There’s something askew with this romantic drama that seems blind to the truth of its subject. Val Kilmer is fine (if not overly done) as Virgil, a blind masseur who at the urge of his new girlfriend Amy (Mira Sorvino), undergoes an operation that restores his sight. In this “Charley” wannabe by director Irwin Winkler, you just know that the operation will be a success, and that Kilmer will see everything that he has ben missing, only to lose it again when the effects of the operation wear off.

It’s a chick flick of the highest order, but only for those who are willing to buy into the tired premise. The cast is okay, but Kilmer and Sorvino never connect emotionally. (MGM)


BABE: PIG IN THE CITYThe original “Babe” was such a box office success and a global phenomenon that a sequel was inevitable. I’m still waiting, because “Babe: Pig in the City” isn’t the sequel I’ve been waiting for. This “Babe” is a dog, and for an hour-and-a-half barks up the wrong tree. Everything that was right about the original is missing from this frenzied sequel. What was cute is chaotic, what was charming is now disarming. The film maker’s seem to think that more is better, but in this case, less would have been more. The screenplay by director George Miller, Judy Morris, Mark Lamprell is a bizarre blend of flat humor, false sentiment and chaotic action. The results make you yearn for the simple yet sweet original by director Chris Noonan. The biggest mistake comes early in the film, and it’s all downhill from there. The film picks up where the original left off. Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) and “Babe” are returning home to a heroes welcome after “Babe” has won the blue ribbon for Sheep Herding. Hoggett and “Babe” go together like a pig and a poke, and that’s the rub. The writer’s immediately dispatch Farmer Hoggett within the first fifteen minutes of the film, thus putting the focus on his befuddled wife Esme (Magda Szubanski). When Hoggett is laid up after “Babe” causes a nasty accident in the well, Esme is forced to tend to the farm and pay the bills. When she falls behind, those notorious men in black suits from the bank come calling. CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE REVIEW (Universal)


ELIZABETHDirector Shekhar Kapur’s film about the rise of history’s most celebrated monarchs is filled with mesmerizing performances, exquisite period detail and a script that demands your attention. Oscar-nominee Cate Blanchett is absolutely stunning as the young woman who is forced to give up her femininity and identity in order to rule over her people. Elizabeth’s journey is filled with intrigue, denial, deceit and ultimately courage. Even though the film is dark and sometimes difficult to follow, it is never boring. Kapur has chosen a cast that bring a certain nobility to the proceedings, most notably Geoffrey Rush as the Queen’s advisor. Attention to detail is amazing, but it’s the precise performance of Blanchett that makes it all worth the trip. (Polygram)


GROUND CONTROLPedestrian dramatic thriller about a burnt out Air Traffic Controller who is called back into action when a storm cripples Phoenix. Keifer Sutherland does what he can with the situation, playing a man haunted by a plane crash that has crippled his life. That was then, this is now, and Jack Harris (Sutherland) is summoned to save the day when dozens of planes are stranded in the air and the tower has no radar. The familiar cast, including Kelly McGillis, Henry Winkler and Robert Sean Leonard, make the dialogue and situations sound more dire than they appear. (Trimark)


HAPPINESSWriter-director Todd Solondz’s film about three sisters and the company they keep is like a Robert Altman film written by Larry Flynt. It’s a multi-character, multi-plot line study on the dark side of Americana, an expose on the deep, dark secrets that we all share. Like “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” everything in “Happiness” is designed to make you feel uncomfortable. There are no redeeming characters, just varying levels of pathetic ones. Jane Adams stars as Joy, the sister who is looking for love, but just can’t find the right man (her break-up at the beginning of the film with Jon Lovitz is priceless). Lara Flynn Boyle is Helen, the successful sister who enjoys phone sex with a man living in her building (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Then there’s Trish (Cynthia Stevenson), who believes her marriage to a psychiatrist (Dylan Baker) is on solid ground. What she doesn’t know is that her husband is actually a pedophile who preys on young boys. This is the hardest story thread to watch, because Baker’s character does things you only read about but never see. The scene where he confronts his son at the end of the film about why he isn’t attracted to him was one of the hardest things I have ever had to sit through. Solondz never makes apologies for his characters. Instead, he puts them out there, warts and all, for us to squirm and laugh at. If nothing else, “Happiness” will make you feel good about your own pathetic life. Highly recommended, but only for those willing to subject themselves to a slice of reality that never flinches. (Trimark)


IMPLICATEDPedestrian thriller stars William McNamara as a nice guy who invites his new girlfriend (the always durable Amy Locane) to help him baby-sit his boss’ daughter, unaware that he is actually a psycho and plans to use them both in a kidnapping plot. Director Irving Belatche tries to infuse suspense where there is none, and the actors tend to chew the scenery rather than act in front it. (Columbia-TriStar)


