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

Battlefield Earth (PG-13)

Director: Roger Christian. With John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates. (117 min.) * It's the year 3000 and a race called the Psychlos have invaded Earth and enslaved mankind for a mining operation. The film starts well with interesting comic book-style camera angles, but it never generates enough tension due to preposterous plot holes and liberal borrowings from other movies. Worse, alien villain Travolta delivers the script's risible lines in an over-the-top "Rocky Horror Picture Show" performance that is completely at odds with the square-jawed approach of the hero (Pepper). It's like another awful "Planet of the Apes" sequel.

By Stephen Humphries

Center Stage (PG-13)

Director: Nicholas Hytner. With Amanda Schull, Peter Gallagher, Susan May Pratt, Donna Murphy, Debra Monk. (113 min.) *** The place is a Lincoln Center ballet school that's as competitive as it is prestigious, and the main characters are young dancers who learn the rules of their new home, scope out the strengths and weaknesses of their teachers and fellow students, and plunge into their designated tasks with all the enthusiasm - and anxiety - of people who'll end the process as either newly discovered stars or instant has-beens. Rarely has a dance movie done so many cinematic pirouettes with such a graceful sense of audience-pleasing fun.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex, a few instances of innuendo. Violence: None Profanity: 52 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 5 with tobacco, 2 with both.

Committed (R)

Director: Lisa Krueger. With Heather Graham, Casey Affleck, Luke Wilson, Patricia Velazquez, Alfonso Arau. (98 min.) *1/2 A young wife heads west to bring home her deserting husband in this fluffy comedy. She intuits his undisclosed whereabouts with the same strength of conviction she places in her marriage vows ("for better or for worse"). Sweet, but alas, mostly flaky, the story frustratingly skims across character and content without ever committing to a more substantial, and more knee-slappingly funny, script. By Katherine Dillin

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Not rated)

Director: Luis Buuel. With Fernando Rey, Delphine Seyrig, Stphane Audran, Bulle Ogier, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Julien Bertheau, Paul Frankeur. (105 min.) **** Reissue of the 1972 classic about a group of allegedly refined French folks whose not-so-civilized urges surface too often for comfort as their dinner plans are endlessly postponed by a string of bizarre interruptions. Buuel devoted his brilliant career to surrealistic cinema, and this uproariously imaginative tale brought his subversive style to its pinnacle of popularity, helped by a picture-perfect cast and a screenplay written with Jean-Claude Carrire, one of his most trusty collaborators. Movies don't come more original, inventive, or outlandishly entertaining. In French with English subtitles

Luminarias (R)

Director: Jose Luis Valenzuela. With Evelina Fernandez, Scott Bakula, Cheech Marin, Liz Torres, Robert Beltran, Sab Shimono. (100 min.) *** The lives and loves of a small group of Mexican-American women, named after the Los Angeles restaurant where they gather to talk about their experiences and ideas. The movie is very small in scale, but the performances are appealing and Fernandez's screenplay casts an interesting light on the main characters' self-images as Latina women.

Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene, 1 of implied sex, 10 instances of innuendo. Violence: 1 slap, 2 descriptions of abuse. Profanity: 94 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 8 scenes with alcohol, 2 with tobacco, 2 with both.

The Sorrow and the Pity (Not rated)

Director: Marcel Ophuls. With Pierre Mends-France, Albert Speer, Sir Anthony Eden, and residents of Clermont-Ferrand. (270 min.) **** Reissue of the legendary 1971 documentary, subtitled "Chronicle of a French City Under the Occupation," about resistance and collaboration in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Divided into two parts, "The Collapse" and "The Choice," it remains the classic cinematic study of its immensely important and disturbing subject. In French with English subtitles

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

The Big Kahuna (R)

Director: John Swanbeck. With Kevin Spacey, Danny De Vito, Peter Facinelli. (90 min.) *** Three businessmen face uncomfortable questions about their lives during a long evening in a hotel hospitality suite where they've gathered to give a sales pitch. There's nothing cinematic about this transplanted stage play, but good acting and pungent dialogue - some of it about the place of religion in business and in life - lend it more than passing interest.

