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 Freeze Frames movie guide appear on alternate Fridays.

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

o Forget It

* Poor

** Fair

*** Good

**** Excellent

Cats Don't Dance [G]

*** Directed by Mark Dindal. With Scott Bakula, Natalie Cole, Jasmine Guy, Don Knotts. Running time: 80 minutes.

PLOT In the animated film, a cat leaves the Midwest for Hollywood, dreaming of success in silver-screen musicals, but runs afoul of a bratty star who doesn't like animals.

MESSAGE Dreams don't come true easily, but cleverness and perseverance pay off in the long run.

SEX/PROFANITY None.

VIOLENCE Some comic mayhem.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Some drinking.

The Empire Strikes Back [PG]

*** Directed by Irvin Kershner. With Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones. Running time: 118 minutes. ***

PLOT Rulers of the evil Empire fight heroic rebels trying to defeat them, and imperial mastermind Darth Vader takes interest in seducing virtuous Luke Skywalker to the dark side of the Force.

MESSAGE The forces of evil may appear strong and wily, but right-minded determination usually prevails in the end.

SEX/PROFANITY/DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

VIOLENCE Action-movie violence, including brief shots of dismemberment and disembowelment.

Return of the Jedi [PG]

*** Directed by Richard Marquand. With Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams, Alec Guinness. Running time: 133 minutes. ***

PLOT Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo defeat the evil Empire and reclaim Luke's father for the good side of the Force.

MESSAGE Good prevails over evil in the end.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE Great deal of action-movie violence and killing. Some of it involves scary monsters, most of it enhanced with high-tech special effects.

PROFANITY/DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

Selena [PG]

** Directed by Gregory Nava. With Jennifer Lopez, Edward James Olmos. Running time: 130 minutes. ***

PLOT The life of popular Latina singer Selena Quintanilla Perez, from her start in a family rock band to her murder at an early age.

MESSAGE Hard work and talent can conquer obstacles to a music-star career, including prejudice against Mexican-Americans on both sides of the border.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE A harrowing depiction of circumstances surrounding the heroine's violent death.

PROFANITY A few four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

Shiloh [PG]

*** Directed by Dale Rosenbloom. With Blake Heron, Scott Wilson, Michael Moriarty, Ann Dowd, Bonnie Bartlett, Rod Steiger. Running time: 93 minutes.

PLOT A country boy steals a mistreated dog from its hard-boiled owner, keeping this a secret from his financially strapped and morally upright parents.

MESSAGE Some ethical dilemmas defy clear right-and-wrong answers, but simple compassion is always a good policy.

SEx/PROFANITY None.

VIOLENCE A small amount of violence aimed at the dog and the boy, depicted in a very mild way.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL The mean-spirited dog owner drinks beer.

Anna Karenina [PG-13]

*** Directed by Bernard Rose. With Sophie Marceau, Alfred Molina, Mia Kirshner, Sean Bean, James Fox. Running time: 110 minutes.

PLOT Two intertwined love affairs take place in 19th-century Russia: one between a married woman and a handsome military officer, which brings tragedy to all concerned, and another between a ditzy princess and a thoughtful but insecure aristocrat.

MESSAGE Human experience is often a tumultuous mixture of satisfaction and frustration, and solidly grounded morality is necessary for things to turn out well in the end.

SEX Some strongly suggested sexual activity with a small amount of nudity.

VIOLENCE Some violence including a tragic railroad accident and a suicide at the climax.

PROFANITY Some vulgar expressions.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking, in keeping with the historical period.

Hamlet [PG-13]

*** Directed by Kenneth Branagh. With Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie, Kate Winslet, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams. Running time: 242 minutes. ****

PLOT A young prince broods over his father's death, his mother's marriage to the late king's brother, and his own desire for revenge.

MESSAGE A thoughtful young person may find much that is rotten in the existing structure of family, social, and political power.

SEX Explicit views of sexual activity; discussion of what the hero considers an incestuous marriage.

VIOLENCE Sword fighting, poisoning, stabbing.

PROFANITY Some vulgar Shakespearean wordplay.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Two drinking scenes.

Liar Liar [PG-13]

** Directed by Tom Shadyac. With Jim Carrey, Justin Cooper, Jennifer Tilly. Running time: 86 minutes. ***

PLOT A fast-talking attorney runs into personal and professional trouble when his little boy makes a birthday wish that he won't be able to lie for 24 hours.

MESSAGE Honesty is the best policy, although it may cause problems when a situation calls for diplomacy.

SEX A large amount of innuendo, sex-related dialogue, and a tape recording of sexual activity.

VIOLENCE Some cartoonish violence.

