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

Chunhyang (Not rated)

Director: Im Kwon Taek. With Lee Hyo Jung, Cho Seung Woo, Kim Sung Nyu. (120 min.)

Sterritt **** The mythic tale of a courtesan's daughter who falls in love with a ruler's son, then suffers a thousand torments when a selfish governor decides he wants her for himself. Told through an imaginative blend of ravishing camera work and chanted "pansori" storytelling, this astoundingly beautiful Korean production is poignant, original, and engrossing. In Korean with English subtitles

The Claim (R)

Director: Michael Winterbottom. With Peter Mullan, Sarah Polley, Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinski, Milla Jovovich. (120 min.)

Sterritt ** An offbeat adaptation of Thomas Hardy's great novel, "The Mayor of Casterbridge," about a self-made man whose privileged existence masks two secrets: a sordid episode in his past, and an unstable personality that threatens to reemerge when his protege turns into a rival. It's not clear why Winterbottom has moved the story to California in 1869. In any case, his version seems more clever than heartfelt, and whether you enjoy it may depend on how much you like Robert Altman's eccentric western "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," which it uncannily resembles.

The Mystery of Picasso (Not rated)

Director: Henry-Georges Clouzot. With Pablo Picasso. (85 min.)

Sterritt **** Produced in 1956, this classic French documentary shows the legendary artist painting a series of canvases before our very eyes, providing a limited but vivid portrait of the creative process. It's a unique and inimitable film that should be viewed by everyone with an interest in the nature of art, creativity, and beauty. In French with English subtitles

Shadow of the Vampire (R)

Director: E. Elias Merhige. With Willem Dafoe, John Malkovich, Catherine McCormack, Udo Keir, Eddie Izzard, Cary Elwes. (91 min.)

Sterritt *** This inventive comic nightmare looks at the making of the 1921 horror classic "Nosferatu," but instead of taking a straightforward historical approach, it posits the whimsical idea that the Dracula character was portrayed by a real vampire whose price for taking the part was a bite of the leading lady's neck. Malkovich is wryly amusing as German director F.W. Murnau, and Dafoe steals the show as a vampire playing an actor playing a vampire.

Traffic (R)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. With Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Amy Irving, Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, Dennis Quaid, Miguel Ferrer. (140 min.)

Sterritt *** Although its screenplay is based on a British television series, this multifaceted drama amounts to a commentary on the American war against illicit drugs, with characters ranging from Mexican and American cops to a federal drug czar whose daughter has a weakness for the very narcotics he's pledged to eradicate. Some of the action seems a bit confused, as if necessary story material were left on the cutting-room floor, and sentimentality creeps in at times. Still, the picture's thoughtfulness and ambition make it unusually suspenseful, gripping, and disturbing.

Vatel (PG-13)

Director: Roland Joffe. With Gerard Depardieu, Uma Thurman, Timothy Spall, Arielle Dombasle, Julian Sands, Julian Glover. (119 min.)

Sterritt ** An aristocrat's servant gets the assignment of a lifetime - honoring King Louis XIV with a personally prepared banquet - and complications ensue in every area from food and drink to love and money. Depardieu gives the story a firm center of gravity, aided by Joffe's eye for colorful settings and period detail. In French with English subtitles

Cast Away (PG-13)

Director: Robert Zemeckis. With Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Nick Searcy, Chris Noth, Lari White. (143 min.)

Sterritt *** Marooned on an island in the middle of nowhere, a workaholic FedEx engineer looks within himself for the resources he needs to survive his physical, psychological, and spiritual ordeal. Hanks's extraordinary acting keeps the adventure involving even though the beginning is predictable, the middle is uneven, and the finale slips into Zemeckis's patented brand of "Forrest Gump" fuzziness.

Chocolat (PG-13)

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 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.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (PG-13)

Director: Ang Lee. With Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Chang Chen, Zhang Ziyi, Lung Sihung. (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 to the venerable martial-arts genre. In Mandarin with English subtitles

Staff **** More than a martial arts movie, transcendent, subtle acting.

VS/N: 2 scenes, no nudity. VV: 11 scenes, 2 with minor blood. VP/D: None.

The Emperor's New Groove (G)

Directors: Roger Allers, Mark Dindal. With voices of David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Wendie Malick, Patrick Warburton. (72 min.)

Staff **1/2 The title says it all: Disney's latest animation sets out to be as loose and funky as a bassline on "Seinfeld." The story packs its share of laughs as a spoiled emperor of a South American land is turned into a llama by a witch so that he has to trust a peasant to find an antidote. The cartooning style, similar to that of "Hercules," is fine but not revelatory, and one suspects that this tale is a little too slight to join the canon of Disney's greatest animated classics. Fine entertainment for all ages, though. By Stephen Humphries

Staff *** Colorful, good llama humor, offbeat

VS/N: None. VV: 9 instances of mostly comic violence. VP: None. VD: None.

The Family Man (PG-13)

Director: Brett Ratner. With Nicholas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven. (125 min.)

Staff *** This film, about a high executive business man (Cage) given the opportunity to catch a glimpse of what his life would be like had he married his college sweetheart (Leoni), is pure Christmas. Not one offbeat word, glance, or gesture falls from their charming performances. They remain two snowflakes among holiday performances which can oftentimes be more Scrooge than Kringle. By Christy Ellington

Staff **1/2 Slow, nice message, mushy, sparkling with humor.

Finding Forrester (PG-13)

Director: Gus Van Sant. With Sean Connery, Rob Brown, Anna Paquin, F. Murray Abraham, Busta Rhymes. (136 min.)

