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

Journey to the Sun (Not rated)

Director: Yesim Ustaoglu. With Newroz Baz, Nazmi Quirix, Mizgin Kapazan. (104 min.)

Sterritt *** Friendship arises between a young Turkish man and a Kurdish rebel, but their lives darken when the law-abiding Turk is mistaken for his companion and placed under surveillance by the authoritarian police. This is only Ustaoglu's second film, but smart performances and expressive camera work mark her as a talent to watch in the future. In Turkish with English subtitles

Signs & Wonders (Not rated)

Director: Jonathan Nossiter. With Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, Debra Kara Unger. (108 min.)

Sterritt *** Portents and premonitions play important parts in the life of the main character, a Danish businessman living in Athens with his Greek-American wife, but they cause more confusion than enlightenment when an illicit love affair starts wreaking havoc with his marriage. The director of "Sunday" has crafted another unusual and imaginative drama.

Southern Comfort (Not rated)

Director: Kate Davis. With Robert Eads, Lola Cola, Max Eads. (90 min.)

Sterritt *** Nonfiction portrait of a Georgia farmer who gave birth to and raised two children, then became a male through sex-change surgery and settled down to a quiet life in a rural community where transgendered people aren't exactly common. This capably made HBO documentary takes an understated and compassionate look at a subject that is often sensationalized in other contexts.

3000 Miles to Graceland (R)

Director: Demian Lichtenstein. With Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell, Christian Slater, Courtney Cox-Arquette, Howie Long, David Kaye. (115 min.)

Staff * Kevin Costner trades in his good-guy image to play an evil-minded criminal who's obsessed with Elvis. What better way to use it than as a disguise to steal millions of dollars? During a national Elvis convention in Las Vegas, ex-cons Costner and Kurt Russell (and a few thugs) dress up as the King, pull guns from their bag, and shoot everyone in sight. They get the loot, but it's a bloody mess. And the movie's twists and turns are nonsensical and mindless. If you make it to the end, you'll laugh at how bad it is. The movie's comical moments with the young David Kaye as Cox-Arquette's streetwise son save it from being a "dud." By Lisa Leigh Parney

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE

Chocolat (PG-13)

Director: Lasse Hallstrom. With Juliette Binoche, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp. (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.

Staff ***1/2 Quirky, sweet, engaging, "Babette's Feast" redux, a visual banquet.

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of implied sex; 1 incident of innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes, including insinuations of wife-beating. Profanity: 9 mild expressions. Drugs: 5 instances of alcohol; 1 scene with smoking.

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.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes, no nudity. Violence: 11 scenes, 2 with minor blood. VP/D: None.

Down to Earth (PG-13)

Directors: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz. With Chris Rock, Chazz Palminteri, Greg Germann, Regina King. (95 min.)

Staff ** Lance (Rock), a bike messenger and aspiring comedian, is hit and killed by a truck when on his route while ogling a beautiful woman at the cross-walk. When the angels in heaven discover that it wasn't "his time" yet, they offer him a temporary body (that of an old, wealthy white man), until they can find a more appropriate one for him. With this "second chance," good-hearted Lance takes advantage of the opportunities this new body allows him, also proving that it's not what someone looks like, it's who they are that is important. There is a good moral message to this movie, but it's too crude for younger viewers and Rock's comedy is a little on the weak side. By Heidi Wilson

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes with innuendo. Violence: 8 instances, including a suicide and attempted murder. Profanity: 75 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 7 scenes with alcohol, 1 scene with smoking.

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.

Staff 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.

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.

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 makes 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 Joshua S. 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.

Sweet November (PG-13)

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

Staff ** 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

Staff ** Charming performers, anti-climactic, banal, sappy, uninvolving.

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of innuendo, 3 scenes of implied sex, no nudity. Violence: None. Profanity: 36 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 7 scenes with alcohol.

Traffic (R)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. With Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Amy Irving, Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, Dennis Quaid. (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, a few of them harsh. Drugs: 11 scenes with drugs and drug taking. 7 instances of alcohol; 7 scenes with smoking.

The Wedding Planner (PG-13)

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

Staff 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.

In stores Feb. 27 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.

Girlfight (R)

Director: Karyn Kusama. With Michelle Rodriguez, Jaime Tirelli, Paul Calderon, Santiago Douglas. (110 min.)

Sterritt ** A teenage girl uses prizefighting as an escape route from her domineering dad and oppressive working-class home. Rodriguez's acting almost scores a knockout even though the movie's directing and dialogue are fairly routine.

Staff *** Great story, powerful, impressive directorial debut.

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 by both stars, and dialogue that provokes more laughs than shivers.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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