The Monitor Movie Guide

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STAR RATINGS

Excellent ++++

Good +++

Recommended: 3 views on whether states should legalize marijuana

Fair ++

Poor +

The Worst DUD

NEW RELEASE DOG PARK (R) Director: Bruce McCulloch. With Luke Wilson, Natasha Henstridge, Kathleen Robertson, Janeane Garofalo, Bruce McCulloch, Kristin Lehman. (103 min.) u1/2 A bachelor is back in the singles scene after his girlfriend moves out. But its not four days before he meets someone new. As he tells a pal, he hasnt been without a girlfriend since eighth grade. The theme here is nicely summed up by a character who says, Isnt being together better than nothing? The actors seem uncomfortable in their roles, the script is clumsy, and the show is saved from a dud rating only by the efforts of the cast. By Katherine Dillin Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes with sex, 1 with backside nudity, and 4 with fairly graphic talk of sex. Violence: 1 mild scene with two men scuffling. Profanity: 14 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol, 1 with a cigarette, 2 with alcohol and cigarettes.

DOUBLE JEOPARDY (R) Director: Bruce Beresford. With Tommy Lee Jones, Ashley Judd, Bruce Greenwood, Annabeth Gish. (105 min.) + Ashley Judd violates her parole after she is framed for the murder of her husband. Tommy Lee Jones shows up in Act 2 to do some lazy showboating as the officer in pursuit (weve seen this somewhere before). Judd has engaging presence and clearly relishes playing a gutsy heroine, but the featherweight script leaves her looking far too ponderous. Given the obviousness of the material, there ought to be at least some thrill in the chase, but when the audience is laughing by the end, you know the film is in trouble. By Stephen Humphries

JAKOB THE LIAR (PG-13) Director: Peter Kassovitz. With Robin Williams, Alan Arkin, Hannah Taylor- Gordon, Liev Schreiber. (114 min.) u1/2 While some might mistake this story about a simple man (Williams), who cheers his townsmen in a 1944 Jewish ghetto in Poland with tall tales for the typical Hollywood copy of a popular foreign film, it was actually shot the year before Roberto Benignis Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful hit American screens. As hard as Williams tries to inject life into the movie, it vacillates erratically between sentimentality and dreary humor, and it never seems to get off the ground. By Katherine Dillin ++1/2 Grim but hopeful, uninspired, thoughtful. Sex/Nudity: 1 mild scene of implied sex. Violence: 11 scenes of ghetto violence including torture and suicides. Profanity: 4 mild expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with alcohol, 5 with cigarettes, 1 with alcohol and cigarettes.

THE MINUS MAN (R) Director: Hampton Fancher. With Owen Wilson, Janeane Garofalo, Mercedes Ruehl, Brian Cox. (110 min.) +++ Violence is implied rather than exploited in this understated tale of a young man whose utterly innocuous exterior masks an ongoing compulsion to kill random strangers with an exotic poison. Excellent acting and a finely tuned screenplay spark this genuinely offbeat melodrama.

MYSTERY, ALASKA (R) Director: Jay Roach. With Burt Reynolds, Hank Azaria, Russell Crowe, Mary McCormack, Colm Meaney. (118 min.) +++ Mystery, Alaska, population 633, lives for the Saturday game of hockey. Rules are set and players picked by a committee. When a former town member whos now a television producer returns offering to bring the New York Rangers to play a game against the local guys, lives are turned topsy-turvy. Its a sweet and gripping sports drama. It also asks whether the slower pace of small- town life is enough or if its better to leave for different challenges in the big city. By Katherine Dillin

