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

BABE: PIG IN THE CITY (G)

Director: George Miller. With Magda Szubanski, James Cromwell, Mickey Rooney, Mary Stein, E.G. Daily. (95 min.)

+++ In his second screen adventure, the talking pig goes to a big city for a sheep-herding convention, landing in a strange new home populated by performing monkeys, singing cats, friendly dogs, and a weird old entertainer. The movie is crammed with wildly imaginative sights and sounds, but parents should be strongly warned that it's not for young children, or anyone else likely to be unsettled by bizarre, often violent, sometimes nightmarish images. Proceed with caution.

VSex/Nudity: None. VViolence: 3 scary, violent scenes, 5 slapstick. VProfanity: 1 vulgarity. VDrugs: None.

A BUG'S LIFE (G)

Director: John Lasseter. With Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Phyllis Diller, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Madeleine Kahn, Denis Leary, Bonnie Hunt, David Hyde Pierce, Alex Rocco, John Ratzenberger, Edie McClurg, Roddy McDowall. (86 min.)

+++ A feisty ant decides to challenge the bullying grasshoppers who live off his colony, but when he visits the big city to recruit a warrior gang for the battle he comes back with a beat-up circus troupe that's desperate for any audience it can find. The story is amusing and the animation is first-rate, but there's less sparkling originality than in "Toy Story," the previous collaboration between Disney and the inventive Pixar people.

HOME FRIES (PG-13)

Director: Dean Parisot. With Drew Barrymore, Catherine O' Hara, Jake Busey, Luke Wilson,Shelley Duvall. (105 min.)

++ An unexplained corpse, a pregnant fast-food waitress, and two feuding brothers are among the characters of this very dark, fitfully amusing comedy. Barrymore and Busey walk away with the acting honors, but no aspect of the picture is more than mildly entertaining.

THE LAST EMPEROR (NOT RATED)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci. With John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole, Victor Wong, Ryuichi Sakamoto. (219 min.)

+++ The sweeping saga of China's modern history as seen through the eyes of the country's last monarch, who begins his odyssey in the venerable Forbidden City and ends it in the chaotic throes of Mao Zedong's cultural revolution. The epic won nine Academy Awards when first released in 1987. Bertolucci reedited it for this "director's cut" version, and restored 40 minutes of footage trimmed from the original. The result is majestic in every way, vibrantly acted and filmed to perfection by Vittorio Storaro, arguably the world's greatest cinematographer.

SAVIOR (R)

Director: Peter Antonijevic. With Dennis Quaid, Nastassja Kinski, Stellan Skarsgrd, Sergej Trifunovic, Matasa Ninkovic. (120 min.)

+++ Driven to despair by the geopolitical violence of today's turbulent world, an American becomes a mercenary fighter in Bosnia. There, he encounters ever-higher levels of brutality but also finds a chance for redemption when he's forced to care for the newborn baby of a woman who's been traumatized beyond endurance by the horrors around her. Although the story doesn't always ring emotionally true, the acting is vigorous and a message of hope eventually glimmers through the frequently horrifying carnage.

WAKING NED DEVINE (PG)

Director: Kirk Jones. With Ian Bannen, David Kelly, Fionnula Flanagan, Susan Lynch. (91 min.)

++ A lottery prize is about to go unclaimed because its owner has died, so residents of his little Irish village decide to cover up his demise and pocket the money themselves. The tale has touches of winning humor, but it's too illogical and sentimental to deserve a box-office jackpot.

Currently in Release

CELEBRITY (R)

Director: Woody Allen. With Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Melanie Griffith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joe Mantegna, Winona Ryder, Michael Lerner, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Charlize Theron, Hank Azaria. (113 min.)

++ A journalist drifts away from his marriage while cultivating acquaintances with various celebrities who cross his path for professional and personal reasons. The idea of a Woody Allen movie about fame is enticing, given the complexities of his real-life media image, but a meandering screenplay and uninspired acting make this one of his thinnest, tinniest films.

THE CRUISE (NOT RATED)

Director: Bennett Miller. With Timothy "Speed" Levitch. (76 min.)

+++ Funny, fascinating documentary about a New York City tour guide who sees his occupation as a mercurial metaphor for life itself. The movie is at once a portrait of a great city, a penetrating character study, and an existential rumination on the human condition, all in less time than it takes the average Hollywood picture to set up its big chase scene.

VSex/Nudity: None. VViolence: None. VProfanity: 15 mild mostly expressions. VDrugs: None.

