Monitor Movie Guide

Sterritt * Red stars denote the reviews of Monitor movie critic David Sterritt unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor panel (Staff *blue stars) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other moviegoers. Information on violence(v), drugs (d), sex/nudity (s/n), and profanity (p) is compiled by the Monitor panel.

Bridget Jones's Diary (R)

Director: Sharon Maguire. With Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones. (94 min.)

Sterritt ** A romantic Englishwoman searches for a man who won't mind her slightly bulky figure and slightly dissolute habits, and finds herself dallying with her cocky boss while dodging the company of a lawyer who'd be a duller but more dignified partner. This lightweight comedy evidently sees itself as a Jane Austen spinoff in the "Clueless" vein - Firth even plays a character called Mr. Darcy - and fans of the genre will enjoy it if they're not distracted by trite plot twists, Firth's one-note formality, or Zellweger's on-and-off English accent.

The Circle (Not rated)

Director: Jafir Panahi. With Fereshteh Sadr Orafai, Maryiam Parvin Almani. (91 min.)

Sterritt **** A pregnant woman in despair, two women running from a prison sentence, and a grandmother who dreads her family's reaction to the birth of a baby girl are among the main characters of this suspenseful and ingeniously directed drama about problems of women in Iran today. Banned in its own country, the film stands with the most compelling movies ever made about specifically female challenges and tribulations. In Farsi with English subtitles

Josie and the Pussycats (PG-13)

Directors: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont. With Rachael Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson, Tara Reid, Alan Cumming, Parker Posey. (98 min.)

Sterritt *** Our heroines are wannabe rock stars who soar to fame and fortune without quite knowing why, then stumble on a sinister scheme for selling pop-culture products through subliminal messages. The action is as perky as the main characters, all of whom are awesomely cute, and the ubiquitous Mr. Moviephone makes an amusing contribution to the plot. It's ironic that this satire of pop commercialism sets a record for product-placement plugs, but ironies like this should appeal to hip young viewers.

States of Control (Not rated)

Director: Zack Winestine. With Jennifer van Dyck, John Cunningham, Ellen Greene, Stephen Bogardus. (85 min.)

Sterritt ** Married to a sexually dysfunctional man and discontented with her work as a small-time actress, a woman mulls over increasingly radical ideas for some explosive gesture that will change the course of her life. The acting is ordinary and the story's basic idea is naive, but Winestine conjures up enough involving moments to create some drama.

Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras (Not rated)

Directors: Mike Lyddon, Will Frank, Karl DeMolay. With Matt James, Lorelei Fuller, Jason Deas. (75 min.)

Sterritt * You guessed it, zombies wreak havoc on the New Orleans festival, which is photographed in grainy black-and-white images that make it hard to distinguish from the movie's pure fantasy elements. Fans of unregenerate underground moviemaking will have a ball, and there's a creepy charm to the picture's proudly homemade quality. Look out for lots of sex and gore, but it's shot with such deliberate amateurishness that viewers will spend less time being shocked than trying to figure out what's on the screen.

Currently in Release

Along Came A Spider (R)

Director: Lee Tamahori. With Morgan Freeman, Monica Potter, Michael Wincott, Jay O. Sanders. (104 min.)

Sterritt **1/2 Morgan Freeman is back as Washington detective Dr. Alex Cross in this well-paced thriller, which is technically the prequel to "Kiss the Girls." He's on the trail of an intelligent and cunning villain - Gary Soneji (Michael Wincott) - who has kidnapped the daughter of a US senator. "Along Came a Spider" is filled with surprising twists, which often evoke a smile. By Steven Savides

Staff * Stale dialogue, ridiculous twists, Morgan Freeman is the only redeeming aspect.

VS/N: 1 reference to sex. VV: 9 instances of fairly graphic violence, including one car crash and several shootings. VP: 9 harsh expressions. VD: 1 cigarette.

Amores Perros (Not rated)

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. With Gael Garcia Bernal, Goya Toledo. (153 min.)

