Palo Alto Weekly Movie Listings

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Apollo 13 **** (Century 16, Century 12) Hollywood couldn't have concocted a better nail-biter than the true story of the near-fatal Apollo 13 mission to the moon. Director Ron Howard and his talented crew have made the material take off in one of the summer's best movies. The film squeezes every last drop of drama from a situation that could have been the worst disaster NASA ever experienced: an explosion in their craft almost stranded astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise (Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton) in space. Instead, the heroism aboard the ship and at Mission Control in Houston marks one of the space program's finest hours. Whether recounting the heartwarming personal stories of the astronauts and their families or documenting the dilemma in heart-stopping detail, "Apollo 13" has the right stuff. Rated PG. 2 hours, 15 min. --S.T.

Batman Forever *** 1/2 (Century 16, Century 12) This fine effort manages to wring every drop of intrigue and suspense from predictable material. Tommy Lee Jones is the frighteningly scarred Two-Face, Jim Carrey is wonderfully comic as The Riddler, Chris O'Donnell is a compelling Robin, and Nicole Kidman is the ethereal psychologist and love interest. The chemistry is convincing between her and Val Kilmer, who more than adequately fills Michael Keaton's bat-boots. The film wastes no time in getting in your face with explosive confrontations and fancy bells and whistles, but it does take time in becoming a cohesive story. Director Joel Schumacher ("Flatliners") has stepped in gracefully where Tim Burton left off, rendering a stylish and entertaining film that's less gothic than the original. Rated PG-13 for mature themes and gunplay. 2 hours. --J.A.

Braveheart **1/2 (Century 16, UA 6) Actor-director Mel Gibson turns Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace into a medieval Mad Max who leads his ragtag clan of merry men in revolt against 13th-century British rule. Driven by vengeance and sporting warpaint to match his baby blues, the warrior-poet uses wits and lethal weapons in his fight against tyranny. The movie's epic running time plods through the predictable backstory of Wallace's childhood and love life. Although these scenes have their moments, only the business of battle brings forth rousing adventure--and buckets of blood. For the most part, the direction and violence are excessive. Rated R for gory violence. 2 hours, 58 min. --S.T.

The Bridges of Madison County **1/2 (Century 16, Century 12) With a few tweaks to the plot and a good reworking of the book's stilted dialogue, the film version of the Robert James Waller novelette stars Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, who also directed. Told from Francesca's point of view, this film is wholly Streep's and her Francesca embodies all the quiet sorrow of a war bride from Italy marooned in a Midwestern cultural wasteland of nosy neighbors, dusty roads and Wonder bread. Eastwood's Robert Kincaid--made out in the book to be some sort of quasi-mythical cross between the Marlboro Man and Ralph Waldo Emerson--is toned down so much as to be almost uncompelling. Until the sexual tension is broken, it's intriguing enough watching these two circle around each other on that hot Midwestern evening in 1965. Rated PG-13 for modest love scenes. 2 hours, 15 min. --M.H.

Burnt By the Sun *** 1/2 (Aquarius) Nikita Mikhalkov wrote, directed and stars in this story of 1936 Stalinist Russia, most of which takes place during one afternoon at the dacha of Serguei Kotov (Mikhalkov), an aging hero of the Bolshevik revolution. He and his much younger wife are enjoying an idyllic country life with their daughter Nadia and extended family and friends when into this Eden comes Dimitri (Oleg Menchikov), a talented young pianist who was Maroussia's lover a decade earlier before leaving mysteriously. The tensions inexorably rise, moving from sexual to political. Reminiscent of Louis Malle's "May Fools" and Bertolucci's "1900," this extraordinary film encompasses history such that the political and personal are fused. Rated R for bloodshed. 2 hours, 22 min. --J.S.

Congo *** (Century 16, UA 6) Park your cynicism at the door and enjoy the special effects extravaganza of "Congo," directed by thrillmeister Frank Marshall ("Alive") and based on the novel by Michael Crichton. Melodramatic and comical, "Congo" is a tongue-in-cheek affair reminiscent of the "Indiana Jones" series. A pointed lesson on the evil of greed, it tells of a group of scientists who journey to Zaire, each for his or her own personal gain and all with hidden agendas. "Congo" is filled with humorous tag lines and combines striking images with those direct from a 1950s Japanese sci-fi spectacular. Don't take it too seriously, and you'll probably have fun. Rated PG-13 for gore and heavy artillery. 1 hour, 55 min. --J.A.

Crimson Tide *** 1/2 (Century 16, Century 12) Just what makes submarine movies so compelling? The claustrophobic tension of a potential underwater coffin? The testosterone high of a tube of steel filled with anxious males? "Crimson Tide," directed by Tony Scott ("Top Gun," "The Last Boy Scout"), stars Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington as officers of a U.S. missile submarine sent out on patrol because of Russian nuclear threats. Both are men of principle, but there the similarity ends. Hackman's character is from the military's old school of war for war's sake, while Washington is of the new Harvard-educated, let's-talk-it-over-first school. "Crimson Tide" is a thrill-a-minute underwater expedition and a rousing kickoff to the summer movie season. Rated R for violence and profanity. 1 hour, 55 min. --J.A.

