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 (blue stars) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other viewers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews.

EVALUATION SYMBOLS

David Sterritt Monitor Pane

o Forget It

+ Poor

++ Fair

+++ Good

++++ Excellent

New Releases

DEEP CRIMSON (Not rated)

++ An unhappy woman falls in love with a small-time con artist, and they set up a sort of lonely-hearts crime operation that soon turns deadly. Mexican director Arturo Ripstein applies his usual degree of cinematic imagination to the sordid tale, which is loosely based on Hollywood's cult movie "The Honeymoon Killers," but look out for some disturbing mayhem before the end. V S N P

THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (R)

++ A talented young attorney takes a job in a high-powered law firm and gradually learns that it's run by the devil himself. Taylor Hackford's thriller makes a mischievous assault on today's legal system, but its points would be more telling if the story didn't veer so often into needless sensationalism and eye-catching effects. Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves attack their roles with gusto under Hackford's direction, and the screenplay is witty enough to name the villain John Milton, after one of literature's greatest chroniclers of infernal doings. Contains explicit sex and violence. S V N P

+++ Clever, chilling, intriguing.

EYE OF GOD (R)

++ In a small Midwestern town, a waitress marries an ex-convict she corresponded with during his prison term, and she gradually learns that his newfound religious convictions haven't tamed his dangerous temper. The story doesn't quite add up to a well-told drama, but there's rock-solid acting by Martha Plimpton, Kevin Anderson, Hal Holbrook as the local sheriff, and Nick Stahl as a youngster who is tragically affected by the events around him. Written and directed by newcomer Tim Blake Nelson. V P S

FAIRYTALE - A TRUE STORY (PG)

+++ Two girls snap a photo of fairies in their family's English garden, sparking widely different responses from interested parties, including the author Arthur Conan Doyle, who believes in supernatural beings, and the magician Harry Houdini, who takes a skeptical view of such matters. Charles Sturridge's fantasy is too slow and complicated for very young viewers, but others will enjoy its wholesome story and detailed depiction of the World War I era, not to mention the fairyland scenes, which are truly magical. The strong cast includes Peter O'Toole as the celebrated writer and Harvey Keitel as the world's greatest escape artist.

GATTACA (PG-13)

+++ The time is the 21st century, the setting is a society where biological tests determine everyone's designated role in life, and the hero is a physically imperfect young man who decides to buck the system and cheat his way into an astronaut-training program. Andrew Niccol wrote and directed this intelligent and suspenseful science-fiction drama featuring strong performances by Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Alan Arkin, and Gore Vidal. V P S

GUMMO (R)

++ The adventures of two aimless youngsters and their eccentric neighbors, in a Midwestern town recently devastated by a tornado. Written and directed by Harmony Korine, this meandering docudrama blends adventurous filmmaking with the sort of grotesque, sometimes repulsive content found on the sleaziest tabloid-TV shows. Different viewers might find different portions worthy of anything from zero to four stars, but anyone with a faint heart or weak stomach should stay miles away from it. S N V P

THE HOUSE OF YES (R)

++ A young man brings his fiance to visit his family, which includes a mentally unbalanced twin sister involved in an incestuous relationship with him. Written and directed by Mark Waters, who strives for David Mamet-style punchiness but doesn't develop the quirky momentum that would carry the deliberately out-of-kilter story past its implausibilities. Parker Posey is her usual vivacious self as the disturbed young woman. S V P

I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (R)

++ Two couples who just graduated from high school accidentally kill a man in an auto accident and cover up the crime to save their promising futures. A year later a mysterious figure appears in a fisherman's slicker and, wielding an ice hook, begins to stalk them. The screenplay by Kevin Williamson ("Scream") keeps the lighting low and the tension high, though a bit more wit would have helped. The performances by the young actors are engaging. Contains profanity and some scenes of graphic violence. S V P By Greg Lamb

++ Suspenseful, scary, exhilarating.

A LIFE LESS ORDINARY (R)

++ Under pressure from higher-up, two hard-working angels engineer an earthly kidnapping to bring a couple together and increase the amount of romantic love in the world. Danny Boyle's dark comedy has stylishly filmed moments, but overall it's a queasy blend of amusing, pointless, and sometimes quite nasty material. Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz, Holly Hunter, Delroy Lindo, and Ian Holm head the cast. V P S

LOVE ALWAYS (R)

+ Summoned by a postcard from her marriage-minded boyfriend, a young woman hitchhikes the length of the West Coast, meeting all sorts of people along the way. Unfortunately, few of them are interesting or memorable. Directed by newcomer Jude Pauline Eberhard. S N P V

NENETTE ET BONI (Not rated)

+++ A pregnant teenager moves into her brother's apartment and wonders whether to have her baby or not. Claire Denis directed this involving French production with her usual acute sense of time and place, and more than her usual sense of sympathetic, compassionate storytelling. P S V

TELLING LIES IN AMERICA (R)

++ Newly arrived in the United States, a young Hungarian immigrant becomes the protg of a seedy disc jockey, who teaches him that people are rarely as honest as they appear. Joe Eszterhas's screenplay is vastly more thoughtful than his scripts for "Basic Instinct" and its ilk, but the storytelling is too spotty for the movie to become the effective moral tale it might have been. Kevin Bacon and Brad Renfro are excellent as the sleazy mentor and his immature friend. Guy Ferland directed. S V P

WONDERLAND (Not rated)

+++ A hugely entertaining visit to Levittown, N.Y., the Long Island suburb that inaugurated a profitable new era in planned communities - and set lofty new standards for conformity and consumerism - during the 1950s. John O'Hagan directed the documentary.

Currently in Release

AARON'S MAGIC VILLAGE (G)

++ 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

THE ASSIGNMENT (R)

++ 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

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

BOOGIE NIGHTS (R)

++ 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

THE EDGE (R)

+++ 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.

FAST, CHEAP & OUT OF CONTROL (Not rated)

++++ 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.

++++ Animated interviews, captivating cinematography, great shots of lions and tigers.

THE ICE STORM (R)

++ 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.

KICKED IN THE HEAD (R)

++ 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

KISS THE GIRLS (R)

++ When a young woman is abducted, her uncle - a thoughtful police officer - attempts to track down her psychopathic killer. 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.

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (R)

+++ 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

+++ Intriguing story, suspenseful, brutally violent.

MRS. BROWN (PG)

+++ 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.

MY SEX LIFE ... OR HOW I GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT (Not rated)

+++ 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

THE MYTH OF FINGERPRINTS (R)

+++ 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

++ Dark, confused, probing.

SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET (PG-13)

+++ 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

++++ Beautiful scenery, thought-provoking, moving.

SOUL FOOD (R)

+++ 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.

U-TURN (R)

++ 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

o Perversely pessimistic, grossly violent, horrifying.

WASHINGTON SQUARE (PG)

+++ 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

+++ Intelligent, strong acting, provocative.

YEAR OF THE HORSE (Not rated)

++ 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

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