Freeze Frames: The Monitor Movie Guide

Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted. Ratings and comments by the panel (end of review) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other viewers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews

o Forget It

+ Poor

++ Fair

+++ Good

++++ Excellent

New Releases

BADLANDS (Not rated)

+++ Reissue of Terrence Malick's impeccably filmed, highly influential drama about a young psychopath and his baton-twirler girlfriend on a deadly Midwestern crime binge. Originally released in 1973, it helped turn Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen into major stars. S V N P


++ A money-driven pornographer (Burt Reynolds) invites a handsome teenager (Mark Wahlberg) to earn lowdown fame and fortune as a sex-movie star. Heavily influenced by Quentin Tarantino's brand of quirky sensationalism, this high-energy saga by Paul Thomas Anderson goes a long way toward exposing the greed and stupidity of the pornography trade, then loses its moral compass and steers toward a sadly superficial ending. Contains a very large amount of extremely graphic sex. S N V P


++ A thoughtful police officer tracks down a pair of sexually obsessed psychopaths, one of whom has abducted his niece. Sensitive acting by Morgan Freeman and stylish directing by Gary Fleder can't overcome the bottom-line pointlessness of the movie's melodramatic material, which never achieves the dark resonance that helped "The Silence of the Lambs" get under the skin of so many moviegoers. Contains harrowing suspense and violence. S P V N

++ Creepy, tense, ominous.


++ If you're a Massachusetts senator who's way behind in his bid for reelection, and your last name is McGlory, there's only one thing to do: find your Irish roots. So on the advice of one of his top aides, Dennis Leary, the senator sends another aide, Janeane Garofalo, to a tiny town in rural Ireland. To her surprise, she arrives in the middle of a matchmaking festival, and everyone would rather make her fall in love than help her find the senator's relations. The film's depiction of Irish culture is entertaining, but filled with its share of crude language. S P By Mark Sappenfield

+++ Quirky, funny, predictable.


+ A collection of animations by Oscar-nominated cartoonist Bill Plympton, who draws inspiration from sources as varied as everyday pop culture and the underground comics of the '60s era. Unfortunately, his humor often leans to the sophomoric side. S V P N

REPULSION (Not rated)

+++ Reissue of Roman Polanski's relentlessly grim 1965 study of a mentally unstable young woman whose fear of sexuality pushes her into a nightmare of paranoia, delusion, and violence. French superstar Catherine Deneuve gives one of her most memorable performances as the troubled protagonist. V S N P


+++ Brad Pitt plays an Austrian adventurer who climbs the Himalayas during World War II, lands in a British prison camp, then escapes and treks to the Tibetan city of Lhasa, where he and the young Dalai Lama strike up a mutually illuminating friendship. Jean-Jacques Annaud's epic doesn't delve very deeply into the religious and historical subjects it raises, but it's colorfully filmed and takes a commendable interest in serious issues, including China's brutal invasion and occupation of Tibet. V P


+++ Seen through the eyes of a young boy, an African-American family comes unglued after "Big Mama," the family's matriarch, is hospitalized. George Tillman Jr.'s sentimental film centers on the importance of family unity and home cookin'. Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, and Nia Long are lively and convincing as bickering yet devoted sisters. V S P By John Hoyle

+++ Heartwarming, emotional, good for the soul.


++ On the run from dangerous enemies, a small-time gambler gets stranded in an Arizona town where the women are seductive, the men are treacherous, and just about everyone has violence on the brain. Oliver Stone's imaginative style runs rings around John Ridley's idiotic screenplay. Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, and Nick Nolte head the cast. Contains very explicit sex and violence. S V P N


+++ A plain, sensitive young woman is caught between a handsome but penniless suitor and her father, a cool-minded physician who's determined to prevent their marriage. Jennifer Jason Leigh shows a surprising flair for modest, introspective moods in Agnieszka Holland's deftly directed adaptation of Henry James's quietly compassionate novel. Albert Finney, Ben Chaplin, and Maggie Smith head the fine supporting cast. S


++ Jim Jarmusch's offbeat documentary on rock star Neil Young and his Crazy Horse band, much of it filmed in the grainy super-8 format associated with home movies and music videos. Peppering material from a 1996 tour with flashback footage dating back as much as 20 years, the show is loaded with rock 'n' roll energy. It lacks the depth, wit, and originality of Jarmusch masterpieces like "Stranger Than Paradise" and "Dead Man," however. P

