Originally created 12/19/97

Video watch

Here is a list of what's new in video stores this weekend and a partial schedule of what's coming on video. Release dates are subject to change.

JUST RELEASED: Contact, A Simple Wish, Cosi, How To Be a Player.

TUESDAY: Spawn, Bliss, 187, 'Til There Was You, Air Bud.

DEC. 30: Conspiracy Theory, Out to Sea, Steel.

JAN. 06: When the Cat's Away, Masterminds, Fire Down Below, Hoodlum.

JAN. 13: Career Girls, Soul Food, Buddy, Picture Perfect, Wishmaster, Grizzly Mountain, Dream With the Fishes, Money Talks, Temptress Moon, Children of the Revolution.

JAN. 20: The Game, Nothing to Lose, Broken English, Leave It to Beaver.

JAN. 27: Event Horizon, Star Maps, Brassed Off, The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca, City of Industry, 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, Kull the Conqueror, Hollow Reed.

Video reviews

Here are reviews from Roger Ebert and other critics of some recent video releases:

CONTACT (***1/2 , PG-13) Jodie Foster stars as a radio astronomer who picks up intelligent signals from space. They include instructions on how to build a device to reach those who sent the signals. Robert Zemeckis' film, based on the novel by the late Carl Sagan, is the most intelligent and absorbing story about extraterrestrial intelligence since Close Encounters. The science is sound; the characters are psychologically convincing; and there's a tricky debate: Should man's first emissary to another race be required to believe in God? With Matthew McConaughey as Ms. Foster's sometime lover and sparring partner, Tom Skerritt as her rival, John Hurt as a visionary billionaire, and James Woods and Angela Bassett as presidential advisers.

A SIMPLE WISH (*1/2 , PG) Martin Short stars as a trainee fairy godperson who materializes when a little girl (Mara Wilson) asks for a godmother to help her father (Robert Pastorelli) win a Broadway audition. But Mr. Short is still learning the tricks of the trade, and meanwhile an evil former godmother (Kathleen Turner) and her sidekick (Amanda Plummer) complicate the story. The baddies don't have much to do with the rest of the film; the story lacks tension; and kids may not get involved in the showbiz insider humor.

MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING (***, PG-13) When Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney became best friends in college, they vowed that if they were still single at 28, they'd get married. Now they're 28 - but he's marrying a 20-year-old (Cameron Diaz) whose dad owns the White Sox! Ms. Roberts puts on her big smile and goes to work sabotaging the union. Predictable romantic comedy? Only in the setup. The resolution of Ronald Bass' screenplay is surprising and refreshing.

CON AIR (***, R) Action and one-liners in a nonstop special-effects extravaganza with enough wit to kid itself. John Malkovich holds it together with a dry, ironic performance as master criminal Cyrus the Virus, who organized the hijacking of a flight carrying dangerous prisoners. Nicolas Cage is the Army hero on board; John Cusack is the hero federal marshal; and Steve Buscemi has fun as a Hannibal Lecter-type serial killer. Entertaining, well-made, instantly forgettable.

GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE (***, PG) Brendan Fraser stars as a dimwitted, muscular, likable liveaction version of the TV cartoon star, who is great at swinging from vines but tends to crash into trees. Leslie Mann plays the American heiress who falls for him and brings him to San Francisco. Not a great film, but it does have great laughs, many of them involving an elephant that thinks it is a dog.

SPEED 2 (***, PG-13) The sequel to Speed lacks the same freshness but has a goofy charm of its own, and lots of sensational special effects. Sandra Bullock and Jason Patric star as lovers on a cruise ship that's hijacked by mad computer expert Willem Dafoe (who believes he got copper poisoning from electromagnetic fields and travels with leeches to purify his blood).

MEN IN BLACK (***, PG-13) Aliens are among us, and super-straight-arrow government agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is assigned to keep track of them. He gets a rookie sidekick (Will Smith), and they go on the trail of an alarming alien named Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio), who has occupied the body of a hillbilly and plans to conquer Earth. Amazingly varied alien creatures created by Rick Baker, in a movie with a wicked sense of humor.

CHASING AMY (***, R) A surprisingly intense and funny comedy about two comic-book artists who fall in love even though she's a lesbian. But it's more complicated than that, in Kevin Smith's triumphant return to form after the hilarious Clerks (1994) and the disastrous Mallrats (1995).

FREE WILLY 3: THE RESCUE (***, PG) The third installment in the continuing saga of a boy and his orca is such a frightening work of eco-terrorism that you want to save the whalers. The whales are cute, though, however perverse it is to make a pro-animal movie with animatronic creatures.


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