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
Director: Lasse Hallstrom. With Juliette Binoche, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Judi Dench, Carrie-Anne Moss, Johnny Depp, John Wood, Leslie Caron. (121 min.)
Sterritt ** A peaceful French village gets more excitement than it bargained for when a feisty newcomer sets up a shop devoted to chocolate and other simple pleasures, and a local curmudgeon decides to combat her immoral influence at any cost. Binoche and Molina are as magnetic as usual, but the unsubtle story is full of simplistic divisions between right and wrong, and the filmmaking is pretty but predictable. As the title inadvertently hints, the picture's aftertaste is more sugary than satisfying.
Director: Ed Harris. With Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Tambor, Tom Bower, Jennifer Connelly, Bud Cort, John Heard, Amy Madigan, Val Kilmer, Robert Knott. (117 min.)
Sterritt *** Harris was born to play Jackson Pollock, the legendary artist who revolutionized modern painting in the 1940s before losing his life in a tragic accident brought about by his own weaknesses. The filmmaking sinks into cliches at times, as when Pollock's breakthrough into "drip painting" is announced with portentous close-ups of the artist's eyes and the blank canvas he's about to fill. The movie is enriched by its fine acting, though, and by its creative respect for an innovator whose influence still permeates contemporary art.
What Women Want (PG-13)
Director: Nancy Meyers. With Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei, Ashley Johnson, Lauren Holly, Mark Feuerstein, Alan Alda, Aviva Gale, Delta Burke, Valerie Perrine, Judy Greer. (123 min.)
Sterritt ** Gibson makes an energetic entrance into romantic comedy with his alternately sweet and swaggering portrayal of a self-centered advertising man who acquires the ability to read women's thoughts. He's skillfully supported by Hunt as his pretty new boss and Johnson as his neglected teenage daughter, and director Meyers keeps the action bright and bouncy. Still, the dialogue isn't quite as sparkling and the plot twists aren't quite as snappy as you want them to be. And the story keeps rambling on after its oomph runs wearisomely thin.
CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
A Hard Day's Night (G)
Director: Richard Lester. With John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfred Brambell, Victor Spinetti, Anna Quayle. (94 min.)
Sterritt **** Wit, joy, imagination, and sensational mid-'60s music spark this 1964 classic, starring the Beatles and providing a slyly fictionalized look at the skyrocketing fame that discombobulated their hitherto normal lives. Lester's filmmaking was never more inventive, and the fabulous foursome never made another movie that so perfectly suited their extraordinary talents.
Director: Don Roose. With Ben Affleck, Gwyneth Paltrow, Natasha Henstridge, Jennifer Grey, Tony Goldwyn, David Paymer. (105 min.)
Staff *** Paltrow stars as Abby, a real estate agent who tries to "bounce back" after her husband dies in a plane crash. As it turns out, Buddy (Affleck), a self-absorbed advertising agent, switched his ticket with a stranger he met in Chicago (Abby's husband) at the last minute. Riddled with guilt, Buddy shows up on her Los Angeles doorstep a year later to see if she's all right. Buddy then falls for her, but his "secret" creates problems. The movie is well acted, deeply moving, and unlike some love stories, it doesn't feel forced or contrived. By Lisa Leigh Parney
Staff *** Naturalistic, Paltrow shows versatility, heartfelt, moral tale, slow-moving.
Sex/Nudity: 2 bedroom scenes with no nudity, and 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: aftermath of a plane crash; clothing is ripped in a dog attack. Profanity: 24 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 13 scenes with alcohol; 3 scenes with cigarettes.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (PG-13)
Director: Ang Lee. With Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Chang Chen, Zhang Ziyi, Lung Sihung, Cheng Pei Pei. (119 min.)
Sterritt *** A war-weary warrior, a legendary sword, a restless and romantic young girl, and a rascally bandit are among the main characters of this ambitious epic. But the movie's real interest lies in a series of fighting scenes that veer between comic-book violence and cinematic ballet. The film may be too talky for action-minded viewers and too fantastic for more serious spectators, but it brings appealing twists - including a feminist sensibility - to the venerable martial-arts genre. In Mandarin with English subtitles
Dungeons & Dragons (PG-13)
Director: Courtney Soloman. With Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch, Jeremy Irons, Zoe McLellan, Bruce Payne, Richard O'Brien, Tom Baker. (110 min.)