Bossa Nova (R)

Director: Bruno Barreto. With Amy Irving, Antonio Fagundes, Alexandre Borges, Dbora Bloch. (95 min.) *** Romantic comedy about an English teacher and an attorney who enter an unexpected love affair while assorted friends and associates search for their own happiness. The story is slender, but the Brazilian settings are exquisite and lilting tunes by Antonio Carlos Jobim cast a spell over the entire enterprise. In English and Portuguese with English subtitles

The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (PG)

Director: Brian Levant. With Mark Addy, Stephen Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, Kristen Johnston, Joan Collins, Alan Cumming. (90 min.) ** Fred and Barney, two hopeless Neanderthal bachelors, just want a quiet yabba-dabba-do life with a couple of nice cave girls like Betty and Wilma. But how can a Stoneage fella compete with the likes of Mick Jagged, Chip Rockefeller, and their fleets of Maserockis and Cadirocks disrupting their plans like a T-Rex in a tulip bed? The live-action, pun-loaded comedy based on the 1960s animated series good-naturedly recounts the anxious days of courtship.

By Katherine Dillin

Frequency (PG-13)

Director: Gregory Hoblit. With Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, Daniel Henson. (121 min.) ** A young man discovers an old ham-radio hookup that allows him to communicate with his dead father in the past. He uses this miracle - caused by an unusual solar storm - to help his dad avoid the accident that killed him, thereby altering their family's history. This event has negative consequences too, putting another loved relative into the path of a serial killer whom only they can track down. Toby Emmerich's screenplay gains emotional punch from its sincere concern for family values, but science-fiction fans may be disappointed by the limited exploration of its fascinating time-travel premise. *** Intelligent plot, touching, creepy, occasionally very violent.

Sex/Nudity: None Violence: 12 scenes of fairly graphic violence, including explosions and use of shotguns. Profanity: 37 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 18 scenes with alcohol, 25 with tobacco.

Gladiator (R)

Director: Ridley Scott. With Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, Connie Nielsen, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou. (150 min.) ** Sold into slavery by an emperor's jealous son, a Roman general spends his time slaying fellow gladiators before bellowing crowds and dreaming of revenge against you-know-who. Scott's filmmaking is as blunt and bullying as the mayhem it portrays, but Crowe and Reed lend touches of intermittent class to the bone-crunching spectacle. *** Ambitious, bloody, grand, crowd-pleasing, moving.

Sex/Nudity: An instance of incestuous kissing. Violence: 17 scenes of mostly gory violence, including gladiator spectacles and a lengthy war episode. Profanity: 1 expression, somewhat harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol.

I Dreamed of Africa

(PG-13)

Director: Hugh Hudson. With Kim Basinger, Vincent Perez, Eva Marie Saint, Garrett Strommen, Daniel Craig, Winston Ntshona, Lance Reddick, Liam Aiken. (112 min.) * Fact-based tale of a woman who moves from Italy to Kenya with her husband and young son, and faces more daunting and varied challenges than she ever expected. The story is inspirational in a superficial way, but the filmmakers focus so exclusively on their attractive heroine that the picture loses any real connection with Africa beyond its value as a beautiful background and a source of jolting plot twists. This is Hollywood in full star-centered, tunnel-vision mode.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex with nudity. Violence: 4 scenes, including a lion attack and a car crash. Profanity: 5 mild expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol, 3 with tobacco, 3 with both.

