Freeze Frame

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.

o Forget It

+ Poor

Recommended: Default

++ Fair

+++ Good

++++ Excellent

New Releases

ALIEN RESURRECTION (R)

++ Deep in outer space, a woman, an android, and various smugglers and scientists battle terrifying monsters unwittingly spawned from the woman's own body. Heavy on violence and special effects, light on everything else. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who recaptures the surreal look of Jeunet & Caro movies like "The City of Lost Children" for a little while, then submits to the demands of the hugely profitable "Alien" franchise. Series regular Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder head the hard-working cast. V P N

+ Overdone, gross, gooey.

BANG (Not rated)

+ After a jolting encounter with a male-chauvinist movie producer, an Asian-American actress steals a police officer's uniform and cruises Los Angeles looking for ways to exercise the temporary power it gives her. Written and directed by a filmmaker called Ash, the picture is more excitable than coherent but generates fleeting power in some scenes. V P S N

A COUCH IN NEW YORK (Not rated)

++ William Hurt and Juliette Binoche play a Manhattan psychoanalyst and a Parisian gadabout who swap apartments, then get involved in each other's lives. The story is a trifle and the comic rhythms are skewed, but Belgian director Chantal Akerman provides some glowing images along the way. A minor work by a major filmmaker. P

DEAD HEART (R)

+ Well-meaning but heavy-handed melodrama about a rural Australian cop whose relations with the local population become increasingly strained when he investigates the death of a tribesman involved in a sexual affair with a white woman. Contains some informative lore about Australian racial strife, but similar terrain has been explored with much more depth and power in movies like "Walkabout" and "The Last Wave." Bryan Brown stars. Written and directed by Nick Parsons. Contains graphic violence and an extremely explicit nude sex scene intercut with a church service. S N V P

FLUBBER (PG)

++ Disney's popular comedy "The Absent-Minded Professor" rides again in this remake, centering on a charmingly mad scientist who invents a green goo with antigravity powers and uses it to win a basketball game, save his college from bankruptcy, and regain his exasperated fiance. Robin Williams is no Fred MacMurray, but he plays the hero with his customary energy. Les Mayfield directed. V

+++ Imaginative, goofy, energetic.

SICK (Not rated)

++ Documentary about a performance artist who mutilates his body in his work. The movie has received rave reviews from mainstream critics who normally have little interest in such extreme subject matter, perhaps because the style remains conventional even when the material becomes almost unwatchable. No star rating could be appropriate, since most audiences will find the very idea of the film repugnant, but some may be interested in its suggestion that suffering is more a mental than a physiological state. Directed by Kirby Dick. V S N P

TAR (Not rated)

++ The tangled story of an African-American policewoman and her high school boyfriend, now an outlaw but still dangerously appealing to her. Goetz Grossman's melodrama is unevenly written and directed, but it breaks into thought-provoking territory with its portrait of the divided loyalties felt by a contemporary black woman making her way through a sadly racist society. V P S N

WELCOME TO SARAJEVO (R)

+++ Covering the siege of Sarajevo with other international journalists, a British reporter is shocked to discover that an orphanage is under bombardment, and he decides to take personal responsibility for one child's safety. Mixing a fact-based story with fictional scenes and documentary footage, Michael Winterbottom's drama probes urgent sociopolitical issues with hard-hitting skill. Stephen Dillane, Woody Harrelson, and Marisa Tomei head the cast. V P

Z (PG)

+++ Reissue of Costa-Gavras's intelligent 1969 drama about the real-life assassination of a liberal Greek politician in the mid-'60s. It was disguised as an accident but exposed by a magistrate who refuses to toe the government's political line. Yves Montand and Jean-Louis Trintignant star. V P

Currently in Release

ANASTASIA (G)

+++ A young princess escapes death in the Russian Revolution, grows up in an orphanage without knowing her royal origin, then meets a con artist who enlists her to impersonate herself so he can collect a big reward. This lavishly produced animation makes imaginative use of familiar formulas, filling the screen with handsome images accompanied by sprightly songs and lively voice-performances from Meg Ryan as the heroine, John Cusack as her shady friend, Christopher Lloyd as the demonic Rasputin, and Angela Lansbury as a royal grandmother who's seen so many false Anastasias she can't bear the thought of another. Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. Contains scenes of violence and menace that may be too intense for very young viewers. V

+++ Captivating, clever, lovely animation.

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

+ Juvenile, vulgar, moronic.

BUGIS STREET: THE MOVIE (Not rated)

+ A teenage girl takes a job in a Singapore brothel populated by transvestites. The picture is clumsily written and directed, but it pokes interesting holes in Singapore's image as a highly controlled and moralistic city. Directed by the Taiwanese filmmaker Yonfan. 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

+++ Compassionate, nostalgic, moving.

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 and Harvey Keitel.

