Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis

One would like to have been a fly on the wall—or, in this case, a bee—when this movie's development team first met. "Let's set it in the '70s," they probably began. "The '70s are big now, and that way we can wring some laughs out of a meditation scene and some Nixon references. But we need wacky. So let's set it in a funeral home and have the mortician [Aykroyd] play the tuba. And let's give him a senile mother who interrupts funerals by singing standards. And let's have him fall in love with a makeup artist [Curtis] who lives in a trailer with a cuckoo clock.

"Now we need some sad stuff. Let's have the mortician's daughter [Anna Chlumsky] be a hypochondriacal Huck Finn who believes she killed her mother, and let her have a sort of sad-sack friend [Macaulay Culkin] who dies. Did I say dies? Well, screen cancer has been done to death. How about something new—a bee sting!"

Hollywood and the media have been abuzz for weeks about My Girl, partly because it's Culkin's first starring role since stealing the country's heart in Home Alone, partly because it was a poorly kept secret that he doesn't make it alive to the closing credits.

How, everyone wondered, would his screen death affect young viewers? Their parents should proceed with caution, since Culkin is pictured in a coffin. But there are plenty of other reasons to be troubled by this movie, beginning with a script that gives characters quirks rather than personalities. Curtis and Aykroyd do their best with very little. Chlumsky (see story, page V.YA) and Culkin are a charming pair, but their relationship is not sufficiently developed to involve viewers. Under no circumstances should audiences believe that a movie capable of wringing tears is a good movie. Onions do the same job—and a lot more honestly. (PG)

Peter Coyote, Amanda Pays

Sadists will love this film. It opens with a close-up of a knife slicing through a woman's cheek, features several bloody stabbings (one with garden shears), a rape, an eye-gouging and—extra points for whoever thought up this one—a man being forced to eat cockroaches. All in the name of art, of course, for this is a thriller with intellectual pretensions.

Exposure is about an American photographer (Coyote) working in Rio de Janeiro, who decides after thugs stab him and brutalize his girlfriend (lovely Pays, who deserves better roles) that he can no longer hide behind his camera lens. "To observe wasn't enough anymore," he says.

Does this sound familiar? It should. First-time feature-film director Walter Salles Jr.'s murky new movie is pretty much an updated, vest-pocket version of Straw Dogs, Sam Peckinpah's gruesome 1971 revenge drama about a meek mathematician (Dustin Hoffman) who turns bloodthirsty after his wife is raped. With a nod to Death Wish, Exposure piles up as many corpses as Dogs, but it lacks the latter's brutal verve.

In fact, Exposure turns stupendously silly when Coyote, a gangly, laid-back actor who can be sexy in a brainy, associate-professor kind of way, turns into Action Man. Electing to seek his revenge via the blade, he signs up for knife-fighting lessons with the mono-named Hermes (Turkish-born actor Tcheky Karyo), described as a "master per-sev," short for perforate and sever. Solemnly ritualistic, the how-to-stab-correctly scenes, which seem to take up nearly a third of the movie, feel like recycled Kung Fu episodes—except, fortunately, Coyote's instructor isn't blind. (R)

Irene Jacob

Veronika and Veronique (both played by Jacob) are, unbeknownst to one another, physical doubles and spiritual soulmates, born under the same star in 1966. One is Polish, the other French. They share a devotion to music, deeply felt romantic passions and a lyrical sense of life's romantic promise. Each has a vague emotional awareness of the other but no physical evidence save a snapshot that Veronique, as a tourist behind the Iron Curtain at the moment of its breakdown in 1990, unwittingly took of Veronika in Krakow.

Director Krzysztof Kieslowski, whose 1988 film The Decalogue earned plaudits in Europe for its 10-part depiction of Warsaw life as viewed through each of the Ten Commandments, is an often maddening virtuoso of the enigmatic. In the dual lives of Veronika/Veronique he may well be commenting on the dislocation felt by Eastern Europeans who in the post-Soviet vacuum suddenly find themselves suffused by Western life. In any case, Kieslowski, as he weaves complementary tales of life lost and hope realized, knows how to intrigue an audience—and in Veronique, the agent of intrigue is Jacob, who won the Best Actress Award at this year's Cannes Film Festival for her twin portraits. A luminous, full-lipped beauty with eyes as dark and entrancing as an underground spring, Jacob also shows an instinctive emotional empathy for her characters that can only ripen in the coming years. (R)

Sir John Gielgud

All the world's a stage for the works of William Shakespeare, but the film director had best wield his camera with care or the bard's subtleties will get lost in the glare. That's precisely what happens in this, Peter Greenaway's gaudily interpretive version of The Tempest. Indeed, it looks as if poor Prospero, Duke of Milan, and his beloved books have been banished not to a distant isle but to Hugh Hefner's mansion. The great Gielgud, playing Prospero as an imperious imp, is in splendid form, but his fine work is lost amid the tempest's howl, wandering nudes and a slinky Caliban who could be found in any lower Manhattan dance studio. Alas, even with Gielgud's six decades of glorious experience brought to bear, it is a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing but ornate pretension. (R)

Sachiko Murase, Richard Gere

It is nearing Aug. 9, 1990, the 45th anniversary of the atom bomb blast over Nagasaki. In a tiny village on the far side of the mountain from that city, an ancient woman who survived the attack (Murase) now enjoys the simple pleasure of her grandchildren's presence for summer vacation. They represent a new generation: the older boy and girl wear MIT and USC sweatshirts, and one of the younger kids confesses that the blast "seems only like a scary fairy tale."

Not, of course, to Grandmother, who lost her husband in the firestorm "when the sky split open." Despite this, she tells the children, she no longer hates Americans. "The war," she says, "was to blame."

Blame is, indeed, not to be meted out here, says the master Japanese director, Akira (The Seven Samurai, Rashomon) Kurosawa. In his deliberate style, the venerable filmmaker, now 81, has etched a work so delicate that it seems to have sprung from a Japanese watercolor rather than the flames of Nagasaki. The one clumsy stroke: Gere as Grandmother's nephew, whose heritage is brought home to him a shade too easily during his visit to Nagasaki.

The value of the film, though, lies in the lesson that Kurosawa imparts through the old woman's pain—namely, that the world must not forget, or else mankind could be condemned to suffer another Nagasaki. (PG)

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