BOSTON — 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.
+++1/2 Very Good
++ 1/2 Average
FIREWORKS (HANA-BI) (NOT RATED)
Director: Takeshi Kitano. With "Beat" Takeshi, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi. (103 min.)
+++ Kitano is a hugely popular Japanese comedy star, but his numerous movies have tended more toward action and dramatic themes. In this prizewinning drama, he plays a well-meaning but impulsively violent policeman who tries to retreat from his dangerous urban environment with his seriously ill wife. Although it doesn't always live up to its ambitions, the film provides an offbeat portrait of universally relevant human issues.
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (PG-13)
Director: Randall Wallace. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Grard Depardieu, Gabriel Byrne. (132 min.)
+++1/2 Musketeer revolutionaries in 1662 Paris plot to replace an arrogant king with his forgotten twin brother, who was condemned to life in an iron mask. Chivalry and camaraderie are dominating themes in this powerful, exciting drama. Although DiCaprio is effective as both brothers, the superb supporting cast lends the story's most touching moments. By Mariah Gardner
+++ Lively, stylish, great story line.
Sex/Nudity: The king beds female subjects; one scene with male nudity (from the rear). Violence: Swordplay and musketry, but with little gore. Profanity: Two mildly crude expressions. Drugs: Four scenes involving alcohol.
POST COITUM (NOT RATED)
Director: Brigitte Roan. With Brigitte Roan, Nils Tavernier, Boris Terral, Patrick Chesnais. (97 min.)
+++ Roan gives a vivacious performance as a 40-something editor who leaves her family for a love affair with a much younger man, only to learn the wages of sin when he makes his own untimely departure from her life. Although it contains some nudity and sexual behavior, the drama is more interested in inner emotions than outer behaviors, and it has become one of the most widely acclaimed French productions of the late '90s. Also known as "Post Coitum Animal Triste" ("After Sex the Animal Is Sad.")
PRIMARY COLORS (R)
Director: Mike Nichols. With John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Adrian Lester, Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates. (140 min.)
+++ Smart, colorful adaptation of the 1996 novel about a Southern governor whose presidential campaign is dogged by one sexual rumor, allegation, and scandal after another. Travolta and Thompson are excellent as the candidate and his wife; Lester makes a sensational debut as an African-American aide; and Elaine May's screenplay paints a vivid portrait of the hero who's also an utterly sincere "people person" determined to help the little folks ignored by business-as-usual politicians.
TASTE OF CHERRY (NOT RATED)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami. With Homayoun Ershadi, Abdolhossein Bagheri, Afshin Bakhtiari. (95 min.)
++++ This highly challenging, deeply philosophical Iranian drama focuses on a man who has decided to end his life but first drives through the countryside in search of a compassionate stranger who'll agree to give him a proper burial. At once a compelling human story and an utterly fresh piece of moviemaking, the picture reconfirms Kiarostami's growing reputation as one of world film's most original talents.
Oscar Nominations in Release
AS GOOD AS IT GETS (PG-13)
Director: James L. Brooks. Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear. (130 min.)
+++ Nicholson plays an obsessive-compulsive writer who makes life miserable for everybody around, but starts to lose his obnoxious habits when acquaintances badly need his help. The story makes Nicholson's character arbitrarily awful at the beginning so he can become arbitrarily sweet by the end; none of the action is very convincing, but Nicholson's over-the-top acting gives an entertaining edge to the plot's feel-good manipulation.
+++ Exceptional, touching, funny.
Sex/Nudity: 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: Social drinking.
THE FULL MONTY (R)
Director: Peter Cattaneo. With Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Barber, Steve Hulson, Hugo Speer. (90 min.)
+++ Four jobless men become so desperate for work that they decide to explore the male-stripper profession. Cattaneo's comedy has brash and boisterous scenes, but its message about the humiliations of unemployment is serious and insightful, and applies far beyond the English setting of this story.
+++ Hilarious, touching, clever.
Sex/Nudity: A little discreetly filmed sexual behavior; a small amount of nudity. Violence: A little fighting, not intense or serious. Profanity: Some vulgarities; anatomical humor. Drugs: Some drinking.
GOOD WILL HUNTING (R)
Director: Gus Van Sant. With Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgrd, Minnie Driver. (126 min.)
++ A brilliant but aimless young man develops a complex relationship with a psychotherapist who's never gotten over his wife's untimely death. Damon and Williams give touching performances, but Gus Van Sant's filmmaking is surprisingly ordinary. Although he dedicates the picture to the memories of Beat Generation authors Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, it's hard to think of a movie that's less true to their anarchic spirits.
+++ Well-constructed, inspiring, intelligent.
Sex/Nudity: 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: 14 scenes involving alcohol. Cigarettes smoked throughout the movie. Other: The great amount of coarse language could mar this otherwise intriguing film for some.
L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (R)
Director: Curtis Hanson. With Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger. (140 min.)
+++ During the '50s, an honest cop and a tough cop become involved with an egotistical colleague, who conspires with a tabloid journalist to get the goods on headline-making crimes. The story is so complicated that the movie can't quite make it clear, but the picture has impressive energy from Spacey, DeVito, and Pearce.