Staff * 1/2
Computer games and board games used to be adapted from successful movies. Nowadays studios are turning to games like "Dungeons and Dragons" for story ideas. This tale revolves around two young thieves and a sorceress who must retrieve a magical scepter to thwart the evil plans of Profion (Irons). A troupe of British actors ham it up as if they are guests on "Sesame Street," while Birch ("American Beauty") turns in a shockingly inept performance. Adults will wince - or laugh - at the acting, but unfussy tweenies will overlook the film's liberal borrowings from "Star Wars," and "Indiana Jones," and lap up the perfectly passable adventure.
By Stephen Humphries
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (PG)
Director: Ron Howard. With Jim Carrey, Molly Shannon, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin. (105 min.)
Sterritt *** A lavishly produced adaptation of Dr. Seuss' classic children's book about a mountain-dwelling monster who decides to make the residents of nearby Whoville as grouchy as he is in the Yuletide season. Carrey is excellent, making the most of his comic gifts even in a cumbersome Grinch outfit, and the eye-spinning color scheme is dazzling to behold. The movie ultimately seems more entranced by its own effects than by the Christmas spirit itself, though.
Staff *** A holiday classic, Jim Carrey's perfect, great for kids, fantastic visuals.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 11 extended scenes of comic mischief. Profanity: 75 expressions, a mix of harsh and mild. Drugs: 1 mild instance.
102 Dalmatians (G)
Director: Daniele Thompson. With Glenn Close, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Evans, Gerard Depardieu, Eric Idle, Ben Crompton. (94 min.)
Staff ***Ella De Vil (Close) is unleashed from prison and instead of stealing cute canines, she helps a rundown animal shelter - simply because she absolutely loves dogs! OK, let's get real. Ella's perfectly coiffed black and white bun soon pings out of control and she returns to her former self as Cruella. She teams up with furrier Jean Pierre Le Pelt (Depardieu) and tries to steal 102 "poopies" for her dream coat. Close is perfectly cast as the overly dramatic and evil Cruella and the dalmatian puppies are just doggone cute.
By Lisa Leigh Parney
Staff *** Some hilarious moments, Glenn Close is marvelous, predictable, romantic.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 8 scenes with comic violence, including slapping and fighting. Profanity: None. Drugs: 2 scenes with cigarettes.
Paragraph 175 (Not rated)
Directors: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman. With Rupert Everett, Klaus Muller, Annette Eick. (81 min.)
uuu An informative documentary about how the Nazi regime used a 19th-century German law to initiate persecution of homosexuals in the Third Reich. Victimization of homosexuals during the Holocaust era has often been overlooked. Epstein and Friedman lucidly recount this woeful history, with help from Everett's articulate narration.
Proof of Life (R)
Director: Taylor Hackford. With Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe, David Morse, David Caruso, Pamela Reed. (135 min.)
No one does brooding stoicism like Russell Crowe. He's perfectly cast as Terry Thorne, an Australian K&R (kidnap and ransom) mercenary hired by an American woman (Ryan) whose engineer husband has been kidnapped by political rebels in South America. The film works well as a thriller with stunning action sequences, but it's less successful as a drama. Subplots, a whiff of political commentary, character motivations, and relationships are all left dangling unsatisfactorily by the film's end. By Stephen Humphries
Staff *** Engaging, gritty, gripping, nail-biter.
Director: Philip Kaufman. With Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Michael Caine, Joaquin Phoenix, Billie Whitelaw. (120 min.)
Sterritt ** A melodramatic visit with the infamous Marquis de Sade, set in the Charenton asylum where he was imprisoned in the later part of his life. The movie is an exercise in Grand Guignol grotesquerie, presenting de Sade in the sort of self-consciously lurid manner associated with exploitation pictures. At the same time it's a toned-down account of his outrageous ideas. The acting is passionate, but the film would be more effective if it presented a more thoroughgoing lesson in the raging horrors that swept through European culture during the French Revolution.
Staff **1/2 Not for the timid, stunningly performed, intelligent.
Sex/Nudity: 23 instances, often very graphic, including nudity. Violence: 12 intensely violent scenes ranging from suicide to beheadings. Profanity: 14 expressions, mostly pornographic descriptions. Drugs: 15 scenes with alcohol.