Crumb **** (Aquarius) Terry Zwigoff's award-winning portrait of reclusive underground comix legend Robert Crumb is the most provocative character study to hit the screen in years. The documentary starts out as a disarming look at the skinny, bespectacled man who rejected conforming to society when society rejected him, finding his sardonic voice in pen and ink. As the film turns the pages of Crumb's sketchbooks and life, a complex and disturbing darkness creeps into the picture, and questions are raised about the nature of creativity, family relationships and the uneasy alliance between art and commerce. The credits read like a Who's Who of Bay Area independent filmmaking talent, with contributions by such notable Midpeninsulans as Jon Else of Portola Valley and Palo Altan Steven Longstreth. Rated R, but contains X-rated artwork. 1 hour, 59 min. --S.T.

Die Hard: With a Vengeance ** (Century 16, UA 6) Wiseguy cop John McLean (Bruce Willis) is back: with a hangover. Simon (Jeremy Irons) is a playful bomber who sends recently suspended McLean on one brain teaser after another. If he solves them, he gets another puzzle; if he doesn't a bomb goes off somewhere in Manhattan. Director John McTiernan ("Die Hard," "Last Action Hero") continues to work out his women issues, this time by leaving them out entirely. Samuel L. Jackson is the best thing in the picture. Some great explosions, thrilling stunts, stunning implausibilities and terrifically loud music. Rated R. 2 hours, 10 min. --J.S.

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill...ut Came Down a Mountain *** (Palo Alto Square, UA 6) The star power of Hugh Grant, now strong enough to move mountains of terrible titles, will draw viewers to this sweet movie with its quirky cast of characters and gorgeous cinematography of South Wales. Based on a true story set during World War I, the simple plot involves two English army officers (Grant and Ian McNeice) sent to map out terrain in Wales. After one day of surveying, they have the audacity to announce to the villagers of Ffynnon Garw that their beloved "mountain," which according to lore has protected Wales from centuries of invaders, is only a hill. Everyone from the local vicar to pub keeper Morgan the Goat join forces to thwart the British threat to their pride and sense of community. Not rated. 1 hour, 38 min. --S.T.

La Femme Nikita (Not reviewed) (Aquarius) Luc Besson's stylish thriller about a woman (Anne Parillaud) who leads a double life as a government hit-woman. Rated R. 1 hour, 54 min.

Forget Paris *** (UA 6) Who lives happily ever after anymore? Mickey (Billy Crystal, who also directed) is an NBA referee and bachelor who lives in an apartment that's a "shrine to watching ESPN." While in France to bury his father, he meets Ellen (Debra Winger), a P.R. agent for the airline that lost his father's coffin. Who wouldn't fall in love over candlelighted suppers under an illuminated Eiffel Tower? But back in L.A., it's a different story. This is a mostly funny tale of a couple trying to salvage a troubled but potentially good relationship under the '90s-style pressures of dual careers, infertility problems and an annoying in-law. Rated PG-13 for profanity and mild love scenes. 1 hour, 40 min. --M.H.

French Kiss ** 1/2 (UA 6) Meg Ryan's performance in "Sleepless in Seattle" was downright brooding compared to her perky portrayal of Kate in Lawrence Kasdan's oh-so-cute "French Kiss." Ryan plays a meek (but very cute) teacher who goes to Paris to wrest her fiance from the clutches of a sexy Frenchwoman. On the way, she meets Luc (Kevin Kline, impressive as usual), the embodiment of everything Kate considers the French to be, mainly "nicotine-saturated and hygiene-deficient." Luc hides some contraband in Kate's bag, and the stage is set for a comedy-romance that mostly succeeds in the comedy department, but comes up short on the romance. Of course Luc and Kate are supposed to have about as much in common as Paris, France and Paris, Texas, but this mismatched couple is too mismatched even for a film that requires you to check your disbelief at the door. Rated PG-13 for profanity. 1 hour, 51 min. --M.H.

A Great Day in Harlem (Not yet reviewed) (Aquarius) Jean Bach's Academy Award-nominated film captures a vanished age, when jazz, still relatively uncorrupted by commerce and untouched by electronics, was a jubilant communal dialogue. Not rated. 1 hour, 10 min.

