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 ALARMIST (R)

Director: Evan Dunsky. With Stanley Tucci, Kate Capshaw, David Arquette, Mary McCormack, Ryan Reynolds. (93 min.)

++ A young man learns hard lessons about life and love while working for a burglar-alarm company with a sleazy boss and a shady history. This dark comedy takes a couple of surprising turns, but doesn't provide much in the way of laughs or thrills.

BELOVED (R)

Director: Jonathan Demme. With Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise. (172 min.)

++ Shortly after the Civil War, a former slave visits an old friend in Ohio and discovers that her household is literally haunted by the legacy of slavery and a violent family secret from her past. The movie's subject is resonant and important, but glossy Hollywood treatment robs Toni Morrison's scorching novel of its urgency and immediacy. Aside from some searingly violent images, it's often more picturesque than compelling.

DESTINY (NOT RATED)

Director: Youssef Chahine. With Nour El Cherif, Laila Eloui, Mahmoud Hmeida, Safia El Emary. (135 min.)

++ Chahine is widely hailed as Egypt's greatest filmmaker, and none of his movies has earned more international acclaim than this lavishly produced epic about efforts by the 12th-century philosopher Averroes to preserve the heritage of ancient Greece despite Muslim and Christian opposition. Yet while the subject is fascinating, the picture's style is often stilted and stagy, closer to the old-fashioned Hollywood approach of Cecil B. DeMille than to a sophisticated perspective that might do justice to the story's complexities.

DON'T LOOK NOW (R)

Director: Nicolas Roeg. With Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, Hilary Mason, Massimo Serato. (110 min.)

++++ Revival of Roeg's masterly 1973 thriller about a woman who yearns for communication with her dead child while accompanying her husband on a trip to Venice where he's restoring a magnificent church building. Superbly acted, stunningly photographed, and edited with a rhythmic pungency that makes it irresistibly watchable even when the plot turns dark and scary.

HAPPINESS (NOT RATED)

Director: Todd Solondz. With Dylan Baker, Lara Flynn Boyle, Jane Adams, Cynthia Stevenson, Elizabeth Ashley, Jon Lovitz, Jared Harris, Ben Gazzara. (134 min.)

+++ Solondz follows up his sardonic "Welcome to the Dollhouse" with this tragicomic look at a well-groomed suburb populated by lonely singles, peevish senior citizens, and an anguished adolescent who discovers that his highly respected father is a secret pedophile. The movie's intentions are as serious and thoughtful as its content is timely and sometimes horrifying. For adventurous viewers only.

PRACTICAL MAGIC (PG-13)

Director: Griffin Dunne. With Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Dianne Wiest, Stockard Channing, Aidan Quinn. (105 min.)

+++ The adventures of two modern-day witches, one of whom craves an ordinary life but finds her supernatural powers continually getting in the way. Lively acting, eye-catching cinematography, and funny dialogue lift this fantasy a notch above the average until love-story clichs and horror-movie shocks bog it down in the second half.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene - not graphic. Violence: 8 fairly gruesome scenes (poisoning, bludgeoning, verbal threats of sexual violence). Profanity: 14 mild expressions. Drugs: 10 scenes involving alcohol, cigarettes, or both.

RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER: THE MOVIE (G)

Director: Bill Kowalchuk. With voices of John Goodman, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Debbie Reynolds, Eric Idle, Richard Simmons, Eric Pospisil, Kathleen Barr. (90 min.)

++ Amiable animation about the legendary reindeer, focusing on the small problems posed by his fabled nose and the big problems cooked up by Stormella, a powerful queen with a frosty disposition. Little kids will have great fun, although the action may be too tame for others.

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.

Currently in Release

AMAZON (NOT RATED)

Director: Kieth Merrill. With Linda Hunt as narrator, Mark Plotkin, Sydney Possuelo, Adrian Villanueva. (40 min.)

+++ This Academy Award nominated IMAX film beautifully captures the Amazon - from the lush rain forests to the basin's mixture of exotic wildlife (jaguars, pink dolphins, monkeys, and alligators). Dr. Mark Plotkin, an American ethnobotonist who is trying to make science more accessible, brings viewers along on his journey to the Amazon river basin as he meets up with Indian shamans - medicine men who use Amazon plant life for healing. Although it is visually beautiful, you might leave the theater with more questions than answers about Plotkin's discoveries. The movie recently opened in Boston and is showing at select IMAX theaters around the country. By Lisa Leigh Parney

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

ANTZ (PG)

Directors: Eric Darnell, Tim Johnson. With voices of Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Dan Akroyd, Sylvester Stallone, Jane Curtin. (83 min.)

+++ Depressed by the monotony of his ant-colony life, a worker ant trades places with a soldier ant so he can see a princess he's fallen in love with, and finds himself battling a military insect with evil plans. There's plenty of action in this computer-animated comedy, but it's no match for "Toy Story" in humor and originality.

++1/2 Clever, amusing, overambitious.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: A few battle scenes and a bar brawl. Profanity: 3 very mild expressions. Drugs: 1 bar scene/ants drinking beer.

THE CELEBRATION (R)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg. With Henning Moritzen, Ulrich Thomsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Paprika Steen. (100 min.)

+++ A wealthy patriarch throws a party to celebrate his 60th birthday, but things go sour when long-submerged rivalries, jealousies, and hostilities surface among guests. This pitch-dark comedy has much to say about the seamy underside of human relationships, showing that family values are more complex than pop-culture slogans would have us believe.

DETROIT 9000 (R)

Director: Arthur Marks. With Alex Rocco, Hari Rhodes, Rudy Challenger. (106 min.)

