Freeze Frames: The Monitor 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

New Releases

ADDICTED TO LOVE (R)

++ Hoping for either reconciliation or revenge, a man and woman spy on their straying lovers from a neighboring apartment, eventually falling in love with each other instead. Matthew Broderick and Meg Ryan give spunky performances for Griffin Dunne in his feature-directing debut. The story is as contrived as it is comical, though, and the screenplay lapses into big-time vulgarity when other ideas fail. S V P

+++ Offbeat, funny, clever.

BLISS (R)

+ A controversial sex therapist helps a young married couple find relief from maladjustment and repressed memories of an abused childhood. Lance Young's drama takes a compassionate approach to troubling problems that have received needed attention in recent years, but the movie is so superficially written and directed that much of it plays like a commercial for trendy psychobabble. Terence Stamp brings a certain conviction to the therapist character, and Sheryl Lee gives her strongest performance to date as the inwardly tormented wife. Contains a great deal of very explicit sex. S N P V

BUDDY (PG)

+ An eccentric 1920s millionairess adds a baby gorilla to her collection of live-in pets, then faces a crisis when his emerging wild-animal temperament makes her realize she'll have to give him up. The fact-based story raises interesting issues about relationships between animals and humans, but none are explored in any depth, and the "animatronic" acting in the title role isn't very convincing. Rene Russo and Robbie Coltrane star. Written and directed by Caroline Thompson. V

THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (PG-13)

++ Humans tangle with dinosaurs on a remote island and then in a southern California city. Steven Spielberg's blockbuster whips up only the most superficial sorts of excitement, and unlike the original "Jurassic Park," the picture looks a little tacky around the edges. Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, and the ever-likable Richard Attenborough head the hard-working cast. Contains action-movie violence that parents may find too intense for young viewers.

V P

+++ Plotless, great special effects, suspenseful.

Love! Valour! Compassion! (R)

+++ This movie version of Terence McNally's Broadway play of the same name successfully unveils the loves, fears, and hopes of a group of gay men over the course of a summer. There are endearing and powerful moments which thankfully overshadow the occasional clichd passages. The movie contains course language, full-frontal male nudity, and homosexual love and sex scenes. S P N V By Jackie Northam

+++ Endearing, sentimental, humorous.

MONDO (Not rated)

+++ As if out of nowhere, a 10-year-old gypsy shows up on the streets of a Mediterranean city, bringing magic and mystery into the lives of the people he meets until he vanishes as abruptly as he arrived. The slender story is energetically told by director Tony Gatlif, and Ovidiu Balan is very likable as the young hero. V

THE PILLOW BOOK (Not rated)

++ A young Japanese woman becomes enthralled by the sensual pleasure of having calligraphy written on her skin, and doing the same to other people. Peter Greenaway's unorthodox drama treats the movie screen less as an entertainment device than a postmodern canvas upon which he writes, photographs, and records an intricate multicultural collage. Vivian Wu ("The Last Emperor," and "The Joy Luck Club") stars. Merits four stars for its sumptuous style and originality, but contains explicit sex scenes that will put the film out of bounds for many viewers. S N V P

PONETTE (Not rated)

+++ A four-year-old girl copes with differences between fantasy and reality after her mother is killed in an accident. Jacques Doillon's poignant, precise filmmaking paints a vivid portrait of life as seen through very young eyes, and little Victoire Thivisol gives a remarkable performance in the title role. V

PORTLAND (Not rated)

++ The adventures of two brothers barging through the violent underworld of a Danish city. First-time filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev directed this visually imaginative but aggressively violent Danish melodrama. V P S N

'Til There Was You (Pg-13)

++ Jeanne Tripplehorn plays an attractive lovelorn writer who literally keeps bumping into the handsome architect (Dylan McDermott) she's destined to marry. As McDermott's self-centered, airhead girlfriend, Sarah Jessica Parker pumps life into the good-hearted, sometimes funny but often plodding plot. S By Jean Hacklander

++ Funny, light, romantic.

Currently in Release

All Over Me (PG-13)

+++ A 15-year-old girl struggles with her sexual identity as her dream of starting a rock band is sidetracked by a disintegrating friendship and inner-city problems. The story is slow and sometimes bleak, but also compassionate and original. Directed by Alex Sichel, the performances are fresh, believable, and appealing. V S P By Jean Hacklander

+++ Original, bleak, bittersweet.

