The Monitor Movie Guide

January 30, 1998

Reviews in this weekly guide are written by Monitor critic David Sterritt unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor staff panel (blue stars) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other viewers. Information on violence, drugs, sex/nudity, and profanity is compiled by the panel.

++++ Excellent

+++1/2 Very Good

+++ Good

++ 1/2 Average

++ Fair

+1/2 Poor

+ Worst

New Releases

DECEIVER (R)

Directors: Josh and Jonas Pate. With Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Michael Rooker, Renee Zellweger, Rosanna Arquette, Ellen Burstyn. (102 min.)

+++ Two cops and a lie-detector machine square off against a brilliant but deranged man who may have horrifically murdered a prostitute. The story has extremely lurid aspects but the acting and storytelling are strong.

DEEP RISING (R)

Director: Stephen Sommers. With Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Anthony Heald, Kevin J. O'Connor, Wes Studi. (110 min.)

+1/2 Assorted adventurers battle sea monsters in the briny deep. The movie has energy to spare, but its over-the-top mayhem adds nothing new or worthwhile to the horror genre.

DESPERATE MEASURES (R)

Director: Barbet Schroeder. With Michael Keaton, Andy Garcia, Marcia Gay Harden, Brian Cox. (105 min.)

+1/2 A policeman persuades a psychotic killer to provide a bone-marrow transplant for his gravely ill son, but the criminal launches an escape plan as soon as he enters the hospital. The beginning of the story raises important questions about some aspects of high-tech medical care, but the movie soon degenerates into a series of mindless chase sequences.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (R)

Director: Alfonso Cuarn. With Gwyneth Paltrow, Ethan Hawke, Robert De Niro, Anne Bancroft. (115 min.)

+1/2 Updated version of Charles Dickens's great novel, changing the Pip character from an English marsh-dweller to a Florida artist named Finn who moves to New York after an unknown benefactor takes an interest in his welfare. The stars are appealing and the filmmaking is imaginative at times, but the picture never builds much dramatic momentum.

Currently in Release

AFTERGLOW (R)

Director: Alan Rudolph. With Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Lara Flynn Boyle, Jonny Lee Miller. (113 minutes.)

+++ Two couples split apart and get involved in each other's lives, while coping with various stresses from the past and present. Less interesting than the adulterous shenanigans are the impulses toward family life that the characters seem unable to resist despite the temptations that assail them. Nolte gives a superb performance; Christie is positively incandescent.

+++ Well-written, engaging, strong acting.

Sex/Nudity: Numerous scenes of sexual activity; a preoccupation with sex and adultery in the story. Violence: Aggressive behavior and story material about grief and loss. Profanity: Four-letter words and other vulgarities; sex-related dialogue. Drugs: Drinking.

AMISTAD (R)

Director: Steven Spielberg. With Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Pete Postlethwaite, Nigel Hawthorne, Stellan Skarsgrd. (150 min.)

++ 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. Steven Spielberg's historical drama is more stilted and didactic than its fascinating subject deserves, gathering great emotional force only in a harrowing scene depicting the Holocaust-like suffering of slave-ship captives.

+++ Gripping, moving, powerful.

Sex/Nudity: Some nudity. Violence: Horrific views aboard slave ships; graphic drowning; mutiny scenes with fighting, killing. Profanity: One scene, scatological dialogue. Drugs: Drinking.

THE APOSTLE (NOT RATED)

Director: Robert Duvall. With Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton, Miranda Richardson, Farrah Fawcett. (133 min.)

++++ Robert Duvall wrote, directed, and stars in this riveting tale of a religiously devout but humanly flawed preacher, who flees from Texas to Louisiana after a violent incident sparked by his wife's infidelity and another minister's move to oust him from his church. Avoiding the clichs and condescension that characterize many films on religious figures, the movie is at once a compelling drama and a thoughtful look at faith-related issues on personal, social, and cultural levels.

Sex/Nudity, Drugs: None. Violence: One brief outburst. Profanity: One vulgarity.

THE BOXER (R)

Director: Jim Sheridan. With Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson, Brian Cox. (107 min.)

