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Film listings are compiled from information available Monday, Occasionally bookings change after our deadline; we suggest you call ahead for confirmation. Submissions to the film listings are always welcome, but must include a phone number for publication. Commentary by Jonathan Rosenbaum and, where noted, by Fred Camper (FC), Don Druker (DD), Pat Graham (PG), Dave Kehr (DK), Peter Keough (PK), and Henry Sheehan (HS).

The Adventures of Pinocchio

I don't imagine the Disney people are losing any sleep over this live-action telling of the tale of the famous wooden boy, starring Martin Landau as Geppetto, but it's a very pleasant version, less cruel and nightmarish than Disney's cartoon predecessor, lacking a fairy godmother, and probably closer to Carlo Collodi's original story in other respects as well. (The cricket, voiced by David Doyle, is named Pepe this time, and most of the effects are charmingly low-tech--though when Pinocchio lies here his nose grows in yards, not inches.) Steve Barron directed from a script he wrote with Sherry Mills, Tom Benedek, and Barry Berman; with Jonathan Taylor Thomas (as the hero), Rob Schneider, Udo Kier, Bebe Neuwirth, and the delightful Genevieve Bujold. (Logan, Davis)

Airport

The first in a popular series, declared "the best film of 1944" by Judith Crist, although it was made in 1970. Written and directed by George Seaton, based on the Arthur Hailey novel, and starring, among others, Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Helen Hayes, Jacqueline Bisset, Van Heflin, and Maureen Stapleton. (Northbrook Public Library, 1201 Cedar, Northbrook, Wednesday, September 4, 2:00 and 7:30; 847-272-6224)

Alaska

A 12-year-old girl, her 14-year-old brother, and a magnificent baby polar bear trek across the Alaskan wilderness to rescue the kids' father after his plane crashes, in a children's adventure movie written by Andy Burg and Scott Myers and directed by Fraser C. Heston, son of Charlton (who plays a villain). The vistas are spectacular and some of the suspense is effective, but the story is egregiously dumb, and the polar bear becomes so improbably resourceful that one fully expects it to fly everyone home and then script the sequel. With Thora Birch, Vincent Kartheiser, and Dirk Benedict. (Evanston, Lake, Ford City)

Around the Coyote Film & Video

See Critic's Choice. (Kino-Eye Cinema at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division, Thursday, September 5, 7:00, 384-5533)

Basquiat

Painter Julian Schnabel turns writer-director in his first feature, a biopic about Jean-Michel Basquiat (Jeffrey Wright), a black graffitist in New York who became famous in 1981 and died seven years later. Others in the cast include David Bowie as Andy Warhol, Michael Wincott as Rene Ricard, Paul Bartel as Henry Geldzahler, and Elina Lowensohn as art dealer Annina Nosei; the actors playing fictional characters include Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, and Courtney Love. (Fine Arts)

Blade Runner

Far and away the best SF movie of the 80s, though a critical and commercial flop when it first appeared (1982), Ridley Scott's visionary look at Los Angeles in the year 2019--a singular blend of glitter and grime that captures both the horror and the allure of capitalism in the Reagan era with the claustrophobic textures of a Sternberg film--is back in a version that more closely approximates the director's original intentions. It's got a few brief additions and lacks the offscreen narration and happy ending. Loosely adapted from a Philip K. Dick novel (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) by David Webb Peoples (who later scripted Unforgiven) and Hampton Fancher, the story follows the hero (Harrison Ford) as he tracks down and kills "replicants," or androids. Much of the film's erotic charge and moral and ideological ambiguity stems from the fact that these characters--played by Brion James, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer, and Joanna Cassidy--are very nearly the only ones we care about. (We never know for sure whether the hero is a replicant himself, and in this version that uncertainty is even greater.) The grafting of 40s hard-boiled detective story with SF thriller creates some dysfunctional overlaps, and the movie loses some force whenever violence takes over, yet this remains a truly extraordinary, densely imagined version of both the future and present, with a look and taste all its own. With Edward James Olmos, Joe Turkel, and William J. Sanderson. (Village North, Friday and Sunday, August 30 and September 1, midnight)

Bogus

Norman Jewison directs a fantasy about

a seven-year-old orphan (Haley Joel Osment), sent from Las Vegas to Newark to live with his mother's childhood friend (Whoopi Goldberg) and bringing along an imaginary friend named Bogus (Gerard Depardieu) whom no one else sees. Written by Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People), Jeff Rothberg, and Francis X. McCarthy; with Denis Mercier and Nancy Travis. (Previews Saturday, August 31, Gardens, Water Tower, Ford City, Piper's Alley)

Bordello of Blood

Gilbert Adler, the director of Tales From the Crypt, turns his attention to a story by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis and a script written with A.L. Katz, about a bordello of ghouls who accept their customers' blood as payment. With Dennis Miller, Erika Eleniak, Angie Everhart, Corey Feldman, and Chris Sarandon. (Chestnut Station, Norridge, Ford City)

The Cable Guy

This curious piece of work starring Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick is being sold as a comedy, and I suppose I laughed a few times during the first third or so; but it coheres only as a vaguely homoerotic nightmare patterned loosely after Fatal Attraction, with suggestive notations on TV pathology. As such it's a fairly interesting effort--much more ambitious than any other Jim Carrey vehicle to date. Broderick plays an architect recently evicted by his girlfriend and getting settled in a new flat; the technician (Carrey) who sets him up with free cable turns out to be a lonely, psychopathic control freak who makes his life miserable. Ben Stiller, the director and costar of Reality Bites, directs Lou Holtz Jr.'s script with plenty of unsettling edge, and Carrey throws himself into his part as if it meant something. With Leslie Mann, George Segal, Diane Baker, and Jack Black. (Brew & View at the Vic, Saturday through Wednesday, August 31 through September 4)

Carpool

A henpecked, frustrated husband (Tom Arnold) planning to pull off a robbery with a toy gun winds up kidnapping an advertising executive (David Paymer) and his kids in a minivan. A meter maid (Rhea Perlman) leads the pursuit. Arthur Hiller directed this comedy from a script by Don Rhymer; with Rachael Leigh Cook and Rod Steiger. (Burnham Plaza, Chestnut Station, Gardens, Webster Place, Ford City)

Celestial Clockwork

This is one goofy movie, with energy to spare. A Venezuelan bride (Ariadna Gil) abandons her groom at the altar to fly to Paris in hopes of becoming an opera singer and falls in with a colorful and eccentric crowd, including a flashy and devious video artist (Arielle Dombasle), a Russian music teacher (Michel Debrane), an unorthodox psychiatrist (Evelyne Didi), and a gay clairvoyant (Frederic Longbois). Writer-director Fina Torres, a Venezuelan who's been based in Paris since the early 70s, gives this 1994 French-Venezuelan-Belgian-Spanish feminist comedy with stylish MTV-like interludes a Latin exuberance that at times recalls Darnell Martin's I Like It Like That. Nothing cuts very deep, and at times the film seems to be all over the place (Torres worked with five others on the script); but the surface glitter--aided by Ricardo Aronovich's cinematography--keeps it fetching. (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, August 30 through September 5)

