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

Eureka (Not rated)

Director: Shinji Aoyama. With Yakusho Koji, Miyazaki Aoi, Miyazaki Masaru, Saitoh Yohichiroh. (217 min.)

Sterritt **** After surviving a violent crime, two youngsters set off on a meandering odyssey through the Japanese countryside with an eccentric bus driver they've befriended, only to discover that ongoing eruptions of violence are traveling in their wake. Filmed in a style at once intimate and expansive, with understated acting and brilliant use of wide-screen black-and-white cinematography, Aoyama's celebrated movie is an ambitious psychological drama and a probing look at the intersections of kinship and friendship. In Japanese with English subtitles

Ice From the Sun (Not rated)

Director: Eric Stanze. With DJ Vivona, Ramona Midgett, Angela Zimmerly, Todd Tevlin. (117 min.)

Sterritt ** A young woman is recruited to battle a mysterious presence that threatens humanity with violence and malevolence. Imaginatively filmed on what was obviously a shoestring budget, this underground shocker has moments of real visual creativity, along with a surprisingly talky screenplay and a general disregard for anything resembling old-fashioned good taste.

The Mummy Returns (PG-13)

Director: Stephen Sommers. With Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Patricia Velasquez, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Alun Armstrong, The Rock. (125 min.)

Sterritt ** A handsome adventurer and his Egyptologist wife dash through an Indiana Jones-style story about the resurrection of a three-millennium-old nemesis, the lurking danger of a long-buried warrior, and the appearance of a very ominous bracelet on their son's arm. Writer-director Sommers serves up rousing visual effects, smart-alecky dialogue, and sword-swinging action. But there's more emphasis on computer-generated gimmickry than on persuasive acting and ideas, and there's not a moment of real feeling in this expensive but empty-hearted epic.

The Young Girl and the Monsoon (Not rated)

Director: James Ryan. With Terry Kinney, Ellen Muth, Milio Avital, Domenick Lombardozzi. (90 min.)

Sterritt ** A well-meaning photojournalist and his 13-year-old child navigate the challenges of single fatherhood and adolescent insecurity. The dad tries to be a sophisticated New Yorker while hiding his mercurial love life from his impressionable kid, and the daughter wonders how she's supposed to learn about life when her father would rather evade her questions than soothe her uncertainties. This likable comedy-drama gets most of its oomph from acting that reveals the psychological shortcomings of the characters with wit and insight.

Currently in Release Along Came A Spider (R)

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

Staff **1/2 Morgan Freeman is back as detective Dr. Alex Cross in this well-paced thriller, which is technically the prequel to "Kiss the Girls." He's on the trail of a villain 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.

Sex/Nudity: 1 reference to sex. Violence: 9 instances of fairly graphic violence, including one car crash and several shootings. Profanity: 9 harsh expressions. Drugs: 1 cigarette.

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.

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

Sex/Nudity: Brief nude shots in a photo collage, topless women in a pool, and backside shots of nude women. Violence: Graphic fighting scenes with guns and 1 slap to a woman. Profanity: 134 harsh expressions. Drugs: 31 scenes with alcohol and 39 with drugs.

Bridget Jones's Diary (R)

Director: Sharon Maguire. With Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent. (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, 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.

Staff ***1/2 Exaggerated, v.g. (very good), very British.

Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes, no nudity. 3 instances of innuendo and several sexual references. Violence: 1 scene with a fistfight. Profanity: 35 including many harsh expressions. Drugs: 15 scenes of smoking and drinking.

The Claim (R)

Director: Michael Winterbottom. With Peter Mullan, Sarah Polley, Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinski. (120 min.)

Sterritt ** An offbeat adaptation of Thomas Hardy's eccentric novel "The Mayor of Casterbridge," about a self-made man whose privileged existence masks two secrets: a sordid episode in his past, and an unstable personality that threatens to reemerge when life and love stop going his way. It's not clear why Winterbottom has moved the story to California in 1869; in any case, his version seems more clever than heartfelt.

Staff **1/2 Atmospheric, epic, a snowed-in western.

Sex/Nudity: 7 scenes with implied sex and partial or full nudity. 4 instances of innuendo. Violence: 9 scenes including a brawl, gunfights and a suicide. Profanity: 7 including many harsh expressions. Drugs: 9 scenes of smoking. 7 scenes of drinking.

Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (PG)

Director: Simon Wincer. With Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski. (92 min.)

Staff * You'll sooner find snow on Ayers Rock than you will laughs in this third outing of the Crocodile Dundee series. The flimsiest plot device sends Dundee, his girlfriend, and child from the Australian outback to Los Angeles. Dundee then wanders about L.A. from one flat episode to another. Stay home and watch the real crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, on the cable's "Animal Planet" instead.

By Stephen Humphries

Driven (PG-13)

Director: Renny Harlin. With Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Estelle Warren, Gina Gershon. (120 min.)

Sterritt **1/2 Actor, writer, and producer Sylvester Stallone and director Renny Harlin hope to re-create the success they had with "Cliffhanger" in this well-done, but flat, action-drama. The story of this racing-car tale is pure formula: A young rookie beats all odds to come out on top, and finds out what he's made of. But it's the racing scenes that take center stage, and the crashes are among the most realistic ever put on film. By Alex Kaloostian

Staff DUD Predictable, insipid, hokey, overwrought, belongs on the scrap heap.

