The Basketball Diaries. This autobiographical retelling of Jim Carroll's teenage slip into heroin-addicted oblivion during the mid-'60s invests too much effort in gritty realism and not enough into rounding its character or forming a narrative. We basically see the addict fail to redeem himself over and over, until one day, miraculously, he does. As directed by Scott Kalvert, a verteran of MTV videos, the movie is a stylish late-night lark with all the insight of a one-note after school special. Tough, naked performances by Leonard DiCaprio, Lorraine Bracco and Ernie Hudson only accentuate the film's shortcomings.
Batman Forever. This summer's Batman has a new face (Val Kilmer), a new girlfriend (Nicole Kidman), a new sidekick (Chris O'Donnell, playing Robin), and two new villains (Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones) to battle. He's also got a new director, Joel Schumacher, who directs the spectacle with a glossy light touch that seems altogether more appropriate than the self-consciously moody approach Tim Burton took during the first two outings. Though the series has never been worthy of the hype it has generated, this one's pretentious aspects are transparent enough that you can enjoy the movie for the slick, stupid, self-referential commercial that it is. For once, nobody will believe the lie that a film about a comic book character adds up to a grand artistic vision; that's a blessing that makes this picture the lesser of the three evils.
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 tyranny. 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.
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Based on the popular Robert James Waller book, this Clint Eastwood tearjerker glorifies an affair between a neglected housewife (Meryl Streep) and a worldly photographer (Eastwood). And oh, what a lovely fantasy for lonely middle-aged housewives it is: The sex is great, the encounter is brief, and there are no consequences afterwards. It's about as passionate and tough-minded as a Hallmark card, but Streep's expert performance renders many of the scenes touching enough to draw out a tear or two.
Casper. That friendly little dead kid from the comic-book '50s has been resurrected for the computer-generated '90s--and though a bit pale, he's looking good. So is 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.
Congo. After being spoiled by Jurassic Park, you can't help but feel that something's missing from this summer's Michael Crichton thriller. Where are the moral issues? Where are the scientific tangents? Where are the dinosaurs? Following a handful of differently motivated explorers into the heart of an African jungle, this Frank Marshall-directed spectacle feels hollow every misstep of the way. Marshall transparently uses the plot as a chassis for a series of action set-ups, and the characters as vehicles for one-liners. There's no wonderment to fill in the gaps. Amy, the gorilla who talks via computerized bodygear, has more heart than anyone else in the picture.
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.
Fluke. A businessman (Matthew Modine) dies in a car accident, comes back to life as a cute dog, and remembers enough of his past to track down his wife (Nancy Travis) and son and try to love them again. This misguided children's movie has enough heartwarming doggy scenes to fill a dozen Disney flicks, but underneath all the fur lies a very adult story of karmic redemption that few kids are likely to appreciate. What starts off as a children's mystery gives way to a rather painful tale of lost human ideals, with oddly perverse scenes where the protagonist whimpers while watching his wife go to bed with his best friend. It's an unwittingly subversive little picture, curiously inappropriate but strangely effective.
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.
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 well-executed by director Rusty Cundieff (Fear Of A Black Hat), and nicely acted by a cast including 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's 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 photographs of slave lynchings.
GREAT MASTERS SERIES. Persona (1966), by Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 30, at the UA Modern Languages Building auditorium; and at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 2, at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St. A disturbed actress (Liv Ullman) with a psychosomatic loss of speech is placed in the care of a loquacious nurse (Bibi Andersson) in a remote seaside village.
CREATURE FEATURE. The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St., will screen Creature from the Black Lagoon (in 3-D) at 2 and 4 p.m. Saturday, July 1. Single admission is $2 for kids, $3 adults. Call 622-2262 for information.
VIDEO TENSIONS. This bold series of short videos, ranging from five to 30 minutes each, continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays in the UA Modern Languages Building auditorium: June 29, VideoQUEER, a look into gay and lesbian issues; July 6, VideoNATIVE, on Native Americans; July 13, VideoCOLLECTIVE, works by visiting artists Cyrille Phipps and Cathy Scott; and July 20, VideoOUST, a series on "throwaway kids." Series continues through August 3. A $2 donation is suggested. Call 621-7352 for information or a complete schedule of screenings.
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