Chain Reaction

Chicagoan Andrew Davis, the director of The Fugitive, returned to his hometown to film parts of this espionage thriller, about the discovery of a new source of energy that leads to two scientists (Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz) being framed for murder and sabotage and fleeing cross-country from federal agents. Scripted by Josh Friedman, J.F. Lawton, and Michael Bortman; with Morgan Freeman, Fred Ward, Kevin Dunn, and Brian Cox. (Chestnut Station, Norridge)

The City of Lost Children

I've tried very hard to like this costly French fantasy, the opening-night film at the 1995 Cannes film festival. As a work of the imagination, inflected by roughly equal parts Dickens, Disney, and Lynch's Dune, it's certainly preferable to Delicatessen (made by the same writer-director team, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, with some of the same actors), not to mention Toy Story, The Kingdom, and most other recent kids' and teenagers' movies. Yet it's still a failure, because the emotions expressed seem almost as manufactured as the sets. The occupants of this dank, squalid world include a mad scientist named Krank (Daniel Emilfork), six clones (Dominique Pinon), a disembodied brain (the voice of Jean-Louis Trintignant), various cyclopes and kidnapped children, Siamese twin sisters who run an orphanage/black-market operation, a sideshow strongman (Ron Perlman) with the mind of a child, and a nine-year-old girl (Judith Vittet) with the mind of an adult. It's a world that recalls Robert Heinlein's story "Universe" in some of its nightmarish moods. Sadly, the technical logistics seem to have impeded the dreamlike flow a movie like this requires. (Village, Friday through Sunday, August 30 through September 1, midnight)

Courage Under Fire

Predictably, the first Hollywood studio feature about the gulf massacre keeps the Iraqi victims as faceless as they were in the news. But in most other respects this is a good, solid, intelligent drama about the ambiguities of what does and doesn't constitute courage under fire--directed by Edward Zwick (Glory) from a script by Patrick Sheane Duncan (Mr. Holland's Opus) with the sort of sincerity and relative seriousness one associates with John Frankenheimer's work for television in the 50s and some of his pictures in the 60s. Denzel Washington stars, very effectively, as a lieutenant colonel who in a moment of confusion orders his tank battalion to fire on American soldiers, killing several of his own men. Plagued by guilt, he's assigned to review the candidacy of a slain captain (Meg Ryan) for the Medal of Honor, and encounters conflicting versions of her behavior from various witnesses. What emerges may not be quite as cut-and-dried as the movie's structure sometimes implies. With Lou Diamond Phillips, Michael Moriarty, Matt Damon, and Seth Gilliam. (Gardens, Esquire, Village North)

The Crow: City of Angels

Music video's Tim Pope debuts as a film director in this action sequel, scripted by David Goyer; with Vincent Perez, Mia Kirshner, Richard Brooks, Ian Dury, and Iggy Pop. (Hyde Park, Old Orchard, Webster Place, Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Golf Mill, Lincoln Village, McClurg Court, North Riverside, Ford City)

Dead Man

A quantum leap by American independent Jim Jarmusch--a hypnotic and beautiful black-and-white western (1995) set in the 1870s. Johnny Depp plays an accountant from Cleveland named William Blake who travels west with the promise of a job to the infernal town of Machine, only to be told that the job's been taken. After killing a man (Gabriel Byrne) in self-defense and sustaining a mortal bullet wound, Blake is guided toward death by a Native American outcast named Nobody (Gary Farmer) while a trio of bounty hunters (Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, Eugene Byrd) and various others try to track him down. This startling masterpiece is simultaneously a mystical, highly poetic account of dying; an intricate, well-researched appreciation of Native American cultures; a frightening portrait of modern American violence and capitalist greed that refuses to traffic in the stylistic alibis of Hollywood; a warm, hilarious depiction of cross-cultural friendship; and a hallucinatory trip across the American wilderness (vividly shot by Robby Müller). It contains elements familiar from Jarmusch's five earlier features--surreal existential encounters (Permanent Vacation), a singular and highly musical sense of film rhythm (Stranger Than Paradise), a memorable feeling for natural landscape (Down by Law), the comedy of cultural misunderstandings (Mystery Train), and a minimalist use of recurring formal patterns (Night on Earth)--but with this picture he sets a new standard and becomes a visionary poet. With Mili Avital, John Hurt, Robert Mitchum, and Michelle Thrush. (Three Penny)

The Decalogue

Krzysztof Kieslowski's major work (1988) consists of ten separate films, each running 50-odd minutes and set mainly around two high-rises in Warsaw. The films are built around a contemporary reflection on the Ten Commandments--specifically, an inquiry into what breaking each of them in today's world might entail and mean. Made as a miniseries for Polish TV before Kieslowski embarked on The Double Life of Veronique and the "Three Colors" trilogy, these concise dramas can be seen in any order or combination; they don't depend on one another, though if you see them in batches you'll notice that major characters in one story turn up as extras in another. (The Film Center is running two at a time two or three times each over the next two weeks.) One reason Kieslowski remains such a controversial filmmaker is that in some ways he embodies the intellectual European filmmaking tradition of the 60s while commenting directly on how we live today. The first film, illustrating "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," is about trust in computers; the often ironic and ambiguous connections between most subsequent commandments and their matching stories tend to be less obvious. (One of the 60s traditions Kieslowski embodies is that of the puzzle film, though he takes it on seriously rather than frivolously, as part of his ethical inquiry.) The fourth ("Honor thy father and mother"), for instance, one of my other favorites, pivots around the revelation of feelings between a young acting student and the architect who may or may not be her real father, and the eighth ("Thou shalt not bear false witness") focuses on the investigation of an American Jewish academic about why she was denied sanctuary from the Nazis when she was a little girl. (The fifth and sixth were expanded into A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, which ends more effectively than its shorter version.) One of Kieslowski's best ideas was to use a different cinematographer for each film (with the exception of the third and ninth, both shot by Piotr Sobocinski, who also shot Red). Also, this script--which he spent a solid year preparing with Krzysztof Piesiewicz, his regular collaborator--is more important than the mise en scene (which took less time), which is not the case in Kieslowski's later films. Each of these is shaped like a well-constructed short story, often with a sardonic twist at the end, and though the performances--by many of the best actors in Polish cinema--are powerful, the direction is mainly a matter of realization rather than stylistic filigree. For complex reasons The Decalogue still has no U.S. distributor--even after showing in most other Western countries--so this engagement is a relative rarity. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, parts one and two: Saturday, August 31, 3:45; parts three and four: Sunday, September 1, 3:45; parts five and six: Friday and Sunday, August 30 and September 1, 6:00; parts seven and eight: Friday, August 30, 8:15, and Tuesday, September 3, 6:00; and parts nine and ten: Saturday, August 31, 1:30, and Thursday, September 5, 6:00; 443-3737)

