The Monitor Movie Guide

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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 ALASKA: SPIRIT OF THE WILD (IMAX, NOT RATED) Director: Harold Ramis. Narrated by Charlton Heston. (40 min.) +++ Glacial avalanches, aurora borealis, baby bears and thousands of seabirds are but a few of the visual thrills of Alaska. Rodney Taylor, director of photography, spent several years and shot 66 miles of footage to bring the most recent great Ice Age to IMAX theaters. By Leigh Montgomery

ANALYZE THIS (R) Director: Harold Ramis. With Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Viterelli, Chazz Palminteri. (105 min.) ++ Bothered by a vulnerable streak in his personality, a New York mobster decides to visit a psychiatrist, and soon the unwilling therapist is up to his ears in revelations, confidences, and confessions hed rather have nothing to do with. Ramis doesnt reach the comic heights of his Groundhog Day or National Lampoons Vacation, but the acting is excellent, and the screenplay offers some hearty laughs if you can stand bursts of violence and language as foul as a Mafiosos business agenda.

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CRUEL INTENTIONS (R) Director: Roger Kumble. With Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair, Christine Baranski. (90 min.) 1/2 Two wealthy New York teenagers, a stepsister and stepbrother, enjoy tormenting their peers and flaunting their sexual conquests. They meet their downfall when they try to debauch the daughter of their school's new headmaster. The film is yet another movie version of the 18th-century French novel Dangerous Liaisons, and easily the worst. The cruelest intentions of this film are aimed at its audience, who gets only lame comedy and unconvincing drama as it wallows in its sordid subject matter. By Greg Lamb

LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (R) Director: Guy Ritchie. With Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Vinnie Jones, P.H. Moriarty, Steven Mackintosh, Sting. (107 min.) ++ Boisterous comedy about a young gambler who loses a high-stakes card game, fears for his life if he doesnt pay his debt, and coaxes his motley friends into a robbery that will score them a pile of money if theyre smart enough to pull it off. The humor is as rude and crude as the characters, but the picture certainly isnt lacking in energy.

200 CIGARETTES (R) Director: Risa Bramon Garcia. With Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, David Chappelle, Janeane Garofalo, Courtney Love, Jay Mohr, Gaby Hoffman. (96 min.) + A cast of oddball New Yorkers celebrate New Years Eve 1981 by complaining about how much their lives stink because they cant find love. They converge at a party simply to choose whom they should spend the night with. Although David Chappelles performance as a cabbie is amusing, the film should have been packaged with a Surgeon Generals Warning Cigarettes is bad for you. By John Christian Hoyle u1/2 Silly, plotless, slow. Sex/Nudity: Constant instances of sexual innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 67 expressions. Drugs: One scene with drug use; incessant cigarette smoking and drinking throughout.

OSCAR NOMINEES 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.

LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (PG-13) Director: Roberto Benigni. With Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini. (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. ++++ Exceptional, well- crafted, uplifting. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Some slapstick. Profanity: Mild. Drugs: Smoking and drinking.

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (R) Director: Steven Spielberg. With Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg. (160 min.) +++ This extremely violent World War II drama focuses on an Army captain ordered to penetrate dangerous territory and rescue an ordinary private whose mother has already lost three sons in combat, even though this places the lives of his other soldiers in jeopardy. The story raises hard questions relating to the relative value of human lives and the overwhelming debt that may be felt by those who benefit when others sacrifice. But the movie falls short of excellence because it doesn't so much explore these issues as finesse them in an action- filled climax. +++ Masterpiece, grimly realistic, definitely not for kids. Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of soldiers talking about women and sex. Violence: 5 sweeping scenes of violence, all of them graphic, war-related, and almost continuous. Profanity: 79 expletives. Drugs: Medicinal use of morphine, 22 instances of smoking.

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. ++++ 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.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE 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.

8MM (R) Director: Joel Schumacher. With Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini. (123 min.) + Hired to discover whether an eight-millimeter snuff movie depicts an actual murder, a private eye enters a horrific world of degrading sex and bottom- feeding pornographers. We enter it with him, and the journey turns out to be so nasty and convoluted that you cant help wondering why major players like Cage and Schumacher signed onto it. DUD Deeply disturbing, unbearable to watch, laughably bad. Sex/Nudity: 12 instances one mild sex scene, one strip bar scene, three instances of innuendo, and 7 scenes from the hard core pornographic trade. Violence: 12 instances, from cross bow killing to rape and murder in a snuff film to suicide. Profanity: 93 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 29 scenes with cigarettes, cigars, and/or alcohol.

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. (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.

OCTOBER SKY (PG) Director: Joe Johnston. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Chris Owen, William Lee Scott, 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. +++1/2 Family fare, good message, sappy. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 3 scuffles. Profanity: 4 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. ++1/2 Irreverent, clever, entertaining. Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of brief toplessness and sexual innuendo. Violence: 4 mild scenes. Profanity: 124 expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes of drinking.

THE OTHER SISTER (PG-13) Director: Garry Marshall. With Juliette Lewis, Diane Keaton, Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Skerritt, Hector Elizondo. (130 min.) ++ After years in a boarding school for the mildly retarded, a twentysomething woman carves out a life of her own, alarming her wealthy parents when she starts falling in love with a man who shares her mental condition and unquenchable high spirits. The movie serves up poignant and comical moments, but its ridiculously long for the souffl-like story it has to tell. ++1/2 Skillfully acted, idealized, uneven. Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of sexual innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes of drinking.

RUSHMORE (R) Director: Wes Anderson. With Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams, Mason Gamble. (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 wealthy businessman. Anderson fulfills the promise of his inventive Bottle Rocket with this quirky, hilarious comedy, and Murray gives his most uproarious performance since the groundbreaking Groundhog Day. +++1/2 Extremely funny, irreverent, wildly original. Sex/Nudity: 1 shot of a poster. Violence: 5 mild scenes. Profanity: 39 expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes of drinking, 15 of smoking.

OUT ON VIDEO EVER AFTER (PG-13) Director: Andy Tennant. With Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston, Dougray Scott, Jeanne Moreau. (124 min.) +++ Prettily filmed retelling of the Cinderella story, complete with mistreated heroine, wicked stepmother, and handsome prince. Huston is tart as the stepmom, and its hard to resist a movie that substitutes Leonardo da Vinci for the traditional fairy godmother. +++ Charming, romantic, spunky.

SOLDIER (R) Director: Paul Anderson. With Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Connie Nielsen, Gary Busey. (99 min.) ++ Stranded on an isolated outpost in deep space, a highly trained super-soldier tries to join a community of ordinary people, and winds up battling a new breed of warriors. Although it's the opposite of deep, this moody science-fiction adventure gains a bit of distinction from Russells offbeat performance and the melancholy tone it generates. ++1/2 Inventive, macho fun, predictable finish.

COMING SOON ... (In stores March 9)

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. 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.

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