Anna karenina (PG-13)

+++ The classic tale of two intertwined love affairs: one between a married woman and a handsome military officer, which brings tragedy to all concerned, and another between a ditsy princess and a thoughtful but insecure aristocrat. Much gets eliminated when a 1,000-page epic is squeezed into less than two hours of screen time, but filmmaker Bernard Rose has adapted Leo Tolstoy's timeless masterpiece with skill and understanding, capturing a tumultuous array of human emotions against a backdrop of imperial elegance that recalls the golden age of historical movies. Sophie Marceau is a radiant Anna and Alfred Molina is perfect as Levin, the character closest to Tolstoy himself. V S N

+++ Great costumes, authentic period piece, opulent.

AUSTIN POWERS (PG-13)

++ Mike Myers plays Austin Powers as well as the archenemy Dr. Evil in this goofy take on the James Bond series. After being frozen for 30 years, Powers thaws out to save the world, but his swinging sexual attitude from the '60s gets him in a bit of trouble in the politically correct '90s. The drawn-out, lowbrow humor is either "love it" or "hate it," so it may not be your bag, baby. Elizabeth Hurley and Robert Wagner star. S P N V By Chas Sabatine

++ Tasteless, juvenile, silly.

BREAKDOWN (R)

+++ Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan play a couple who run into trouble when their car breaks down on an empty stretch of desert road. The not-so-original story is a cross between "The Vanishing" and "Frantic," with a bit of "Duel" thrown in. It starts slowly, but builds to a spectacular climax with hearty sound effects and deftly directed stunts. V P By Chas Sabatine

+++ Intense, action-packed, not believable.

BROKEN ENGLISH (NC-17)

++ After fleeing war-torn Croatia and settling in New Zealand with her family, a young woman falls in love with a man of the Maori minority, enraging her traditionally minded father. Gregor Nicholas's drama paints a vivid portrait of multicultural conflict in a community that has received little attention from media in other parts of the world. Rade Serbedzija, known for "The Saint" and "Before the Rain," heads the solid cast. The film earns its rating mostly with one explicit sex scene. S N V P

A CHEF IN LOVE (PG-13)

++ A rare manuscript teaches a man about the life of his father, a French chef who moved to the Georgian Republic in the early 1920s and was swept up by romantic and political intrigue. French comedian Pierre Richard heads a lively cast, but Nana Djordjadze's dramatic comedy is held down by the limitations of its screenplay, which seems to regard cooking as an all-purpose metaphor for everything in life. S V P

CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION (R)

++++ An intense and dedicated pro-Soviet radical in Australia of the 1950s has a brief encounter with Joseph Stalin, which may (or may not) have produced an offspring. Back home, "Little Joe" (Richard Roxburgh) joins his mother (Judy Davis) and mild-mannered stepfather (Geoffrey Rush of "Shine") on the barricades. But over the years as young Joe learns of his background, and of the use of manipulative political power, the story turns more sober and somewhat surreal. Writer/director Peter Duncan's first film is darkly humorous, with dashes of slapstick, brilliant, and original material. Great music and scenery. Two brief sex scenes, a glimpse of nudity, and some profanity earn its "R." S N P By Brad Knickerbocker

THE DESIGNATED MOURNER (R)

++++ A famous intellectual, his intelligent daughter, and her somewhat out-of-place husband narrate their experiences in an unnamed country where two of them fall into disfavor with the government for showing too much social compassion, while the third struggles to understand his role in the family and political structures that surround him. Wallace Shawn's brilliant drama has been directed by David Hare as a minimalist movie that delivers an extraordinary punch even though it's played entirely by performers sitting around a table. Miranda Richardson and David de Keyser are excellent, and Mike Nichols is even better in his first on-screen role. Haunting, gripping, utterly unpredictable. Contains some dialogue related to sex and violence. P

DIARY OF A SEDUCER (Not rated)

++ This dark, mildly amusing French comedy takes its title from a novel by philosopher Soren Kierkegaard - a book that affects the lives of a literature teacher and his students as they pass it around among themselves. Chiara Mastroianni and the great Jean-Pierre Laud are featured along with Danile Dubroux, who wrote and directed the tale. S V P

FAthers' Day (PG-13)

++ Based on the 1984 French movie "Les Comperes," the film is good but doesn't compare with the original. A 16-year-old runs away, and his desperate mother cons former boyfriends into searching for him on the pretext he is their son. Robin Williams plays a suicidal writer, and Billy Crystal portrays a grounded lawyer fearful of parenting. Likable performances, but the story's brash and hyper, though sweet, delivery grows wearing, especially the sexual innuendo. V By Katherine Dillin

++ Lightweight, bland, frenetic.

