Family Movie Guide

This guide includes "family films," potential blockbusters, and movies that might interest young people. Only films with G ratings are tagged as all-family fare by Hollywood. Most have stronger MPAA ratings that call for extra alertness from parents. The Family Movie Guide and the Monitor's more-comprehensive Freeze Frames movie guide appear on alternate Fridays.

Star ratings from Monitor film critic David Sterritt precede the film credits. Those from a staff panel of at least three viewers follow the credits. Our ratings indicate the overall quality of movies, not their suitability for children.

o Forget It

* Poor

** Fair

*** Good

**** Excellent

The Empire Strikes Back [PG]

*** Directed by Irvin Kershner. With Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billie Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones. Running time: 118 minutes. ***

PLOT Rulers of the evil Empire fight heroic rebels trying to defeat them, and imperial mastermind Darth Vader takes interest in seducing virtuous Luke Skywalker to the dark side of the Force.

MESSAGE The forces of evil may appear strong and wily, but right-minded determination usually prevails in the end.


VIOLENCE Action-movie violence, including brief shots of dismemberment and disembowelment, enhanced with high-tech special effects.

Return of the Jedi [PG]

*** Directed by Richard Marquand. With Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams, Alec Guinness. Running time: 133 minutes.

PLOT Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo defeat the evil Empire and reclaim Luke's father for the good side of the Force.

MESSAGE Good prevails over evil in the end.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE Great deal of action-movie violence and killing. Some of it involves scary monsters, most of it enhanced with high-tech special effects.


Star Wars [PG]

*** Directed by George Lucas. With Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, David Prowse. Running time: 105 minutes. ****

PLOT Heroic rebels battle an oppressive empire, and the Force is with them all the way.

MESSAGE The struggle of good against evil is an exciting and ultimately triumphant adventure.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE Fighting and killing, including the destruction of an entire planet; bloodless but enhanced with high-impact special effects.


DRUGS/ALCOHOL Characters consume what appear to be drinks, drugs, or other intoxicating substances in the cantina scene.

Dante's Peak [PG-13]

* Directed by Roger Donaldson. With Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton. Running time: 112 minutes. **

PLOT A volcano blows its top near a Pacific Northwest town, and a handsome volcanologist tries to escort the lovely mayor, her adorable children, and their feisty grandma to safety.

MESSAGE Disaster is fun to watch but can be deadly unless you have a skillful protector.

SEX Some innuendo, and a nude-swimming scene.

VIOLENCE A huge amount of disorder, destruction, and death caused by the volcano eruption.

PROFANITY Four-letter words and other vulgarities.


Hamlet [PG-13]

*** Directed by Kenneth Branagh. With Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie, Kate Winslet, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams. Running time: 242 minutes. ****

PLOT A young prince broods over his father's death, his mother's marriage to the late king's brother, and his own desire for revenge.

MESSAGE A thoughtful young person may find much that is rotten in the existing structure of family, social, and political power.

SEX Explicit views of sexual activity and discussion of what the hero considers an incestuous marriage.

VIOLENCE Sword fighting, poisoning, stabbing.

PROFANITY Some vulgar Shakespearean wordplay.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Two drinking scenes.

Kolya [PG-13]

*** Directed by Jan Sverak. With Zdenek Sverak, Andrej Chalimon, Ondrez Vetchy, Irena Livanova. Running time: 110 minutes. ***

PLOT Not long before the fall of the Soviet bloc and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, a middle-aged Czech musician agrees to a marriage of convenience with a Russian woman. He then finds himself caring for her five-year-old son after she unexpectedly leaves the country.

MESSAGE Major social and political events can influence the everyday lives of ordinary people, including artists and children.

SEX A relatively restrained sex scene, and some innuendo; very brief nudity.


DRUGS/ALCOHOL Some drinking at a wedding reception.

Shine [PG-13]

*** Directed by Scott Hicks. With Noah Taylor, Geoffrey Rush, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Lynn Redgrave, John Gielgud. Running time: 105 minutes. ***

PLOT The musical gifts of a brilliant Australian pianist are offset by mental and emotional problems made more severe by conflicts with his father, who never recovered from seeing the Holocaust destroy his family.

MESSAGE Neither the rewards of genius nor the charms of music can make life's problems magically vanish, but a fulfilling life may eventually be achieved if one refuses to give up hope.

SeX Some sexual behavior.

VIOLENCE Domestic violence, references to the Holocaust, and scenes of severe mental illness.

PROFANITY Some four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Barroom scenes and other drinking.

Absolute Power [R]

** Directed by Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Judy Davis, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Scott Glenn. Running time: 121 minutes. ***

PLOT A jewel thief witnesses the killing of a woman by Secret Service agents during a tryst with the president, then runs from federal and local authorities while devising a way to blow the whistle yet retain his own safety.

