The Monitor Movie Guide

STAR RATINGS

Excellent ++++

Good +++

Fair ++

Poor +

The Worst DUD

THE ACID HOUSE (Not rated) Director: Paul McGuigan. With Ewen Bremner, Kevin McKidd, Jemma Redgrave, Stephen McCole, Michelle Gomez. (106 min.) ++ Three stories of working-class life in Scotland, focusing largely on drugs, degradation, and despair. Two of the tales veer into fantasy that partly defuses their unhappy atmosphere, but the central episode is a powerful melodrama of a marriage stricken with poverty and hostility. In Scottish dialect with English subtitles.

THE GAMBLER (Not rated) Director: Karoly Makk. With Michael Gambon, Polly Walker, Luise Rainer, Jodhi May, Dominic West. (97 min.) ++ Russian author Feodor DostoyeSky writes his sardonic masterpiece "The Gambler" while coping with real-life problems of romance, professional responsibility, and yes, gambling. The plot swings between fact-based drama and pure fiction, lending variety to a movie that's often hampered by uninspired dialogue and directing.

GRAND ILLUSION (Not rated) Director: Jean Renoir. With Erich von Stroheim, Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay. (101 min.) ++++ Reissue of "La Grande Illusion," the towering 1937 masterpiece about French soldiers held in a series of German prisoner-of-war camps while World War I rages around them. Stroheim gives one of film history's greatest performances in this engrossing story of captives torn between conflicting loyalties, which is also the story of Western civilization passing fretfully into the 20th century. It should be seen at least once by absolutely everyone, and it looks better than ever now that it's been restored from the original negative, which was thought to be lost, and given a set of freshly translated subtitles. In French with English subtitles.

ILLUMINATA (R) Director: John Turturro. With John Turturro, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, Beverly D'Angelo, Donal McCann. (111 min.) ++ An ambitious playwright, an actress he's infatuated with, a self-important critic, and an insecure star are among the many characters of this comedy-drama about a theater troupe peddling its cultural wares in New York a century ago. While the cast and material have promise, Turturro's uneven filmmaking is stronger on superficial energy than deep-seated resonance.

THE IRON GIANT (PG) Director: Brad Bird. With voices of Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Eli Marienthal, Cloris Leachman, M. Emmet Walsh, Christopher MacDonald. (90 min.) +++ A huge robot drops from the sky into the woods near a little Maine village, and a nine-year-old boy becomes its only friend, protecting it from fear-driven officials who think anything they don't understand must come from a communist plot. This remarkably clever, often hilarious animation derives much of its humor from its satirical view of the 1950s, when the story takes place. There's nothing old-fashioned about its wonderfully vivid characters and nonviolent message, though.

LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (PG-13) Director: Roberto Benigni. With Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini, Horst Buchholz. (114 min.) + Reissued with dubbed dialogue after its first release with subtitles, this popular Italian comedy focuses on a Jewish man who woos and wins the woman of his dreams, then gets incarcerated in a Nazi death camp, where he decides to protect his little boy by pretending that the horrors around them are a big, harmless game. The movie is a sadly naive tribute to the powers of self- delusion and denial, building its occasionally amusing story on an inexcusably watered-down view of the Holocaust's radically evil nature.

A LITTLE BIT OF SOUL (R) Director: Peter Duncan. With Geoffrey Rush, Frances O'Connor, David Wenham, Heather Mitchell. (83 min.) ++ Two rival scientists carry their romantic and professional feud into the country home of a high government official, who could help their research if he weren't so caught up in some kind of weird, possibly devilish cult. This dark Australian comedy has much funny dialogue and many unexpected twists, but runs out of steam before it's over.