Currently in Release


++ Jewish folklore and stories by the great Isaac Bashevis Singer inspired this colorfully drawn animation about a 10-year-old boy who visits Chelm, a town of well-meaning but silly folks, and helps defeat an evil wizard who's threatening the people with a monstrous golem. Tovah Feldshuh and Tommy Michaels lead the voices-only cast, and acclaimed composer Michel Legrand wrote the music for Sheldon Harnick's lyrics. Directed by Albert Hanan Kaminski with additional material from Buzz Potamkin. V


++ Because he bears a resemblance to a notorious terrorist, an American soldier is drafted into a clandestine scheme by an amoral CIA agent and a tough-minded Israeli operative. The plot raises the keenly important question of whether professionals who fight evil may be corrupted by the ruthless means they employ; but the movie takes too much pleasure in sensationalistic digressions to explore this issue very thoroughly. Donald Sutherland, Aidan Quinn, and Ben Kingsley star. Christian Duguay directed. V S N P


+++ A middle-aged actor (Lou Castel) wavers between his family and the temptation to stray from his wife, measuring his uncertainties against the eccentric impulses of a friend who's determined to make something of his life before it's too late. Directed with a melancholy sense of emotional realism by French filmmaker Philippe Garrel, who richly deserves his rising international reputation. Photographed by Raoul Coutard and costarring Jean-Pierre Laud, two great veterans of France's revolutionary New Wave movement. John Cale composed the music. N


+++ Two women get together for the first time since they graduated from college six years earlier, and spend a weekend in London where they run into old acquaintances. Mike Leigh's dark comedy features strong acting by Katrin Cartlidge and Lynda Steadman and paints a vivid portrait of working women in London today. The plot meanders out of control, though, almost getting lost in a string of coincidences so odd that even the characters start wondering what's going on. P S

++ Quirky, tender, well-acted.


+++ The setting is a town across the river from Manhattan, where police officers raise their kids away from big-city hazards. Sylvester Stallone plays the local sheriff, a melancholy loser who gradually realizes that his neighbors are up to their badges in conspiracy and corruption. James Mangold follows up the promise of his excellent "Heavy" with this smartly written, superbly acted melodrama. Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, and Ray Liotta round out the cast. Contains hard-hitting violence and much foul language. V P N

+++ Intense, slow-moving, tragic.

DELINQUENT (Not rated)

++ A teenage boy struggles with hopes, fears, and temptations that take him from his sadly broken home to an unorthodox relationship with a young woman facing uncertainties of her own. First-time filmmaker Peter Hall tells this sexually frank coming-of-age tale with a rough-hewn sincerity that shows promise for his future work. S N P V


+++ A billionaire gets stranded in a snowy wilderness with a companion who may prove a valuable friend or a deadly foe. David Mamet's screenplay tackles imposing themes: the limitations of material wealth, and the usefulness of civilized values in uncivilized surroundings. But moviegoers interested in probing these issues may grow restless with the bear-chasing scenes and other less-than-cerebral material. Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin are convincing even when the story's credibility slips. Lee Tamahori directed. V P S

+++ Powerfully acted, gripping, unrealistic.


++ Media manipulators and government agents are among the characters of this allegorical suspense story, which focuses on a Hollywood filmmaker who is shocked when violence arrives in his life, even though he's long exploited it in his movies. Directed by the justly respected Wim Wenders, the picture suffers from weak screenwriting but shows commendable interest in important issues. Bill Pullman, Andie MacDowell, and Gabriel Byrne star. V P S N


++++ Errol Morris's unique method of nonfiction filmmaking is to choose fascinating people, aim the camera squarely at their faces, and let them talk about what concerns them most deeply. This time he focuses on a lion tamer, a designer of computerized robots, a gardener who prunes trees into animal shapes, and the world's leading authority on mole rats. They're a varied bunch, but their different lines of work have common threads, and Morris weaves their anecdotes into a rich experience.


+++ Four jobless men become so desperate for work that they decide to explore the male-stripper profession. Peter Cattaneo's comedy has brash and boisterous scenes, but its message about the humiliations of unemployment is serious and insightful, and applies far beyond the English setting of this story. Contains a small amount of nudity. N P V

+++ Hilarious, touching, clever.