Emma

If you haven't had your fill of Jane Austen adaptations over the past couple of years (I have), here's another one, said to be enjoyable, based on the same late novel that furnished the plot for Clueless, and starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the meddlesome title heroine. Douglas McGrath wrote the adaptation and directed; with Greta Scacchi, Jeremy Northam, Toni Collette, Polly Walker, Ewan McGregor, and James Cosmo. (Fine Arts, Norridge, Golf Glen, Lake, Wilmette)

Eraser

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a federal marshal dedicated to the witness protection program--in this case he's protecting Vanessa Williams--in an enjoyably paranoid kick-ass adventure romp with some giddily hyperbolic action moments. Charles Russell (The Mask, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) directs a limited but serviceable script by Tony Puryear and Walon Green and puts costars James Caan, James Coburn, and Robert Pastorelli through predictable paces. Schwarzenegger and Williams are regarded as blocks of decor that occasionally emit dialogue when they're not diving out of airplanes, fighting off alligators in Central Park, evading fancy weapons and explosions in Washington, D.C., and on the Baltimore docks, and carrying out elaborate impersonations to defeat the treasonous feds on their tail. A few of the set pieces are fussy or overly extended, but the rest is tolerable bone-crunching diversion. (Village, Pickwick, Logan, Davis)

Escape From L.A.

John Carpenter's long-awaited follow-up to his SF movie Escape From New York brings Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken to Los Angeles in the year 2013--after an earthquake has turned the city into a postapocalyptic island of warring gangs and outcasts--where he kicks some serious ass. This time around, Russell seems uncomfortable in the part--a cartoon of a cartoon--but the production design by Blade Runner's Lawrence G. Paull is so attractive and inventive that this is probably Carpenter's most visually impressive feature. And though the plot at times seems almost as mechanical as Russell's performance, there are many delightful parodic episodes and details along the way. With Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Valeria Golino, Bruce Campbell, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, and Cliff Robertson. Russell doubled with Debra Hill as cowriter and coproducer. (Bricktown Square, Chestnut Station, Lincoln Village, Webster Place, Ford City)

The Fan

Tony Scott (Top Gun, True Romance) directs Wesley Snipes as a baseball star stalked by Robert De Niro in the title role. With Ellen Barkin and John Leguizamo. (Biograph, Burnham Plaza, Gardens, North Riverside, Plaza, Esquire, Hyde Park, Norridge, Ford City)

First Kid

Comedian Sinbad plays a Secret Service agent assigned to protect the teenage son of the U.S. president, in a Disney comedy directed by David Mickey Evans from a script by Tim Kelleher; with Robert Guillaume, Timothy Busfield, Brock Pierce, James Naughton, and Bill Cobbs. (Gardens, Golf Glen, Water Tower, Norridge, Webster Place, Lake, Ford City)

Fled

In what sounds like an unacknowledged remake of 1958's The Defiant Ones, an allegorical Stanley Kramer weepie, Laurence Fishburne and Stephen Baldwin play convicts chained together who escape from a Georgia prison and head for Atlanta. They're trying to retrieve stolen money and a telltale floppy disk, and they've got federal marshals and the Cuban Mafia on their tails. Kevin Hooks directed a screenplay by Preston A. Whitmore II; with Will Patton, Robert John Burke, Robert Hooks, and Salma Hayek. (Village North)

Flirting With Disaster

David O. Russell, the writer-director of Spanking the Monkey, offers another naughty comedy--this one less independent and much more farcical, with more familiar names in the cast. A young east-coaster (Ben Stiller) with a wife (Patricia Arquette) and baby son is contacted by a psychologist (Tea Leoni) who wants to reunite him with his biological parents--whom he hasn't seen since his infancy--and videotape the results for her research. After attempting to placate his adoptive parents (George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore), he and his family and the psychologist all take off cross-country. The results are watchable enough--sometimes funny, sometimes over the top--and fairly fresh, though also a bit calculated. Leoni has an interesting comic presence one would like to see in toothier material, though this certainly has a few bites. With Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Jenkins. (Brew & View at the Vic, Saturday through Wednesday, August 31 through September 4)

From Dusk Till Dawn

Robert Rodriguez directs a 1990 script by Quentin Tarantino, who also costars. This is a crime thriller that turns into a gory vampire bloodbath a la The Evil Dead about halfway through. The result is better than Rodriguez's Desperado, but there's a similar feeling of disassociation among the various elements. Harvey Keitel plays a former minister who's recently lost his faith; he and his two kids (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu) are taken hostage by brother robbers (George Clooney and Tarantino) fleeing for the Mexican border. On a mindless exploitation level this is pretty good, but on other levels it seems to make promises that it fails to deliver on; none of the deaths carry any sense of moral weight, and the climactic special-effects free-for-all tends to drown out all other interests. (What are we to make of all the curious third-world references, ranging from the fact that one of Keitel's kids is Chinese to Fred Williamson's memories--in a Mexican vampire bar, no less--of wasting a lot of Vietnamese? And Tarantino's character, a somewhat deranged sex offender, also throws out various hints that go unexplored.) But if your critical horizons are low and you're feeling in a nasty mood, you probably won't be bored. With Cheech Marin (in three separate roles), Salma Hayek, Tom Savini, and John Saxon. (Village, Friday through Sunday, August 30 through September 1, midnight)

Girls Town

Not to be confused with the 1959 Mamie Van Doren/Mel Torme exploitation item, this is a first feature by independent filmmaker Jim McKay about three high school seniors; it won the special jury prize at this year's Sundance film festival. McKay collaborated with his three stars (Lili Taylor, Anna Grace, and Bruklin Harris) and Denise Casano on the script. (Pipers Alley)

Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!

