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

Better Living (Not rated) * Director: Max Mayer. With Roy Scheider, Olympia Dukakis, Deborah Hedwall, Catherine Corpeny, Wendy Hoopes, Edward Herrmann, James Villemaire. (95 min.)

An eccentric father returns to the family he once abandoned and enlists them in a cockamamie plan to improve their fortunes. Not even veteran talents like Dukakis and Scheider can surmount the artificial dialogue, arbitrary plot twists, and wan humor of this disappointing comedy-drama.

Coyote Ugly (PG-13) ** Director: David McNally. With Piper Perabo, Adam Garcia, Maria Bello, Melanie Lynskey, John Goodman. (94 min.)

A sweet New Jersey girl prone to stage fright strikes out on her own to break into the songwriting business in New York City. Until she makes it to the big time, she takes a job at a bar named Coyote Ugly where the crowds are wild and the bartenders (all of them leggy young women) wear tight clothing and dance raucously on the counter. Won't her dad (Goodman) be proud? No, and neither is her boyfriend, Kevin. No grand opus, but more fun than expected. By Katherine Dillin

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of implied sex; 3 mildly suggestive scenes, including stages of undress; and lots of suggestive dancing at the bar. Violence: 6 scenes with violence, including bar brawls. Profanity: 22 mostly mild expressions. Drugs: 13 scenes with alcohol, many of them long.

Hollow Man (R) ** Director: Paul Verhoeven. With Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin. (110 min.)

With Pentagon dollars, Sebastian Caine and his team of fellow researchers come up with an invisibility formula that he tests on himself with violent consequences. The temptation to abuse his ability to creep around undetected grows too great for the mad scientist, and Caine begins to wreak havoc on his Abel-fated colleagues. Hackneyed dialogue and gore make the second half funny when it isn't supposed to be. But there are some good, tense moments. The nudity envelope is pushed in some scenes with the supposedly invisible man. By Katherine Dillin

Raging Bull (R) **** Director: Martin Scorsese. With Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Colasanto.

(128 min.)

Revival of the hugely respected 1980 drama about the life and times of prizefighter Jake LaMotta, whose turbulent career touched the greatest heights and lowest depths of his profession. De Niro gives an overwhelmingly physical performance in this overwhelmingly physical film, directed by Scorsese from Paul Schrader's gut-punching screenplay with the skill and imagination that have characterized all of his major works.

Saving Grace (R) ** Director: Nigel Cole. With Brenda Blethyn, Craig Ferguson, Martin Clunes, Tcheky Karyo, Phyllida Law, Bill Bailey, Valerie Edmond, Jamie Foreman, Tristan Sturrock, Clive Merrison, Leslie Phillips. (93 min.)

Faced with overwhelming debts after her husband's untimely death, a feisty widow puts together her remaining assets -a flair for gardening and a few shady friends - and starts a marijuana farm in her greenhouse, hoping for a quick profit that will end her woes. Blethyn's lively acting and some visually amusing moments lend spice to this minor but engaging comedy, which takes several twists on its way to a happy ending that restores the heroine's basic decency and provides a last-minute endorsement of traditional values.

Space Cowboys (PG-13) *** Director: Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, William Devane, Courtney B. Vance, James Cromwell, Loren Dean. (126 min.)

Three aging test pilots undertake a NASA mission to repair a Soviet space satellite in orbit, uncovering a cold-war secret along the way. The story takes a while to get started, but the acting is lively, the special effects are snazzy, and the picture's last couple of minutes pack a bittersweet punch. It's not "Grumpy Old Astronauts," and that alone is cause for gratitude! *** Classy, fun, engaging, intelligent.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of mild nudity. Violence: 2 mild fistfights. Profanity: 83 expressions, only 1 of them harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol.

The Tao of Steve (R) *** Director: Jenniphr Goodman. With Donal Logue, Greer Goodman, David Aaron Baker. (87 min.)

The hero is a self-indulgent kindergarten teacher who calls his hedonistic philosophy the Tao of Steve, named after a pair of his favorite inspirations - the Eastern concept of harmony with the world, and the Western worship of ultracool celebrities like Steve McQueen. But his ideas start changing when he meets a mature new girlfriend who gets under his skin and encourages him to grow up a little. Logue's magnetic performance is the movie's main virtue, supported by a good secondary cast and a sharply written screenplay.