+++ A wealthy, self-centered man receives a strange birthday present: a gift certificate for a dangerous "game," devised by a mysterious and possibly evil company, and tailored to the history and personality of each client. David Fincher's thriller is an unusually imaginative suspense movie and a sardonic attack on the arrogance of power in the socially uncertain 1990s. Michael Douglas gives one of his best performances as the increasingly threatened hero, and Sean Penn is characteristically energetic as his brother. V P S

+++ Riveting, far-fetched, tension-filled.


++ The setting is a well-to-do New England suburb; the time is the Watergate era of 1973; and the main characters are members of various families whose complex relationships become more tangled when an ice storm causes last-minute changes in their social and sexual arrangements. Directed by Ang Lee, whose exposure of middle-class hypocrisy would be more effective if some scenes weren't rigged to provide evidence for the story's take on contemporary values. Contains material that many will find realistic but distasteful, including sex and drug experimentation by youngsters. S N P V

IN & OUT (PG-13)

+++ A small-town English teacher takes a new look at his life and self-image after a former student goes on national TV and identifies him as gay. Frank Oz's comedy combines a celebration of tolerance with an affirmation of family and community values, and a surprising amount of laugh-out-loud hilarity. The cast includes Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, and Bob Newhart. Contains dialogue and other material dealing frankly with sexuality. P S V

++ Clever dialogue, mildly embarrassing, politically correct.


++ The hero is a young Manhattan roughneck who needs to do some growing up in a hurry, but gets stymied by ill-chosen companions and an uncle who keeps suckering him into criminal schemes. Like its main character, Matthew Harrison's movie has more energy than intellect. It's inventively directed, though, and vigorously acted by Michael Rapaport, James Woods, Linda Fiorentino, and Lili Taylor. V P S N


+++ During the '50s, an honest cop and a tough cop become involved with an egotistical colleague, who conspires with a tabloid journalist to get the goods on headline-making crimes. The story is so complicated that the movie can't quite make it clear, but the picture has impressive energy and high-intensity performances from Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, and Guy Pearce. S V N P

+++ Compelling, suspenseful, brutally violent.


+++ Judi Dench gives a rich and riveting performance as Queen Victoria in this colorful drama about the aging monarch's loving friendship with a feisty Scots horseman. Billy Connolly is equally good as the unconventional companion, and filmmaker John Madden keeps the action moving at a rattling good clip. V P

+++ Poignant, witty, historically illuminating.


+++ Romantic relations among young Paris intellectuals are the focus of this meticulously assembled dramatic comedy, directed by Arnaud Desplechin, one of today's most thoughtful French filmmakers. S N P


+++ A family spends Thanksgiving together for the first time in three years, using the occasion to confront lingering conflicts and revive old quarrels. The characters are sharply etched but the plot is made deliberately ambiguous, suggesting that family life is so emotionally intricate that no single story can contain or explain it. The fine ensemble cast includes Julianne Moore, Blythe Danner, Roy Scheider, Noah Wyle, Arija Bareikis, Hope Davis, and James LeGros. Bart Freundlich directed his own screenplay. Contains a considerable amount of sex and vulgar language. S N P V


+ After greedy terrorists hijack a trainload of nuclear missiles in the Russian countryside, a brainy atomic scientist (Nicole Kidman) and a brawny intelligence officer (George Clooney) track down first the evil gang and then a lone psychopath stalking New York with a bomb in his backpack. First-time filmmaker Mimi Leder builds a couple of suspenseful scenes in the last half-hour, but most of the story is stale and predictable. V P

+ Silly, simplistic, unconvincing.

A SELF MADE HERO (Not rated)

++ In the aftermath of World War II, a Frenchman rises in society by claiming a heroic past in the Resistance movement. Jacques Audiard's tragicomic French drama raises fascinating social and historical issues but doesn't investigate them as compellingly as they deserve. V P

SUNDAY (Not rated)

+++ The ambiguities of identity and the loneliness of isolated lives are the subjects of this atmospheric drama about an unlikely pair of middle-aged lovers. Directed by Jonathan Nossiter with loving attention to textures of human behavior and the influence of environments on people's moods and activities. David Suchet and Lisa Harrow are very convincing as the couple. Contains nudity and graphic sex. S N P


++ The setting is an idyllic 1,000 acres in America's heartland. The plot is anything but serene, as three sisters - Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, and Jennifer Jason Leigh - struggle with the jealousies and misunderstandings that follow their father's decision to divide the family farm among them. The film is hurt by rough acting and a lack of the nuance that made Jane Smiley's book such a good read. By Amelia Newcomb P

+ Melodramatic, relentless, sad.

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