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 BIG ONE (PG-13)

Director: Michael Moore. With Michael Moore, Rick Nielsen, Phil Knight. (90 min.)

+++ Almost a decade after "Roger & Me" made him a media star, filmmaker Moore documents a book tour that gave him another opportunity to talk with working-class Americans, poke fun at power brokers, and set up a showdown with a corporate leader. The results are frequently eye-opening and often hilarious, although viewers who don't share Moore's outspoken political opinions may find themselves more irked than amused.

THE BUTCHER BOY (R)

Director: Neil Jordan. With Eamonn Owens, Stephen Rea, Aisling O'Sullivan, Fiona Shaw, Sinad O'Connor. (120 min.)

+++ A young Irish boy responds with increasing anger and violence to the chaotic world of dysfunctional grown-ups around him. Jordan has filmed this overwhelmingly boisterous tale in an overwhelmingly boisterous way, leaving viewers to decide whether his portrait of childhood upheaval is usefully insightful or simply anarchic.

JUNK MAIL (NOT RATED)

Director: Pal Sletaune. With Robert Skjaerstad, Andrine Saether. (83 min.)

+++ Pitch-dark comedy from Norway about an eccentric postman whose antisocial habits lead him to spy on his neighbors, discard mail he doesn't feel like delivering, and worm his way into the life of a young woman on his route. Very original and funny in a squalid sort of way.

MERCURY RISING (R)

Director: Harold Becker. With Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Miko Hughes, Chi McBride. (114 min.)

+++ A fast-paced suspense starring Bruce Willis as an FBI undercover agent who investigates a double murder and stumbles into a governmental security breach involving a nine-year-old autistic child. Fresh dialogue and believable acting on Willis's part save this from being just an "action" flick, but do expect heavy violence and some disturbing scenes involving the frightened child. Baldwin co-stars as the "cool colonel" willing to kill for the sake of security. By Whitney Dodds Woodruff

+++ Fast-paced, gripping, a little too long.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Frequent and extreme violence throughout, including shootouts, explosions, and assassin's bullets to the head, back, and chest. Profanity: 27 instances, occasionally harsh. Drugs: 10 instances of drinking and pill-popping.

POINT OF ORDER (NOT RATED)

Directors: Emile de Antonio and Daniel Talbot. With Joseph McCarthy, Roy Cohn, Joseph N. Welch. (107 min.)

++++ Reissue of one of the great American documentaries, assembled from almost 200 hours of TV footage capturing the historically resonant Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954. Riveting, revealing, and relentlessly dramatic.

RIDE (R)

Director: Millicent Shelton. With Malik Yoba, Melissa De Sousa, John Witherspoon. (90 min.)

+ Pursued by thieves, a group from Harlem takes a broken-down bus to Miami, where they hope to be extras in a rap-music video. The usual brief appearances by rap stars may attract some viewers to this shallow comedy, but its only positive attribute is the sincerity of the bus-riding characters. By Mariah Gardner

Sex/Nudity: Some groping and salacious remarks. Violence: Several scenes of fistfighting. Profanity: About 200 expletives and vulgarities. Drugs: Cigarette smoking.

SONATINE (R)

Director: Takeshi Kitano. With "Beat" Takeshi, Tetsu Watanade, Aya Kokumai. (90 min.)

+++ An aging "yakuza" gangster leaves his own turf for a special assignment, entering a complicated web of ambiguous motives and conflicting loyalties. Directed with the blend of moody atmosphere and punchy violence that has made Kitano one of Japan's most powerful culture heroes.

THE SPANISH PRISONER (PG)

Director: David Mamet. With Campbell Scott, Steve Martin, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ben Gazzara, Ricky Jay, Felicity Huffman. (112 min.)

++++ Ingenious thriller about a young inventor who seeks help from an unpredictable new acquaintance when he suspects his company may be pushing him out of the profits from a high-tech formula he's developed. Witty performances and stylized dialogue give Mamet's edgy gamesmanship a sly, refreshing touch.

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 exploitation than an uncritical commercial for Rand's notions.

+++ Thought-provoking, intellectually demanding, a lengthy treatment.

Sex/Nudity/Violence/Profanity/Drugs: None.

CHARACTER (NOT RATED)

Director: Mike van Diem. With Jan Decleir, Fedja van Hut, Betty Schuurman. (117 min.)

+++ Winner of the Oscar as best foreign-language film, this Dutch drama focuses on a young man struggling for personal and professional success in Rotterdam of the 1920s while waging an emotional war against his distant, domineering father. The movie steers a steady course between realistic drama and Kafkaesque delirium, handling both skillfully.

GREASE (PG)

Director: Randal Kleiser. With John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing. (110 min.)

++ Twentieth-anniversary reissue of the popular but utterly unmemorable musical about teenage life in the '50s era.

+++ Energetic, fun, lively.

Sex/Nudity: Heavy sexual innuendo. Violence: Threat of violence between T-Birds and Scorpions. Profanity: Mild profanity. Drugs: Several scenes of drinking - wine at a slumber party and spiked punch at the dance.

