Family Movie Guide

This guide includes "family films," potential blockbusters, and movies that might interest young people. 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.

The Family Movie Guide and the Monitor's more-comprehensive movie guide appear on alternate Fridays.

Our star ratings indicate the overall quality of movies, not their suitability for children. Star ratings that precede the credits are by Monitor critic David Sterritt. Star ratings that follow the credits are from a Monitor panel of at least three viewers.

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Film Critic Monitor Panel Meaning

o o Forget it

* * Poor

** ** Fair

*** *** Good

**** **** Excellent

L5: FIRST CITY IN SPACE [Not rated]

**** Directed by Toni Myers and Allan Kroeker. With Rachel Walker, Denis Akiyama, Colin Fox, Genevieve Langlois, Martha Henry. Running time: 35 minutes.

PLOT A seven-year-old girl grows up in a humanly made city between Earth and the moon, and she looks on as her father single-handedly solves a water-supply problem that threatens the community's existence.

MESSAGE Technology will make life richer and happier in the future.

SEX, VIOLENCE, PROFANITY, DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

MICROCOSMOS [G]

**** Directed by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou. With members of the insect kingdom. Running time: 77 minutes.

PLOT A close-up look at the world of insects.

MESSAGE Insect life is varied and colorful.

SEX, PROFANITY, DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

VIOLENCE Some natural violence among insects.

SMALL WONDERS [G]

**** Directed by Allan Miller. With Roberta Guaspari-Tzavaras, Isaac Stern. Running time: 80 minutes.

PLOT A dedicated New Yorker helps change the lives of inner-city children by teaching them to play the violin and helping them showcase their achievements at Carnegie Hall.

MESSAGE Devoted teaching can work wonders despite arts-related budget cuts and other obstacles.

SEX, VIOLENCE, PROFANITY, DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

THE FIRST WIVES CLUB [PG]

*** Directed by Hugh Wilson. With Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, Maggie Smith, Dan Hedaya, Marcia Gay Harden, Bronson Pinchot. Running time: 105 minutes. ***

PLOT Outraged that their husbands have left them for younger companions, three middle-aged women get together and plot revenge.

MESSAGE Women can fight sexism through solidarity and single-mindedness.

SEX None, but a sensual atmosphere in some scenes.

VIOLENCE A little comic fighting.

PROFANITY A few four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL A few drinking scenes, and one main character is a problem drinker.

THE GRASS HARP [PG]

*** Directed by Charles Matthau. With Walter Matthau, Edward Furlong, Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Nell Carter. Running time: 107 minutes.

PLOT A boy is raised in the South by his highly eccentric aunts and their feisty maid.

MESSAGE Eccentrics can teach us worthwhile lessons if we accept them as real and valuable individuals.

SEX, DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

VIOLENCE A little comic fighting.

PROFANITY A few vulgarities.

INFINITY [PG]

*** Directed by Matthew Broderick. With Matthew Broderick, Patricia Arquette, Peter Riegert. Running time: 119 minutes.

PLOT Bright young scientist Richard Feynman falls in love, marries, and cares for his increasingly ill spouse while developing his expertise in physics and working on the Los Alamos nuclear project in the 1940s.

MESSAGE A sincere and dedicated person can lead a good life by balancing personal and professional responsibilities.

SEX A bedroom scene, not too explicit.

VIOLENCE None, but many scenes of illness.

PROFANITY A few vulgar expressions.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL A little beer drinking.

THAT THING YOU DO! [PG]

*** Directed by Tom Hanks. With Tom Hanks, Liv Tyler, Tom Everett Scott, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry. Running time: 110 minutes. ***

PLOT Four young Pennsylvanians start a Beatles-type rock band in the mid-'60s and hope they'll achieve fame with help from a smooth-talking record producer.

MESSAGE Pop culture is a business like any other, but enthusiasm can smooth the path to satisfaction even if major success proves elusive.

SEX/VIOLENCE None.

PROFANITY A few vulgar expressions.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL A little drinking.

LOOKING FOR TICHARD [PG-13]

** Directed by Al Pacino. With Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Winona Ryder, Kevin Spacey, Aidan Quinn, Estelle Parsons, James Earl Jones, Vanessa Redgrave, Kevin Kline, John Gielgud. Running time: 109 minutes.

PLOT Scenes from Shakespeare's play "Richard III" alternate with real-life material about the challenge of making Shakespeare alive and fresh for contemporary audiences.

MESSAGE Shakespeare can speak to modern audiences if staged with skill and sincerity.

SEX, DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

VIOLENCE Fights and killings in scenes from "Richard III."

PROFANITY Several four-letter words.

