The Monitor Movie Guide

Red stars denote the reviews of Monitor movie critic David Sterritt unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor panel ( blue stars) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other moviegoers. Information on violence, drugs, sex/nudity, and profanity is compiled by the Monitor panel.

STAR RATINGS Excellent ++++

Very Good +++ 1/2

Good +++

Average ++1/2

Fair ++

Poor +1/2

The Worst +

ETERNITY AND A DAY (NOT RATED) Director: Theo Angelopoulos. With Bruno Ganz, Isabelle Renauld, Achileas Skevis. (132 min.) +++ Greeces most renowned filmmaker tells the bittersweet tale of an aging author who simultaneously reflects upon his past, reflected in a group of letters written by his late wife, and opens himself to the future, embarking on an unexpected odyssey with an Albanian boy. Angelopoulos paints the screen with appealing images, but the story and acting lack the special charge that might have lifted this drama to the high level of his greatest work. In Greek with English subtitles.

NOTTING HILL (PG-13) Director: Roger Michell. With Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Emma Chambers, Hugh Bonneville, Rhys Ifans, James Dreyfuss, Gina McKee, Tim McInnerny. (124 min.) +++ A world-famous Hollywood star falls inexplicably in love with a bookstore owner in a modest London neighborhood, sparking ups and down involving a prior boyfriend and a pornography scandal, not to mention their own differences in class and background. Theres some very funny dialogue, but the picture falls apart when it tries to think real thoughts about celebrity, publicity, and the media. Worst weakness: too many love-conquers-all clichs. Strongest asset: Grants dewy eyes and Robertss voluptuous mouth are a romantic-comedy dream team.

TWICE UPON A YESTERDAY (R) Director: Maria Ripoli. With Lena Headey, Douglas Henshall, Penlope Cruz, Charlotte Coleman, Mark Strong, Elizabeth McGovern, Euselbo Lzaro. (96 min.) ++ Courtesy of mysterious new acquaintances, a lovelorn Londoner gets the magical opportunity to travel back in time and try to salvage his lost romance. Stronger on style than conviction, the story recalls the popular Sliding Doors with an extra dose of magic realism.

THE UNDERGROUND COMEDY MOVIE (NOT RATED) Director: Vince Offer. With Michael Clarke Duncan, Slash, Karen Black, Geena Lee Nolin, Joey Buttafuoco, Gloria Sperling, Vince Offer. (87 min.) + Comedy sketches about sexual, racial, and other topics, all calculated to deliver the maximum amount of deliberately rotten taste. The picture aspires to the memorable outrageousness of the old Kentucky Fried Movie genre, but theres hardly a laugh to be found among its stupidly childish antics.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE BESIEGED (R) Director: Bernardo Bertolucci. With David Thewlis, Thandie Newton. (92 min.) +++ After fleeing her violence-torn homeland, an African woman goes to work for an eccentric English composer in Rome, developing a complex and increasingly affectionate relationship with him. Inventive acting and imaginative filmmaking transform what might have been a minor variation on Bertoluccis notorious Last Tango in Paris into an offbeat fantasia thats romantic, whimsical, and unsettling by turns.

ELECTION (R) Director: Alexander Payne. With Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell. Delaney Driscoll. (104 min.) ++ The director of Citizen Ruth strikes again with this pitch-dark satire about a high-school election, three contrasting candidates, and a teacher with very divided loyalties. Many moviegoers will find its rough sexual humor unnecessary, unjustified, and offensive. Others may consider this the perfect teen comedy for the Clinton era, saVy and cynical about the adolescent version of modern politics. Either way, Broderick and Witherspoon give perfectly matched performances at the head of a first-rate cast. +++1/2 Hilarious, satirical, sharp characters. Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of sex (one extramarital), a girl performs oral sex, and many instances of innuendo. Violence: Main character gets stung on his eyelid by a bee. Profanity: 35 expressions. Drugs: 6 instances of social drinking and/or smoking pot.

THE KING OF MASKS (NOT RATED) Director: Wu Tianming. With Zhu Xu, Zhou Ren-Ying, Zhang Riuyang, Zhao Zhigang. (101 min.) +++ Dwelling in a traditional society that values youth over age and males over females, an old Chinese entertainer and a homeless girl become unlikely partners in the quest for a reasonably contented life. The story becomes slow and repetitive during its long middle section, but the acting is expressive, and some of the cinematography is dazzling. In Mandarin, with subtitles.

