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. ++++ Excellent +++1/2 Very Good +++ Good ++ 1/2 Average ++ Fair +1/2 Poor + Worst
NEW RELAESES CHILDREN OF HEAVEN (PG) Director: Majid Majidi. With Mohammad Amir Naji, Mir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi. (88 min.) +++ Burdened by the poverty of his family, a young boy in Tehran dreams of winning a prize in a local race so he wont have to share a single pair of shoes with his sister. This modestly produced family drama has all the poignancy and humor associated with todays vibrant Iranian film industry.
MY NAME IS JOE (NOT RATED) Director: Ken Loach. With Peter Mullan, Louise Goodall, Davie McKay. (105 min.) +++ A social worker starts a complex romantic relationship with a recovering alcoholic whos eager to start a constructive new life but apprehensive about the challenges he knows hell face. Loach is one of the worlds most deeply humanistic and politically alert filmmakers, and this expertly acted drama finds him close to his top form.
SIX-STRING SAMURAI (PG-13) Director: Lance Mungia. With Jeffrey Falcon, Justin McGuire, Stephane Gauger, John Sakisian. (81 min.) + Surreal action comedy about a wandering warrior who rescues an endangered orphan and faces off against Death himself as part of a quest to become the post-apocalyptic king of rock n roll. Fantasy fans may enjoy some of the gimmicks, but The Road Warrior did much of this better and sooner.
STILL CRAZY (R) Director: Brian Gibson. With Stephen Rea, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall, Juliet Aubrey, Jimmy Nail, Bill Nighy, Rachel Stirling, Bruce Robinson, Helena Bergstrom. (96 min.) +++ Hoping to recapture the glory of years gone by, a washed-up rock musician decides to reunite the band that made him fleetingly famous in the not-so- swinging 70s. Although the plot and dialogue are less original than one might hope, a sensational cast and a lively spirit make this one of the best rock comedies since This Is Spinal Tap launched the genre.
VIRUS (R) Director: John Bruno. With Jamie Lee Curtis, WIlliam Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, Joanna Pacula, Marshall Bell. (110 min.) DUD Combine the plots of Alien, Terminator, and Star Trek, and you end up with Virus. Jamie Lee Curtis and five dimwitted crewmen find themselves trapped aboard a Russian ghost ship, battling an evil, electrical space monster that has traveled to earth to create cyborgs to destroy mankind. Virus should have been quarantined and sent straight to video. By John Christian Hoyle Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 28 graphic scenes of robot alien attacks and explosions. Profanity: 74 expressions. Drugs: 2 instances of alcohol use.
CURRENTLY IN RELEASE AFFLICTION (R) Director: Paul Schrader. With Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek, Willem Dafoe, James Coburn, Mary Beth Hurt. (115 min.) +++ Closely following Russell Bankss richly textured novel, this dark-toned drama traces a series of emotionally wrenching events in the life of a New Hampshire policeman whose family problems range from spats with his former wife to intermittent rage against his alcoholic father. Nolte gives one of his most fully realized performances, Coburn makes an amazingly powerful comeback, and Schraders filmmaking has never been more expressive or assured. +++ Grim, tragic, outstanding acting. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 6 instances of violence ranging from comical to an offstage killing. Profanity: 137 expressions. Drugs: 15+ harsh instances of alcohol abuse, some tied to violence.
ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE (R) Director: Larry Clark. With James Woods, Vincent Kartheiser, Melanie Griffith, Natasha Gregson Wagner, James Otis, Christopher Doyle. (101 min.) ++ An experienced thug invites a drug-abusing teenager to become his protg, leading to a violent crime spree. Clarks first movie since the controversial Kids manages to be jarringly naturalistic and flagrantly melodramatic at the same time, bursting with explicit horrors that sound a loud alarm over antisocial elements in Americas heartland.
