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

BookWars (Not rated) ** Director: Jason Rosette. With Jason Rosette, Rick Sherman, Pete Whitney, Al Mappo. (79 min.)

A visit with streetside booksellers in Greenwich Village, hosted by a filmmaker who knows the territory from first-hand experience. His use of low-tech equipment gives the documentary a sense of spontaneity and intimacy that jibes nicely with its unassuming subject.

The Children of Chabannes (Not rated) *** Directors: Lisa Gossels, Dean Wetherell. With Ruth Keller, Serge Klarsfeld, Peter Gossels. (91 min.)

Documentary study of a French town whose residents saved and sheltered a large number of Jewish children during the Nazi era. History, human interest, and the overwhelming horror of the Holocaust are eloquently blended, thanks to the filmmakers' sensitive approach to a subject that one of them (Gossels) has heard about all her life from a parent who was a Chabannes child. In English and French with English subtitles

The Decalogue (Not rated) **** Director: Kyzysztof Kieslowski. With Krzysztyna Janda, Miroslaw Baka, Olaf Lubaszenko, Jerzy Stuhr, Grazyna Szaplowska. (600 min.)

A towering Polish masterpiece of 1988, comprising 10 episodes loosely based on the Ten Commandments, whose meanings are teased out in subtle ways through the experiences of diverse characters living in a Warsaw housing complex. Kieslowski directed other shimmering works during his lifetime, including a couple of spin-off features from this TV-supported project, but no additional proof is needed to confirm his place among the world's great filmmakers. In Polish with English subtitles

Gone in 60 Seconds (PG-13) * Director: Dominic Sena. With Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Robert Duvall, Giovanni Ribisi, Will Patton, Delroy Lindo, Christopher Eccleston, Chi McBride. (117 min.)

A reformed thief has to steal 50 autos in three days or an evil thug will murder his brother. Car-chase fans may enjoy the story's action-crazy formulas, but there's no excusing its bone-crunching violence, barbaric language, and smirky sexuality. How did a dignified pro like Duvall get stuck in this fender-bender?

Love's Labour's Lost (PG) ** Director: Kenneth Branagh. With Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone, Timothy Spall, Carmen Ejogo, Nathan Lane, Natascha McElhone, Alessandro Nivola, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Lillard, Adrian Lester. (95 min.)

William Shakespeare's comedy about a King and three friends who take a pledge to give up partying for philosophizing, updated to the 1930s era and spiced with musical numbers featuring songs of that period. It's all very colorful, but the movie's diverse elements clash as often as they cooperate.

Sunshine (R) ** Director: Istvn Szab. With Ralph Fiennes, Deborah Kara Unger, William Hurt, Jennifer Ehle, John Neville, Rosemary Harris, James Frain, Rachel Weisz, Molly Parker. (180 min.)

The epic story of a Hungarian Jewish family coping with convulsive events of 20th-century history along with the problems of life and love that households face in good and bad times alike. The filmmaking is uninspired and Fiennes inexplicably plays three different characters with exactly the same acting style. Still, the frequently grim story takes on an emotional momentum that carries the picture past its plentiful dull spots.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

Big Momma's House (PG-13) ** Director: Raja Gosnell. With Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti, Terrence Dashon Howard. (105 min.)

Lawrence makes his summer debut playing FBI agent Malcolm Turner. He heads down South to stakeout the house of Big Momma, whose soon-to-visit granddaughter used to date a recently escaped bank robber. When Big Momma has to leave town, Turner goes undercover as Big Momma. Although Lawrence brings his natural humor to the screen, and some moments are laugh-out-loud funny, most of the scenes are predictable, and, even for a wacked-out comedy like this one, a little too unrealistic. By Christy Ellington ** Funny, predictable, silly.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene with nudity, 6 sexual situations. Violence: 8 scenes with violence, including shooting and some comic fight sequences. Profanity: 25 expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol.

Dinosaur (PG) **** Directors: Eric Leighton, Ralph Zondag. With voices of D.B. Sweeney, Julianna Margulies, Joan Plowright. (82 min.)

Dinosaurs speak and show human emotion in this story of Aladar, a giant Iguanodon, raised by monkeylike lemurs. Aladar eventually meets up with his own kind when he joins a pack on a life-or-death march across a forbidding landscape where water is scarce and meat-eating Carnotaurs pursue them. Despite a touch of Bambi-style pathos, Disney goes for a ferocious amount of prehistoric realism in this animated tour de force. It combines computer-generated characters with real, digitally enhanced scenery. Visually, it's a treat. By Ross Atkin ***1/2 Classic Disney, predictable, tremendous fun.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 9 scenes with violence, mostly dinosaurs hunting or battling.

Gladiator (R) ** Director: Ridley Scott. With Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris. (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.

Grass (Not rated) *** Director: Ron Mann. With Woody Harrelson. (79 min.)

A revealing, often amusing, sometimes disturbing look at the history and politics of marijuana use in American society. Much of the footage comes from heavy-handed government films on the subject, which undermine their own effectiveness so consistently that Mann's bemused skepticism toward them seems almost superfluous.

Hamlet (R) **** Director: Michael Almereyda. With Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Venora. (111 min.)

