Family 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 movie guide appear on alternate Fridays.

Our star ratings indicate the overall quality of movies, not their suitability for children.

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

ANASTASIA [G]

+++ Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. With Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Christopher Lloyd, Angela Lansbury. Running time: 93 minutes. +++

PLOT A young princess escapes death in the Bolshevik 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.

MESSAGE A person can accomplish many things by staying true to her heart and ideals.

VIOLENCE Scenes of mayhem during the revolution; violence and terror posed by a demonic character who wants to kill the heroine.

SEX/PROFANITY/DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

THE LITTLE MERMAID [G]

+++ Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements. With Jodi Benson, Rene Auberjonois, Pat Carroll, Buddy Hackett. Running time: 82 minutes. ++++

PLOT An independent-minded young mermaid bargains with a witch to venture on land and woo a prince, hoping eventually to become a full-fledged human.

MESSAGE A person can gain much by striking out on her own, but she must be careful to avoid temptation and bad company.

VIOLENCE Some cartoonish brawling and menace.

SEX/PROFANITY/DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

MOUSEHUNT [PG]

Directed by Gore Verbinski. With Nathan Lane, Lee Evans, Christopher Walken, Vicki Lewis, Eric Christmas, Maury Chaykin, Michael Jeter. Running time: 93 minutes. ++

PLOT Two quarreling brothers inherit a run-down estate from their father, but a tiny house mouse is prepared to defend his territory.

MESSAGE Although sometimes animals don't get along with people - and people don't get along with one other - solutions can be found to make everybody happy.

SEX Comic scene in which a mouse jumps down a woman's blouse.

VIOLENCE Slapstick violence.

PROFANITY Four mild profanities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Champagne at a party; cigars.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS [PG-13]

++ Directed by James L. Brooks. With Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear. Running time: 130 minutes. +++

PLOT An obsessive-compulsive writer makes life miserable for everybody around, but he starts to lose his obnoxious habits when acquaintances badly need his help.

MESSAGE A misanthrope can change his stripes under the right conditions.

SEX Strong innuendo; brief nudity.

VIOLENCE A secondary character is violently attacked and badly injured.

PROFANITY Four-letter words and many vulgarities; many racist and homophobic insults spoken by the main character.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

KUNDUN [PG-13]

+++ Directed by Martin Scorsese. With Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, Gyurme Tethong, Tencho Gyalpo. Running time: 128 minutes.

PLOT The life of Tibet's spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama, from childhood until his flight to India after China's brutal invasion of his country.

MESSAGE Tibet has faced many difficult problems in its modern history, but its religious faith and its ideal of nonviolence have provided sustenance.

VIOLENCE Brief but graphic depictions of Chinese brutality toward Tibetans, and explicit dialogue describing such horrors.

SEX/PROFANITY/DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.

TITANIC [PG-13]

+++ Directed by James Cameron. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates, David Warner, Frances Fisher, Danny Nucci, Suzy Amis, Gloria Stuart. Running time: 197 minutes. ++++

PLOT The great ship's legendary voyage, as recalled by an elderly woman who fell in love with a young scamp and rejected her pompous fianc in the hours before the awful iceberg struck.

MESSAGE The tragic sinking of the Titanic affected many lives in many different ways.

SEX Brief but fairly explicit sex; nudity.

VIOLENCE Much violence and suffering in connection with the sinking of the ship. One suicide.

PROFANITY Four-letter words and vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

TOMORROW NEVER DIES [PG-13]

++ Directed by Roger Spottiswoode. With Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Judi Dench, Ricky Jay, Joe Don Baker, Desmond Llewelyn. Running time: 120 minutes. ++

PLOT James Bond chases a megalomaniacal media mogul with help from a Chinese sidekick and lots of high-tech gadgets.

MESSAGE A high-tech hero can defeat all-but-certain death without so much as mussing his hair.

SEX Strong innuendo.

VIOLENCE Much action-movie mayhem, some enhanced by special effects.

PROFANITY Five profanities; double-entendres.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Seven scenes - social drinking.

AMISTAD [R]

++ Directed by Steven Spielberg. With Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Pete Postlethwaite, Nigel Hawthorne, David Paymer, Stellan Skarsgrd. Running time: 150 minutes. +++

PLOT A group of abducted Africans mutiny against the slave traders shipping them into bondage, wind up in a Connecticut jail, and fight for freedom with help from a black abolitionist and a former president.

MESSAGE Atrocities occurred under slave system, but some right-minded people were against this.

SEX No sexual activity, but there is some nudity.

VIOLENCE Fighting and killing in the mutiny scenes; horrific views of the suffering undergone by the slave-ship captives; graphic depiction of drowning.

