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, who at age 64, is starting to look like a turtle). 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.
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.
DON JUAN DEMARCO. As best-lover-in-the-world performances go, Johnny Depp does surprisingly well in this frivolous ode to the pleasures of giving love. With his Spanish accent and confident, soothing manner, you almost believe he could make women melt at his touch. Marlon Brando, meanwhile, does not convey such charisma. Playing the psychiatrist who tries to understand Depp's fantasy, Brando appears to be walking through the movie to pick up a paycheck. Fat and lackluster, Brando does his best to make sure all his scenes (even with Faye Dunaway, who tries her best) fall embarrassingly flat.
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.
Judge Dredd. Sylvester Stallone's futuristic summer offering is a comic-book hybrid of Blade Runner, Robocop and The Terminator, with parts of Star Wars and other films thrown in for good measure. At first the picture holds promise, with luxuriant effects, welcome support by Max Von Sydow and Rob Schneider and inspired, self-mocking comedy by Stallone. But that doesn't last. The movie's biggest action scenes feel like video games, and the filmmakers throw away the story's wildest possibilities--including the prospect of a battle with slimy, half-baked human clones. At the end, the picture feels unfinished.
Pocahontas. In their depiction of the Native American woman who helped forge peace between indians and colonists, Disney delivers everything you'd expect: a tasteful message of anti-bigotry and environmental harmony, cute animals, competent songwriting and a heroine who looks like an animated supermodel. A few of the key sequences are charming, but most of the film is so calculated as to lack any viewing joy whatsoever.
GREAT MASTERS SERIES. Series continues with Cries and Whispers (1972), by Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Two women return home to comfort their sister, who is dying of cancer. The film's extraordinary visual beauty won Sven Nykvist an Academy Award for cinematography. Cries screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 7, at the UA Modern Languages Building auditorium; and 3 p.m. Sunday, July 9, at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St.
KIDS' FILM FEST. The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St., continues with Greentoons, a collection of humorous, pointed, beautiful and environmentally aware animated shorts from across North America, screening at 2 and 4 p.m. Saturday, July 8. Series continues through August 5. Single admission is $2 for kids, $3 adults. Call 622-2262 for information.
VIDEO TENSIONS. Series continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, in the UA Modern Languages Building auditorium: July 6, VideoNATIVE, selections 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. Admission is a suggested $2 donation. Call 621-7352 for information or a complete schedule of screenings.
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