SUGAR TOWN (R) Director: Allison Anders and Kurt Voss. With Jade Gordon, Michael Des Barres, John Taylor, Ally Sheedy, Rosanna Arquette, Larry Klein, Beverly DAngelo. (92 min.) ++1/2 Director Allison Anders (Grace of My Heart) brings us another satisfying music-related movie. A bunch of aging L.A. film and rock n roll types who rode a wave of success in the 80s are having trouble finding work in the youth-and-beauty filled 90s. Theres the neurotic production designer (Sheedy) whos trying to straighten out her dating life; the fiftysomething singer (Des Barres) who must sleep with an heiress (DAngelo) to secure funding for his new record; the fading singer (Taylor) who may be the father of an out- of-control kid named Nerve; and a lead actress who is now being offered parts as Christina Riccis mom. It feels like a rough cut rather than a polished single, but its still fun to watch. By Lisa Leigh Parney ++1/2 Offbeat, wildly entertaining, solid cast, somber. Sex/Nudity: 11 scenes of either implied sex, sexual activity, or nudity; several instances of innuendo. Violence: 2 fairly mild scenes. Profanity: 124 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with smoking, 6 with alcohol, 3 scenes involving drugs.

THREE KINGS (R) Director: David O. Russell. With George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Nora Dunn, Said Raghmaoui, Mykelti Williamson, Jamie Kennedy, Cliff Curtis. (105 min.) ++ At the close of the Persian Gulf War, a small group of American soldiers go on a treasure hunt for piles of gold bullion hidden away by Saddam Hussein, and become involved in more geopolitical intrigue than they know how to handle. Russells stylish and imaginative filmmaking wages its own war against lunkheaded and sometimes offensive material.

UNCOMMON FRIENDS OF THE 20TH CENTURY (NOT RATED) Director: John Biffar. With Walter Cronkite, Jim Newton, Ellie Newton. (63 min.) + Documentary about businessman Jim Newtons friendships with Thomas Edison and Charles Lindbergh, among other famous figures of the past 100 years. The movie delivers its inspirational messages in ringing tones, but a trusted journalist like Cronkite should have seen through the simplistic and incorrect history that undermines the credibility of his narration.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE AMERICAN BEAUTY (R) Director: Sam Mendes. With Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari. (118 min.) +++ Bored by their increasingly dull marriage, a middle-aged couple are seduced by morally reckless behaviors that bring them into edgy relationships with everyone from their towns real-estate magnate to the local drug dealer. Stay away from this sometimes violent tragicomedy unless youre interested in a ruthless dissection of suburban malaise. +++ Great ensemble cast, disturbing, bleak, thought-provoking. Sex/Nudity: 8 scenes including 4 scenes with sometimes graphic sexual activity, 1 with implied sex, 3 scenes with partial nudity; 5 instances of innuendo. Violence: 8 scenes total from mild to a disturbing beating. Profanity: 55 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with marijuana, 1 drug deal, 5 scenes with alcohol.

BLACK CAT, WHITE CAT (R) Director: Emir Kusturica. With Bajram Severdzan, Srdan Todorovic, Branka Katic, Florijan Ajdini. (129 min.) ++ A gypsy community on the Danube River is the setting of this rowdy comedy involving a bungled train robbery, an arranged marriage, and a tangled web of double-crosses and triple-crosses spanning at least three generations. Kusturica doesn't paint these rogues and rascals as vividly as the characters in his excellent Time of the Gypsies, but their shenanigans rarely run short of explosive energy. In Serbo-Croatian and Romany with English subtitles +++ Over-the-top, dizzying, colorful, grows on you. Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex. Violence: 5 instances, 2 of them involving shootings, some bullying. Profanity: 42 expressions. Drugs: 23 scenes with alcohol, 9 with cigarettes, 9 with cocaine.

BLUE STREAK (R) Director: Les Mayfield. With Martin Lawrence, Luke Wilson, Nicole Ari Parker, William Forsythe. (90 min.) + A thief poses as a cop in order to retrieve a stolen jewel hes stupidly stashed in a police station. Lawrences manic energy and Wilsons laid-back humor are no match for the trite and trivial story, which amounts to a series of excuses for mugging, fighting, and caterwauling. ++1/2 Funny, creative, some suspense. Sex/Nudity: A little innuendo. Violence: 12 scenes ranging from comic bits to lengthy shoot-outs. Profanity: 114 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with smoking; 1 lengthy sequence involving a drug-ring bust.

