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

CLAY PIGEONS (R)

Director: David Dobkin. With Joaquin Phoenix, Vince Vaughn, Janeane Garofalo, Scott Wilson, Georgina Cates. (104 min.)

++ Already caught in a mess of legal and romantic problems, a young Montana man meets an aggressive new friend who turns out to be nothing but trouble. The story picks up some interest after an early string of wildly sensationalistic events, and much of the acting is energetically good. But the filmmakers have seen "Fargo" and "Red Rock West" about a dozen times too often, and moviegoers familiar with those pictures will find this adventure eerily familiar.

HIT ME (NOT RATED)

Director: Steven Shainberg. With Elias Koteas, Laure Marsac, Phillip Baker Hall, William H. Macy, Haing S. Ngor, Kevin J. O'Connor, Jay Leggett, Bruce Ramsay. (128 min.)

+Surreal melodrama about a low-level hotel employee, a suicidal Frenchwoman, and a plot to rob a high-stakes poker game. The action is undercooked and overlong, although director Shainberg serves up a few peppery moments along the way.

LOLITA (R)

Director: Adrian Lyne. With Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain, Melanie Griffith, Frank Langella. (137 min.)

+++ The melancholy tale of a middle-aged European man enmeshed in a love affair with an underage American girl. Vladimir Nabokov's novel helped open society's eyes to the evils of pedophilia in the 1950s, and this pensive adaptation renews the warning for a later generation.

++1/2 Well-acted, lurid, disturbing.

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of nudity and sex; a half-dozen suggestive scenes of legs rubbing up against each other. Violence: 8 scenes of violence including harsh face-slapping, rough sex, bloody shooting, shoving, and a violent shake on the floor. Profanity: 3 expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes of drinking, several scenes of cigarette smoking, 1 scene with a pipe; main character gives wife sleeping pills.

ME AND MY BROTHER (NOT RATED)

Director: Robert Frank. With Peter OrloSky, Julius OrloSky, Allen Ginsberg, Joseph Chaikin, Christopher Walken. (88 min.)

+++ Fiction and documentary spin webs around each other in this experimental classic from 1968, centering on a former mental patient who explores the fringes of American society with unconventional companions from the Beat Generation scene. Coherence is not the movie's strong point, but Frank's pungent images reconfirm his reputation as a key figure in modern photography.

MONUMENT AVE. (R)

Director: Ted Demme. With Billy Crudup, Denis Leary, Colm Meany, Martin Sheen, Jeanne Tripplehorn. (90 min.)

++ Returning to his closely knit Irish-American neighborhood after a jail term, a young man touches off a series of violent incidents that test the loyalty of his companions to a local crime boss and one another. The story has some chillingly suspenseful episodes, although it's marred by overfamiliar themes and a weakness for dialogue scenes that resemble acting exercises more than real life.

PECKER (R)

Director: John Waters. With Edward Furlong, Christina Ricci, Lili Taylor, Mink Stole, Mary Kay Place, Martha Plimpton, Patricia Hearst, Bess Armstrong. (87 min.)

+++ Dark comedy about a young Baltimore photographer who takes candid shots of his family and friends and shares in their embarrassment when the Manhattan art world discovers his work. Waters fills the movie with his usual touches of outrageously bad taste, but beneath the sophomoric shocks his story has a serious message about self-absorbed artists who care more about their own careers than the privacy of the people around them.

RUSH HOUR (R)

Director: Brett Ratner. With Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson, Elizabeth Pea, Julie Hsu. (108 min.)

+++ Action-packed comedy about the kidnapping of a young Chinese girl from her politically influential father. Chan and Rock pair up in Los Angeles to save the girl from death and an incompetent FBI investigative team. The fast-talking Rock and quick-kicking Chan are a surprisingly good team that manages to deliver a stylish and fun combination of highly choreographed action and comedy. By Ari Denison

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Several scenes of choreographed kung fu and cartoonish violence. Profanity: Some harsh profanity. Drugs: One scene of marijuana; social drinking.

SHADRACH (PG-13)

Director: Susanna Styron. With Harvey Keitel, Andie MacDowell, Scott Terra. (100 min.)

