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

Recommended: Default

+++ Good

++ 1/2 Average

++ Fair

+1/2 Poor

+ Worst

New Releases

ARMAGEDDON (PG-13)

Director: Michael Bay. With Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Will Patton, Ben Affleck, Peter Stormare, Keith David, Steve Buscemi. (144 min.)

+Rowdy astronauts rocket to an asteroid that's speeding toward Earth, hoping they can blow it up before a catastrophic collision. Everything about the first half-hour is so outrageously crude that you may hope the asteroid lands on the theater where you're watching the movie. Things improve once the heroes arrive in outer space, where the special effects are reasonably imaginative, but the story's emotions remain forced and artificial to the unsurprising end.

++ Corny, wild space ride, video-game-ish.

Sex/Nudity: One scene of nearly nude dancing, some sexual innuendo and kissing. Violence: 3 scenes involving guns and/or fistfights, many high-action scenes with explosions, 3 scenes of massive destruction. Profanity: 49, mostly mild, expressions. Drugs: 5 instances of drinking in bars.

DEAR JESSE (NOT RATED)

Director: Tim Kirkman. With Tim Kirkman, Allan Gurganus, Jesse Helms. (85 min.)

+++ An open letter to Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina from a gay filmmaker who can't understand how he's earned so much animosity from someone he's never met. Kirkman's documentary explores important social issues with intelligence, insight, and wit.

DOCTOR DOLITTLE (PG-13)

Director: Betty Thomas. With Eddie Murphy, Ossie Davis, Oliver Platt, Peter Boyle. (86 min.)

+New version of the old story about a man whose conversations with animals lead to consternation among his human friends. The animals are cute and Murphy gives a lively performance, but as with his remake of "The Nutty Professor," the original is still the best. Contains a great deal of vulgar dialogue and scatological humor.

++1/2 Lighthearted, droll, fun.

Sex/Nudity: One brief scene of backside nudity. Violence: None. Profanity: About 10, mostly mild, expressions. Drugs: A monkey gets drunk.

THE FARM: ANGOLA USA (NOT RATED)

Directors: Jonathan Stack and Liz Garbus. With Bernard Addison, Burl Cain. (93 min.)

+++ Thoughtful, compassionate study of a high-security prison in Louisiana, focusing on a variety of inmates ranging from a jailhouse preacher to a condemned man awaiting execution. The documentary would carry more weight if it swung more of its attention from individual personalities to overriding issues, but it's still a powerful and moving experience.

JUNK FOOD (NOT RATED)

Director: Masashi Yamamoto. With Shizuko Yamamoto, Miyuki Ijima, Yoshiyuki Onimaru. (84 min.)

++ A murderous office worker, a tattoo artist, and a Pakistani immigrant with a loose-living Japanese girlfriend are among the characters of this multifaceted look at contemporary Tokyo, which emphasizes the city's sad and sleazy sides in a series of moody, often violent vignettes. Yamamoto is a striking visual stylist, but stronger storytelling skills would make him a more effective director.

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (NOT RATED)

Director: Peter Weir. With Rachel Roberts, Helen Morse, Dominic Guard, Jacki Weaver. (103 min.)

+++ Reissue of Weir's celebrated 1975 drama about a group of schoolgirls who mysteriously vanish during an excursion to a geological wonder in the Australian countryside. Although he's best known as the director of "The Truman Show" and other Hollywood hits, Weir launched his career with a string of highly imaginative Australian pictures, and while this is not the most ingenious of the bunch, it demonstrates his talent for offbeat, evocative storytelling. The 1998 release is edited to Weir's original specifications for the first time.

VOYAGE TO THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD (NOT RATED)

Director: Manoel de Oliveira. With Marcello Mastroianni, Jean Yves Gautier, Leonor Silveira. (95 min.)

+++ An aging movie director travels into rural Portugal with some friends, including a middle-aged actor who wants to visit an elderly aunt and explore her trove of irreplaceable memories. Mastroianni's final performance is not one of his greatest, nor does this semiautobiographical drama rank with the very best work of de Oliveira's magnificent career; but it is unquestionably worth viewing by anyone with an interest in deeply humanistic cinema.