THE CHAMBER [R]

* Directed by James Foley. With Gene Hackman, Chris O'Donnell, Faye Dunaway. Running time: 125 minutes. **

PLOT A young attorney takes on the defense of his grandfather, a bigoted murderer facing the gas chamber, hoping to stop the execution by any means necessary.

MESSAGE Even the most guilty criminal deserves an earnest defense when the death penalty is at stake.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE Disturbing scenes of mayhem, including a gas-chamber death and a jarring explosion that kills two young children.

PROFANITY Some four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Some drinking.

GET ON THE BUS [R]

* Directed by Spike Lee. With Ossie Davis, Charles Dutton, Richard Belzer, Andre Braugher. Running time: 120 minutes.

PLOT A dozen African-Americans head for the Million Man March on a chartered bus.

MESSAGE Today's racial issues are very complex, overlapping with many other issues of family and morality.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE A little, mostly comic in tone.

PROFANITY Much extremely foul language, including explicit talk about sexual activity.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Some dialogue about drug use.

THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS [R]

* Directed by Stephen Hopkins. With Val Kilmer, Michael Douglas. Running time: 105 minutes. uuu

PLOT A bright young engineer and a grizzled adventurer battle a mysterious menace in the African wilderness.

MESSAGE Macho guys can conquer dangerous problems.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE A great deal, including views of a mutilated corpse and a lion attack on a woman and her baby.

PROFANITY A few vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Some drinking.

JUDE [R]

* Directed by Michael Winterbottom. With Christopher Eccleston, Kate Winslet. Running time: 123 minutes.

PLOT A young 19th-century man and his cousin fall in love despite their marriages to other people, and they encounter much unhappiness in a society that won't tolerate their relationship.

MESSAGE Pursuing unconventional ideas in a conventional society can lead to tragedy for all concerned.

SEX Graphic sex and nudity.

VIOLENCE A very disturbing scene of death involving young children and a scene where an animal is slaughtered.

PROFANITY Some vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT [R]

* Directed by Renny Harlin. With Geena Davis, Samuel L. Jackson. Running time: 103 minutes. *

PLOT A fast-talking private eye helps a mother with amnesia uncover her past as a government assassin and fight her way through a vicious battle while protecting her little girl.

MESSAGE Violence and smooth talking can solve any problem, and parental love can weather any storm.

SEX Strongly implied sexual activity.

VIOLENCE A great deal of killing, shooting, fighting, and other mayhem, much of it very graphic.

PROFANITY A great deal of foul language.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

MICHAEL COLLINS [R]

* Directed by Neal Jordan. With Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Stephen Rea, Julia Roberts, Aidan Quinn. Running time: 117 minutes.

PLOT A bold fighter spearheads Irish rebellion against British rule and debates the proper form of the struggle with a politician who advocates different means to the same end.

MESSAGE Politics and violence have played overlapping roles in Ireland's history during the 20th century.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE Much killing, fighting, and shooting, some of it very explicit and disturbing.

PROFANITY Many four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking scenes.

SECRETS & LIES [R]

* Directed by Mike Leigh. With Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Timothy Spall, Claire Rushbrook. Running time: 144 minutes. ***

PLOT Looking for the biological mother who gave her up for adoption, a middle-class black Englishwoman is surprised to discover that her mom is poor, uneducated, and white.

MESSAGE The past may hold disturbing secrets, but family ties can hold together all the same.

SEX Dialogue about extramarital sex and promiscuity.

VIOLENCE None.

PROFANITY A number of vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Some drinking.

SLEEPERS [R]

* Directed by Barry Levinson. With Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, Bruno Kirby, Jason Patric. Running time: 145 minutes.

PLOT Four men plot revenge for sexual abuse they suffered as children in a reform school.

MESSAGE Sexual abuse can leave scars that last a lifetime, and sometimes a good person is forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.

SEX Scenes of sexual torture inflicted on youngsters, and also a scene of nudity and voyeurism.

VIOLENCE Disturbing scenes of sexual torture, killings, and domestic violence.

PROFANITY Many four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Much drinking, and one character is both an alcoholic and a drug abuser.

SWINGERS [R]

* Directed by Doug Liman. With Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, Patrick Van Horn, Alex Desert, Heather Graham. Running time: 97 minutes.

PLOT A struggling actor reaches for success in Hollywood while pining away for a former girlfriend he left in New York.

MESSAGE Life and work can pose tough challenges if you aren't decisive and self-reliant.

SEX Sexual innuendos, some of it quite strong.

VIOLENCE Some belligerent behavior.

PROFANITY Much vulgar language.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Many drinking and nightclub scenes.

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