On The Screen
H1/2 Before and After
Before and After (starring Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson) is the story of a family dealing with their son being accused of murdering his girlfriend. This includes both the legal issues, (which are interesting) and the emotional issues (which are done to excess). The movie spends so much time trying to tug on our heart-strings that it quickly become ineffective: In a supposedly heart-wrenching scene, when the father started crying and the heavy music started, most of the audience started laughing. -David V. Rodriguez. Sony Copley.
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.
HHH 1/2 Braveheart
Mel Gibson's Braveheart is a curious combination of historical legend and modern dramatic techniques woven together into a tapestry of connected stories. With the plot based loosely on Scotland's real-life attempt for independence from England and the screenplay straight from modern Hollywood, the three-hour show reminds one more of Lethal Weapon than Rob Roy.
Braveheart increases its appeal by contrasting highland goings-on with portrayals of British royalty, especially the powerful King Edward I (Patrick McGoohan). The battle scenes in Braveheart may be gruesome and a bit extreme, but the film as a whole is immensely satisfying. -Teresa Esser. Sony Cinema 57.
HH1/2 Broken Arrow
John Travolta and Christian Slater play Vic Deakins and Riley Hale, two Air Force pilots who fly a Stealth bomber on a predawn run over the Utah desert. Travolta is the older, wiser mercenary who steals the two nuclear warheads from the bomber's cargo bay; Slater is the young, idealistic whipper-snapper who enlists a spunky park ranger (Samantha Mathis) to foil the plan. The action sequences shouldn't disappoint fans of director John Woo - they're all executed with humor and finesse, with people leaping across the screen in slow-motion with both barrels blazing. But the story is trite and predictable in comic-book fashion (it's basically a rewrite by Graham Yost of his own script for Speed), and the pivotal fight scenes feel staged and choreographed. But you don't get to see an exploding nuclear warhead (below-ground) everyday, and more often than not the special effects team delivers the goods. -Scott C. Deskin. Sony Cheri.
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. 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.
The title character is a popular country-pop singer, played by Mare Winningham (who received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress). But her little sister Sadie, played with an almost unbearable, naked intensity by Jennifer Jason Leigh, runs away with the show. Leigh documents the dissolution of Sadie, who dreams of topping her sister's success, even as she slides into a self-destructive haze of drugs, alcohol, and abusive sex. Not for the faint-hearted. -Stephen Brophy. Kendall Square.
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. Saturday at LSC.
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 pathetic 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. Kendall Square.
Mallrats is director Kevin Smith's lesser known - but better - followup toClerks. While not a sequel, the movie does have a similar style and and a similar focus: two underachievers and their problems with women, life, etc. In this case its TJ and Brody, two guys who have been dumped by their girlfriends for being uncaring and unmotivated (respectively). The two head to the mall, the only place guaranteed to give them comfort, where they spent the day having small and entertaining adventures. -DVR. Friday at LSC.
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.
This 17th-century tale focuses on James Merivel (Robert Downey Jr.), a ne'er-do-well English physician who has an amazing stroke of luck and falls into the court of King Charles III (Sam Neill). Merivel lets his healing talents go to waste when he wallows in opulence and pleasures of the flesh. However, Charles soon bestows on him the ultimate reward-temptation: a title, an estate, and a wife (Polly Bergen) - actually one of the king's mistresses with whom he must never fall in love. But Merivel blows it, and is consequently banished from this paradise to the plague and squalor of the real world; there he must learn how to regain his faith in medicine and in himself, aided by fellow doctor John Pearce (David Thewlis) and mental asylum inmate Katherine (Meg Ryan), a woman who isn't really crazy and manages to teach him a few things about love.
If you aren't overwhelmed by the decadent set designs, this film can be a very rewarding experience; anchored by Downey's poignant performance, the protagonist's journey in this film is like a more cerebral Forrest Gump. -SCD. Sony Harvard Square.
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.
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-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.
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.
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 Harvard Square.
1/2 White Squall
"Dead Sailors Society" is a more apt title for this drivel. Although it 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.