LOST IN SPACE (PG-13)

Director: Stephen Hopkins. With William Hurt, Gary Oldman, Mimi Rogers, Matt LeBlanc, Heather Graham. (125 min.)

++ High-tech version of the '60s television series about a family whose intergalactic mission goes astray when a nasty stowaway sabotages their spaceship. William Hurt and Mimi Rogers are a bit more believable than Guy Williams and June Lockhart, their small-screen predecessors in the main roles, but most of the movie is an uneasy blend of shallow psychology, campy comedy, and perfunctory action episodes.

++1/2 Eye-candy, formulaic, silly but fun.

Sex/Nudity/Drugs: Some sexual innuendo. Violence: About 17 instances of laser shooting and fights against monster spiders. Profanity: Minimal.

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (PG-13)

Director: Randall Wallace. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, 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 little gore. Profanity: Two mildly crude expressions. Drugs: Four scenes with alcohol.

THE NEWTON BOYS (PG-13)

Director: Richard Linklater. With Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Skeet Ulrich, Julianna Margulies. (121 min.)

++ Meandering yarn based on the real-life exploits of a gang that robbed an enormous number of banks between 1919 and 1924. The cast is full of likable faces, but the story rings few interesting changes on its familiar genre.

+ Dull, slow, waste of time.

Sex/Nudity: No nudity; scenes of skinny dipping. Violence: Some police beatings of prisoners. Profanity: Minimal. Drugs: Social drinking.

NO LOOKING BACK (R)

Director: Edward Burns. With Edward Burns, Jon Bon Jovi, Lauren Holly, Blythe Danner. (96 min.)

+++ After the disappointments of "The Brothers McMullen" and "She's the One," this vaunted independent filmmaker creates an absorbing, atmospheric tale of working-class suburbanites coping with lives far less glowing than their dreams. Burns also gives a star-quality performance at the head of a finely chosen cast.

A PRICE ABOVE RUBIES (R)

Director: Boaz Yakin. With Rene Zellweger, Christopher Eccleston, Glenn Fitzgerald, Julianna Margulies. (120 min.)

++ An orthodox Jewish woman comes into conflict with her devout husband by longing for more independence than their highly traditional community is prepared to allow. The drama etches an intermittently sharp portrait of a subculture caught between a rich religious legacy and a changing contemporary world, but it's marred by digressions and touches of unneeded sensationalism.

Sex/Nudity: Four instances of sex, one implied; three of them explicit, but the participants are fully clothed. Violence: None. Profanity: About nine, mostly mild. Drugs: Wine drinking in family and religious settings.

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.

+++ Thought-provoking, well-acted, too long.

Sex/Nudity: No nudity, but there are sex jokes, one brief lesbian kiss, and it's implied that the main character sleeps around. Violence: One suicide and a couple of slaps on the face. Profanity: More than 60 expletives. Drugs: Some social drinking.

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.

++++ 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.

U.S. MARSHALS (PG-13)

Director: Stuart Baird. With Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey Jr., Kate Nelligan. (133 min.)

+++ Tommy Lee Jones and his old team of U.S. Marshals from "The Fugitive" are out to catch another escaped killer, this time played by Snipes. Like its precursor, "U.S. Marshals" has lots of action and the Jones groupies are likeable. Though the overall picture isn't as fine-tuned or character driven, it still delivers what moviegoers want to see - a fast-paced and entertaining chase. By Katherine Dillin

+++ Suspenseful, explosive, surprising.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Violent plane crash, shootings, and beatings. Profanity: Minimal. Drugs: One bar scene.

WIDE AWAKE (PG)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan. With Joseph Cross, Timothy Reifsnyder, Denis Leary, Rosie O'Donnell. (88 min.)

+++1/2 A boy at a Catholic prep school in Philadelphia seeks confirmation of God's existence after his much-loved and devout grandfather dies. O'Donnell portrays a hip nun, but the movie is more ponderous than pop. One jarring scene near the end depicts the aftermath of a child's seizure, an episode that plays a role in the religious awakening process. By Ross Atkin

+++ Loving, emotional, humorously endearing.

Sex/Nudity/Drugs: None. Violence: Brief shoving during recess. Profanity: References to God and Jesus.

Counterpoint!

If you would like to sound off about any movie or review, we'd be happy to hear from you - in 70 words or less! Send your views to "Counterpoint!" c/o The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail to: parneyl@csps.com

Out On Video

(In stores April 14)

THE HOUSE OF YES (R)

(Drama/dark comedy)

++ Director: Mark Waters. With Parker Posey, Josh Hamilton, Tori Spelling.

(90 min.)

THE ICE STORM (R)

(Drama)

++ Director: Ang Lee. With Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Sigourney Weaver. (113 min.)

+++ Compelling, intelligent, disturbing.

KISS THE GIRLS (R)

(Drama)

++ Director: Gary Fleder. With Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Cary Elwes.

(120 min.)

++ Creepy, tense, ominous.

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (R)

(Mystery/suspense)

Winner of two 1998 Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger)

++ Director: Curtis Hanson. With Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito.

+++ Intriguing story, suspenseful, brutally violent.

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