February 2 - February 8, 1995

[Film Clips]

DEMON KNIGHT. Will somebody please kill that Crypt Keeper thing? It's dorky and its jokes aren't funny. Fortunately, the latest Tales from the Crypt movie relegates the cackling corpse to a brief introduction, then gets on with the real business of trash. With multiple jokey dismemberments, exposed boobs galore and a hokey plot about an eternal demonic quest for God's Seventh Key (which is filled with Jesus Christ's magical morphin' blood), the movie easily rates six dumpster loads on the trashometer. You'd think it was personally designed for Joe Bob Briggs.

DISCLOSURE. Audience harassment. Michael Crichton's screenplay is a teasing office drama that pretends to have something worthwhile to say about sexual harassment. But Crichton's goal, and that of slick director Barry Levinson, is simply to titillate us, first with a hot "no means no" sex scene and then, in the movie's second half, with a paranoid corporate conspiracy. Michael Douglas once again stars, unconvincingly, as a victimized everyman while Demi Moore leaps brazenly into a role obviously designed to make audiences shout "Get the bitch!" even louder than they did in Fatal Attraction. As if that weren't bad enough, the movie's climax is set in virtual reality, where an angelic Kurt Cobain look-alike helps Douglas find his way through the film's plot holes. At least nobody can say Michael Crichton's movies aren't interesting.

DROP ZONE. If you expect this skydiving action movie to be the hard-driving alternative to the campy Terminal Velocity, you're in for a disappointment. Wesley Snipes and Gary Busey (as the villain) are still trapped in some sort of Flop Zone that seems based on a quest to recreate the cat-and-mouse tension of Die Hard without the benefit of well-constructed action sequences. Though packed with great stuntwork and stunning images of glow-in-the-dark skydivers leaping out of planes at night, director John Badham isn't up to the nitty-gritty task of building suspense, and his attempts to add humor only accentuate this failing.

Dumb and Dumber. Here's a movie to take all your most sophisticated friends to. Test it on them. Watch as they pretend not to enjoy the adolescent humor and blatant idiocy. Observe as they strain to force down their smiles during the mucous jokes. The movie will win. The key, of course, is Jim Carrey, who has very un-dumbly allowed himself to share the stage with a co-star: the ever-likable Jeff Daniels. The combination works--Carrey provides the pure mania, Daniels adds a soft edge. This is one of the finest movies in the Moron Road Movie genre, only a few notches below Crispin Glover's Rubin & Ed.

Higher Learning. John Singleton's third feature is a well-intentioned look at a diverse handful of young people during their formative political years at a large university. Singleton's choice of subjects--a black athlete overcoming his resentment of the system, a rape victim considering lesbianism, and an insecure white boy's descent into racism--hardly adds up to a full-bodied representation of campus experience; but he gets the little details right, and the power of his wholeheartedness often wins out. The unfortunate exception is the movie's climax, a needlessly violent burst of trauma that looks and feels recycled from Boyz N the Hood.

The Jungle Book. Disney delivers the goods for this live-action take on the Rudyard Kipling book, which means that the Tarzan-ish tale is filled with lovely animals, impressive sets, a heroic heroine and loathsome villains. Kids may get a charge out of the story, especially with the likable, alert Jason Scott Lee in the good-hearted wildman role. But adults wary of predictability may leave the theaters with the same bland reaction provoked by the recent remake of The Three Musketeers. Disney has a way of making movies that are at once perfect and devoid of any cinematic personality.

Junior. Arnold Schwarzenegger reteams with Danny DeVito for yet another high-concept comedy involving genetics. The film's one joke--Arnold going through pregnancy--goes a long way thanks to director Ivan Reitman's careful story construction and Emma Thompson's credibility-giving performance as a clumsy cryogenist. Arnold's not too bad, either; he always does much better with comedic tone in films where he is not required to act funny and kill people in the same breath. The movie has "plastic Hollywood product" stamped all over it, but at least it's baby-safe plastic.