See Critic's Choice. (LaSalle Theatre, 4901 W. Irving Park, Saturday, August 31, 8:00, 904-5549)

Harold and Maude

Back again. Bud Cort is still the poor little rich boy who fakes suicides to attract his mother's attention; Ruth Gordon is still the life-loving septuagenarian who steals cars and poses in the nude. And Hal Ashby's never-dying cult film (1971) is still being imitated, generally to less effect. Simpleminded, maybe, but it's fairly inoffensive, at least until Ashby lingers over the concentration-camp serial number tattooed on Gordon's arm. Some things are beyond the reach of whimsy. (DK) (Village, Friday through Sunday, August 30 through September 1, midnight)

Harriet the Spy

Michelle Trachtenberg stars as the title heroine of this movie based on Louise Fitzhugh's popular children's book, adapted by Greg Taylor and Julie Talen, scripted by Douglas Petrie and Theresa Rebeck, and directed by Bronwen Hughes; with Rosie O'Donnell. (Skokie)

Heartbreak Island

See Critic's Choice. (Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, August 30, 6:30 and 8:45; Saturday and Sunday, August 31 and September 1, 3:15, 5:30, and 7:45; and Monday through Thursday, September 2 through 5, 6:30 and 8:45; 281-4114)

Heavy

Winner of the grand jury prize for best direction at Sundance in 1995, this commendable but relatively familiar low-key drama, written and directed by James Mangold, gives us an overweight pizza chef (Pruitt Taylor Vince) in a roadside tavern trying with little success to pry himself from the influence of his boss and mother (Shelley Winters) while hankering after an attractive young waitress (Stealing Beauty's Liv Tyler) who's recently started to work there. The performances are strong (my favorite is that of Deborah Harry as an older waitress) and the sense of eroded as well as barely articulated lives is palpable. With Evan Dando. (Three Penny)

House Arrest

The kids of Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Pollak, on the verge of separation, decide to lock their parents in the cellar until they clean up their act. Harry Winer directed this comedy from a Michael Hitchcock script; with Jennifer Tilly, Christopher McDonald, Ray Walston, and Wallace Shawn. (Chestnut Station, Lincoln Village, Ford City)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Roll over, Victor Hugo. This cartoon feature, based on Hugo's 1831 Notre Dame de Paris, is surely one of the ugliest and least imaginative Disney efforts to date. It's especially unattractive in its fast editing and zooms. There's a glib happy ending to replace the novel's, a cute pipe-smoking goat, and politically correct positions on Gypsies and hunchbacks--though virtually no feeling for Paris or France, which might have interfered with all those commercial tie-ins. If your main aim is to find somewhere to park your kids, the familiar Disney formula is at your service. Among the voices used are those of Demi Moore, Tom Hulce, Kevin Kline, Jason Alexander, and Mary Wickes; Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise are the credited directors. (Broadway, Lincoln Village, Water Tower, Hyde Park, Norridge, Ford City)

Independence Day

For better and for worse, an archetypal 50s alien-invasion and disaster movie, with dollops of Dr. Strangelove (without the 60s irony) and Star Wars (and no less nostalgic for old movie tropes). After New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and assorted unseen world capitals are reduced to rubble by invading bug-eyed monsters, a black (Will Smith) and a Jew (Jeff Goldblum) set about giving humanity another chance. The earnestness, the effects, and the notion of the whole world forgetting its differences and pitching in to defeat a common foe carry a certain charm, but this movie, like this country, is so hamstrung trying to represent what the whole world--or any part of it aside from the U.S.--consists of that it pretty nearly gives up the attempt at the start. Otherwise this is overlong but watchable; Roland Emmerich directed from a script he wrote with Dern Devlin. With Bill Pullman (as the U.S. president), Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, and Robert Loggia. (Lincoln Village, North Riverside, Water Tower, Evanston, Norridge, Webster Place, Ford City)

The Island of Dr. Moreau

A bewildering mixture of ambitiousness and tripe, this latest version of the 1896 H.G. Wells SF horror classic shows some aspirations of being truer to the philosophical drift of the original than either Island of Lost Souls (1933), which featured Charles Laughton in the title role, or 1977's less memorable The Island of Dr. Moreau, which featured Burt Lancaster. This version stars Marlon Brando as the mad doctor experimenting with DNA to create strange beasts on a remote Pacific island, and Brando's decision to milk almost all of his lines for laughs (and plummy Laughton-like line readings) is only one of the factors that unhinge the higher ambitions of this enterprise; at almost no point does this performance mesh with what the rest of the movie is doing. Another problem is the clunky

storytelling, including the strained use

of the narrator-hero (David Thewlis) as an identification figure, and an even unlikelier use of Val Kilmer as the doctor's drunken assistant. John Frankenheimer is credited as director, but given the scrambled, multiple agendas at play here, he seems to function more like a bemused traffic cop. With Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider, and Temuera Morrison. (Old Orchard, Webster Place, Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Golf Mill, Lincoln Village, McClurg Court, North Riverside, Ford City)

Jack

Robin Williams plays a ten-year-old boy growing up four times faster than normal; the director is Francis Ford Coppola, working with a script by James DeMonaco and Gary Nadeau. Diane Lane and Brian Kerwin play Jack's parents, and Bill Cosby does a turn as his private tutor; with Jennifer Lopez and Fran Drescher. (Bricktown Square, Golf Glen, Lincoln Village, North Riverside, Evanston, Pipers Alley, Ford City)

Jane Eyre

One more reason why I may never get around to reading the Charlotte Bronte novel. On the other hand, I found myself absorbed in this treacle the same way I used to get absorbed in Classics Illustrated comic books around the age of nine. Franco Zeffirelli directs the Hugh Whitemore script with some verve, and William Hurt surprised me by offering a more interesting Rochester than I would have expected from him. Anna Paquin and Charlotte Gainsbourg play Jane as a girl and young woman respectively, and vying with the landscapes are such veterans as Joan Plowright and Billie Whitelaw, not to mention Maria Schneider. (Pickwick, Village)

Joe's Apartment

In a comedy combining live-action and animation an Iowan (Jerry O'Connell) arrives in New York City and finds an apartment filled with 50,000 singing and dancing cockroaches. Written and directed by John Payson, based on a short film shown on MTV. Megan Ward costars. (Village)

Kansas City

The sets--designed by Stephen Altman--are great, and so is the 30s jazz, but the story of this Robert Altman memory piece about his hometown during his teens, written with Short Cuts's Frank Barhydt, is borderline terrible. It counts on the dubious premise that a gangster (Harry Belafonte) would fritter away a whole night deciding what to do with a thief who rips him off--thereby enabling the thief's significant other (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to kidnap a society lady (Miranda Richardson) and Altman to crosscut to his heart's content in exposing the inner workings of a city, a la Nashville, on the eve of a local election. The conception of character is so limited that the kidnapper's seems to consist exclusively of Jean Harlow imitations, while the kidnappee's seems defined by drug addiction. Charlie Parker and his mother are gratuitously shoehorned into the plot, though some of the movie's other strategies for imparting period flavor work better; what doesn't work here is the flip cynicism, which by now, alas, has become Altman's debilitating trademark. With Michael Murphy, Dermot Mulroney, and Steve Buscemi. (Broadway, Esquire, Lake)

Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy

TV comics David Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson star in a TV spin-off, produced by Lorne Michaels, about the creation of a designer drug that makes everybody happy. It was written by Norm Hiscock and all the Kids except Foley, and directed by Kelly Makin. I think it's supposed to be a comedy. Perhaps because no one in the cast adjusted his performance style to the big screen, I may have thought about laughing three times over the 90-some minutes. (Village North, Friday through Sunday, August 30 through September 1, midnight)

Kingpin

This bad-taste comedy about bowling champs, from the dudes who brought you Dumb and Dumber, decides to go scummy and scummier by blatantly ripping off several scenes from The Hustler and The Color of Money and cracking endless gags about an ugly woman, the Amish, the hero's artificial hand, and the bimbo heroine's breasts. But at least the movie has Bill Murray, and it chugs along with a reasonable amount of energy. Written by Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan, directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly; with Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel, and Chris Elliott. (Golf Glen, Water Tower, Webster Place, Lake)

Lone Star

A well-constructed but rather unthrilling mystery thriller by John Sayles, filmed on location in a Texas border town, with a likable lead performance by Chris Cooper as a laid-back sheriff. The plot is intricate and ambitious, with nine other major characters (played by Elizabeth Pena, Kris Kristofferson, Miriam Colon, Frances McDormand, Joe Morton, Matthew McConaughey, Ron Canada, Eddie Robinson, and Clifton James), various flashbacks, and an exploration of history, corruption, racial persecution, and multiculturalism. The whole thing's so worthy that I wish I liked it more. It makes time pass agreeably, but Square John still seems about as innocent of fresh ideas (aesthetically and otherwise) as most of his characters, and for this kind of leftist multiplot I found his 1991 City of Hope more engaging. Anecdotal aside: all the black characters in this movie had to be bused in for the filming. (Evanston, Fine Arts, Village North)

Manhattan

Woody Allen's great leap forward into character development and dramatic integrity (1979). The story is La ronde with a thrown cog, as Allen's Isaac Davis, a television writer with serious aspirations, turns among three women (Mariel Hemingway, Diane Keaton, and Meryl Streep), his spin impelled by best friend Michael Murphy. The script is funny and observant, full of shocks of recognition, but for all his progress as a writer, Allen's direction remains disconcertingly amateurish. The visuals are cramped and gray, the pacing is rough, and the performances are pitched on disruptively different levels of stylization. Still, it remains perhaps the only film in which Allen has been able to successfully imagine a personality other than his own. With Anne Byrne. (DK) (Music Box, Saturday and Sunday, August 31 and September 1)

Manny & Lo

A rather tedious kidnapping movie by writer-director Lisa Krueger, despite

the novelty of the kidnappers (Scarlett Johansson and Aleksa Palladino) being sisters, one of whom is pregnant, and the kidnapped person being a nurse (Mary Kay Place) needed to assist with the

childbirth. Place, at least, turns in a

lively performance. (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, August 30 through September 5)

Matilda

A modern fairy tale, adapted from a Roald Dahl novel, about a gifted little girl (Mara Wilson) with stupid and neglectful parents (Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman) who gets sent away to a fearful school, where a sympathetic first-grade teacher (Embeth Davidtz) discovers her special talent. DeVito directed and coproduced from a script by Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord. (Chestnut Station, Gardens, Golf Glen, Plaza, Norridge, Lake)

Mission: Impossible

Brian De Palma, who revitalized his box-office clout by glamorizing the FBI in The Untouchables sometime back, turns to glamorizing the CIA by adapting another popular 60s TV series, with Tom Cruise (doubling as producer and assuming final cut) taking on the old Peter Graves part and heading a team of intelligence operatives to do battle with Russian spies and arms dealers. Robert Towne and David Koepp did separate drafts of the script, and they might as well have been working on separate movies for all the narrative interest and concern for the characters that they generated, but I was entertained by the mise en scene and the action. With Emmanuelle Beart, Jon Voight, and Ving Rhames. (Logan, Portage, Village)

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Whatever you think of the cable TV show--a postmodernist recycling operation in which characters watching a 40s or 50s movie make teenage wisecracks about how terrible it is--this is a dreadful spin-off that starts out on the wrong foot by selecting one of the better SF movies of the 50s, This Island Earth, as its "stinkburger." A kidnapped Mike Nelson (playing himself) and robot pals Tom Servo, Gypsy, and Crow are watching this color feature on the so-called Satellite of Love while mad scientist Dr. Forrester (cowriter Trace Beaulieu) monitors their responses. The running time of this movie is actually 13 minutes shorter than This Island Earth, even with the projection breaking down twice and an exceptionally feeble prologue and epilogue tacked on; the 50s movie is also shown in the wrong aspect ratio, with the top and bottom of every frame cut off, perhaps because the filmmakers realized that showing it correctly and completely would render the effort to ridicule it even more pathetic. Six people are credited with the atrocious script, one of them director Jim Mallon. (Music Box, Friday and Saturday, August 30 and 31, midnight)

The Neon Bible

After showing himself a master at juggling autobiographical material in Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes, both dealing with his childhood in Liverpool during the 50s, Terence Davies adapts a novel by John Kennedy Toole about growing up in the rural deep south in the late 30s and 40s--and it's remarkable how persuasively he handles this milieu while making it wholly his own. Two substantial assists are provided by Gena Rowlands (starring as the narrator-hero's disreputable aunt, a onetime torch singer) and the 'Scope format, both of which boost some of the mythological possibilities in the material. Davies's special gifts as a filmmaker have much more to do with expressing and sculpting passages of pure feeling than with telling a story. Diana Scarwid, as the hero's fragile mother, is almost as good as Rowlands (both actresses sing in this movie, and Davies turns their songs into incandescent experiences). Neither Toole's novel nor Davies's faithful version of it adds up to anything more than a period mood piece, but some of the passages in this movie are so beautiful and potent that you may carry the moods around with you for weeks. With Jacob Tierney, Denis Leary, and Leo Burmester. (Music Box, Saturday and Sunday, August 31 and September 1)

Nothing but a Man

A sincere, intelligent, and effectively acted independent feature from 1964, about a black worker (Ivan Dixon) and his wife (Abbey Lincoln) struggling against prejudice and trying to make a life for themselves in Alabama. Directed by the able Michael Roemer (who made The Plot Against Harry five years later) from a script written in collaboration with Robert Young, who served as cinematographer; with Gloria Foster, Julius Harris, Martin Priest, and Yaphet Kotto. (DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl., Thursday, September 5, 7:00, 947-0600, ext. 336)

