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: Default

New Releases

The Blue Angel (Not rated)

Director: Josef von Sternberg. With Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings, Kurt Gerron, Hans Albers. (98 min.)

Sterritt **** A fussy old schoolteacher named Professor Unrath falls in love with a slinky nightclub singer named Lola Lola, whereupon his life falls apart in ways that are poignant as they are predictable. First released in 1930, this great masterpiece of German film is evocative and inventive from its first shot to its last, with brilliant use of sound and astonishing performances from two of Europe's most gifted stars. Dietrich's acting here is what made her a motion-picture legend. In German with English subtitles

Bully (Not rated)

Director: Larry Clark. With Brad Renfro, Rachel Miner, Nick Stahl, Bijou Phillips, Michael Pitt, Kelli Garner. (106 min.)

Sterritt *** Beset by verbal and physical abuse from a relentlessly aggressive friend, a group of teenagers decide to solve their problem by taking the bully out of town and killing him. Based on a real-life incident, this grim drama follows in the footsteps of Clark's notorious "Kids," combining information and titillation by showing a youthful cast enacting youth-culture behavior at its most destructive. The movie's somber message is worth heeding, and the acting is mostly excellent.

Downtown 81 (Not rated)

Director: Edo Bertoglio. With Jean Michel Basquiat, Deborah Harry, Walter Steding. (77 min.)

Sterritt ** A young artist looks for money, security, and affection during a long day when he almost gets evicted from his New York apartment. This scruffy, streetwise drama was shot in the early 1980s, but wasn't released for 20 years because of financial and technical problems. Its main value is the prolonged look it gives of the late artist Basquiat, who was 19 when he played the leading role, and looks uncannily like the actor Jeffrey Wright, who played him in the later bio-pic "Basquiat."

Final Fantasy (PG-13)

Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi. With the voices of Alec Baldwin, Ming Na, James Woods, Donald Sutherland, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames. (106 min.)

Sterritt ** It's the distant future (yet again) and Earth has been decimated by aliens. The military wants to blast them into oblivion, but the brainy and beautiful Dr. Aki Ross thinks she can solve things with a more high-minded approach. The movie is noteworthy because it's the first major Hollywood release to feature an entire cast of human characters generated completely through computer animation. While this is a striking technical feat, it poses an artistic problem. On one hand, the movie abandons the anything-goes imaginativeness of animation by slavishly imitating real-life human traits. On the other, it abandons the expressive power of genuine human performances by artificially creating all its images. Skeptics may feel that in its own small way, this sort of cinema is as dehumanizing as the aliens who serve as its intergalactic bad guys.

Legally Blonde (PG-13)

Director: Robert Luketic. With Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Victor Garber. (94 min.)

Sterritt ** When her boyfriend proposes breaking up instead of getting married, a ditsy sorority girl follows him to Harvard Law School and continues her courtship on his own turf. How does she get into such a prestigious institution? This doesn't make much sense, even by the movie's own sitcom logic, but part of the answer is a videotaped application essay featuring our heroine in a bikini - a good example of what the movie as a whole is like. Witherspoon fills the screen with bright-eyed bounce. The rest of the cast is as forgettable as the flimsy story.

Staff **1/2 Light-hearted, perky, delightful.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: None. Profanity: 15 mild expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol.

That Obscure Object of Desire (Not rated)

Director: Luis Bunuel. With Fernando Rey, Carole Bouquet, Angela Molina, Andre Weber. (103 min.)

Sterritt **** A wealthy businessman, a beautiful maid who stays just outside his reach, and a background of revolutionary rumblings are among the ingredients of this 1977 masterpiece. Cinema's greatest surrealist is at the peak of his powers in the last movie of his unparalleled career, telling a deliciously dreamlike tale with the ease and wit of a master stylist who knows how to entertain us, unsettle us, and astonish us at the same time. His most celebrated gambit here is having the servant Conchita played by two different actresses, not to reveal different sides of her personality, but to discombobulate the notion that personalities can be comprehended in the first place. This is a classic in the fullest sense. In French with English subtitles

The Score (R)

Director: Frank Oz. With Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Marlon Brando, Angela Bassett. (124 min.)

