Movie Guide

Stars denote the reviews of Monitor movie critic David Sterritt unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor panel (Staff) 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.

**** Excellent

*** Good

** Fair

* Poor

DUD The Worst

Beautiful (PG-13)

Director: Sally Field. With Minnie Driver, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Joey Lauren Adams, Kathleen Turner. (112 min.)

Staff ** Driver is a woman so consumed with winning beauty pageants that she's failed to develop a heart, even having a devoted friend (Adams) raise her daughter (Eisenberg). Field's directorial debut assembles a marvelous cast, but is less a film than a sampler box of genres - nostalgia piece, buddy flick, satire, expos, coming-of-age story. Some of these morsels are tasty indeed. Others take a long time to chew. If Field learns to focus as well as her heroine, she will make a great movie some day. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes with violence, including suicide and a thwarted threat. Profanity: 17 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 2 with tobacco.

Billy Elliot (R)

Director: Stephen Daldry. With Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Draven, Adam Cooper. (110 min.)

Sterritt *** The sprightly tale of a feisty lad who lives in England's coal-mining country and wants to become a ballet dancer even though his family thinks that's no ambition for a real man. The movie does a fine job of integrating its political interests - a fierce 1984 mining strike - with a deeply felt love of dancing. It also trumpets the worthwhile message that ballet is just as manly and athletic as any other masculine activity - and maybe a touch more so, if you have to defy an uncomprehending community in order to pursue it.

The Contender (R)

Director: Rod Lurie. With Jeff Bridges, Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, Christian Slater, William Petersen, Philip Baker Hall, Saul Rubinek, Sam Elliott. (125 min.)

Sterritt ** A well-meaning chief executive chooses a female senator to replace his deceased vice president, then discovers that her many assets are accompanied by a liability: an alleged sex scandal that surfaces from her distant past. Will the president stick to his convictions and help her refurbish her reputation? What will follow from the explosive event that opens the movie: A jolting accident that boosts yet another politician to prominence? The story is so calculated th0at it ultimately bears little relation to the real world.

Dr. T & the Women (R)

Director: Robert Altman. With Richard Gere, Shelley Long, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern, Kate Hudson, Liv Tyler, Helen Hunt, Matt Malloy, Tara Reid. (122 min.)

Sterritt *** Gere plays a Dallas doctor surrounded by women who seem determined to raise new challenges for him every time he thinks he's figured them out. The movie gets much of its emotional interest from Gere's fine performance. And it derives much of its personality from Altman's improvisational atmosphere and technically astute style. Some will dislike its shaggy-dog screenplay and restless camera work, and others may find its finale too postfeminist for comfort. But such debates only add to the picture's interest.

Get Carter (R)

Director: Stephen T. Kay. With Sylvester Stallone, Miranda Richardson, Rachael Leigh Cook, Alan Cumming, Mickey Rourke, Michael Caine. (104 min.)

Staff ** Stallone opens his new movie with the line, "I'm Jack Carter. And you don't want to know me." He should have continued: "And you don't want to see my movie." Carter's a thug who drives from sunny Las Vegas to drizzly Seattle to mourn his brother's death and make amends with his estranged family. His mission to uncover the truth about his brother's untimely end leads Carter to a seedy array of clichd villains. The movie's production is as slick as Carter's Regis suits, but the final answer is that "Get Carter" won't get any Oscars. By Stuart S. Cox Jr.

Staff *1/2 An empty shell, overstylized, violent.

Sex/Nudity: 4 instances of innuendo. Violence: 12 scenes with violence, including car chases, a rape, and fistfights. Profanity: 76 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 10 with tobacco, 2 with drugs.

Lost Souls (R)

Director: Janusz Kaminski. With Winona Ryder, Ben Chaplin, John Hurt, Philip Baker Hall. (102 min.)

Sterritt * A young woman discovers that the Antichrist is about to appear in the body of a popular New York author, and all creation will be doomed if she can't prevent this transformation from occurring. Kaminski is a gifted cinematographer, but his directorial debut suffers from a preposterous plot, bad acting by both stars, and dialogue that provokes more laughs than shivers. Even schlock like "The Exorcist" shines alongside this silly stuff.

One (Not rated)

Director: Toni Barbieri. With Kane Picoy, Jason Cairns, Autumn Macintosh, Ed Lynch. (86 min.)

Sterritt *** The troubled friendship of two young men - an ex-convict with a strong moral sense and a lackadaisical small-time athlete - who can't seem to get a foothold in life. The understated story gains surprising emotional strength from Barbieri's sensitive camera work, delicately written dialogue, and thoughtful performances by just about everyone. This is a truly superior debut film, marking all concerned as highly promising talents.

Ratcatcher (Not rated)

Director: Lynne Ramsay. With William Eady, Tommy Flanagan, Mandy Matthews. (94 min.)