MYSTERY MEN (PG-13) Director: Kinka Usher. With Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy, Paul Reubens, Geoffrey Rush, Eddie Izzard, Greg Kinnear, Claire Forlani, Hank Azaria, Wes Studi, Tom Waits, Lena Olin, Kel Mitchell. (121 min.) +++ A superhero named Captain Amazing gets kidnapped by his archenemy, and the only people who can save him are a rag-tag group of amateur superheroes armed with nothing more exotic than shovels, bowling balls, and dinner-table cutlery. The movie will disappoint people expecting a genuine superhero epic or an over- the-top spoof, but those in the mood for an offbeat satire with a gifted cast will have a surprisingly good time. Contains comic-book violence and gross-out humor.

THE SIXTH SENSE (PG-13) Director: M. Night Shyamalan. With Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Colette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg. (107 min.) ++ A child psychologist treats an eight-year-old boy who has ghostly visions that can’t be explained away by the doctor's theories. The thriller's best and worst features all stem from a highly unusual plot structure that builds to a genuinely startling conclusion. Some viewers may feel the ending justifies the means used to achieve it, while others may reject the picture's leisurely pace and literal-minded depiction of supernatural events. In any case, it's always refreshing to find a late-’90s horror movie with fairly little on-screen violence and a minimum of special effects.

THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (R) Director: John McTiernan. With Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Faye Dunaway, Ben Gazzara, Fritz Weaver. (114 min.) +++ A suave art thief spars with a gorgeous insurance agent who uncovers his secrets while falling in love with him. An appealing cast, handsome camera work, and snappy music make this updated version of Norman Jewison's popular 1968 thriller an enjoyable if lightweight affair. Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes including 1 graphic scene with nudity. Violence: 1 mild scene. Profanity: 30 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 10 scenes with drinking, 1 with a cigar.

THOSE WHO LOVE ME CAN TAKE THE TRAIN (Not rated) Director: Patrice Chreau. With Jean-Louis Trintignant, Vincent Perez, Sylvain Jacques, Pascal Greggory, Dominique Blanc. (122 min.) ++ An assorted group of friends, rivals, lovers, and strangers travel to the funeral of a noted painter whose stormy emotional life affected them all in one way or another. Chreau weaves a wide range of feelings into a complex dramatic tapestry. The overall effect is less involving than its varied cast of characters would lead one to expect, however. In French with English subtitles.

THE WOOD (R) Directed by Rick Famuyiwa. With Omar Epps, Taye Diggs, Richard T. Jones, Sean Nelson, Trent Cameron, Duane Finley. (106 min.) ++1/2 Debut feature of twentysomething director Rick Famuyiwa, who draws on his growing-up experiences in the Wood – Inglewood, Calif., a predominantly African- American community near L.A. As two buddies try to get a runaway bridegroom to his wedding, the three of them recall how they became friends. Some viewers may be put off by a preoccupation with sex in some segments and the street talk, but it’s really about friendship and commitment. By M. K. Terrell

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (R) Directors: Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick. With Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Joshua Leonard. (87 min.) ++ The premise behind this offbeat picture is that three film students disappeared after trekking into a supposedly haunted forest, and we’re watching the film and video they shot before meeting their mysterious fate. The concept is clever, suggesting a new way to build horror-movie suspense without much on- camera gore. The movie would be better as a 30-minute short, though, since its shaky camera work and fuzzy images get monotonous after a while, and there’s not much room for character development within the very limited plot. +++ Riveting, scary, realistic, unsettling. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 3 deaths but not seen taking place. Profanity: 216 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 2 instances of drinking, 6 of smoking.

CABARET BALKAN (R) Director: Goran Paskaljevic. With Lazar RistoSki, Miki Manojlovic, Mirjana Jokovic, Sergej Trifunovic. (100 min.) +++ Personal conflict interacts with political despair to produce an explosive atmosphere in this many-layered Yugoslavian drama, set in Belgrade during the mid-1990s. The multiple story lines often seem more melodramatic than enlightening, but they provide a harrowing look at a country on the brink of tumultuous events. Also known as "The Powder Keg." In Serbo-Croatian with subtitles.

