The apartment complex

Marginally engaging thriller from director Tobe Hooper. Chad Lowe plays a psychology student who leaves school for a steady job managing an old apartment complex in Hollywood. Are there any other kind? What starts off as a promising new career turns into a nightmare as strange events begin to plague his days. His suspicions are raised when the corpse of the former manager is discovered, leading him to believe that something evil is at work. He’s right, but director Hooper fails to connect all of the dots. There are some moments that generate genuine chills, but overall the film is sluggish and predictable. The supporting cast is colorful, especially Amanda Plummer and R. Lee Ermey. (Paramount)


Delivered with all of the enthusiasm and curiosity of a true fan, “Beyond the Mat” is a fascinating and at times eye-opening documentary that takes an honest look behind the scenes of professional wrestling. Directed by screenwriter Barry W. Blaustein, who makes no apologies for his affection and admiration for the sport, “Beyond the Mat” goes beyond the traditional expose of the sport. Blaustein and his crew were given total access to the World Wrestling Federation and it’s participants, and even when the documentary isn’t flattering, it’s always respectful. Blaustein’s purpose isn’t to expose these men and the sport they have chosen, but to understand them and why they do it. WWF head honcho Vince McMahon has voiced his opposition to the film, and has tried to get it banned. That’s unfortunate, because it actually shows us a side of McMahon that wrestling fans seldom if ever get to see. The film is fair in its depiction, and Blaustein never takes sides. He just shows us the way it is, and even if you don’t like professional wrestling, you can’t deny the film’s impact and honesty. (Universal)


The writing is on the wall, but the performances and situations leap off the screen in director Lasse Hallstrom’s delicate “The Cider House Rules.” Based on John Irving’s coming-of-age novel, “The Cider House Rules” is a heartfelt Valentine to the wonder of the human spirit. The writing on the wall is a list of rules posted inside a migratory farm worker’s bungalow. They don’t mean much to the current occupants, who can’t even read the list. It’s only when educated newcomer Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) arrives to help pick apples that the farm workers are aware of the rules, which they instantly dismiss. The leader of the workers, Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo), declares that each man has to live by his own rules. Words of wisdom that are at the core of “The Cider House Rules.” Rules are made and broken in Irving’s touching screenplay, which deals with weighty issues but never feels top heavy. Click on title for complete review. (Miramax)


Dimension Home Video digs into their Jet Li vault and pulls out another Hong Kong import, this one starring Li as a bodyguard trying to stay alive while protecting his latest client, a witness to a murder. Christy Chung is lovely and sprite as Michelle, the girlfriend of a wealthy businessman who hires Hui Ching-Yeung (Li) to protect her from assassins. Things heat up between Hui and Michelle, who fall in love while dodging bullets and the bad guys. The production values are typical for a Li import, while the dubbing is adequate to get the job done without too much distraction. (Dimension)


She has hair that would make Paul Mitchell cry and a wardrobe so tacky even Madonna would cringe. She has two ex-husbands, three kids, $17,000 in debt and $73 in the bank. She drives a piece of junk on four wheels, and is out of work. She was once a beauty queen, but the only court she could reside over right now has trailers parked in it. She’s Erin Brockovich, a thirty-something woman who desperately needs a break. Erin gets more than that when her car is sideswiped in an accident. Clearly the victim, Erin seeks out an attorney to present her case. Under recommendation, she arrives at the office of Ed Masry, who has built up a modest practice representing people just like Erin. In movie terms, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Even though Masry didn’t win Erin’s case, he eventually offered her an entry level clerk job. Desperate to prove that there’s some brains under her beauty, Erin dives into a pro bono case pitting some small desert town residents against their local utility company. At first it looks like a minor real estate dispute, but the deeper she goes, the more sinister it becomes. Click on title for complete review. (Universal)


