A Kid in King Arthur's Court. This low-quality fare from Disney features a lame script, bland direction and contemptible acting. If you take your kids to see it, they might lead a violent revolt against you using whiffle bats and plastic swords, so be careful. Even Runaway Brain, the 5-minute Mickey Mouse cartoon that precedes the movie, is second-rate all the way. With the hundreds of Arthurian, time-travel and old Disney videos that infinitely outclass this tripe, consider setting up your own round table at home instead. Christen it with a VCR and let Merlin's magical remote control be your guide.
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.
Babe. Animal training and animatronics blend seamlessly in this terrific children's story about a polite piglet who breaks through the rules of barnyard conformity to do her own thing--herd sheep. Made in Australia, with perfectly-cast voices and an impressive assemblage of good-looking animals, the movie has storytelling chutzpah on its side: The scenes are playfully divided into episodic chapters, and the atmosphere feels like it was painted onto the screen directly from the most imaginative kids' books. Thankfully, dark, Orwellian moments keep the cute bits in balance--something more children's movies ought to do.
Dangerous Minds. Michelle Pfeiffer stars in this mostly effective drama about an unorthodox inner-city high school teacher who wins the attention (and affection) of a classroom full of hard-to-reach minority students. The material, though clumsily constructed, has social relevance to spare, and the filmmakers' commitment to a bare-bones plot is honorable. The uneasy mix of realism and Hollywood slickness does create some embarrassing notes, but Pfeiffer's charm overrides most of the rough spots--with her soft-toned, tough-loving demeanor she's a perfect educational love object.
First Knight. A round table, a love triangle, a square movie. Sean Connery plays King Arthur with his usual regal gravity, Richard Gere reinvents Sir Lancelot as a manic-depressive (but mostly manic) derring-doer, and Julia Ormond is Guinevere, the doe-eyed, perpetually confused object of their love. The film vacillates between blustery action sequences and moments of cheesy romantic tension, including a rather pornographic scene in which Gere channels rainwater into Guinevere's mouth via a big leaf.
The Net. Once again, Sandra Bullock gives a top-notch performance as the accidental victim in a fast action thriller. This time she's on her own, as the introverted, computer program analyst who stumbles into the twisted world of cyberterrorism. Sci-fi fans and computer phobics alike will appreciate the implications of an Orwellian future in which our entire identities are stored on the Internet, where the war of the Information Age is waiting to break out. If you can willingly suspend your disbelief, this one will keep you frozen over your popcorn throughout.
Operation Dumbo Drop. In this high-concept Disney movie, kids will be sure to love the scenes in which elephant barf, human barf and elephant poop play key roles. They may also love the funky spectacle of an elephant being parachuted from a plane, which as funky spectacles go ranks right up there. But neither kids nor adults are likely to get too wrapped in the picture's strained Vietnam-era story, the shrill friction between Danny Glover and Ray Liotta, Denis Leary's one-note sardonic performance or anything else that fills in the gaps between elephant excretions.
Something To Talk About. From the screenwriter who gave us Thelma & Louise comes this insightful yet directionless tale of a Southern wife (Julia Roberts) who has to re-think her life when she learns her husband (Dennis Quaid) has been having several affairs. Crisp direction by Lasse Hallestrom, warmly vibrant cinematography and a handful of fun performances (by Kyra Sedgwick, Robert Duvall and Gene Rowlands) keep the film enjoyable long after the story has lost sight of a point. And Roberts is surprisingly good--after years of limited performances in dumb roles, she really seems to be blossoming.
Virtuosity. Brett Leonard, creator of The Lawnmower Man, once again proves his skill at making slick, futuristic movies with loads of glittery computer animation and not much else. The movie spends its first half-hour setting up an impressively elaborate explanation for how an artificially intelligent virtual-reality program might find its way into the real world, then proceeds to squander the premise's possibilities on an all-too-familiar cop-versus-killer story. Denzel Washington gives a generic good guy performance, but Russell Crowe plays the narcissistic, baby faced villain with cackling glee--he looks like Bob's Big Boy with a new suit and a mean streak. Overviolent and unimaginative, add this to the long list of films that fail to find good cinematic uses for cyber-technology.
A Walk in the Clouds. From Alfonso Arau, director of Like Water For Chocolate, comes this pleasantly magical-realist W.W.II-era romance about a GI (Keanu Reeves) who pretends to be the husband of a lovely, troubled woman (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) to save her from the tradition-obsessed wrath of her father (Giancarlo Giannini), head of a family-run vineyard in Napa Valley. Arau's direction is smile-inducing and swift, and the actors are all charming, especially Anthony Quinn as an unflaggingly earnest, chocolate-chomping grandfather. But the movie's combination of love, family and good cheer is almost too perfect, too postcardy. Remarkably, what saves it is Reeves' laughably monotonous performance--just the weird element the picture needs to keep its innocence interesting.
Waterworld. "Was this your big vision?" the tattooed child asks at the end, and you might be thinking the same thing after watching $200 million in sets and special effects wash away in this ill-conceived spectacle. Good enough to sit through but not nearly good enough to justify its magnitude, the film stars Kevin Costner as a seafaring Mad Max type who eventually saves a scruffy girl (Tina Majorino) and a bland love interest (Jeanne Tripplehorn) from a gang of cigar-chomping baddies led, all-too-familiarly, by Dennis Hopper. The sci-fi premise and watery atmosphere have potential, but the picture evaporates into a series of bloated, ineffective action set-pieces.
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