Sterritt *** Dogs and a cataclysmic car accident play key roles in this sometimes enticing, frequently savage Mexican drama, which weaves three stories into a sustained look at the complicated lives of a canine named Cofi and his human companions. Gonzalez Inarritu is a highly promising new talent, although his depictions of animal travails will put this movie way off-limits for many viewers. In Spanish with English subtitles

Blow (R)

Director: Ted Demme. With Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ray Liotta, Paul Reubens, Rachel Griffiths. (119 min.)

Sterritt ** The fact-based story of George Jung, a small-time California crook who became a big-time associate of Pablo Escobar's notorious Colombia drug cartel, is inherently stale, especially since Martin Scorsese did it better in the 1990 hit "GoodFellas." But Depp evokes emotional depth with a characteristically subtle performance, and Demme elicits fine acting from the strong supporting cast.

Staff *** Realistic, compelling, thought-provoking.

VS/N: Brief nude shots in a photo collage, topless women in a pool, and backside shots of nude women. VV: Graphic fighting scenes with guns and 1 slap to a woman. VP: 134 harsh expressions. VD: 31 scenes with alcohol and 39 with drugs.

The Brothers (R)

Director: Gary Hardwick. With Bill Bellamy, Morris Chestnut, D.L. Hughley, Shemar Moore. (103 min.)

Staff ** Commitment suddenly becomes an issue in the lives of four 30-ish African-American buddies when it dawns on them that they could be taking a more mature approach to relationships with women. The results for them and their loved ones are dramatic and sometimes hilarious. Despite predictable plotting, uneven acting and direction, and sexual banter more raunchy than necessary, positive values shine through.

By M.K. Terrell

VS/N: 11 scenes of innuendo and frank talk; 4 scenes of implied sex. VV: 5 scenes, including a fight and shooting. VP: 146 mostly harsh expressions. VD: 10 instances of drinking; 2 scenes with smoking.

The Day I Became a Woman (Not rated)

Director: Marziyeh Meshkini. With Fatemeh Cheragh, Shabnam Toloui, Azizeh Seddighi. (75 min.)

Sterritt **** This exquisitely filmed Iranian drama tells three separate stories focusing on women's lives. One heroine is a nine-year-old girl deciding how to spend the last remaining hour before she officially becomes a woman by the standards of her culture; another is a wife who decides to assert her independence despite opposition from her husband, and the third is an elderly woman trying for a different kind of independence by making whimsical use of money that's fallen into her hands. Every episode is charged with humanity and compassion. In Farsi with English subtitles

Heartbreakers (R)

Director: David Mirkin. With Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Gene Hackman, Anne Bancroft. (124 min.)

Staff ** A mother (Weaver) and daughter (Hewitt) use their looks and low-cut dresses to scam their way through life. The senior partner marries millionaires and then, before the marriage can be consummated, gets the daughter to tempt the groom to ensure a speedy divorce with a big payoff. The cast is better than the material, especially Gene Hackman as a chain-smoking tobacco company executive in constant self-denial about the dangers of cigarettes.

By Stephen Humphries

Staff ** Not funny, unoriginal, vapid.

VS/N: 11 scenes of mostly innuendo and frank talk. VV: 11 scenes of slapstick violence. VP: 53 expressions, some harsh. VD: 6 instances of drinking; 25 scenes with smoking.

Memento (R)

Director: Christopher Nolan, With Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano. (118 min.)

Sterritt *** A young man hunts the criminal who murdered his wife, hampered by a physical condition that obliterates his short-term memory on a day-by-day basis. How do you conduct a life-or-death quest under such circumstances? You write yourself endless notes, tattoo crucial information on your skin, and hope your cause is just enough to succeed. This unconventionally structured thriller moves at an energetic pace, spurred by clever variations on conventional film narrative.

Stafft *** A reel-ful of Polaroid moments, fresh, intricate, long.

VS/N: None. V: 9 scenes of violence, including a rape. VP: 143 harsh expressions. VD: 6 instances of drinking; 1 scene with smoking.