AT FIRST SIGHT (PG-13) Director: Irwin Winkler. With Val Kilmer, Mira Sorvino, Kelly McGillis, Nathan Lane, Bruce Davison, Steven Weber. (124 min.) ++ A blind masseur falls in love with a young architect, regains his sight through a new surgical procedure, and experiences vision for a limited time before losing it again. The movie takes fascinating material and transforms it into routine soap opera, complete with heavy-handed dialogue and corny music. Its constructive aspects would reach a larger audience if they were handled with more subtlety and skill. Based on a story by the popular science writer Oliver Sacks, MD. Sex/Nudity: 5 mild instances. Violence: 1 mild scene. Profanity: 29 mild expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes of social drinking.
CENTRAL STATION (R) Director: Walter Salles. With Fernanda Montenegro, Vinicius de Oliveira, Marilia Pera, Othon Bastos (115 min.) +++ A feisty Brazilian widow meets a little boy with no home, takes him under her wing, and helps him find elusive family members deep in the countrys interior. The performances are engaging, and the views of rural Brazil are captivating, making the film a solid audience-pleaser even though its story seems familiar and sentimental. +++1/2 Compassionate, moving, thought-provoking. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 2 mild instances. Profanity: 24 expressions. Drugs: A couple instances of drinking.
A CIVIL ACTION (PG-13) Director: Steven Zaillian. With John Travolta, Robert Duvall, James Gandolfini, Kathleen Quinlan, William H. Macy, Dan Hadaya, Tony Shalhoub, John Lithgow. (113 min.) +++ A self-centered attorney takes on a case involving claims of illness caused by toxic waste and finds himself making great personal and professional sacrifices as he becomes increasingly committed to righting the insidious wrongs uncovered by his investigations. Splendid acting and a taut screenplay make the fact-based tale highly involving until its abrupt, underdeveloped ending. +++ Compelling, intense, solid acting. Sex/Nudity/Violence: None. Profanity: 8 expressions. Drugs: 11 scenes with alcohol and/or cigarettes.
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 Friels 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 versatile career. ++1/2 Poignant, aimless, better on stage. Sex/Nudity/Violence: None. Profanity: 15 mild expressions. Drugs: 8 scenes of cigarette smoking.
THE GENERAL (R) Director: John Boorman. With Brendan Gleeson, Jon Voight, Adrian Dunbar, Sean McGinley. (129 min.) +++ Hard-hitting crime drama based on the real-life rivalry between a crafty Irish criminal and a policeman determined to end his crooked career. Gleeson gives a strikingly original performance as the mischievous felon; still, the pictures silky black-and-white cinematography is its most eye-catching asset.
HILARY AND JACKIE (R) Director: Anand Tucker. With Emily Watson, Rachel Griffiths, Charles Dance, David Morrissey. (121 min.) +++ Handsomely filmed drama based on the real-life relationship between Jacqueline du Pr, a cellist who became one of the worlds most acclaimed musicians, and her sister, who traded in her musical talent for domestic life. The acting is splendid, the family issues are sensitively explored, and the treatment of Jackies illness and untimely death is tactful though explicit. +++1/2 Wonderful music, intense, moving. Sex/Nudity: 5 instances, including one of adultery. Violence: 1 scene. Profanity: 12 expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes with social drinking.
IN DREAMS (R) Director: Neil Jordan. With Annette Bening, Aidan Quinn, Robert Downey Jr., Stephen Rea, Paul Guilfoyle. (112 min.) +++ After her young daughter is murdered by a mysterious madman, a clairvoyant woman realizes hes paying her sinister visits in her sleeping and waking thoughts. This imaginatively directed thriller delivers all the gore a horror fan could want, although others may watch much of it through their fingers. Bening is harrowingly real as the tormented heroine, and the screenplay raises trenchant questions about psychiatric experts who think they know more than their patients. ++ Nightmarish, edgy, forgettable. Sex/Nudity: 1 scene. Violence: 17 scenes of weird, twisted violence. Profanity: 27 expressions, mostly strong. Drugs: 4 scenes with cigarettes.
RUSHMORE (R) Director: Wes Anderson. With Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams, Mason Gamble, Brian Cox. (95 min.) ++++ A precocious prep school student juggles a ridiculous number of extracurricular projects while falling in love with an attractive teacher and sparring with his romantic rival, a sleazy businessman. Anderson fulfills the promise of his inventive Bottle Rocket with this quirky, often hilarious comedy, and Murray gives his most uproarious performance since the groundbreaking Groundhog Day. Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of nude women on posters. Violence: 5 scenes that include rock throwing, fistfights, and a BB gun. Profanity: 26 expressions. Drugs: 5 drinking; 15 scenes of smoking cigarettes.