MONEY KINGSA sterling cast and not notch writing and direction distinguish this crime drama. Peter Falk is exceptional as Vinnie, a kind hearted bar keep who is also the neighborhood bookie. Vinnie likes his business and his customers, whom he treats with respect. Things change when the local mob sends a tough collector named Tony (Freddie Prinze Jr.) to Vinnie’s bar to keep tabs on his business. Vinnie and Tony are as different as night and day, and when Tony crosses the line and has sex with the wife of a man who can’t pay his debts, Vinnie decides that enough is enough. Sharp writing, tight direction and a cast totally in tune with the premise make “Money Kings,” which premiered on cable as “Vig,” an offering they can’t refuse. Timothy Hutton shines as Fast Frankie, whose wife (Lauren Holly) becomes the object of Tony’s obsession. (Sterling)


SPACE TRUCKERSDirector Stuart Gordon, a decent budget and lots of sci-fi excitement highlight this enjoyable romp about two space truckers who team up with a Bronx waitress to help save the world from an invasion of diabolical killer robots. Dennis Hopper and Stephen Dorf seem to be having a ball in this familiar yet fun effort that features tongue-in-cheek pokes at the genre, plus some nifty special effects that are just as much fun to watch as the film. Debi Mazar co-stars as the waitress who completes the trio. Even though it premiered on cable, “Space Truckers” still has enough gas in it to survive a healthy video life. (Sterling)


STEPMOMThanks to a touching screenplay and excellent performances, director Chris Columbus takes what could have been a manipulative tearjerker and turns it into a testament of hope. Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts are outstanding as the two women Ed Harris’ life. Sarandon is the ex-wife, whose life revolves around her children. Roberts is the new girlfriend who has stolen Harris’ heart. There’s a natural rivalry between the two women when it comes to raising the children, with both Sarandon and Harris doing what ever they can to torpedo the other. When Sarandon learns that she has a terminal disease, she is forced to turn to her rival in order to secure the children’s future. Instead of carrying out the film to its predictable conclusion, the writers and Columbus wisely end the film on a more positive note, which helped make it a hit in theaters. There’s not a bad performance in the film, plus you’ll laugh and cry. (Columbia-TriStar)


TAXI DRIVER COLLECTOR'S EDITIONMartin Scorsese’s gritty drama about a disillusioned cab driver named Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) and his infatuation with a political candidate’s assistant (Cybill Shepherd) and a teenage prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster). Often imitated but never equaled, Scorsese’s powerful exploration of man and madness features an edgy screenplay by Paul Schrader and a beautiful, moody score by Bernard Herrmann. This collector’s edition features a digitally remastered print and a never-before-seen making of documentary featuring interviews with the creators and stars. $19.98. (Columbia-TriStar)


THIEF, THEThis 1997 Best Foreign Language film Oscar-nominee is a touching and haunting tale of a mother and son who find happiness and then heartbreak when a man enters their lives. Young Misha Philipchuk is outstanding as Sanya, a six-year old boy who is both fatherless and homeless. He lives with his mother Katja (Ekaterina Rednikova) in post World War II Russia, dreaming of a better existence. Enter soldier Toljan (Vladimir Mashkov), who fulfills the mother’s heart and becomes a father figure for the boy. Unfortunately, not everything is as it seems, as the soldier has another agenda to attend to. Thought provoking and beautiful to look at, the Russian film (with English subtitles) by director Pavel Chukhrai is a must see for fans of such fare. (Columbia-TriStar)


YOU'VE GOT MAILUnabashedly sentimental and romantic, “You’ve Got Mail” is the perfect holiday movie. Christmas arrives early this year thanks to director Nora Ephron and the unbeatable pairing of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The “Sleepless in Seattle” team polishes off that old chestnut “Shop Around the Corner” and puts a 90’s spin on the story about two people who share a life through letters yet never meet. Working from a light and frothy screenplay by Nora and her sister Delia, Hanks and Ryan couldn’t be more adorable as rival bookstore owners who share kind words over the Internet yet can’t stand each other in real life. It’s the third pairing of Hanks and Ryan, who first shared the screen in the disastrous “Joe Versus the Volcano.” Their chemistry reached it’s stride in “Sleepless in Seattle,” a remake of “An Affair to Remember.” Judging by “You’ve Got Mail,” this team could create a cottage industry remaking classic romantic comedies. Hanks and Ryan are a modern day Tracy and Hepburn. They play off of each other so naturally you almost forget they’re acting. It’s this chemistry that makes watching their films so much fun. Maybe it’s the season, or maybe I was just in the right mood, but I really loved this movie. It punches all the right buttons, evoking a stream of emotions. I laughed, I cried, I found myself rooting these characters on. (Warner)

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