Currently in Release

BUFFALO '66 (NOT RATED)

Director: Vincent Gallo. With Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci, Anjelica Huston, Ben Gazzara, Rosanna Arquette, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Corrigan, Jan-Michael Vincent. (106 min.)

++ Affection slowly grows between a loutish ex-convict and a young woman he badgers into masquerading as his wife for the benefit of his uncaring parents. Gallo demonstrates an interesting visual style, especially in the movie's more dreamlike moments, but it would be more effective if he aimed the camera less frequently at himself and more often on Ricci's quietly magnetic performance.

CARLA'S SONG (NOT RATED)

Director: Ken Loach. With Robert Carlyle, Oyanka Cabezas, Scott Glenn. (127 min.)

++ A likable Scottish bus driver befriends a Nicaraguan immigrant and later accompanies her to her native country, where her brother has endured great pain and suffering for his political actions and beliefs. The story is marred by overstatement and emotionalism, but Loach's long-standing commitment to socially and politically alert filmmaking is clear in every scene.

COUSIN BETTE (R)

Director: Des McAnuff. With Jessica Lange, Elisabeth Shue, Bob Hoskins, Hugh Laurie, Kelly MacDonald, Aden Young. (112 min.)

++ Rivalry, romance, and family intrigue in Paris of 1846. The movie is handsome, but there's little life to the dramatic scenes, and the comic bits are even flatter. Until now McAnuff has been a stage director, and his stagey approach makes this modern-day movie seem less edgy and contemporary than the great 19th-century novel by Honor de Balzac.

GONE WITH THE WIND (NOT RATED)

Director: Victor Fleming. With Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, Butterfly McQueen, Hattie McDaniel, Thomas Mitchell. (222 min.)

++++ Reissue of the 1939 classic about the troubled romance of a headstrong teenager and a handsome adventurer amid the turmoil of the Civil War and the end of an era in the land of gracious plantations, Southern hospitality, and unrepentant slavery. The 1998 rerelease brings back the movie's original height-to-width ratio and restores its Technicolor hues.

++++ Monumental, romantic, moving.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: No graphic violence; some face-slapping and tense moments of conflict. Profanity: 1 expression. Drugs: A few scenes of drinking to excess.

HAV PLENTY (R)

Director: Christopher Scott Cherot. With Chenoa Maxwell, Christopher Scott Cherot, Hill Harper. (92 min.)

++ Writer-director-star Cherot and a fresh, attractive African-American cast tell the true story of how he found love on his own surprisingly upright terms. The low budget and Cherot's too frequent asides to the camera undermine his good intentions. But it's encouraging to see a movie with such a positive message. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 2 scenes of punching. Profanity: 63 obscenities. Drugs: Some wine drinking.

HENRY FOOL (R)

Director: Hal Hartley. With Thomas Jay Ryan, James Urbaniak, Parker Posey, Maria Porter. (138 min.)

+++ An unsavory stranger drifts into the life of an unhappy young man, working on a "confession" he hopes to publish and encouraging his new friend to write a long poem that some find sublime but others find sick and disgusting. Hartley does his finest filmmaking to date in this stylized comedy-drama that suggests the best and worst in human nature may be vexingly intertwined with each other. Contains material about disturbing issues including sexual abuse of children.

THE LAND GIRLS (R)

Director: David Leland. With Catherine McCormack, Rachel Weisz, Anna Friel, Steven Mackintosh. (100 min.)

+++ Three young women seek love, fulfillment, and fun as transplanted farm workers doing their bit in the English countryside during a World War II labor shortage. The story is corny at times, but the movie has a richly romantic spirit to match its lively characters, witty performances, and bittersweet portrait of a bygone time.

LITTLE BOY BLUE (R)

Director: Antonio Tibaldi. With Ryan Phillippe, Nastassje Kinski, Jon Savage, Shirley Knight. (103 min.)

++ A young man tries to help his little brothers grow up in a wildly dysfunctional household dominated by their father, a disabled Vietnam veteran. The story is periodically overwhelmed by its own Southern gothic gumbo of physical and psychological ills, but there's a good deal of excellent acting on view, especially in secondary roles.

MULAN (G)

Directors: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook. With voices of Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, Harvey Fierstein, B.D. Wong, Pat Morita, Donny Osmond, Lea Salonga, George Takei. (85 min.)

