The Monitor Movie Guide

Reviews in this weekly guide are written by Monitor critic David Sterritt (the first set of '+' marks in each review) unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor staff panel (the second set of '+' marks in each review) 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

THE BORROWERS (PG)

Director: Peter Hewitt. With John Goodman, Jim Broadbent. (83 min.)

+ A 10-year-old boy discovers a family of miniature people in his house, and when crooked lawyer Ocious P. Potter wrongly repossesses the place, the tiny "borrowers" fight to get it back. While the special effects are admirable and children may be amused, there's no enduring lesson or moral impact in the poorly developed plot. By Mariah Gardner

Sex/Nudity, Profanity: None. Violence: A few instances, but very mild. Drugs: One instance with a cigar.

+++1/2 Magical, wholesome, superb special effects.

DANGEROUS BEAUTY (R)

Director: Marshall Herskovitz. With Catherine McCormack, Rufus Sewell, Jacqueline Bisset, Oliver Platt, Moira Kelly, Jeroen Krabb, Joanna Cassidy, Fred Ward. (114 min.)

+ The setting is Venice in the 16th century; the heroine is a young woman who becomes a courtesan on the advice of her mother, gets involved in high-level political intrigue, and lands in perilous trouble when a would-be lover wields the power of the Inquisition against her. The camera work is pretty, but the drama is flat and lifeless, more concerned with titillating its audience than illuminating its historical background.

MRS. DALLOWAY (PG-13)

Director: Marleen Gorris. With Vanessa Redgrave, Rupert Graves, Michael Kitchen, Alan Cox, Natascha McElhone. (97 min.)

+++ A few years after World War I, a well-heeled London woman prepares for a party she's giving, encounters a long-ago suitor who's returned from India, and hears of a tragedy affecting a shellshocked veteran whose image has been haunting her. Vanessa Redgrave is almost too radiant as the title character of Virginia Woolf's virtuosically written novel, intelligently adapted by screenwriter Eileen Atkins.

PALMETTO (R)

Director: Volker Schlondorff. With Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Shue, Gina Gershon, Chloe Sevigny, Michael Rapaport, Tom Wright. (114 min.)

+++ Just out of jail on a trumped-up charge, a Florida reporter gets involved in a phony kidnapping cooked up by a millionaire's greedy wife. Harrelson hits just the right sardonic note in this self-mocking crime drama, but look out for grisly touches along the way.

THE WEDDING SINGER (PG-13)

Director: Frank Coraci. With Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore. (95 min.)

+++ Comedy about a wedding singer whose career flops after he's abandoned at the altar; a waitress who's about to marry an unfaithful man; and how they complicate their lives by falling in love. The movie is surprisingly strong despite its potentially flaky plot, combining '80s-style humor with a sincere romantic story. An entertaining debut from filmmaker Coraci. By Mariah Gardner

++1/2 Nostalgic, hilarious, silly but sweet.

Sex/Nudity: No sex or nudity, but many jokes are mildly sexual in nature. Profanity: 33 mild expletives. Violence: Two scenes: one punch to the nose, one mini-brawl at a wedding. Drugs: Seven scenes with alcohol, often with drunkenness used as humor; 3 scenes involving tobacco use.

Currently in Release

AYN RAND: A SENSE OF LIFE (Not rated)

Director: Michael Paxton. With Ayn Rand, Mike Wallace, Sharon Gless, Leonard Peikoff. (141 min.)

+ Documentary about the Russian-born writer who emigrated to the United States, wrote provocative novels like "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged," and developed her Objectivist philosophy based on capitalism, atheism, and selfishness as the highest moral good. The subject is fascinating, but the movie is less a thoughtful exploration than an uncritical commercial for Rand's notions.

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.

BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (PG-13)

Director: John Landis. With Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, Joe Morton, J. Evan Bonifant, Aretha Franklin. (123 min.)