+++ Intriguing story, suspenseful, brutally violent.
Sex/Nudity: Sexual activity, some lurid and some implied. Violence: Killing, shooting, fighting, chasing, and other police-movie violence. Profanity: Many harsh four-letter words. Drugs: Drinking, drug use.
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. Nude woman sketched by artist. Violence: One suicide. Suffering, fighting as ship sinks; gunfire wounds two people. Profanity: Several dozen four-letter words. Drugs: Frequent scenes (27) of drinking and/or smoking.
Currently in Release
THE BIG LEBOWSKI (R)
Director: Joel Coen. With Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, John Turturro, David Huddleston, David Thewlis, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara. (117 min.)
+++ Hired to deliver a ransom in a kidnapping scheme, two bowling-league buddies decide to abscond with the money themselves, landing themselves in a heap of complicated trouble. There are many delirious laughs in the Coen brothers' sprawling crime-comedy, but the heroes - a dope-smoking relic of the '60s and a gun-toting Vietnam vet - aren't exactly role models, and beware of some outbursts of violence and other scruffy material.
+++1/2 Hilarious, quirky, colorful.
Sex/Nudity: Brief nudity. Violence: Fistfighting with some biting. Profanity: Many expletives, including one four-letter obscenity repeated at least 65 times. Drugs: Constant drinking and smoking marijuana.
EVEREST (IMAX, NOT RATED)
Director: David Breashears. With Robert Schauer, Araceli Segarra, Ed Viesturs, Sumiyo Tsuzuki. (50 min.)
++++ "Just plain breathtaking." That's how an adviser to the producers of "Everest" accurately describes the 80-foot-IMAX screen movie portraying a 1996 climb up the world's tallest peak. The story is told through the personal lives of the climbers, and though the dangers are made clear, the film doesn't become gruesome. Much is made of the task of lugging a 42-pound IMAX camera up the 29,028-foot peak. It provides panoramic views of dramatic beauty, as well as a sampling of the grueling step-by-step climb. Some of the more dramatic shots are taken the easy way - from a helicopter. By David Francis
LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND (PG-13)
Director: Richard Kwietniowski. With John Hurt, Jason Priestley, Fiona Loewi, Sheila Hancock. (93 min.)
++++ An aging widower strays into the wrong movie at a multiplex, becomes transfixed by the youthful charm of a third-rate actor (Jason Priestley) he sees, and makes a pilgrimage from London to Long Island, New York, in hope of meeting the object of his dreams. Hurt gives an astonishingly sensitive and funny performance as the bedazzled intellectual, and first-time filmmaker Kwietniowski unfolds the story with an unfailing blend of humor and compassion.
Sex/Nudity: Implied, not shown. Violence: None. Profanity: None. Drugs: Brief drinking.
MEAN STREETS (R)
Director: Martin Scorsese. With Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Amy Robinson, David Carradine. (110 min.)
++++ Revival of the scruffy but indelible 1973 portrait of small-time Manhattan hoods that launched Scorsese's career as the most important American filmmaker of our time. The acting and filmmaking are often brilliant, but beware of a great deal of unabashed violence and vulgarity.
MEN WITH GUNS (HOMBRES ARMADOS) (R)
Director: John Sayles. With Federico Luppi, Damin Delgado, Tania Cruz, Mandy Patinkin. (128 min.)
+++ After years of training young doctors to help poverty-stricken rural families, an aging physician learns that many of his students have abandoned their posts or disappeared. He begins an arduous voyage into the interior, hoping to learn what's going on. This leisurely drama intelligently explores issues of social responsibility and political violence and earns extra praise for being an American movie that allows its Spanish-speaking characters to actually speak in Spanish (with English subtitles).
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Couple of scenes of suicides; soldiers burn a village and chase inhabitants; reports of soldiers raping native villagers. Profanity: Minimal. Drugs: Social drinking.
MRS. DALLOWAY (PG-13)
Director: Marleen Gorris. With Vanessa Redgrave, Rupert Graves, Michael Kitchen, Alan Cox. (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. Redgrave is almost too radiant as the title character of Virginia Woolf's virtuosically written novel.
+++1/2 Charming, engaging, insightful.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Only implied - man commits suicide by jumping out of a window. Profanity: None. Drugs: Social drinking.
Director: Robert Benton. With Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, Stockard Channing, James Garner, Giancarlo Esposito, Liev Schreiber. (96 min.)
+++ An aging private eye investigates a long-ago murder case that may involve two of his longtime friends, including an ailing millionaire who has virtually taken him into his family. The vintage detective-movie plot takes on extra interest from Benton's visual style, tinged with sad nostalgia for the vanished past, and from superb acting by a uniformly excellent cast.
++1/2 Well-acted, engrossing, suspenseful.
Sex/Nudity: A bedroom after-sex scene. Violence: Several bloody murders using handguns. Profanity: Frequent use of profanity. Drugs: A half-dozen scenes involving cigarettes and alcohol.