The Nutty Professor

Eddie Murphy's remake of Jerry Lewis's most accomplished comedy narrative (1963) is most memorable for Murphy's impersonation of the title hero, defined in this version as an obese science professor who undergoes a Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation, with his own formula turning him into the usual slim and narcissistic Murphy persona. (By contrast Lewis's nutty professor, a mere klutz, turned himself into the real-life Lewis and made this complex and highly critical self-portrait the center of the movie.) Exploiting audience anxieties about food and overeating and never shying from vulgarity and excess, this remake has a touch of pathos derived from the original that is uncharacteristic of Murphy, though with none of the tragic undertones that Lewis found in the subject. I'm not much of a Murphy fan, but this movie made me laugh a lot. Tom Shadyac directed and collaborated on the script with many others; the costars are Jada Pinkett (in the sexist/alluring Stella Stevens part), James Coburn, Larry Miller, Dave Chappelle, and John Ales. (Village North, Chestnut Station, Skokie, Ford City)

Oliver & Company

Disney's all-animated version of Oliver Twist (1988) translates Dickens's novel into animal adventures set in New York: Oliver is an orphaned kitten taken in by a pack of pickpocket dogs, although Fagin, no longer Jewish or a villain, remains human. Ethnic characters are restricted to the animal kingdom, and the most enjoyable of these is Tito, a Chihuahua whose appeal is almost wholly a function of Cheech Marin's voice. (Bette Midler similarly dominates Georgette, an upper-class poodle.) The animation is fairly unexciting though serviceable, and the overall mystification of class difference would probably have made Dickens shudder, but kids should find this tolerable enough. George Scribner directed, and among the other voices used are those of Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Roscoe Lee Browne, Dom DeLuise (as Fagin), and Robert Loggia. (Pickwick)

Open film screening

An open screening of 16-millimeter work by student and independent filmmakers. (Delilah's, 2771 N. Lincoln, Sunday, September 1, 7:00, 472-2771)

The Phantom

A clunky but charming fantasy-adventure based on the Lee Falk comic strip, which has been around for 60 years, with Billy Zane as the title hero. The dogged efforts of producers Robert Evans and Alan Ladd Jr. to conjugate Indiana Jones and Batman yields a big-budget movie that resembles an old-fashioned movie serial more than other blockbusters, for better and worse. Zane's discomfort in his purple tights and mask reeks of 50s Z-budget shooting conditions, and I suspect kids will like this for precisely that reason--the rest of us will conclude we've seen it all before. Written by Jeffrey Boam and directed by Simon Wincer; with Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams (as the snarling villain), and Catherine Zeta Jones. (Logan)

Phenomenon

Moribund, dopey stuff, about an all-American garage mechanic (John Travolta) who witnesses a strange light in the sky and turns into some sort of genius (the kind who excels in answering TV-quiz-show-style questions), with telekinetic and prophetic powers to boot. Isolated from the frightened folks in his small town, he moves toward death. I don't doubt the noble motives behind this Disney parable, but the attempts at amiable, laid-back dialogue (script by Gerald DiPego) are painful, the pacing is sluggish, and the confused story's poorly focused. Travolta is as charming as usual, but seems distinctly out of his element here as a nice-guy everyman who oozes significance. With Kyra Sedgwick, Forest Whitaker, and Robert Duvall. Directed by Jon Turteltaub. (Gardens, Pipers Alley)

Pride and Prejudice

Typically overstuffed MGM prestige product, but one that came out surprisingly well, with a minimum of Eng. Lit. posturing and some elegance of design. With Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Mary Boland, Edmund Gwenn, Edna May Oliver, Maureen O'Sullivan, Ann Rutherford, and Karen Morley; directed by Robert Z. Leonard. The screenplay is by Jane Murfin and Aldous Huxley (1940). (DK) (Wilmette)

Reservoir Dogs

A stunning debut (1992) from first-time writer-director Quentin Tarantino, though a far cry from Stanley Kubrick's 1956 The Killing, to which it clearly owes a debt. Like The Killing, it employs an intricate flashback structure to follow the before and after of a carefully planned heist and explores some of the homoerotic allegiances, betrayals, and tensions involved; unlike The Killing, it never flashes back to the heist itself and leaves a good many knots still tied at the end. The hoods here--including Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, and (in a bit) Tarantino himself--are all ex-cons hired by an older ex-con (Lawrence Tierney) who conceals their identities from one another by assigning them the names of colors. Our grasp of what's going on is always in flux, and Tarantino's skill with actors, dialogue, 'Scope framing, and offbeat construction is kaleidoscopic. More questionable are the show-offy celebrations of brutality: buckets of blood, racist and homophobic invective, and an excruciating sequence of sadistic torture and (offscreen) mutilation that's clearly meant to awe us with its sheer unpleasantness. It's unclear whether this macho thriller does anything to improve the state of the world or our understanding of it, but it certainly sets off enough rockets to hold us and shake us for every one of its 99 minutes. (Brew & View at the Vic, Saturday, August 31, midnight)

The Rock

Very entertaining action hokum that benefits hugely from the uses made of the three stars--Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris. Harris, evoking Dr. Strangelove's Jack D. Ripper, is a brigadier general so angry about the U.S. government's refusal to honor the soldiers who died in covert operations that he kidnaps a bunch of tourists on Alcatraz and threatens to hit the mainland with lethal poison gas if reparations aren't made immediately. Connery is a top-secret federal prisoner who once escaped from Alcatraz and Cage is an FBI chemist and biological weapons expert; together they form a funny and crochety action duo pitted against Harris and his renegade commandos. Michael Bay directed from a script by David Weisberg, Douglas S. Cook, and Mark Rosner that's high-octane nonsense but gives both the actors and the audience all that's needed to make this diverting--car chases, wisecracks, narrow escapes, explosions. With Michael Biehn, William Forsythe, and Vanessa Marcil. (Pickwick, Davis, Portage, Village)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The 1975 film version of the long-running bisexual-chic rock musical tries its damnedest to be outrageous, but finally has a hard time justifying its R rating. The picture might have made a pretty good college show--with Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry) sewing up a homemade stud to the accompaniment of a sexually ambiguous kick line (the chorines all look strangely like Lina Wertmuller). But the wit is too weak to sustain a film, and the songs all sound the same. Of course, the movie itself is beside the point by now--the real show is in the audience. I suspect this listing belongs in the theater section. (DK) (Village North, Saturday, August 31, midnight)

Scream and Scream Again

Vincent Price is the mad scientist (a transplant man), Gordon Hessler the director, Christopher Wicking the writer, and Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee turn up in small parts; you figure out the rest (1970). Presented on video by the Psychotronic Film Society. (Delilah's, 2771 N. Lincoln, Saturday, August 31, 6:00, 509-4958)

