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 BOOK OF LIFE (NOT RATED) Director: Hal Hartley. With Martin Donovan, Thomas Jay Ryan, P.J. Harvey, Dave Simonds, Miho Nikaido. (70 min.) ++ Wry parable about two men who represent the forces of good and evil, confronting each other in New York City just before the millennium. Hartley gives the story his patented blend of deadpan philosophy and ironic humor, but its ideas and emotions don't rank with his best work.

DIAL 'M' FOR MURDER (NOT RATED) Director: Alfred Hitchcock. With Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings, Anthony Dawson, John Williams. (105 min.) +++ Revival of the 1954 murder mystery based on Frederick Knott's popular play about a husband's almost-perfect plot to kill his unfaithful wife. Although it's one of Hitchcock's less-imaginative works, this is the only film ever shot by a major director in the 3-D format; it originally went to theaters in a "flat" version because the 3-D craze had ended by the time Hitchcock completed it, but it has strong visual impact when theaters now show it in its intended form.

8 1/2 (NOT RATED) Director: Federico Fellini. With Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aime, Barbara Steele, Sandra Milo, Rossella Falk, Madeleine Lebeau. (138 min.) ++++ Revival of a modernist classic that shook up the motion-picture world in 1963 with its rollicking story of a movie director who shuttles among memory, fantasy, and reality while trying to get his latest production off the ground. Mastroianni gives what might be the greatest performance of his legendary career, making an ideal focus of attention for Fellini's cinematic pyrotechnics.

FOLLOWING (NOT RATED) Director: Christopher Nolan. With Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, John Nolan. (70 min.) ++ Hoping to become a writer, a young man develops an exaggerated curiosity about other people's lives that brings unintended consequences when he meets a kindred spirit with a criminal streak. This unconventional thriller derives most of its interest from a screenplay that slices and dices the story's time scheme, and the picture is brief enough to sustain a fair amount of interest before this novelty begins to fade.

GO (R) Director: Doug Liman. With Sarah Polley, William Fichtner, Desmond Askew, Katie Holmes, Taye Diggs, J.E. Freeman, Scott Wolf, Jay Mohr, Breckin Meyer, Jane Krakowski, Timothy Olyphant. (100 min.) ++ Three interrelated stories about a teenage checkout clerk who gets involved in a drug scam, two men on the run from outraged enemies, and a cop who may be pushing a sinister scheme. The screenplay often seems like a rehash of Quentin Tarantino's aptly named "Pulp Fiction," and although some of the acting is strong, the atmosphere is so relentlessly sleazy that many moviegoers will want to go long before the final credits.

LIFE ON EARTH (NOT RATED) Director: Abderrahmane Sissako. With Abderrahmane Sissako, Nana Baby, Mahamadou Dram, Mohamed Sissako, Bourama Coulibaly, Keita Bina Gaoussoo. (61 min.) +++ A village in Mali is the subject and setting of this leisurely look at life in the third world as the second millennium draws to a close. An absorbing experience for movie-goers willing to trade story and drama for understated politics and poetics.

NEVER BEEN KISSED (PG-13) Director: Raja Gosnell. With Drew Barrymore, Leelee Sobieski, David Arquette, Jeremy Jordan, Garry Marshall, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Michael Vartan. (108 min.) ++ Colorful comedy about a 25-year-old journalist assigned to relive her senior year in high school, this time as an undercover reporter getting the scoop on today's kids. Barrymore continues to grow as a comic actress, with solid support from Sobieski and Arquette, and the story has energy to spare. Much of the humor is so youth-centered that older moviegoers won't always get the point, though, and some scenes trivialize sensitive sex-related issues. Sex/Nudity: 4 instances of innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 9 expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes of smoking and drinking; main character eats a hash brownie.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE AMONG GIANTS (R) Director: Sam Miller. With Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Griffiths, James Thornton, Andy Serkis, Lennie James, Rob Jarvis, Alan Williams. (100 min.) +++ Love blossoms between an English painting foreman and an Australian rock climber who joins his crew for a job atop high electrical towers in the Yorkshire countryside. The basic story is tried and true, but Postlethwaite is older and more seasoned than many of today's romantic leads, and the scenery looks terrific from the unusual perspective provided by the high-climbing camera.

COOKIE'S FORTUNE (PG-13) Director: Robert Altman. With Glenn Close, Liv Tyler, Julianne Moore, Charles S. Dutton, Chris O'Donnell, Patricia Neal, Lyle Lovett, Ned Beatty, Courtney B. Vance, Donald Moffat. (118 min.) +++ Friendships and family ties are tested when the police of a little Mississippi town launch an investigation into the death of a local dowager, not knowing her nieces have tampered with evidence to protect their inheritance from the old lady. As in most of Altman's best pictures, the story is a loosely strung excuse for various digressions, distractions, and diversions, filmed by a restless camera that pokes around like a sharp-eyed traveler on the lookout for tantalizing anecdotes to share with the folks back home.

THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS (NOT RATED) Director: Erick Zonca. With Elodie Bouchez, Natacha Regnier, Patrick Mercado, Jo Prestia, Grgoire Colin. (113 min.) +++ Sharing an apartment in a small French city, two rootless young women develop a complex relationship based on their mutual need for companionship and support. Zonca's filmmaking is smooth and assured, but top honors go to Bouchez and Regnier for their superb performances as the emotionally troubled heroines. Contains sex and nudity.

