The Monitor's Movie Guide

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New Releases

ARTEMISIA (NOT RATED)

Director: Agns Merlet. With Valentina Cervi, Michel Serrault, Miki Manojlovic. (96 min.)

Recommended: Default

+++ Fact-based story of a Renaissance artist who sparked cultural controversy by breaking a taboo against women painting nude figures, and entered a personal scandal when she became the lover of her highly respected mentor. Merlet's lively style blends painterly images with brisk cinematic movement. Contains extensive nudity and sex.

BLACK DOG (PG-13)

Director: Kevin Hooks. With Patrick Swayze, Randy Travis, Meat Loaf, Gabriel Casseus. (99 min.)

DUD Explosions, gunfire, car chases, truck crashes - this movie has it all, but unfortunately, that's about all it has. Billed as an action classic, it's brought down by a plodding script, 100 percent predictability, and total lack of suspense. The talented cast, headed by Swayze and Travis, walk through their stereotyped, good ol' boy roles. By John Dillin

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Virtually non-stop car chases, truck crashes, explosions, and automatic weapons fire. Profanity: 4 dozen swear words, some harsh. Drugs: 10 scenes with beer, cigars, cigarettes, and/or chewing tobacco.

DEEP IMPACT (PG-13)

Director: Mimi Leder. With Robert Duvall, Ta Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman. (131 min.)

++ We've seen this before - earth's eve of destruction by a well-aimed asteroid. It was terrible some years ago (as "Asteroid"), and it's still lost in space as "Deep Impact." This one has a better story and lots more pathos, but it feels mostly pathetic: contrived acting, 1980s special effects. Director Mimi Leder is the master of suspenseful turns in the script, minus the suspense. Not for grown-ups, but a good yarn for kids. By Lynde McCormick

+++ Moving, hopeful, spectacular.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: One explosion, a kidnapping, and natural disasters. Profanity: 34 obscenities - mostly mild. Drugs: 9 scenes of drinking.

A FRIEND OF THE DECEASED (R)

Director: Vyacheslav Krishtofovich. With Alexandre Lazarev, Tatiana Krivitska, Eugen Pachin. (100 min.)

+++ Disillusioned with the coldness of capitalist society, an unemployed Ukranian intellectual begins to think life might not be worth living; but his plan to end it all runs into trouble when the hit man he's hired doesn't pull off the job as scheduled. This sardonic, quietly filmed tale has much to say about human and social issues that know no national boundaries.

THE KINGDOM PART 2 (NOT RATED)

Director: Lars von Trier. With Ernst-Hugo Jaregard, Kirsten Rolffes, Udo Kier. (295 min.)

+++ Another long session of von Trier's inspired lunacy about the surreal goings-on in an ultramodern Danish hospital built on the ruins of an ancient, haunted land. Not for the faint-hearted, although adventurous viewers will find hours of startling surprises.

SHOPPING FOR FANGS (R)

Directors: Quentin Lee and Justin Lin. With Radmar Jao, Jeanne Chin, Clint Jung. (90 min.)

++ Hollywood's classic "The Wolf Man" evidently provided some inspiration for this Asian-American story of an unhappily married woman and a young man who might be turning into a werewolf. The movie is more offbeat than successful, but it certainly provides a new twist on an old legend.

WOO (R)

Director: Daisy v.S. Mayer. With Jada Pinkett Smith, Tommy Davidson, LL Cool J. (80 min.)

+ A slightly dazed law clerk has an unexpectedly wild first date with a woman who's as eccentric as she is beautiful. There's energy to spare in this comedy with a mostly African-American cast, but neither the characters nor the story make enough sense to fill out even a scant 80 minutes.

Currently in Release

THE BIG HIT (R)

Director: Che-Kirk Wong. With Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christina Applegate. (93 min.)

++ Wahlberg plays a comically polite hit man who finds trouble when coworkers turn against him. Alternating between comedy and violent action, the movie is senseless and often unbelievable. The choreography and special effects are interesting, though. By Mariah Gardner

+ Vulgar, tasteless, funky.

Sex/Nudity: Sexual innuendo, backside nudity, attempted rape. Violence: About 55 instances, - shootouts, car crashes, assassinations, explosions, heavy on gore. Profanity: 163 vulgarities and profanities, often harsh. Drugs: 10 scenes with drinking or cigar smoking.

CHARACTER (NOT RATED)

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

+++ Winner of the Oscar for 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.

+++1/2 Well-crafted, intriguing, intense.

Sex/Nudity: Brief scene of backside nudity. Violence: Several scenes of physical fighting. Profanity: None. Drugs: Some social drinking and smoking.

CHINESE BOX (R)

Director: Wayne Wang. With Jeremy Irons, Gong Li, Maggie Cheung, Ruben Blades. (99 min.)

++ A gravely ill British journalist observes the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule while cultivating complex relationships with two very different Asian women. The screenplay is as ambitious and multilayered as its subject, but filmmaker Wang doesn't achieve either the artful insights of his "Chan Is Missing" or the audience-pleasing drama of "The Joy Luck Club."

Sex/Nudity: Several scenes implying sexual situations, one brief scene of topless dancers. Violence: One beating, one suicide, some gore in a butcher's shop. Profanity: 28 obscenities - mostly harsh. Drugs: Characters often drink excessively.

CITY OF ANGELS (PG-13)

Director: Brad Silberling. With Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan, Dennis Franz. (112 min.)

++ In love with a beautiful heart surgeon, an angel decides to "fall" into mortality so he can experience human love. Many will welcome the movie's interest in spirituality, but some may wonder why it's couched in a celebration of sensual pleasures ranging from sex to cigarette smoking. Based on Wim Wenders's more insightful German film "Wings of Desire."