THE LOVE LETTER (R) Director: Peter Chan. With Kate Capshaw, Blythe Danner, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Everett Scott, Tom Selleck, Gloria Stuart. (90 min.) ++ Capshaw stars as a bookstore owner who discovers an anonymous love letter and suddenly finds herself entangled in a love triangle with a college boy (Everett Scott) and a lifelong admirer (Selleck). Capshaws best friend, played by Degeneres, also finds the letter and thinks its written for her too. Soon a wedge is driven between them because each woman thinks the poetic letter was meant for her. Its a solid effort from director Chan (his first American movie), but the story suffers from a weak screenplay and an uninspiring ending. By Lisa Leigh Parney Sex/Nudity: A couple of romps in bed and on the floor, but no nudity. Violence: None. Profanity: 10 expressions. Drugs: 16 instances of drinking and smoking.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM (PG-13) Director: Michael Hoffman. With Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christian Bale, Rupert Everett, Calista Flockhart, Sophie Marceau, Stanley Tucci, David Strathairn. (115 min.) ++ The latest adaptation of Shakespeares romantic comedy isnt exactly the real thing. It trims the text, shifts the action to turn-of-the-century Italy, and douses the soundtrack with opera music but it retains the antic plot about lovers and actors discombobulated by magic spells, and serves up some of the Bards most popular verse. Often less than spellbinding, the fault lies with uneven performances and Hoffmans reliance on theatrical devices instead of truly cinematic effects. ++ Good scenery, no sparks, well costumed. Sex/Nudity: 5 brief instances. Violence: None. Profanity: 3 expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes of drinking.

THE MUMMY (PG-13) Director: Stephen Sommers. With Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Kevin J.O. Connor, Arnold Vosloo, Jonathan Hyde. (125 min.) ++ High-tech remake of the 1932 horror classic about an ancient Egyptian schemer who launches an evil plot after 20th-century adventurers revive him. The movie is long, bombastic, and violent, but fantasy fans may enjoy its fast- moving energy, and some of the digitized effects are entertainingly hokey. ++1/2 Imaginative, over the top, adventurous. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 23 instances of gory gun battles and mummy fights. Profanity: 23 mild expressions. Drugs: 5 instances.

PUSHER (NOT RATED) Director: Nicolas Winding Refn. With Kim Bodnia, Laura Drasbaek, Zlatko Buric, Slavko Labovic. (105 min.) +++ The life and times of a Danish drug dealer in trouble with dangerous colleagues. The action is horrific at times, but it adds up to a vigorous message about the hazards of a criminal life. In Danish, with subtitles.

THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (NOT RATED) Director: Wojciech Has. With Zbigniew Cybulski, Iga Cembrzynska, Joanna Jedryka, Aleksandr Fogiel, Barbara Kraftowna. (180 min.) +++ Reissue of a minor classic of Polish cinema from 1965, restored to its full length. Stories grow out of other stories, rather like bamboo shoots, during the frequently dreamlike experiences of an 18th-century military officer who enters a series of fantastic adventures after finding a mysterious old book. In Polish with subtitles.

S.L.C. PUNK! (R) Director: James Merendino. With Matthew Lillard, Michael Goorjian, Annabeth Gish, Jennifer Lien. (97 min.) ++ Punks fight, drink, and rationalize living in the unlikeliest of towns Salt Lake City, Utah. Blue-haired Lillard talks directly to the camera, reminding us its only a movie. Three parties are covered as well as a concert that includes a fight between punks, rednecks, and others. Lillards buddy with a spiked mohawk (Goorjian) has a surprising terror of medicine and illegal drugs. But these touches do little to soften the sordid goings-on. Still the acting is fresh, and punk rock fans will dig the 80s score. By M.K. Terrell

STAR WARS: EPISODE I THE PHANTOM MENACE (PG) Director: George Lucas. With Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Pernilla August, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Terence Stamp, Ian McDiarmid, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Frank Oz. (132 min.) +++ The series heads into its second trilogy as Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn and apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi meet a boy named Anakin Skywalker on the desert world Tatooine during a dispute between the minor planet Naboo and a powerful trade federation. The computer-driven effects are impressive, but the adventure is hampered by a flat screenplay, dull acting, and just a hint as to why the dark side of the Force will eventually transform cute little Anakin into the evil Darth Vader. +++ Thrilling visuals, earnest, action-packed. Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 27 scenes of bloodless combat.