DANCING AT LUGHNASA (PG)

Director: Pat O Connor. With Meryl Streep. Michael Gambon, Sophie Thompson, Kathy Burke, Catherine McCormack, Brid Brennan, Rhys Ifans. (94 min.)

+++ Likable, low-key version of Brian Friel's play about five rural Irish sisters and a slightly mad brother who symbolizes the change that overtakes even the simplest of lives. Not surprisingly, Streep makes the strongest impression, wielding an Irish brogue as expressively as the many other accents she's mastered during her career.

ELIZABETH (R)

Director: Shekhar Kapur. With Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, Christopher Eccleston, Kathy Burke, John Gielgud, Fanny Ardant. (124 min.)

+++ Pungent bio-pic about the famous queen and the tumultuous times in which she lived. Acted and directed with great energy and imagination, it may be too explicit in its depictions of sex and mayhem for moviegoers accustomed to old-fashioned historical epics.

VSex/Nudity: 8 instances. VViolence: 19 instances. VProfanity: 3 mild expressions. VDrugs: 1 instance of drinking.

ENEMY OF THE STATE (R)

Director: Tony Scott. With Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Regina King, Loren Dean, Lisa Bonet, Jake Busey, Gabriel Byrne, Barry Pepper. (128 min.)

++ After a congressman is murdered, a piece of deadly evidence comes into the hands of an easygoing lawyer who doesn't even know he has it, and can't imagine why a rogue security agent has mustered all the high-tech power of the US government to track him down and ruin his life. The movie itself has plenty of high-tech power, spinning out action so explosive you'll hardly notice how preposterous the story is or how cardboard-thin the characters are.

++1/2 Herky-jerky cinematography, far-fetched, provocative.

VSex/Nudity: 2 suggestive scenes involving such things as scantily clad women in a lingerie shop but no sex scenes. VViolence: 23 instances of violence with gunfire. chase scenes. VProfanity: 96 oaths and often harsh vulgarities. VDrugs: 5 scenes with alcohol, one with cigarettes.

I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (R)

Director: Danny Cannon. With Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Brandy, Mekhi Phifer, Muse Watson, Bill Cobbs, Matthew Settle, Jeffrey Combs, Jennifer Esposito, and John Hawkes. (110 min.)

u1/2 Julie James (Hewitt) is still having nightmares about her friends who were brutally murdered by a hook-handed man named Ben Willis (Watson) one summer ago. So when Julie and her best friend Karla (pop star Brandy) win an all-expense-paid trip to the Bahamas, she can't wait to get away. But when Julie and friends arrive on the island, hurricane season quickly moves in and tourists move out. And guess what? The hook is hot on Julie's trail. The star-powered sequel may satisfy the taste of horror fans, but the overly gory shocker is tiresome and predictable. By Lisa Leigh Parney

VSex/Nudity: Sexual innuendo. VViolence: 20 scenes of gory violence: 12 murders with a hook, knife, hedge clippers, and gun. VProfanity: 53 expressions. VDrugs: Social drinking; 1 scene with cigarette smoking, 2 with marijuana.

LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (PG-13)

Director: Roberto Benigni. With Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini, Giustino Durano. (122 min.)

++ In the late 1930s, an Italian man finds his household in peril because of his Jewish background. He determines to protect his little boy from physical and psychological harm, even when they're sent to a brutal concentration camp. This prizewinning Italian comedy has good intentions, but its exaggerated celebration of quick-witted improvisation ultimately trivializes the human and historical horrors evoked by the story.

VSex/Nudity: None. VViolence: Some slapstick. VProfanity: Mild. VDrugs: Smoking and drinking.

LIVING OUT LOUD (R)

Director: Richard LaGravenese. With Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, Queen Latifah, Rachel Leigh Cook. (102 min.)

++ Overwhelmed by loneliness after her husband dumps her, a wealthy New Yorker strikes up an unlikely friendship with the elevator operator in her apartment building, himself still grieving over the recent death of his daughter. Hunter and DeVito turn in affecting performances, but the movie steers a wobbly course between comedy and melodrama, never quite deciding which niche it wants to fall into.

MEET JOE BLACK (R)

Director: Martin Brest. With Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Claire Forlani, Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Tambor, David S. Howard. (174 min.)