Updated versions of Shakespeare are common, but there's amazingly sharp creativity in this New York-based interpretation of the timeless tragedy about a young man driven to desperation by his father's murder. The acting is smart and gritty, Almereyda's visual style has a raw immediacy found in few films with Shakespearean pedigrees, and an eclectic music score adds atmosphere and surprise every step of the way. **1/2 Royalty meets a New York minute, innovative, tragic, entertaining.

Sex/Nudity: 2 sexual situations. Violence: 5 scenes with violence, 2 of them somewhat graphic. Profanity: 13 expressions from the Bard's script. Drugs: 12 scenes with alcohol or tobacco.

Mission: Impossible 2 (PG-13) ** Director: John Woo. With Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Anthony Hopkins, Ving Rhames, Brendan Gleeson. (120 min.)

Our dashing hero enlists a beautiful but devious thief in his assignment to track down the power-mad holders of a deadly new virus and its equally rare antidote. Woo's patented pyrotechnics - intricate editing, acrobatic camera movements, slow-motion mayhem - lend intermittent sparks to the violent action sequences, but the two-dimensional characters have little personality. Robert Towne's screenplay takes the easy route of blending elements from the first "M:I" movie and Woo's own "Face/Off" with Hitchcockian touches (the classic "Notorious" is a major source) as well as every James Bond movie ever made. **1/2 Action-packed, entertaining, unoriginal, impressive stunts.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene implied sex, 2 sexually suggestive scenes. Violence: 58 scenes with violence, including shooting and hand-to-hand combat. Profanity: 11 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 1 cigar.

Passion of Mind (PG-13) ** Director: Alain Berliner. With Demi Moore, Stellan SkarsgŒrd, Sinead Cusack, William Fichtner, Peter Riegert. (105 min.)

Moore plays a woman with a double life as a high-powered Manhattan literary agent and a home-loving mother in provincial France, uncertain which existence is real and which - if either - is just a vivid dream. The acting is sincere and the camera work is pretty, but this art-movie variation on "The Sixth Sense" doesn't have enough energy to fulfill the high promise of Berliner's previous picture, the enchanting "Ma vie en rose."

Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes, 1 mild innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 11 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 3 with tobacco, 6 with both.

Shanghai Noon (PG-13) *** Director: Tom Dey. With Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Alexis Liu, Brandon Merrill, Roger Yuan. (110 min.)

Chinese Imperial Guard Chon Wang (Chan) must corral some John Wayne-style savvy to save a kidnapped princess in America's Wild West. He gets help and hindrance from bumbling bandit Roy O'Bannon (a great comic turn by Wilson). While playing off the name of Gary Cooper's classic 'High Noon,' this action-comedy doesn't try to imitate or spoof it. It's just smart and loads of fun. By Katherine Dillin *** A good time, action-packed, comical.

Sex/Nudity: 2 fairly mild suggestive scenes. Violence: 25 scenes with violence, some long, mostly for comic effect. Profanity: 8 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, tobacco, and/or mild drug use.

Small Time Crooks (PG) *** Director: Woody Allen. With Woody Allen, Tracey Ullman, Elaine May, Hugh Grant, Michael Rapaport. (94 min.)

Allen and Ullman play a married couple who fail at crime, bumble into success the honest way, and then quarrel over how they should use their newfound wealth - to live a lowbrow version of the good life, or barge into high society despite their lack of welcome there. The plot is lively and the dialogue packs many good laughs. But the entertainment is marred by a lingering sense that Allen rarely portrays working-class characters except to make fun of them. *** Classic Allen, surprisingly wholesome, witty.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 1 scene with a policeman pointing a gun. Profanity: 13 fairly mild expressions. Drugs: 11 scenes with alcohol, 1 with alcohol and tobacco.

U-571 (PG-13) *** Director: Jonathan Mostow. With Matthew McConaughey. (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 subtext, 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.

The Virgin Suicides (R) *** Director: Sofia Coppola. With Kirsten Dunst, James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Hanna Hall, Chelse Swain. (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. **1/2 Lacks fluidity, superficial, mysterious, a bit of a downer.

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of statutory rape, 3 of sexual innuendo. Violence: 4 instances, all involving suicide. Profanity: 4 expressions, 1 of them harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, 6 with tobacco, 2 with marijuana.

OUT ON VIDEO

COMING SOON...

(In stores June 13)

Bicentennial Man (PG) ** Director: Chris Columbus. With Robin Williams, Embeth Davitz, Oliver Platt. (133 min.)

In the not-so-distant future, a family acquires a household robot with an individualistic streak that makes him dream of an independent life. **1/2 Cute fantasy, melancholy, touching.

The Green Mile (R) ** Director: Frank Darabont. With Tom Hanks, David Morse, Michael Clarke Duncan. (180 min.)

Death-row guards in a Southern penitentiary meet a highly unusual prisoner with a gift for healing that appears incongruous next to the horrific crime he's been convicted of. ***1/2 Never dull, compassionate, transcendent storytelling.

Light It Up (R) * Director: Craig Bolotin. With Forest Whitaker, Usher Raymond, Vanessa L. Williams. (98 min.)

Teenagers commandeer their high school and take a policeman hostage as a protest against their community's lack of commitment to their education.

Play It to the Bone (R) * Director: Ron Shelton. With Woody Harrelson, Antonio Banderas, Lolita Davidovich. (124 min.)

Two washed-up boxers head for Las Vegas with a mutual girlfriend, hoping a sudden opportunity there will revive their careers. *1/2 Sluggish, brutal fight scenes, empty-headed, often base.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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