Amateur. Hal Hartley's arid, deadpan style has its limitations. While the director's affectless approach heightened the psychological drama (and comic tension) of previous films like Trust, this tale of three porno-industry lost souls trying to find escape, identity and redemption is too structured to arouse either laughs or sympathy. Moving out of the complacent suburbia of his previous films into the grungy alleyways of downtown New York, Hartley needs a jolt of energy to match, but he never finds it--not even during a whimsical electroshock torture sequence.
Apollo 13. Ron Howard is a child of TV, so it's to be expected that his latest film, like all the others, always tells you how to react. That worked fine in Splash, Parenthood and The Paper, enjoyable films with regular outbursts of comedy. But Howard is at his worst when he takes things too seriously, and he treats the near-fatal Apollo 13 mission with unquestioning reverence: a historical symbol of American heroism. Rarely does he touch upon the terror of dying in space or the weird spectacle the mission became after the public learned of the impending doom. It's a detailed, technically superb movie with a monotonous point of view: that the astronauts suffered nobly. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon star.
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.
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.
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.
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 Shame , by Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, starring Liv Ullman and Max Von Sydow. An apolitical couple flee to a nameless island to avoid the ravages of a bitter civil war. Shame screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 14, at the UA Modern Languages Building auditorium; and 3 p.m. Sunday, July 16, at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St.
KIDS' FILM FEST. The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St., continues with Jason and the Argonauts, in which our hero faces a giant merman, a seven-headed hydra, an army of skeleton warriors and a bronze man, screening at 2 and 4 p.m. Saturday, July 15. Series continues through August 5. Single admission is $2 for kids, $3 adults. Call 622-2262 for information.
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