Sterritt *** The bittersweet story of a 12-year-old boy who lives in a Glasgow tenement and dreams of moving to a suburban housing project where his dysfunctional family has applied for a new home. Meanwhile he contends with a difficult memory: the accidental death of a young neighbor, which he witnessed and has been haunted by ever since. The acting is strong and sympathetic, but the movie's most striking aspect is the lifelike sense of place captured by Ramsay in her directorial debut. In Glaswegian dialect with English subtitles

Almost Famous (R)

Director: Cameron Crowe. With Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee. (122 min.)

Sterritt *** 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.

Staff ***1/2 A valentine to '70s rock, poignant, funny.

Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene, 2 with implied sex, 3 scenes with nudity. Violence: 1 scuffle and 1 instance of a girl getting her stomach pumped for overdose. Profanity: 37 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 18 scenes with alcohol, 12 with tobacco, 5 with drugs.

Dancer in the Dark (R)

Director: Lars von Trier. With Bjrk, David Morse, Catherine Deneuve, Peter Stormare, Cara Seymour. (140 min.)

Sterritt *** Bjrk is riveting as a single mother who labors in a factory even though she's gradually losing her sight, saves for a surgical procedure that might save her little boy from a similar future, and gets into a deadly dispute when a neighbor threatens to ruin her plans. The other stars are von Trier's highly imaginative directing and Robby Mller's explosive cinematography, using 100 cameras to shoot the song-and-dance numbers that make this musical tragedy a celebration of life despite its awfully grim climax.

Staff *** Groundbreaking, bleak, captivating, martyrdom for its own sake.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 4 scenes with varying degrees of violence, from a nicked finger to assault, battery, and murder.

The Exorcist (R)

Director: William Friedkin. With Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Kitty Winn. (130 min.)

Sterritt ** In both its original 1973 version and its expanded 2000 edition, this hugely popular horror yarn is less a cleverly spun story than a disjointed collection of shockeroos, surrounding a few ghoulishly effective moments with overcooked plot twists and in-your-face vulgarity. More impressive than the narrative logic are the impressively earnest performances from Burstyn as the mother of a little girl possessed by an evil spirit, Cobb as a friendly cop investigating the situation, and Von Sydow, perfectly cast as the title character, a Roman Catholic priest called in to cast the demon out.

Girlfight (R)

Director: Karyn Kusama. With Michelle Rodriguez, Jaime Tirelli, Paul Calderon, Santiago Douglas. (110 min.)

Sterritt ** A teenage girl uses prizefighting as an escape route from her domineering dad and oppressive working-class home. Rodriguez's acting almost scores a knockout even though the movie's directing and dialogue are fairly routine.

Staff *** Great story, powerful, impressive directorial debut.

Sex/Nudity: 1 mildly suggestive scene. Violence: 11 scenes with violence, including 1 domestic incident, the rest of boxing but nothing graphic. Profanity: 66 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol and tobacco.

Meet the Parents (PG-13)

Director: Jay Roach. With Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Nicole DeHuff, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson. (108 min.)

Staff ***1/2 Pam's dad (De Niro): ex-CIA, a character somewhat reminiscent of the cat-loving James Bond nemesis Ernst Blofeld, absolutely paranoid, not likely to smile or chuckle. Try asking his permission for his daughter's hand in marriage. But smitten Greg (Stiller) tries when he realizes his beloved prefers the traditional route to the altar. Many belly laughs and sweet moments. By Katherine Dillin

The Original Kings of Comedy (R)

Director: Spike Lee, With Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac. (117 min.)

Sterritt ** 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 nonstop 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.

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.

Remember the Titans (PG)

Director: Boaz Yakin. With Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Donald Faison, Nicole Ari Parker. (113 min.)

Sterritt *** Washington is excellent as an African-American coach hired to train a high-school football team in Virginia as part of a 1971 integration effort. He turns his racially divided players into champions on and off the gridiron. The story is based on real events, but it's been Hollywoodized so completely that it can hardly be called a real-world history lesson. It has a good heart, though.

Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire (R)

Director: Kevin Jordan. With Derick Martini, Steven Martini, Christa Miller, Bill Henderson. (90 min.)

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes with implied sex, 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes with violence, including a scuffle. Profanity: 81 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 2 with tobacco, 1 with marijuana.

Urban Legends: Final Cut (R)

Director: John Ottman. With Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Davis, Hart Bochner, Loretta Devine. (98 min.)

Staff *Morrison is a film student at a school that pays lip service to the "master of suspense" ("What would Hitchcock do?") but practices the art of making bad pictures (like this one). As Morrison directs her thesis film, someone keeps bumping off her cast and crew. This mess of a movie occasionally works as a satire of film schools, but someone should have pushed "delete" before it got out of the word processor. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes. Violence: 13 scenes with violence, including clubbing and stabbing. Profanity: 52 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 5 scenes with alcohol and/or tobacco, 1 with alcohol and drugs.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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