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

All I Wanna Do (PG-13) *** Director: Sarah Kernochan. With Kirsten Dunst, Heather Matarazzo, Gaby Hoffmann, Rachael Leigh Cook, Monica Keena, Lynn Redgrave. (94 min.)

The spirited pupils at Miss Godard's Preparatory School for Girls cope with the challenges of growing up, debate the advantages of female-only education, and decide to take action when their school heads toward a merger with an all-male academy. Lively acting and good-natured feminism lift this lightweight comedy a notch above the norm.

Beau Travail (Not rated) **** Director: Claire Denis. With Denis Levant, Grgoire Colin, Michel Subor. (90 min.)

The setting is an outpost of the French Foreign Legion, the characters are tough-minded men having limited contact with the everyday world, and the themes cluster around the ultimately mysterious nature of human personality. Loosely based on Herman Melville's great novella "Billy Budd: Foretopman," this ravishingly filmed masterpiece is as emotionally stirring as it is dramatically enigmatic. It is must-see viewing for anyone interested in film's ability to transform musical rhythms and painterly images into cinematic art of the highest order. In French with English subtitles

The Color of Paradise (PG) ** Director: Majid Majidi. With Mohsen Ramezani, Hossein Mahjub, Salime Feizi, Elham Sharim. (90 min.)

A blind eight-year-old boy learns valuable lessons about life despite the efforts of his uncaring father to push responsibility for his welfare into the hands of others. Although it has a good heart and a warm spirit, this prettily filmed drama is more sentimental and manipulative than earlier Iranian films on youth-related subjects. In Farsi with English subtitles

The Filth and the Fury (R) *** Director: Julien Temple. With John Lydon, Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Malcolm McLaren, Sid Vicious. (105 min.)

Energetic documentary about the Sex Pistols pop group, the punk-rock movement they spearheaded, and the '70s sociocultural scene they both reflected and scandalized. Efficiently and imaginatively directed by a filmmaker who knows this material to his bones.

Here on Earth (PG-13) *1/2 Director: Mark Piznarski. With Chris Klein, Leelee Sobieski, Josh Hartnett, Michael Rooker, Annie Corley. (110 min.)

Romantic teen drama revolves around a rich prep-school boy who falls in love with a small-town girl, and then finds out she has a terminal illness. The movie begins entertainingly enough - two enemies must set aside their differences to help rebuild the town's diner. Meanwhile, both have eyes for the same girl. But it suffers from a weak script and an overly sentimental and predictable plot. Sobieski's expressionless face doesn't help either. By Lisa Leigh Parney

Sex/Nudity: Implied teen sex. Violence: 4 mild scenes including a shoving match, a fist fight, and a scuffle. Profanity: 12 mild expressions. Drugs: 1 scene of beer drinking.

High Fidelity (R) ** Director: Stephen Frears. With John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Jack Black, Todd Louiso, Lisa Bonet, Sara Gilbert, Lily Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tim Robbins. (107 min.)

Cusack plays a record-store proprietor who tries to end his string of romantic failures by tracking down his former girlfriends - back to junior high - and asking why they dumped him. Along the way he finds time to banter with his goofy shop assistants and strike up a new affair with a gorgeous singer. Music fans and Cusack admirers will find much to enjoy, but the comedy's meandering story and channel-surfing style prevent it from gathering the emotional momentum it would need to get below the hero's skin and let us know what really makes him tick. *** Clever, hip, intelligent, very funny, refreshing.

Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes, 2 of implied sex, 1 sexual situation. Violence: 2 instances, both in comical context. Profanity: 79 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 10 scenes with alcohol, 11 with smoking, 4 with both.

Long Night's Journey Into Day (Not rated) *** Directors: Frances Reid, Deborah Hoffmann. With Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Peter Biehl, Linda Biehl, Cynthia Ngewu, Eric Taylor. (94 min.)

Nonfiction study of South Africa's ambitious Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its efforts to cast a healing spotlight on the injustices that scarred the nation during its oppressive years of apartheid rule. The film emphasizes the historical facts and legal complexities of the four cases it examines in depth, rather than their individual outcomes, rightly suggesting that no single process or institution can bring a neat conclusion to so many decades of racial hostility and oppression. In English, Xhosa, and Afrikaans with English subtitles

The Road to El Dorado (PG) ** Directors: Eric "Bibo" Bergeron, Don Paul. With voices of Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante, Edward James Olmos. (89 min.)

