Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia

Ring bells in the graveyards. The Addamses, that close-knit clan created by cartoonist Charles Ad-dams in The New Yorker in the '30s and later popularized in The Addams Family TV series (1964—66), have arrived on the big screen with their joie de mart intact. The movie's plot—an Uncle Fester impostor and his cohorts are after the family's fortune—is merely serviceable, and there's a draggy section when the Addamses are banished from their mansion, but basically the movie is a blast.

Kids especially will revel in the family's blissfully fiendish world, one in which little Wednesday and Pugsley Addams amuse themselves by playing Electric Chair and Guillotine. At a school assembly where other children sing the saccharine "Getting to Know You," the Addams offspring make their parents proud by declaiming Hamlet while hacking limbs off each other with swords and drenching the audience in fake blood.

For adults, the pleasures are more muted. There's a plenitude of witty lines (" 'We feast on those who would subdue us'—not just pretty words," boasts Anjelica Huston as matriarch Morticia, reciting the family motto) and a top-drawer cast (Raul Julia as Gomez, Christopher Lloyd as Fester and Elizabeth Wilson as Abigail Craven) that adroitly negotiates the delicate line between playing camp and character. The actors, helped by first-time director Barry Sonnenfeld, manage to find the hearts, however black, of their cartoon characters. Huston, cadaverously sexy as Morticia, is first among equals though, to be lair, she does have all the best lines. She is, for instance, delighted to attend an auction to raise money for "widows and orphans—we need more of them." The Addamses—we need more of them. (PG-13)

Glenn Close, Niels Arestrup

Zoltan Szanto (Arestrup) is a conductor unknown outside his native Hungary. But that should change with his new assignment: stewardship of the Opera Europa's avant-garde production of Wagner's Tannhauser, starring Swedish diva Karin Anderson (Close, with an accent that wavers between hoarding-school British, American and Middle European). Meeting Venus paints a vivid, convincing picture of the behind-the-scenes hysteria, histrionics and highly active hormones indigenous to opera.

Equally striking are the impossible conditions—a metaphor for Europe's political unrest—under which the dedicated, frustrated Szanto must toil. The tenor has a sore throat, the management is squabbling, the chorus wants to change its rehearsal schedule, the dancers are on strike, union problems won't quit, and Karin, at least initially, offers Szanto nothing but contempt and high notes.

What is not convincing is the affair between conductor and diva. The married Szanto, wonderfully played by the French-born Arestrup, is warned that Anderson has already mined several conductors, yet nothing about the way the role is written or Close's performance suggests a woman with the power to intrigue, let alone min. It's baffling to hear an anguished Szanto say, "I only know I'm not talented without you," and to see him bang on her hotel door late at night and, when denied access, howl up to her from the street. (PG-13)

Animated

Whoopee-ti-yi-yo, git along, little nudnicks, it's time to go West and seek the American dream. That's the theme of Steven Spielberg's ebullient sequel to his 1986 box office bonanza, An American Tail.

In this version, the Mousekewitz family, that rococo clan of rodents that American viewers came to love when it first emigrated from Russia, has learned the harsh lesson that the streets of fin de siècle New York City are not "paved with cheese." And so, inspired by young Fievel's dream of becoming a sheriff like his hero, Wylie Burp (not to mention free train tickets dispensed by the nefarious Cat R. Waul), the Mousekewitzes pack their bags and head for the distant, sun-drenched hills.

Naturally, more perils abound at journey's end, along with rowdy laughs and a freshet of new songs (best number: Fievel's sister Tanya knocks 'em dead in a bucket-o'-blood saloon with a rousing rendition of "The Girl I Left Behind"). Voices from the original (young Phillip Glasser as Fievel and Dom DeLuise as his pal Tiger) mingle marvelously with those of Amy Irving as the seductive Miss Kitty, John Cleese as the shabby gentleman tabby Waul and the venerable Jimmy Stewart, now 83, who brings his patented hiccuping drawl to Wylie Burp. Prudent moms and dads will make sure their holiday plans include Tail as well as Beauty and the Beast, or they'll never hear the end of it this season. (G)

Joshua Miller, Edan Gross

How's this for a subtitle: "And you think this movie is derivative." How derivative? Let's not mention names, but the initials are E.T.

Josh (Miller) and Max (Gross) are mourning the loss of their father. Matthew, an inventor who committed suicide two years earlier. Inventors themselves, they have built a short, cute, highly complicated robot called Newman. While playing telephone-to-heaven at a Halloween party, Josh manages to contact his dad (Alan Thicke), who returns to Earth, lakes up residence in Newman's casing and boasts of his friendships with Napoleon and Einstein. Tunis out Matthew didn't commit suicide at all; he was trying to dodge a skunk when his car went over a cliff. Now is his chance to make up for the inattentiveness that marked his time on earth.

He plays Frisbee with his sons ("I've got good hands, considering that they're aluminum"), rumbas with his wife (Marcia Strassman), gives her a foot massage and contrives to ensure the family's financial future. While Miller and Cross are fine, natural performers, the script, which has a subplot involving a nosy television reporter and a nefarious father-son bully team, is as metallic as Newman's frame. (PC)

Belle Midler, James Caan

This is a big, sprawling movie with a schmaltzy showbiz heart at its center. You'll like it, but you won't respect yourself the next morning.

It is Midler's movie from start to finish—no surprise, since she produced it and hired as its director Mark Rydell, a sure-handed Hollywood veteran who helped her land an Oscar nomination for The Rose (1979). With Boys, Midler and Rydell have made, in the best sense, an old-fashioned movie, but one that keeps tripping on its overstuffed plot and jam-packed political agenda.

Boys is about the relationship, platonic with a one-night exception, between singer Dixie Leonard (Midler) and comedian Eddie Sparks (Caan), who team up to entertain troops during World War II. Fifty years (and 2 hours, 28 minutes) later, Dixie and Eddie have sung and spatted their way through an early '50s TV show, the Korean War, blacklisting, Vietnam and the combat deaths of Dixie's husband and son (inexplicably, the movie bypasses the civil rights movement). This is enough plot and polemicizing for three movies, and way too much for one.

Early in Boys, there's a long, bravura segment when Dixie first joins Eddie that will have you wishing Hollywood was making musicals again. Midler sings several great '40s songs, tells smutty jokes ("Alone in the dark with thousands of men—there is a god after all!") and toddles all over the stage in her signature high-heeled gait. This is the Bette Midler her early fans know and love, the bawdy Bette the formula-bound folks at Disney never gave complete rein to. (Boys is a Twentieth Century Fox film.) She's in top form here, in both the comic and the dramatic scenes, and Caan, to his credit, holds his own. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • Mark Goodman.