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: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

**** **** Excellent

*** *** Good

** ** Fair

* * Poor

DUD DUD The Worst

NEW RELEASES

Bittersweet Motel (Not rated)

Director: Todd Phillips. With the rock band Phish. (84 min.) *** On tour with Phish, which prides itself on improvisational music that's unpredictable enough to satisfy the loyal fans who follow the group from gig to gig. The movie is as loose and lanky as the band's style, which should please groupies and newcomers alike.

The Cell (R)

Director: Tarsem Singh. With Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D'Onofrio, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Vince Vaughn, Dylan Baker, Jake Weber. (115 min.) ** Lopez plays a psychotherapist who makes a high-tech journey into the mind of a demented serial killer in a desperate effort to help the police figure out where he's stashed his latest victim. The action is as grisly as it is surrealistic, which is what you'd expect from a cinematic visit to a particularly loathsome subconscious. But the film's patches of lurid sensationalism are partly offset by the director's explosive visual imagination, which keeps the screen jumping when the plot and dialogue sag. Howard Shore's music adds a dose of pounding energy.

Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes with nudity, mostly autopsied bodies. Violence: 24 scenes of gruesome violence, ranging from a child beating to a man being gutted. Profanity: 31 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 1 scene with alcohol, 5 with tobacco.

God's Army (PG)

Director: Richard Dutcher. With Richard Dutcher, Matthew Brown, Jacque Gray. (108 min.) ** The adventures of a young Mormon who signs up for two years of door-to-door missionary work in Los Angeles, guided by a mentor whose life turns out to be unexpectedly complex. At heart, this is more a Mormon recruiting film than a three-dimensional drama, but it provides fascinating glimpses of a subject that Hollywood hardly ever touches.

Orfeu (Not rated)

Director: Carlos Diegues. With Toni Garrido, Patricia Frana, Murilo Bencio, Zez Motta, Milton Gonalves. (110 min.) ** This modern-day telling of the ancient Orpheus myth, set in Rio de Janeiro during the carnival season, chronicles the ill-starred love of a gifted pop singer and a woman whisked away from him by death. There's more seductive acting and streetwise grittiness here than in the 1959 musical "Black Orpheus," which this version responds to with a comparatively high measure of social and political consciousness; but Diegues's approach doesn't escape its own lapses into artificiality and clich. Caetano Veloso's music is mighty pleasant, though. In Portuguese with English subtitles

The Original Kings of Comedy (R)

Director: Spike Lee, With Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac. (117 min.) ** A session with four popular African-American comedians, filmed during the North Carolina portion of an enormously well-attended tour. Sometimes they're truly hilarious; sometimes they're lazy enough to milk laughs from scattershot vulgarity; and sometimes they try to pummel the audience into submission with humor so belligerent you don't know whether to give a nervous laugh or hide under your seat. It's hard to say which moments the on-screen spectators love most, since they appear to be howling with amusement from beginning to end.

Sex/Nudity: 10 instances of innuendo and descriptions of sexual activity. Violence: Some talk of violence. Profanity: 504 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: One instance of smoking and drinking offstage.

Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire (R)

Director: Kevin Jordan. With Derick Martini, Steven Martini, Christa Miller, Bill Henderson. (90 min.) *** A small-scale comedy about two Los Angeles brothers with different personalities - the title comes from nicknames their grandmother gave them - and varying solutions to the challenges they face when new girlfriends enter their lives. Henderson steals the show as an elderly African-American man befriended by one of the main characters.

Solomon and Gaenor (R)

Director: Paul Morrison. With Ioan Gruffudd, Nia Roberts, Sue Jones Davies, William Thomas. (105 min.) ** A young Welsh woman falls in love with a Jewish worker who hides his ethnicity from her prejudiced family, sparking a series of melancholy events. Set in the early 20th century, this variation on "Romeo and Juliet" gains energy from Gruffudd's sensitive performance and a no-nonsense ending that has more dramatic punch than much of the action preceding it. In English and in Welsh and Yiddish, with English subtitles

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

Autumn in New York (PG-13)

Director: Joan Chen. With Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia, Jillian Hennessey. (105 min.) * Richard Gere plays Will, an aging skirt-chaser who falls for Charlotte, a sweet 20-something woman (Ryder) who has a terminal illness. Already, this flat storyline has problems. There's no on-screen chemistry between Gere and Ryder, and the lines are so sappy you'll want to burst out in laughter. By Lisa Leigh Parney ** Harmless, romantic distraction, no sparks, done before.

Sex/Nudity: 1 suggestive scene and 2 of implied sex. Violence: None. Profanity: 10 expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol and/or tobacco, 2 references to drug use.

The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (Not rated)

Director: Aiyana Elliott. With Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Odetta, Kris Kristofferson. (105 min.) *** The life and times of folk singer Ramblin' Jack Elliott, capturing his public persona - part cowboy, part hobo, part folkloric researcher, part barroom raconteur - and glimpses of the private individual who's been playing this self-invented role since the '50s. The archival and interview footage is priceless, and the documentary gains extra interest from the fact that Elliott's daughter directed it, using it as a way to gain some fatherly attention she didn't get as a child.