She's the One

A romantic comedy from writer-director Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen), about two brothers--one played by Burns himself, the other by Mike McGlone--whose romantic problems converge; with Maxine Bahns, Jennifer Aniston, and Cameron Diaz. (Lincoln Village, Water Tower, Norridge, Old Orchard, Webster Place, Lake)

Small Faces

This 1995 autobiographical film by writer-director Gillies MacKinnon and his brother Billy (a longtime Jane Campion crony who coproduced and collaborated on the script) about three brothers growing up in Glasgow in 1968 is well acted, sincere, and serious, so I wish it engaged me more. The problem may be that I've had it up to here with movies about youth gangs: the oldest brother belongs to a gang, the youngest gets involved in the gang rivalry, and the middle brother--presumably the future director--stays busy with painting and romance. (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, August 30 through September 5)

Solo

Maro Van Peebles stars as a Schwarzenegger-style terminator pitted against the head of a murder squad (William Sadler) in an SF thriller adapted by David L. Corley from Robert Mason's novel Weapon, and directed by Norberto Barba; with Barry Corbin, Jaime Gomez, and Seidy Lopez. (Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Chestnut Station, Plaza, Hyde Park, Ford City)

Special Effects

This 40-minute Omnimax infomercial for the rerelease of the Star Wars trilogy (it also features visual effects from Independence Day, Jumanji, and Kazaam) received major funding from the National Science Foundation, which probably only demonstrates what suckers we all are as taxpayers. It calls Star Wars "a major turning point in special effects history," though I'd argue that 2001, a movie that dissolves the very notion of the special effect by placing it in the service of some higher artistry, was more important in that regard. (Georges Melies, rightly singled out here as the father of the special effect, had the same idea, though he's condescended to and represented by a terrible print of one of his films.) If you believe that special effects should consist of nothing but explosions, animal stampedes, and the like (they're done mainly with scale models) and like the idea of movies selling other movies, then this is probably your cup of tea. This movie also boasts a second "remake" of the climax of King Kong; it's vastly inferior to both its predecessors, though it still provides an eyeful in Omnimax. (Museum of Science and Industry, 57th Street at Lake Shore Drive, Friday through Thursday, August 30 though September 5, 684-1414)

The Spitfire Grill

Like so many regional melodramas of delayed revelations in the PBS mode, this winner of the audience award at the Sundance festival has characters--such as the cranky owner of a greasy spoon (Ellen Burstyn) and the young former convict (Alison Elliott) who goes to work for her--who seem fairly potent and interesting as long as their secrets are well guarded. Once the beans get spilled, they come across as cliches. But if one can put up with these cliches, and with Marcia Gay Harden's overacting, there are some nice compensations here, including most of the other performances and the location shooting. Written and directed by Lee David Zlotoff and set in a small town in Maine; with Will Patton, Kieran Mulroney, and Gailard Sartain. (900 N. Michigan, Old Orchard, Lake)

The Stupids

John Landis (Animal House) directs a comedy adapted by Brent Forrester from a series of children's books by Harry Allard and James Marshall. The family of misinterpreters and bumblers is played by Tom Arnold, Jessica Lundy, Bug Hall, and Alex McKenna. (Esquire, Norridge, Biograph, Gardens, Plaza, Ford City)

Tangled

The world premiere of a locally made feature, directed by Toni Sherwood and produced by Reader contributor Ted Shen--both of whom will be present to introduce the screening, along with members of the cast--about a young black woman (Yolanda Androzzo) who lives with an aging biker and her child from a former marriage and has relationships with other men, some of them abusive. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, August 31, 6:00 and 8:15, 443-3737)

Taxi Driver

Martin Scorsese put all the city dweller's irrational, guilty fears into this 1976 story of a New York taxi driver (Robert De Niro) on a one-man rampage against the "scum"--pimps, whores, muggers, junkies, and politicians. Scorsese's style is a delirious, full-color successor to expressionism, in which the cityscape becomes the twisted projection of the protagonist's mind. Paul Schrader's screenplay, with its buried themes of sin and redemption, borrows very, very heavily from Robert Bresson's Pickpocket, yet the purloined material is transformed in startling, disturbing ways. It would be hard to imagine an American film more squarely in the European "art" tradition than this, yet it was misunderstood enough to become a significant popular success--a thinking man's Death Wish. With Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, and Harvey Keitel. (DK) A new 35-millimeter stereo print will be shown. (Village North, Friday through Sunday, August 30 through September 1, midnight)

Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead

Alas, most of the surprise and the wit to be found here ends with the title. Produced and distributed by Miramax, it's another quirky thriller like The Usual Suspects (albeit slightly better) that got green lighted because of Tarantino's success--an exercise without much point or originality except stylishness (not to be confused with style) about a retired criminal (Andy Garcia) recruited by his former boss (Christopher Walken) to frighten the new boyfriend of his son's former girlfriend, a plan that goes awry when a borderline nut case (Treat Williams) in Garcia's team of hoods gets carried away. Directed by first-timer Gary Fleder from a screenplay by Scott Rosenberg; the remainder of the predictable if serviceable cast includes Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, Bill Nunn, Jack Warden, Gabrielle Anwar, Fairuza Balk, and, yep, Steve Buscemi. (Village, Friday though Sunday, August 30 through September 1, midnight)

A Time to Kill

In order to enjoy this mediocre John Grisham courtroom drama, labeled as top-notch entertainment by many of my colleagues, you have to accept an ersatz, cartoonish version of the deep south taken over virtually intact from Hurry Sundown and Mississippi Burning, and believe passionately rather than reluctantly in justifiable homicide. Samuel L. Jackson plays a Mississippi factory worker who kills the racist rednecks who drunkenly rape and maul his little girl, and young lawyer-hunk Matthew McConaughey, sweating like Michael Caine in Hurry Sundown, is eager to prove how right he is. Sandra Bullock plays a liberal law student along for the ride, Kevin Spacey is the mean prosecutor, and Donald Sutherland plays the Arthur O'Connell part from Anatomy of a Murder--which I'd strongly advise you to see, or see again, instead of this silly, overblown movie. Directed by Joel Schumacher from a script by Akiva Goldsman; with Brenda Fricker, Oliver Platt, Charles S. Dutton, Ashley Judd, Patrick McGoohan, and an uncredited as well as wasted M. Emmet Walsh. (Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Gardens, Golf Glen, Lincoln Village, 900 N. Michigan, North Riverside, Hyde Park, Webster Place, Ford City)

