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

Almost Famous (R)

Director: Cameron Crowe. With Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin, Noah Taylor, Philip Seymour Hoffman. (122 min.) *** The adventures of a very young rock-music journalist who accompanies a second-rate band on tour in the early '70s, chasing his story through a maze of distractions ranging from groupies and parties to the group's insecurity about its future. Crowe's screenplay is loosely based on his past experiences, and a sense of authenticity and sincerity shines through the movie's Hollywood veneer. Fugit gives a starmaking performance as the teenage reporter, and Crudup and Lee are excellent as the band's lead guitarist and singer, respectively. Best of all is Hoffman as Lester Bangs, the legendary rock critic who sees gloomy prospects for a pop scene that's getting too grown-up for its own good.

Bait (R)

Director: Antoine Fuqua. With Jamie Foxx, David Morse, Kimberly Elise, Doug Hutchison, David Paymer, Mike Epps, Jamie Kennedy, Robert Pastorelli, Nestor Serrano. (120 min.) ** Feds use a petty thief to lure a killer into the open, manipulating the psychopath into thinking his small-time colleague knows the whereabouts of a hidden treasure trove. The comically tinged action is as lively as it is brainless, and it revels in violence a bit less eagerly than many thrillers of its ilk.

Boy Meets Girl (Not rated)

Director: Leos Carax. With Denis Lavant, Mireille Prier, Carroll Brooks, Elie Poicard, Anna Baldaccini. (100 min.) *** Carax made his directorial debut with this 1984 tale of a young man who breaks up with his girlfriend, searches for a new love, and falls into a romance that's ill-starred from the start. Carax's effort to revivify France's revolutionary New Wave filmmaking movement has never quite panned out, but his early work shows great energy and imagination. In French with English subtitles

Duets (R)

Director: Bruce Paltrow. With Paul Giamatti, Gwyneth Paltrow, Andre Braugher, Maria Bello, Huey Lewis, Scott Speedman. (113 min.) ** A burned-out businessman, a gun-toting crook, an idealistic cab driver, and a hooker-turned-chanteuse are among the denizens of this meandering comedy-drama, which uses karaoke singing as a ready-made metaphor for the notion that life's true pleasures may have little to do with professional ambition. The movie is too crisp and calculated to match the moods of its wild and woolly characters, and its interwoven subplots lead to predictable outcomes. It has some lively performances and sprightly songs, though.

Human Resources (Not rated)

Director: Laurent Cantet. With Jalil Lespert, Jean-Claude Vallod, Chantal Barr, Vronique de Pandelare, Michel Begnez, Lucien Longueville. (100 min.) **** A young man becomes a front-office intern at a factory in provincial France where his father and sister work, sparking a series of events that lead to family strife and serious moral dilemmas. This superbly acted, expressively filmed story offers a rare blend of compelling drama, ethical awareness, and sheer human emotion. In French with English subtitles

Mauvais Sang (Not rated)

Director: Leos Carax. With Denis Lavant, Juliette Binoche, Michel Piccoli, Julie Delpy, Carroll Brooks, Serge Reggiani, Hans Meyer, Hugo Pratty. (105 min.) *** Carax assembled an excellent cast for this dark 1987 fantasy about a young man who joins a scheme to steal the cure for a new illness that only attacks lovers who don't really care about each other. Also present is Carax's cinematic verve and a love for pop-culture detritus that gives the story much of its distinctive feel. Also known as "Bad Blood" and "The Night Is Young." In French with English subtitles

On the Run (Not rated)

Director: Bruno de Almeida. With Michael Imperioli, John Ventimiglia, Drena De Niro, Joaquim de Almeida, Anna Kohler, Agns Jaoui. (94 min.) ** A travel agent who never travels has an unexpected adventure when an old pal shows up in town, fresh from breaking out of prison two weeks before the end of his sentence. The action is fast, furious, and occasionally quite funny. Imperioli takes the acting honors, but the others have impressive moments too, especially when De Niro enters the picture as a possible love interest for the jailbird.

