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ON THE SCREEN

The following movies are playing this weekend at local theaters. The Tech suggests using http://www.boston.com for a complete listing of times and locations.

HHHH Excellent

HHH Good

HH Fair

H Poor

200 Cigarettes (HH)

An opulent, stylish look at 80’s stereotypes, the rather weak tale of a group of twentysomethings coping with life and their own personal demons on New Year’s Eve is not a particularly well thought out story, but a rather well implemented one. Definitely worth seeing the ensemble cast (including such names as Christina Ricci, Ben and Casey Affleck, and Martha Plimpton) play a group of neurotic and pathetically humorous individuals searching for a way to enjoy themselves for an evening and not worry about anything the depressing implications of the year to come.

A movie that takes place in the 1981, but whose actual 80’s influence draws from the entire decade. Well done, visually if not creatively. And anyone who doesn’t want a ride in the plush-laden cab with a disco ball dangling from the rear view mirror needs to have their head examined. -- Francisco Delatorre

8MM (H1/2)

Not even the writing of the gifted Andrew Kevin Walker can save this flop directed by Joel Schumacher. It is the story of a private detective whose inquiries into the authenticity of a snuff film reveal a grossly disturbing culture of pornography and violence. What he finds is not only that this culture provides a thriving environment for the morally vacuous, but that its implications and effects take a frightening toll on even the most virtuous of us.

Frightening, in its own regard, but the emotional impact is lost in the direction. Don’t bother. -- FD

Affliction (HHH1/2)

Nick Nolte plays a grown man still grappling with the ghost of his father’s abusiveness. A sheriff in a small snowy town, he riles against the rich, against authority and against those who try to help him. For a long time the rage has been kept in check, but it won’t hold forever.

Although some characters in the movie are one-dimensional, director Paul Schrader, working from a script by Russell Banks, puts together a very solid film. Nolte and Coburn, as his father, are astounding and harrowing, and keep the movie’s loose ends together to make for a powerful experience. -- Roy Rodenstein

Alaska (HHH1/2)

On the surface, a classic OmniMax nature-themed documentary, replete with grandiose nature shots and panoramic views of mountain ranges from the helicopter. Underneath -- an involving story, using the turn of the seasons as an underlying plotline and carefully observed animals as central characters. Unexpectedly, it’s also downright hilarious, bursting with more humor than any other movie currently in release. --Vladimir Zelevinsky

Analyze This (HH)

A sorry sit-comish excuse for a comedy, with Billy Crystal engaging in so much tiresome shtick as a burned-out shrink, analyzing an overstressed mafia boss played by Robert De Niro. Not enough humor, not enough story, and more than enough gratuitous violence. However, De Niro, in a rare comedic appearance, almost makes this movie worth watching. --VZ

Cruel Intentions (HH)

A millennial remake of Dangerous Liaisons, Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar play rich young socialites moving from conquest to conquest. Selma Blair and Reese Witherspoon play their naive targets. Twisted happenings, sex, innuendo and humor pepper the sadists’ futile attempts at happiness.

While all the actors are decent in their roles, the roles are almost completely one-dimensional. The plot occasionally reaches cruel and comedic heights, but regularly stumbles and becomes exploitative. The rapport between Gellar and Phillippe, and Witherspoon’s acting talent, are the most rewarding aspects. -- RR

The Deep End of the Ocean (HH1/2)

When their middle child is lost, Beth and Pat Cappadora (Pfeiffer and Williams) go the distance searching for him, and fail. The tough choices only begin, however, when young Ben turns up nine years later as another man's adopted son. Though the plot tends toward melodrama or mere simplemindedness, it reaches occasional insights. Buoyed by a game cast steered by firecracker Whoopi Goldberg, it wisely relies on the children to create the most affecting scenes. -- RR

EDtv (HH1/2)

Highly agreeable and totally inoffensive story about a man who agrees to be a subject of an around the clock reality-based TV show. It’s pleasant, for a change, to see a movie which is done competently: Ron Howard’s direction is smooth, and some acting, especially that of the leads, is very proficient. But the bland story keeps spinning its sitcom wheels, ultimately forgetting that it originally set out to satirize cheap entertainment. -- VZ

Elizabeth (HHH)

A remarkable visual achievement, this story about one of the greatest rulers of England ever is told by withholding the epic scope and concentrating on the essential details. The great cast, headlined by Cate Blanchett in a commanding titular performance and ably supported by Geoffrey Rush as her chief assistant, works extra hard to create vivid characters from the rather overwritten and overplotted screenplay. The finale, with ethereal music by Mozart, is stunning. --VZ

God Said “Ha!” (HHH)