Tin Cup

Writer-director and sports specialist Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump) teams up with writer John Norville (an old golfing buddy) in a comedy about a golfer down on his luck (Kevin Costner) who decides to win the heart and hand of a psychologist (Rene Russo) by triumphing in the U.S. Open; Cheech Marin and Don Johnson costar. The four leads make this a fair amount of fun, though you have to put up with a lot of infantile claptrap about their characters--Russo's, for instance, starts off as intriguing, but she winds up as a boring bimbo groupie, and Marin eventually degenerates into a standard-issue Latin lover. The tension between Costner and Johnson is basically a matter of class and sexual envy, and the echoes of Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges that often ring through this movie never work to Shelton's advantage; this is OK entertainment, but it isn't a patch on Bull Durham. (Lake, Biograph, Golf Mill, Lincoln Village, Esquire, Evanston, Norridge)

Toward the Within: Dead Can Dance

A concert film recording the final performance of the 1993 tour of Dead Can Dance, featuring numbers that combine Celtic folk music and Middle Eastern percussion. (Music Box, Friday and Saturday, August 30 and 31, midnight)

Trainspotting

Carefully positioned to flourish as Miramax's summer box-office champ, Danny Boyle's second feature is a lot more stylish and entertaining than his first (Shallow Grave), not to mention Miramax's 1995 summer contender, Kids. A feel-good jaunt about young Scottish heroin addicts and their degradation and betrayals of one another--far from nihilistic, though certainly calculated to outrage various puritanical norms--it draws a lot of its energy from Richard Lester movies of the 60s and 70s and from A Clockwork Orange (the novel as well as the movie). Adapted by John Hodge from Irvine Welsh's popular pidgin-English novel, which has already been successfully adapted for the stage, and partially redubbed for American ears, it floats by almost as episodically as 94 minutes of MTV. With Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle (Priest), Kelly Macdonald, and Shirley Henderson. (Village North, Davis, Pipers Alley)

The Trigger Effect

A commendable but ultimately perplexing failure. This ambitious first feature by writer-director David Koepp--whose writing credits include Apartment Zero, Carlito's Way, Jurassic Park, and Mission: Impossible--deals with the thin crust of civility and communal trust that informs contemporary American life, and the little it takes for this to be sliced through. The cutting edge here is a widespread power outage that's never explained; the central characters are a couple (Kyle MacLachlan and Elisabeth Shue, both of whom give very nuanced performances), their infant daughter, and an old friend (Dermot Mulroney, also good), and the movie recounts the siege mentality that sets in among the adults and their neighbors over a weekend. The movie opens wonderfully and provocatively by tracking a chain reaction of petty gripes from one character to another through a shopping mall; thanks to the actors and direction it continues to hold interest, despite curious gaps in the story line and an abrupt conclusion. One wonders if studio recutting is responsible for some of the confusions. With Richard T. Jones, Bill Smitrovich, and Michael Rooker. (Water Tower, Norridge)

12 Monkeys

Rumor has it that Terry Gilliam hasn't even seen La jetee (1962), the half-hour SF masterpiece of Chris Marker that served as the basis for David and Janet Peoples's script. In a future world following a global epidemic that has eradicated most of humanity, time travel becomes the only hope of mankind's survival. A volunteer (Bruce Willis) gets sent back to 1990s Philadelphia, where he's promptly locked away as a madman while trying to find the source of the epidemic and simultaneously clear up a troubling childhood memory. La jetee, told almost exclusively in black-and-white still photographs, is the only purely fictional work to date of one of the greatest film essayists (whose work tends to circulate around issues involving memory and photography) and has a form, a style, and a subject that reinforce one another; this grungy thriller by contrast merely takes over the story, though it's a haunting enough tale in its own right. (David Peoples also scripted Unforgiven, and one finds much of the same craft, as well as the same gratuitous unpleasantness, kicking about here.) I find all of Gilliam's movies worth seeing, and this is no exception, though you should expect to find a fair amount of his characteristic designer grimness here mixed in with the cabaret comedy, which seems less fresh now than it did in Brazil in 1985. Brad Pitt has fun with his secondary part as a pontificating lunatic, but I wish I'd enjoyed the rest of the cast (which includes Madeleine Stowe and Christopher Plummer) more. (Village North, Friday through Sunday, August 30 through September 1, midnight)

Twister

Another roller-coaster ride, enjoyable but dopey, from Jan De Bont, the director of Speed. This one is blown up to Cecil B. De Mille proportions, with loads of special effects. Nearly all the major characters are tornado chasers in Oklahoma--rival teams of scientists eager to test their equipment to learn more about how tornadoes work. Much of the action is fill-in-the-blanks, and there's something that passes lamely for a romantic triangle involving one of the scientists (Bill Paxton), his coworker and ex-wife (Helen Hunt), and his fiancee (Jami Gertz). But the engineering of the special effects is fairly impressive, and the sight of so many objects and creatures being buffeted about carries a certain apocalyptic splendor. The script was written by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin. With Cary Elwes and Lois Smith. (Davis, Logan, Pickwick, Village)

A Very Brady Sequel

More of the 70s sitcom family's escapades, this time involving the unexpected reappearance of Carol's long-lost husband. With Shelley Long, Gary Cole, Tim Matheson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Christine Taylor, and Paul Sutera; Arlene Sanford directed from a script by several hands. (Lake, Evanston, Norridge, Webster Place, Golf Glen, Lincoln Village, Water Tower)

Welcome to the Dollhouse

An intriguing and arresting dark comedy (1995) from American independent writer-director Todd Solondz, who focuses on an 11-year-old misfit in New Jersey whom he refuses to sentimentalize. It's worth pondering whether Solondz goes out of his way to pile on her miseries, but this isn't as obvious a skewering of what it means to be American, adolescent, and unloved as it may first appear; it's also about the interactions of a twisted world we all live in. Winner of the grand jury prize at the Sundance film festival; with Heather Matarazzo, Victoria Davis, Christina Brucato, and Brendan Sexton Jr. (Three Penny)

Wings of Courage

Why is it that the best technology and the worst art always seem to go hand in hand? In the venerable tradition of 3-D kitsch established by such films as Bwana Devil and The Bubble--not to mention the wide-screen tradition of This Is Cinerama and The Robe--Jean-Jacques Annaud directed and wrote (with Alain Godard) this 40-minute period adventure in Imax 3-D requiring wraparound spectacles with built-in stereo speakers. The effects are dazzling, though the film makes astonishingly uninventive and uninteresting use of the technology. The story involves an enterprising young pilot (Craig Sheffer), backed by aviation pioneers Jean Mermoz (Val Kilmer) and Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Tom Hulce), flying the mail run between Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1930; he crash-lands and slowly makes his way back to safety. This is hokey art and storytelling made somewhat bearable in spots by the fancy period decor; less bearable are the dream sequences in two-dimensional sepia and the gratuitous stunts performed by a trained dog that hangs out with the hero's wife (Elizabeth McGovern). (Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand, Friday through Thursday, August 30 through September 5, 595-7437)

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo from Trainspotting.

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