++ "Touched by an Angel" meets "Wall Street" in this long, sometimes labored fantasy depicting Death as a handsome young man who takes a vacation to explore the everyday world and romance the daughter of a wealthy executive. Brest deserves credit for letting the story unfold at a thoughtful pace, but the drama falls apart in the last half-hour, gushing with exaggerated emotions and abandoning its fairy-tale premises for an unconvincing feel-good finale.

+++ Romantic, beautiful, not insidious.

VSex/Nudity: one lengthy sex scene. VViolence: 1 car accident. VProfanity: 29 expressions. VDrugs: 5 instance of social drinking at parties.

THE RUGRATS MOVIE (G)

Directors: Norton Virgien, Igor Kovalyov. With E.G. Daily, Kath Soucie, Whoopie Goldberg, David Spade, Tim Currey, Melanie Chartoff. (87 min.)

++ A new baby enters the Pickles family, sparking jealousy in his big brother and danger for his friends when they load the newcomer into a wagon and lose their way in the woods. The animation is rough around the edges, and the sometimes vulgar jokes lack the wit of a good "Simpsons" episode, but fans of the TV series will be pleased.

SUE (NOT RATED)

Director: Amos Kollek. With Anna Thompson, Tahnee Welch, Matthew Powers, Tracee Ross, Robert Kya Hill, John Ventimiglia, Austin Pendleton. (91 min.)

++ A young New Yorker drifts into depression while navigating through the day-to-day challenges of finding a job, paying the rent, and dodging at least some of the men who want to take advantage of her open nature. Thompson's acting has an interesting mixture of toughness and vulnerability, and might be truly impressive if the screenplay gave her more meaningful material to work with.

UNMADE BEDS (NOT RATED)

Director: Nicholas Barker. With Aimee Kopp, Michael Russo. (100 min.)

+++ Four New Yorkers play characters like themselves in this sometimes hilarious docu-fiction about the never-ending quest for companionship and contentment, directed by Barker with methods that filmmakers Jean Rouch and Robert Duvall have also explored over the years. A fair amount of less-than-admirable behavior is displayed, but the end result is poignant, compassionate, and within the narrow limits it sets itself - almost anthropological in the crispness of its vision.

VSex/Nudity: 25 instances, many graphic. VViolence: None. VProfanity: 56 strong expressions. VDrugs: 3 instances of drinking and smoking.

THE WATERBOY (PG-13)

Director: Frank Coraci. With Adam Sandler, Kathy Bates, Jerry Reed, Henry Winkler, Fairuza Balk. (140 min.)

++ Sandler plays a lovable but dimwitted Louisiana-bayou water boy who is sheltered by his overprotective mama and picked on by the football team - that is, until he unleashes his hidden talent for tackling quarterbacks and 300-pound linemen. If you're a Sandler fan, "The Waterboy" is what you want: a deluge of funny, inane jokes. However, if you despised "Happy Gilmore" or "Billy Madison," save your dough, "The Waterboy" will leave you dehydrated. By John Christian Hoyle

++ Juvenile, absurd, good for a laugh.

VSex/Nudity: None VViolence: 38 scenes of cartoonish violence. VProfanity: 34 vulgarities. VDrugs: 8 scenes of cigarette smoking, drinking, and drugs.

OUT ON VIDEO

DR. 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.

++1/2 Lighthearted, droll, fun.

Coming Soon ...

(In stores Dec. 8)

THE PARENT TRAP (PG)

Director: Nancy Meyers. With Lindsay Lohan, Natasha Richardson, Dennis Quaid, Lisa Ann Walter. (128 min.)

+++ Remake of the popular 1961 comedy about long-separated identical twins who learn of each other's existence at summer camp and decide to get their warring parents back together.

+++ Delightful, lighthearted, generic.

SIX DAYS, SEVEN NIGHTS (PG-13)

Director: Ivan Reitman. With Harrison Ford, Anne Heche, David Schwimmer. (106 min.)

+ A lowbrow aviator and a Manhattan sophisticate crash-land on a tropical island where they trade wisecracks, dodge modern-day pirates, and fall in love.

+++ "Romancing the Stone" wannabe, lively, inventive.

(In stores Dec. 15)

MADELINE (PG)

Director: Daisy von Scherler Mayer. With Hatty Jones, Frances McDormand, Nigel Hawthorne, Stphane Audrane. (90 min.)

+++ Young children will enjoy this colorful tale of a little girl who tries to save her beloved boarding school from being shut down by the wealthy old coot who owns it. Based on the classic children's books by Ludwig Bemelmans.

++++ Witty, sweet, charming.

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