This guide covers "family films" plus movies that could become blockbusters or may especially pique the interest of teenagers. Only films with G ratings are tagged as all-family fare by Hollywood. Most have stronger MPAA ratings that call for extra alertness from parents.
During the summer, this guide for families and the Monitor's more comprehensive movie guide will appear on alternate Fridays.
Our star ratings (see below) indicate the overall quality of movies, not their suitability for children. The rating preceding the sumamry is from Monitor staff critic David Sterritt, the rating following is from a panel of at lease three Monitor reviewers.
Film Critic Monitor Panel Meaning
o o Forget it
* * Poor
** ** Fair
*** *** Good
**** **** Excellent
THE ADVENTURE OF PINOCCHIO [G]
**** Directed by Steve Barron. With Martin Landau, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Genevieve Bujold, Udo Keir, Bebe Neuwirth. Running time: 96 minutes.
PLOT: A puppeteer carves a piece of wood into a marionette that comes to life and has many adventures before turning into a real boy.
MESSAGE: Being true to yourself and avoiding temptation are the best routes to true happiness in life.
SEX, PROFANITY, DRUGS/ALCOHOL: None.
VIOLENCE: Scenes of fighting between Pinocchio and human beings who give him a hard time, a frightening fire scene, a harrowing escape from the belly of a sea monster, and a scary scene where naughty boys turn into animals at a nightmarish amusement park.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME [G]
**** Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. With the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline. Running time: 86 minutes. ***
PLOT: Victor Hugo's tragic hero becomes a candidate for the Seven Dwarfs, frolicking with cute little gargoyles when he isn't busy helping a handsome soldier save a beautiful gypsy from an evil judge.
MESSAGE: Have confidence in yourself even when your good qualities aren't appreciated.
SEX, PROFANITY: None.
VIOLENCE Four scenes involve attempted stabbings, and at one point, the hero appears to have been killed by an arrow. Villain finally falls into pool of molten iron.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL: Two scenes with wine drinking.
** Directed by Alan Shapiro. With Elijah Wood, Paul Hogan. Running time: 96 minutes. ***
PLOT: Adventures of a boy who wishes his life was happier, a dolphin who becomes his unusual new friend, and a crusty old uncle who loves them both.
MESSAGE: Family and friends are always valuable, and good things may swim unexpectedly into your life.
PROFANITY: Three instances.
VIOLENCE: Contains graphic fishing scenes that could upset young children. Also, Paul Hogan punches out the bad guy.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL: One bar scene, and one scene involving cigar smoking.
HARRIT THE SPY [PG]
*** Directed by Bronwen Hughes. With Michelle Trachtenberg, Rosie O'Donnell, Robert Joy, Eartha Kitt. Running time: 96 minutes. ***
PLOT: A sixth-grade girl loves to watch the world and jot her observations in a notebook, but grownups are unhappy when this interferes with school and kids complain when her writing criticizes them.
MESSAGE: Creativity is fine, but it should be balanced with other parts of life.
SEX, DRUGS/ALCOHOL: None.
VIOLENCE: Harriet slaps a classmate across the face; scary pictures are seen in a book she reads.
PROFANITY: A little vulgar talk.
*** Directed by Jon Turteltaub. With John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Forest Whitaker, Kyra Sedgwick. Running time: 117 minutes. ***
PLOT: An ordinary man gets zapped by a mysterious light-flash and acquires a lightning-quick mind, an unquenchable appetite for knowledge, and the ability to move objects at a distance - all of which frightens his friends and neighbors.
MESSAGE: The human spirit is greater and has more potential than can be understood by technologies and philosophies that try to explain it in material or mystical terms.
SEX: Brief nudity - a person moons someone.
VIOLENCE: One scene in which a character slides a beer mug across the bar into other patrons.
PROFANITY: About seven instances.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL: A number of bar scenes where patrons are drinking.
OTHER: Discussion of the hero's medical condition, and a bittersweet ending involving death.
INDEPENDENCE DAY [PG-13]
** Directed by Roland Emmerich. With Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Mary McDonnell, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Judd Hirsch, Harvey Fierstein, Adam Baldwin, Vivica A. Fox. Running time: 145 minutes. ***
PLOT: A soldier, a scientist, a crop-dusting pilot, and the president of the United States are among the heroes who save Earth in a battle with outer-space invaders.
MESSAGE: People can pull together when faced with a common enemy.
SEX: About five sexual situations; one scene in a striptease club.
VIOLENCE: 17 instances, from the destruction of American landmarks to the president firing on a craft from a fighter jet.
PROFANITY: About 25 instances.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL: At least 12 instances, including six with cigars. One character is always drunk.
** Directed by Harold Ramis. With Michael Keaton, Andie MacDowell. Running time: 117 minutes. ***
PLOT: Caught in a job that allows him too little time with his family, a busy man allows a scientist to clone him - which seems like a great idea until more clones start arriving, each of lower quality than the last.
MESSAGE: Trouble will follow if you don't decide to be yourself, manage your own problems, and always tell the truth.
SEX: Quite a lot of implied sex and bedroom scenes with much innuendo.
