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 APPLE (NOT RATED) Director: Samira Makhmalbaf. With Massoumeh Naderi, Zahra Naderi, Ghorban Ali Naderi, Azizeh Mohamadi, Zahra Saghrisaz. (86 min.) ++++ Fiction and documentary mingle in this Iranian drama based on the real experiences of twin girls who were locked away from the world for 12 years by their parents, whose exaggerated fear of society made them think they were acting in the childrens best interests. Makhmalbaf was only 17 when she started work on this project (with the help of her father, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, himself a renowned filmmaker) Her understanding of all members of the family is one of the movies most remarkable qualities.

BESHKEMPIR THE ADOPTED SON (NOT RATED) Director: Aktan Abdykalykov. With Mirlan Abdykalykov, Albina Imasmeva, Adir Abilkassimov, Bakit Zilkieciev, Mirlan Cinkozoev. (81 min.) +++ The first feature-length production from Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic, focuses on a boy whose life is shaken when he learns that he was born into a large family and then adopted by a childless couple in accordance with an old Asian custom. The movie is amusing in its views of adolescent mischief, candid in its recognition of developing sexual interests, and creative in its eye-catching blend of color and black-and-white cinematography.

BLAST FROM THE PAST (PG-13) Director: Hugh Wilson. With Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken, Sissy Spacek, Dave Foley. (115 min.) +++ After 30 years in his parents homemade bomb shelter, a man emerges from the time capsule into the present day, looking for supplies and a wife. This fresh idea delivers some scintillating humor. Still, the depiction of the young mans wonderment in a strange new world doesnt live up its potential, and the supporting cast outshines Fraser and Silverstone, providing the best laughs and performances. By Laura Danese Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 1 instance. Profanity: 35 mild expressions. Drugs: A couple scenes of social drinking and 1 instance of cigarette smoking; one character smokes a pipe.

OCTOBER SKY (PG) Director: Joe Johnston. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Chris Owen, William Lee Scott, Chad Lindberg, Natalie Canerday, Laura Dern. (105 min.) +++ The real-life career of scientist Homer Hickam inspired this good-natured tale of a 1950s teenager who resists the destiny his West Virginia family has mapped out for him: A bit of high school, then a lifetime of work in the local coal mine while pursuing his passion for rocketry, leading to backyard experiments with results that range from comical to explosive. The movie is more likable than believable, but it recaptures the mystique of rocket science at a time when the space age was moving from science-fiction stories to newspaper headlines. Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of mild innuendo. Violence: 9 instances including mining accidents and brief scuffles. Profanity: 25 expressions. Drugs: 1 scene of beer drinking; 1 instance of smoking.

OFFICE SPACE (R) Director: Mike Judge. With Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Gary Cole, Ajay Naidu, David Herman. (89 min.) +++ Fed up with his dehumanizing job, a software engineer bands together with some downsized friends to rip off his company and strike a blow for bored computer geeks everywhere. In a surprise move, the creator of Beavis and Butt- Head has made a laid-back, even subtle comedy that generally favors mischievous ironies over outlandish jokes. Look out for extremely foul language in the rap music on the soundtrack, though.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE 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 pair of shoes with his sister. This modestly produced family drama has all the poignancy and humor associated with todays vibrant Iranian film industry. Sex/Nudity/Violence/Profanity/Drugs: None.

GOD SAID, HA! (PG-13) Director: Julia Sweeney. With Julia Sweeney. (87 min.) +++ A sometimes hilarious, sometimes harrowing monologue about the joys and trials of ordinary life, centering on Sweeneys experiences with her all-too- typical family, and bouts with serious illness that challenged her and her brother at the same time. Based on her one-person stage production.

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE (PG-13) Director: Luis Mandoki. With Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn, Paul Newman, Illeana Douglas, John Savage, Robbie Coltrane. (130 min.) ++ A recently divorced woman finds a romantic letter in a bottle washed ashore, tracks down the man who wrote it, and falls hesitantly in love with him despite their shared wariness about affection and commitment. The cast and the scenery are equally attractive, but the story is so sentimental that even soap-opera buffs may feel it eventually outwears its welcome. ++ Breathtaking scenery, overlong, Paul Newman steals the show. Sex/Nudity: 1 bedroom scene. Violence: 1 bar brawl. Profanity: 19 instances. Drugs: 4 scenes of drinking, 1 with cigar smoking.

MY FAVORITE MARTIAN (PG) Director: Donald Petrie. With Jeff Daniels, Christopher Lloyd, Daryl Hannah, Wallace Shawn, Elizabeth Hurley, Christine Ebersole, Ray Walston. (93 min.) + A visitor from Mars becomes the unwanted houseguest of a TV producer with romantic problems. Daniels and Lloyd have strong comic talents, but the screenplay gives them little funny to say or do, and the filmmaking is a classic case of digitized effects driving out humor and imagination. u1/2 Unnecessary crudeness, cartoonish, obvious. Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of sexual innuendo. Violence: 6 slapstick scenes. Profanity: 6 expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes with cigarettes, 1 with wine.