DEEP BLUE SEA (R) Director: Renny Harlin. With Samuel L. Jackson, Saffron Burrows, LL Cool J, Thomas Jane. (100 min.) ++ Set in a scientific research facility, the story can be summarized in an equation: 3 very big sharks + 1 biological experiment = 3 eating machines a lot smarter than the humans they’re chasing. Much of the story is “Jaws” updated to the ’90s, but it’s just the thing for moviegoers craving violent adventure, smart-alecky dialogue, and enough water-drenched cinematography to make “Titanic” look parched. u1/2 Summer screamer, Jaws lite, all wet. Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of sexual innuendo. Violence: 16 scenes including explosions and shark feeding frenzies. Profanity: 37 mild expressions, 1 profane gesture. Drugs: 8 scenes with alcohol and/or tobacco.

THE HAUNTING (PG-13) Director: Jan De Bont. With Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor, Owen Wilson, Marian Seldes. (117 min.) ++ A psychologist brings three recruits to a spooky old house, where he hopes to study their reactions under fear-inducing conditions. The haunted mansion is more interesting to watch than the Hollywood-style shocks that unfold there. The jolts are inspired less by Shirley Jackson’s nuanced 1959 novel than by the high-tech fantasies of the computer-imaging department at DreamWorks, which made the picture. 1/2 Laughable, not scary, corny lines. Sex/Nudity: References to bisexuality. Violence: 9 scenes including a near drowning, falling logs, and deaths. Profanity: 20 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 2 scenes with social drinking.

RUNAWAY BRIDE (PG) Director: Garry Marshall. With Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Joan Cusack, Paul Dooley, Hector Elizondo. (110 min.) ++ A jaded journalist writes a column about a woman who’s ditched three bridegrooms at the altar, then visits her small Southern town to meet her and her latest hopeful fianc. The screenplay provides enough cute one-liners and love-struck speeches to give the comedy intermittent charm. Still, star-power is its main asset as it reunites Gere and Roberts with director Marshall for the first time since their “Pretty Woman” became a runaway hit. +++ Nice, light, predictable, fun. Sex/Nudity: Some mild sexual innuendo. Violence: 1 punch. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: Several bar scenes.

TWIN FALLS IDAHO (Not rated) Director: Michael Polish. With Michael Polish, Mark Polish, Michele Hicks. (105 min.) +++ The bittersweet story of 25-year-old conjoined twins, the woman who falls in love with one of them, and the challenges they face when they realize that the other twin is in uncertain health. Made by actual (not conjoined) twins, the emotionally powerful drama unfolds its distinctive tale through understated images that counteract any possibility of exploitation or sensationalism.

COMING SOON ... (In stores Aug. 10)

CELEBRITY (R) Director: Woody Allen. With Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joe Mantegna. (113 min.) ++ A journalist drifts away from his marriage while cultivating acquaintances with various celebrities who cross his path. The idea of a Woody Allen movie about fame is enticing, but a meandering screenplay and uninspired acting make this one of his thinnest, tinniest films.

LOCK, STOCK AND TWO Smoking Barrels (R) Director: Guy Ritchie. With Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng. (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. +++ Energetic, tongue-in-cheek, unique.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (R) Director: John Madden. With Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench. (122 min.) ++ A young playwright fights off writer’s block, scrambles for ideas, and falls in love with a would-be actress who wears men’s clothing. This romantic farce has a talented cast, but somehow the ingredients don’t burn as brightly as one would expect from such promising ingredients. ++++ Finally, a literate movie; passionate, abundantly witty.

20 DATES (R) Director: Myles Berkowitz. With Myles Berkowitz, Robert McKee, Tia Carrere. (88 min.) ++ Berkowitz plays himself in this offbeat documentary about a film project that involves videotaping his dates with 20 different women. Like its candid- camera premise, the picture is intriguing and obnoxious in equal measure; but there are some laughs and surprises.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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