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

o Forget It

+ Poor

Recommended: Default

++ Fair

+++ Good

++++ Excellent

New Releases

BEAN (PG-13)

+++ To get rid of its dopiest security guard, a British museum dubs him an authority on painting and sends him to Los Angeles, where the arrival of "Whistler's Mother" has the art world in a tizzy. This knockabout comedy centers on the physical antics of English comedian Rowan Atkinson, who conveys the creepiness of the main character so convincingly that he comes off as rather creepy himself. But there's no denying the movie's frequent hilarity, abetted by Mel Smith's superbly laid-back directing and on-target performances by an excellent supporting cast. Contains a good deal of bathroom humor and other vulgarities. P

CREMASTER 5 (Not rated)

+++ Matthew Barney, a rising young star on the art-gallery scene, directed and performs in this avant-garde video spectacle, centering on a lavish musical performance, a bevy of mythological figures, and a series of dreamlike incidents that are as utterly mysterious as they are sumptuously staged. Ursula Andress heads the supporting cast. Jonathan Bepler's music is performed by the Budapest Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra. N V

CRITICAL CARE (R)

+++ A young physician grapples with life-and-death issues at a hospital that cares more about technology and profit than health and compassion. Directed by the prolific Sidney Lumet from Steven Schwartz's intelligent screenplay, this biting social satire scores telling points against shortcomings in today's health-care system, and shows unexpected depth when fantasy scenes put these issues into philosophical and religious perspective. The expertly chosen cast includes James Spader, Helen Mirren, Albert Brooks, Kyra Sedgwick, Wallace Shawn, Anne Bancroft, Jeffrey Wright, and Edward Herrmann. S N V P

EVE'S BAYOU (R)

++ In a rural Louisiana town, a 10-year-old girl grows up in a troubled African-American family that includes a beautiful but unfulfilled mother, an educated but unfaithful father, and an eccentric aunt with an interest in the supernatural. The movie deserves enormous credit for paying serious attention to the family lives of black people, and for casting a compassionate, unsensational light on problems like infidelity and incest. In the end, however, the story is too contrived and melodramatic to reach its full potential. Written and directed by Kasi Lemmons. Debbi Morgan, Lynn Whitfield, Samuel L. Jackson, and young Jurnee Smollett head the solid cast. S V P

HABIT (Not rated)

+ It takes a surprisingly long time for a young New Yorker to figure out that his new girlfriend is a vampire. The picture has a certain sociological interest in its energetic portrait of life among the East Village crowd, but that's its only strong asset. Written, directed, and edited by Larry Fessenden, who also plays the hapless hero. Contains extremely graphic sex and violence. S N V P

HAPPY TOGETHER (Not rated)

++ Argentina is the main setting for this peripatetic look at the lives, jobs, and conflicts of two gay Hong Kong expatriates. Written and directed by the talented Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai, whose energetic and inventive style isn't enough to give the shallow story the substance and resonance it needs. Chinese superstars Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing play the protagonists, and Christopher Doyle did the striking cinematography. S N V P

IN COLD BLOOD (Not rated)

+++ Reissue of Richard Brooks's chilling 1967 drama about a notorious murder that shocked a Kansas town in the late 1950s, filmed with careful attention to the facts of the real-life event. Based on Truman Capote's acclaimed book, which helped launch the nonfiction novel as a major literary genre. Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, and John Forsythe star. V P

MAD CITY (R)

+++ An ambitious TV reporter (Dustin Hoffman) happens to be nearby when a gun-toting security guard (John Travolta) storms into a museum with hopes of regaining his former job, sparking a hostage crisis and a frenzy of cynical maneuvering by media manipulators hoping to capitalize on the event. Strongly influenced by Billy Wilder's classic "Ace in the Hole," this dark comedy-drama rambles on too long and strains credibility at times; still, it calls needed attention to the increasingly blurred boundary between journalism, entertainment, and public spectacle for its own sake. Directed by Costa-Gavras, a thoughtful filmmaker with a commendable list of socially alert movies to his credit. V P

RED CORNER (R)

++ Richard Gere plays an American businessman framed for murder in Beijing, where the rights of defendants are limited and an independent-minded Chinese attorney is the only person who might save him from a punishment as severe as it is unwarranted. The film wobbles between mediocre suspense scenes and critical barbs aimed at China's criminal-justice system; it would be more persuasive if its sociopolitical commentary weren't squeezed so relentlessly into the familiar formulas of Hollywood melodrama. Bai Ling is very good as the Chinese lawyer. Jon Avnet directed. Contains sex, nudity, and a considerable amount of violence. S N V P

++ Slow, intense, sincere.

SWITCHBACK (R)

+ An intense, gripping, often scary thriller about a lone FBI agent (Dennis Quaid) tracking down a knife-wielding serial killer. The mystery, also featuring Danny Glover, takes several unexpected turns that often make it entertaining. But an all-too-predictable finish, graphic violence, and a script cheapened by Hollywood's current penchant for profanity and nudity leave a foul aftertaste. V N P By John Dillin

+++ Exploitative, action-filled, shocking, gory.

THE WINGS OF THE DOVE (R)

+++ Sensitive adaptation of Henry James's melancholy novel about an illicit affair between an upper-class socialite and a middle-class journalist, which seems headed for a dead end until the man agrees to woo a fatally ill heiress whose fortune will solve their social problems after her death. Helena Bonham Carter and Linus Roach play the lovers, capably supported by Alison Elliott, Elizabeth McGovern, and Charlotte Rampling. Thoughtfully directed by the versatile Iain Softely from Hossein Amini's screenplay, which reduces James's intricately structured narrative to feature-film scale without losing the book's rueful psychological tone. Contains an unerotic nude scene that forcefully conveys the sad wages of immoral behavior. S N

Currently in Release

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

+++ Thought-provoking, well-acted, definitely not appropriate for children.

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 plot.

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 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 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.

+++ Heartwarming, intricate, marvelous fairy effects.

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

u Bleak, uninspired, poor acting.

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. Josh Hamilton and Tori Spelling also star. 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.

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 it 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

+++ Compelling, intelligent, disturbing.

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.

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 many moviegoers. Contains harrowing suspense and violence. S P V N

++ Creepy, tense, ominous.

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

+ Strange, lacks a plot, wait for video.

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.

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

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

++ Informative, grainy, consistent.

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