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

NEW RELEASES

Agnes Browne (R) ** Director: Anjelica Huston. With Anjelica Huston, Ray Winstone, Marion O'Dwyer, Arno Chevrier, Tom Jones. (92 min.)

The place is Dublin in 1967, and the heroine is a good-natured widow striving to raise her seven young children, fend off a loan shark who's wormed his way into her life, and test the waters of romance with a French baker who appears to be casting an eye her way. The material is familiar and the ending is corny, but Huston's acting and directing keep the comedy-drama likable if not very imaginative.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (R) *** Director: Jim Jarmusch. With Forest Whitaker, Cliff Gorman, Tricia Vessey, Gary Farmer, Isaach de Bankol, John Tormey, Henry Silva. (116 min.)

The title character is a modern-day hit man who bases his life and work on codes of honor derived from centuries-old Japanese traditions. Whitaker's acting is highly creative and Jarmusch's filmmaking is as elegant and original as ever, although his attitude toward violence in this movie sometimes loses its philosophical edge and veers into a dubious brand of mystical nostalgia.

Homo Sapiens 1900 (Not rated) *** Director: Peter Cohen. With narration by Steven Rappaport. (85 min.)

Fascinating documentary about the eugenics movement, a pseudoscientific effort to "improve" the human race by making procreation a matter of political policy rather than personal choice. The film traces this intermittently successful crusade through several countries, from Nazi Germany to the United States, moving at a leisurely pace that gives viewers plenty of time to study its images, ponder its ideas, and draw their own conclusions.

The Little Thief (Not rated) *** Director: Erick Zonca. With Nicolas Duvauchelle, Yann Tregouet, Martial Bezot, Jean-Jrme Esposito, Ingrid Preynat. (65 min.)

The hard-hitting story of a young French worker whose aimless, self-centered existence leads him into criminal activity with a group of like-minded punks. Zonca tells this socially revealing tale through the same documentary-style techniques that made his debut feature, "The Dreamlife of Angels," such a memorable experience. Shown with "Alone," a 34-minute Zonca short about a teenage girl who finds herself without a home, a job, or a reliable friend. In French with English subtitles

The Next Best Thing (PG-13) * Director: John Schlesinger. With Madonna, Rupert Everett, Benjamin Bratt, Illeana Douglas, Josef Sommer, Malcolm Stumpf, Lynn Redgrave. (107 min.)

Madonna plays a not-quite-young woman who's afraid family life will pass her by if she doesn't have a child soon, then discovers she's pregnant after a one-night fling with her best friend, a gay man who finds fatherhood quite agreeable once the little boy is born. The movie has a well-meaning message about love and loyalty being the bedrock of real family values, but its good intentions sag as the story trades its air of mischievous comedy for trite sentimentality, arbitrary plot twists, and enough maudlin melodramatics to sustain a tabloid TV series.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes with nudity, 1 of implied sex, some instances of sex-related dialogue. Violence: None. Profanity: 22 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, 4 with smoking.

What Planet Are You From? (R) ** Director: Mike Nichols. With Garry Shandling, Annette Bening, John Goodman, Ben Kingsley, Linda Fiorentino, Greg Kinnear. (100 min.)

Lightweight farce about an alien who arrives on Earth with orders to get a woman pregnant so his all-male race can spread to this corner of the galaxy. The lively cast and occasionally bright dialogue can't overcome the movie's large doses of vulgar silliness. Goodman's comic delivery gets maximum mileage from a few amusing situations, though.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

The Beach (R) ** Director: Danny Boyle. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Robert Carlyle, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet. (119 min.)

A young American and two French companions make their way to an exotic Thai island, known only to a feisty group of latter-day hippies, and they find more danger than they ever expected. The scenery is splendid and DiCaprio looks extra-cool amid the palm trees and waterfalls. But the story is less original than its setting - it knocks off everything from "Lord of the Flies" to "The Blair Witch Project" -and its unromantic moods may make DiCaprio's countless "Titanic" fans want to swim in the opposite direction. *1/2 Aimless, idyllic scenery but dull story line, poor character development.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes with sex and nudity, 1 is fairly graphic; 1 suggestive scene. Violence: 13 scenes with violence, including fights and a dead body. Profanity: 87 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol, 10 with smoking, 5 with marijuana.

The Cup (G) **** Director: Khyentse Norbu. With Orgyen Tobgyal, Neten Chokling, Jamyang Lodro, Lama Chonjor. (94 min.)

In an Indian monastery, exiled Tibetan Buddhists practice their religion, dream of returning to their homeland, and cook up a plan to watch the World Cup soccer match if they can only get hold of a TV set in time for the big event. The first feature-length movie from Bhutan tells its lighthearted story through smart performances, appealing images, and unfailing good humor. In Bhutanese with English subtitles *** Modest, innocent, beautifully filmed.

Sex/Nudity/Drugs: None. Violence: 1 scuffle. Profanity: 3 mostly mild expressions.

Hanging Up (PG-13) ** Director: Diane Keaton. With Diane Keaton, Meg Ryan, Lisa Kudrow, Walter Matthau, Adam Arkin. (92 min.)

Three sisters cope with the declining mental state of their elderly father, trying to help him but finding that their own busy lives - and complex relationships with each other - interfere with their good intentions. There's lots of lively acting, but Keaton doesn't have quite enough filmmaking savvy to balance the story's heart-wrenching and smile-coaxing aspects. **1/2 Tiresome, dark comedy, some good laughs, not memorable.

Sex/Nudity: 1 brief, suggestive scene. Violence: None. Profanity: 31 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 8 scenes with alcohol.

The Insider (R) **** Director: Michael Mann. With Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Christopher Plummer, Lindsay Crouse, Debi Mazar, Rip Torn, Michael Gambon, Colm Feore, Gina Gershon, Bruce McGill, Stephen Tobolowsky. (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.