+++ Devastated by poverty during the Depression years, a farming family in Virginia faces a hard decision when a 99-year-old former slave walks onto its land and asks to be buried there after his death, even though the law forbids such private arrangements and there's no money for a dignified alternative. The rambling story builds less dramatic power than one might wish, but the acting is solid and the movie's heart is in the right place.

Currently in Release

CUBE (R)

Director: Vincenzo Natali. With Nicole deBoer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett, Andrew Miller, Julian Richings. (90 min.)

++ Surreal fantasy about a group of strangers who find themselves trapped in a mysterious structure where all the rooms are cube-shaped cages, many of them booby-trapped with deadly dangers. The characters are stereotypes and the psychology is simplistic, but the movie builds an effective sense of claustrophobic menace that thriller fans may enjoy.

FIRELIGHT (R)

Director: William Nicholson. With Sophie Marceau, Stephen Dillane, Kevin Anderson, Lia Williams, Dominique Belcourt, Joss Ackland. (103 min.)

++ Needing money to settle her father's debts, a young woman agrees to bear a child for a wealthy man whose wife is an invalid, then tracks down the little girl years later and takes a job as her governess. The story is compassionate and humane, but many scenes are trite or unbelievable, and the movie is drenched in corny music that detracts from the emotions it's supposed to enhance.

+++ Romantic, Bront-esque, period drama.

Sex/Nudity: 4 brief sex scenes, 2 include partial nudity. Violence: None. Profanity: 9 mild expressions. Drugs: 8 instances of social drinking.

LA SENTINELLE (NOT RATED)

Director: Arnaud Desplechins. With Emmanuel Salinger, Thibault de Montalembert, Valerie Dreville. (150 min.)

+++ After a train journey during the height of the cold war, a European student finds a shrunken head inexplicably placed into his luggage and encounters a series of sociopolitical enigmas as he tries to unravel this mystery. Although it loses some of its punch as its secrets are revealed, this 1992 drama placed Desplechins on the cinematic map as a thoughtful French filmmaker whose style is a saVy blend of the cool, the calculated, and the paradoxical.

A MERRY WAR (NOT RATED)

Director: Robert Bierman. With Richard E. Grant, Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Wadham. (101 min.)

+++ Entertaining adaptation of George Orwell's amusing novel "Keep the Aspidistra Flying," about a young poet who declares war on money and sticks to his guns even when the ugliness of poverty draws uncomfortably near. The filmmaking is smooth and the acting is excellent, but the picture shares the novel's weakness of a flabby final scene.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of sexual talk. Violence: 2 scenes, a brawl in the street and some face slapping. Profanity: 29 expressions, mostly mild or British. Drugs: Cigarette smoking and social drinking.

ONE TRUE THING (R)

Director: Carl Franklin. With Meryl Streep, Rene Zellweger, William Hurt, Tom Everett Scott, Nicky Katt. (120 min.)

+++ A young woman leaves her big-city career to help with a family crisis in the college town where she grew up. There she gets caught in the crossfire between her seriously ill mother and brilliant but self-involved father, and in the turmoil stirred up by reawakened memories of her own complicated past. Heartfelt acting and imaginative filmmaking transform a soap-opera story into an affecting screen experience.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 2 brief scenes of arguing. Profanity: 27 expressions, mostly strong. Drugs: Some cigar smoking and social drinking; main character is on painkillers through most of the movie.

ROUNDERS (R)

Director: John Dahl. With Matt Damon, Edward Norton, Gretchen Moll, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Martin Landau, Famke Janssen. (120 min.)

++ The hero is an on-and-off law student with a passion for poker, and an honest streak that keeps him from cheating even when he's desperate for money to pay off dangerous debtors. The acting is solid, but the story builds less drama and suspense than its high-stakes subject might lead you to expect.

++1/2 Seamy, intense, sobering.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes in a brothel, 1 scene in a bar with topless dances, some innuendo. Violence: 2 fight scenes, one that is very brutal. Profanity: 205 expressions. Drugs: 1 scene of drug use, numerous instances of drinking and smoking.

SIMON BIRCH (PG)

Director: Mark Steven Johnson. With Ian Michael Smith, Joseph Mazzello, Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, Dana Ivey, Jan Hooks. (110 min.)

