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 releases

Blow Dry (R)

Directed by Paddy Breathnack. With Alan Rickman, Natasha Richardson, Rachael Leigh Cook, Josh Hartnett, Rachel Griffiths. (105 min.)

Staff **1/2 In the quirky style of 'Strictly Ballroom,' Simon Beaufoy, writer of 'The Full Monty,' brings us 'Blow Dry,' the outrageous yet simple story of the competitively hair-obsessed. When the National Hairdressing Competition comes to a small town in England, a hair-styling family, long ago broken by a 'mom-gone-lesbian' relationship, must decide to come together to win back the championship. It's bizarre, but the use of odd-shock humor keeps it fun as the story of the never-ending relationship process unfolds. By Christy Ellington

S/N: 4 scenes of implied sex; including 1 scene with nudity. V: None. P: 22 harsh and mild expressions. D: 5 instances of alcohol; 5 scenes with smoking.

The Caveman's Valentine (R)

Director: Kasi Lemmons. With Samuel L. Jackson, Aunjanue Ellis, Colm Feore, Ann Magnuson, Sean MacMahon, Tamara Tunie, Anthony Michael Hall. (103 min.)

Sterritt ** Jackson gives a lively and generally credible performance as the unlikely hero: a homeless man with a deranged mind, a talent for music, and enough clues to solve a murder if the world would just pay attention to him. More psychological realism and less showy cinema would have made this offbeat melodrama more memorable, though.

15 Minutes (R)

Director: John Herzfeld. With Robert De Niro, Edward Burns, Kelsey Grammer, Karel Roden, Oleg Taktarov, Avery Brooks. (120 min.)

Sterritt ** A homicide cop and an arson investigator get into a New York tussle with two thugs from Eastern Europe who think their violent schemes will bring fame and fortune as long as the media play into their hands. The premise is promising, but Herzfeld cares more about sensationalism than substance, and portions of the picture are far nastier than they had to be.

The Gleaners and I (Not rated)

Director: Agnes Varda. With Agnes Varda. (82 min.)

Sterritt **** A fascinating nonfiction voyage into rural and urban France, focusing on idiosyncratic individuals who live off things the rest of us throw away, from food to furniture. Varda carries this concept a step further by recognizing that she herself has been a gleaner during her long filmmaking career, capturing images and situations that usually go unnoticed by people living busy lives. Originally called "Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse." In French with English subtitles

The Magnet (Not rated)

Director: Kamel Saleh, Akhenaton. With Kamel Saleh, Akhenaton, Brahim Aimad, Malek Brahimi. (100 min.)

Sterritt ** Love and crime are preoccupations of the main characters, ethnic-minority Frenchmen coping with poverty, discrimination, and their own self-created problems. The story and filmmaking are only sporadically interesting, but the movie deserves credit for exploring little-seen aspects of life in an increasingly multicultural France. Originally called "Comme un aimant." In French with English subtitles

So Close to Paradise (Not rated)

Director: Wang Xiaoshuai. With Wang Tong, Shi Yu, Guo Tao, Wu Tao. (90 min.)

Sterritt *** Shanghai is the setting of this sociologically revealing tale about two rural men who move to the big city, take different paths toward what they hope will be happy lives - one as a worker, the other as a crook - and find themselves at odds when a kidnapping scheme goes in wildly unexpected directions. Strong acting and no-nonsense filmmaking lend interest and impact to the dramatic story. In Mandarin with English subtitles

When Brendan Met Trudy (Not rated)

Director: Kieron J. Walsh. With Peter McDonald, Flora Montgomery, Marie Mullen, Pauline McLynn, Don Wicherley. (95 min.)

Sterritt ** He's a quiet schoolteacher who spends his time singing hymns and watching old movies, and she's a lively young woman with a secret life that takes her new boyfriend totally by surprise. McDonald and Montgomery are fun to watch in this mildly amusing Irish romantic comedy.

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.

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 scenes with 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. 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 martial-arts genre. In Mandarin with English subtitles

Staff **** 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 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. 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. 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 weakness for cannibalism, and an odd affection for FBI agent Clarice Starling. Scott has directed the picture with his usual heavy touch 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 **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.

The Mexican (R)

Director: Gore Verbinski. With Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Bob Balaban, J.K. Simmons, David Krumholtz, Gene Hackman. (123 min.)

