The Monitor Movie Guide

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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

David Sterritt,

Recommended: Default

Staff movie criticMonitor

Staff panelMeaning

Excellent

Very Good

Good

Average

Fair

Poor

The Worst

NEW RELEASES

And Baby Makes Two (Not rated)

Directors: Judy Katz, Oren Rudavsky. With Jan, Debbie, and other New York women. (60 min.)

Skillfully made documentary about several women who, for a wide variety of reasons, have decided to become single mothers. Absorbing and enlightening.

Coming Apart (Not rated)

Director: Milton Moses Ginsberg. With Rip Torn, Sally Kirkland, Viveca Lindfors. (110 min.)

Reissue of a unique 1969 melodrama about a manipulative psychotherapist who uses a hidden movie camera to record his interactions with patients, friends, and sex partners. The aptly named film vividly crystallizes the mixture of artistic adventurousness and emotional anarchy that characterized the cultural extremes of the 1960s era; it's weirdly engrossing if you can handle its crudities, cruelties, and bursts of barely contained craziness. Contains explicit sex.

My Son the Fanatic (R)

Director: Udayan Prasad. With Om Puri, Rachel Griffiths, Stellan Skarsgard, Akbar Kurtha, Gopi Desai. (86 min.)

The venturesome Hanif Kureishi wrote this colorful drama about a hard-working Pakistani immigrant who agonizes over his son's decision to become an Islamic fundamentalist instead of blending into their adopted English culture. The story loses momentum when it wanders into the father's friendships with a businessman and a prostitute, but overall it's intelligently written and appealingly acted.

Regret to Inform (Not rated)

Director: Barbara Sonneborn. With Barbara Sonneborn, Xuan Ngoc Evans. (72 min.)

Documentary about the troubled lives, harrowing experiences, and bittersweet memories of women who lost their husbands in the Vietnam War, including the filmmaker herself. The movie gains depth and breadth by including interviews with women from North and South Vietnam as well as the United States, although its brief running time limits the thoroughness of its exploration.

The Wedding March (Not rated)

Director: Erich von Stroheim. With Erich von Stroheim, Fay Wray, Zasu Pitts, Matthew Betz, George Fawcett, Maude George. (112 min.)

Revival of a 1928 masterpiece by one of silent film's most legendary and extravagant artists, who also plays the central role of a pampered Austrian prince caught between the poor girl he loves and the aristocrat his mother wants him to marry. Assets include a major performance by Wray five years before "King Kong" made her a full-fledged Hollywood star, Stroheim's outsized portrayal of the hero, and the zealous attention to detail that was both the glory and the curse of his directorial career.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

An Ideal Husband (PG-13)

Director: Oliver Parker. With Jeremy Northam, Julianne Moore, Rupert Everett, Cate Blanchett, John Wood, Minnie Driver, Peter Vaughan, Jeroen Krabb. (97 min.)

Oscar Wilde's play inspired this supple comedy, centering on a well-starched British gentleman who's hiding a secret that could touch off a political scandal if a beautiful blackmailer doesn't get what she wants. The dialogue is witty, the cast is appealing, and modern-day moviegoers will spot more than a few parallels between their morally checkered age and London of a century ago.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (PG-13)

Director: Jay Roach. With Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Michael York, Elizabeth Hurley, Seth Green, Robert Wagner. (100 min.)

The silly secret agent returns in his first sequel, wherein the evil Dr. Evil time-travels to the '60s and steals the "mojo" that powers our hero's sex appeal. The satire is crammed with sexual and scatological humor; some may find this Rabelaisian and refreshing - others, the end of civilization as we know it.

Dr. Evil steals the show, "shagadelic," witty.

Sex/Nudity: 12 references to sexual activity. Violence: 4 slapstick scenes. Profanity: 35 expressions. Drugs: 12 scenes with drinking and/or smoking.

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 Bertolucci's notorious "Last Tango in Paris" into an offbeat fantasia that's romantic, whimsical, and unsettling by turns.

Sex/Nudity: 2 brief scenes. Violence/Profanity: None. Drugs: 2 scenes with drinking.

Buena Vista Social Club (Not rated)

Director: Wim Wenders. With Ry Cooder, Ibrahim Ferrer, Eliades Ochoa, Rubn Gonzlez. (106 min.)

This excursion into Cuba's traditional pop-music scene had its start when Cooder decided to record an album in Havana, and one of Germany's 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.

Invigorating, colorful, engrossing look at Cuba.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Violence: None. Drugs: 6 scenes with cigar smoking, 2 with drinking.

Desert Blue (R)

Director: Morgan J. Freeman. With John Heard, Casey Affleck, Christina Ricci, Brendan Sexton III (87 min.)

A young actress hangs out with like-minded teenagers when she and her professor dad are stranded in a rural California town by a nuclear-hazard scare. Low-key performances and a meandering plot are bolstered by Freeman's skill at building a quietly absorbing atmosphere.

