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

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

**** **** Excellent

*** *** Good

** ** Fair

* * Poor

DUD DUD The Worst

NEW RELEASES

Anna and the King (PG-13) ** Director: Andy Tennant. With Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Bai Ling, Tom Felton, Syed Alwi, Keith Chin. (146 min.)

The adventures of an English schoolteacher who takes a job as tutor to a Siamese prince and enters a deliciously complex relationship with the boy's regal father. Based on the same memoir that inspired "The King and I," this colorfully filmed drama makes many changes from the classic 1956 version of the tale - most important, the music numbers are gone - but doesn't develop enough momentum to justify its too-long running time.

Bicentennial Man (PG) ** Director: Chris Columbus. With Robin Williams, Embeth Davitz, Oliver Platt, Wendy Crewson, Sam Neill. (133 min.)

In the not-so-distant future, a family acquires a household robot with an individualistic streak that makes him dream of an independent life. Kids may yawn at the movie's dawdling pace, but making Williams play an android is one way to stifle the gooey sentimentality that has marred so many of his performances.

Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (R) ** Director: Mike Mitchell. With Rob Schneider, Eddie Griffin, Arija Bareikis. (88 min.)

Schneider, a former "Saturday Night Live" cast member, stars as likable loser Deuce Bigalow, a fish-tank cleaner who must raise quick cash to cover damage done while fish-sitting at a male gigolo's home. What quicker way, he surmises, than become a gigolo himself. The tasteless jokes are, all things considered, pretty tastefully done, but this one may not even rank as rent-worthy. By Katherine Dillin ** Raunchy, silly, unoriginal, sometimes funny.

Sex/Nudity: 26 instances total with sexual situations, mild nudity, and/or innuendo. Violence: 6 instances of cartoonish violence. Profanity: 76 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 1 with alcohol and smoking.

The Emperor and the Assassin (R) *** Director: Chen Kaige. With Gong Li, Li Xuejian, Zheng Fengyi, Chen Kaige, Sun Zhou, Lu Xiaohe, Wang Zhiwen, Gu Yongfei, Zhao Benshan, Ding Haifeng. (161 min.)

A ruthlessly ambitious king, his disillusioned lover, and a professional assassin who's given up killing are the main characters in this sweeping tale set in China more than 2000 years ago. Chen is one of China's most gifted filmmakers, but this movie has a mixture of strengths and limitations often found in historical epics: lots of eye-filling action and spectacle, little in the way of psychology or human interest.

Magnolia (R) ** Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. With Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Melinda Dillon, Jason Robards, William H. Macy, Luis Guzman, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alfred Molina. (185 min.)

The director of "Boogie Nights" makes less impact with this large-scale panorama of life in Los Angeles, focusing on a varied cast of characters - an insecure policeman, a woman-hating sex lecturer, a dying media mogul, his grief-stricken young wife, and others - many of whom are linked to one another by connections with the world of TV quiz shows. The cast is terrific and the multitudinous story lines allow Anderson to cook up an impressive display of moviemaking logistics. But there's precious little to think about despite the screenplay's comic-philosophical musings on fate and coincidence.

Stuart Little (PG) *** Director: Rob Minkoff. With Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki, Jeffrey Jones, Jon Polito, Dabney Coleman, and voices of Michael J. Fox, Jennifer Tilly. (83 min.)

The hero is a mouse with a human-sized vocabulary and a yen for family living, which stands him in good stead when he's adopted by a mom and dad who want to give their son a little brother. Complications arise, however, when a mouse couple shows up claiming to be his real parents. Told through animation and live action, the movie lacks the subtle sense of mystery that distinguished E.B. White's lovely novel, but nicely conveys its playful spirit and amiable tone. Fine viewing for all but the youngest children.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 1 long but fairly mild sequence with animals chasing and threatening one another Profanity: 1 mild expression.

Topsy-Turvy (R) **** Director: Mike Leigh. With Jim Broadbent, Allan Corduner, Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, Ron Cook, Wendy Nottingham, Kevin McKidd, Shirley Henderson, Martin Savage, Dorothy Atkinson, Eleanor David. (161 min.)

Leigh has earned international applause for hard-edged stories of contemporary life, but here he travels a century into the past for a vivid portrait of the great operetta duo Gilbert and Sullivan as they enjoy public acclaim, wrestle with private doubts, quarrel with one another, and manage to create "The Mikado" despite all these distractions. The movie is brilliantly acted, sumptuously filmed, and overflowing with mellifluous music. It also contains glimpses of sex and drug use that make this drama less light and sanitized than Gilbert and Sullivan's own frolicsome works.