Andy Lawrence is adorable as nine-year-old Mitch Musser, whose campaign to save an old tree stands in the way of his father’s plans to build a new factory. Tree huggers will appreciate the effort, which deals with how a child perceives the world around him, while adults will find enough pleasure in the emotional conflicts faced by his parents, well played by Robert Forster and Naomi Judd. Forster is especially appealing as a man who loves his son and understands his determination, but also understands that the new factory is the only thing that will revive their poor town. The personal conflict is serviceable, but it’s the cast that makes the film so warm and inviting. Director Duane Clark doesn’t stand on a soapbox, but allows the message to filter through the characters. Rated G, “Family Tree” is available for sell-through at $19.95. (Warner)


I’ve always come to expect the unexpected from director Jim Jarmusch, and “Ghost Dog” is one of his most delightful surprises. Always one to mix cultures, Jarmusch delivers a mobster film with Samurai sensibilities. Tossed into the mix is an effective, electrifying hip hop score that not only works in the film, but stands alone as well. Forest Whitaker is excellent as Ghost Dog, an elusive hit man who lives along in a rooftop shack and uses carrier pigeons to communicate with the outside world. When he’s not studying the codes of the Samurai, Ghost Dog accepts contracts from a mobster named Louie. They have never met, but share a long history. Ghost Dog’s reluctance to kill an innocent woman at a hit turns him into a marked man by the mob, run by two old timers played by Cliff Gorman and Henry Silva. They assign their best men to kill him, a order that backfires on them. Aware that he is an endangered species, Ghost Dog decides to clean up all old business before moving on with his life. Never one to settle, Jarmusch raises the stakes by making all of the characters interesting and vital. Among Ghost Dog’s friends is an ice cream vendor who doesn’t speak English, and a young African-American girl whose natural curiosity appeals to Ghost Dog. Even the mobsters are genuinely funny, listening to rap as they plot their next move. Highly recommended, one of Jarmusch’s best films and a grand piece of entertainment. (Artisan)


Despite good intentions and a starry cast, “It’s The Rage” is an embarrassment of riches. This statement on gun control manages to waste a good cast in several vignettes that deal with the terrors of firearms. Director James D. Stern doesn’t just hit the nail on the head, he drives the point home until it’s unbearable. The cast is more than generous, with Jeff Daniels and Joan Allen leading the ensemble as a married couple on the brink of divorce. Their dilemma sets into motion a merry-go-round of violence as we are introduced to the people who surround their lives, all facing issues dealing with guns. Some of the lessons in Keith Redoin’s screenplay are heartfelt, but then it goes too far and starts preaching. Watch as Gary Sinise, Andre Braugher, David Schwimmer, Josh Brolin, Anna Paquin, Giovanni Ribisi and Robert Forster go through the paces. (Columbia-TriStar)


Not the “Jason & The Argonauts” I grew up with, but an agreeable remake. Gone are the classic Ray Harryhausen visual effects, and in are numerous computer generated replacements. Jason London stars as Jason, seeking to reclaim his throne. Instead, the Gods insist that he track down and return the magical Golden Fleece. Jason recruits a crew of worthy sailors, and sets sail for the Fleece. His journey is filled with all sort of adventures and danger, including monsters or the sea and land, and vengeful Gods desperate to keep Jason from achieving his goal. The visual look of the film is authentic, and London makes an adequate Jason. The supporting cast is just as animated as the CGI effects, including Dennis Hopper, Brian Thompson and Frank Langella. Not a classic, but a brave and bold attempt that looks sensational. (Artisan)


Hokum about an undercover reporter investigating a string of supernatural events that eventually lead back to her own front door. Cynthia Preston is only marginally interesting as Ali Crane, the reporter who begins to take is personally when a series of unexplained events begin to haunt her. Christopher Lloyd looks like he’s passing time as her partner. Not much here except Adrian Paul as Crane’s creepy new boyfriend. (Artisan)


William Shakespeare’s driving tale of passion and revenge is turned into a visually stunning epic by director Julie Taylor. The director of the stage version of “The Lion King” has created a film that is both exciting and dull. You can’t take your eyes off the visual eye candy, and the performers are strong and enduring. It’s the pace of the film that wreaks havoc, robbing the film of it’s urgency and dynamic. Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange are stupendous, delivering powerful performances that literally get under your skin. (Fox)


AFTER LIFE (NR/New Yorker)



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