+++ The hero is a very small boy who's convinced his "abnormal" physique is proof of God's particular interest in him, and feels he'll fulfill some special purpose as soon as he can figure out what it's supposed to be. The movie is lively, funny, and endearing until melodramatics and sentimentality take over in the last few scenes.

+++ Tear-jerker, intriguing, literary.

Sex/Nudity: Several adolescent references to female anatomy. Violence: 4 instances of physical violence. Profanity: 19 expressions, usually mild. Drugs: 5 scenes with smoking.

A SOLDIER'S DAUGHTER NEVER CRIES (R)

Director: James Ivory. With Kris Kristofferson, Leelee Sobieski, Barbara Hershey, Jesse Bradford, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Virginie Ledoyen, Jane Birkin, Macha Mril, Dominique Blanc, Harley Cross, Isaac de Bankole, Bob Swaim. (120 min.)

++++ Three episodes in the life of a novelist's family as seen through the eyes of his young daughter, first in Paris and then in a New England town where the household moves as a result of the father's declining health. No recent movie is more creatively directed, paints a more deeply felt portrait of family feelings, or handles such emotionally complex issues as friendship and adoption with more insight. The very loose plot has been adapted by Merchant Ivory from an autobiographical novel by the daughter of novelist James Jones, who apparently indulged in more drinking, four-letter language, and frank sexual discussions than some moviegoers will approve.

TOUCH OF EVIL (NOT RATED)

Director: Orson Welles. With Orson Welles, Janet Leigh, Charlton Heston, Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver, Joseph Cotten, Zsa Zsa Gabor. (108 min.)

++++ This explosive 1958 crime drama was altered by its studio to make it more conventional, but now a team of experts has restored it to Welles's own specifications, making it more clear and coherent - if not more exciting and original - than in its previous version. Welles gives one of his boldest performances as a crooked American cop, ably supported by Heston as the Mexican policeman who ferrets out his nasty secrets.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 8 scenes of physical fighting. Profanity: None. Drugs: Cigar smoking; one character drinks excessively.

WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE (R)

Director: Gregory Nava. With Larenz Tate, Halle Berry, Vivica A. Fox, Lela Rochon, Little Richard (120 min.)

++ The story of pop singer, bigamist, and drug abuser Frankie Lymon as seen through the eyes of his three widows. Many of the comic and dramatic scenes are wildly off-kilter, but the doo-wop music packs a nostalgic wallop and Little Richard shows up to blow the movie wide open.

+ Uninspired, melodramatic, good soundtrack.

Sex/Nudity: 2 fully nude love scenes, one highly suggestive scene. Violence: 4 scenes of physical fighting. Profanity: 82 expressions. Drugs: 2 hallucinogen scenes, 1 scene of heroin use.

WITHOUT LIMITS (PG-13)

Director: Robert Towne. With Billy Crudup, Donald Sutherland, Monica Potter, Judith Ivey, Dean Norris. (116 min.)

+++ The story of Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine, focusing on his feisty individuality and his relationship with a crusty old coach. The athletic scenes are so lively and the main performances are so magnetic that even moviegoers who resist sports-centered pictures may be won over. But while Towne's screenplay carries the worthwhile message that competition is better than conquest, it fails to go a step further and teach that cooperation is best of all.

OUT ON VIDEO

(In stores Sept. 29)

THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION (R)

(Drama)

Director: Nicholas Hytner. With Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, John Pankow, Alan Alda. (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.

++ Promiscuous, humorous, thoughtful.

PAULIE (PG)

(Family)

Director: John Roberts. With Gena Rowlands, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin. (91 min.)

+++1/2 A talking parrot with a tart tongue is separated from his first owner, a little girl who stutters. His subsequent owners teach Paulie about life, honesty, poetry, and romance. By David Scott

+++ Wholesome, entertaining, fun.

TWILIGHT (R)

(Mystery/suspense)

Director: Robert Benton. With Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman. (96 min.)

+++ An aging private eye investigates a long-ago murder case that may involve two of his longtime friends.

++1/2 Well-acted, engrossing, suspenseful.

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