FOR LOVE OF THE GAME (PG-13) Director: Sam Raimi. With Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, John C. Reilly, Brian Cox, J.K. Simmons. (135 min.) ++ Costner plays a 40-year-old pitcher with a passel of problems: His team is being sold, his throwing hand isnt what it used to be, and his love affair is apparently in its last inning. Like a contest between unequal teams, this sentimental drama is wildly uneven as it switches between ballpark scenes, which are very involving, and romantic episodes, which are badly overplayed. ++1/2 Loved the baseball scenes, romantic, entertaining. Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes with implied sex; 1 sex scene. Violence: 2 mild scenes. Profanity: 40 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 7 scenes with alcohol, 2 with smoking.

MUMFORD (R) Director: Lawrence Kasdan. With Loren Dean, Hope Davis, Alfre Woodard, Ted Danson, Jason Lee. (111 min.) +++ The title character is a psychotherapist who helps his small-town neighbors cope with their problems while guarding a secret about his own checkered past. This good-natured comedy serves up plenty of laughs while suggesting that the best experts in human psychology are plain old humans, with or without fancy credentials and degrees. +++ Quirky, unexpected, mostly genteel, good characters. Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes total: 4 of them suggestive, the other two with nudity. Violence: 3 scenes including 1 suggestion of spousal abuse. Profanity: 34 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 5 scenes with cigarettes, 5 with alcohol and/or drugs.

THE SIXTH SENSE (PG-13) Director: M. Night Shyamalan. With Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Colette, Olivia Williams. (107 min.) ++ A child psychologist treats an eight-year-old boy who has ghostly visions that cant 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. ++1/2 Gloomy, surprising, a little stiff. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 9 scenes including bloody ghosts and a shooting. Profanity: 10 harsh or crude expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with wine.

STIGMATA (R) Director: Rupert Wainwright. With Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Rade Sherbedgia. (102 min.) ++ Confronted with a series of bizarre occurrences, a Roman Catholic priest investigates the tormented life of an ordinary woman who appears to be possessed by supernatural forces. Unabashedly cloned from bygone hits like "The Exorcist" and "The Omen," this gory chiller accompanies the usual package of horror-movie effects with a subplot pitting reactionary church authorities against religious growth and understanding. This is an unusual mix of ingredients, but the filmmakers are clearly more interested in violent thrills than serious ideas.

STIR OF ECHOES (R) Director: David Koepp. With Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe. (99 min.) ++ To his confusion and dismay, an ordinary blue-collar worker finds himself in touch with supernatural forces linked to a sinister event that once happened in his house. Bacon seems oddly self-conscious in his regular-guy role, and director Koepp relies more heavily on editing tricks than old-fashioned atmosphere. Still, the movie provides a few effective thrills. Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene; 1 instance of nudity; some innuendo. Violence: 11 instances, several disturbing. Profanity: 29 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol and smoking.

OUT ON VIDEO COMING SOON ... (In stores Oct. 5) LOST & FOUND (PG-13) Director: Jeff Pollack. With David Spade, Sophie Marceau, Martin Sheen, Patrick Bruel. (105 min.) + A lovestruck Californian kidnaps a neighbors dog as a way of getting her attention. Marceaus charm keeps this dopey, demeaning comedy from being a total loss, but it comes perilously close.

THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR (R) Director: Josef Rusnak. With Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Vincent DOnofrio. (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? Im not even real.) and lackluster acting. While the storys themes are interesting, theyre explored a lot more dynamically in pictures like The Matrix. 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. (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. 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, 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 5 mild scenes. Profanity: 26 expressions. Drugs: 9 instances of smoking and/or drinking.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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