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JANUARY 20, 1998: 

THE BOXER. This slow-moving drama about provincial life in besieged Northern Ireland is somewhat of a knock-down, drag-out affair. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Danny, a former IRA member who returns to his home in West Belfast after 14 years in prison. Though the opening sequences introduce us to the IRA members' fierce loyalties, clandestine meetings and passionate toasts to "the prisoners" and "the prisoner's wives," Danny-boy strangely receives only frosty looks and stern warnings from his former friends and leaders. When he sets about reopening the boxing gym where he trained as a youth--a facility open to all faiths--suspicions and rivalries reach a fever pitch. More dangerous than his apolitical silence in the ring, however, is the unspoken threat that he's back for Maggie (Emily Watson), his childhood love who's now under the district's watchful, paternalistic eye as the wife of a prisoner. Though by far the best movie of recent memory to tackle the tragic violence and hatred wrought by IRA activity, The Boxer is strangely boring, relying more on contrived images and meaningful looks than emotive and revealing storytelling. Though The Boxer has all the right moves, it lacks the punch writer-director Jim Sheridan delivered with In The Name of the Father and My Left Foot. --Wadsworth


FIRESTORM. The manipulatively dramatic music, derivative and heavy-handed shooting, and overblown but obviously meaningless action sequences of the first 20 minutes of this film made me feel like a 12-year-old being held down by bullies as I was repeatedly punched in the stomach while they shouted "faggot" at me. As the blazing inferno of motion slowed to allow for the requisite expository dialogue sequence (which lasted another 20 minutes), my emotional anguish mellowed into the steady and inhibiting ache one has upon realizing that it's been exactly one year since a loved one passed away. When this mixture of sorrow and humiliation had thoroughly numbed me to thoughts of movement, my companion, heroically, whispered to me, "Just how much more of this crap do you have to sit through to write a review?" "No more," I cried. "No more." --DiGiovanna


GOOD WILL HUNTING. Gus Van Sant directs this movie about a self-educated mathematical genius, Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a janitor who mops floors at MIT. Secretly, he's smarter than all the students and most of the professors, too. When the educated world discovers Will, he's torn between his beer-drinking, fiercely loyal buddies and the unfamiliar world of academics. Oh yeah, there's a sexy Harvard girl (Minnie Driver) in his life, too. Robin Williams plays the psychologist who tries to help Will figure out what to do with his amazing gift. There's a lot of good acting; and the screenplay, by Will Damon and Ben Affleck, can be pretty funny at points, though it tends to drift into sentimentality. Van Sant has a real talent for creating arresting visual images; he does it a little here, when he gets a chance, but a film about the inner life and psychological changes of a young boy doesn't really let him flex his muscles. Perhaps he should see a psychologist and get in touch with his gift. --Richter


TITANIC. To anybody who sees this movie expecting subtlety and impeccable historical detail: What planet are you from? This is James Cameron we're talking about--the guy whose last movie ended with a kiss in front of a mushroom cloud. Titanic is hardly trying to steal fire from Merchant/Ivory films. What's surprising, though, is how well the movie's simple romance carries the spectacular disaster effects, and how well the poor-boy/rich-girl aspect emphasizes the class stratification on the ship. (I'd take the hot little triangle of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Billy Zane over a boring group of Poseidon Adventure-style sufferers any day.) Cameron has always been a workmanlike director, and despite multitudes of hackneyed situations and hokey lines, his by-the-numbers romantic scenario gets the job done--so well, in fact, that the little story and big one somehow manage to merge and transcend themselves. At least for this reviewer, by film's end Titanic became unexpectedly moving, visually arresting and haunting. --Woodruff


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