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

New York in the 50's (Not rated)

Director: Betsy Blankenbaker. With Dan Wakefield, Nat Hentoff, Joan Didion, Robert Redford, William F. Buckley Jr., Gay Talese. (72 min.)

Sterritt *** A collective memoir of the hip Manhattan life of a half-century ago, when artists and thinkers like the bebop musicians, the New York School painters, and the Beat Generation writers were shaking and waking the cold-war conformity of their era. The verbal recollections and photographic memorabilia don't go very deep, but they suggest the energy and complexity of what is truly an underrated decade.

Pollock (R)

Director: Ed Harris. With Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Tambor, Jennifer Connelly, Bud Cort, Amy Madigan, Val Kilmer. (117 min.)

Sterritt *** Harris is close to perfect as 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.

The Price of Milk (PG-13)

Director: Harry Sinclair. With Danielle McCormack, Karl Urban, Willa O'Neill. (90 min.)

Sterritt * Concerned that the relationship with her boyfriend might be cooling off as they move toward their impending marriage, a young woman takes a friend's advice and devises a series of tests to prove the strength of her fiance's affection. This amiable New Zealand comedy would be more fun if it accompanied its imaginative plot with imaginative acting and filmmaking. If a mildly magical story is what you're after, it'll be worth the price of admission. Otherwise save your milk money for something more substantial. (See review, page 15)

Sweet November (PG-13)

Director: Pat O'Connor. With Charlize Theron, Keanu Reeves, Greg Germann, Lauren Graham. (120 min.)

Sterritt ** The sweetest thing about "Sweet November" (a remake of the 1968 movie) is the on-screen magic between Charlize Theron and Keanu Reeves. But that's pretty much where the magic ends. Although Theron gives one of her most credible performances to date, neither actor can completely drop his/her Hollywood image and internalize a character. The actress portrays the role of charming Sara Deever who is dying of a diagnosed disease. Committed to an alternative lifestyle, she convinces emotionally void workaholic Nelson Moss (Reeves) to live with her for 30 days, and the agreement quickly progresses into an unlikely romance. By Steven Savides

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE Before Night Falls (R)

Director: Julian Schnabel. With Javier Bardem, Olivier Martinez, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn. (125 min.)

Sterritt *** Politics and humanism find an engrossing balance in this ambitious drama based on the life of Reinaldo Arenas, a gay Cuban poet who was persecuted by the homophobic Castro regime. Bardem gives a star-making performance, but Schnabel's filmmaking doesn't have quite as much visual imagination as his previous bio-pic, the excellent "Basquiat."

Staff *** Ambitious, harrowing, awakens a social consciousness, lyrical.

Sex/Nudity: 13 scenes with sex, many of them with male nudity and intercourse. Violence: 11 scenes including suicide and fighting. Profanity: 9 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 18 scenes with smoking; 7 scenes with drinking; 2 scenes with drug overdoses.

Fever (Not rated)

Director: Alex Winter. With Henry Thomas, David O'Hara, Bill Duke, Teri Hatcher, John Tracy. (93 min.)

Sterritt ** A murder in a rundown apartment building sparks a series of strange events in the life of a psychologically unsteady man. This offbeat drama has more atmosphere than logic, but a few sequences are strikingly well acted and filmed.

Hannibal (R)

Director: Ridley Scott. With Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Giancarlo Giannini. (131 min.)

Sterritt *** Hopkins returns as Hannibal Lector, the brilliant psychiatrist with a sadistic personality, a weakness for cannibalism, and an odd affection for FBI agent Clarice Starling, this time played by Moore in a performance as inventive as Jodie Foster's in "The Silence of the Lambs" a decade earlier. Scott has directed the picture with his usual heavy touch - even the boisterous "Lambs" seems subtle by comparison - and much of the action is as ponderous as it is predictable. Lector fans will get their fill, but be warned that the menu contains at least two scenes with over-the-top excesses that Hannibal himself might not want to swallow. See full review, page 15

Staff **1/2 Extremely gory, good sequel, intelligent dialogue, opulent sets.

Sex/Nudity: 15 scenes with innuendo. Violence: 15 exceptionally violent scenes including cannibalism. Profanity: 5 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 9 scenes with smoking; 8 scenes with alcohol.

Head Over Heels (PG-13)

Director: Mark Waters. With Monica Potter, Freddie Prinze Jr., Brendan Beiser, Sarah O'Hare, China Chow. (127 min.)

Staff DUD An art-restoration expert (Potter), moves into an apartment with "the last four models in New York who don't smoke." She soon develops a crush on Jim (Prinze) who lives in an adjacent building across the way, until, in a "Rear Window"-ish twist, she thinks she sees him commit a murder. This romantic comedy is so awfully misjudged and ineptly executed in every department that, while it isn't quite a contender for the "so bad it's good" category, this critic was nonetheless dabbing tears of laughter from his eyes.

By Stephen Humphries

Staff * Juvenile, a bit crass, unlikely to help any of these actresses become stars, cutesy.

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of implied sex; 5 incidents of innuendo. Violence: 6 scenes, including fistfights. Profanity: 15 harsh expressions, 14 mild expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol.