Rugrats in Paris: The Movie (G)
Directors: Stig Bergqvist and Paul Demeyer. With John Lithgow, Debbie Reynolds, Susan Sarandon. (105 min.)
Staff ** The Rugrats are back, this time traveling to a Japanese theme park in Paris to repair (and hijack) a mechanical Godzilla - and to find a new mom for Chuckie. Potty jokes will amuse small children and dismay some parents. But some gags are for the grown ups: a karaoke chorus line of sumo wrestlers singing "Who Let the Dogs Out?" and takeoffs on other films, most notably "The Godfather." The animation is good, but the movie isn't terribly original. By M.K Terrell
Sex/Nudity: none. Violence: 9 scenes of cartoonish violence. Profanity: 1 mild expression. Drugs: none.
Spring Forward (R)
Director: Tom Gilroy. With Liev Schreiber, Ned Beatty, Campbell Scott, Bill Raymond, Catherine Kellner, Hallee Hirsh, Ian Hart, Peri Gilpin. (110 min.)
Sterritt *** Fresh out of jail, a decent young man takes a job with the parks and recreation department of a New England town and strikes up an increasingly close relationship with his older, more conservative partner. The movie's seven scenes were filmed in real time (as opposed to condensed editing-room time) over the course of a year, giving the drama an extra touch of realism and humanity.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan. With Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn. (110 min.)
Sterritt ** How did an ordinary man survive a train crash that killed everyone around him? Why does another man suffer from an illness that makes his bones as breakable as glass? Do they occupy different positions on the same physiological spectrum, and is there a supernatural purpose to their increasingly complex relationship? The plot has a fascinating premise, and Shyamalan's visual style is even more insinuating than in "The Sixth Sense," his previous picture. But the story grows sillier as it goes along, culminating in a final switcheroo that's about as deep as the comic-book ideas that inspired the plot.
Staff **1/2 Unpredictable ending, half-baked, off-beat humor, slow but interesting.
Sex/Nudity: 1 implied date rape offscreen. Violence: 3 scenes with violence, including a gun threat. Profanity: 4 mild expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol.
Vertical Limit (PG-13)
Director: Martin Campbell. With Chris O'Donnell, Robin Tunney, Bill Paxton. (123 min.)
Sterritt ** A team of mountaineers scale impossible heights to rescue a trio of trapped colleagues after an accident just below the world's second-highest peak. The movie has moments of breathtaking suspense, at least until it lapses into cartoonish implausibility in the second half. With good acting and good dialogue it might actually have been a good picture.
OUT ON VIDEO
In stores Dec. 19
The Cell (R)
Director: Tarsem Singh. With Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D'Onofrio, Marianne Jean-Baptiste. (115 min.)
Sterritt ** Lopez plays a psychotherapist who makes a high-tech journey into the mind of a demented serial killer to figure out where he's stashed his latest victim. The action is as grisly as it is surrealistic.
Love's Labour's Lost (PG)
Director: Kenneth Branagh. With Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone, Nathan Lane. (95 min.)
Sterritt ** William Shakespeare's comedy about a King and three friends who pledge to give up partying, updated to the 1930s with musical numbers of that period. It's all very colorful, but the movie's diverse elements often clash.
Road Trip (R)
Director: Todd Phillips. With Breckin Meyer, Seann William Scott, Amy Smart, Paulo Costanzo. (91 min.)
Staff * An Ithaca University student accidentally sends an incriminating video to his girlfriend in Texas. He and three buddies try to intercept it. This road movie is as lame as its title. By M.K. Terrell
Saving Grace (R)
Director: Nigel Cole. With Brenda Blethyn, Craig Ferguson, Martin Clunes, Tcheky Karyo. (93 min.)
Sterritt ** Faced with overwhelming debts, a feisty widow starts a marijuana farm in her greenhouse. Blethyn's lively acting lends spice to this minor comedy.
Small Time Crooks (PG)
Director: Woody Allen. With Woody Allen, Tracey Ullman, Hugh Grant, Elaine May. (94 min.)
Sterritt *** A married couple fail at crime and bumble into success the honest way, and then quarrel over their newfound wealth. The plot is lively and the dialogue packs many good laughs.
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