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.

NEW RELEASES

Snow Falling on Cedars (PG-13) ** Director: Scott Hicks. With Ethan Hawke, Youki Koudoh, Max von Sydow, Sam Shepard, James Cromwell. (130 min.)

Covering a murder trial on a Pacific Northwest island, a reporter rekindles an old relationship with the wife of the Japanese-American man who's charged with the crime. The story leaps between the World War II years and the mid-1950s, exploring issues of racism, greed, and injustice along the way. The movie is too chilly and distanced to build the emotional impact it would like to have, but it raises important questions about troubling aspects of recent American history.

Some Like It Hot (Not rated) **** Director: Billy Wilder. With Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, Joe E. Brown, George Raft. (119 min.)

Revival of the classic 1959 comedy about two male musicians who hide from Prohibition-era thugs by putting on dresses and joining an all-woman jazz band. Amusingly outrageous in the best Wilder tradition.

The Source (Not rated) *** Director: Chuck Workman. With Johnny Depp, Dennis Hopper, John Turturro. (90 min.)

The rebels, radicals, and rapscallions of the Beat Generation renew their howls of antiauthoritarian protest in this wide-ranging documentary. Contains fascinating material, but lacks the freshness it could have gained by plugging into the Beats' improvisational spirit instead of hewing to conventional filmmaking. **1/2 Mosaic, nonjudgmental, never adequately explains the Beat-hippie transition.

Sex/Nudity: 2 photos of frontal nudity; 8 instances of innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes: 1 very mild, 1 clip from a movie, 1 from news footage. Profanity: 27 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 12 scenes with smoking, 12 with marijuana, 1 with heroin, 1 with alcohol.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (R) ** Director: Trey Parker. With voices of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman, Isaac Hayes, George Clooney, Brent Spiner, Minnie Driver, Eric Idle. (80 min.)

A bunch of third-graders sneak into an adults-only movie that teaches them even more obscenities than they already know. Based on the TV cartoon series, the comedy labors mightily to be as offensive and obnoxious as possible. It's inventive in an idiotic sort of way, though, and pauses occasionally to make serious points about movie violence and censorship. Contains extremely foul sexual and scatological humor. * Offensive, vulgar, pointless, irreverent.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene with nudity, and 17 instances of innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes with blood including gory cartoon violence in a war. Profanity: At least 300 expressions, often harsh. Drugs: 3 scenes with smoking.

Southie (Not rated) ** Director: John Shea. With Donnie Wahlberg, Rose McGowan, John Shea, Anne Meara. (92 min.)

A young man returns to his Irish-American neighborhood in Boston after a long absence, and immediately runs into challenges. The movie paints a vivid portrait of a time and place, but falls back on familiar formulas that diminish its value as both emotional drama and slice-of-life realism.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 10 instances of shovings, beatings, shootings, and brawls. Profanity: 258 expressions, mostly the f-word. Drugs: 12 instances of drinking and/or smoking; lead character is a recovered alcoholic and his sister and friend have severe drinking problems.

Splendor (Not rated) ** Director: Gregg Araki. With Kathleen Robertson, Matt Keeslar, Johnathon Schaech, Kelly MacDonald. (93 min.)

A young woman can't decide which boyfriend she likes best, the punk rocker or a music critic, so she decides they should all move in together. Araki graduates from his usual obsession with teenage angst in this neon-lighted comedy, but fails to hit the visual and verbal high notes he strains to reach.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (PG) ** Director: George Lucas. With Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd. (132 min.)

The series heads into its second trilogy as Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi meet a boy named Anakin Skywalker. The computer effects are impressive, but the adventure is hampered by a flat screenplay, dull acting, and just a hint as to why the dark side of the Force will eventually transform cute little Anakin into the evil Darth Vader. *** Thrilling visuals, earnest, action-packed.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs:: None. Violence: 27 scenes of bloodless combat.

Stigmata (R) ** Director: Rupert Wainwright. With Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Rade Sherbedgia. (102 min.)

A Roman Catholic priest investigates the tormented life of an ordinary woman who appears to be possessed by supernatural forces. Unabashedly cloned from "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 more interested in violent thrills than serious ideas.

Still Crazy (R) *** Director: Brian Gibson. With Stephen Rea, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall, Juliet Aubrey, Jimmy Nail. (96 min.)

A washed-up rock musician decides to reunite the band that made him fleetingly famous in the not-so-swinging '70s. Although the plot and dialogue are less original than one might hope, a sensational cast and a lively spirit make this one of the best rock comedies since "This Is Spinal Tap" launched the genre. **1/2 Amusing, predictable, off-paced.

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes. Violence: 5 instances. Profanity: 112 expressions. Drugs: 5 references to drug use, drinking and smoking throughout.

Stir of Echoes (R) ** Director: David Koepp. With Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe, Illeana Douglas, Kevin Dunn. (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.

Stop Making Sense (Not rated) *** Director: Jonathan Demme. With David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth. (88 min.)

Reissue of the classic 1984 Talking Heads concert film. It uses a show by the band for an elegantly filmed excursion into the New Wave branch of rock 'n' roll aesthetics. Fans will have a ball with the freshly restored visuals and near-legendary soundtrack, and newcomers will find this an engaging introduction to one of the most ambitious groups in pop.

The Story of Us (R) * Director: Rob Reiner. With Bruce Willis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rob Reiner, Julie Hagerty, Rita Wilson, Tim Matheson. (100 min.)