The Times of Harvey Milk (Not rated)

Director: Robert Epstein. With Harvey Milk, Harvey Fierstein, Anne Kronenberg, Tory Hartmann, Tom Ammiano. (90 min.) **** Gripping, chilling, revealing 1984 documentary about the 1978 assassination of two San Francisco officials - the mayor and the first openly gay member of the Board of Supervisors - by a bigoted fellow politician. This is a valuable social document that's also a steadily absorbing movie.

The Way of the Gun (R)

Director: Christopher McQuarrie. With Benicio Del Toro, Ryan Phillippe, James Caan, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt, Scott Wilson. (118 min.) **1/2 Parker and Longbaugh don't feel the 9-to-5 world is their destiny. So the two drifters try the nontraditional route to building their nest egg - kidnap a surrogate mother from a wealthy couple for a hefty ransom. Packaged with solid acting, an edgy western setting, and a complex yet intriguing weave of stories, this movie ends up being pretty entertaining. It's worth noting that it's replete with lengthy shootouts, and there's some disturbing gore. By Katherine Dillin ** Neo-noir, dysfunctional relationships, tries to out-Coen the Coen brothers.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of nudity on magazine covers, 3 mild instances of innuendo. Violence: 21 scenes with violence, including 2 very lengthy shootouts and some gruesome birth scenes. Profanity: 98 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol, 12 with tobacco.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

The Art of War (R)

Director: Christian Duguay. With Wesley Snipes, Anne Archer, Maury Chaykin, Marie Matiko. (117 min.) *1/2 An undercover United Nations agent, assigned to help the US forward free trade with China, is framed for a political murder. Not to get snippety with this Snipes movie that's just meant as a harmless, summertime diversion, but it falls flat. And the paint-by-numbers script oddly enough doesn't make all that much sense. A little heart, but no art. By Katherine Dillin *1/2 Uninspired, gimmicky, flimsy.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex, 3 with nudity in a strip club. Violence: 27 scenes with violence, including 3 lengthy sequences, shooting, and a brutal fight. Profanity: 36 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol, a few with tobacco, 1 with cocaine.

Bring It On (PG-13)

Director: Peyton Reed. With Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Bradford, Eliza Dushku, Gabrielle Union, Clare Kramer. (98 min.) ** High-schoolers hop and holler as they vie for the cheerleading championship and work out their rivalry with a competing inner-city team. The story is as simple as the average football cheer, but the dialogue has amusing echoes of "Clueless," and Dunst and Bradford make a mighty cute couple. ** Fresh-faced, harmless, upbeat.

Sex/Nudity: 6 instances of sexual innuendo. Violence: 3 mild instances of violence, including slapping, a hard-hitting football sequence, and a bloody nose. Profanity: 62 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 1 instance of prescription-drug abuse.

Highlander: Endgame (R)

Director: Douglas Aarniokoski. With Christopher Lambert, Adrian Paul, Bruce Payne, Ian Paul Cassidy. (100 min.) * This is the 4th (and last?) movie in the Highlander series that also included a successful syndicated television program. Unfortunately, it is also an obvious attempt to wring the last drop of revenue from fans of what was originally a very entertaining concept. The plot is nothing new: a dangerously strong nemesis of the MacLeod clan has surfaced, intent on exacting revenge for some centuries-old offense, and the two MacLeod immortals must combine strengths to defeat him. For Highlander fans only. By Phelippe Salazar *1/2 Confusing narrative, ultra-violent, preposterous.

Sex/Nudity: 1 explicit sex scene, 2 scenes with nudity. Violence: 9 scenes with violence, including decapitations and bloody sword fights. Profanity: 7 fairly mild expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol,

1 with tobacco.