++ Eighteen years after their first film, the Blues Brothers are back, complete with sunglasses, car chases ... and a kid? This time they're running from the law, a right-wing militia group, and the Russian mafia. Landmark musical performances from countless stars draw attention from a mediocre plot. Don't miss the end credits, with R&B legends singing a catchy tune and an amusing bit from James Brown. By Mariah Gardner

++1/2 Toe-tapping, innocuous, overlong.

Sex/Nudity: Scantily clad dancers at a strip club. Profanity: Minimal. Violence: Numerous car chases and a huge car-crash scene. Drugs: None.

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.

++ Spooky, dark, weird.

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of fairly graphic sex. Violence: 10 scenes, very vivid and horrifying. Profanity: 63 expletives. Drugs: A dozen scenes showing tobacco use, another dozen with alcohol.

DEEP RISING (R)

Director: Stephen Sommers. With Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Anthony Heald. (110 min.)

+ 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.

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.)

+ 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. VViolence: One scene of a subway stabbing. Profanity: Minimal. Drugs: Several scenes with cigarette smoking and social drinking.

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."

+++ Unique plot, unpredictable, well acted and directed.

Sex/Nudity: About six scenes of graphic sex and nudity, including full-frontal male nudity. Profanity: About 60 instances, but the language all seems in character. Violence: About 10 scenes of domestic violence, gunfights, and fistfights. Drugs: About five instances. References are made to cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol. A couple of scenes show marijuana and alcohol use.

MA VIE EN ROSE (R)

Director: Alain Berliner. With Michle Laroque, Jean-Philippe coffey, Hlne Vincent, Georges Du Fresne. (88 min.)

+++ "My Life in Pink" is the English-language title of this good-humored tale about a French schoolboy who's convinced he'd be much happier if he were a girl. Alain Berliner's brightly colored comedy treats a sensitive subject with unfailing taste, tact, and high spirits.

++++ Fresh, original, reflects today's society.

Sex/Nudity, Violence: None. Profanity: Minimal. Drugs: Drinking champagne as a family.

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.

+1/2 Pulsating, sleek cinematography, thin story line.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: At least 14 instances, almost all with guns. Profanity: Mostly mild, about two dozen. Drugs: A few incidental uses of alcohol and cigarettes; two with cocaine.

SHOCK CORRIDOR (Not rated)

Director: Samuel Fuller. With Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Gene Evans. (101 min.)

++++ First released in 1963, this high-intensity thriller focuses on a reporter who gets himself committed to a mental hospital in order to solve a murder case. The movie combines a delirious portrait of the post-World War II era with images of astonishing intensity.

SPHERE (PG-13)

Director: Barry Levinson. With Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Liev Schreiber, Peter Coyote. (120 min.)

++ Deep under the ocean, scientists investigate a mysterious object that manipulates reality according to the mentalities of the people who poke around it. Michael Crichton's novel had some amusing takes on the way technological paradoxes can flummox educated minds, but the movie version emphasizes special effects over ironies and ideas.

++1/2 Imaginative, not very scary, disjointed.

Sex/Nudity, Drugs: None. Violence: Frequent scenes of violence or threats of violence, including fatal jellyfish and sea-snake attacks. Profanity: 39 mild profanities.

TITANIC (PG-13)

Director: James Cameron. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher. (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. 24)

THE EDGE (R)

(Action/thriller)

+++ Director: Lee Tamahori. With Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, Elle Macpherson. (117 min.)

uuu Gripping, unrealistic, powerfully acted.

MAD CITY (R)

(Drama)

+++ Director: Costa-Gavras. With John Travolta, Dustin Hoffman. (114 min.)

++ Timely, thought-provoking, simplistic.

Coming Soon:

IN & OUT (PG-13)

(Comedy)

+++ Director: Frank Oz. With Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, Bob Newhart. (90 min.)

uu Clever dialogue, mildly embarrassing, politically correct.

THE PEACEMAKER (R)

(Action/thriller)

+ Director: Mimi Leder. With George Clooney, Nicole Kidman. (123 min.)

+ Silly, simplistic, unconvincing.

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