Thomas and the Magic Railroad (G) *** Director: Britt Allcroft. With Peter Fonda, Mara Wilson, Alec Baldwin, Didi Conn, Russell Means.

(84 min.)

"Thomas and the Magic Railroad" is a delightful way to spend an afternoon with a preschooler. Gently funny and uplifting - but not preachy - the movie chronicles the adventures of Thomas, a very useful engine, and Mr. Conductor (played with genuine enthusiasm and a hint of mischievousness by Alec Baldwin) as they try to prevent the villain, a train called Diesel Ten, from destroying Lady, the special engine that makes Thomas's universe possible. Only one warning - very young children might be a bit scared by Diesel Ten's fumbling attempts to capture Thomas and Lady. By Tom Regan

Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 5 scenes of mild violence, including Diesel Ten threatening folks with his mechanical pincer.:

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

Alice and Martin (R) *** Director: Andr Tchin. With Juliette Binoche, Alexis Loret, Carmen Maura, Pierre Maguelon. (123 min.)

The love affair of an attractive musician and a young man with a troubled family history. Tchin's tendency to exert tight control over every aspect of his movies can make them seem chilly, but this drama is richly photographed and enhanced by Binoche's steadily appealing performance. In French with English subtitles

Chicken Run (G) *** Directors: Peter Lord, Nick Park. With voices of Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson, Jane Horrocks. (86 min.)

It's a dark day for the poultry when their owner decides to switch from the egg industry to the chicken-pie business. Can they escape her automated oven with help from a flying rooster who recently landed in their coop? The suspense isn't exactly breathtaking, but there are some mighty fine laughs in this clever Claymation cartoon from the creator of England's hilarious Wallace and Gromit movies. Family fun for all. *** "Egg-cellent," sweet, top family fare.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 6 scenes of mild comic violence.

The In Crowd (PG-13 * Director: Mary Lambert. With Susan Ward, Lori Heuring, Matthew Settle, Ethan Erickson. (100 min.)

Downtrodden Adrien wants to keep secret her recent release from a mental hospital when she starts a new life and a new job at Cliffmont Country Club. But not all those who make up the "in crowd" (rich, scantily clad 20-something country-clubbers with not a hangnail among them but perhaps a murder or two under their belts) are willing to let sullied histories remain hidden. Dark and twisted, with sexually suggestive undercurrents, this one's as safe to miss as a sunburn by the club poolside. By Katherine Dillin * Flimsy, boring, plastic characters

Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes of a sexual nature, including nudity, implied sex, and a lesbian kiss. Violence: 14 scenes with violence, including grisly murders and fights. Profanity: 18 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 8 scenes with alcohol, 1 with alcohol and smoking.

The Kid (PG) *** Director: Jon Turteltaub. With Bruce Willis, Spencer Breslin, Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin, Jean Smart. (104 min.)

Willis plays an egotistical image consultant who gets a needed dose of self-knowledge from an unexpected visitor: himself as a nine-year-old, equally puzzled by their time-warping encounter but loaded with clues as to how he became the creep he is today. Turteltaub makes the most of a solid screenplay and talented cast, rarely forcing the humor but letting it emerge from situations in its own good time. The result is fine fantasy fun. **1/2 Light summer flick, adorable, artificial.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 1 mild schoolyard fistfight. Profanity: 5 mild expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol.

Loser (PG-13) ** Director: Amy Heckerling. With Jason Biggs, Mena Suvari, Greg Kinnear, Thomas Sadoski, Dan Aykroyd. (100 min.)

College freshman Paul dangles precariously on the losing end of things - he's too nice to be hip, his party-addicted roommates won't let him study, and he's got to woo the girl of his dreams from their snappy-dressing English professor. Can nice guys finish first? A lighthearted winner. By Katherine Dillin ** Sweet, pretty wholesome, spunky.

Sex/Nudity: 4 mildly suggestive scenes, 5 instances of innuendo Violence: 1 fistfight. Profanity: 15 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 7 scenes with alcohol, 3 with tobacco, 1 instance of doping fruit juice.

Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (PG-13) * Director: Peter Segal. With Eddie Murphy, Janet Jackson, Larry Miller, Jamal Mixon, John Ales. (105 min.)

Murphy returns as a brilliant but bashful savant whose exotic elixir has created a foul-mouthed alter ego who wants to sabotage his marriage plans. The star's over-the-top energy isn't enough to make this hopelessly vulgar, numbingly repetitious farce worth watching. ** Crass, sloppy, unoriginal, amusing.

Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes either with nudity or of a suggestive nature, rather coarse; 12 instances of innuendo. Violence: 7 scenes of mostly cartoonish violence. Profanity: 83 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 8 scenes with alcohol and/or tobacco.

Pokmon: The Movie 2000 (G) *** Directors: Kunihiko Yuyama, Michael Haigney. With voices by Eric Stuart, Veronica Taylor, Philip Bartlett. (84 min.)

When the powers of fire, ice, and lightning (represented by three large birds) are captured and earth's harmony is thereby disturbed, Pokmon trainer, Ash, discovers that only he can save the day. The challenge of weaving the gazillion Pokmon characters together in one story is met with ease, including threads of subtle, moral lessons and clean, simple jokes. Where other movies seem bound to treat kids like adults, "Pokmon" allows kids to be kids, and just enjoy a wholesome, entertaining, well thought-out animation. By Christy Ellington

Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 13 scenes with mild violence, including lightning bolts and big waves.

What Lies Beneath (PG-13) *** Director: Robert Zemeckis. With Michelle Pfeiffer, Harrison Ford, Diana Scarwid. (130 min.)

Pfeiffer plays a woman who has good reasons for thinking her New England house is haunted, but can't figure out who the ghost might be, or how to persuade her scientist husband that something sinister is in the air. A few scenes indulge in overstated hokum or thriller clichs, but Pfeiffer is first-rate and several sequences are suspenseful enough to deserve that overused adjective, Hitchcockian. **1/2 Bloodcurdling, relentless pace, well done.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene implied sex, 1 suggestive scene. Violence: 7 scenes with violence, including chilling attempts at murder. Profanity: 2 expressions, 1 mild and 1 harsh. Drugs: 5 scenes with alcohol.

X-Men (PG-13) ** Director: Bryan Singer. With Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen. (105 min.)

Based on a popular comic book, this action-packed adventure takes its cue from the idea that people with exotic powers don't always become superheroes, but may turn bitter and hostile when ordinary folks find their special qualities too "weird" and "different" to tolerate. Stewart is solid as the leader of a school for constructive mutants, McKellen is equally strong as his destructive counterpart, and the screenplay takes a commendably dim view of bias and bigotry. ** Fun, creative, aimed at teens.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 12 scenes of violence, including special effects with a bullet. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 2 with tobacco.

OUT ON VIDEO

(In Stores August 8)

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (R) *** Director: Jim Jarmusch. With Forest Whitaker, Cliff Gorman, Tricia Vessey, Gary Farmer. (116 min.)

The title character is a modern-day hit man who bases his life on codes of honor derived from centuries-old Japanese traditions.

Here on Earth (PG-13) *1/2 Director: Mark Piznarski. With Chris Klein, Leelee Sobieski, Josh Hartnett, Michael Rooker. (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. By Lisa Leigh Parney

Holy Smoke! (R) ** Director: Jane Campion. With Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel, Pam Grier, Sophie Lee. (120 min.)

Winslet is rousingly good as a young Australian woman whose parents, alarmed at her devotion to an Indian guru, hire a self-styled deprogrammer to clear her mind of cultish delusions. **1/2 Believably acted, uneven, visually exhilarating.

Reindeer Games (R) ** Director: John Frankenheimer. With Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, Gary Sinise. (104 min.)

Affleck plays a freshly released jailbird who's determined to go straight until he meets the girlfriend of a former cellmate - and her psychopathic brother, who's planning a robbery. *1/2 Mindlessly violent, passes the time, mean, despicable characters.

Titus (R) *** Director: Julie Taymor. With Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Angus MacFadyen, Colm Feore. (168 min.)

One of William Shakespeare's bloodiest and goofiest plays is now one of Hollywood's bloodiest and goofiest adaptations, from its action-figure prologue to its crazily poetic finale. ** Grisly, darkly imaginative,debauched.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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