The 5th annual Mega Movie guide

STAR RATINGS

David Sterritt Monitor panel Meaning

**** **** Excellent

*** *** Good

** ** Fair

* * Poor

DUD DUD The Worst

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.

Motion picture Association of America ratings are as follows:

G General Audiences: All ages admitted.

PG Parental Guidance: Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned: Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

R Restricted: Children under 17 require accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 No Children Under 17 Admitted: Age may vary in certain areas.

1999 THEATER RELEASES

American Movie: The Making of Northwestern (R) *** Director: Chris Smith. With Mark Borchardt, Bill Borchardt, Mike Schank, Robert Richard Jorge. (104 min.)

Documentary about a young Wisconsin man trying to make a low-budget horror movie despite severe limitations of money, resources, and probably talent. Smith's study is loaded with hilarious and revealing moments. It has an undertone of condescension toward its unsophisticated "characters," though.

American Pie (R) * Director: Paul Weitz. With Jason Biggs, Natasha Lyonne, Chris Klein, Shannon Elizabeth, Mena Suvari. (100 min.)

A bunch of high-school boys make a vow to consummate their sex lives before graduation, and pursue various girls with this project in mind. Teenybopper comedies rarely reach heights of inspiration, and this one is mostly unappealing. Contains a high degree of gross-out humor. **1/2 Vulgar, makes you glad you're out of high school, embarrassingly funny.

Sex/Nudity: 78 instances of graphic sexual innuendo and activity, 11 instances with partial and/or complete nudity. Violence: 2 scenes involving fistfights. Profanity: 62 expressions. Drugs: 29 instances of drinking.

Among Giants (R) *** Director: Sam Miller. With Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Griffiths, James Thornton. (100 min.)

Love blossoms between an English- painting foreman and an Australian rock climber who joins his crew for a job atop high electrical towers in the Yorkshire countryside. The basic story is tried and true, but Postlethwaite is older and more seasoned than many of today's romantic leads, and the scenery looks terrific from the unusual perspective provided by the high-climbing camera.

Analyze This (R) ** Director: Harold Ramis. With Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Viterelli, Chazz Palminteri. (105 min.)

Bothered by a vulnerable streak in his personality, a New York mobster decides to visit a psychiatrist, and soon the unwilling therapist is up to his ears in revelations, confidences, and confessions he'd rather have nothing to do with. Ramis doesn't reach the comic heights of his "Groundhog Day," but the acting is excellent and the screenplay offers some hearty laughs if you can stand bursts of violence and language as foul as a Mafioso's business agenda. *** Hilarious, a bit hammy, great to see De Niro in a comedic role.

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances. Violence: 11 mild instances. Profanity: 145 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 13 instances of smoking and drinking.

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.

Angela's Ashes (R) ** Director: Alan Parker. With Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle, Michael Legge, Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens. (120 min.)

A boy struggles to grow up in an Irish-Catholic household populated by an alcoholic father, his overburdened wife, and more children than they can begin to care for properly. Parker brings a smooth cinematic flow to this adaptation of Frank McCourt's popular memoir, but the end result smacks more of Hollywood melodrama than true compassion for the suffering poor.

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.

Any Given Sunday (R) *** Director: Oliver Stone. With Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Dennis Quaid, LL Cool J, Ann-Margret, Matthew Modine, Charlton Heston. (130 min.)

Pacino plays the aging coach of a football team that's seen better days, and Foxx is excellent as a stylish new player who revitalizes the franchise while breaking many rules along the way. The characters are hardly original - the cynical owner, the hard-working quarterback, the stony-faced commissioner, the sportscaster with an attitude - but Stone puts them into play with his usual fever-pitch gusto, producing what's probably the most heart-pounding gridiron movie ever made.

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.

The Apple (Not rated) **** Director: Samira Makhmalbaf. With Massoumeh Naderi, Zahra Naderi, Ghorban Ali Naderi. (86 min.)

Fiction and documentary mingle in this Iranian drama based on the real experiences of twin girls who were locked away from the world for 12 years by their parents, whose exaggerated fear of society made them think they were acting in the children's best interests. Makhmalbaf was only 17 when she started work on this project (with the help of her father, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, himself a renowned filmmaker). Her understanding of all members of the family is one of the movie's most remarkable qualities. *** Intense, original, moving.

Sex/Nudity/Violence/Drugs: None Profanity: 3 expressions.

Arlington Road (R) *** Director: Mark Pellington. With Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Hope Davis, Robert Gossett. (117 min.)

A widowed college teacher gets the idea that his clean-living suburban neighbors may be involved in a terrorist plot. The story is vivid, involving, and thought-provoking, and Pellington keeps it moving at such a steady clip that you almost don't notice when Ehren Kruger's screenplay makes an occasional lapse into far-fetched coincidence. ** Forgettable, painfully slow-paced, edgy.

Sex/Nudity: 1 mildly compromising scene. Violence: 5 scenes including kidnapping, a fistfight, and guns. Profanity: 19 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, 2 with cigarettes.

The Astronaut's Wife (R) **1/2 Director: Rand Ravich. With Johnny Depp, Charlize Theron, Nick Cassavetes, Blair Brown, Clea DuVall. (124 min.)

