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 David Sterritt Monitor Panel MEANING **** **** Excellent *** *** Good ** ** Fair * * Poor DUD DUD The Worst

New Releases Faithless (R)

Director: Liv Ullmann. With Erland Josephson, Lena Endre, Krister Henriksson, Thomas Hanzon, Michelle Gylemo, Johan Rabaeus, Stina Ekblad, Juni Dahr, Philip Zanden, Marie Richardson. (155 min.)

Sterritt *** An intense, claustrophobic drama of love and infidelity, as seen through the eyes of an actress whose seemingly contented life as a wife and mother is tragically tested by romantic temptations touched off by her husband's closest friend. The film's tone is so intimate that one of the characters is screenwriter Ingmar Bergman himself, who sets the story in motion by having a conversation with the female protagonist he's conceived in his imagination. On one level, "Faithless" is a probing look at love, marriage, loyalty, and other emotional issues. On other levels, it's about the complex relationships between bedrock human feelings and the process of exploring these through art.

Fellini Satyricon (Not rated)

Director: Federico Fellini. With Martin Potter, Hiram Keller, Max Born. (129 min.)

Sterritt **** One of Italy's greatest filmmakers dreamed up this flamboyantly uninhibited visit to ancient Rome, and the results of his whimsy have been startling, shocking, and engrossing moviegoers ever since its 1969 release. See it if your most outrageous dream is to see your most outrageous dreams made visible on the wide screen. Stay far away if that prospect seems too daring or daunting for comfort.

Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles (Not rated)

Director: Owsley Brown III. With Paul Bowles, Phillip Ramey, Abdelouahaid Boulaich, Joseph A. McPhillips III, Karim Jihad Achouatte. (80 min.)

Sterritt *** Bowles is known mainly as the author of "The Sheltering Sky" and other evocative fiction, but he started his career as a composer trained and influenced by Aaron Copland and other major musical figures. This finely tuned documentary outlines his career and devotes a commendably large portion of the soundtrack to his compositions, accompanying them with poetic footage of New York City and Tangiers, the places where he spent his most productive years. Some of the footage was shot by the great Rudy Burckhardt and by Nathaniel Dorsky, who also edited the film.

The Pledge (R)

Director: Sean Penn. With Jack Nicholson, Helen Mirren, Benicio Del Toro, Robin Wright Penn, Tom Noonan, Vanessa Redgrave, Sam Shepard, Lois Smith, Harry Dean Stanton, Aaron Eckhart, Mickey Rourke. (123 min.)

Sterritt *** An aging cop postpones his retirement to find the murderer of a little girl, fighting the odds against tracking down the killer and facing skeptical colleagues who think the psychopath has already been caught and killed. The acting is excellent and Penn reconfirms his remarkable talent for muted, understated filmmaking that focuses on character and dialogue rather than spectacle and sensationalism. The film's weak point is the screenplay by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski, which lapses into cliches far more often than Penn's visual style does.

Restless (Not rated)

Director: Jule Gilfillan. With Catherine Kellner, David Wu. (98 min.)

Sterritt ** An unusual relationship develops between an American woman visiting Beijing in search of adventure and a Chinese-American man who doesn't feel much more at home there than she does. The movie is likable and well acted, but it doesn't make a very strong or lasting impression.

Scottsboro: An American Tragedy (Not rated)

Director: Daniel Anker. With Mills Thornton, James Goodman, Wayne Flynt, Dan Carter. (84 min.)

Sterritt *** This articulate documentary takes a clear-eyed look at the dismaying events that enveloped nine African-American youngsters who were arrested, prosecuted, and persecuted in Alabama for the 1931 rape of two white women, a crime that probably didn't happen and was certainly not committed by any of them. Their ordeals captured the attention of everyone from racial bigots, more interested in sustaining white supremacy than obtaining justice, to Communist idealists, eager to seize on American inequities to bolster their cause. All emerge as vivid historical figures in this lucid account.

The Wedding Planner (PG-13)

Director: Adam Schankman. With Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaughey, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Kevin Pollack. (102 min.)

DUD A professional wedding planner (Lopez) despairs that she will never find the right man, until, that is, she finds herself drawn to the groom (McConaughey) of a nuptial celebration that she is organizing. Does the girl get the guy? Well, of course. But the truly dreadful dialogue, absurd plot contrivances, heavy-handed direction, and a score that sounds like an amateur high school pep band stifle any potential that this courtship might have had of succeeding. Frankly, it's excruciating to watch.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

Currently in Release Double Take (PG-13)

Director: George Gallo. With Orlando Jones, Eddie Griffin, Gary Grubbs, Daniel Roebuck. (88 min.)

Staff **1/2 Hardly anything is what it seems in this Hitchcock spoof (call it "South by Southwest"). A New York banker (Jones) wrongly suspected of murder, trades identities with a crazy con artist from the streets (Griffin) and flees the city for Mexico, pursued by drug dealers, police, FBI, and a little dog with sharp teeth. Not a good picture, but the two leads often rise above the convoluted plot, sloppy continuity, ethnic stereotyping, and excessive violence to provide some genuinely funny moments.

