Braveheart. Writer-director Mel Gibson clobbers the audience with three hours of blunt storytelling about a rebellious Scottish clansman who led soldiers into effective battle against British tyrrany. Much of the movie's violence is grippingly effective, especially a couple of well-orchestrated fight sequences that, though aesthetically closer to the limbless knight scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail than the poetic violence of Sam Peckinpah, are still quite powerful. But Gibson's relentless chant of "Freedom!" and the film's overtones of romantic martyrdom don't really stick; mostly, the movie leaves you with a dispiriting sense of human brutality.
Casper. That friendly little dead kid from the comic-book '50s has been resurrected for the computer-generated '90s. His movie, which unlike last summer's The Flintstones, has the quick pacing and good cheer necessary to get audiences past a typically slim, gadget-ridden storyline. Actors Bill Pullman (likable as always) and especially Christina Ricci (who has become eye-catchingly lovely since her days in The Addams Family) are responsible; playing an afterlife researcher and his lonely daughter, they provide the movie with just enough soul to get by. Casper doesn't do too bad in that department, either. Also starring Cathy Moriarty and Eric Idle.
Crimson Tide. Tony Scott, director of Top Gun, once again glorifies a division of the armed forces with commercial editing rhythms, overpowering sound effects and monotonously slick cinematography. This time the action takes place aboard a nuclear submarine, which may or may not have orders to launch the first strike of World War III. Though mutiny and torpedo battles are involved, the movie's only real meat comes from the verbal sparring between Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, two stereotypically diametrical officers who argue endlessly over a trumped-up ethical question about whether to follow orders or follow your heart. Even without a periscope, you can see the finish coming from miles away.
Die Hard With A Vengeance. The third Die Hard film is as good as you could hope, given that most "three" films are usually only one-third as good as the original. But this one is at least half as good as Die Hard, thanks to loads of Speed-style chases and bombings in downtown New York City and director John McTiernan's deftness with cartoonish action. And while the European conspiracy-plotting and Bruce Willis' working-class hero routine are turning into shtick, Samuel Jackson has been effectively added to the mix as a reluctant, cynical buddy who is a welcome foil for Willis' tired one-liners.
Forget Paris. Director-actor Billy Crystal has created a new, rather bland concoction: Woody Allen Lite. In this all-too-formulaic tale of the ups and downs of a relationship, Crystal tries, with occasional success, to turn the banal disappointments of marriage into comic fodder. Co-starring with Debra Winger (who comes across as attractive but oddly unsympathetic), Crystal's livelier gags soon give way to masturbation jokes and mediocre, forced melodrama. It's sort of like When Harry Almost Divorced Sally. And oooh, somebody turn down that saccharine lite-jazz score.
Johnny Mnemonic. Keanu Reeves stars as the twenty-first century courier who carries the weight of the world, literally, on his shoulders in this sci-fi action flick based on the short story by the father of cyber sci-fi, William Gibson. This dark prophecy of an Information Age breeding a new world order of affluent "High Techs" vs. underground "Low Techs" follows the predictable futuristic formula--perpetually dark, dirty and dangerous. Though the special effects are spectacular, Johnny would benefit from fewer explosions and more character development--even with a bionic brain, Reeves is his old, uninspiring self.
Tales From The 'Hood. Here's a breath of fresh air: a black film that addresses racial issues via a format other than realism. Using a macabre Night Gallery-esque framing device, we're presented with four horror vignettes--each with a bone to pick about racism, gang violence and so on. It's a splendid idea, well-executed by director Rusty Cundieff (Fear Of A Black Hat), and nicely acted by a cast that includes Clarence Williams III and David Allen Grier. Too bad the ideas don't go anywhere beyond cut-and-paste revenge fantasies. The best vignettes include a story about a David Duke-like politician who is stalked by rabid black voodoo dolls, and a Clockwork Orange-style tale in which an irrepressible gangbanger is forced to watch rapid-fire images of blacks shooting blacks intercut with historical photographs of slave lynchings.
Mad Love. Two Seattle teens, played by Chris O'Donnell (ever the perfect boyfriend) and Drew Barrymore (ever the flirty thrill-seeker), decide to run away and live a wild life on the road. But after a series of booming alternative music-filled travel montages, the love story becomes pointlessly morose.
My Family. This epic-length tale of a Los Angeles Mexican family is divided into a triptych centering on three men: the '20s father whose endurance allowed the family to take roots in this new land; the '50s son whose rejection of his father's values leads to tragedy; and the other, younger son who in the '80s must reconcile his identification with both men. Jimmy Smits gives a strong performance in the latter role, and the film's storybook quality has appeal. But too many corny, watered-down or otherwise ill-conceived scenes rob the picture of any real impact outside of being a fond family memoir.
The Perez Family. This rich, colorful film from director Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala) follows the attempt of a Cuban refugee (Alfred Molina) to reunite with his American wife (Anjelica Huston) after 20 years. Marisa Tomei heats up the screen as a saucy prostitute who accompanies him, and Chazz Palminteri provides low-key charm as a policeman with an eye for Huston. Though laced with themes about multiculturalism and the American Dream, the movie is primarily a tale of old love versus new. Nair's attention to detail and deft creative touches manage to give the picture both emotional weight and a buoyant, fanciful spirit.
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