Someone Like You (PG-13)

Director: Tony Goldwyn. With Ashley Judd, Greg Kinnear, Hugh Jackman, Marisa Tomei, Ellen Barkin. (93 min.)

Staff *1/2 Any attempt to reinvent the romantic comedy is welcome, but this Ashley Judd vehicle can't quite wrest itself from the genre's conventions. Judd plays a single woman who gets dumped by a Lothario in sheep's clothing (Kinnear). Stung, she adopts a pseudonym for a woman's magazine and begins to serialize her theories about why men can't commit by observing her roommate (Jackman), a king of one-night stands. Judd is winsome, but wearisome ruminations about relationships are no substitute for plot.

By Stephen Humphries

Staff ** Sweet, singles-esqe, refreshing, believable, never quite jells, lacks chemistry

VS/N: 4 sex scenes of mostly innuendo and frank talk. VV: None. VP: 23 expressions, mostly harsh. VD: 7 instances of drinking.

Spy Kids (PG)

Director: Robert Rodriguez. With Antonio Banderas, George Clooney, Alan Cumming, Teri Hatcher. (93 min.)

Staff ** Billed as a spy caper for all ages, "Spy Kids," is indeed that. Carmen and Juni Cortez are two ordinary kids who must save their parents - and the world - from the evil techno-wizard, Floop. They are thrust into a high-tech world of spies and skullduggery, complete with a movie full of goofy but imaginative hardware, including cars that can both float and fly and the niftiest jetpack of any recent spy flick. With bright colors and child-friendly names and settings, the movie definitely skews toward the under-10 set.

By Gloria Goodale

VS/N: None. VV: 12 scenes of comic violence. VP: None. VD: 2 instances with drinking.

The Tailor of Panama (R)

Director: John Boorman. With Geoffrey Rush, Pierce Brosnan, Jamie Lee Curtis, Brendon Gleeson. (110 min.)

Sterritt ** Brosnan plays a spy who's sent to Panama and Rush plays a con artist who uses his profession - tailor to the rich and famous - as a front for more slippery activities. The movie strains too hard to seem smart and savvy, though, with touches of offbeat filmmaking that suggest a mood of unpredictable fun but prove to be a momentary sideshow.

Staff ** Implausible plot, too heavy, Rush is great.

VS/N: 12 scenes, including some innuendo and brief sex scenes with seminudity. VV: 4 scenes, including some beatings and rioting. VP: 48 mostly harsh expressions. VD: 18 scenes with smoking and/or drinking.

in stores apr. 17

Bamboozled (R)

Director: Spike Lee. With Damon Wayans, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Savion Glover. (135 min.)

Sterritt *** Spurred by a mixture of personal and professional motives, an African-American writer dreams up an outrageous TV concept - a modern-day minstrel show - and contrary to his expectations it becomes a smash, making blatant racism the hottest thing in entertainment. It's a unique blend of history and hysteria.

Billy Elliot (R)

Director: Stephen Daldry. With Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Gary Lewis. (110 min.)

Sterritt *** The sprightly tale of a feisty lad who lives in England's coal-mining country and wants to become a ballet dancer even though his family thinks that's no ambition for a real man. The movie does a fine job of integrating its political interests with a love of dancing.

Staff **** Year's best, contagious energy, sweet story, a pure joy.

Hamlet (R)

Director: Michael Almereyda. With Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Sam Shepard, Diane Venora. (111 min.)

Sterritt **** There's amazingly sharp creativity in this New York-based interpretation of the timeless tragedy. The acting is smart and gritty, and Almereyda's visual style has a raw immediacy.

Staff **1/2 Royalty meets a New York minute, innovative, tragic, entertaining.

Space Cowboys (PG-13)

Director: Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones. (126 min.)

Sterritt *** Three aging test pilots undertake a NASA mission to repair a Soviet space satellite in orbit, uncovering a cold-war secret along the way. The story takes a while to get started, but the acting is lively.

Staff *** Classy, fun, engaging, intelligent.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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