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (R) Director: John Madden. With Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush. (122 min.) ++ The young playwright fights off writers block, scrambles for ideas, and falls in love with a would-be actress who wears mens clothing as readily as a character in one of his cross-dressing comedies. This romantic farce has a talented cast and energy to spare, but somehow the ingredients dont burn as brightly as one would expect from such promising ingredients. ++++ Finally, a literate movie; passionate, abundantly witty. Sex/Nudity: 5 sex scenes, several with waist-up nudity; plus a few references to promiscuity. Violence: 6 instances of violence ranging from comical to an offstage killing. Profanity: 3 expressions. Drugs: 3 instances of drinking.
THE THEORY OF FLIGHT (R) Director: Paul Greengrass. With Helena Bonham Carter, Kenneth Branagh, Gemma Jones, Holly Aird. (100 min.) ++ A physically disabled woman strikes up a friendship with an emotionally troubled man, then asks him to help her have a sexual experience before the end of her life. Carters virtuoso acting isnt enough to make this dramatic comedy as credible and life-affirming as it sincerely wants to be.
THE THIN RED LINE (R) Director: Terrence Malick. With Sean Penn, John Travolta, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, Gary Oldman, John C. Reilly, John Savage, John Cusack, George Clooney. (166 min.) +++ American soldiers battle elusive enemies in this sweeping adaptation of James Joness thoughtful World War II novel about the Guadalcanal campaign. Although the story seems disjointed at times, no other war movie has tried so valiantly to convey not only the suffering of combat but the awful fissures it leaves between humanitys ideal oneness with itself and the world we live in. Flawed but fascinating. +++ Intense, violent, poetic. Sex/Nudity: 1 bedroom scene with no nudity; 3 scenes of partially nude natives or soldiers bathing. Violence: Gunfire, beatings, dismemberment; combat violence throughout. Profanity: 59 expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes of alcohol; 26 with smoking.
VARSITY BLUES (R) Director: Brian Robbins. With James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Scott Caan, Ron Lester, Richard Lineback, Tonie Perensky. (106 min.) + High school football players hustle for good times on the athletic field and in the local saloon, dogged by parental pressures and the fanaticism of their win-at-any-cost coach. The story is mildly entertaining in its hackneyed way, but theres no excusing the pictures exploitative treatment of almost all the female characters. ++ Predictable, crass, teen flick. Sex/Nudity: 9 scenes of nudity or sex, including mooning, strip bar featuring female biology teacher, and students riding naked in a police car. Violence: 2 mild instances. Profanity: 112 expressions, often harsh. Drugs: 11 scenes involving alcohol and drunkenness; 2 scenes with cigarettes.
OUT ON VIDEO RETURN TO PARADISE (R) Director: Joseph Ruben. With Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Joaquin Phoenix, David Conrad (109 min.) ++ Two years after a vacation in Malaysia, two young Americans learn that a friend was arrested for drug dealing right after their departure and will be executed unless they return to the country for a lengthy prison term. +++ Captivating, stark, finely crafted.
SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS (R) Director: Tamara Jenkins. With Natasha Lyonne, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, David Krumholtz. (91 min.) +++ The tacky side of the 90210 zip code is spotlighted in this sardonic comedy about a teenage girl coping with adolescent uncertainties plus an eccentric family that cant hold onto the bottom rung of the bourgeoisie. A memorable debut from filmmaker Jenkins. ++1/2 Offbeat, lightweight, humorous.
COMING SOON ... (In stores Jan. 26) RUSH HOUR (R) Director: Brett Ratner. With Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson, Julie Hsu. (108 min.) +++ Action-packed comedy about the kidnapping of a Chinese girl from her politically influential father. The fast-talking Tucker and quick-kicking Chan are a surprisingly good team. By Ari Denison ++1/2 Witty, clunky, action-packed.