson, the subject of this experiment, fights back along with his robot pals by talking back at the movies. The only problem with the concept this time out is that This Island Earth is actually a pretty good film trapped within the B-movie conventions of its day. Why couldn't they have picked on The Killer Shrews? --SB. Sony Nickelodeon.

HHH Sabrina

Sabrina (Julia Ormond) falls in love with David (Greg Kinnear), but he barely knows she exists. Her father sends her to Paris to help her forget him. When she comes back, she's a new woman and now David is attracted to her. But he's now engaged to another woman. Linus (Harrison Ford), David's brother, woos Sabrina in the hope that she'll forget David and fall for him. More complicated than the original one with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, this version is also more believable, the characters' complexity was essential to this end. Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond make this film very 90s, yet they retain the story's classic charm. Greg Kinnear is much funnier than William Holden, but maybe that's just because of his lines. Harrison Ford shows his usual knack for comedy. --Kamal Swamidoss. Saturday at LSC.

HHH1/2 Sense and Sensibility

Director Ang Lee (The Wedding Banquet) and screenwriter-actress Emma Thompson present one of the newest Jane Austen adaptations this year. Despite the similarities to BBC television'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. Friday at LSC.

HH The Truth About Cats and Dogs

This screwball comedy brims over with appeal and execution: Although this works for the actors, they're often drowning in the sappy plot constructs and the ridiculously "cute" situations. Comedienne Janeane Garofalo plays Abby, a successful pet doctor who has a talk-radio show; in one scene, her no-nosense advice wins over British photographer Brian (Ben Chaplin), whose accent is to die for. Things get complicated, though, when the photographer mistakes Abby for her ditzy (but tall and blonde) next-door neighbor Noelle (Uma Thurman). Aside from a "touching" phone conversation between Abby and Brian, there's not much new in this retread of the old Cyrano de Bergerac premise; meanwhile, director Michael Lehmann (Heathers) seems to have succumbed to the same Hollywood system he subverted in his wickedly funny debut. --SCD. Sony Copley Place.