The General's Daughter (R)

Director: Simon West. With John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, James Woods, Leslie Stefanson, James Cromwell, Clarence Williams III, Timothy Hutton. (116 min.)

A military cop and a rape investigator make disturbing discoveries as they probe the bizarre murder of a female officer whose father, a top-ranking commander, is about to enter politics. The capably filmed story builds effective suspense at times, and scores telling points against military machismo. But its impact is weakened by clunky dialogue, too many plot twists, and a weakness for pop psychologizing. Contains explicit sexual violence.

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 life's most trying moments. Sayles takes great storytelling risks to explore this theme; his unusual approach will please some and irritate others.

Somewhat unrealistic, severe, depressing.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Nothing graphic, but a dead body is found in the woods and a young girl struggles with suicidal ideas. Profanity: 30 expressions. Drugs: 11 scenes with drinking and/or smoking.

Notting Hill (PG-13)

Director: Roger Michell. With Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Emma Chambers, Hugh Bonneville. (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. There's 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: Grant's dewy eyes and Roberts's voluptuous mouth are a romantic-comedy dream team.

Charming, refreshing, good date flick.

Sex/Nudity/Violence: None. Profanity: 18 expressions. Drugs: 11 instances of smoking and/or social drinking.

The Red Violin (Not rated)

Director: Franois Girard. With Samuel L. Jackson, Greta Scacchi, Don McKellar, Jean-Luc Bideau, Carlo Cecchi, Jason Flemyng, Sylvia Chang. (130 min.)

This omnibus-style film traces the fictional history of a superbly crafted violin, and the mystery attached to it, as it passes from 17th-century Italy to China during the Cultural Revolution, with stops in Austria and England along the way. Movies in this genre are often made with more attention to international marketing than first-rate storytelling, but Girard invests each episode of this Canadian production with dramatic credibility and emotional strength. In four languages, with English subtitles when appropriate.

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of nudity, 1 explicit sex scene. Violence: 1 mild scene. Profanity: 6 expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes with smoking.

Run Lola Run (R)

Director: Tom Tykwer. With Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, Nina Petri, Herbert Knaup, Armin Rohde. (81 min.)

Amazingly creative filmmaking propels this anything-goes tale of a young woman who has just 20 minutes to save her boyfriend's life by raising a huge amount of cash. Tykwer's style gives the movie an explosive energy that never quits, marking him as the most ingenious new talent to hail from Germany in ages. Contains violent action. In German with English subtitles.

Sitcom (Not rated)

Director: Franois Ozon. With Evelyne Dandry, Franois Marthouret, Marina de Van, Adrien de Van. (80 min.)

Darkly satirical tale of a comfortable French family that sinks into a morass of self-destructive perversity. The movie's critique of middle-class hypocrisy carries a morbid kick at times, but it's so heavily influenced by the vastly superior films of Luis Buuel that his name should appear over the title. Contains explicit sexual material. In French with English subtitles.

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. (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.

Tarzan (G)

Directors: Kevin Lima, Chris Buck. With voices of Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Alex D. Linz, Glenn Close, Nigel Hawthorne, Rosie O Donnell, Wayne Knight. (88 min.)

Animated version of the classic yarn about an orphaned child who grows up with gorillas, enjoys a contented life in the African jungle, and faces eye-opening new experiences when humans barge into his domain. The cartooning is lively and funny, and the voice-only cast brings the characters to vivid life. There's no over-the-top music or comedy sequence to place this with the very best Disney animations, though, and Phil Collins's songs won't be to everyone's taste.

Exhilarating, may be too intense for the under-six crowd, fast-paced.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity: None. Violence: 9 scenes, including the implied killing of Tarzan's parents and a baby gorilla by a leopard. Drugs: 1 scene of a hunter drinking wine and Tarzan making fun of cigar smoker.

OUT ON VIDEO

A Simple Plan (R)

Director: Sam Rami. With Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda, Brent Briscoe, Gary Cole. (115 min.)

Two brothers face a moral crisis when they stumble on a cache of apparently illicit money and decide to keep it instead of calling the authorities. Sensitive performances and intelligent storytelling keep the sometimes-violent tale involving from start to finish.

Gripping moral tale, intelligent thriller, dark but very well done.

COMING SOON...

(In stores June. 29)

The Thin Red Line (R)

Director: Terrence Malick. With Sean Penn, John Travolta, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, Gary Oldman.

American soldiers battle elusive enemies in this sweeping adaptation of James Jones's thoughtful World War II novel about the Guadalcanal campaign. Although the story seems disjointed at times, no other war movie has tried so valiantly to convey not only the suffering of combat but the awful fissures it rips through humanity's ideal oneness with itself and the world we live in.

Intense, violent, poetic.

Rushmore (R)

Director: Wes Anderson. With Bill Murray, Jason Schwartman, Olivia Williams. (95 min.)

A precocious prep-school student juggles a ridiculous number of extracurricular projects while falling in love with an attractive teacher. Murray gives his most uproarious performance since "Groundhog Day" in this quirky, often hilarious comedy.

Extremely funny, irreverent, wildly original.

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