LEGENDS OF THE FALL. It looks, sounds, and feels like an epic drama of the highest order, but as the credits roll you sit there and wonder: What does it add up to? And that's when you realize that this long-winded tale of brothers who survive Montana ranch life, World War I and prohibition-era corruption together doesn't have much in the way of a point. Most of the plot happens as a consequence of all three men (Henry Thomas, Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn) falling in love with the same woman (Julia Ormond), who is apparently the only woman in all of Montana. Is the point, then, that men in remote locales should try to get out more? If so, Pitt takes this advice a little too seriously during the film's middle section, in which the stringy-haired wildman travels to Papua New Guinea to hunt and run around without a shirt on. Wait a minute--that's the point. Case solved.

Little Women. Louisa May Alcott's story of sisterhood, liberation and love gets a competent, reverent Hollywood treatment from Australian director Gillian Armstrong, but the casting is all wrong. Since when is Winona Ryder capable of carrying a movie? Starring as the multidimensional Jo March, Ryder robs the movie of its professionalism and renders trivial skilled performances by the other Little Women in the cast: Trini Alvarado (playing the sweet, marriage-bound sister), Claire Danes (who makes sickliness look like a virtue), Kirsten Dunst (as the fiery young'un) and Susan Sarandon (as the ever-consoling mom). Ryder has been OK in other films, but in pictures like this you can tell she's trying to act. You shouldn't be able to tell.

MURDER IN THE FIRST. Kevin Bacon plays a small-time criminal who was cruelly sentenced to three years of solitary confinement in Alcatraz, and Christian Slater plays the idealistic young attorney who fights on the prisoner's behalf after he is charged with killing a fellow inmate. In this showy attempt at courtroom drama, everything comes down to a question of whether it's wrong to torture people and throw them in dark little rooms. Bacon's performance as a man permanently stunted by his victimization is amazing, but Slater doesn't make a very convincing idealist (despite the fact that he appears to be wearing Kevin Costner's clothes), and the focus on the two men's friendship almost seems imposed on the material to make up for the movie's lack of a strong villain.

Nell. Jodie Foster transforms into Foster Gump for this ridiculous tale of a backwoods "wild child" who must face the inevitability of dealing with civilization. The movie is a showcase of Everything You Ever Wanted to See Foster Do But Couldn't Imagine She'd Ever Lower Herself To Do: run giggling through the forest, screech in spasmodic fear, cuddle up and coo next to Liam Neeson, dance jubilantly in circles with her shirt pulled up, and look in the mirror while voguing and talking like E.T. Luckily, when Foster isn't stretching credulity, she and costar Neeson actually manage to draw a few moving moments out of the self-important script.

NOBODY'S FOOL. Paul Newman plays a limping loser who comes to appreciate that his life as a misfit in a snow-caked northern town has not been in vain. Though the picture appears at first to be little more than a star vehicle for Newman's aging persona, the assortment of distinct, well-written supporting characters gives the story a low-key grace. Jessica Tandy shows us exactly why she will be missed, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith turn out uncharacteristically good performances, and the other players--who include an alcoholic lawyer with a detachable leg--ensure that the small town remains an interesting place to visit with or without Newman's charisma.

THE RIVER WILD. If Disney re-made Deliverance, this is what they might have come up with: a likable but rarely exciting thriller about a family taken hostage by fugitives during a river-rafting expedition. Meryl Streep makes her action-movie debut playing a tough mama and with the exception of a few embarrassing over-the-top moments, she's a fine choice. So are David Strathairn, as Streep's aloof workaholic husband, and Kevin Bacon, as a gun-weilding bad guy with a shit-eating grin. Too bad such high-grade actors are wasted on a typical fight-the-villains-to-save-the-family-unit story. It's a good-looking River, but rather shallow.

Stargate. In this good-natured science-fiction adventure, James Spader plays a nerdy linguist enlisted to decipher Egyptian runes that will unlock the secrets to an extra-dimensional space portal. The device leads Spader and a military crew headed by Kurt Russell to a planet far, far away, where they find pyramids, multiple moons and an all-too-friendly primitive culture. They also find dog-headed bad guys with lasers, and an evil alien played by the androgynous Jaye Davidson (who couldn't have asked for a cooler role following The Crying Game). As sci-fi yarns go, this is kid stuff--laughable but likable, best seen on a Saturday afternoon.

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February 2 - February 8, 1995

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