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

David Sterritt, Monitor panel Meaning **** **** Excellent *** *** Good ** ** Fair * * Poor DUD DUD The Worst

Recommended: Default

NEW RELEASES

Beyond the Clouds (Not rated)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni. With John Malkovich, Sophie Marceau, Jean Reno, Irne Jacob. (113 min.)

***

The gaps between desire and actuality are a recurring theme in several loosely linked stories about an idealistic young lover, a woman with a violent past, a man captivated by a beauty he can never possess, and other characters. Antonioni is one of modern cinema's most towering figures. While this multifaceted film - directed with help from Wim Wenders, the gifted German filmmaker - doesn't equal great classics like "Eclipse" and "Blow-Up," it still reflects Antonioni's unique sensibility. In English, Italian, and French, with English subtitles

The End of the Affair (R)

Director: Neil Jordan. With Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea, Jason Isaacs, Ian Hart, Samuel Bould. (110 min.)

***

After hiring a detective to investigate a woman he had an affair with during World War II, an English author learns she ended their relationship for religious reasons that are difficult for his cynical sensibility to understand. Based on Graham Greene's thoughtful novel, this unconventional drama begins as a sexually explicit love-triangle story and ends as a sober reflection on the meaning of faith. Splendid acting helps Jordan achieve most of his goals, although some may find the romantic and religious elements an uneasy mixture.

Genesis (Not rated)

Director Cheick Oumar Sissoko. With Sotigui Kouyat, Salif Keta, Fatoumata Diawara, Balla Moussa Keta, Mamouna Hlne Diarra. (102 min.)

***

This richly filmed drama from Mali retells the biblical story of Jacob and Esau with an eye toward illuminating today's widespread conflicts between communities holding different ideas of what constitutes a decent way of life. Combining its Old Testament story with vivid African imagery, the film may have confusing moments for moviegoers used to traditional Western treatments of this material. For those willing to meet it on its own terms, however, it offers interesting new perspectives on a timeless subject. In French with English subtitles

Holy Smoke! (R)

Director: Jane Campion. With Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel, Pam Grier, Sophie Lee, Tim Robertson, Julie Hamilton. (120 min.)

**

Winslet is rousingly good as a young Australian woman whose parents, alarmed at her devotion to an Indian guru, hire a self-styled deprogrammer (Keitel) to clear her mind of cultish delusions. Campion is an imaginative filmmaker, but here she reduces a fascinating subject to a two-character soap opera that often seems contrived on both spiritual and psychological levels.

A Map of the World (R)

Director: Scott Elliott. With Sigourney Weaver, David Straithairn, Julianne Moore, Chlo Sevigny, Louise Fletcher, Arliss Howard. (127 min.)

***

Emotionally harrowing drama about a Midwestern mother who's wrongly accused of child abuse by her rural community after a neighbor's young daughter is killed in a tragic accident on her property. Weaver is superb in a movie as scary and provocative as the timely subject it explores.

Sweet and Lowdown (PG-13)

Director: Woody Allen. With Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, Anthony LaPaglia, Gretchen Mol, Uma Thurman, James Urbaniak, Brian Markinson, John Waters, Nat Hentoff, Woody Allen. (95 min.)

**

Allen combines his filmmaking skills with his love of classic jazz in this regrettably flimsy tale of a '30s guitarist whose fingers make mischief as well as music. Penn's excellent acting doesn't raise his character above the level of familiar clichs about woman-chasing jazzmen.

Wisconsin Death Trip (Not rated)

Director: James Marsh. With Ian Holm, Jo Vukelich, Jeff Golden, Marilyn White, Marcus Monroe, John Schneider. (76 min.)

***

Drawing on a collection of newspaper accounts, hospital records, and archival photos, this offbeat semidocumentary weaves a real-life tapestry filled with bizarre events that transpired in a Midwestern town about 100 years ago. Should be required viewing for anyone who thinks the modern media created the personal and social ills that accost us so frequently today.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

Anywhere But Here (PG-13)

Director: Wayne Wang. With Susan Sarandon, Natalie Portman, Bonnie Bedelia, Shawn Hatosy. (113 min.)

***

A single mom heads from Wisconsin to Los Angeles with dreams of Hollywood stardom for her teenage daughter, who'd rather be exactly what the title says. The story is a sort of "Stella Dallas Meets Slums of Beverly Hills," helped by heartfelt acting from its talented stars.

*** Touching, sad, edgy, funny lines.

Sex/Nudity: A couple instances of innuendo. Violence: 1 mild scuffle. Profanity: 11 mild expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 7 with smoking, 3 with alcohol and smoking.

Being John Malkovich (R)

Director: Spike Jonze. With John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, John Malkovich, Catherine Keener, Orson Bean. (112 min.)

***

Hilarious, utterly unpredictable comedy about an out-of-work puppeteer who finds a secret passageway into the famous actor's mind and decides to make a few bucks off his discovery. Jonze makes an uproarious feature-film debut, and Charlie Kaufman's screenplay is no less inventive. Contains sex scenes and gender-bending plot twists, however, which some moviegoers will find offensive.

**** Weird, entertaining, boldly creative, comical.

Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes with nudity; innuendo. Violence: 2 fistfights. Profanity: 30 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol or smoking; 1 with marijuana.

Dogma (R)

Director: Kevin Smith. With Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Janeane Garofalo, Chris Rock. (115 min.)

**

Wildly irreverent fantasy about two fallen angels who hope to reenter Heaven by exploiting a loophole in a feel-good version of Roman Catholic dogma being promoted by a New Jersey church. The satire contains as much foul language, bathroom humor, and sexual innuendo as other gross-out comedies aimed at primarily young audiences, along with occasional insights into the value of religion as a living force.

