BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD DO AMERICA. Yes! Everybody's favorite fartknockers make the leap to the big screen in an animated extravaganza that's got enough idiotic moments and cavity searches to please any Beavis and Butthead fan. (Of course, Beavis and Butthead fans have low standards.) The cartoon, which follows Beavis and Butthead's cross-country imbecility, is augmented by a bitchin' soundtrack, featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Butthole Surfers and Englebert Humperdink. Beavis' uncanny transformation into Cornholio and back again may just win him an Oscar. This movie rules!--Slab
THE CRUCIBLE. This filmic redux of Arthur Miller's theatrical parable is somewhat out of place on the modern landscape. What was no doubt a powerful and emotive effort in the 1950s, when it was written as a scathing critique of Senator McCarthy's crusade against supposed communist sympathizers, falls flat in the '90s. Because this element seems toned down in the film, it's impossible to tell the filmmakers' intent. If it bears political relevance, it's wide open for interpretation as to who the bad guys are. Yet the tale is far too pointed to serve as an historical note on the very real events in Salem. The story, roughly told, traces the Salem witch trials back to the antics of a group of bored (and later frightened) girls coming of age in the ascetic, Puritanical town. Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis star in this two-hour yelling match between good and evil. Not recommended for those with a low tolerance for '50s-style misogyny and moralistic posturing. --M.W.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Against all probability, Canadian novelist Michael Ondaantje's award-winning novel translates into an impressive, sepia-toned love story of epic proportions (that is, it clocks in at 162 minutes). Alternately filmed on location in Italy and North Africa, the screenplay sidesteps the magical realist bent of the novel in favor of an historic drama spanning the conquest of North Africa by the Brits and the horrors of war-torn Italy in 1945. Ralph Fiennes stars as the title character, with strong support from Kristin Scott Thomas (the object of his obsession) and Juliet Binoche (his nurse after the accident which leaves him, and his amazing story, charred and dying). Visually stunning and, at times, painfully moving, The English Patient paradoxically forges a new, invented story that nonetheless remains true to the original novel.--M.W.
JERRY MAGUIRE. This chirpy, semi-sweet bit of holiday cheer comes to us straight from the heart of Cameron Crowe, the talented writer and director of Singles and Say Anything. Here, he shoots for Capra-esque comedy with mixed results. The title character, a mega watt sports agent, loses his job, his fiancée, and his bearings, requiring love (in all of its forms) to come to the rescue. To say this is a vehicle for Tom Cruise is an understatement: He's got more face time than Tammy Faye in a hall of mirrors, and he gets to utilize all of his impressive vulnerabilities in giant, unseemly close-up. Still, there are more clever bits than you'd imagine; and Crowe is always funny, though here he plays it sentimental, copping shameless milage out of adorable kids and tearful speeches. Enjoyable enough, but it's got more pop than fizz.--P.M.
MARS ATTACKS! Evil Martians attempt to conquer Earth in Tim Burton's affectionate homage to campy sci-fi movies of the fifties. Iridescent bad guys who say "ack ack" quick-fry flaky earthlings from Las Vegas in a movie eerily reminiscent of this summer's Independence Day, with one major difference: Independence Day was stupid by accident, but Mars Attacks is stupid on purpose! Though occasional flashes of Burton's odd, childlike brilliance break through, this film is fun mostly because of its constant special effects, glittery sets, and those great scenes featuring Sarah Jessica Parker's head stapled to a dog's body. On the down side, Jack Nicholson, in a dual role, is predictably annoying.--S.R.
MICHAEL. Save your money--every redeeming aspect of this film can be seen in the previews. It's just plain bad. I think it was written in six days, and then they rested on the seventh and never got around to finishing it. It's supposed to be a heart-warming tale about two tabloid journalists and an "angel expert" who go off to Iowa in search of Michael, who's shacked up in a place called the Milk Bottle Motel. Michael, on the other hand, has presumably been sent to Earth to complete a few final miracles before being confined to Heaven, which apparently does not have sugar, for the rest of eternity. William Hurt (as always) looks pained throughout, but we can hardly blame him. Andie MacDowell also stars, in a reprisal of all the worst moments of Groundhog Day and Four Weddings and a Funeral. And the only amazing aspect of Travolta's performance is the amount of weight he gained (and lost) for the one scene in which he appears with his gut hanging low. If there's a shard of genuine emotion anywhere in this film, you'd need a miracle to find it. --M.W.
RANSOM. A Ron Howard film is like a Hallmark card: You know what it's going to say, but who doesn't get excited about seeing one? This is a by-the-numbers sleazy bad-guy flick about a corrupt cop (Gary Sinise) who abducts the son of a billionaire airline mogul (Mel Gibson). The latter's fine-honed business sense tells him to place a $4-million bounty on the kidnapper's head rather than pay the $2 million ransom, which leads to two full hours of screaming cell phone conversations and moralistic banter. Gibson and Rene Russo turn out impressive performances as the distraught parents, and Sinise is appropriately evil.--M.W.
ROMEO AND JULIET. In his second film, director Baz Luhrman gives the Bard's only teen-movie script an MTV/Miami-Cubano style, producing the noisiest rendition any Elizabethan play has ever received. Still, he remains largely faithful to the original, not only in the language, but also in the youth and aching immediacy of the protagonists. Claire Danes is especially good as Juliet, uttering Shakespeare's difficult English without affect, and John Leguizamo defines the role of the petulant Tybalt, playing the part with an insightful butch-camp swagger. Kenneth Branagh could learn a thing or two about bringing the Bard to the big screen from this effort--it's not only exciting, stylish and witty in its small details, it's also accessible without being condescending. The action conveys so much sense that the teen audiences even laughed at Shakespeare's puns. If you need to see bodkins and ruffled collars to enjoy your Veronese tragedies, stay home; but if a boy's choir singing "When Doves Cry" seems the perfect accompaniment to the wedding of two star-cross'd lovers, you'll surely enjoy the two hours' traffic of this staging.--J.D.
STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT. The crew of the enterprise take on the Borg, the nearly omnipotent cyberhive, in this latest star-crossing adventure, spinning off whence many sci-fi flicks have boldly gone before. The dashing Jonathan Frakes (aka Number One, Wil Ryker) directs this latest special effects festival of (George Lucas') Industrial Light and Magic. There's no denying it: The Borg looks great on the big screen. While First Contact isn't likely to convert new Trekkies, the effort suggests the Trek franchise will continue to live long and prosper.--Slab
LEEPERS. Director Barry Levinson overshoots the mark in Sleepers, a long, overly dramatic movie emphatically about the loss of innocence. Though the first part of the film, about a group of mischievous friends growing up in Hell's Kitchen, has some of the neighborhood charm of Levinson's Diner, the story unravels in the second half into an annoying series of flashbacks that are basically all the same. The plot concerns a group of boys who pull a prank that gets out of hand; as a result they're sent away to a Draconian boy's prison where the guards torture and abuse them. Fifteen years later the boys (haunted by black and white flashbacks), take their revenge on the guards. (One astute viewer leaving the theater commented on the similarities to First Wives' Club.) Though the plot gains some power through the fact that it's based on a true story, the tension never feels genuine, and the boys never seem as real as adults as they did as happy children. Dustin Hoffman gives a nice performance in his plum little role, and Robert Deniro manages a kind of manly rectitude as the neighborhood priest; unfortunately, the adult versions of the boys aren't played nearly as well. --S.R.
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