The Last September (R)

Director: Deborah Warner. With Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Jane Birkin, Fiona Shaw. (104 min.) *** Picturesque adaptation of Elizabeth Bowen's intelligent 1929 novel, centering on a group of Anglo-Irish aristocrats shortsightedly trying to maintain their way of life despite the growing instability of Ireland after the Republican uprising of 1916. The movie doesn't have much more get-up-and-go than the characters, but solid performances and richly textured camera work keep it involving most of the way through.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of nudity, some innuendo. Violence: 6 scenes with violence, including torture, gunshots, and threats of rape. Profanity: 3 expressions, including 1 harsh expression. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 10 with tobacco, 1 with both.

U-571 (PG-13)

Director: Jonathan Mostow. With Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Keitel, Bill Paxton, Jon Bon Jovi, Jake Weber, David Keith. (120 min.) *** You can't keep a good submarine story down. Our heroes are American sailors ordered to pose as Germans and capture a top-secret encryption device from a Nazi U-boat. Things get interesting when they find themselves stuck on the enemy vessel, unsure how it works and sitting ducks for any genuine Germans who happen to steam their way. The movie is full of old tricks - cuts between worried faces and overheated gauges inching into the red zone - but director Mostow pulls most of them off with conviction and pizazz. *** Sheer entertainment, not much sub-text, action-packed.

Sex/Nudity: None Violence: 9, often prolonged, scenes with violence, including gunfights, fistfights, and torpedo attacks. Profanity: 50 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 2 with tobacco.

Up at the Villa (Not rated)

Director: Philip Haas. With Kristin Scott Thomas, Sean Penn, Anne Bancroft, James Fox, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Davies, Massimo Ghini. (120 min.) *** Seeking a last romantic adventure before her marriage to a boring British aristocrat in Italy during the late 1930s, a young woman spends a night with an impoverished Austrian refugee, then faces violent and scandalous consequences. Based on a W. Somerset Maugham novella, the story has old-fashioned characters and situations, and Haas has sensibly filmed it in an old-fashioned way, stressing visual appeal rather than the story's sordid undertones. The acting is excellent, too.

The Virgin Suicides (R)

Director: Sofia Coppola. With Kirsten Dunst, James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Hanna Hall, Chelse Swain, A.J. Cook, Leslie Hayman, Josh Hartnett, Scott Glenn, Danny DeVito. (96 min.) *** Is suicide the only escape route from an obsessively proper middle-class home? The question arises when an adolescent girl kills herself for no clear reason, and her sisters may be drifting in the same direction as they try to steer a course between their unbending parents and the neighborhood boys who'd like to become part of their lives. An artful blend of '70s detail and dream-like moodiness makes Coppola's first movie an exceptionally promising directorial debut.

OUT ON VIDEO

(In stores May 16)

Cradle Will Rock (R)

Director: Tim Robbins. With Emily Watson, John Cusack, Joan Cusack. (122 min.) *** Set in the 1930s New York theater scene, this colorful comedy-drama culminates in a struggle between boy-wonder Orson Welles and government officials who want to veto his pro-union opera. (VHS & DVD) ***1/2 Political overtones, thrilling, exquisite, mainstream masterwork.

The End of the Affair (R)

Director: Neil Jordan. With Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea. (110 min.) *** After hiring a detective to investigate a woman he had an affair with during World War II, an English author learns she ended their relationship for religious reasons that are difficult for his cynical sensibility to understand. Based on Graham Greene's novel. (VHS & DVD) ***1/2 Unsettling, literary, passionate.

Felicia's Journey (Not rated)

Director: Atom Egoyan. With Bob Hoskins, Elaine Cassidy, Arsine Khanjian. (116 min.) ** Searching for her boyfriend in an English city, a pregnant runaway is befriended by a middle-aged man with a sinister agenda. (VHS & DVD)

The World Is Not Enough (PG-13)

Director: Michael Apted. With Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Judi Dench. (128 min.) ** James Bond battles terrorists, criminals, and a sore shoulder in his 19th adventure, which is both propelled and circumscribed by the well-worn formulas that guide its path. (VHS & DVD) *** Brosnan has presence, adventurous, predictable, voyeuristic.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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