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

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

New Releases

The Road Home (Not rated)

Director: Zhang Yimou. With Zhang Ziyi, Honglei Sun, Hao Zheng, Yuelin Zhao. (89 min.)

Sterritt ***

As he prepares for his father's funeral, a man recalls the stories he's heard about the long-ago love affair between his parents, a young peasant woman and a village schoolmaster, during the 1950s - a time of transition in China between ancient folkways and new-fangled ideas like romantic love. Zhang Yimou has directed much greater films, like "Ju Dou" and "The Story of Qiu Ju," but this effort has a graceful simplicity that many will find hard to resist. Ditto for the starring performance by Zhang Ziyi, who earned fame in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Pearl Harbor (PG-13)

Director: Michael Bay. With Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hartnett, Cuba Gooding Jr. (178 min.)

Staff *

The friendship of two pilots is threatened when they both fall for the same woman on the eve of America's defeat at Pearl Harbor. The script of this self-important epic is about as well-structured as a scrambled egg, and the acting is cartoonish. Even the much-vaunted depiction of the Japanese attack, while often visually arresting, still suffers from over-frenetic editing and more emphasis on adventure thrills than befits the tragedy of Pearl Harbor. By Stephen Humphries

Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene, 11 scenes with partial nudity. Violence: 274 scenes. Profanity: 40 harsh expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes with cigarettes, 3 scenes with alcohol.

Strange Fits of Passion (Not rated)

Director: Elise McCredie. With Michela Noonan, Mitchell Butel, Samuel Johnson. (80 min.)

Staff **

The title comes from an 18th-century poem by William Wordsworth, which is fitting, since the main character is a literature fan who works in a bookstore while plotting ways to bring some romance into her life. This modest comedy-drama relies too much on stereotypes, from the self-absorbed modern poet to the gay best friend, but Noonan's earnest performance makes much of it worth watching.

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 detective Dr. Alex Cross in this well-paced thriller. 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 a Colombia drug cartel, is inherently stale. But Depp evokes emotional depth with a characteristically subtle performance, and Demme elicits fine acting from the supporting cast.

Staff ***

Realistic, 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. 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).

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.

Center of the World (Not Rated]

Director: Wayne Wang. With Peter Sarsgaard, Molly Parker, Carla Gugino. (88 min.)

Staff *

A young millionaire pays a stripper to accompany him for the weekend in this grim attempt to dissect the difference between money, sex, and emotions. Director Wang relies on a self-consciously arty digital-film style and brutally direct sex scenes - some of which border on pornographic - to make his film appear groundbreaking, but it ultimately leaves its audience cold. By Amanda Paulson

Staff *

Devoid of passion, pretentious, hollow.

Sex/Nudity: 14 scenes, often exceptionally graphic. Violence: 1 instance of beating. Profanity: 48 harsh expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes with smoking; 8 scenes with alcohol.

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 drama about problems of women in Iran today. In Farsi with English subtitles

Staff ***

Naturalistic, bare-bones acting, unsettling, not sentimental.

Sex/Nudity: 5 mild inferences. Violence: None. Profanity: 4 mild. Drugs: 1 instance of smoking.

Driven (PG-13)

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

Staff **1/2

Actor, writer, and producer Sylvester Stallone and director Renny Harlin reunite in this well-done, but flat, action-drama. 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. 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.

Eureka (Not rated)

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

Sterritt ****

After surviving a violent crime, two youngsters set off on an odyssey through the Japanese countryside with an eccentric bus driver they've befriended. Filmed 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

The Golden Bowl (R)

Director: James Ivory. With Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Northam, Uma Thurman, James Fox. (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. Ivory gives it a sumptuous visual style and an exquisitely crafted early-20th-century milieu, offering pleasures for the eye and the imagination.

Staff ***

Elegantly opulent, self-consciously arty, more surface than subtlety.

Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene, no nudity. Violence: None. Profanity: 2 mild. Drugs: 9 instances of smoking, 6 instances of drinking.

A Knight's Tale (PG-13)

Director: Brian Helgeland. With Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Paul Bettany. (132 min.)

Staff **1/2

A kid from the wrong side of town (Ledger) makes his dream of becoming a knight a reality by posing as royalty. The only thing holding him back from rivaling the best competitors from Europe - and winning the heart of a beautiful princess - is his status in society. This quest is accompanied by a surprising array of classic rock-music favorites and other light-hearted comic relief. The bloody and violent jousting prevents it from being family entertainment. By Heidi Wilson

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. This unconventionally structured thriller moves at an energetic pace, spurred by a string of clever variations on conventional film narrative.

Staff ***

A reel-ful of Polaroid moments, fresh.

Sex/Nudity: None. V: 9 scenes of violence, including a rape. Profanity: 143 harsh expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes of drinking; 1 scene with smoking.

The Mummy Returns (PG-13)

Director: Stephen Sommers. With Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Patricia Velasquez, John Hannah. (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. Writer-director Sommers serves up rousing visual effects and sword-swinging action. But there's more emphasis on computer-generated gimmickry than on persuasive acting and ideas.

Staff **1/2

Good romance, witty references to other films, over the top.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence:16 scenes, intense and scary, but not too gory. Profanity: 6 very mild expressions. Drugs: None.

Shrek (PG-13)

Directors: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson. With voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy. (90 min.)

Sterritt ***

An amiable ogre, a talkative donkey, and a domineering princess set off on a fairy-tale quest that brings out the hidden decency of the monster and the inner beauty of his royal companion. The story has rollicking moments and the visuals are amazingly realistic. Don't expect a cartoon on the level of "Toy Story," but animation fans will find a generous amount of fun.

Staff ***

Irreverent, fairytale turned inside out, fabulous animation.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: None. Profanity: 4 mild. Drugs: None.

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. 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.

Startup.com (R)

Director: Jehane Noujaim. With Chris Hedegus. (103 min.)

Staff ***1/2

This fast-paced documentary follows the mercurial partnership of two longtime friends as they found a dotcom during the height of the internet gold rush. Startup.com epitomizes the Icarus mentality of the late 1990s, with numerous dotcom cliches becoming exquisite dark humor for the audience that knows the stock market "correction" is just around the corner. The film is ably edited and has a superb soundtrack, though the handheld camerawork can be dizzying. By Ben Arnoldy

Staff ***

Dark humor, makes you forget you're watching a documentary, well-edited.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: None. Profanity: 28 harsh. Drugs: None.

In Stores May 29

The House of Mirth (PG)

Director: Terence Davies. With Gillian Anderson, Dan Aykroyd, Laura Linney, Eric Stoltz. (124 min.)

Sterritt ***

Anderson shines with dark beauty in this sensitive adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel about a socially ambitious woman who falls prey to the unforgiving nature of foes and friends alike. Wharton's compassion and Davies's taste for artfully wrought melodrama make an unusual but ultimately successful combination.

Staff ***1/2

Remarkably detailed, elegant.

Shadow of the Vampire (R)

Director: E. Elias Merhige. With Willem Dafoe, John Malkovich, Catherine McCormack, Udo Keir. (91 min.)

Sterritt ***

This inventive comic nightmare looks at the making of the 1921 horror classic "Nosferatu." It posits the whimsical idea that the Dracula character was portrayed by a real vampire. Malkovich is amusing as German director F.W. Murnau, and Dafoe steals the show as a vampire playing an actor playing a vampire.

Staff ***

Dark, witty, nostalgic.

Traffic (R)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. With Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio Del Toro. (140 min.)

Sterritt ***

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

Layered, innovative, ambitious.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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