Astronaut Spencer Armacost won't discuss the two minutes he lost contact with NASA during his latest mission. His schoolteacher wife senses that something is amiss. A unique psychological sci-fi thriller that sometimes drags and gets too weepy, but overall it's a good scare. By Katherine Dillin **1/2 Somber, not enough tension, creepy.

Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes, 2 are graphic; 2 scenes with implied nudity. Violence: 7 scenes, some graphic. Profanity: 26 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with smoking, 5 with alcohol.

At First Sight (PG-13) ** Director: Irwin Winkler. With Val Kilmer, Mira Sorvino, Kelly McGillis, Nathan Lane, Steven Weber. (124 min.)

A blind masseur falls in love with a young architect, regains his sight through a new surgical procedure, and experiences vision for a limited time before losing it again. The movie takes fascinating material and transforms it into a routine soap opera. Based on a story by the popular science writer Oliver Sacks, MD. *** Unsentimental, touching, involving.

Sex/Nudity: 5 mild instances. Violence: None. Profanity: 29 mild expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes with social drinking.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (PG-13) ** Director: Jay Roach. With Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Michael York, Elizabeth Hurley, 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 will detect 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.

Autumn Tale (PG) **** Director: Eric Rohmer. With Batrice Romand, Marie Rivire, Alain Libolt, Didier Sandre, Alexia Portal. (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. A founding member of French film's revolutionary New Wave movement, Rohmer gives this bittersweet story a truly autumnal mood, tinged with the melancholy of lives that won't see spring again, yet as bracing as the energy of its refreshingly mature main characters. In French with English subtitles ***1/2 Gentle, charming, too serious.

Sex/Nudity: Mild innuendo. Violence/Profanity: None Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol.

The Bachelor (PG-13) **1/2 Director: Gary Sinyor. With Chris O'Donnell, Rene Zellweger, Hal Holbrook, Artie Lange, Peter Ustinov. (103 min.)

Based on the 1925 Buster Keaton classic "Seven Chances." Bachelor Jimmie Shannon must work up his nerve to tie the knot before his 30th birthday which falls on the very next day or risk losing his $100 million inheritance left by his grandfather. For better or for worse, a cute effort. By Katherine Dillin ** Predictable, totally ordinary, a few good moments.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 2 scenes with slapstick violence. Profanity: 21 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 9 with smoking, 1 with alcohol and smoking.

Bandits (R) *** Director: Katja von Garnier. With Katja Riemann, Jasmin Tabatabai, Nicolette Krebitz, Jutta Hoffmann. (110 min.)

Four women in a German prison organize a rock band and soon escape. They become folk heroes when a radio station plays their demo tape, and they start making impromptu club appearances around the country. Energetic acting and music (mostly the performers' original songs) more than make up for a few slow spots. A US remake is in the works - try to catch the original. In German with English subtitles; songs are in English. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes with partial nudity and/or sex; 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 6 scenes including TV clips of a crime scene and a fistfight. Profanity: 59 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol, 12 with smoking, 4 with drug use.

Bats (PG-13) * Director: Louis Morneau. With Lou Diamond Phillips, Dina Meyer, Carlos Jacott, Leon, Bob Gunton. (91 min.)

Handsome lawman and gorgeous zoologist save rural town from smart, murderous bats. The story is violent and vapid, but the visual jolts may please horror buffs. * Campy, a good rental, not scary.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 23 instances of mostly fake-looking violence including bat attacks. Profanity: 60 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 2 with smoking.

Bedrooms and Hallways (Not rated) ** Director: Rose Troche. With Kevin McKidd, Jennifer Ehle, Simon Callow, Tom Hollander, Hugo Weaving. (96 min.)

The lives and loves of two London roommates who find romance in unexpected places. While the gender-bending plot twists are less surprising and involving than they might have been, there are some amusingly satirical scenes focusing on a men's consciousness-raising group that leaves no clich unturned.

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. ***1/2 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.

Beshkempir The Adopted Son (Not rated) *** Director: Aktan Abdykalykov. With Mirlan Abdykalykov, Albina Imasmeva, Adir Abilkassimov, Bakit Zilkieciev. (81 min.)

The first feature-length production from Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic, focuses on a boy whose life is shaken when he learns that he was born into a large family and then adopted by a childless couple in accordance with an old Asian custom.

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 and unsettling by turns.

The Best Man (R) *** Director: Malcolm Lee. With Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Harold Perrineau, Terrence Howard. (118 min.)

Written and directed by Malcolm Lee (cousin to well-known director Spike Lee), the movie is what some are calling a black "The Big Chill," a coming-of-age film about a group of young black professionals who are reunited after college graduation for the wedding of one of the group. When a thinly disguised autobiographical novel written by the best man reveals truths the group can't handle, old and new wounds surface. By Gloria Goodale *** Warm, genuine, lots of coarse sex talk, well-woven plot.

Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes including an explicit sex scene, 2 flashbacks of the scene, and a bachelor party. Violence: 5 scenes ranging from a long fistfight to a light slap. Profanity: 137 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 1 with a cigarette, 2 with alcohol and cigarettes.

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. In English, Italian, and French, with English subtitles

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.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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