+++ Heartwarming, intricate, marvelous fairy effects.

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.

KISS OR KILL (R)

++ An outlaw couple run from the law across the Australian countryside, as suspicious of each other as of the police officers chasing them. Australian director Bill Bennett reworks the popular "film noir" style with energetic editing and hard-hitting imagery, but the story and characters aren't fresh or deep enough to sustain long-term interest. V P S

++ Frenetic, villainous, vulgar.

THE LITTLE MERMAID (G)

+++ Reissue of the Walt Disney Studio's popular 1989 animation about an independent-minded young mermaid who bargains with a witch to venture on land and woo a prince, hoping eventually to become a full-fledged human. Great fun, especially when the music takes a calypso turn during an undersea song-and-dance number. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements. Voices include Jodi Benson, Rene Auberjonois, Pat Carroll, and Buddy Hackett. V

++++ Funny, well-animated, bubbly.

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. Directed by Costa-Gavras, a thoughtful filmmaker with a commendable list of socially alert movies to his credit. V P

++ Timely, thought-provoking, simplistic.

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (R)

+++ A young New York journalist visits a Southern city to cover a social event, becoming acquainted with offbeat residents including a transvestite, a voodoo practitioner, and a businessman whose after-hours activities lead to a dramatic murder trial. Kevin Spacey gives a richly nuanced performance as the accused killer, and director Clint Eastwood makes the sometimes sordid story less sensationalistic than it might have seemed in less accomplished hands. John Lee Hancock's screenplay tends to ramble, though, even as it reduces the complexity and ambiguity of John Berendt's nonfiction novel. Contains foul language and frank discussion of sexual matters. V P

+++ Fascinating, lush, authentic Southern flavor.

NICK AND JANE (R)

o Cliche-ridden romance about a cab-driving artist who falls in love with a beautiful executive. Dana Wheeler-Dixon and James McCaffrey play the lackluster leads. Directed by Richard Mauro. P S

ONE NIGHT STAND (R)

+ Wesley Snipes plays an affluent commercial director with a wife and family who tumbles into a one-night tryst with a married woman (Nastassja Kinski). Director and screenwriter Mike Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas") tries to examine the emotional impacts of infidelity, but the message is overwhelmed by empty dialogue and erotic digressions. The characters end up seeming vacuous instead of torn and troubled - the intended effect. S N P By Kristina Lanier

+ Shallow, disturbing, perplexing.

THE RAINMAKER (PG-13)

+++ A novice Tennessee attorney takes on some emotionally charged cases, including a lawsuit against a shady insurance company on behalf of a dying man and his family. Francis Ford Coppola has directed the legal drama with his usual keen attention to atmosphere and texture, although his adaptation of John Grisham's bestselling novel leaves out connective material that would have made the tale smoother and savvier. Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, and Claire Danes head the solid cast. V P

+++ Lively, predictable, entertaining.

STARSHIP TROOPERS (R)

++ In a future very different from our time, a young man joins the army to see the galaxy and kill the bug-eyed monsters who threaten Earth's safety. Scenes of bone-crunching military training are followed by an orgy of science-fiction mayhem, all punctuated with satirical views of the era's social and political climate. Paul Verhoeven's movie takes more action than ideas from Robert A. Heinlein's 1959 novel, which is just as well, considering the book's goofy suggestion that military veterans should control society from top to bottom. V P N S

++ Techno-violent, male-bonding flick, awesome special effects.

THE SWEET HEREAFTER (R)

++++ Traumatized by a recent schoolbus accident, parents in an isolated town debate whether to organize their anger and grief into a lawsuit filed by a visiting attorney, who is grappling with severe family problems of his own. This poetic and compassionate drama by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan combines the intricate structure of his earlier movies with an emotional power that raises his remarkable career to a whole new level. Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, and Maury Chaykin head the fine cast. A subplot dealing with incest treats that difficult subject with exemplary taste and tact. S V P

THE TANGO LESSON (PG)

+++ Playing herself as the main character, writer-director Sally Potter tells the offbeat tale of a filmmaker who's so frustrated by commercial obstacles to her latest project that she strikes up a relationship with a handsome tango teacher, hoping dance and music will turn her imagination in new directions. Potter breaks many rules of mainstream moviemaking, from using subtitles to centering the story on her own less-than-polished performance. The drama is full of surprises, though, including an unpredictable visual style and a refreshing acknowledgment of religion as an important value for the protagonists. 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.

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, supported by Alison Elliott, Elizabeth McGovern, and Charlotte Rampling. Thoughtfully directed by Iain Softely from Hossein Amini's screenplay, which reduces James's intricately structured narrative to feature-film scale. Contains an unerotic nude scene that conveys the sad wages of immoral behavior. S N

+++ Passionate, compelling, not quite Henry James's novel.

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