Movie Guide

Ratings and comments by David Sterritt and Monitor staff. Staff comments 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 MEANING

**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor DUD The Worst

Recommended: 'The Godfather': 10 behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the classic films

New Releases

Animal Factory (R)

Director: Steve Buscemi. With Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Mickey Rourke, John Heard, Seymour Cassel, Steve Buscemi, Tom Arnold, Danny Trejo. (94 min.)

Sterritt *** Sent to prison by a politically ambitious DA who wants to make an example of him, a first-time felon tries to serve his time quietly with the help of a thick-skinned inmate who befriends him, but one misstep after another gets him entangled with the jail's worst elements. Buscemi's directing blends hard-hitting visual qualities with great emotional energy and a refusal to let the story's message - that potentially valuable lives can be lost rather than redeemed in the brutal penitentiary system - get lost in the gut-wrenching violence that runs through it.

Diary of a Chambermaid (Not rated)

Director: Luis Bunuel. With Jeanne Moreau, Michel Piccoli, Georges Geret, Jean-Claude Carriere. (98 min.)

Sterritt **** Storytelling ingenuity, surrealistic imagination, and sheer cinematic mischief are brilliantly intertwined throughout this sardonic 1964 melodrama about a self-assured servant who takes a job in a peculiar and perhaps dangerous French household. Moreau is superb in every way, but top honors go to Bunuel's subtly dreamlike telling of the tale. In French with English subtitles

Just One Time (Not rated)

Director: Lane Janger. With Joelle Carter, Jennifer Esposito, David Lee Russek, Lane Janger. (111 min.)

Sterritt * A young woman agrees to act out her fiance's fantasy of a menage trois if he'll reciprocate by indulging her own sexual whims. The comedy isn't quite as crude as it sounds, but there's not much of value here beyond a little lively acting.

The Ladies Man (R)

Director: Reginald Hudlin. With Tim Meadows, Karyn Parsons, Billy Dee Williams, Kevin McDonald, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen. (84 min.)

Staff * Tim Meadows brings his SNL character Leon Phelps, aka "The Ladies Man," to the big screen. After Phelps loses his job as a radio show host and gets hunted by a band of outraged husbands - whose wives he slept with - he realizes his life as a player is not so cool. There are moments of hilarious comedy, but for the most part, it's "kinky and disgusting." By Stuart S. Cox Jr.

Staff * Silly, juvenile, offensive, meritless.

Sex/Nudity: Sexual innuendo and dialogue in almost every scene. Violence: 4 scenes. Profanity: 49 instances. Drugs: 12 instances of alcohol and smoking; both served as "background" elements for entire movie.

Live Nude Girls Unite! (Not rated)

Directors: Julia Query, Vicky Funari. With Julia Query. (70 min.)

Sterritt *** A highly personal documentary about Query's participation in a movement to unionize the striptease trade. The ambience is often squalid, but the movie has much to reveal about the exploitation of women in this sleazy corner of the show-business world.

The Yards (R)

Director: James Gray. With Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Ellen Burstyn, Charlize Theron, James Caan, Faye Dunaway. (115 min.)

Sterritt *** Determined to live an honest life after serving a prison sentence for a crime he didn't commit, a young man finds himself drawn into a network of criminal activity that grows more dangerous and violent. The cast is just right for this mini-"Godfather" yarn, and Gray's filmmaking is generally on target even if it does tend to dawdle along the way.

Currently iN RELEASE

Almost Famous (R)

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

Sterritt *** The adventures of a 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.

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.

Beautiful (PG-13)

Director: Sally Field. With Minnie Driver, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Joey Lauren Adams. (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, expose, coming-of-age story. Some of these morsels are tasty indeed. Others take a long time to chew. Fields has a heart. If she can emulate her heroine's focus and drive, she may 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 that it ultimately bears little relation to the real world.

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of explicit sex and 1 scene with graphic descriptions of sexual activity. Violence: None. Profanity: 63 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: Cigar smoking throughout; a few scenes with cigarette smoking.

Dancer in the Dark (R)

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

Sterritt *** Bjork is riveting as a single mother who labors in a factory even though she's 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 imaginative directing and Robby Muller's explosive cinematography, using 100 cameras to shoot the song-and-dance numbers that make this musical tragedy a celebration of life.

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.

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.

Sex/Nudity: A few scenes of partial nudity. Violence: None. Profanity: 25 mostly mild expressions. Drugs: 12 scenes with drinking, 3 with smoking.

Get Carter (R)

Director: Stephen T. Kay. With Sylvester Stallone, Miranda Richardson, Rachael Leigh Cook. (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 cliched 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, and dialogue that provokes more laughs than shivers. Even schlock like "The Exorcist" shines alongside this silly stuff.

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

Staff *** Well cast, nonstop laughs, Stiller rules as the underdog.

Sex/Nudity: 1 mildly suggestive scene, 4 instances of innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes with mostly cartoonish violence. Profanity: 15 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 2 with tobacco, 1 scene with implied use of marijuana.

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 - the coach is a saint, the victories don't stop coming, the music swells with schmaltz every chance it gets - that it can hardly be called a real-world history lesson. It has a good heart, though, and makes an amiable introduction to the integration battles of the '60s and '70s.

Staff *** Feel-good, inspiring, keeps moving.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 9 scenes with violence, including football injuries and a shocking car crash, but nothing excessive. Profanity: 9 expressions, mostly mild, including some racial slurs. Drugs: 1 scene in a bar, but no alcohol consumed.

Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire (R)

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

Sterritt *** 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.

Staff *** Subtle, refreshingly honest characters, new twist on typical story.

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

Out on Video

... in stores Oct. 24

Center Stage (PG-13)

Director: Nicholas Hytner. With Amanda Schull, Peter Gallagher, Susan May Pratt. (113 min.)

Sterritt *** Young dancers at a Lincoln Center ballet school learn the rules of their new home. Rarely has a dance movie done so many cinematic pirouettes with such a graceful sense of audience-pleasing fun.

Staff **1/2 Exuberant, formulaic.

The Patriot (R)

Director: Roland Emmerich. With Mel Gibson, Joely Richardson, Chris Cooper. (165 min.)

Sterritt ** A South Carolina farmer becomes a reluctant fighter in the Revolutionary War after English soldiers kill his little boy.

Staff *** Rousing, earnest, brutal, big.

Up at the Villa (Not rated)

Director: Philip Haas. With Kristin Scott Thomas, Sean Penn, Anne Bancroft. (120 min.)

Sterritt *** Seeking a last romantic adventure before her marriage to a boring British aristocrat in Italy during the late 1930s, a young woman spends a night with an impoverished Austrian refugee, then faces violent and scandalous consequences.

**1/2 Seamless, superb acting.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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