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: Default

**** **** Excellent

*** *** Good

** ** Fair

* * Poor

DUD DUD The Worst

NEW RELEASES

Beyond the Mat (R)

Director: Barry Blaustein. With Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Jack Roberts. (102 min.) **** Riveting, rambunctious documentary about the professional-wrestling scene, focusing on the personal experiences of the "athletes" who bash one another around in the ring. The movie reveals much about public and private aspects of this so-called sport. But stay far, far away unless you can handle the copious amounts of blood (some of it phony) and agonizing psychological problems (all of them real) that its participants face on what seems like a daily basis.

The Carriers Are Waiting (Not rated)

Director: Benot Mariage. With Benot Poelvoorde, Margane Simon, Bouli Lanners, Dominique Baeyens. (94 min.) **** Sensitive, imaginative comedy-drama about a man who grows tired of his ordinary life, starts yearning for a touch of fame, and coerces his teenage son into trying to set a world record - not by engaging in some useful task, but by opening and closing a door more times than anyone's managed before. At once dreamily surreal and socially acute, the Belgian production features a splendid cast headed by Poelvoorde, previously celebrated for his searing 1992 performance in "Man Bites Dog." In Flemish with English subtitles

Cotton Mary (R)

Director: Ismail Merchant. With Greta Scacchi, Madhur Jaffrey, James Wilby, Sakina Jaffrey, Neena Gupta. (125 min.) *** The arrival of a new baby sparks a conflicted relationship between a privileged British woman and her Anglo-Indian maid in South India during the 1950s. Although his directorial expertise doesn't yet match his brilliance as a movie producer, Merchant brings keen insight and rich humanity to this culturally revealing tale of psychological unease in a tense postcolonial world.

Erin Brockovich (R)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. With Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart. (131 min.) *** Roberts plays a tough-talking but warm-hearted woman who wangles a job in a lawyer's office and becomes fascinated by a real-estate transaction involving a utility company and a family that's been dogged by a surprising amount of illness. Soon she's canvassing the community to organize its environmentally impacted residents into fighting for their rights. The acting is amiable and the story is crisply told. Still, the movie is less personal and inventive than Soderbergh's best pictures, and its love-interest subplot seems tacked on as an afterthought. **** Gripping, outstanding, explosive.

Sex/Nudity: 1 implied sex scene; plunging necklines throughout movie. Violence: 1 telephone threat. Profanity: 88 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 1 with smoking.

Spectres of the Spectrum (Not rated)

Director: Craig Baldwin. With Sean Kilkoyne, Caroline Koebel, Beth Lisick. (94 min.) **** An exhilarating "activist science-fantasy collage" blending new material, clips from vintage movies, and high-energy narration into the often-hilarious tale of a telepathic woman who thinks a global catastrophe can be avoided through clues embedded in old TV signals wafting through the cosmos. At once politically charged and wildly imaginative, this unique extravaganza confirms director Baldwin as an avant-garde superstar.

Trash (Not rated)

Director: Paul Morrissey. With Joe Dallesandro, Holly Woodlawn, Jane Forth, Bruce Pecheur, Andrea Feldman. (110 min.) ** Reissue of Andy Warhol's deliberately outrageous 1970 production about a Greenwich Village drug addict who's beginning to realize the awful toll his dissolute habits are taking on his mind and body, but can't bring himself to do anything about the situation. The movie is a vivid time capsule of the era when it was made, a flamboyant exercise in motion-picture excess, and a nonstop avalanche of exactly what the title says. Give it four stars if you appreciate all-stops-out cinema that stops at nothing to realize its proudly scandalous vision, zero stars if its realistic record of amoral behavior strikes you as utterly beyond the pale.

Winter Sleepers (Not rated) *** Director: Tom Tykwer. With Ulrich Matthes, Marie-Lou Sellem, Heino Ferch, Floriane Daniel, Josef Bierbichler. (124 min.)

A road accident near a small German village changes the lives of several loosely connected people including an apathetic ski instructor, a nurse who'd rather be an actress, a movie projectionist with a passion for photography, and a father seeking vengeance for the loss inflicted on him by the crash. The drama is vividly filmed and articulately acted, but it lacks the energy and flair that cascade through "Run Lola Run," the instant classic that Tykwer directed immediately after this longer, less inspired production. In German with English subtitles

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

Deterrence (R) ** Director: Rod Lurie. With Kevin Pollak, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Timothy Hutton, Sean Astin, Clotilde Courau. (103 min.)

The year is 2008, the Iraqi army has just invaded Kuwait, and the president of the United States - stuck in a snowbound Colorado diner during a campaign swing - has only moments to decide whether he should unleash his nuclear arsenal or rely on conventional weapons and diplomacy. The setting is cramped and the story is illogical, but it's suspenseful as long as you don't think about it very hard.

Drowning Mona (PG-13)

Director: Nick Gomez. With Danny DeVito, Bette Midler, Neve Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Affleck. (95 min.) *1/2 When Mona's car veers off a cliff and into a river, everyone in a small town is suspected of murder. After all, flashbacks of the bullying Mona (Midler), the town's least popular resident, make Lady Macbeth seem like a huggable Disney character by contrast. The few humorous moments that do succeed are the darkly comic sequences. Indeed, the movie would have benefited from following the potential of a darker path offered by the slight story line, rather than trying to make its unwholesome characters more likable.