Dramatic comedy about a couple whose marriage is coming apart and wonder if they'd be better off calling it quits. Audiences may want their own speedy divorce from this irritating collection of stale jokes, pointless vulgarities, and warmed-over clichs. ** Disappointing, depressing, sort of sweet, crude, best scenes already in preview.

Sex/Nudity: 2 brief flashbacks of sexual activity, 1 with nudity; 1 scene with backside nudity; 4 instances of crass sexual talk. Violence: None. Profanity: 59 expressions, sometimes harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with wine.

The Straight Story (G) *** Director: David Lynch. With Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Harry Dean Stanton. (111 min.)

Determined to pay his ailing brother an overdue visit, an elderly man travels from Iowa to Wisconsin on a lawnmower tractor. As slow-moving as the voyage it portrays, this warmly human comedy-drama marks a radical departure for Lynch, who's known for violent and surrealistic fare. View it carefully and you'll see a surprisingly complex view of contemporary life beneath its good-natured surface. *** Peaceful, wonderfully slow, down-home, sincere.

Sex/Nudity/Violence: None. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 10 scenes with cigarettes or cigars, 5 with beer.

Stuart Little (PG) *** Director: Rob Minkoff. With Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, and voices of Michael J. Fox, Jennifer Tilly. (83 min.)

The hero is a mouse with a human-sized vocabulary. He's adopted by a mom and dad who want to give their son a little brother, but complications arise when a mouse couple claim to be his real parents. Told through animation and live action, the movie lacks the subtle sense of mystery of 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/Drugs: None. Violence: 1 long but fairly mild sequence with animals chasing and threatening one another. Profanity: 1 mild expression.

Sugar Town (R) **1/2 Director: Allison Anders and Kurt Voss. With Jade Gordon, Michael Des Barres. (92 min.)

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. It feels like a rough cut rather than a polished single, but it's 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.

Summer of Sam (R) *** Director: Spike Lee. With John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, Anthony LaPaglia, Jennifer Esposito, Bebe Neuwirth. (145 min.)

The real-life crimes of the "Son of Sam" killer, who terrorized parts of New York City in 1977, inspired this boisterous melodrama. Lee focuses less on the murders than on the social hysteria they generate, and the shaky moral climate that allows such decadence to develop. The movie is so ambitious and rambunctious that it tends to drown out its own cautionary messages, but there's no mistaking its outrage over the ethical decay in urban life. Contains foul language, sex, and violence. *1/2 Excessive, perverse, tedious, inflammatory.

Sex/Nudity: 12 explicit sex scenes including group and homosexual incidents. Violence: 11 graphic instances with shootings, fistfights, and close-ups of victims. Profanity: 522 expressions. Drugs: Drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes present throughout movie.

Superstar (PG-13) **1/2 Director: Bruce McCulloch. With Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell, Elaine Hendrix, Harland Williams, Mark McKinney. (92 min.)

Mary Katherine Gallagher is a nerdy but ambitious Catholic schoolgirl who dreams of superstardom. She also sets her sights on the school's dream date, Sky Corrigan (Ferrell), in hopes of getting her first kiss from him. There's also an excellent robot-dance number in the cafeteria. By Lisa Leigh Parney ** Fun fluff, better on SNL, quirky.

Sex/Nudity: Much sex-related humor. Violence: 1 schoolgirl fistfight. Profanity: 18 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: None.

Sweet and Lowdown (PG-13) ** Director: Woody Allen. With Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, Anthony LaPaglia, Gretchen Mol, Uma Thurman. (95 min.)

Allen combines his filmmaking skills with his love of classic jazz in this 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.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (R) *** Director: Anthony Minghella. With Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett. (130 min.)

A highly neurotic young man decides to impersonate a wealthy acquaintance during a European visit, starting a chain of bizarre and ultimately violent events. Based on Patricia Highsmith's ingenious novel, which also inspired the superior European thriller "Purple Noon" in 1960, the picture has fine ensemble acting and superb Italian scenery. It would have more power if it were shorter and tighter.

Tango (PG-13) *** Director: Carlos Saura. With Miguel Angel Sol, Elena Flores. (100 min.)

A filmmaker works on a movie about his favorite dance, bringing his personal loves and longings into the picture. The plot and dialogue are far less engaging than in Saura's best work, but the dance sequences are exuberantly performed and radiantly filmed.

Tarzan (G) *** Directors: Kevin Lima, Chris Buck. With voices of Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Alex D. Linz, Glenn Close, Nigel Hawthorne, Rosie O Donnell. (88 min.)

Animated version of the classic yarn about an orphaned child who grows up with gorillas. The cartooning is lively and funny, and the voice-only cast brings the characters to vivid life. There's no over-the-top music or comedy sequence to place this with the very best Disney animations, though, and Phil Collins's songs won't be to everyone's taste. ***1/2 Exhilarating, may be too intense for the under-six crowd, fast-paced.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity: None. Violence: 9 scenes, including the implied killing of Tarzan's parents and a baby gorilla by a leopard. Drugs: 1 scene of a hunter drinking wine and Tarzan making fun of a cigar smoker.

Tea With Mussolini (PG) ** Director: Franco Zeffirelli. With Cher, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, Lily Tomlin. (116 min.)

A group of colorful, strong-willed English women help guide a young boy born out of wedlock into manhood and a life of art. This tale set on the brink of World War II has everything going for it: a wonderful cast and a beautiful setting, but it lacks both focus and character development. By Lisa Leigh Parney **1/2 Amusing, quirky, more choppy than charming.

Sex/Nudity: 1 bedroom scene. Violence: 2 scenes. Profanity: 5 expressions. Drugs: 13 instances of smoking and drinking.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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