Nurse Betty (R)

Director: Neil LaBute. With Rene Zellweger, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Greg Kinnear, Aaron Eckhart. (112 min.) ** Traumatized by a horrific event she's witnessed, a woman gets the deluded idea that her favorite soap opera is real and she's the main character in it; others on hand include a loathsome husband and a pair of hitmen. Zellweger is as charming as ever, and it's good to find LaBute working with a script by writers who don't fully share his crabbed, cramped view of human nature. His directorial personality still shows through in the story's wide-eyed fascination with confusion and humiliation. *** Enchanting whimsy, shocking torture scene, fresh.

Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene. Violence: 8 scenes with violence, more graphic than expected, including shooting. Profanity: 114 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 8 scenes with alcohol, 2 with tobacco.

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. **1/2 Profane, a scream, in-your-face.

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.

This Is Spinal Tap (R)

Director: Rob Reiner. With Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer. (83 min.) **** The rock scene hasn't been the same since this hilarious 1984 comedy about a British heavy-metal band spilling its collective soul to a filmmaking team during an American tour. Labeled a "rockumentary" but really a "mockumentary," this classic parody skewers every clich ever coined about the pop-music scene, not to mention the pop-movie scene that feeds on it.

The Watcher (R) * Director: Joe Charbanic. With James Spader, Marisa Tomei, Keanu Reeves, Ernie Hudson. (93 min.)

A cop plagued by unhappy memories plays cat-and-mouse with a serial killer who torments him with hints about his future victims. The story builds occasional suspense and Michael Chapman's gritty-glossy cinematography gives it a certain oomph. The picture's real interest lies in detailing the villain's sadistic crimes, though.

Whipped (R)

Director: Peter M. Cohen. With Amanda Peet, Brian Van Holt, Judah Domke. (85 min.) * Three buddies meet Sunday mornings to report on the week's victories in their favorite sport: scamming women into having sex with them. Things disintegrate when they all fall in love with the same woman (Peet). New York settings, Peet's lively performance, and a cute twist at the end can't save this one from ineptitude and lack of originality. Non-stop profanity and obscene sexual talk don't help either. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes, 2 of implied sex, 41 instances of innuendo and frank descriptions of sexual situations. Violence: 2 scuffles. Profanity: 257 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, 2 with tobacco, 4 with both.

OUT ON VIDEO

In stores Sept. 19

The Color of Paradise (PG)

Director: Majid Majidi. With Mohsen Ramezani, Hossein Mahjub, Salime Feizi, Elham Sharim. (90 min.) ** A blind eight-year-old boy learns valuable lessons about life despite the efforts of his uncaring father to push responsibility for his welfare into the hands of others. In Farsi with English subtitles ***1/2 Gentle, superb acting.

High Fidelity (R)

Stephen Frears. With John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Joan Cusack, Jack Black. (107 min.) ** A record-store proprietor tries to end his string of romantic failures by tracking down his former girlfriends and asking why they dumped him. *** Intelligent, very funny, refreshing.

A Map of the World (R)

Director: Scott Elliott. With Sigourney Weaver, David Straithairn, Julianne Moore. (127 min.) *** Emotionally harrowing drama of a Midwestern mother who's wrongly accused of child abuse.

Me Myself I (R)

Director: Pip Karmel. With Rachel Griffiths, David Roberts, Sandy Winton, Yael Stone. (104 min.) ** A single 30-something woman gets a second chance at marriage when a magical time-warp allows her to travel down the path she once refused to take.

Passion of Mind (PG-13)

Director: Alain Berliner. With Demi Moore, Stellan SkarsgŒrd, Sinead Cusack. (105 min.) ** Moore plays a woman with a double life as a 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.

28 Days (PG-13)

Director: Betty Thomas. With Sandra Bullock, Viggo Mortensen, Dominic West, Diane Ladd. (103 min.) ** When alcoholic city girl Gwen Cummings wrecks her sister's wedding while inebriated, she is sentenced to a month in rehab. By Stephen Humphries ** Bleak yet humorous, predictable.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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