By Stephen Humphries ** Strained humor, unappealing characters, depressing at times.

Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes, 1 lesbian kiss. Violence: 12 instances, some done for comic effect. Profanity: 62 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 9 scenes with alcohol, 5 with smoking.

Mission to Mars (PG)

Director: Brian De Palma. With Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O'Connell, Tim Robbins, Peter Outerbridge. (113 min.) ** A group of astronauts meet a mysterious end when they encounter an enigmatic structure nestled in the desolate Martian landscape, and a second group rockets off to find out what happened, finding the same puzzling object but responding in a different way that brings very different results. The picture is equally long on eye-dazzling camera work and New Age sentimentality. Even viewers who find it soggy can enjoy spotting the ideas and effects borrowed from a gaggle of earlier science-fiction epics, though, from "This Island Earth" to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." ** Lacked mystery, slow, cardboard characters, corny, good concept.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 5 scenes with violence, including an explosion. Profanity: 32 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol and/or smoking.

My Dog Skip (PG)

Director: Jay Russell. With Frankie Muniz, Diane Lane, Kevin Bacon, Luke Wilson, Caitlin Wachs, Bradley Coryell, Harry Connick Jr. as narrator. (95 min.) *** This moving, coming-of-age story stars Muniz ("Malcolm in the Middle") as Willie Morris, an only child growing up in a small Mississippi town in the early 1940s. His father (Bacon) - an overprotective but good-hearted man - feels his son is too young to have a dog, but his mother (Lane) opens up Willie's world with a Jack Russell terrier puppy on his ninth birthday. This fact-based tale is about the bond between a father and son and the realities of war. A wonderful and meaningful family film. By Lisa Leigh Parney *** Rich family entertainment, endearing, contrived.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 9 scenes with violence, including a hunting scene and some bullying. Profanity: 12 very mild expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol, 2 with cigars.

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. *1/2 Lacks focus, disappointing, poor story line.

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.

The Ninth Gate (R)

Director: Roman Polanski. With Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Frank Langella, Emmanuelle Seigner, Barbara Jefford. (133 min.) *** An unscrupulous rare-book expert scavenges Europe for two obscure volumes penned by the devil himself. Polanski returns to the supernaturally tinged territory he explored so memorably in "The Tenant" and "Rosemary's Baby," punctuating the old-fashioned yarn with an occasional self-satirizing touch to show he's as aware as we are that it doesn't make a bit of sense. The spooky proceedings go on too long and don't have much of a payoff, but Polanski's directing is marvelously assured and Depp is always fun to watch.

Not One Less (G)

Director: Zhang Yimou. With Wei Minzhi, Zhang Huike, Tian Zhenda, Gao Enman, Sun Zhimei. (106 min.) ** In a rural Chinese village, a 13-year-old girl becomes the teacher in a school where she's hardly older than the pupils, and faces a crisis when a mischievous 10-year-old abruptly runs away to a nearby city. The theme recalls one of Zhang's greatest films, "The Story of Qiu Ju," but his use of a loosely written screenplay and a nonprofessional cast in this picture weakens its dramatic appeal even as it lends authenticity and local color. In Mandarin with English subtitles *** Charming, touching, innocent, real.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity: None. Violence: 1 mild scene of kids scuffling. Drugs: 2 scenes 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 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. **1/2 Shallow, funny first half, polished.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of implied sex, 3 with nudity, at least 17 instances of innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes, including a gunshot. Profanity: 68 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 3 scenes with drinking, 3 with smoking, 1 with both.

Wonder Boys (R)

Director: Curtis Hanson. With Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand. (112 min.) ** Douglas and Maguire play writers at opposite ends of their careers. 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 end. **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

In stores March 21

Endurance (Not rated) * Director: Leslie Woodhead. With Haile Gebrselassie, Ato Bekele. (85 min.)

Disappointing documentary about the life and career of Haile Gebrselassie, who went from childhood in a rural Ethiopian family to championship as an Olympic runner.

Jakob the Liar (PG-13)

Director: Peter Kassovitz. With Robin Williams, Alan Arkin, Hannah Taylor-Gordon. (114 min.) *1/2 A simple man (Williams) cheers his townsmen in a 1944 Jewish ghetto in Poland with tall tales.

By Katherine Dillin **1/2 Grim but hopeful, uninspired, thoughtful.

Plunkett and Macleane (R)

Director: Jake Scott. With Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Liv Tyler. (93 min.) *** A gritty romp with highway bandits fighting a corrupt government and morally bankrupt leaders.

By Gloria Goodale

Pokmon: The First Movie (G)

Director: Kunihiko Yuyama. With voices of Veronica Taylor, Philip Bartlett. (75 min.) * Kids and their "pocket monsters" visit a distant island to fight a cloned creature who rejects human and Pokmon rules. **1/2 Energized, average, moralistic, fantasylike.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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