The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love *** (Palo Alto Square) Randy (Laurel Holloman) is a high school student and gas station attendant being raised by her lesbian aunt. Evie (Nicole Parker) is "like, this totally cute popular girl." But the unlikely match bonds when the two get sent to detention together. Alternating between comedy and poignant sweetness, the film captures the thrill of first love, and the awkwardness of high school. "Two Girls in Love" is full of serious "issues": class, sexuality and race, but Maggenti masterfully resists belaboring any of these points, and creates a romance that succeeds because we care about the protagonists. Rated R for language and mild sex scenes. 1 hour, 43 min. --E.H.

The Indian in the Cupboard (Not yet reviewed) (Century 16, Century 12) A world of wonder and adventure is created for a 9-year-old boy (Hal Scardino) when, on his birthday, he discovers a magical cupboard with a three-inch-tall living Indian named Little Bear inside. Rated PG. 1 hour, 30 min.

Judge Dredd (Not reviewed) (Century 16, Century 12) Sylvester Stallone stars in the title role. He's a man framed for murder in this futuristic action-adventure. Rated R. 1 hour, 31 min.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (Not reviewed) (Century 16, Century 12) The big-screen version of Saban Entertainment's multimedia phenomenon. Rated PG. 1 hour, 28 min.

My Family***1/2 (UA 6) This endearing, ebullient epic captures the immigrant experience in the compelling story of the Sanchez family, four generations of feisty survivors who call East Los Angeles their home. Through the joyous rendering of Mexican culture and traditions, along with touches of magical realism, director Gregory Nava ("El Norte") personalizes the family saga while tapping into universal themes. Although the entire cast is excellent, Esai Morales and Jimmy Smits are stunning as the two black sheep of the Sanchez household. The story of "My Family" belongs to all of us and shouldn't be missed. Rated R for adult situations and bilingual profanity. 2 hours, 8 min. --S.T.

Pocahontas *** 1/2 (Century 16, Century 12) Forget that it's historically inaccurate--and politically correct enough to withstand onslaughts from most anti-defamation groups. Disney is in the entertainment business, and its 33rd animated feature film is first-rate entertainment. A lovely Powhatan maiden (voice of Irene Bedard) falls in love with English settler John Smith (voice of Mel Gibson), a sensitive adventurer who is keeping company with a group of brutish Englishmen searching for gold in unspoiled Virginia. In true "West Side Story" fashion, the young lovers attempt to bring the nature-loving Powhatans and the rapacious British to a peaceful coexistence. I predict a big fidget factor for the under-7 set. "Pocahontas" is shamelessly romantic--a mushy, starry-eyed love story. Rated G. 1 hour, 25 min.--J.A.

Il Postino *** (Guild) The previews imply that this lyrical film is about a simple Italian postman who wins the heart of the gorgeous girl with a little help from a Chilean poet who has come to stay on a small island off the coast of Naples. But this plot line is secondary to what "The Postman" is really about: the transcendent power of a friendship between two men, and the unexpected ways in which one person can change the life of another. Set in the early 1950s, this film was inspired by a fictionalized incident in the life of the Nobel Prize-winning poet and communist activist Pablo Neruda, and was a joint project between English director Michael Radford and his friend, Massimo Troisi. Troisi is touchingly vulnerable as Mario, a fisherman's son who takes a job delivering mail to the visiting poet. Rated PG. 1 hour, 40 min. --M.H.

Smoke *** (Park) "Smoke," as defined by writer Paul Auster and director Wayne Wang, is a screen that obscures vision and understanding. It is this notion that is the basis for a quirky ensemble piece about human contact, and how people talk and listen to one another--or don't. An urban fable set in and around a Brooklyn cigar shop, "Smoke" is actually a series of vignettes focusing on four characters and their struggles to make sense of their lives. Auggie (Harvey Keitel) is the laid-back cigar shop owner who believes that he will see a lot by staying in one place. Paul (William Hurt) is a novelist unable to write since the death of his wife. Rashid (Harold Perrineau) is a teen-ager who is disguising his real identity in order to locate his father, and Cyrus (Forest Whitaker) is a man trying to start over after unintentionally killing the woman he loved. Rated R for emotionally mature themes. 1 hour, 45 min. --J.A.

Species * 1/2 (Century 16, Century 12) A well-respected cast gives a certain cachet to "Species," the kind of film for which respect would normally be out of reach. Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Forest Whitaker and Alfred Molina star in this action-adventure (directed by Roger Donaldson), which is a blatant patchwork of better sci-fi thrillers such as "Alien" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." A series of senseless and gratuitous killings is the hook for a story about a female vertebrate who is an experimental concoction of human and alien DNA, a creature in a stunning female body who is desperate to mate and will kill anything that gets in the way. Rated R for gore, language and sex. 1 hour, 50 min. --J.A.

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (Not yet reviewed) (Century 16, Century 12) Steven Seagal returns as Casey Ryback, an ex-Navy SEAL, in this action-thriller about a technological expert (Eric Bogosian) who is threatening to turn a satellite weapon on the government. Rated R. 1 hour, 35 min.