Originally created 07/31/98

Video releases

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:Dark City, Hard Rain, The Gingerbread Man and The Peacekeeper.

TUESDAY:Blues Brothers 2000, Jackie Brown, The Wedding Singer and Meet the Deedles.

AUG. 11:An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn, Senseless, The Big Lebowski and The Man in the Iron Mask.

Video reviews

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

DARK CITY (****, R) A great visionary achievement, a film so original and exciting it stirred my imagination like 2001 or Blade Runner. Combining science fiction and film noir, it builds to an apocalyptic showdown between the Strangers, an alien race, and Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), a human who shares their power. But it's not routine sci-fi action. The plot contains fundamental surprises, and the other characters (played by William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly) are more and less than they seem.

HARD RAIN (*, R) A small town is flooded and abandoned, except for an armored car driver (Christian Slater) who tries to hide cash from a local gang (led by Morgan Freeman). Minnie Driver is the girl who becomes Mr. Slater's sidekick, and Randy Quaid is the sheriff. Lots and lots of water -- so much, I was less interested in the story than in the sight of actors standing around shivering their way through the absurdities of the plot.

THE GINGERBREAD MAN (***, R) Robert Altman adapts an original story by John Grisham into a brooding tale of crimes past and present. Kenneth Branagh stars, as a Savannah lawyer who gives a lift to a waitress (Embeth Davidtz) whose car has been stolen and gets enmeshed in a diabolical plot. Robert Duvall plays her father, a member of a shadowy group of dangerous old coots, and the cast includes Robert Downey Jr. as a muddled investigator, Daryl Hannah as a faithful assistant and Famke Janssen as a faithless estranged wife. The whole story cowers beneath the approach of a storm named, more than appropriately, Hurricane Geraldo.

U.S. MARSHALS (** 1/2, PG-13) Tommy Lee Jones is back in the role that won him an Oscar for The Fugitive. As Marshal Sam Gerard, he pursues another innocent man wrongly accused. Wesley Snipes is the fugitive, in a chase that includes a spectacular plane crash, a pursuit through a swamp, a cat-and-mouse game in a cemetery, an aerial stunt that would make Batman proud, and action in Chicago, New York and points south.

KRIPPENDORF'S TRIBE (**, PG-13) Richard Dreyfuss stars as an anthropologist who has spent his university's money and produced no results -- so he fakes the discovery of a lost tribe by taking home movies in his back yard with his kids. Some very funny moments involving a circumcision ritual and nice work by Jenna Elfman as his adoring colleague, but the movie doesn't quite achieve liftoff.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (***, R) A romantic, neo-Gothic updating of the Dickens classic, with Ethan Hawke as a poor boy who falls in love with a rich girl (Gwyneth Paltrow) who has been trained since childhood to break the hearts of men. Anne Bancroft has the sinister, touching role of the old woman who wants revenge on men. Director Alfonso Cuaron (The Little Princess) brings a touch of magic realism to the Florida settings; the cinematography is enchanted.

CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD (PG-13) -- Surfer-guy inventor Edison (North Carolina comedian Carrot Top) churns out strange inventions and becomes head of a vast corporation in this comedy that also features Courtney Thorne-Smith, Jack Warden and Raquel Welch.

PHANTOMS (*, R) -- Slimy, loathsome creatures from beneath the Earth infest a mountain town, while sheriff Ben Affleck, doctor Rose McCowan and monster expert Peter O'Toole fight them.

GOOD WILL HUNTING (***, R) -- Matt Damon is vulnerable and effective as a Boston janitor who is also a natural mathematical genius. A professor (Stellan Skarsgard) spots his talent and tries to help him. So does a counselor (Robin Williams), a British student at Harvard who loves him (Minnie Driver), and his old neighborhood buddy (Ben Affleck). But can they break through his insecurity and old defense mechanisms? Smart and very involving.

THE BOXER (***, R) -- Daniel Day-Lewis stars as an IRA prisoner, released at 32 after 14 years behind bars, who returns to a Belfast where many hunger for peace. He still loves Emily Watson, who married another IRA man, now a prisoner. IRA laws include a death penalty for those who cheat with a prisoner's wife, and so their feelings are dangerous. Brian Cox is wonderful as Ms. Watson's father, an IRA leader who has killed and ordered killings but is now ready for peace.

PALMETTO (***, R) -- Woody Harrelson plays a former newspaper reporter who is released from prison and returns to his hometown. There, an undulating blonde (Elisabeth Shue) recruits him in a phony kidnapping scheme to defraud her rich husband. Gina Gershon plays his patient girlfriend; Michael Rapaport is a lurking houseboy; Tom Wright is the assistant DA who recruits Mr. Harrelson to be his media liaison -- so that Woody is the press spokesman on his own crime. Good story elements, but Volker Schlondorff's direction is too dutiful and lacks the mordant wit that creates great film noir.

SWEPT FROM THE SEA (***, PG-13) -- A simple English peasant girl (Rachel Weisz) is transformed when a storm washes a Russian castaway (Vincent Perez) to the Cornish shore. Both are seen as outsiders by the hateful local population, but cling together, are married and try to survive in the face of poverty and prejudice. Their story is told by the local doctor (Ian McKellen), whose own love for the Russian adds a thread that would have created more dramatic tension if the film did not seem to shy from it.

SPHERE (** 1/2, PG-13) -- A giant spacecraft is found on the Pacific floor, and a team is assembled to descend and study it: psychologist Dustin Hoffman, mathematician Samuel Jackson and biologist Sharon Stone, with Peter Coyote in command of the Navy's undersea habitat. The special effects are thin, but the buildup is interesting. Alas, the more the plot reveals, the more we realize how little there is to reveal.


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