MESSAGE Government officials are capable of great evil, and a common criminal may have a higher moral code in some respects.

SEX No nudity, but violent, kinky sex in the opening scene that goes on for several minutes.

VIOLENCE Well over two dozen violent acts including slaps, punches, strangulation in sexual encounter, and death by injection of poison liquid.

PROFANITY 22 instances; 16 mild, six harsh.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL About seven scenes with alcohol.

Donnie Brasco [R]

*** Directed by Mike Newell. With Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, Anne Heche, James Russo. Running time: 115 minutes. ***

PLOT A young FBI agent infiltrates an organized-crime family by becoming the protg of an aging hoodlum.

MESSAGE A police officer may have to use guile, deception, and betrayal to defeat criminal foes, sacrificing a stable family life in the process.

SEX Some passionate kissing and grappling.

VIOLENCE A great deal of fighting, killing, and mayhem, including a scene of especially horrifying death and dismemberment.

PROFANITY Many harsh four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Much drinking, and drug-dealing is one of the mob's illegal activities.

The English Patient [R]

*** Directed by Anthony Minghella. With Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Kristin Scott Thomas. Running time: 162 minutes. ***

PLOT Badly wounded in World War II, a pilot attempts to recover under the care of a sensitive nurse while remembering his wartime experiences and his earlier involvement with another woman.

MESSAGE Loyalties can be stretched and strained in many directions when personal and patriotic obligations overlap with one another.

SEX Nudity and several sexual scenes.

VIOLENCE Scenes of wartime violence, a graphic torture scene, illness, and severe words.

PROFANITY Some four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking and drug injections.

Lost Highway [R]

** Directed by David Lynch. With Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Blake, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Gary Busey. Running time: 135 minutes. **

PLOT A man is convicted of a horrible crime he never would have dreamed of committing, and another man is mysteriously drawn into inexplicable events that follow.

MESSAGE Life can be as brutal and bewildering as a nightmare.

SEX A number of extremely explicit sex scenes with much nudity and graphic sexual activity.

VIOLENCE A great deal of extremely explicit fighting, killing, and terrorizing, with moments of over-the-top gore.

PROFANITY Large number of four-letter words.


Love Jones [R]

** Directed by Theodore Witcher. With Larenz Tate, Nia Long, Isaiah Washington, Lisa Nicole Carson, Khalil Kain, Bill Bellamy. Running time: 110 minutes.

PLOT A young woman pursues her photography career while hesitating between her fianc, who recently broke up with her but may want her back, and a likable but somewhat pushy poet she's just met.

MESSAGE People don't always act decisively or follow their best interests when romantic complications strike.

SEX A couple of fairly explicit bedroom scenes.


PROFANITY A number of harsh four-letter words.


Private Parts [R]

* Directed by Betty Thomas. With Howard Stern, Robin Quivers, Mary McCormack, Fred Norris, Jackie Martling, Gary Dell'Abate. Running time: 90 minutes. **

PLOT Howard Stern turns a flair for vulgarity, sensationalism, and controversy into a highly successful radio career.

MESSAGE Today's radio scene is driven more by money and publicity than by good taste or social responsibility.

SEX A couple of comic sex scenes, a large amount of nudity, and a great deal of dialogue dealing with sex in many forms.

VIOLENCE Some comic fighting.

PROFANITY A large number of four-letter words and other vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking and drug use.

OTHER A great deal of scatological humor.

Rosewood [R]

*** Directed by John Singleton. With Ving Rhames, Jon Voight, Don Cheadle, Esther Rolle, Bruce McGill, Loren Dean. Running time: 142 minutes. ****

PLOT In a segregated Florida community during the 1920s, a white woman falsely claims that a black fugitive has assaulted her, touching off a rampage by bigoted whites that takes a horrifying toll in death and destruction.

MESSAGE Racial and sexual hysteria are destructive forces, but right-minded people can diminish their impact by helping the victimized.

SEX Not a lot of nudity, but three brief explicit sex scenes.

VIOLENCE Graphic racial mob violence - lynching, shooting, lots of blood, setting houses on fire, people were burning; the kind of violence that's difficult to look at.

PROFANITY Mild profanity.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Some smoking, home-brew liquor drunk out of jars.

subUrbia [R]

** Directed by Richard Linklater. With Parker Posey, Jayce Bartok, Steve Zahn. Running time: 118 minutes.

PLOT A motley crew of generation Xers hang around a strip-mall parking lot, talk about whatever pops into their heads, and dream of when their lives will take a turn for the better.

MESSAGE Contemporary suburban youths have great potential that is often dissipated by anomie, alienation, and self-destructive behavior.

SEX Some furtive sexual activity.

VIOLENCE Fighting and a possible suicide scene.

PROFANITY Many harsh four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Great deal of drinking; drug use.

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