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
Director: Warren Beatty. With Warren Beatty, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, Don Cheadle, Jack Warden, Isaiah Washington, Paul Sorvino. (100 min.)
++ Driven literally nuts by the repetitious drudgery of campaigning, a senator starts speaking his real, irreverent thoughts about class, race, and other sore points of American life. Beatty's political satire is wildly uneven, but a few episodes are witty and trenchant enough to make the broad, hyperactive scenes worth sitting through. Contains a good deal of deliberately offensive language.
++ Ridiculous, liberal, refreshing.
Sex/Nudity: Sexual innuendo, 1 instance of sex. No nudity. Violence: 4 instances - none graphic. Profanity: 168 vulgarities, mostly vile. Drugs: 123 scenes featuring either liquor, cigarettes, marijuana, or cocaine.
THE HANGING GARDEN (NOT RATED)
Director: Thom Fitzgerald. With Chris Leavins, Kerry Fox, Sarah Polley. (91 min.)
+++ Unpredictable, sometimes dreamlike drama about a young gay man visiting his family and remembering his years as a shy, ungainly child. Good acting and a surprising story raise this offbeat tale a cut above the average.
THE HORSE WHISPERER (PG-13)
Director: Robert Redford. With Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Scarlett Johansson, Dianne Wiest, Sam Neill, Chris Cooper. (164 min.)
++ A sensitive cowboy helps a girl, her mother, and her horse overcome the psychological effects of a terrible riding accident. Redford the director makes sure that Redford the actor is favored by as many adoring close-ups as possible, and even his fans may find this too much of a good thing. But solid acting and gorgeous Montana landscapes lend class to what might have been a garden-variety soap opera.
+++1/2 Stunning scenery, touching, uplifting.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 2 mild scenes - an accident and a scene with a crazed horse. Profanity: 11 instances, mostly mild. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol.
LAWN DOGS (NOT RATED)
Director: John Duigan. With Sam Rockwell, Mischa Barton, Kathleen Quinlan, Christopher McDonald. (100 min.)
++ Neighbors leap to fearful conclusions when a young worker strikes up an unexpected friendship with a 10-year-old girl in a class-conscious Southern suburb. Capably acted and directed, although less imaginative than its unconventional main characters might lead one to expect.
LIFE OF JESUS (NOT RATED)
Director: Bruno Dumont. With David Douche, Genevieve Cottreel, Marjorie Cottreel. (96 min.)
++ The title has no obvious connection with the plot or characters of this drama, about a dull-witted man who gets a crush on an equally ordinary young woman in a stiflingly boring French village. Dumont etches an implicitly critical portrait of a society wasting the minds and talents of its youth, but the movie sometimes seems as downbeat and dehumanized as its protagonists.
QUEST FOR CAMELOT (G)
Director: Frederik Du Chau. With voices of Pierce Brosnan, Gabriel Byrne, Cary Elwes, John Gielgud, Eric Idle, Gary Oldman, Bronson Pinchot, Don Rickles, Jane Seymour, Jaleel White. (90 min.)
+++ A feisty girl and her blind companion embark on a quest to rescue King Arthur's legendary sword from a nasty villain. The tale is full of songs and action; still, it would be more exciting if the Warner Bros. animators came up with new storytelling ideas instead of relying on time-tested Disney formulas.
Currently in Release
ARTEMISIA (NOT RATED)
Director: Agns Merlet. With Valentina Cervi, Michel Serrault, Miki Manojlovic. (96 min.)
+++ 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.
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. Violence: About 55 instances - shootouts, car crashes, assassinations, explosions, attempted rape, heavy on gore. Profanity: 163 vulgarities and profanities, often harsh. Drugs: 10 scenes with drinking or cigar 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, 1 brief scene of topless dancers. Violence: A beating, a 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.
DEEP IMPACT (PG-13)
Director: Mimi Leder. With Robert Duvall, Ta Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman. (123 min.)
++ An enormous comet hurtles toward a collision with Earth, and Americans scramble to preserve their way of life by either diverting it from its course or squirreling away a random sample of the population in giant caves where they'll wait out the disastrous effects of the crash. Some scenes are preachy or predictable, but overall this is a worthy addition to a trusty genre that includes such minor classics as "When Worlds Collide."
+++ Moving, hopeful, spectacular.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: One explosion, a kidnapping, and natural disasters. Profanity: 34 obscenities - mostly mild. Drugs: 9 scenes of drinking.
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 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 and a sampling of the grueling step-by-step climb. Some of the more dramatic shots are taken from a helicopter. By David Francis
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.
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.
+++ Powerful, 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. VDrus: 5 instances of drinking, one scene with a drunk man.
LES MISRABLES (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. Violence: 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..
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.
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.
Sex/Nudity: 1 graphic sex scene. Violence: 4 mostly mild scenes. Profanity: 98 profanities, mostly harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, one with heavy drinking.
Out on Video
(In stores May 19)
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS (R)
Director: Anthony Waller. With Tom Everett Scott, Julie Delpy, Vince Vieluf, Phil Buckman. (97 min.)
Another version of the classic tale - three young college graduates on a European tour visit Paris where Andy (Scott) meets a beautiful woman (Delpy) who also happens to be a werewolf. Chaos ensues.
AS GOOD AS IT GETS (PG-13)
Director: James L. Brooks. With Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr. (138 min.)
++ Nicholson plays an obsessive-compulsive writer who makes life miserable for everybody but starts to lose his obnoxious habits when acquaintances need help.
+++ Exceptional, funny, touching.
SHALL WE DANCE? (PG-13)
Director: Masayuki Suo. With Koji Yakusyo, Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka, Eriko Watanabe. (119 min.)
A married Japanese businessman (Yakusyo) takes a departure from his routine and enters a ballroom dance class, his interest piqued by an attractive instructor.
+++ Powerful, touching, exquisite.
STARSHIP TROOPERS (R)
Director: Paul Verhoeven. With Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris. (129 min.)
++ In a future very different from our time, a young man (Van Dien) joins the army to see the galaxy and kill the bug-eyed monsters who threaten Earth's safety.
++ Techno-violent, male-bonding flick, awesome special effects.