TEA WITH MUSSOLINI (PG) Director: Franco Zeffirelli. With Cher, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, Lily Tomlin, Charlie Lucas, Baird Wallace. (116 min.) ++ A group of colorful, strong-willed English women known in Florence, Italy, as the Scorpioni for their biting wit, help guide a young boy born out of wedlock into manhood and a life of art. This coming-of-age tale set on the brink of World War II which also tells the story of a vanishing quiet city has everything going for it: a wonderful cast and a beautiful setting, but it lacks both focus and character development. By Lisa Leigh Parney ++1/2 Amusing, quirky, more choppy than charming. Sex/Nudity: 1 bedroom scene. Violence: 2 scenes. Profanity: 5 expressions. Drugs: 13 instances of smoking and drinking.

THIS IS MY FATHER (R) Director: Paul Quinn. With Aidan Quinn, James Caan, John Cusack, Stephen Rea, Donal Donnelly. (120 min.) ++ An impressive cast lends intermittent appeal to the story of an American teacher who visits Ireland to explore his familys troubled emotional roots. The tale is powerful in its understated US scenes, but rambles a bit when it switches to the Irish countryside. Caan does the most memorable acting, and Quinn is also strong in his brothers feature-filmmaking debut. +++ Gentle, poignant, touching. Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene, a couple instances of innuendo. Violence: 5 mild scenes. Profanity: 26 expressions. Drugs: 9 instances of smoking and/or drinking.

THE WINSLOW BOY (G) Director: David Mamet. With Nigel Hawthorne, Rebecca Pidgeon, Jeremy Northam, Gemma Jones, Matthew Pidgeon. (110 min.) ++++ Superbly acted, elegantly filmed adaptation of Terrence Rattigans classic 1940s drama about an aging Edwardian father who launches a legal fight to clear his sons name after the boy is convicted of a petty crime. The subject remains as relevant as ever, touching on still-timely issues like feminist activism and media madness. ++++ Inspiring, compelling, touches the heart. Sex/Nudity/Violence/Profanity: None. Drugs: Several scenes with smoking and social drinking.

XIU XIU: THE SENT-DOWN GIRL (R) Director: Joan Chen. With Lu Lu, Lopsang, Gao Jie, Li Qianqian. (99 min.) +++ During the Cultural Revolution about three decades ago, a Chinese teenager leaves home for an educational experience in the countryside, where she is brutally exploited by men holding power in the region. Chinese authorities have censored this movie, apparently upset at its negative treatment of a disturbing subject, but audiences are likely to find its candor as honest as it is unsettling. In Mandarin, with subtitles.

OUT ON VIDEOSAVING PRIVATE RYAN (R) Director: Steven Spielberg. With Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Jeremy Davies. (160 min.) +++ This extremely violent World War II drama focuses on an Army captain ordered to penetrate dangerous territory and rescue a private whose mother has already lost three sons in combat. +++ Masterpiece, grimly realistic, definitely not for kids.

GLORIA (R) Director: Sidney Lumet. With Sharon Stone, Jean-Luke Figueroa, George C. Scott. (119 min.) + Stone plays Gloria, an aging, tough-as-nails New Yorker whos bitter because she took the rap for her thug boyfriend and served prison time. Stone seems uncomfortable on screen, her Bronx accent is annoying, and the supporting cast needs to invest in acting lessons. By John Christian Hoyle

THE THEORY OF FLIGHT (R) Director: Paul Greengrass. With Helena Bonham Carter, Kenneth Branagh, Gemma Jones. (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 life-affirming as it sincerely wants to be.

Coming Soon ... (In stores June 1)

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 Irish village decide to cover up his demise and pocket the money. The tale has touches of winning humor, but its too illogical and sentimental to deserve the box-office jackpot.

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