Sterritt ** Unlikely friendship develops between a gifted black high school student and a curmudgeonly old author who won a youthful Pulitzer Prize and then slipped into sullen seclusion. The premise is more interesting than the movie, which takes several wrong turns on its way to an unconvincing conclusion. Brown gives a smartly understated performance, though, and Paquin's talent continues to blossom.

The Gift (R)

Director: Sam Raimi. With Cate Blanchett, Keanu Reeves, Hilary Swank, Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, Michael Jeter, J.K. Simmons, Gary Cole.

(120 min.)

Sterritt ** A clairvoyant woman gives information and advice to neighbors in her rural Southern community, but danger looms when an enraged husband threatens her family and one of her clients mysteriously disappears. Blanchett leads a solid cast and Raimi gives the story a fair amount of atmosphere. Still, there's too much hokum and too little suspense in the screenplay by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson.

The House of Mirth (PG)

Director: Terence Davies. With Gillian Anderson, Dan Aykroyd, Laura Linney, Eric Stoltz, Elizabeth McGovern, Anthony LaPaglia, Jodhi May, Terry Kinney. (124 min.)

Sterritt *** Anderson shines with dark beauty and somber intelligence in this sensitive adaptation of Edith Wharton's riveting novel about a socially ambitious young woman who falls prey to her own miscalculations and the unforgiving nature of foes and friends alike. Wharton's old-school compassion and Davies's taste for artfully wrought melodrama make an unusual but ultimately successful combination.

Miss Congeniality (PG-13)

Director: Donald Petrie. With Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Caine, William Shatner, Candice Bergen. (111 min.)

Staff * When the FBI gets wind of a plot to bomb the Miss America beauty pageant they send agent Gracie (Bullock), a decidedly uncouth klutz, to work undercover by posing as an entrant. It's a promising conceit for a comedy, but the the execution is lazy and there just aren't enough laughlines in the script to utilize the radiant charm Bullock can bring to a movie. The supporting cast are wasted too. You won't feel very congenial after watching it. By Stephen Humphries

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (PG-13)

Director: Joel Coen. With George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Charles Durning, Daniel von Bargen. (143 min.)

Sterritt ** Three small-time crooks escape from a Southern chain gang and embark on a quest for adventure, romance, and buried treasure. The screenplay by director Coen and producer Ethan Coen borrows from sources as varied as "The Odyssey" and Preston Sturges's brilliant 1941 comedy "Sullivan's Travels," about a movie director who longs to make a picture called "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" to prove what a serious guy he is. For all its ambitions, though, the Coens' odyssey is a scattershot affair with too many tricks and twists for its own good.

State and Main (R)

Director: David Mamet. With William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rebecca Pidgeon, David Paymer, Julia Stiles, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Charles Durning, Patti LuPone, Clark Gregg, Ricky Jay, Clark Gregg.

(102 min.)

Sterritt *** A movie crew barges into a New England village with a lot of problems to solve before their production can take wing: How do you make a picture called "The Old Mill" in a town with no old mill? Will the idealistic screenwriter change his script to meet the producer's crassly commercial expectations? Will the lecherous leading man keep a respectful distance from the local schoolgirls? And what will become of the nude scene now that the star refuses to get nude? Mamet's screenplay is full of savvy satire and the cast couldn't be better.

Staff *** Thoroughly entertaining, it's like "Day for Night" but with the love, scattered.

VS/N: 8 incidences of innuendo and drawings of nudes. VV: 2 scenes, fish hook caught in finger and a car crash. VP: 33 expressions, both mild and harsh. VD: 7 scenes with drinking, 6 scenes with smoking.

Thirteen Days (PG-13)

Director: Roger Donaldson. With Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp, Dylan Baker, Len Cariou, Michael Fairman, Henry Strozier, Frank Wood, Kevin Conway, Tim Kelleher, Bill Smitrovich. (120 min.)

Sterritt *** This impeccably produced docudrama revisits the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, with Costner as a White House aide who coaches the Kennedy brothers through the worst of it. The subject is so gripping that you almost forgive the filmmakers for skewing their material in order to keep Costner's pretty face at the center of everything that happens. Greenwood and Culp are excellent as the president and his brother.

IN STORES JAN. 2

Autumn in New York (PG-13)

Director: Joan Chen. With Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia. (105 min.)

Staff * Richard Gere plays an aging skirt-chaser who falls for a sweet 20-something woman (Ryder) who has a terminal illness. There's no on-screen chemistry between Gere and Ryder, and the dialogue is sappy. By Lisa Leigh Parney

Hollow Man (R)

Director: Paul Verhoeven. With Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, William Devane, Mary Randle. (114 min.)

Sterritt * A scientist experiments on himself in this violent new version of the old "Invisible Man" formula. Verhoeven was once an interesting director, but this is fatuous twaddle with a nasty, misogynistic edge.

Under Suspicion (R)

Director: Stephen Hopkins. With Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Monica Bellucci, Thomas Jane. (110 min.)

Sterritt ** A conscientious police officer (Freeman) interrogates a wealthy and powerful friend (Hackman) who might be involved in a series of brutal, sordid crimes. Good acting and an effectively claustrophobic mood compensate for a story that doesn't add up to much.

The Way of the Gun (R)

Director: Christopher McQuarrie. With Benicio Del Toro, Ryan Phillippe, Juliette Lewis. (118 min.)

Staff **1/2 Sterritt Two drifters, Parker and Longbaugh, don't feel the 9-to-5 world is their destiny. So they kidnap a surrogate mother 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 reasonably entertaining, though there's some disturbing gore. By Katherine Dillin

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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