Sex/Nudity: 4 instances of innuendo and numerous shots of scantily clad women. Violence: 7 scenes of video game-like car crashes, no gore. Profanity: 11 mild expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol.

The Golden Bowl (R)

Director: James Ivory. With Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Northam, Uma Thurman, James Fox, Anjelica Huston. (130 min.)

Sterritt *** Henry James's psychologically dense novel inspired this introspective drama about an American businessman and his daughter, who discover that their new spouses share a hidden past. Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and produced by Ismail Merchant, the film will be too staid and stolid for audiences on the hunt for easy entertainment. Ivory gives it a sumptuous visual style and an exquisitely crafted early-20th-century milieu, though, offering fine pleasures for the eye and the imagination.

The Luzhin Defence (PG-13)

Director: Marleen Gorris. With John Turturro, Emily Watson, Stuart Wilson, Geraldine James. (108 min.)

Sterritt ** Turturro plays a chess master whose brilliance with knights and pawns is offset by an insecure, even bumbling approach to other aspects of life. Visiting an Italian resort to play an important match, he gets romantically involved with a beautiful Russian woman. The story (based on a Vladimir Nabokov novel) has promise, but it fails to score a checkmate because of Gorris's failure to build dramatic momentum.

One Night at McCool's (R)

Director: Harald Zwart. With Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, Michael Douglas, John Goodman, Paul Reiser. (93 min).

Sterritt ** Tyler plays a loose-living woman whose beauty bedazzles every romance-starved man who takes a look at her - including a lawyer who lusts for her, a barfly whose house she decides to rob, and a policeman trying to crack a murder she's bumbled her way into. There's plenty of sex and violence in this "Pulp Fiction"-style comedy, but it's all so fast and frenetic that you may notice its MTV-style energy more than its gross-out moments.

Staff ** Funny but no story, aimless, Tyler vamps it up well.

Sex/Nudity: 12 instances of sexual activity, no nudity. Violence: 9 scenes, including gory deaths. Profanity: 49 harsh expressions. Drugs: 12 scenes with alcohol and 10 with drugs.

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. With bright colors and child-friendly names and settings, the movie definitely skews toward the under-10 set. By Gloria Goodale

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 12 scenes of comic violence. Profanity: None. Drugs: 2 instances with drinking.

Town and Country (R)

Director: Peter Chelsom. With Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Gary Shandling, Goldie Hawn, Andie McDowell. (106 min.)

Staff **1/2 Mona and Griffin, Ellie and Porter are the "oldest friends." But when Mona (Hawn) discovers her husband is cheating on her with a redhead, she sets off a domino effect of midlife crises within the group of friends. There are so many twists and turns in this light-hearted, sometimes hilarious, comedy that it's a wonder they are untangled by the movie's end.

By Katie Nesse

With a Friend Like Harry... (R)

Director: Dominik Moll. With Laurent Lucas, Sergi Lopez, Mathilde Seigner, Sophie Guillemin. (117 min.)

Sterritt *** With a friend like Harry you don't need enemies, and with a foreign movie like this - a startling, suspenseful ride few will forget in a hurry -you don't need Hollywood pictures. Lopez is perfect as an off-kilter old friend who barges into the life of a high-school pal and starts doing shady, violent favors that nobody ever asked him for. Moll mingles mystery with humor in just the right proportions. The result is a pitch-dark tragicomedy that deserves the often-abused adjective "Hitchcockian."

In French with English subtitles

Machismo: Sylvester Stallone (left) and Christian de la Fuente star as Formula One-style race-car drivers in 'Driven.'

Andrew Cooper/New Line Cinema

IN STORES MAY 8

Duets (R)

Director: Bruce Paltrow. With Paul Giamatti, Gwyneth Paltrow, Andre Braugher, Huey Lewis. (113 min.)

Sterritt ** This meandering comedy-drama uses karaoke singing as a ready-made metaphor for the notion that life's true pleasures may have little to do with professional ambition. The movie is too crisp and calculated to match the moods of its wild and woolly characters.

Staff ** Comical, surfacey, lacks character development.

Sunshine (R)

Director: Istvan Szabo. With Ralph Fiennes, Deborah Kara Unger, William Hurt, Jennifer Ehle. (180 min.)

Sterritt ** The epic story of a Hungarian Jewish family coping with convulsive events of 20th-century history. The frequently grim story takes on an emotional momentum that carries the picture past its plentiful dull spots.

Staff *** Sweeping, powerful, too long.

What Women Want (PG-13)

Director: Nancy Meyers. With Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei. (123 min.)

Sterritt ** Gibson makes an energetic entrance into romantic comedy with his portrayal of a self-centered advertising man who acquires the ability to read women's thoughts. Still, the dialogue isn't quite as sparkling and the plot twists aren't quite as snappy as you want them to be.

Yi Yi (A One and a Two) (Not rated)

Director: Edward Yang. With Wu Nienjen, Issey Ogata, Elaine Jin. (173 min.)

Sterritt **** The insightful story of a Taiwanese family facing various challenges. Yang favors a gentle and introspective style that shows how deep and strong everyday emotions can run. A memorable treat.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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