+++ Life-affirming, thought-provoking, pensive.

Sex/Nudity: Fairly explicit sex scene, a sensuous bath scene, and one character is shown nude from behind while running into the ocean. Violence: One mugging scene. Profanity: 13, mostly mild. Drugs: 6 instances of smoking, drinking.

HE GOT GAME (R)

Director: Spike Lee. With Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, John Turturro, Lonette McKee, Ned Beatty. (128 min.)

+++ A father is offered early release from prison if he can persuade his son, a gifted basketball player, to attend the local college instead of signing with one of the high-powered institutions that are tempting him with offers of money, sex, and sin. Combining elements of family drama, religious fable, and sports adventure, Lee's flawed but fascinating movie is sometimes brilliant and never dull. Contains brief but explicit sex and drug abuse.

+++ Gritty, lurid, ambitious.

Sex/Nudity: 8 sexual situations - some extremely graphic - brief nudity. Violence: 7 instances of violence, one involving an accidental murder. Profanity: 102 vulgarities, often harsh and generally crude dialogue. Drugs: 5 instances of drinking, one scene with a drunk man.

LES MISERABLES (PG-13)

Director: Bille August. With Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Claire Danes, Uma Thurman. (140 min.)

+++ Handsomely produced adaptation of Victor Hugo's stirring novel about a decades-long duel between a rehabilitated convict and a police inspector who cares more about law and order than justice and redemption. Neeson and Rush give emotionally rich portrayals of the main characters, and August's proudly classical filmmaking keeps the dramatic energy high even when the secondary performances sag in the story's second half. The screenplay by Rafael Yglesias focuses on moral issues with a seriousness and insistence that illuminate current social-issue debates as well as the history of Hugo's own time.

+++ Moving, beautifully acted, intelligent.

Sex/Nudity: One scene of partial nudity - not explicit.VViolence: Two scenes involving hitting, several scenes of shooting and death related to a student uprising, a suicide. Profanity: A single obscenity, some rough language related to prostitution. Drugs: None..

MARIUS AND JEANNETTE (NOT RATED)

Director: Robert Gudiguian. With Grard Meylan, Ariane Ascaride. (102 min.)

++ Modest but sincere French drama about two 40-something workers who fall in love with a little help from their friends.

THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION (R)

Director: Nicholas Hytner. With Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, John Pankow, Alan Alda, Nigel Hawthorne. (112 min.)

++ A young woman decides to have a baby without marrying her somewhat hard-to-take boyfriend, turning to her new gay roommate as a partner and confidant. Paints a reasonably tasteful if not exactly credible portrait of domestic life among the unconventional urban set.

++ Promiscuous, humorous, thoughtful.

Sex/Nudity: No nudity, but there's one seduction scene, sexual innuendo, and implied homosexual sex. Violence: One punch. Profanity/Obscenity: 48 profanities and obscenities. Drugs: 12 scenes of high-society wine drinking.

SLIDING DOORS (R)

Director: Peter Howitt. With Gwyneth Paltrow, John Lynch, Jeanne Tripplehorn, John Hannah. (105 min.)

+ A woman hurries toward the subway after work, and her story suddenly splits in two, alternating between different versions of what might have happened depending on whether she boarded the train or not. The gimmick behind the screenplay is clever, but the filmmakers don't rise to the challenge they've set themselves, merely spinning two unimaginative stories for the price of one.

+++ Imaginative, surprising, romantic.

Sex/Nudity: 2 mild scenes. Violence: 2 accidents. Profanity: A few mild, mostly British-inspired expressions.Drugs: Several scenes of social drinking.

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. (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.

+++1/2 Intriguing, suspenseful, surprising twists.

Sex/Nudity: Some mild innuendo. Violence: A bloody murder scene, a threat with a gun. Profanity: 3 very mild expressions. Drugs: Smoking and social drinking.

THE TRUCE (R)

Director: Francesco Rosi. With John Turturro, Rade Serbedzija. (116 min.)

++ Turturro plays author Primo Levi in this drama adapted from Levi's memoir about his post-World War II journey from the Auschwitz death camp to his Italian homeland. Rosi is one of Italy's most thoughtful directors, but his portrayal of this harrowing voyage never gets below surface events to probe their deeper human and historical meanings.

TWO GIRLS AND A GUY (R)

Director: James Toback. With Robert Downey Jr., Heather Graham, Natasha Wagner. (83 min.)

++ Downey gives a startlingly vivid performance as a young man juggling two angry girlfriends while worrying over his mother's uncertain health. Contains an explicit sex scene and very rough language.

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 May 12)

THE GIANT OF THUNDER MOUNTAIN (PG)

(Family)

Director: James W. Robertson. With Noley Thornton, Richard Kiel, Jack Elam, Cloris Leachman, Bart the Bear. (88 min.)

A young girl (Thornton) befriends a giant (Kiel) living in the mountains above her Old West home.

PLAYING GOD (R)

(Drama)

Director: Andy Wilson. With David Duchovny, Timothy Hutton, Angelina Jolie, Michael Massee, Peter Stomare. (94 min.)

A doctor (Duchovny) loses his license and gets involved with criminals after performing a surgery while high on amphetamines.

TOMORROW NEVER DIES (PG-13)

(Action/adventure)

Director: Roger Spottiswoode. With Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Judi Dench. (119 min.)

++ James Bond chases a megalomaniac with high-tech gadgets and a screenplay that allows him to fend off all-but-certain death without mussing his hair.

++ Disappointing, tired, inelegant.

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