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

L'Atalante (Not rated) **** Director: Jean Vigo. With Michel Simon, Dita Parlo, Jean Dast, Louis Lefvre. (99 min.)

Reissue of a well-loved 1934 classic about a newly married Frenchwoman who joins her boat-captain husband on a barge dominated by a crusty old seaman with a dim regard for society's rules and conventions. Vigo became a legendary French director on the basis of a mere handful of films before his untimely death. And his lone feature-length work ranks with the anarchic short "Zero for Conduct" at the top level of his accomplishments. In French with English subtitles

Butterfly (R) ** Director: Jos Luis Cuerda. With Fernando Fernn Gomz, Manuel Lozano, Uxa Blanco, Gonzalo Uriarte, Guillermo Toledo. (96 min.)

Friendship blossoms between a little boy and a gentle old schoolteacher whose political views are increasingly suspect as fascism tightens its hold on their Spanish province in the summer of 1936. A powerful ending lends a strong emotional charge to this prettily filmed drama, but too much of the story is taken up with romantic clichs about the everyday challenges of childhood. In Spanish with English subtitles

Fantasia/2000 (G) *** Directors: Pixote Hunt, Hendel Butoy, Eric Goldberg, James Algar, Francis Glebas, Gatan Brizzi, Paul Brizzi. With Steve Martin, Bette Midler, James Levine, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Itzhak Perlman, Quincy Jones, Penn & Teller. (75 min.)

This ambitious Disney production opened on giant-size IMAX screens before moving to regular theaters. Although it's less novel and feisty than the original "Fantasia" of 1940, the collection of music-filled animations is highly entertaining at times, especially when Al Hirschfeld's drawing style teams with George Gershwin's music for a jazzy "Rhapsody in Blue," and when Donald and Daisy Duck take a trip on Noah's ark accompanied by Sir Edward Elgar's usually stuffy "Pomp and Circumstance" marches. Best of all, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is recycled from the earlier film, and it's still the highlight of the show.

L'Humanit (Not rated) *** Director: Bruno Dumont. With Emmanuel Schott, Sverine Caneele, Philippe Tullier, Ghislain Ghesquire, Ginette Allgre. (148 min.)

A small-town French detective investigates the murder of a young girl, confronting horrors of the human condition yet sensing a possibility of spiritual transcendence that may lie just beyond his grasp. Dumont's cinematic style is aggressively physical and philosophical at the same time. It irritates as many viewers as it inspires, but it prompts more thought than ordinary movies ever do. In French with English subtitles

Jesus' Son (R) *** Director: Alison Maclean. With Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton, Dennis Hopper, Holly Hunter, Will Patton, Jack Black, Denis Leary, Greg Germann. (100 min.)

Dazed and confused in the drugged-up 1970s, a young man lurches through a series of misadventures, including an on-and-off sexual affair with a troubled woman. He stumbles into more than his share of disasters but finds a measure of redemption when he discovers that caring for others is a pathway to a meaningful life. The latter element joins with Crudup's excellent acting to make this deliberately scruffy tale a worthwhile experience if you can handle its explicitly sordid subplots.

Shaft (R) * Director: John Singleton. With Samuel L. Jackson, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Vanessa Williams, Richard Roundtree, Toni Collette, Dan Hedaya, Busta Rhymes, Josef Sommer, Philip Bosco. (98 min.)

The original "Shaft," a stylish 1971 crime drama, touched off the craze for "blaxploitation" movies. This follow-up retains little but the name, race, and no-nonsense attitude of the African-American hero, pitted here against crooked cops and a psychotic drug dealer as he tracks down the lone witness to a racially charged murder. Singleton does his best directing since his powerful "Boyz N the Hood," and Wright's brilliant acting almost makes his vicious character worth watching. But the plot is a shameless plea for vigilante violence, and the dignity of the black hero is outweighed by the ethnically marked evil of his Hispanic antagonist. Beneath its crisp veneer, much of the movie is a high-energy hymn to hate.

Time Regained (Not rated) ** Director Raoul Ruz. With Catherine Deneuve, John Malkovich, Emmanuelle Bart, Vincent Perez, Chiara Mastroianni, Marcello Mazzarella. (158 min.)

Lavishly filmed adaptation of Marcel Proust's monumental novel about a man whose disillusionment with wealth and social status eventually leads him to embrace the aesthetically inclined joys of memory and introspection. The movie's ambitions are commendable and Mazzarella makes a perfect Proust, but the particularities that lend "Remembrance of Things Past" its enduring fascination still elude translation to the screen, even in Ruiz's ever-inventive hands. In French with English subtitles

Titan A.E. (PG) ** Directors: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman. With voices of Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, Janeane Garofalo, John Leguizamo, Nathan Lane. (95 min.)

Animated science-fiction yarn about a fight between evil aliens and Earth's last surviving spaceship 10 centuries from now. Young moviegoers may love the fast-moving action of this unabashed "Star Wars" clone, but their horizons will hardly be broadened by its portrait of a 31st century where people have exactly the same interests, hopes, and slang expressions as teenagers of 2000.

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.

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?

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.

Love's Labour's Lost (PG) ** Director: Kenneth Branagh. With Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone, Timothy Spall, Carmen Ejogo. (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.

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 of 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.

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.

OUT ON VIDEO

(In stores Feb. 9)

Anna and the King (PG-13) ** Director: Andy Tennant. With Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Bai Ling, Tom Felton. (146 min.)

The adventures of an English schoolteacher who tutors a Siamese prince and enters a deliciously complex relationship with the boy's regal father. ***1/2 Lush landscapes, tender.

Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (R) * Director: Mike Mitchell. With Rob Schneider, Eddie Griffin, Arija Bareikis. (88 min.)

Deuce Bigalow must raise quick cash to cover damage done while fish-sitting at a male gigolo's home. By Katherine Dillin */12 Raunchy, silly, unoriginal.

Gun Shy (R) ** Director: Eric Blakeney. With Liam Neeson, Sandra Bullock, Oliver Platt, Mary McCormack. (102 min.)

Neeson plays an undercover cop who decides psychotherapy is the answer when his job starts to drive him crazy.

Liberty Heights (R) *** Director: Barry Levinson. With Ben Foster, Adrien Brody, Rebekah Johnson. (132 min.)

Levinson's fourth movie about Baltimore focuses on ethnic, religious, and class-based tensions among high-schoolers and their parents in the 1950s era. ***1/2 Thoughtful, unpredictable.

Sweet and Lowdown (PG-13) ** Director: Woody Allen. With Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, Anthony LaPaglia. (95 min.)

Flimsy tale of a '30s guitarist whose fingers make mischief as well as music. **1/2 Endearing, musically delightful, slow-paced, good-looking.

Topsy-Turvy (R) **** Director: Mike Leigh. With Jim Broadbent, Allan Corduner, Timothy Spall. (161 min.)

A vivid portrait of the great operetta duo Gilbert and Sullivan as they enjoy public acclaim, wrestle with private doubts, and create "The Mikado."

Superb acting, worth the time and money, disturbing.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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