Judy Berlin (Not rated) *** Director: Eric Mendelsohn. With Barbara Barry, Bob Dishy, Edie Falco, Aaron Harnick, Madeline Kahn, Julie Kavner, Anne Meara. (97 min.)

The residents of a Long Island town while away the hours during a solar eclipse, and we get revealing glimpses into their lives as discontented spouses, well-meaning schoolteachers, and younger folks including a man who's returned home with broken dreams and a woman who's leaving home with great expectations. The comic and dramatic scenes are consistently low-key, but the strikingly original movie has a dreamlike spell that gets farther under your skin as the eclipse stretches beyond the bounds of astronomical possibility.

Pitch Black (R) **1/2 Director: David Twohy. With Vin Diesel, Rhada Mitchell, Keith David. (107 min.)

When a crew's spaceship crashes on a desolate planet, they have to trust a convicted killer to help them escape a plague of nasty nocturnal indigenous creatures. Director David Twohy's second foray into sci-fi, after the underrated "The Arrival," keeps schlock to a minimum, while incisive editing builds suspense via the dictum that "less is more." Of the countless films to plagiarize the "Alien" series, this atmospheric, meager-budgeted Australian film is actually one of the better efforts, though it lacks the requisite grand climax that the genre demands.

By Stephen Humphries

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 13 scenes, many gory. Profanity: 52 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 5 scenes with alcohol, 1 with morphine.

Reindeer Games (R) ** Director: John Frankenheimer. With Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, Gary Sinise, Clarence Williams III, James Frain, Dennis Farina, Donal Logue, Isaac Hayes. (104 min.)

Affleck plays a freshly released jailbird who's determined to go straight until he meets the girlfriend of a former cellmate - and her psychopathic brother, who's planning a robbery that won't succeed unless his reluctant new acquaintance gets involved. The wildly implausible story twists every expectation into the shape of a particularly gnarled reindeer horn, but what you'll remember most vividly is the sadistic violence that breaks out almost every time Sinise's evil character enters a scene. A director of Frankenheimer's stature deserves less-sensationalistic material, and so does his audience. *1/2 Mindlessly violent, passes the time, mean, despicable characters.

Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes with nudity, somewhat graphic. Violence: 27 scenes, many graphic. Profanity: 79 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 7 scenes with alcohol, 6 with smoking.

The Tigger Movie (G) *** Director: Jun Falkenstein. With voices of Jim Cummings, John Hurt, Nikita Hopkins, Ken Sansom. (77 min.)

He looks like Tony the Tiger, he sounds like old-time comedian Ed Wynn, and his story - lonely Tigger searches for his family, hoping he's not the only one of his kind - recalls one of the Muppets movies. Yet this lively new take on A.A. Milne's classic characters still manages to seem fresh, funny, and original from start to finish. Fans of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends will have a ball. ***1/2 Bouncy, delightful, a good moral.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 4 mild action sequences, including an avalanche.

The Whole Nine Yards (R) ** Director: Jonathan Lynn. With Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, Rosanna Arquette, Michael Clarke Duncan, Amanda Peet, Natasha Henstridge, Kevin Pollack. (97 min.)

Perry plays a mild-mannered dentist whose marriage is so miserable that he welcomes the distraction when a notorious killer (Willis) moves in next door and strikes up a neighborly friendship with him. But things get complicated when various others - murderers, cops, and our hero's ill-tempered wife - barge into their relationship with different agendas. The story is amusing when the stars deadpan their way through the early scenes, and Peet is terrific as a psychopathic dental assistant. But the picture runs out of good ideas long before it's over, falling below "Prizzi's Honor" and "The Freshman" in the dubious genre of contract-killer comedies. **1/2 Funny tale, unexpected twists, well-done hamming by actors, hollow.

Sex/Nudity: 7 scenes with sex and/or nudity; 1 suggestive scene; 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: 6 scenes with violence, including punching and shooting. Profanity: 27 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 9 scenes with alcohol, 5 with smoking, 3 with both.

Wonder Boys (R) ** Director: Curtis Hanson. With Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Rip Torn, Robert Downey Jr, Katie Holmes, Richard Thomas, Philip Bosco. (112 min.)

Douglas and Maguire play writers at opposite ends of their careers, and both are apprehensive about what will happen when (and if) they finish the books they're working on. Douglas gives a nicely relaxed performance as the world-weary professor, but Maguire delves into a too-familiar bag of tricks that grows tiring after the first few scenes. While the story takes some clever turns, its psychology is far from convincing and its momentum flags long before the finale. **1/2 Drug-hazed, wicked and wacky, good acting, somewhat a downer.

Sex/Nudity: Implied adultery, 2 instances of implied sex. Violence: 3 scenes with violence, including a gun threat. Profanity: 31 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 17 scenes with alcohol, smoking, and/or marijuana.

OUT ON VIDEO

COMING SOON...

(In stores March 7)

Eyes Wide Shut (R) *** Director: Stanley Kubrick. With Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack. (159 min.)

After his wife confesses to having sexual fantasies, a successful physician drifts into unexpected events that lead him to a mysterious mansion full of illicit activities and what might be deadly dangers. This is Kubrick's last movie. Contains explicit sex, nudity, and drug use. *** Deviant, slow, richly layered, graphic, sensual, exquisite camera work.

The King of Masks (Not rated) *** Director: Wu Tianming. With Zhu Xu, Zhou Ren-Ying, Zhang Riuyang, Zhao Zhigang. (101 min.)

Dwelling in a rigidly traditional society that values youth over age and males over females, an old Chinese entertainer and a homeless little girl become unlikely partners in the quest for a reasonably contented life. **** Uplifting, gentle, heart-wrenching.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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