The Monitor Movie Guide

February 6, 1998

Reviews in this weekly guide are written by Monitor critic David Sterritt unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor staff panel 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

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

+++1/2 Very Good

+++ Good

++ 1/2 Average

++ Fair

+1/2 Poor

+ Worst

New Releases

ILLTOWN (R)

Director: Nick Gomez. With Lili Taylor, Michael Rapaport, Tony Danza, Isaac Hayes. (103 min.)

++ Florida drug dealers cope with the physical and psychological hazards of their trade. Taylor and Rapaport are among today's most engaging stars, but the movie as a whole is more pretentious than illuminating. A disappointing letdown from filmmaker Gomez, whose "Laws of Gravity" remains a landmark of streetwise independent filmmaking.

LIVE FLESH (R)

Director: Pedro Almodvar. With Liberto Rabal, Angela Molina. (100 min.)

+++ A paralyzed policeman enters a continually shifting relationship with his beautiful wife, his former partner, and the man sent to jail for causing his injury. Some of the action is as lurid as the title, but passionate performances and ingenious visuals make this the most absorbing movie by Spanish director Almodvar since his great comedy "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."

MOTHER AND SON (Not rated)

Director: Aleksandr Sokurov. With Gudrun Geyer, Aleksei Ananishnov. (73 min.)

++++ Contemplative study of the profoundly loving relationship between a dying woman and the son who cares for her. Filmed by Russian director Sokurov, widely recognized as one of the world's most gifted and unconventional filmmakers, with a radical stillness that makes this closer to an exquisitely wrought painting than a dramatic movie.

NIL BY MOUTH (R)

Director: Gary Oldman. With Kathy Burke, Charlie Creed-Miles, Ray Winstone, Laila Morse, Edna Dore. (128 min.)

+++ Raw, unsettling account of a working-class London family beset by poverty, drug abuse, and domestic violence. The screenplay by filmmaker Oldman is based on his own youthful experience in similarly distressed circumstances, and his directorial debut has the virtue of authenticity if not of understatement.

THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS (R)

Director: Antoine Fuqua. With Mira Sorvino, Chow Yun-Fat, Michael Rooker, Jurgen Prochnow. (88 min.)

++ Deciding to go straight and emigrate to the United States, a Chinese hit man seeks safety for himself and his family by striking one last deal with dangerous mobsters. The story has more violence than brains, but Hong Kong action star Chow makes an interestingly moody impression in his first Hollywood role.

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.

+++ 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. (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. 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.

+++ Compelling, inspiring, provokes thought about religion.

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; 5 depicting use of tobacco.

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.

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 min.)

++ 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.

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.

++ Alien-esque, scary, good sense of humor.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: About 20 scenes of fistfights, automatic machine guns, and beasts eating people alive. Profanity: 105 expletives. Drugs: 6 scenes involving social drinking, 4 involving cigarettes.

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.

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.

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.

++1/2 Visually powerful, lightweight, creative interpretation.

Sex/Nudity: A few scenes - one with nudity and two erotic. Violence: One scene of a subway stabbing. Profanity: Minimal. Drugs: Several scenes with cigarette smoking and social drinking.

HALF BAKED (R)

Director: Tamra Davis. With David Chappelle, Jim Breuer, Guillermo Diaz, Harland Williams, Rachel True. (82 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. Salomon directed the silly but diverting action yarn, which benefits from the talents of Morgan Freeman, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, and Betty White.

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 disappointing.

++ Odd, obsessive, puzzling.

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

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.

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.

Out on Video

(In stores on Feb. 10)

Air Force One (R)

(Action/adventure)

++ Director: Wolfgang Petersen. With Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close.(124 min.)

++ Fast-paced, silly, flawed.

Coming soon:

The Devil's Advocate (R)

(Action/thriller)

++ Director: Taylor Hackford. With Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves. (144 min.)

+++ Clever, chilling, intriguing plot.

Good Burger (PG)

(Comedy)

Director: Brian Robbins. With Kel Mitchell, Kenan Thompson. (93 min.)

Most Wanted (R)

(Action/thriller)

Director: David Hogan. With Keenen Ivory Wayans, Jon Voight, Jillian Hennessy. (99 min.)

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...