Bless the Child (R)

Director: Chuck Russell. With Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, Holliston Coleman, Christina Ricci, Ian Holm. (105 min.) ** A little girl becomes a pawn in a Manhattan-based battle between forces of heavenly goodness and Satanic evil. This is an old-style supernatural thriller in the vein of "The Omen" and "The Exorcist," often trite and predictable but grudgingly likable in the end. If the eye-jolting shocks don't keep you awake, the patches of howlingly awful dialogue will certainly do the trick.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 20 scenes of horror-movie style violence, including use of knives, guns, and explosions. Profanity: 8 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 1 with tobacco, 3 with drug use or implied drug use.

Godzilla 2000 (PG)

Director: Takao Okawara. With Takehiro Murata, Naomi Nishida, Mayu Suzuki, Hiroshi Abe, Shir Sano. (97 min.) ** You want campy? Look no further than that great beast from Japan, Godzilla. The thick-skinned fella from the Toho film company swats away military missiles and tangles ferociously with an alien spacecraft. Only a scientist and his daughter who make up the Godzilla Prediction Network side with the radioactive lizard. The dubbed dialogue is as off-cue as ever, and the intentionally (we hope) terrible lines and super-fake special effects are side-splittingly funny. Amazingly, this movie stirs up some monster-size fun. By Katherine Dillin *1/2 Vintage Godzilla, hokey, better on TV.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 24 scenes of campy, bloodless violence. Profanity: 8 instances, mostly mild. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol and tobacco.

The Opportunists (R)

Director: Myles Connell. With Christopher Walken, Peter McDonald, John Ortiz, Cyndi Lauper. (89 min.) **1/2 A safecracker, who's done jailtime, finds life as a law-abiding car mechanic doesn't pay the bills. When some local dim bulbs equally desperate for cash propose a scheme for unearned dough, the ex-con considers taking another crack at the crooked path. Not a whole lot happens here, but the gentle and humorous story is ultimately about charity. Walken makes this movie's little engine purr. By Katherine Dillin *** Amiable, modest, fun casting.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 3 mild scenes of violence, including 1 scuffle with punches thrown and 2 instances of breaking and entering. Profanity: 22 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 8 scenes with alcohol.

Ran (Not rated)

Director: Akira Kurosawa. With Tatsuya Nakadai, Satoshi Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu. (160 min.) **** Reissue of Kurosawa's respected 1985 epic, which blends a lot of "King Lear" and a little of "Macbeth" into the story of a 16th-century lord who divides his territory among three sons with disastrous results. This isn't Kurosawa's most memorable film, but it stands with the most colorful and action-packed achievements of his extraordinary career. In Japanese with English subtitles

The Replacements (PG-13)

Director: Howard Deutsch. With Gene Hackman, Keanu Reeves, Brooke Langton, Jack Warden. (115 min.) * The heroes are a bunch of strike-breaking athletes who agree to replace a picketing football team. The movie is so vulgar and incoherent that even Hackman's gifts can't score a touchdown. Add the grotesque racial stereotypes, the irresponsible gunplay, the treatment of a bitter strike as an occasion for smirks and mockery, and the demeaning depiction of women, and you have a losing package all around.

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo. Violence: 14 scenes with roughhousing, punches, and bar fights. Profanity: 88, mostly harsh. Drugs: 6 instances of drinking, 8 with smoking.

Saving Grace (R)

Director: Nigel Cole. With Brenda Blethyn, Craig Ferguson, Martin Clunes, Tcheky Karyo, Phyllida Law. (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. *** Likable characters, unexpected, chuckle-filled.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene with nudity, 3 instances of innuendo. Violence: 4 scenes with violence, including a threat with a knife. Profanity: 28 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 9 scenes with alcohol and/or tobacco, 6 with marijuana.

Space Cowboys (PG-13)

Director: Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner. (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 one of them harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol.

Steal This Movie (R)

Director: Robert Greenwald. With Vincent D'Onofrio, Janeane Garofalo, Jeanne Tripplehorn. (108 min.) * D'Onofrio plays 1960s radical Abbie Hoffman, whose talent for guerrilla theater and love of left-wing causes made him one of the most colorful and influential members of the countercultural scene. Hoffman's ideas and exploits are certainly important enough to merit Hollywood's attention, but this superficial treatment makes so many dubious decisions - oversimplifying issues, for instance, so there'll be more time for high-flying emotion - that 1960s veterans may be moved to protest rather than praise.

OUT ON VIDEO

(In Stores aug. 29)

The Big Kahuna (R)

Director: John Swanbeck. With Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, 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 lend it more than passing interest. *1/2 Slow, subtle, insightful.

I Dreamed of Africa (PG-13)

Director: Hugh Hudson. With Kim Basinger, Vincent Perez, Eva Marie Saint. (112 min.) * Fact-based tale of a woman who moves from Italy to Kenya with her husband and young son, and faces more challenges than she ever expected. The filmmakers focus so exclusively on their attractive heroine that the picture loses any real connection with Africa.

The Next Best Thing (PG-13)

Director: John Schlesinger. With Madonna, Rupert Everett, Benjamin Bratt. (107 min.) * Madonna plays a not-quite-young woman who's afraid family life will pass her by, then discovers she's pregnant after a one-night fling with her best friend, a gay man. The movie has a well-meaning message about love and loyalty, but its good intentions sag as the story trades its air of mischievous comedy for trite sentimentality. *1/2 Lacks focus, disappointing.

Princess Mononoke (PG-13)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki. With voices of Billy Crudup, Gillian Anderson. (133 min.) *** In ancient Japan, a young warrior gets caught up in a struggle between warring communities and powerful forest spirits. More thoughtful and varied than the average Hollywood cartoon. **1/2 Ambitious, innovative animation, repetitive.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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