The Fifth Element (PG-13)

++ The time is 300 years from now, and the hero is Bruce Willis as a cabdriver helping a mysterious woman fulfill her destiny of saving the world from extraterrestrial doom. The action is fast, furious, and as wacky as science fantasy gets. Directed by French filmmaker Luc Besson in his most over-the-top mode. Contains nudity and much cartoonish violence. V N P

+ Vacuous, predictable, lame special effects.

FEMALE PERVERSIONS (R)

++ On the eve of her appointment to a judgeship, a lawyer temporarily shelves her ambitions to help her sister, a bright but unstable young woman in trouble with the police. The movie's title refers not just to sexual deviance but to the "perversion" of conforming with social norms that steer women toward secondary roles in politics and culture. Based on Louise J. Kaplan's respected book. Contains explicit sexual activity. Loses a star for sensationalistic title. S N V P

FLAMENCO (Not rated)

++++ A magnificent feast of flamenco music and dance, performed by one towering artist after another. Directed by Carlos Saura, one of Spain's most distinguished filmmakers, and photographed by Vittorio Storaro, one of the world's most gifted cinematographers.

GROSSE POINTE BLANK (R)

+++ John Cusak plays a hit man who returns to his hometown for his 10-year high school reunion. Along the way he rekindles an old romantic flame and dodges a few attacks on his life. This clever and original movie is like a John Hughes comedy for the '90s, with a jukebox of a soundtrack that plays one great song after another. People who don't really want to attend their own reunions should consider seeing this movie instead. V P By Chas Sabatine

+++ Unconventional, hilarious, quirky.

HOLLOW REED (Not rated)

++ An abused child gets caught in a custody battle between his feuding parents in this British production, which asks whether two gay men are suitable for raising a young boy. Samuel Bould is brilliant as the child, but Martin Donovan's clearly American mannerisms make him somewhat out of place as the gay English father. Angela Pope's directing is often slow and clunky, although she handles sensitive situations with the delicacy they need. S N V P By Chas Sabatine

KOLYA (PG-13)

+++ Not long before the fall of the Soviet bloc and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, a middle-aged Czech musician agrees to a marriage of convenience with a Russian woman, then finds himself caring for her five-year-old son after she unexpectedly leaves the country. This thoughtful comedy-drama demonstrates how difficult it is to draw lines between the personal and political in the rapidly changing modern world. N S P

+++ Moving, endearing, film does good job of weaving in Czechoslovakia context.

LA PROMESSE (Not rated)

++++ This thoughtful, powerful drama focuses on a 15-year-old boy whose promise to a grieving widow pits him against his father, a ruthless exploiter of immigrant labor. Stunningly acted by a fine cast and vividly directed by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. V P S

A MONGOLIAN TALE (NOT RATED)

+++ Set in rural Mongolia, this beautifully filmed drama traces the experiences of a man and woman who grow up in the same household, separate when he travels to the city for his education, then reunite after their lives have moved onto very different pathways. The movie is less profound than director Xie Fei's earlier masterpiece, "The Women From the Lake of Scented Souls," but it glows with eye-filling images and warm-hearted acting. V P

MURDER AT 1600 (R)

++ 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. Wesley Snipes is terrific as the hero. Diane Lane and Alan Alda back him up as a Secret Service agent and a White House operative, respectively. Dwight Little directed. V P S N

+++ Worthwhile, fast-paced, good plot twists.

NOTHING PERSONAL (Not rated)

++ Two old friends, a Protestant and a Roman Catholic, confront personal and political challenges brought by their opposing positions in a struggle between rival Irish militias during the mid-1970s. John Lynch, James Frain, and Michael Gambon star in Thaddeus O'Sullivan's drama, which develops impressive power before a disappointingly unoriginal climax. V S N P

RIPE (Not rated)

++ Running away from society after their parents' death in an accident, twin 14-year-old girls start living on a military base where the male population treats them with a mixture of amusement, condescension, and lust. Parts of the story aren't very imaginative, and the ending is weak. But filmmaker Mo Ogrodnik shows keen insight into the menacing aspects of male bonding and the predatory behavior this can breed. Daisy Eagan and Monica Keena head the uniformly excellent cast. Contains sex and violence. S V N P

ROMY AND MICHELE'S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION (R)

++ Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino play bubble-headed social misfits trying to show they've made something of their lives at their 10th high school reunion. This off-beat, light-as-fluff comedy covers ground similar to the superior "Grosse Point Blank," but approaches the material from an eccentric Valley Girl perspective. Quick wit, quirky acting, and stylish camera work make it like pretty funny, y'know? P S By Chas Sabatine

++ Upbeat, hilarious, uneven.

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