+++ Helped by her "guardian dragon," a Chinese girl dresses as a man and joins the army to fight off a Hun invasion, fooling just about everyone into thinking she's as much a warrior as the other guys. This high-quality Disney animation combines strong pictorial appeal with amiable voice-performances. Fun for all.

+++1/2 Funny, appealing to all ages, exciting.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: Some mild fight scenes, one character gets stabbed, implied violence.

THE OPPOSITE OF SEX (R)

Director: Don Roos. With Christina Ricci, Martin Donovan, Lisa Kudrow, Lyle Lovett, Johnny Galecki, Ivan Sergei. (100 min.)

++ The emotional adventures of a teenage runaway, her middle-class gay brother, and an assorted group of friends, relations, and people they wish they'd never laid eyes on. Highly uneven but always energetic and sometimes very funny.

Sex/Nudity: About 4 scenes involving sex, considerable innuendo, no nudity. Violence: 2 scenes involving punching, 1 killing in self-defense. Profanity: About 121 expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes in a bar.

OUT OF SIGHT (R)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. With George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson. (121 min.)

++ A tough-minded policewoman develops a weak spot for a longtime bank robber on the lam after a jailbreak. The screenplay serves up the quirky dialogue and ironic twists associated with author Elmore Leonard, who wrote the original novel, but much of the action seems more like warmed-over Quentin Tarantino than first-rate Steven Soderbergh.

+++ Amusing, involving, sexy.

Sex/Nudity: Some sexual situations, mostly implied; no complete nudity. Violence: About 5 instances. 1 graphic stabbing, 1 implied murder; some shooting. Profanity: Quite a few obscenities (no exact count). Drugs: Some social drinking and references to marijuana use.

SMOKE SIGNALS (PG-13)

Director: Chris Eyre. With Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Tantoo Cardinal, Gary Farmer, Irene Bedard. (89 min.)

++ Two young native Americans leave their economically and emotionally depressed reservation in search of heightened awareness regarding their personal and ethnic histories. The movie makes up in sincerity and goodwill what it lacks in originality and style.

THE TRUMAN SHOW (PG)

Director: Peter Weir. With Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris, Natasha McElhone, Noah Emmerich. (107 min.)

++++ Smart, funny, thought-provoking comedy about a painfully ordinary man who gradually learns he's the unwitting star of a real-life TV show. Weir's offbeat directing makes the most of Andrew Niccol's inventive screenplay, which includes large doses of surprisingly sardonic satire aimed at today's entertainment trends.

+++ Original, bittersweet, clever.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 1 simulated drowning. Profanity: 11 obscenities, mostly mild. Drugs: 15 scenes where alcohol is present, though usually not being consumed.

THE X-FILES (PG-13)

Director: Rob Bowman. With David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau, Blythe Danner. (105 min.)

+++ Investigating a terrorist bombing, FBI agents Mulder and Scully pursue answers to deeper questions about alien colonizers and governmental schemers; but it's not deep enough to place this action-adventure fantasy into the league of truly imaginative science-fiction classics like "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," which it occasionally recalls. Chris Carter wrote the screenplay, mining the same trove of ideas that underpins his hugely popular TV series.

+++ Well-crafted, brutal, some gaps in logic.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: About 10 scenes of brutal violence - maulings, explosions, and shootings. Multiple scenes involving unsavory aliens. Profanity: 10 profanities, mostly mild. Drugs: 1 scene of drinking, 4 scenes of smoking, and 1 drug injection.

OUT ON VIDEO

(In stores July 1)

WAG THE DOG (R)

(Comedy)

Director: Barry Levinson. With Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Anne Heche. (120 min.)

uuu Desperate to distract the public from a presidential sex scandal just before an election, a White House adviser hires a Hollywood producer to help him whip up a foreign war to divert attention.

uuu Cynical, wry, imaginative.

COMING SOON

(In stores July 7)

GOOD WILL HUNTING (R)

(Drama)

Director: Gus Van Sant. With Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver. (126 min.)

uu A brilliant but aimless young man develops a complex relationship with a psychotherapist who's never gotten over his wife's death.

uuu Well-constructed, inspiring, intelligent.

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