In the Mood for Love (PG)

Director: Wong Kar-wai. With Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung-Chiu-wai, Rebecca Pan, Lai Chin. (97 min.)

Sterritt *** A journalist and a receptionist spend inordinate amounts of time in their lonely apartments, maintaining a polite distance between themselves until the man begins to suspect their spouses are having an affair with each other. The story gains most of its dramatic impact from superbly understated acting and Christopher Doyle's atmospheric camera work. Kudos also go to Nat King Cole's haunting renditions of Spanish-language songs on the proudly multicultural soundtrack. In Cantonese and Shanghainese with English subtitles

Saving Silverman (PG-13)

Director: Dennis Dugan. With Steve Zahn, Amanda Peet, Frank Black, Jason Biggs, R. Lee Ermey (90 min.)

Staff **1/2 Domineering psychologist (Peet) captures the heart of an obsequious, Neil Diamond-loving 20-something (Biggs), forcing him to answer one of life's toughest questions: pals before gals? Rising funnymen Jack Black and Steve Zahn are terrific as the kidnap-scheming, jealous pals, but the raunchy gags borrow heavily from "There's Something About Mary" and overacting make for some flat scenes. If audiences can stomach sloppy editing, bawdy humor, and an awkward Neil Diamond cameo, this movie could quickly become a GPC (guilty pleasure classic). By Josh Burek

Staff **1/2 Kinda sweet, hit-and-miss comedy, one for Farrelly Brother fans.

Sex/Nudity: 7 scenes with innuendo, scantily clad women and male nudity. Violence: 20 scenes of mostly comic violence, including fighting. Profanity: 53 expressions, mostly mild, but some sexual references. Drugs: 7 scenes with smoking.

Shadow of the Vampire (R)

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

uuu 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.

uuu Dark, witty, nostalgic, Dafoe is best Dracula in decades.

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes, including nudity. Violence: 5 scenes, not terribly graphic. Profanity: 13 expressions both harsh and mild. Drugs: 9 scenes with smoking; 3 with drinking; and 4 scenes with drugs.

The Taste of Others (Not rated)

Director: Agnes Jaoui. With Agnes Jaoui, Alain Chabat, Anne Alvaro, Gerard Lanvin, Jean-Pierre Bacri. (112 min.)

uuu Why does affection sometimes grow between people who seem to have little or nothing in common? That's the tantalizing question running through this capably acted comedy-drama about a jaded businessman who falls in love with an actress the first time he sees her onstage. The movie doesn't reach any startling conclusions, but it takes an entertaining look at the social and romantic issues its story brings up. In French with English subtitles

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. As long as audiences settle for sloppy and substandard fare like this, Hollywood will keep spoon-feeding them more pap like it.

By Stephen Humphries

uu Romance-lite, predictable but romantic, mildly diverting.

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of innuendo, one of them fairly graphic. Violence: None. Profanity: 27 expressions, a few of them harsh. Drugs: 1 scene with smoking, 8 with drinking.

Valentine (R)

Director: Jamie Blanks. With Denise Richards, David Boreanaz. Jessica Capshaw, Marley Shelton. (96 min.)

u A masked murderer stalks a series of women, and if you can't figure out the killer's identity at least 20 minutes before the end, pay more attention to "Scream" the next time you see it. The slasher-movie genre may never die, but can't its perpetrators think up variations more clever than this by-the-numbers rehash?

1/2 The victims refuse to follow common sense, gruesome, no-brainer

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes with nudity on a TV screen, partial nudity through a shower curtain and 2 scenes with innuendo. Violence: 14 scenes including multiple gory murders by a serial killer. Profanity: 41 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 10 scenes with alcohol.

IN STORES FEB. 20

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. Field's directorial debut is less a film than a sampler box of genres - nostalgia piece, buddy flick, satire, expose, coming-of-age story. By M.K. Terrell

Book of Shadows:Blair Witch 2 (R)

Director: Joe Berlinger. With Kim Director, Jeffrey Donovan, Erica Leerhsen, Tristine Skyler. (90 min.)

u This sequel to the "Blair Witch Project" peeps at a folks exploring the woods where their predecessors met a mysterious doom. This follow-up is downright awful: acted and directed with a clunkiness that makes the first film seem professional.

Sterritt DUD Wake me when it's over, nightmarish.

Highlander: Endgame (R)

Director: Douglas Aarniokoski. With Christopher Lambert, Adrian Paul, Bruce Payne. (100 min.)

Staff * The 4th movie in the Highlander series is an obvious attempt to wring the last drop of revenue from fans. The plot is nothing new: A nemesis of the immortal Connor MacLeod has surfaced, intent on exacting revenge. By Phelippe Salazar

Staff *1/2 Confusing narrative, ultra-violent.

The Watcher (R)

Director: Joe Charbanic. With James Spader, Marisa Tomei, Keanu Reeves, Ernie Hudson. (93 min.)

Sterritt * A cop plagued by unhappy memories plays cat-and-mouse with a serial killer who torments him. The story builds occasional suspense and the gritty-glossy cinematography gives it a certain oomph. The picture's real interest lies in detailing the villain's sadistic crimes, though.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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