++ A prizefighter returns to Belfast, Northern Ireland, after 14 years in a British prison for IRA activity, renewing his affection for a former girlfriend and entering a difficult relationship with his politically active neighbors. Jim Sheridan's topical drama gains power from strong performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson, but the screenplay is too scattered for the picture to build the emotional impact of "In the Name of the Father," an earlier collaboration between Sheridan and Day-Lewis on a similar subject.

+++ Thoughtful, tense, unsettling.

Violence: Graphic prizefighting. Terrorism involving explosions, executions. Profanity: Four dozen vulgarities. Drugs: 10 scenes involving alcohol; five depicting use of tobacco.

DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (R)

Director: Woody Allen. With Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Kirstie Alley, Billy Crystal, Mariel Hemingway, Amy Irving, Demi Moore, Robin Williams, Elisabeth Shue. (96 minutes).

++ A writer flip-flops between reality and illusion on a complicated day when his former wife won't let him take their son to a college ceremony in his honor. Woody Allen wrote and directed this inventive comedy, which has some good laughs but a very nasty edge.

+++1/2 Witty, insightful, engaging.

Sex/Nudity: A great deal of sexual dialogue; one scene with nudity. Violence: Minimal, presented in a comic way. Profanity: Incredible amount of four-letter words for an Allen film. Drugs: Frequent drinking.

FALLEN (R)

Director: Gregory Hoblit. With Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland. (124 min.)

++ A detective battles a fallen angel who commits awful crimes while inhabiting the bodies of ordinary people. An energetic but uneven thriller.

++ Too slow, gloomy, morbid.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Several killings, much fighting, graphic depiction of a gas-chamber execution. Profanity: 55 instances of four-letter words. Drugs: 2 scenes of liquor use; 8 scenes involving cigars or cigarettes.

THE GINGERBREAD MAN (R)

Director: Robert Altman. With Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davitz, Robert Duvall, Daryl Hannah. (115 min.)

+++ A lawyer lands in dangerous trouble with an unhappy young woman, her eccentric father, and a cultlike group to which the old man belongs. Popular novelist John Grisham cooked up the story for Robert Altman's engrossing thriller, which gains additional power from moody camera work and more atmospheric rainfall than any movie in ages.

HALF BAKED (R)

Director: Tamra Davis. With David Chappelle, Jim Breuer, Guillermo Diaz, Harland Williams, Rachel True. (97 min.)

+ Three pot-smoking underachievers concoct a hair-brained scheme to steal and sell medicinal-grade marijuana to bail a friend out of the joint. Paying homage to drug comedies of the '70s, Half Baked is high on getting high and low on laughs. This movie appropriately merits the Monitor's first + rating of the year. By John Christian Hoyle

+ Juvenile, unnecessary, mercifully short.

Sex/Nudity: A great deal of sexual dialogue, one bedroom scene, one scene with nudity. Violence: Minimal, presented in a comic way. Profanity: Four-letter words and other vulgarities. Drugs: The entire movie revolves around smoking marijuana.

HARD RAIN (R)

Director: Mikael Salomon. With Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver. (96 min.)

++ Bank robbers chase an armored-car guard who's made off with their loot during a flood emergency in a Midwestern town. Mikael Salomon directed the silly but diverting action yarn, which benefits from the talents of Morgan Freeman, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, and Betty White.

KUNDUN (PG-13)

Director: Martin Scorsese. With Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, Gyurme Tethong, Tencho Gyalpo. (128 min.)

+++ 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. Taking great commercial risks, director Martin Scorsese avoids movie-star performances and the psychological storytelling that Hollywood movies normally thrive on. The result is a visually spectacular epic depicting both the tragic vicissitudes of Tibetan history and the bedrock integrity of its spiritual traditions.

+++ Majestic, educational, worthwhile.

Sex/Nudity, Profanity, Drugs: None. Violence: Brief, graphic depictions of Chinese brutality toward Tibetans.