The Gift (R)

Director: Sam Raimi. With Cate Blanchett, Keanu Reeves, Hilary Swank, Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Kinnear. (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 acquaintances 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.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of nudit; 1 sex scene. 4 incidents of innuendo. Violence: 19 scenes, including brutal murder, suicide, and spousal abuse. Profanity: 37 mainly harsh expressions. Drugs: 5 with smoking, 3 with drinking.

The House of Mirth (PG)

Director: Terence Davies. With Gillian Anderson, Dan Aykroyd, Laura Linney, Eric Stoltz. (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.

Panic (R)

Director: Henry Bromell. With William H. Macy, Neve Campbell, Donald Sutherland, Tracey Ullman, John Ritter. (88 min.)

Sterritt ** A professional killer worries about his little boy, converses with his father and his psychiatrist, and starts an affair with a younger woman in this brooding, understated thriller. The atmosphere is more compelling than the plot, but the story does pack a surprise or two.

Save the Last Dance (PG-13)

Director: Thomas Carter. With Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Vince Green, Terry Kinney. (110 min.)

Staff ** For Sara Johnson (Stiles), ballet is her life. But when her mom dies in a car accident, her life pirouettes out of control. Sara must move in with her estranged father in a rough neighborhood of Chicago and attend a mostly black high school. There, she meets a handsome black teen who inspires her to step back into the groove and put some hip-hop in her moves. It's a decent enough movie, but it tries to incorporate too many ideas at once - overcoming adversity, succeeding in ballet, an interracial relationship, life on the street. It would have been stronger had it zeroed in on one theme.

Staff *** Good values for teens, makes you want to dance, credible characters and dialogue, predictable.

Sex/Nudity: Some suggestive dancing; implied sex. Violence: 5 scenes, including a car accident, fistfights, and gunfire. Profanity: 111 harsh expressions. Drugs: 3 with smoking, 1 with drinking.

Snatch (R)

Director: Guy Ritchie. With Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, Vinnie Jones, Jason Statham. (104 min.)

Sterritt **1/2 He's known as "the husband of Madonna," but can Guy Ritchie direct? Yes! Ritchie's flashy command of the film medium is used to quite audacious effect in this gangster comedy which centers around attempts to snatch a 65-carat diamond. If the film is too similar to Ritchie's first movie, "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" with its multiple story lines, complex plotting, and double-crossing antics, it's at least colorfully told with dialogue that shines with the inventive slang of Ritchie's screenplay. Violent, but the Tarantino fan will enjoy it. By Stephen Humphries

Staff *** A motley crew of characters, fast-paced, great cinematography, dizzying.

Thirteen Days (PG-13)

Director: Roger Donaldson. With Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp, Dylan Baker, Henry Strozier, Len Cariou, Frank Wood. (120 min.)

Sterritt *** This impeccably produced docu-drama 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. Greenwood and Culp are excellent as the president and his brother.

Staff *** Awful Boston accent by Costner, Greenwood is phenomenal as JFK, gripping.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 3 war scenes including plane being shot down. Drugs: 15 scenes with cigarettes. 5 scenes with alcohol.

Traffic (R)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. With Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio Del Toro. (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.

Staff ***1/2 Richly layered, both compelling and sad, innovative, ambitious.

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of implied sex; 2 incidences of innuendo. Violence: 8 scenes, including torture. Profanity: 104 mostly harsh expressions. Drugs: 11 scenes with drugs and drug taking. 7 instances of alcohol; 7 scenes with smoking.

Coming to video

In stores Jan. 30

Cotton Mary (R)

Director: Ismail Merchant. With Greta Scacchi, Madhur Jaffrey, James Wilby, Sakina Jaffrey. (125 min.)

Sterritt *** The arrival of a new baby sparks a conflicted relationship between a privileged British woman and her Anglo-Indian maid in south India during the 1950s. Merchant brings keen insight and rich humanity to this revealing tale of psychological unease in a tense postcolonial world.

Dinosaur (PG)

Directors: Eric Leighton, Ralph Zondag. With voices of D.B. Sweeney, Julianna Margulies. (82 min.)

Staff **** Dinosaurs speak and show human emotion in this story of Aladar, a giant Iguanodon. Despite a touch of Bambi-style pathos, Disney goes for a ferocious amount of prehistoric realism in this animated tour de force.

Love and Sex (Not rated)

Director: Valerie Breiman. With Famke Janssen, Jon Favreau, Noah Emmerich, Cheri Oteri. (82 min.)

Sterritt **1/2 Janssen writes for a women's magazine that specializes in articles about how to catch a man. When her editor assigns her to write such a piece from experience, she can only remember a path littered with demeaning relationships. Janssen's fans will rejoice. By M.K. Terrell

What Lies Beneath (PG-13)

Director: Robert Zemeckis. With Michelle Pfeiffer, Harrison Ford, Diana Scarwid, Joe Morton. (130 min.)

Sterritt ** Pfeiffer plays a woman who has good reasons for thinking her house is haunted, but can't figure out how to persuade her scientist husband. A few scenes indulge in thriller cliches, but Pfeiffer is first-rate and several sequences are suspenseful enough to deserve that overused adjective, Hitchcockian.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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