++ Reissue of a 1973 entry in the "blaxploitation" craze, centering on two cops - one black, one white - investigating a bold robbery at the behest of a black politician who suspects the crime was meant to derail his political ambitions. The movie is no classic, and Rocco's performance is more mannered than memorable, but the tale effectively captures some aspects of the racially troubled period when it was filmed.

THE INHERITORS (NOT RATED)

Director: Stefan Ruzowitsky. With Simon Schwarz, Sophie Rois, Lars Rudolph, Julia Geschnitzer. (95 min.)

++ Peasants inherit a farm from the sour old man who owned it, and surprise their neighbors by deciding to work the place themselves instead of selling it for ready cash. This sardonic comedy-drama isn't very original, but it has a clear-headed view of human foibles.

LOVE IS THE DEVIL (NOT RATED)

Director: John Maybury. With Derek Jacobi, Daniel Craig, Tilda Swinton, Anne Lambton. (91 min.)

+++ A brutally frank portrait of the great English painter Francis Bacon, focusing on the relationship he developed with a culturally deprived male lover as his success skyrocketed in the international art world. Maybury's screenplay recalls the respected movie "Prick Up Your Ears," which tackled a somewhat similar subject, but his visual style is very fresh, underscoring the pungency of Jacobi's brilliant acting. Be warned that the picture is heavy on sex and violence, and Bacon's admirers will be disappointed that his actual art work is almost entirely absent from the screen.

THE MIGHTY (PG-13)

Director: Peter Chelsom. With Sharon Stone, Gena Rowlands, Harry Dean Stanton, Gillian Anderson. (107 min.)

+++ Friendship blooms between two kids - one big and slow, the other tiny and smart - who pool their talents in an effort to better their lives and make the real world a little closer to the fantasy realm that occupies their dreams. Likable performances and a good-hearted attitude help the movie dodge the simplistic sentimentality that occasionally threatens to drag it down.

A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY (PG-13)

Director: John Fortenberry and Peter Markle. With Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, Dan Hedaya, Molly Shannon. (93 min.)

u1/2 Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell live out a feature-length version of their "Saturday Night Live" skit about two club-hopping brothers. This time around, though, the head-jiving boys have more ambition; they want to start their own club. If you like SNL and the tune "What is Love," you'll get a few chuckles and may be tempted to bob your mop. Other SNLers making appearances are Molly Shannon and Colin Quinn. By Katherine Dillin

+ Great skit/lame movie, mindless, slow.

Sex/Nudity: Some talk about sex. Violence: None. Profanity: 30 mild expressions. Drugs: 7 drinking scenes.

ONE TOUGH COP (R)

Director: Bruno Barreto. With Stephen Baldwin, Chris Penn, Gina Gershon, Mike McGlone, Amy Irving. (90 min.)

++ The life and times of a New York City cop whose professional integrity is questioned because of his personal friendship with a mobster. The plot is no more original than Baldwin's acting, which takes all its cues from the Pacino-De Niro school of streetwise intensity. Still, it's filmed with a down-and-dirty naturalism that partly compensates for its predictable twists and lazy use of demeaning stereotypes.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of a couple in bed. Violence: About 14 scenes; fistfighting, shooting, and murders. Profanity: 152 expressions. Drugs: Smoking and drinking throughout.

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. (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.

+++ Muddled morality, compassionate, touching.

Sex/Nudity: 2 frank parent-daughter talks about sex. Violence: 1 brief fistfight. Profanity: 44 strong expressions. Drugs: Teenagers smoking; social drinking.

WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (PG-13)

Director: Vincent Ward. With Robin Williams, Annabella Sciorra, Cuba Gooding Jr., Max von Sydow. (106 min.)

++ After perishing in a road accident, a physician journeys to the afterlife, searching for his deceased children and worrying about his widow back home, who's dangerously depressed. This visually inventive fantasy paints the wide screen with colorful effects, but its psychological and spiritual ideas rarely rise above "new age" fuzziness.

++1/2 Visually stunning, thought-provoking, depressing.

Sex/Nudity/Drugs: None. Violence: Car crash, but not graphic; scenes of hell are visually horrifying. Profanity: 5 expressions.

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 teach that cooperation is best of all.

+++ Sweet, inspiring, strong performances.

Sex/Nudity: 2 sexual situations, 1 nude view in gym shower. Violence: None. Profanity: 38 mild expressions. Drugs: 7 scenes with alcohol present but not necessarily consumed.

OUT ON VIDEO

(In stores Oct. 20)

THE BIG HIT (R)

(Action/adventure)

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 co-workers turn against him. By Mariah Gardner

+ Vulgar, tasteless, funky.

HOPE FLOATS (PG-13)

(Drama)

Director: Forest Whitaker. With Sandra Bullock, Gena Rowlands, Mae Whitman, Harry Connick Jr. (112 min.)

++ Jilted by her husband, a woman takes her little girl back to the Texas town where she grew up, hoping to rediscover the happiness she had as a beauty queen.

+++ Genuine, touching, well-acted.

THE ODD COUPLE II (PG-13)

(Comedy)

Director: Howard Deutch. With Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Christine Baranski. (96 min.)

++1/2 Reunited after 17 years, the bickering buddies are in constant trouble as they travel to the wedding of their children. By Suman Bandrapalli

++1/2 Mellow, enjoyable, dj vu.

THE OPPOSITE OF SEX (R)

(Drama)

Director: Don Roos. With Christina Ricci, Martin Donovan, Lisa Kudrow, Lyle Lovett. (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 seen.

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