Animated tale of two Spanish adventurers who find a mythical land of gold and beauty, pose as gods in order to get their hands on the kingdom's wealth, and run into trouble when their human limitations raise suspicions about their real identities. The cartooning is stylish and the action is spiced with a few good laughs. But the package would be more enticing if it didn't fall so squarely into overused Hollywood formulas, from its standard-issue songs to its simplistic portrait of lovable white rascals surrounded by silly dark-skinned natives. Aren't animation fans ready for something a little more original?

Romeo Must Die (R) **1/2 Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak. With Jet Li, Isaiah Washington, Russell Wong, Edoardo Ballerini, Aaliyah. (130 min.)

A martial-arts expert (Li), wrongly framed for a crime, breaks out of a Hong Kong prison and comes to the US to find his brother's killer. He lands in the middle of a gangland war between Chinese and black mobsters. Young R&B singer Aaliyah makes a winning film debut as his cross-cultural love interest. The stunts are spectacular, Li is a modest and genial hero, and the gunplay is mostly bloodless. By Gregory M. Lamb

The Stendhal Syndrome (Not rated) ** Director: Dario Argento. With Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Luigi Diberti. (113 min.)

Grisly horror yarn about a female detective hunting for a murderous rapist while fighting a psychological condition that leads her to confuse artistic works with reality. Argento directs this sort of thriller with cinematic flair, but at heart it's just another voyage into violence and misogyny.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

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.

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.

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) *1/2 Director: Nick Gomez. With Danny DeVito, Bette Midler, Neve Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Affleck. (95 min.)

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.

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.

Final Destination (R) * Director: James Wong. With Devon Sawa, Kerr Smith, Tony Todd, Ali Larter, Amanda Detmer. (105 min.)

When a high school student has a premonition that the airline he has boarded will explode in midair, he and a group of friends leave the plane before its fateful takeoff. The premise of this horror movie - that we are fated to die at a particular time - is pernicious. Worse, it delights in concocting the most elaborately gruesome deaths.

By Stephen Humphries

Sex/Nudity: 1 nude photo. Violence: 11 scenes with violence, including a gory one in a mortuary. Profanity: 57 expressions, mostly strong Drugs: 2 with alcohol.

The Ninth Gate (R) *** Director: Roman Polanski. With Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Frank Langella. (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 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.

Waking the Dead (R) *** Director: Keith Gordon. With Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly, Janet McTeer. (103 min.)

A bright young man pursues a political career in the 1980s, hoping to translate the idealism of the 1960s and '70s into better lives for his fellow citizens; but he feels haunted by visions of his former girlfriend, an activist killed in a terrorist bombing. Gordon is a gifted filmmaker, and he takes interesting artistic risks. But sentimentality overtakes intelligence. And there's a shallow, simplistic edge to the implication that the ideals of the '60s era have become an irksome ghost that must be exorcised before society can improve.

OUT ON VIDEO

The Sixth Sense (PG-13) ** Director: M. Night Shyamalan. With Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment. (107 min.)

A child psychologist treats an eight-year-old boy who has ghostly visions that can't be explained away by the doctor's theories. **1/2 Gloomy, surprising, a little stiff, original.

COMING SOON...

(In Stores April 4)

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

The series heads into its second trilogy as Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn and apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi meet a boy named Anakin Skywalker. The computer-driven effects are impressive, but the adventure is hampered by a flat screenplay. *** Thrilling visuals, earnest, action-packed.

For Love of the Game (PG-13) ** Director: Sam Raimi. With Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, John C. Reilly, Brian Cox. (135 min.)

Costner plays a 40-year-old pitcher whose team is being sold and his throwing hand isn't what it used to be. This sentimental drama is wildly uneven as it switches between ballpark scenes, which are very involving, and romantic episodes, which are badly overplayed. **1/2 Loved the baseball scenes, romantic, entertaining.

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (R) ** Director: Luc Besson. With Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Dustin Hoffman. (140 min.)

Besson's account of the Maid of Orleans presents itself as a celebration of a martyr's faith, but shows more interest in the violence that surrounded her life. ** Mythical, uneven, weird, sweeping.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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