EDTV (PG-13) Director: Ron Howard. With Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, Ellen DeGeneres, Martin Landau, Elizabeth Hurley, Dennis Hopper. (110 min.) ++ A hammy video-store clerk volunteers to star in a round-the-clock TV series displaying his everyday life to a nation of tube-watching strangers; he enjoys his fame at first but changes his mind when unintended consequences strike his friends, his family, and him. The movie begins as an interesting new spin on the basic idea behind "The Truman Show," but veers toward cheapness and vulgarity on its way to a mean-spirited climax. ++1/2 Interesting characters, short on surprises, no "Truman Show." Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes and frequent sexual innuendo. Violence: 1 mild instance. Profanity: 61 expressions. Drugs: 17 scenes with cigarettes and/or alcohol.

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 doesn't pay his debt, and coaxes his motley friends into a robbery that will score them a pile of money if they're smart enough to pull it off. The humor is as rude and crude as the characters, but the picture certainly isn't lacking in energy. +++ Energetic, tongue-in-cheek, unique. Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo; 1 scene of a topless dancer in background. Violence: 17 scenes ranging from slapping and beatings to shootouts. Profanity: 180 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with drug dealing; smoking and drinking throughout.

THE MATRIX (R) Directors: The Wachowski Brothers. With Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano. (132 min.) +++ Juiced up with nonstop action and a megadose of special effects, this science-fiction thrill ride begins with the paranoid premise that evil conspirators have all humanity trapped in a web of illusion that perpetuates their control by blinding us to reality. The plot switches gears every time it threatens to run out of energy, which keeps the show as lively as it is preposterous. +++ Original, clever, solid sci-fi. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 11 scenes, some lengthy. Profanity: 48 expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes of smoking and/or drinking.

THE MOD SQUAD (R) Director: Scott Silver. With Claire Danes, Giovanni Ribisi, Omar Epps, Michael Lerner, Dennis Farina, Josh Brolin, Steve Harris. (94 min.) + Spinoff from the TV series of 30 years ago, centering on three young delinquents helping the police solve a case involving drugs and corrupt cops. Everyone works hard, but the results are sadly short of style and personality, not to mention irony and intelligence. Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes. Violence: 6 instances. Profanity: 43 expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes of smoking and drinking.

THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS (PG-13) Director: Sam Weisman. With Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn, Mark McKinney, John Cleese. (91 min.) + Martin treads the remake route again in this updated version of the Neil Simon comedy about a Midwestern couple who travel to New York for a job interview and stumble into one big-city pitfall after another. There are a few clever lines and Cleese has some sensational moments, but that's not enough to make the farce seem fresh. + Boring, formulaic, pointless. Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene. Violence: None. Profanity: 2 expressions. Drugs: 1 bar scene, and accidental use of a hallucinogenic.

10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (PG-13) Director: Gil Junger. With Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, Larry Miller, David Krumholtz, Andrew Keegan. (94 min.) ++ Shakespeare strikes again with this teenage comedy based on "The Taming of the Shrew," transferred to an American high school where boys launch a complicated scheme to woo a pair of sisters who won't go out with them. Junger spins hilariously written scenes with split-second timing, although the story sags during its long middle portion. Contains a lot of explicit sexual humor. ++1/2 Good take on adolescent angst, juvenile-humor, music-driven. Sex/Nudity: Continuous talk of sex. Violence: A few teenage fistfights. Profanity: Heavy swearing throughout. Drugs: 2 scenes of high-school parties with smoking and drinking.

TRUE CRIME (R) Director: Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, James Woods, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Denis Leary, Diane Venora. (115 min.) +++ Assigned to interview a condemned prisoner, an aging reporter tries to salvage what's left of his alcohol-ruined career by proving the convict's innocence just hours before his execution. The drama is crisply acted and entertainingly filmed until credibility wanes in the last half hour. It would be even better if Eastwood followed his character's lead and emphasized "real issues" over "human interest" in a story that touches on important social problems without doing much to illuminate them. Contains a subplot about sexual exploits and a great deal of foul language. +++1/2 Sharp dialogue, crackling good story, Eastwood-esque. Sex/Nudity: 1 scene. Violence: 3 scenes. Profanity: 98 expressions. Drugs: 15 scenes of cigarettes and/or alcohol.

A WALK ON THE MOON (R) Director: Tony Goldwyn. With Diane Lane and Anna Paquin, . (107 min.) ++ The first lunar landing and the Woodstock music festival are the historical backdrops of this mostly well-acted drama about a married woman who has an affair with a traveling salesman while tending her kids at a Jewish bungalow colony in the summer of 1969. The movie doesn't quite manage to weave its lonely-wife story and summer-of-love setting into a satisfying whole, but Lane is touching as a woman who fears she missed the fun of life by marrying too young. Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of sex and/or nudity. Violence: 1 scene. Profanity: 20 expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes with cigarettes with drinking, and 2 with marijuana use.

OUT ON VIDEO MEET JOE BLACK (R) Director: Martin Brest. With Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Claire Forlani, Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden. (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. +++ Romantic, beautiful, Hopkins shines.

COMING SOON ... (In stores April 13)

APT PUPIL (R) Director: Bryan Singer. With Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, Bruce Davidson, Elias Koteas, David Schwimmer. (113 min.) ++ A smart but troubled 16-year-old uncovers the Nazi past of an elderly neighbor and blackmails the old man into mentoring the boy's own ambitions to become a thuggish, even murderous manipulator. The subject is timely, but the sensationalistic tale doesn't delve very far into the issues it raises.

... (In stores April 20)

SIMON BIRCH (PG) Director: Mark Steven Johnson. With Ian Michael Smith, Joseph Mazzello, Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn. (110 min.) +++ The hero is a very small boy who's convinced his "abnormal" physique is proof of God's particular interest in him, and feels he'll fulfill some special purpose as soon as he can figure out what it is. The movie is lively and endearing. +++ Tear-jerker, intriguing, literary.

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