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 AMERICAN HOLLOW (NOT RATED) Director: Rory Kennedy. With Iree Bowling and members of the Bowling family. (90 min.) +++ Thoughtful documentary about a year in the life of an extended family that has lived for years in the same rural Kentucky area, capturing close-up views of everything from an on-and-off engagement to a sons incarceration for a crime he didnt commit. The movie presents much to learn from, although it would be more persuasive if it probed the filmmakers own relationship with the people theyve intruded on.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB (NOT RATED) Director: Wim Wenders. With Ry Cooder, Ibrahim Ferrer, Eliades Ochoa, Rubn Gonzlez, Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo. (106 min.) +++ This excursion into Cubas traditional pop-music scene had its start when Cooder decided to record an album in Havana, and one of Germanys most expressive filmmakers decided to make a record of the experience, spotlighting a number of old-time musicians who were rediscovered in the course of this project. Not great cinema, but lots of toe-tapping fun.

THE CASTLE (R) Director: Rob Sitch. With Michael Caton, Anne Tenney, Stephen Curry, Sophie Lee, Anthony Simcoe, Charles (Bud) Tingwell. (85 min.) +++ An ordinary man who loves his home refuses to budge when a government-run airport decides to expand onto his property. He launches a feisty campaign to protect his rights despite a total lack of resources to wage the battle. This often hilarious Australian comedy is touching, smart, and brimming with genuine family values.

FINDING NORTH (NOT RATED) Director: Tanya Wexler. With Wendy Makkena, John Benjamin Hickey. (95 min.) + A romantically inclined woman accompanies an unhappy gay friend on a pilgrimage from New York to Texas so he can visit the childhood home of his recently deceased lover. The movie aims for laughter and emotion but sinks into silliness, sentimentality, and schmaltz.

INSTINCT (R) Director: Jon Turteltaub. With Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Donald Sutherland, Maura Tierney, John Ashton, George Dzundza. (126 min.) ++ Looking like Hannibal Lecter with a beard, Hopkins plays another demented scientist a primate researcher whos killed some African park rangers and Gooding plays an ambitious psychiatrist who wants to learn why he did it. Both stars have high-octane moments, but too many of the storys ideas are borrowed from better pictures. Call it The Silence of the Gorillas.

IN THE PRESENCE OF A CLOWN (NOT RATED) Director: Ingmar Bergman. With Erland Josephson, Pernilla August, Brje Ahlstedt, Marie Richardson. (118 min.) +++ Bergman retired from filmmaking in 1982, but his ongoing video career continues in this unconventional comedy-drama about two 1920s mental patients who decide to parlay a fascination with composer Franz Schubert into an invention called a talking picture. Not one of Bergmans best works, but compelling in a fitful, sometimes mysterious way.

LIMBO (R) Director: John Sayles. With Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, David Strathairn, Vanessa Martinez, Casey Siemaszko, Kris Kristofferson. (126 min.) +++ Working to support her alienated teenage daughter through a small-time singing career, a woman meets a new boyfriend with a troubled past, and the three of them enter an unexpected adventure that could have deadly consequences. The movie is less about plot twists than about the struggles of decent people to sustain one another at lifes most trying moments. Sayles takes great storytelling risks to explore this theme; his unusual approach will please some viewers and irritate others.

THE LOSS OF SEXUAL INNOCENCE (R) Director: Mike Figgis. With Julian Sands, Saffron Burrows, Jonathan Rhys- Meyers, Kelly Macdonald, Stefano Dionisi, Rossy De Palma, Femi Ogunbanjo. (101 min.) +++ A modern retelling of the Adam and Eve story frames this extremely offbeat study of the relationships among sexuality, love, possessiveness, hostility, and guilt. The nonlinear story consists of loosely linked fragments, some more effective than others, threaded together in a broodingly poetic way. Contains explicit sexual and scatological material.

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.

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 ++ Shallow, slightly amusing, fizzles at the end. 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.

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.

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 downs 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. +++ Charming, refreshing, good date flick. Sex/Nudity/Violence: None. Profanity: 18 expressions. Drugs: 2 instances of smoking and/or drinking.

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.

SOUTHIE (NOT RATED) Director: John Shea. With Donnie Wahlberg, Rose McGowan, John Shea, James Cummings, Anne Meara, Lawrence Tearney, Steve Koslowski. (92 min.) ++ A young man returns to his Irish-American neighborhood in Boston after a long absence, and immediately runs into challenges posed by undisciplined family members, a vengeful rival, and an embittered girlfriend. The movie paints a vivid portrait of a time and place, but falls back on familiar formulas that diminish its value as both emotional drama and slice-of-life realism.

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.

THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR (R) Director: Josef Rusnak. With Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Vincent DOnofrio, Armin Mueller-Stahl. (105 min.) ++ Advanced research into virtual reality leads to intrigue and danger with a time-travel twist. Darkly elegant cinematography helps compensate for awful dialogue (How can you love me? I m not even real.) and lackluster acting. While the storys themes are interesting, theyre explored a lot more dynamically in pictures like The Matrix and eXistenZ. Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of mild innuendo. Violence: 6 scenes, some harsh. Profanity: 20 expressions. Drugs: 10 instances of smoking and/or 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.

OUT ON VIDEO 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.

COMING SOON ... (In stores June 8)

PSYCHO (R) Director: Gus Van Sant. With Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Viggo Mortensen, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore. (109 min.) ++ A step-by-step remake of Alfred Hitchcocks brilliant 1960 thriller about a mad killer, lonely motel, and a woman on the run from her ordinary life. Some glimmerings of Hitchcocks magic shine through the imitative haze, but Vaughn doesnt have a fraction of Anthony Perkinss weird magnetism. ++ Vaughn miscast, dont mess with Hitchcock, better in black-and-white.

GODS AND MONSTERS (NOT RATED) Director: Bill Condon. With Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave, Lolita Davidovich, David Dukes. (105 min.) +++ A fictionalized portrait of Hollywood director James Whale near the end of his life, as he reminisces about the long-ago fame he earned for pictures like Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man. Although the film doesnt probe Whales personality as deeply as it might, the acting is excellent and movie buffs will enjoy its behind-the-scenes references. +++ Odd, unsettling, provocative.

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