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. (See story, page 20.)

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.

The Cider House Rules (PG-13) ** Director: Lasse Hallstrm. With Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Kate Nelligan, Erykah Badu, Kieran Culkin, Paul Rudd, Heavy D. (140 min.)

An orphan grows up under the guidance of an eccentric physician, moves to a different sort of life in a community of African-American laborers, and undergoes a series of adventures that test his understanding of life's often conflicting rules and assumptions. The movie leaves out portions of John Irving's novel that would have given it more balance and perspective, but the acting by Maguire and Caine is first-rate by any standard.

Cradle Will Rock (R) *** Director: Tim Robbins. With Emily Watson, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Susan Sarandon, Bill Murray. (122 min.)

Set in the New York theater scene during the 1930s, this colorful comedy-drama scampers through various plots and subplots from the ambitions of a starving actress to the love-hate relationship of an American millionaire and a Mexican muralist. Some may find the movie too preachy to serve as a meaningful history lesson, but it will delight anyone who thinks our cynical age could benefit from recalling the vigorous idealism and venturesome artistry of a bygone era.

The Green Mile (R) ** Director: Frank Darabont. With Tom Hanks, David Morse, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bonnie Hunt, James Cromwell, Graham Greene. (180 min.)

Death-row guards in a Southern penitentiary meet a highly unusual prisoner with a gift for healing that appears incongruous next to the horrific crime he's been convicted of. The movie deals with substantial issues, but it treats capital punishment as a plot device rather than a moral issue, and its view of spiritual healing is closer to Spielberg fantasy than religious insight. Still, its good acting and good intentions will be enough to please many viewers.

Liberty Heights (R) *** Director: Barry Levinson. With Ben Foster, Adrien Brody, Rebekah Johnson. (132 min.)

Levinson's fourth movie about the Baltimore of his youth focuses on ethnic, religious, and class-based tensions among the high-school set and their parents in the 1950s era. Filmed in a quietly impressionistic style and splendidly acted by a well-chosen cast, the movie would be a top-of-the-line entertainment if its delicately balanced perspective weren't marred by a few moments of racially insensitive excess. ***1/2 Thoughtful, unpredictable, polished.

Sex/Nudity: 6 instances of innuendo, 1 instance of nudity in a burlesque scene, 1 sexual situation. Violence: 2 scenes including 1 with a fistfight. Profanity: 62 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 1 scene with alcohol, 5 with smoking, 4 with alcohol and smoking.

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

The adventures of several young men fighting the Civil War as irregular soldiers near the Kansas-Missouri border. The movie is overlong, 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. (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.

Tumbleweeds (PG-13) ** Director: Gavin O'Connor. With Janet McTeer, Kimberly J. Brown, Gavin O'Connor, Jay O. Sanders. (100 min.)

A working-class woman and her adolescent daughter drift to a new town in search of a better life, relying on the power of their mutual affection for support when new problems and temptations arise. The story is as rambling as the characters, but superb acting by McTeer and Brown redeems it.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of implied sex; 4 instances of innuendo. Violence: 2 mild scenes. Profanity: 42 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol or smoking.

The World Is Not Enough (PG-13) ** Director: Michael Apted. With Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Judi Dench, Denise Richards, John Cleese, Desmond Llewelyn. (128 min.)

James Bond battles terrorists, criminals, and a sore shoulder in his 19th adventure. 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

The General's Daughter (R) ** Director: Simon West. With John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, James Woods, Leslie Stefanson. (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. Contains explicit sexual violence.

The Red Violin (Not rated) *** Director: Franois Girard. With Samuel L. Jackson, Greta Scacchi, Don McKellar. (130 min)

This omnibus-style film traces the fictional history of a superbly crafted violin, and the mystery attached to it. In four languages, with English subtitles.

COMING SOON...

(In stores Dec 21)

The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (G) **1/2 Director: Gary Halvorson. With Kevin Clash, Mandy Patinkin, Vanessa L. Williams. (73 min.)

Elmo has lost his blanket, and nothing can deter him from getting it back from a villain named Huxley (Patinkin). By Katherine Dillin

American Pie (R)

Director: Paul Weitz. With Jason Biggs, Natasha Lyonne, Chris Klein, Shannon Elizabeth. (100 min.) * A bunch of high-school boys make a vow to consummate their sex lives before graduation.

Run Lola Run (R) **** Director: Tom Tykwer. With Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, Nina Petri, Herbert Knaup. (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. In German with English subtitles.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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