PROFANITY Four-letter words and other vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

The Saint [PG-13]

** Directed by Phillip Noyce. With Val Kilmer, Elisabeth Shue, Rade Serbedzija. Running time: 110 minutes. **

PLOT A hero with many disguises thwarts a nasty Russian schemer trying to capture a gifted American scientist who thinks she's discovered a phenomenal new energy source.

MESSAGE Inner satisfaction comes more from understanding oneself than from triumphing over shady enemies.

SEX Some mildly explicit sexual activity.

VIOLENCE About 12 scenes of action-movie fighting, shootings, and killings.

PROFANITY Five instances, mostly the harsh type.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking; one instance of cocaine use.

The Devil's Own [R]

** Directed by Alan J. Pakula. With Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, Margaret Colin. Running time: 110 minutes. **

PLOT A member of the Irish Republican Army comes to New York and moves into the home of an Irish-American police officer, who doesn't know his guest is assembling a deal to buy heavy weaponry for his organization.

MESSAGE Moral issues and personal relationships can grow very complex when people close to each other are pursuing different goals that they strongly believe in.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE At least 10 major scenes of extreme and often gruesome violence.

PROFANITY At least 39 instances.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL A good deal of drinking.

8 Heads in a Duffel Bag [R]

* Directed by Tom Schulman. With Joe Pesci, Andy Comeau, Kristy Swanson, David Spade, Dyan Cannon, George Hamilton. Running time: 93 minutes. u

PLOT A hit man chases a medical student who accidentally picked up the grisly package he was delivering to a mob chief.

MESSAGE Idiotic people can be found in all walks of life.

SEX Some sexual activity played for laughs.

VIOLENCE Fighting, shooting, torture, and killing, much of it played for laughs; much slapstick humor revolving around severed heads; and the story begins with a horrible massacre, not shown but strongly suggested.

PROFANITY Many four-letter words and other vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Much drinking; a secondary character is an alcoholic.

Inventing the Abbotts [R]

** Directed by Pat O'Connor. With Liv Tyler, Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Crudup, Joanna Going, Jennifer Connelly. Running time: 100 minutes. **

PLOT Class conflicts mix with romantic yearnings as two brothers from a broken home play out love-hate relationships with members of a wealthy Midwestern family.

MESSAGE People will lead happier lives if they think in terms of ethics and responsibilities rather than short-term rivalries and ambitions.

SEX Brief but explicit sex, some of it with nudity.

VIOLENCE Some emotional and physical violence.

PROFANITY A few harsh four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

Love Jones [R]

** Directed by Theodore Witcher. With Larenz Tate, Nia Long, Isaiah Washington, Lisa Nicole Carson, Khalil Kain, Bill Bellamy. Running time: 110 minutes. **

PLOT A young woman pursues her photography career while hesitating between her fianc and a likable but somewhat pushy poet she's just met.

MESSAGE People don't always act decisively or follow their best interests when romantic complications strike.

SEX A couple of fairly explicit bedroom scenes.

VIOLENCE None.

PROFANITY A number of harsh four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

Murder at 1600 [R]

** Directed by Dwight Little. With Wesley Snipes, Diane Lane, Daniel Benzali, Alan Alda, Dennis Miller. Running time: 108 minutes. ***

PLOT A homicide cop tries to find out who murdered a young woman after a sexual rendezvous in the White House, and gets temporarily stymied when government insiders block his path.

MESSAGE Washington skulduggery runs frighteningly deep, but honest investigation can uncover and correct it.

SEX A very explicit sex scene.

VIOLENCE Much fighting, shooting, and killing.

PROFANITY Many four-letter words and vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

Paradise Road [R]

** Directed by Bruce Beresford. With Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, Pauline Collins, Cate Blanchett, Julianna Margulies. Running time: 120 minutes. **

PLOT Held in a brutal prison camp during World War II, a group of women lift their spirits by forming a "vocal orchestra" that sings great musical works re-created from memory.

MESSAGE Musical inspiration can help people survive the most horrible ordeals.

SEX Dialogue about sex and sexual violence; nudity in nonsexual contexts.

VIOLENCE Scenes of wartime destruction, including the sinking of a crowded ship, and harrowing prison-camp violence including beatings, torture, and a person being burned alive.

PROFANITY A few four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Some drinking.

Volcano [R]

* Directed by Mick Jackson. With Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Gaby Hoffman, Stanley Tucci. Running time: 105 minutes. **

PLOT Plates beneath Los Angeles crack and a volcano erupts; an emergency city director and a geology expert are forced to save the city.

MESSAGE Perseverance in the face of grave danger will end in success, and extreme situations bring out the heroes in all of us.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE Most of the violence is caused by natural disaster. For example, seven city workers are burned to death in a tunnel and one geologist burns and falls into a fiery fissure.

PROFANITY 44 instances, mostly the mild variety.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Hospital scenes; two instances of cigarettes.

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