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 movie guide appear on alternate Fridays.

Our star ratings (see below) indicate the overall quality of movies, not their suitability for children.

o Forget It

* Poor

** Fair

*** Good

**** Excellent

Cats Don't Dance [G]

*** Directed by Mark Dindal. With Scott Bakula, Natalie Cole, Jasmine Guy, George Kennedy, Hal Holbrook, Rene Auberjonois, Kathy Najimi, Betty Lou Gerson, Don Knotts, John Rhys-Davies. Running time: 80 minutes.

PLOT In the animated film, a cat leaves the Midwest for Hollywood, dreaming of success in silver-screen musicals, but runs afoul of a bratty star who doesn't like animals.

THEME Dreams don't come true easily, but cleverness and perseverance pay off in the long run.


VIOLENCE Some comic mayhem.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Some drinking.

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.


Selena [PG]

** Directed by Gregory Nava. With Jennifer Lopez, Edward James Olmos, Jon Seda. Running time: 130 minutes. ***

PLOT The life of popular Latina singer Selena Quintanilla Perez, from her start in a family rock band to her murder at an early age.

THEME Hard work and talent can conquer obstacles to a music-star career, including prejudice against Mexican-Americans on both sides of the border.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE A harrowing depiction of circumstances surrounding the heroine's violent death.

PROFANITY A few four-letter words.


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.

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.

NOTE: "Kolya" won the Oscar for best foreign film.

Liar Liar [PG-13]

** Directed by Tom Shadyac. With Jim Carrey, Justin Cooper, Jennifer Tilly. Running time: 86 minutes. ***

PLOT A fast-talking attorney runs into personal and professional trouble when his little boy makes a birthday wish that he won't be able to lie for 24 hours.

THEME Honesty is the best policy, although it may cause problems when a situation calls for diplomacy.

SEX A large amount of innuendo, sex-related dialogue, and a tape recording of sexual activity.

VIOLENCE Some cartoonish violence.

PROFANITY Four-letter words and other vulgarities.


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, other drinking.

NOTE: Geoffrey Rush won the Oscar for best actor.

The Devil's Own [R]

** Directed by Alan J. Pakula. With Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, Margaret Colin, Treat Williams, Simon Jones, Ruben Blades. Running time: 110 minutes. **

PLOT A member of the Irish Republican Army comes to New York and moves into the home of an Irish-American police officer, who doesn't know his guest is assembling a deal to buy heavy weaponry for his organization.

THEME Moral issues and personal relationships can grow very complex when people close to each other are pursuing different goals that they strongly believe in.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE At least 10 major scenes of extreme and often gruesome violence.

PROFANITY At least 39 instances.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL A good deal of drinking.

Donnie Brasco [R]

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

PLOT A young FBI agent infiltrates an organized-crime family by becoming the protege 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.

NOTE: This film won nine Academy Awards.

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 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. 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 Large number of four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking and drug use.

OTHER A great deal of scatological humor.

Secrets & Lies [R]

*** Directed by Mike Leigh. With Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Timothy Spall, Claire Rushbrook. Running time: 144 minutes. ***

PLOT Looking for her biological mother who gave her up for adoption, a middle-class black Englishwoman is surprised to discover that her mom is poor, uneducated, and white.

MESSAGE The past may hold disturbing secrets, but family ties can hold together all the same.

SEX Dialogue about extramarital sex, promiscuity.


PROFANITY A number of vulgarities.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Some drinking.

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