OSCAR AND LUCINDA (R)

Director: Gillian Armstrong. With Ralph Fiennes, Cate Blanchett, Tom Wilkinson, Clive Russell. (131 min.)

++ A clergyman and a glassmaker fall in love in 19th-century Australia, brought together by their weakness for gambling. The first 20 minutes blend elements of childhood, history, romance, and religion into a series of lively and promising scenes, and later there are some striking images of a glass church. But most of the movie is a disappointingly slow and commonplace love story.

++ Odd, obsessive, puzzling.

Sex/Nudity: Brief, explicit sex scene. Violence: One graphic scene. Profanity: Some. Drugs: Drinking.

THE POSTMAN (R)

Director: Kevin Costner. With Kevin Costner, Will Patton, Larenz Tate, Olivia Williams. (170 min.)

+1/2 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. The story takes place in 2013, but you'd hardly know it from the age-old clichs Kevin Costner purloins to tell this overblown action yarn, which relies heavily on ideas borrowed from John Ford westerns.

+++ Earnest, purposeful, heroic.

Sex/Nudity: One brief, explicit scene. Violence: 20 instances: executions, punches, knifings, cannons, lion attack, murders. Profanity: 40 instances, mostly mild. Drugs: One instance of alcohol being swigged; three scenes with cigarettes.

SPICE WORLD (PG)

Directed by Bob Spiers. With the Spice Girls, Richard E. Grant, George Wendt, Roger Moore, Meat Loaf. (93 min.)

+1/2 A few fictionalized days in the happy-hectic lives of a British singing group. The filmmakers aim at a spoofy tone somewhere between "A Hard Day's Night" and "This Is Spinal Tap," but the results are closer to the Village People's bland "Can't Stop the Music" than to the brash breeziness of pop culture at its best.

Sex: A comic pregnancy scene. Violence/profanity/nudity/drugs: None.

SWEPT FROM THE SEA (PG-13)

Director: Beeban Kidron. With Rachel Weisz, Vincent Perez, Kathy Bates, Sir Ian McKellen. (115 min).

+1/2 Joseph Conrad's bittersweet story "Amy Foster" inspired this heavy-handed romance about a young British woman who falls in love with a shipwrecked Ukrainian sailor, sparking the wrath of her bigoted neighbors and her own hard-bitten father. Directed by English filmmaker Beeban Kidron, who serves up vivid images but fails to make the tale as resonant or convincing as the tale it's based on.

TITANIC (PG-13)

Director: James Cameron. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates. (197 min.)

+++ 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. The first half drags a bit, but the adventure scenes are exciting and the visual effects are as dazzling as Hollywood's most advanced technology can make them.

++++ Awesome epic, riveting, tragic.

Sex/Nudity: Brief, fairly explicit sex. Violence: One suicide; much suffering as ship sinks; some gunfire. Profanity: Several dozen four-letter words. Drugs: Drinking, smoking.

THE WINTER GUEST (R)

Director: Alan Rickman. With Emma Thompson, Phyllida Law. (110 min.)

+++ 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.

+++ Poignant, beautifully filmed, moving.

Sex/nudity: Sex scene; brief nudity; sex-related dialogue. Violence: None. Profanity: Four-letter words and other vulgarities. Drugs/Alcohol: Drinking.

OUT ON VIDEO

In stores on Feb. 3:

EXCESS BAGGAGE (PG-13)

(comedy/drama)

Director: Marco Brambilla. With Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken, Harry Connick Jr. (101 min.)

GANG RELATED (R)

(Action drama)

++ Director: Jim Kouf. With Tupac Shakur, James Belushi, Dennis Quaid. (95 min.)

G.I. JANE (R)

(action drama)

++ Director: Ridley Scott. With Demi Moore, Anne Bancroft. (124 min.)

+++ Hard-hitting, intense, thought-provoking.

HERCULES (G)

(animated adventure)

++ Directors: John Musker and Ron Clements. Featuring the voices of Tate Donovan, James Woods, Danny DeVito, Paul Shaffer, and Hal Holbrook. (92 min.)

+++ Hip, fun, entertaining.

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