Staff ** Any movie poster boasting De Niro, Norton, and Brando - three great actors from three different generations - is sure to generate excitement. But this heist movie is also third-rate material. De Niro plays a safecracker who, you guessed it, accepts one last job before he retires to help out an in-debt Brando. Norton, as De Niro's partner, is a pleasure to watch, but like the other actors he's hardly stretching himself here. The final robbery arrives a little too late after a tortoise-paced beginning. Like the movie itself, the sequence is amiable fun, but too low-key. By Stephen Humphries

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of implied sex. Violence: 4 scenes, mostly mild. Profanity: 72 harsh expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with smoking; 4 scenes with drinking.

Currently in Release

A.I. (PG-13)

Director: Steven Spielberg. With Haley Joel Osment, Frances O'Connor, Jude Law, William Hurt. (140 min.)

Sterritt *** The time is the distant future, and 11-year-old David (Osment) is a new kind of android whose "artificial" intelligence is programmed with "authentic" emotions. Spielberg took over this fantasy from the late Stanley Kubrick, but his own approach favors the pure fantasy styles of "E.T." and "Pinocchio," bringing the results closer to a joyride than a thought-provoking parable. Be warned that the violence-prone Spielberg of "Saving Private Ryan" is also on display.

Staff ** Pointless, shallow characters, stale.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex. Violence: 20 scenes, one quite violent torture scene. Profanity: 1 expression, mild. Drugs: None.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (PG)

Directors: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. With the voices of Michael J. Fox, James Garner. (96 min.)

Staff **1/2 "Atlantis" is an attempt at an action-adventure tale set in the early 1900s - part "Indiana Jones" and part Jules Verne. Milo Thatch is a nerdish academic invited to join a submarine mission to find the lost city of Atlantis, but unforeseen dangers lurk. Fairly entertaining, but this is hardly a classic Disney cartoon. By Stephen Humphries

Staff **1/2 Exciting, heartening, energetic.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 7 scenes. Profanity: None. Drugs: 6 scenes with smoking.

Baby Boy (R)

Director: John Singleton. With Tyrese Gibson, Ving Rhames, Taraji P. Henson, Snoop Dogg. (132 min.)

Sterritt *** This melodrama centers on a young African-American who lives with his mother and her new boyfriend. The movie begins by stating a theory that years of racism have made many black men see themselves as overgrown children. This gives us a clue to Jody's way of life and kicks off the Oedipus theme that gallops through the story. Singleton still has a keen eye for urban life.

Staff **1/2 Insightful, compassionate, grave.

Sex/Nudity: 13 quite graphic instances. Violence: 11 scenes including fights and shootings. Profanity: 451 very harsh expressions. Drugs: 20 scenes with smoking, 8 scenes with drinking, 5 scenes with marijuana.

Cats & Dogs (PG)

Director: Lawrence Guterman. With Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins, Alexander Pollock, voices of Tobey Maguire, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin. (87 min.)

Sterritt * Goldblum plays a scientist working on an anti-allergy medicine, but the real action centers on wicked cats who want to take over the world and resourceful dogs who want to save us all. The plot pants so hard to please all conceivable tastes - touching every base from "Babe: Pig in the City" and "101 Dalmatians" to "Chicken Run" and the "Austin Powers" pictures - that it makes less sense than the average pet-food commercial.

uu1/2 A casual joy, not quite purrfect, witty.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 16 scenes of cartoon-like violence. Profanity: 4 very mild. Drugs: None.

Dr. Dolittle 2 (PG)

Director: Steve Carr. With Eddie Murphy, Kristen Wilson, and voices of Steve Zahn, Lisa Kudrow. (90 min.)

