The Biography of an author who grew up angry in the Pacific Northwest is filmed as a jarring family feud in This Boy's Life (Warner). Based on the book by Tobias Wolff, with a humane and sympathetic screenplay, the movie is heightened by several compelling performances. Opposite teenage newcomer Leonardo Di-Caprio, who plays young Toby in the Fifties as a sullen but feisty rebel, Robert De Niro goes for broke as the boy's abusive stepfather, a lout named Dwight. When he's not being aggressively buoyant, Dwight beats down Toby both physically and emotionally--all justified by the bully's usual boast that he will make a man of the kid or kill him. Ellen Barkin plays the mother, a well-meaning woman so bruised by the men she has known that she can't bring herself to referee the conflict between her son and a demanding new husband. Directed by Britain's Michael Caton-Jones, This Boy's Life depicts a mean streak all too familiar in parent-child relationships. But the film manages to keep depression at bay with regard for the indomitable spirit of youth that survives and even thrives in adversity.[rating]3-1/2 bunnies[/rating]
Blood, guts, slime and gaping wounds are all over the place in Dead/Alive (Trimark), a comedy of unspeakable horror pieced together by New Zealand director Peter Jackson. The movie's two monsters ex machina are a loathsome Sumatran rat-monkey and the possessive mom of a shy young nerd named Lionel (Tim Balme). About the same time Lionel gets bitten by the love bug, Mom (Elizabeth Moody) gets bitten by the monkey and is soon transformed into a clawing, pop-eyed fiend from hell. Director Jackson wallows in gore and goes back for more. New Zealanders find all this a scream; maybe you will, too, if you are hopelessly addicted to wretched excess. Take along a barf bag.[rating]1 bunny[/rating]
Something must be said for the visual sweep of a romantic drama highlighted by a nude couple making out on top of an inflated balloon in mid-air. The time is World War Two, but Map of the Human Heart (Miramax) covers decades of chance encounters and roads not taken by a Canadian Arctic native named Avik (played as an adult by Jason Scott Lee) and his beloved Albertine (Anne Parillaud, the charismatic French star of La Femme Nikita). She, too, is a native who can pass for white, and she has no intention of settling down with Avik as a half-breed. They meet first as waifs in the children's wing of a Montreal hospital, but she grows up to be a singer, then a wartime volunteer, and marries an Air Force officer (Patrick Bergin). Avik winds up in England as a bombardier. The balloon business aside, co-author and director Vincent Ward, another New Zealander, who previously won plaudits for a cultish fantasy called The Navigator, has a flair for the unexpected. In his hands, even the most traditional story of star-crossed love becomes a distinctively stylish snow job.[rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]
The fictionalized Extreme Justice (Trimark) purports to tell the whole dirty truth about a secret Los Angeles Police Department death squad, known to insiders as SIS (for Special Investigation Section). It tracks down and kills thieves, drug dealers and rapists without the formality of an arrest or jury trial. As depicted here, this is a nasty business, with Scott Glenn (as the hardened SIS veteran who'd rather shoot a suspect than handcuff him) pitted against Lou Diamond Phillips (as the seemingly tough recruit who quails at such vigilante tactics). Yaphet Kotto stands out as another colleague on the squad, with Chelsea Field adding sex appeal in an unlikely role as a winsome police reporter who lives with Lou. That's a plot point hard to swallow, and Extreme Justice often plays like a TV crime show, yet the gist of it is realistically raw and disturbing.[rating]2 bunnies[/rating]
Canadian writer-director Jean-Claude Lauzon transforms "such stuff as dreams are made on" into an earthy, outrageous collage of the sexual fantasies exciting the senses of a pubescent 12-year-old named Léolo (Fine Line). The boy (played by Maxime Collin) is coming of age with a vengeance--masturbating into fresh meat meant for the family table, plotting to kill his grandfather (whose vixenish neighbor sucks the naked old man's bare toes) and watching in mute fascination while one of his chums has sex with a declawed cat. Léolo firmly believes that he was born to be Italian because his mother (Ginette Reno) fell into a fruit vendor's bin and was impregnated by a sperm-spattered Sicilian tomato. In an environment as eccentric as his heredity, he somehow flourishes amid a lunatic Quebecois family. Does the movie make sense? Yes, in a way--as a vivid, freewheeling essay on adolescence that intrigued audiences at last year's Cannes Festival. Here, it should attract viewers seeking the wild and off beat.[rating]2 bunnies[/rating]