PROFANITY One scene with scatological dialogue.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

THE BOXER [R]

++ Directed by Jim Sheridan. With Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson, Brian Cox. Running time: 107 minutes.

PLOT A prizefighter returns home after 14 years in prison for IRA activity, renewing his affection for a former girlfriend and entering a difficult relationship with his politically active neighbors.

MESSAGE Political troubles in Northern Ireland remain volatile and dangerous, impinging on private as well as public life.

SEX Some sexual activity.

VIOLENCE Views of political terrorism as well as graphically filmed mayhem in the boxing ring.

PROFANITY Four-letter words and other vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

GOOD WILL HUNTING [R]

++ Directed by Gus Van Sant. With Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Stellan Skarsgrd, Minnie Driver. Running time: 126 minutes. +++

PLOT A brilliant but aimless young man develops a complex relationship with a psychotherapist who's never gotten over his wife's death.

MESSAGE Troubled people can help one another if they open up to each other and learn to take responsibility for their lives.

SEX Two bedroom scenes, not graphic; the dialogue includes dirty jokes.

VIOLENCE Three instances; photos and dialogue related to harm inflicted by abusive parents.

PROFANITY 191 mostly harsh four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL 14 scenes involving alcohol. Cigarettes smoked throughout the movie.

OTHER The great amount of coarse language could mar this otherwise intriguing film for some.

JACKIE BROWN [R]

+++ Directed by Quentin Tarantino. With Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton. Running time: 160 minutes. ++

PLOT In trouble with the law, a flight attendant cooks up a self-protective scheme that plays a murderous old friend against a burned-out businessman and a wheeler-dealer cop.

MESSAGE Age has its advantages, including a savvier and more seasoned approach to life's challenges, which may be deadly if one has dangerous companions.

SEX A brief but extremely explicit sex scene; sex-related dialogue and innuendo.

VIOLENCE Several scenes of violence, often disturbingly senseless and abrupt.

PROFANITY More than 100 four-letter words and other vulgarities, including many racially charged epithets.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Almost constant drinking and smoking of tobacco and marijuana.

OSCAR AND LUCINDA [R]

++ Directed by Gillian Armstrong. With Ralph Fiennes, Cate Blanchett, Tom Wilkinson, Clive Russell, Ciaran Hinds. Running time: 131 minutes.

PLOT A clergyman and a glassmaker fall in love in 19th-century Australia, united by their weakness for gambling.

MESSAGE Love may thrive on people's weaknesses as well as their strengths.

SEX Brief but explicit sex.

VIOLENCE A scene of brief but graphic violence.

PROFANITY Some vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

THE POSTMAN [R]

u Directed by Kevin Costner. With Kevin Costner, Will Patton, Larenz Tate, Olivia Williams. Running time: 170 minutes. +++

PLOT Trying to survive the chaos and violence that dominate America after World War III, a drifter poses as a friendly letter carrier rebuilding links among isolated communities and becomes a folk hero whose message helps defeat an evil tyrant.

MESSAGE People's longing for community can help them survive catastrophic events.

SEX One scene of brief but explicit sex.

VIOLENCE 20 instances: executions, punches, knifings, cannons, lion attack. Some teen postal carriers are killed on their routes.

PROFANITY 40 instances of profanity, mostly the milder four-letter type.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL One instance of alcohol being swigged. Three scenes involving cigarettes.

WAG THE DOG [R]

+++ Directed by Barry Levinson. With Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Heche, Woody Harrelson, Denis Leary, Willie Nelson, Kirsten Dunst, William H. Macy. Running time: 120 minutes.

PLOT Desperate to distract the public from a presidential sex scandal just before an election, a White House adviser hires a Hollywood producer to help him whip up an international incident complete with suspenseful situations, winsome heroes, and a media circus to publicize it all.

MESSAGE In today's media-saturated age, it's impossible for the public to know what's real and what's the product of politically motivated high-tech trickery.

SEX Some sexual activity; explicit sex-related dialogue.

VIOLENCE Scenes of wartime mayhem concocted by media manipulation.

PROFANITY Four-letter words and other vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

THE WINTER GUEST [R]

+++ Directed by Alan Rickman. With Emma Thompson, Phyllida Law. Running time: 110 minutes.

PLOT Four couples encounter small adventures on a freezing day in their remote Scottish village: an elderly woman and her widowed daughter, two aging neighbors, a pair of schoolboys, and a teenage boy and girl trying to decide whether they're meant for each other.

MESSAGE Emotions run deep among people of very different sorts, even on a freezing day in a quiet little town.

SEX Sex scene; brief nudity; sex-related dialogue.

VIOLENCE None.

PROFANITY Four-letter words and other vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking.

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