Sterritt *** Pressured by mobsters, a small-time crook takes on one last job - retrieving an exotic pistol from a Mexican village - which places him in very hot water and lands his estranged girlfriend in the hands of an eccentric kidnapper. Lively acting and stylish directing make this an engaging comedy-drama, although its attitude toward guns and violence is disconcertingly romantic.

Staff **1/2 Edgy, disappointing, quirky, Gandolfini shines.

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of innuendo. Violence: 14 scenes, including suicide and gunshots wounds. Profanity: 15 harsh expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with smoking.

Pollock (R)

Director: Ed Harris. With Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Tambor, Jennifer Connelly, Bud Cort. (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. Though the filmmaking sinks into cliches at times, it is enriched by its fine acting, and by its creative respect for an innovator whose influence still permeates contemporary art.

Recess: School's Out (G)

Director: Chuck Sheetz. With voices of Dabney Coleman, Melissa Joan Hart, Peter MacNichol. (84 min.)

Staff **1/2 Another brats-to-the-rescue fable. This time the TV gang from Disney's "Recess" must stop a renegade school principal who kidnaps the real principal, and makes a school his lab for turning Earth into a snowball. Eliminate summer, he reasons, and kids will study all year round. Good fun for the K-5 set with some good chuckles for parents. The story is lively enough to overcome its TV-style animation, but the final battle (water balloons, condiment squirting, cafeteria soup) may be a bit too much for some preschoolers. By M.K. Terrell

uu1/2 Spunky, punchy, chuckle-worthy.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 6 scenes of comic violence. Profanity: None. Drugs: None.

See Spot Run (PG)

Director: John Whitesell. With David Arquette, Michael Clarke Duncan, Leslie Bibb, Paul Sorvino. (93 min.)

Staff * Arquette plays Gordon, a letter carrier who has a problem with dogs and is clueless when it comes to kids. Suddenly he finds himself in charge of a beautiful neighbor's little boy and an FBI dog that a drug lord wants to bump off. The bungling hit men provide some laughs, Jones is marvelous as the kid, and Arquette shows a flair for physical comedy and warm male bonding scenes. Sadly, the director's uneveness of tone and poor sense of comic timing thwart the cast's efforts. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 1 incident with innuendo. Violence: 12 scenes of comic violence. Profanity: 10 mild expressions. Drugs: None.

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 *** This multifaceted drama amounts to a commentary on the American war against drugs. Some of the action seems a bit confused, as if story material were left on the cutting-room floor, and sentimentality creeps in at times. Still, the picture's thoughtfulness and ambition make it 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.

OUT ON VIDEO in stores Mar. 13

Almost Famous (R)

Director: Cameron Crowe. With Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee, Anna Paquin, Philip Seymour Hoffman. (122 min.)

Sterritt *** The adventures of a very young rock-music journalist who accompanies a second-rate band on tour in the early '70s, chasing his story through a maze of distractions. Crowe's screenplay is loosely based on his past experiences, and a sense of authenticity and sincerity shines through. Best of all is Hoffman as Lester Bangs, the legendary rock critic who sees gloomy prospects for a pop scene that's getting too grown-up for its own good.

Staff ***1/2 A valentine to '70s rock, poignant, funny.

The Crew (PG-13)

Director: Michael Dinner. With Burt Reynolds, Richard Dreyfuss, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jennifer Tilly. (88 min.)

Staff * Facing a rent increase, four retired thugs in Miami concoct a shady scheme to combat the hike. But watching this cast of middle-aged actors pretending to be nearly on their deathbeds is just plain old depressing. A criminal use of some good actors. By Katherine Dillin

The Tao of Steve (R)

Director: Jenniphr Goodman. With Donal Logue, Greer Goodman, David Aaron Baker. (87 min.)

Sterritt *** The hero is a self-indulgent kindergarten teacher who calls his hedonistic philosophy the Tao of Steve, named after the Eastern concept of harmony with the world, and the Western worship of ultracool celebrities like Steve McQueen. But his ideas start changing when he meets a mature new girlfriend who encourages him to grow up a little. Logue's magnetic performance is the movie's main virtue, supported by a sharply written screenplay.

Staff *** Hip, witty, likable characters.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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