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 1992 and a box-office bonanza showered with awards in its native Italy, director Gianni Amelio's Stolen Children (Goldwyn) earns its applause. Remarkably well-played by the young actors portraying 11-year-old Rosetta (Valentina Scalici) and her little brother (Giuseppe Ieracitano)--with a virtuoso performance by Enrico Lo Verso as Antonio, the soldier escorting them cross-country to a children's home--the movie is an emotional trip about love, trust and the loss of innocence. The kids have become public wards after their mother's arrest for selling the girl into prostitution. They are remote, detached, suspicious--and the sympathetic officer can't bring himself to deliver them over to indifferent officialdom. Instead, he takes them to visit his family, pauses to swim and picnic at a beach and picks up a pair of pretty French hitchhikers before Stolen Children's odyssey is stopped short by red tape. Try not to melt in the grip of a perceptively understated story, rich in compassion and warmth.[rating]3-1/2 bunnies[/rating]
The lowlife in and around a high-rise construction site is the sole concern of Riff-Raff (Fine Line). Set in London and directed by Ken Loach, the movie, which features some actual construction workers in the cast, is so British that it carries subtitles to translate the thick regional accents. In any language, it's fairly rude and raunchy, with a story line about a skinny Glasgow guy named Stevie (Robert Carlyle) and his brief encounters with Susan (Emer McCourt), a helpless waif addicted to drugs and pipe dreams about a future in showbiz. From the dirty-fingernails school of cinema, Loach's gritty slice of life paints a vibrant picture of urban angst.[rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]
The young black heroine of Just Another Girl on the IRT (Miramax) is fly, flip and reeking attitude. Writer-producer-director Leslie Harris, an African-American woman, has an undeniable soft spot for the trendy teenager played to the hilt by Ariyan Johnson. In fact, Johnson's sassy presence as the titular Chantel almost makes up for the film's touches of earnest amateurism. Still, her charm can't salvage a grisly scene in which Chantel gives birth to a premature baby and wants to get rid of it--after spending the abortion money provided by her beau, Tyrone (Kevin Thigpen). Failing as an argument for planned parenthood, Just Another Girl nevertheless wins points for promising efforts by director Harris and newcomer Johnson.[rating]2 bunnies[/rating]
A nine-year-old lad mysteriously vanishes in a small French town, and six years later a teenage delinquent from Paris suddenly appears, professing to be the lost boy. That's the plot, anyway, of writer-director Agnieska Holland's provocative Olivier Olivier (Sony Classics). Inspired by a true story, with Grégoire Colin as the older, streetwise Olivier, the movie is open to interpretation. Is it a mystery, a con artist's trip, a psychological study of a mother (Brigitte Rouan) or merely a comment on French family life? Holland's almost casual approach to such topics as voyeurism, incest, child abuse and murder make Olivier Olivier a cool cinematic riddle.[rating]3 bunnies[/rating]
An inside look at being a New York agent in big-time show business is the essence of Joey Breaker (Skouras), with Richard Edson making the title role a believable blend of hustler, homophobe and shark. Under it all, he has a heart of gold and begins to find out about himself through dealing with an AIDS victim, a gay black comedian and a Jamaican waitress (nicely played by Cedella Marley, daughter of Bob Marley). Breaker's evolution from macho agent to swell guy seems a bit pat, but fledgling writer-director Steven Starr, himself a former ten-percenter at the William Morris Agency, knows what makes Joey run--which sharpens his view from a room at the top.[rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]
News from home, dispatches from other troubled parts.
Bruce's Ten best List
While they count Oscar votes, here are our own winners and losers--in alphabetical order.
Brother's Keeper: Human values renewed in a rare documentary.
The Crying Game: An Irish terrorist takes time out for love, intrigue and a bagful of dandy surprises.
Damage: A devastating saga of passion and betrayal.
A Few Good Men: Courtroom drama with Cruise and Nicholson.
Howards End: A glorious, literate filming of the E. M. Forster novel; Emma Thompson is tops.
Husbands and Wives: Deft comedy has Woody Allen in top form.
Intervista: More magic from Fellini.
The Player: Hollywood skewed by Robert Altman.
A River Runs Through It: Fly-fishing in Montana from Robert Redford.
Unforgiven: Eastwood revives the Western with style and substance.
Ten Worst List
Death Becomes Her: Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn make plastic surgery as funny as scar tissue.
1492: Conquest of Paradise: Depardieu sinks as Columbus.
Frozen Assets: Infertile comedy has Shelley Long in a sperm bank.
Hoffa: Despite Jack Nicholson, a dull ode to disorganized labor.
Housesitter: Again, Goldie pushes too hard to charm Steve Martin.
Man Trouble: Nicholson and Barkin can't curb this dog.
Mr. Baseball: Selleck strikes out.
Scent of a Woman: Overwrought and recklessly overacted by Al Pacino.
Shadows and Fog: Woody Allen can't win 'em all.
Toys: Wound too tight, even with Robin Williams.