*** Piercing one-liners, ambitious, issue-based, shocking.

Flawless (R)

Director: Joel Schumacher. With Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rory Cochrane, Barry Miller. (110 min.)

*

Stricken with a disability, a macho cop swallows his distaste and turns to a transvestite neighbor for therapeutic singing lessons. This noisy, disorganized story is riddled with clichs, stereotypes, and self-indulgence from beginning to end.

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes including 2 of implied sex; 3 instances of innuendo. Violence: 7 instances including beatings and threats with guns. Profanity: 242 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol, 7 with smoking, 3 with alcohol and smoking, 3 with drugs.

The Insider (R)

Director: Michael Mann. With Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Diane Venora, Christopher Plummer, Rip Torn. (155 min.)

****

Pacino is in top form as a crusading "60 Minutes" journalist and Crowe is even better as a whistle-blower in the tobacco industry whose life is almost ruined by his decision to take a stand against corporate greed and deceit. Excellent acting, a stirring screenplay, and crisply intelligent directing make this fact- based movie a great human drama as well as a riveting and revealing look at crucially important social issues.

**** Emotionally powerful, gripping story, excellent cinematic style. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 6 instances from minor shoving at an airport to death threats. Profanity: 71 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 8 scenes with alcohol; 3 scenes with cigarettes.

Mansfield Park (PG-13)

Director: Patricia Rozema. With Frances O'Connor, Embeth Davidtz, Alessandro Nivola, Jonny Lee Miller. (98 min.)

***

The adventures of a poor young woman sent to live with a more privileged branch of her class-conscious British family. This pared-down adaptation of Jane Austen's richly textured novel loses much of the book's complexity but gains dramatic power from a cleverly streamlined screenplay (partly based on sources outside the novel) and several persuasive performances. No previous movie has made Austen's vision seem so vivid and alive for contemporary times. Contains a small amount of heavy-breathing sex that seems contrary to her supremely restrained spirit, though.

*** Delicious, terrific heroine, entirely engaging. Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes. Violence: 1 mild dispute with pushing. Profanity: None. Drugs: 1 scene with alcohol, 3 with opium.

Ride With the Devil (R)

Director: Ang Lee. With Tobey Maguire, Jeffrey Wright, Jewel, Skeet Ulrich, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Simon Baker, James Caviezel, Jonathan Brandis. (138 min.)

***

The adventures of several young men fighting the Civil War as irregular soldiers near the Kansas-Missouri border. The movie is longer and slower than necessary, but it explores interesting questions of wartime violence, personal integrity, and what it means to come of age in a society ripping apart at the seams. Wright stands out as an African-American man riding with these defenders of the Confederacy out of loyalty to a humane slaveholder.

Sleepy Hollow (R)

Director: Tim Burton. With Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Casper van Dien. (110 min.)

***

There's lots of over-the-top violence in this reshuffled version of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and admirers of Washington Irving's great story will be surprised to find Ichabod Crane turned into a detective investigating a series of gruesome murders in 1799. There's also lots of brilliant filmmaking and high- spirited acting, at least until the story turns repetitious and formulaic in the last 30 minutes.

** Gory, disappointing, effective cinematography, lifeless acting. Sex/Nudity: 1 somewhat graphic sex scene. Violence: 29 instances of mostly bloody violence including many beheadings. Profanity: None. Drugs: 1 party scene with alcohol and smoking.

Toy Story 2 (G)

Director: John Lasseter. With voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Jim Varney, Annie Potts, Laurie Metcalf, John Ratzenberger, Wayne Knight, Estelle Harris. (92 min.)

***

It's playtime for viewers of all ages as astronaut Buzz Lightyear launches a rescue operation for cowboy Woody after a greedy merchant packs him up for shipment to a faraway museum. The story is surprising, the screenplay is witty, and the animation is wonderfully creative. A super sequel.

**** Clever as the first one, take the kids, a technicolor delight. Sex / Nudity / Profanity / Drugs: None. Violence: 4 instances of cartoonish violence.

The World Is Not Enough (PG-13)

Director: Michael Apted. With Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Judi Dench, Denise Richards, John Cleese. (128 min.)

***

James Bond battles terrorists, criminals, and a sore shoulder in his 19th adventure, which is both propelled and circumscribed by the well-worn formulas that guide its path. Fans of Agent 007 will get the payoffs they expect, but if moviegoers really thought about the violence, sexism, and materialism at the core of the series, the whole shebang might vanish overnight.

Brosnan has presence, adventurous, predictable, voyeuristic. Sex/Nudity: 7 scenes typical of Bond movies including implied sex and the suggestive filmmaking during opening credits. Violence: 47 acts of violence. Profanity: 6 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 10 scenes including smoking or drinking.

OUT ON VIDEO

Autumn Tale (PG)

Director: Eric Rohmer. With Batrice Romand, Marie Rivire, Alain Libolt, Didier Sandre. (110 min.)

****

Two friends decide to fix up a middle-aged widow with a new man but get distracted by romantic agendas of their own. In French with English subtitles.

**** Nuanced, gentle, charming, too serious.

The Haunting (PG-13)

Director: Jan De Bont. With Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor. (117 min.)

**

A psychologist brings three recruits to a spooky old house, where he hopes to study their reactions under fear-inducing conditions.

COMING SOON... (In stores Dec. 7)

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.

** Summer screamer, Jaws lite, all wet.

Inspector Gadget (PG)

Director: David Kellogg. With Matthew Broderick, Rupert Everett, Joely Fisher, Cheri Oteri. (85 min.)

*

You'll welcome the daylight after enduring this silly, cartoonish romp. But don't blame the cast for this Disney disappointment, since they give it their all. By John Dillin

** Zany, run-of-the-mill, AAAC! (avoid at all costs), good cast.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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