Sat, 25 Mar 2000

High-profile names star in this week's movies

JAKARTA (JP): Pacino is ready to chew up Jakarta's screens in another Oscar-nominated film opening this week, while heartthrob Leo begins to generate some heat through his new movie. The following reviews and grades are by Oren Murphy (OM), Rayya Makarim (RM) and Tam Notosusanto (TN).

American Beauty. Dark comedy, 120 minutes; starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Chris Cooper, Mena Suvari, Wes Bentley and Peter Gallagher. Directed by Sam Mendes.

Forty-two-year-old Lester Burnham is having a mid-life crisis. He hates his job, his wife cannot stand him and his teenage daughter Janey thinks he is a loser. Feeling comatose for years, Lester undergoes a radical life change when he meets Janey's cheerleader friend, Angela. This story about dysfunctional families in demented suburbia is a perfect blend of powerful drama and black comedy. The characters are expertly developed, and the acting is superb. If it does not receive an Oscar for Best Actor or Best Actress, it will definitely receive one for Best Picture. Graded A (RM)

The Beach. Drama, 119 minutes; starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Virginie Ledoyen, Tilda Swinton and Robert Carlyle. Directed by Danny Boyle.

A young American backpacker, Richard (DiCaprio), heads to Thailand and hears of a mysterious beach undiscovered by the parasitic hoards of other tourists. He finds the beach and discovers the cost of the pursuit of unadulterated pleasure. Boyle frequently diverges from Alex Garland's original story, but remains true to many of its themes. The film lacks the book's wit and freshness, but is worth a watch anyway. Graded B (OM)

The Green Mile. Supernatural fable/Prison drama, 185 minutes; starring Tom Hanks, David Morse, James Cromwell, Michael Clarke Duncan and Bonnie Hunt. Written and directed by Frank Darabont.

Darabont's Oscar-nominated second attempt at adapting a Stephen King prison story has Hanks leading a group of Depression-era death row prison guards, whose new inmate is a mentally slow, towering black man (Duncan). It turns out this gentle giant has miraculous healing powers, which benefits some of the guards. But nobody can seem to help him avoid the electric chair. Aside from some ghastly execution scenes, this is a poignant story which is bolstered by a first-rate cast that includes a lovable, scene-stealing mouse. Graded B (TN)

The Hurricane. Biopic, 150 minutes; starring Denzel Washington, Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber, David Paymer and Rod Steiger. Directed by Norman Jewison.

This true account of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter's life not only details his twenty years in prison for a crime he did not commit, but also his relationship with a wide-eyed teenager and his social worker guardians, who mount a high-profile legal defense that eventually leads to his freedom. Veteran cineast Jewison again demonstrates what classic moviemaking is all about, while Washington offers a look into Carter's unbeatable soul through an impressive, blazing performance. Graded B+ (TN).

The Insider. Drama, 160 minutes; starring Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Diane Venora and Christopher Plummer. Directed by Michael Mann.

Tobacco company whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe) teams up with CBS newsman Lowell Bergman (Pacino) to reveal the dishonesty of the tobacco industry. Not only do they face off against the big, bad tobacco conglomerates, but also the producers of the news show 60 Minutes, who refuse to air Wigand's interview. Miami Vice veteran Mann presents a riveting retelling of this true story, while Wigand's descent into near-madness as his life unravels is beautifully evoked by Crowe's subtle, Oscar-nominated performance. Graded B+ (TN)

Puisi Tak Terkuburkan. Drama, 90 minutes; starring Ibrahim Kadir, Berliana Febrianti, El Manik and Pitrajaya Burnama. Directed by Garin Nugroho.

Garin tackles the 1965 attempted coup and the imprisonment of Acehnese poet Ibrahim Kadir, but does not come up with much. Nice cinematography is not enough to sustain a feather-weight script, limp plot and monotonous pace. Graded C (OM)

Stuart Little. Animated/live-action family fare; 85 minutes; starring Geena Davis and the voices of Michael J. Fox, Nathan Lane and Jennifer Tilly. Directed by Rob Minkoff.

When was the last time you fell in love with a digitized image? The wonders of technology have made the adorable mouse author E.B. White created decades ago a real-looking, living, breathing furry thing in this family friendly movie. And Fox's voice talents give the mouse a Jiminy Cricket soul that will steal your heart. Graded B (TN)

Turbulence II: Fear of Flying. Disaster movie, 98 minutes; starring Craig Sheffer, Jennifer Beals, Tom Berenger and Jeffrey Nordling. Directed by David Mackay.

Yet another film you will never find among any airline's in- flight movies. This Airport-meets-The Cassandra Crossing flick pits innocent passengers against sadistic hijackers, who carry a load of lethal virus on board. The passengers belong to a fear-of-flying group who are taking the flight as part of their therapy. The way this derivative, formulaic movie goes, you will not care about their plight after the first 30 minutes. Graded C- (TN)

The Wings of the Dove. Period drama, 101 minutes; starring Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache, Alison Elliott and Charlotte Rampling. Directed by Iain Softley.

Adapted from a Henry James novel, this Oscar-nominated film tells the story of a woman (Bonham Carter) whose love for her working-class boyfriend (Roache) is forbidden by her family. When a terminally ill, rich American girl (Elliott) becomes enamored with her boyfriend, the woman comes up with a plan that is both vengeful and all too human. As this exquisite film progresses, we find that things are not simplistically black-and-white. Graded A- (TN)