Glenn Close, Jeff Daniels

John Hughes served as screenwriter and coproducer of this live-action version of Disney's classic 1961 cartoon, which explains why it plays like Home Alone with dogs.

Glenn Close, as Cruella DeVil, the fur-crazed villainess determined to stitch together an ensemble from the spotted pelts of dalmatian pups, would seem ideal casting. But Close, who can usually be relied on to pluck out some humor when she sinks her talons into a nasty role, is neither funny nor frightening, just vividly eccentric—Auntie Mame in the clutches of Satan. Close's performance is irrelevant, anyhow. She and her henchmen exist, like the robbers in Home, as vehicles for violent comedy involving electric wire, pig slop and loose planks. Dalmatians is indifferent to cruelty to humans.

Daniels and Joely Richardson, as the owners of Pongo and Perdy, whose puppies are Close's prey, make a warm, romantic couple. The dogs don't make much of an impression at all. Real dalmatians are beautiful but blank-looking, the fashion models of the canine world. And, unlike Disney's cartoon characters, they don't talk.

The movie is stolen by an Airedale who hops on his hind legs. (G)

Patrick Stewart, James Cromwell, LeVar Burton, Alfre Woodard

With all the obsessive fan behavior and the self-important attitudinizing of the Trek producers, it's easy to forget how much fun Star Trek can be. This large-scale adventure—full of warmth and wit as well as lots of gadgetry and pyrotechnics—is nothing if not lots of fun.

The Stewart-led actors from the Next Generation TV series are clearly superior to the old William Shatner-led starship Enterprise crew, whose hair-pieces certainly will not be missed.

First Contact (see story, page 146), the eighth Trek movie, also has a relatively coherent plot, one that relates to a two-part episode of the TV series in which Stewart is captured by the Borg, the communal cyberborgs who are the creepiest and scariest of Trek villains.

Going back in time to attack Earth, the Borg aim to prevent the first friendly contact between humans and aliens, a meeting that would lead to formation of the intergalactic Federation for whom the Enterprise flies. As the relentless, almost invulnerable Borg advance, Stewart begins to flash back to the time when he was captured and "assimilated" by the Borg.

Writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore keep the time-travel paradoxes sorted out; actor and director Jonathan Frakes, who plays Cmdr. William Riker on Next Generation, uses his effects nicely and executes a neat twist at the end. There hasn't been a space opera this enjoyable since Star Wars. (PG-13)

Paul Scofield, Bruce Davison, Daniel Day-Lewis, Joan Allen, Winona Ryder

Passionate, engrossing and invigo-ratingly intelligent, this historical drama easily succeeds on all its levels. Superficially the plot is an account of the notorious witchery trials of 1692 in Salem, Mass. The screenplay was adapted by Arthur Miller from his own masterful 1953 play, which used the trials, fascinating enough on their own, as a parable for the then contemporary persecutions of suspected Communists during the McCarthy era. Yet so subtle are Miller and director Nicholas Hytner, you have to look for the McCarthy parallels. Nobody is preaching here.

Ryder is the leader of a gaggle of young women whose defiant midnight ceremonies enrage Puritan Salemites, who level charges of witchcraft against them. Allen, wife of Ryder's former lover Day-Lewis, is also accused of being a witch. While a Salem minister (Davison) and an itinerant witch-hunting clergyman (Robert Campbell) aid the persecution, the venerable Scofield plays the chief judge, and his subtlety is especially striking against the knuckle-gnawing histrionics of Day-Lewis. More of a surprise is the quietly moving performance of Karron Graves as a frightened girl who questions Ryder's testimony. Miller raises issues that resonate far beyond the witch-hunting context and even beyond the red-baiting subtext. Audiences can attend this movie and enjoy the rare sensation of being treated with respect by the people who made it. (PG-13)

>Brawley Nolte

CHIP OFF THE OLD NICK

IT MAY BE PREMATURE TO SAY THAT HE stands at a career crossroads, but Brawley Nolte, the 10-year-old son of actor Nick, admits he's in something of a quandary. Although he has two films in current release—Mother Night, in which he plays the senior Nolte's younger self, and Ransom, in-which he plays Mel Gibson and Rene Russo's kidnapped son—he is wary of child stardom. He's not sure, he says, whether "I want to be an actor or a scientist."

It's not that he doesn't have any fun on the set. One day while shooting Ransom, for example, he came to work with a can of a gooey substance called Gak—and a plan to gross out Russo. "I pretended to sneeze in front of Rene," he says. "And I had Gak hanging out of my nose." But some aspects of his three-month shoot in New York City earlier this year proved trying. "Being away from home was the toughest thing in my life," says Brawley, an only child who lives with his mom, model Rebecca Linger, 37, in Fort Lauderdale. "I missed my friends at school."

So much so that when Disney executives asked him to attend the film's premiere in Los Angeles last month, Brawley declined. "They wanted him to go, but he didn't want to miss his Halloween party," says his father, Nick, 56, who separated from Linger after 10 years of marriage in 1994—they later divorced—but still maintains a house nearby, as well as one in Malibu. "I honestly don't know if he even wants to continue acting or not. It is entirely up to him. I'll support him either way."

Now, as his movies play on screens across America, Brawley is back to doing all the things fifth graders do. Life is good, but Ransom director Ron Howard hopes the kid stays in pictures. "Brawley didn't seem like a windup actor who is on autopilot. He really stood out from the other kid actors," says Howard. "Brawley has a real laconic quality." Sounds like another Nolte we know.

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Ken Baker.