VIOLENCE: Three instances of arguing, fighting, or damaging property.
PROFANITY: At least 12 instances, plus an obscene gesture.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL: At least eight instances of alcohol consumption, alcohol being present, or cigarette smoking.
THE NUTTY PROFESSOR [PG-13]
** Directed by Tom Shadyac. With Eddie Murphy, Jada Pinkett, James Coburn. Running time: 95 minutes. ***
PLOT: An overweight scientist slims down with a potion he's cooked up, creating a new self who's brash, aggressive, and unpredictable.
MESSAGE: It's better to be yourself than to follow the crowd.
SEX: Two scenes, sexual innuendoes throughout.
VIOLENCE : About three instances.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL: Nightclub scenes, and the professor's potion is a sort of drug.
** Directed by Jan de Bont. With Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt. Running time: 114 minutes. **
PLOT: A handsome scientist spends half his time studying tornadoes from a front-row seat, the other half wobbling between his new girlfriend and his about-to-be-divorced wife.
MESSAGE: Courage is an important value for people who want to help the world, and it's all right to laugh at natural disasters like tornadoes from the safety of a movie theater.
SEX: Implied but not graphic.
VIOLENCE: Lots of weather-related violence.
COURAGE UNDER FIRE [R]
*** Directed by Edward Zwick. With Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Michael Moriarty, Lou Diamond Phillips. Running time: 120 minutes. uuu
PLOT: An officer uncovers a tangled story as he conducts an investigation into whether a medal should be posthumously bestowed on a female soldier killed in the Persian Gulf war.
MESSAGE: Truth can be hard to determine, especially when factors like wartime violence and gender stereotypes are involved.
SEX: One sexual reference.
VIOLENCE: Explicit violence in combat scenes: air bombardments, tank warfare, nighttime attacks, and battlefield aftermath. Also, a suicide scene involving a car and train.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL: A main character is an alcoholic; a secondary character is a drug addict.
* Directed by Charles Russell. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Caan, Vanessa Williams, James Coburn. Running time: 115 minutes. ***
PLOT: A witness-protection agent battles his treacherous boss over a weapons-smuggling operation, with help from a man whose life he saved at the beginning of the story.
MESSAGE: Violence is necessary to beat a violent and dangerous enemy, and prior good deeds may pay dividends when most needed.
VIOLENCE: Contains more than a dozen minutes-long scenes of extreme violence, including man-eating alligators, a graphic suicide scene, gory flesh wounds, and multiple murders.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL: One scene in drag-queen bar.
* Directed by Kevin Hooks. With Laurence Fishburne, Stephen Baldwin, Will Patton, Robert Hooks, Salma Hayek. Running time: 105 minutes. *
PLOT: Two men, one black and one white, flee a Georgia prison gang and enter a complicated mix of action and intrigue centering on a missing computer disk.
MESSAGE: Racial and other differences take a back seat when people face common enemies.
SEX: Much innuendo, nudity, and a long scene in a striptease club.
VIOLENCE: A large amount of explicit, blood-splattered violence. Mayhem includes shootouts, car chases and crashes, knife cuttings, fistfights, torture, and death fall.
PROFANITY: At least 66 instances.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL: Much drinking.
THE FRIGHTENERS [R]
* Directed by Peter Jackson. With Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Jeffrey Combs, Dee Wallace Stone, Jake Busey, Chi McBride, Jim Fyfe. Running time: 106 minutes. **
PLOT: A cut-rate ghostbuster feuds with an ectoplasmic bad guy who's continuing a murder spree he started when he was still alive.
MESSAGE: The dead can menace the living, and a con artist can use his skills to help in a bad situation.
SEX: A little cartoonish sex in a scene with a ghost and a mummy.
VIOLENCE: More than 25 graphic scenes of frightful, destructive, realistic, and surrealistic bloody mayhem. 41 murders are committed, most off-screen, but others are shown in graphic detail. Filled with slow-motion stabbings, body mutilations, beatings, graveyard machine-gunning, and crash scenes. Highly unsuitable for children.
PROFANITY: More than 30 instances.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL: One scene with a cigar. Wine is served in a restaurant scene.
OTHER: Ghostly images may be frightening, especially to young viewers.
A TIME TO KILL [R]
* Directed by Joel Schumacher. With Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, Brenda Fricker, Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, Donald Sutherland, Patrick McGoohan. Running time: 128 minutes. ***
PLOT: A white attorney defends a black worker on trial in a Mississippi town for killing the men who abducted and raped his young daughter.
MESSAGE: The evils of racism are powerful and prevalent in the South, and personal vengeance is justified when an awful crime may not be properly punished by the law.
SEX: Horrifying rape scene of a 10-year-old is implied but not pictured directly. It is later described in detail in a courtroom.
VIOLENCE: Two shooting scenes; two beatings; several cross burnings, including a house burned to the ground; one man set on fire during a protest.
PROFANITY: A few instances. Several epithets directed toward blacks.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL: Two secondary characters are alcoholics. Drinking scenes are innumerable. Rape carried out by two beer guzzlers.