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. Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex. Violence: 6 scenes including beatings and one hanging. Profanity: More than 300 expressions. Drugs: 10 scenes with smoking, 3 with drinking; 1 scene with drugs.

PAYBACK (R) Director: Brian Helgeland. With Mel Gibson, Deborah Kara Unger, James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson. (105 min.) + An interesting cast is wasted in this misanthropic thriller about a criminal bent on revenge against his ex-wife and former partner. Mayhem is expected in this sort of story, but the filmmakers add torture and sadomasochism into the bargain, and its hard to remember a mainstream movie that aims so much gleeful violence at its female characters. Its enough to make viewers rethink Gibsons penchant for suffering in Braveheart and other pictures. ++ Lots of attitude, energetic, cold-blooded. Sex/Nudity: Four scenes with generally sadistic sexual situations. Violence: 21 scenes involving violence (beatings, torture, gunshots, explosions, kidnapping). Profanity: 81 expressions. Drugs: 34 scenes with cigarettes, cigars, alcohol, and/or hard drugs.

PIZZICATA (NOT RATED) Director: Edoardo Winspeare. With Cosimo Cinieri, Fabio Frascaro, Chiara Torelli, Anna Dimitri, Ines dAmbrosio, Paolo Massafra, Lamberto Probo. (93 min.) +++ A peasant family shelters an Italian-American pilot shot down near an isolated Italian village during World War II, sparking jealousy and suspicion when he falls in love with a young woman of the household. This quietly realistic drama is spiced with energetic music and moments of expressive camera work, compensating for some unpersuasive acting and dull spots in the story.

PSYCHO (NOT RATED) Director: Alfred Hitchcock. With Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, John Gavin, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam, Simon Oakland, John McIntire. (109 min.) ++++ Revival of the 1960 thriller that set new standards for unpredictable plot twists, ingenious camera work and editing, and the ability to get under the audiences skin in ways that few movies have ever equaled. Also impressive is the superb acting by Leigh as a woman on the run, Perkins as the personable young man who takes her in, and Balsam as the detective trying to track her down. The movies surface is brilliantly entertaining, and its deeper levels are intricately embroidered with fascinating variations on themes that preoccupied Hitchcock throughout his extraordinary career.

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. +++1/2 Extremely funny, irreverent, wildly original. 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 scenes of drinking, 15 of smoking cigarettes.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (R) Director: John Madden. With Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush, Rupert Everett, Colin Firth. (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. ++++ 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 off- screen killing. Profanity: 3 expressions. Drugs: 3 instances of drinking.

SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE (PG-13) Director: Mark Tarlov. With Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean Patrick Flanery, Patricia Clarkson, Dylan Baker. (100 min.) ++ An uninspired chef bewitches a love-skeptical man when her emotions become the magic in her recipes. While the combination of movie romance and culinary craft can be rewarding, this movie mixes its ingredients too carelessly to provide much onscreen enchantment, and elements of magic that may appeal to young viewers dont blend well with underlying issues of sexual fantasy. By Laura Danese ++1/2 Cute, quirky, fluffy. Sex/Nudity: Some innuendo. Violence: 1 mild instance. Profanity: 22 expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes with wine.

TANGO (PG-13) Director: Carlos Saura. With Miguel Angel Sol, Elena Flores. (100 min.) +++ A filmmaker works on a movie about his favorite dance, bringing his personal loves and longings into the picture. The plot and dialogue are far less engaging than in Saura s best work, but the dance sequences are exuberantly performed and radiantly filmed.

THE 24 HOUR WOMAN (R) Director: Nancy Savoca. With Rosie Perez, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Patti LuPone, Wendell Pierce. (95 min.) +++ Eager for the joys of motherhood, a TV producer combines the personal with the professional by making her pregnancy a part of her show, then runs into difficulty juggling her many responsibilities. The movie is rough around the edges, and the ending doesnt resolve the questions raised. But its bursting with energy and commitment, reflecting Savocas dedication to exploring womens lives.

OUT ON VIDEO SNAKE EYES (R) Director: Brian De Palma. With Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, John Heard, Carla Gugino. (99 min.) +++ Cage gives a wildly extroverted performance as an Atlantic City cop who stumbles onto an assassination scheme that forces him to reassess his loyalties even as he chases the villains. The movie is weaker as a suspense yarn than as an exercise in style, filling the screen with intricate camera choreography. u1/2 Disappointing, hyperactive, uneven.

COMING SOON ... (In stores Feb. 23)

RONIN (R) Director: John Frankenheimer. With Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgrd. (121 min.) +++ A group of outlaws tries to intercept a mysterious package with various combinations of guile and violence. Director Frankenheimer doesnt recapture the magic he once created in movies like The Manchurian Candidate, but he does cook up an effective thriller in the French Connection vein. ++1/2 Thin plot, overly dramatic, ludicrous.

PECKER (R) Director: John Waters. With Edward Furlong, Christina Ricci, Lili Taylor, Mink Stole, Martha Plimpton, Patricia Hearst. (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.

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