Staff *1/2 Murphy reprises his 1998 role as Dr. Dolittle who must help save a forest from money-hungry loggers. The writers must have thought, "Hey, if we can feature a mafia-type raccoon, a drinking monkey, and a Latino chameleon that can talk, this movie will write itself!" They were so wrong. By Lisa Leigh Parney

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: None. Profanity: 10 mild expressions. Drugs: 2 with alcohol.

The Fast and the Furious (PG-13)

Director: Rob Cohen. With Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordanna Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez. (140 min.)

Staff **1/2 Brian (Walker), a not-so-hot rookie detective goes undercover to get to the bottom of a rash of truck hijackings. But will Brian learn how to double-pump the clutch before he blows out another set of piston rings? And did I mention there are lots of neat car chases? By Alex Kaloostian

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo. Violence: 11 scenes, including fighting. Profanity: 58 harsh expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes with smoking, 3 scenes with drinking.

Kiss of the Dragon (R)

Director: Chris Nahon. With Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo, Burt Kwouk. (100 min.)

Staff ** Don't go to this martial arts movie expecting "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." There's none of that movie's nuanced acting or genteel violence on display in this tale about a Chinese policeman (Li) framed for murder while on assignment in Paris. Stylish production values and inventive choreography fail to paper up the cavernous cracks in the story, but Li's karate chops are impressive as he somehow takes on more bad guys than Rambo did in three movies. By Stephen Humphries

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of implied sex. Violence: 79 scenes, extremely violent. Profanity: 48 harsh expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with smoking, 4 scenes with drinking, 2 scenes with drugtaking of cocaine and heroin.

Scary Movie 2 (R)

Director: Damon Wayans. With Carmen Electra, Shannon Elisabeth, Hector Elizondo, Tim Curry. (88 min.)

Staff 1/2 The original Scary movie was a rather smart, funny riff on horror movies, in the "Naked Gun" vein. Well that vein has apparently run dry, for all this sequel can offer is lots of cliches and bathroom humor. You won't laugh and you won't be scared, but you may be embarrassed for the teenagers trapped in an archetypical haunted house for a weekend with Tim Curry. By Alex Kaloostian

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. The story has rollicking moments and animation fans will find a generous amount of fun.

Staff *** Irreverent, fairy tale turned inside out.

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

Tomb Raider (PG-13)

Director: Simon West. With Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight, Daniel Craig, Iain Glenn. (80 min.)

Staff DUD The plotline has young archaeologist Lara Croft (Jolie) traversing the planet's ancient temples in search of keys that control time and space. "Tomb Raider" isn't a story as much as it is a show reel of circus stunts inside elaborate sets. By Stephen Humphries

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of partial nudity - male and female. Violence: 11 scenes. Profanity: 10 mostly mild expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with smoking.

Out on Video: In stores July 17

The Caveman's Valentine (R)

Director: Kasi Lemmons. With Samuel L. Jackson, Aunjanue Ellis, Colm Feore, Ann Magnuson. (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.

The Family Man (PG-13)

Director: Brett Ratner. With Nicholas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven. (125 min.)

Staff *** This film, about a high executive businessman (Cage) given the opportunity to catch a glimpse of what his life would be like had he married his college sweetheart (Leoni), is pure Christmas. Not one offbeat word, glance, or gesture falls from their charming performances. They remain two snowflakes among holiday performances, which can oftentimes be more Scrooge than Kringle. By Christy Ellington

Staff **1/2 Slow, nice message, mushy.

The Gift (R)

Director: Sam Raimi. With Cate Blanchett, Keanu Reeves, Hilary Swank, Greg Kinnear. (120 min.)

Sterritt ** A clairvoyant woman gives information and advice to neighbors in her rural Southern community, but danger looms when an enraged husband threatens her family and one of her clients mysteriously disappears. Blanchett leads a solid cast, and Raimi gives the story a fair amount of atmosphere. Still, there's too much hokum and too little suspense in the screenplay by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson.

Staff ***1/2 "Sixth Sense" meets "What Lies Beneath;" Blanchett shines; stylish.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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