A single extended monologue by Julia Sweeney, formerly know as Pat on Saturday Night Live, it is a story of one year of her life when everything seems to be going wrong in the worst possible way. And yet, the movie alternatively hilarious and poingnant, and, at some high points, it's both. The connection between the audience and the narrator feels intimate and immediate, and the hour and a half passes in what feels like ten minutes. As always, it's life that tells all the best stories. --VZ

Life is Beautiful (HHH)

Most reviewers praise the second half of this Italian tragicomedy -- the serious half. While it certainly has its merits, it’s the first hour which really makes this film so remarkable. With its gentle whimsy, subtle satire, and unabashed romanticism, this is the stuff of which the best romances are made. There are also classically gorgeous visuals, memorable score, and elaborate visual and verbal gags aplenty. --VZ

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (HHH1/2)

If you're looking for depth and emotional intensity, look further. If you want to watch a downright enjoyable movie, this is it. The story of a group of “honest criminals” and how they get mixed up in the London crime, drug, and gambling underground is a complicated one at best, but its fantastic use of music, dialogue, and cinematography makes this comedy a must-see. -- FD

The Mod Squad (HH)

With a game cast and plenty of that 70’s sensibility, down to the camera bouncing in synch with the cheesy sound effects, The Mod Squad achieves its objective quite well. The only problem is that plot and characters lifted straight from the small screen donÍt fill the big screen. Explosions and abandoned warehouses are the name of the game, with maybe a crooked cop thrown in for good measure. With Giovanni Ribisi stealing every scene he’s in, which is fortunately practically the whole movie, The Mod Squad may be right up your alley. Just don’t go in expecting any kind of plot or character development that you wouldn’t see in an episode of a 70’s TV show. -- RR

Rushmore (HHH1/2)

A breath -- or, rather, make it blast -- of fresh air. This is an offbeat comedy, an offbeat buddy film, an offbeat romance, and an offbeat revenge story. Or none of these things. Mix up some wildly varying comic elements, combine them with some of most deliciously deadpan acting in recent memory, add highly imaginative and inventive usage of widescreen format -- and get Rushmore, which is just about the least conventional and yet solidly enjoyable movie to come out recently. --VZ

Saving Private Ryan (HH1/2)

For all the sound and fury unleashed by Steven Spielberg in this WWII action drama, the result signifies more or less nothing. Other than two majestic battle sequences (first half and hour and last half an hour), which have taut pacing, amazing visuals, and taut direction, the rest is lackluster. The story doesn’t build toward much, the few character arcs are either barely existent or utterly obvious, and the acting is passable at best. It’s certainly highly watchable, but even this is somewhat of a problem, since it turns the horrors of war into exciting spectacle. --VZ

Shakespeare in Love (HHH1/2)

What a difference does a good screenplay make! This one, co-written by Tom Stoppard, is funny, witty, unapologetic in its gags, and completely earnest in dramatic romanticism. The resulting film displays uncanny verisimilitude in recreating Elizabethan England in all of its ungainly squalor and demonstrates nothing else than the genesis of true art -- from such humble beginnings as want, dirt, hate, envy, and lust, as well as love and hope. --VZ

She’s All That (H1/2)

A sickeningly offensive and sexist retelling of the Pygmalion myth, placing it in the milieu of high school, where one local stud bets another one that they can turn a local nerd into a prom queen. The really sad thing is that there are flashes of creativity, originality, and true human emotions sprinkled around this whole mess; just enough to make the surrounding inanity even more depressing. --VZ

Tango (HHH1/2)

The story of Mario, the director of a tango dance performance, Tango has plenty of screen time for dancers, but also makes room for musicians and actors. Mario falls in love with the troupe's sponsor's girlfriend, and the sponsor is not the kind to be messed with. Less concerned with a traditional love story, the film instead concentrates on the tango, danced in a dozen different settings and used to depict key periods in the history of Argentina. Dealing with people of all ages, Tango is also about memories and desires. Along with a solid plot, the masterful musicians and vibrant dancing make this movie a thorough delight. -- RR

Thrill Ride (HH1/2)

One third exhilarating, taking the audience on the wild rides through the worlds created solely by the artists’ imagination and state-of- the-art technology. One third innocuous, with rather bland “educational” footage of rollercoasters and motion simulators. One third nauseating, with the impressive computer-generating effects being artless and trying to conceal the fact that there’s precious little substance beneath the flashy surface. --VZ

Waking Ned Devine (HHH1/2)

Charming comedy about a small town’s quest for wealth. Nearly 7 million pounds is at stake in the Irish national lottery, and the sleepy village of Tully More pulls together to outwit the officials after the winner, one of the town’s inhabitants, dies at the shock of being rich. Standing in their way are individual greed and fear of legal retribution, among others.

Overall, it is a wholly enjoyable, hilarious, and wonderfully written film. One of the best of 1998. --FD