Freeze Frames: The Monitor Movie Guide

Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted. Ratings and comments by the panel (end of review) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other viewers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews

o Forget It

+ Poor

++ Fair

+++ Good

++++ Excellent

New Releases

FIRE (Not rated)

++ Two women in a New Delhi household develop a romantic relationship with each other, driven by frustration with their husbands - one who refuses to end an extramarital romance, and one who takes a vow of celibacy without considering his wife's wishes. Written and directed by Deepa Mehta, this Indian production is not filmed very interestingly, but reveals much about conflicts between traditional and modern attitudes in Indian society. Contains sex and a little nudity. S N V


+++ Four jobless men become so desperate for work that they decide to explore the male-stripper profession. Peter Cattaneo's comedy has brash and boisterous scenes, but its message about the humiliations of unemployment is serious and insightful, and applies far beyond the English setting of this story. Contains a small amount of nudity. N P V


+++ A woman becomes the first female to enter a rigorous Navy Seal training program and discovers that various people want to see her fail. Instead of exploring issues, Ridley Scott's drama turns them into sledgehammers and whomps you over the head with them. The action is often gripping, if you can stand the bone-battering violence and raunchy language, and the images have a color-drained grimness that makes you feel you're in the same dismal surroundings as the characters. The picture's big moral problem is a failure to ask whether brutal, sadistic military training is really an excellent route to strength of mind and character. Demi Moore is the hard-working star. V S N P

+++ Hard-hitting, intense, thought-provoking.


++ The setting is Harlem in the 1930s, and the "hero" is an African-American gangster fighting to stop psychopathic mobster Dutch Schultz from taking over the numbers racket in his territory. Laurence Fishburne and Tim Roth play the main characters with conviction, but Bill Duke's punchy filmmaking style banishes any hope of storytelling subtlety or psychological nuance. Contains disturbingly graphic violence. V P S N


O\ The low-quality sitcom plot begins when a sleazy 1990s Eddy Haskell persuades the Beaver to join the football team to persuade the proud Mr. Cleaver to spring for the bicycle the Beav' covets. It pretty much works - just part of the faint glow of cynicism around this ill-conceived and poorly executed movie. It doesn't have any campy fun by playing off the television original nor does it achieve any of the nostalgic reassurance of watching reruns. By Marshall Ingwerson

+Slow, unimaginative, boring.


+A smart-alecky student saves a school from an extortionist who's holding kids for ransom. Only a few spunky moments from Patrick Stewart, who plays the villain with campy exaggeration, save the movie from complete failure. Roger Christian directed. V P


++ A brave scientist battles a hostile life form that invades New York, able to change its form and attack when least expected. The adventure is well-acted by Mira Sorvino and Giancarlo Giannini, among others, and imaginatively directed by Guillermo Del Toro, who gives a new twist to old science-fiction effects. In the end, though, the tale cares more about action and violence than characters and ideas. V P S

+Ludicrous, dark, grotesque.


+A sassy but good-hearted con man (Chris Tucker), wrongly accused of killing police officers during a prison break, teams with a struggling reporter (Charlie Sheen) in an attempt to clear his name. Heather Locklear has a cameo as Sheen's high-society fianc. Tucker's over-the top acting kills any potential comedy, and every other word from his mouth is foul. The plot seems a reworked version of many seen before. By Laura Lipscomb V P S

+Silly, insulting, overuse of stereotypes.

A SELF MADE HERO (Not rated)

++ In the aftermath of World War II, a Frenchman rises in society by claiming a heroic past in the Resistance movement. Jacques Audiard's tragicomic French drama raises fascinating social and historical issues but doesn't investigate them as compellingly as they deserve. V P


+++ Unable to control his combustible emotions, a man goes to prison for avenging an attack on his wife, then returns home 10 years later to find her happily married to a far more conventional fellow. Nick Cassavetes directed from a screenplay by his father, legendary filmmaker John Cassavetes, whose stories focus on out-of-control lives in order to explore their human richness and celebrate their spontaneity and unpredictability. This tale is as turbulent, harrowing, and confused as its unglamorous characters, but its savvy performances and streetwise dialogue provide impressive energy. Sean Penn, Robin Wright Penn, and John Travolta star. V P S


+A young couple seeks fertility treatments when the wife fails to become pregnant, and meanwhile the husband faces a romantic temptation at work. This trite, hopelessly unconvincing comedy-drama shows that a movie with a "family values" message can still be obsessed with sex and steeped in smarmy humor. Keith Samples directed. P V

SUNDAY (Not rated)

+++ The ambiguities of identity and the loneliness of isolated lives are the subjects of this atmospheric drama about an unlikely pair of middle-aged lovers. Directed by Jonathan Nossiter with loving attention to textures of human behavior and the influence of environments on people's moods and activities. David Suchet and Lisa Harrow are very convincing as the couple. Contains nudity and graphic sex. S N P

Currently in Release


++ Terrorists hijack the president's plane, threatening to kill hostages until a tyrant is released in the former Soviet Union, and everyone pitches in to beat the villains and preserve American honor. There's plenty of action, and Harrison Ford certainly puts the chief back in chief executive. But the movie wastes a good opportunity to look at important questions, such as who's responsible for American policy when the president is busy killing terrorists. Glenn Close is good as the vice president (!) and Gary Oldman is better as the head bad guy. V P

++ Fast-paced, silly, flawed.


+++ Two women get together for the first time since they graduated from college six years earlier, and spend a weekend in London, where they run into various old acquaintances. Mike Leigh's dark comedy features strong acting by Katrin Cartlidge and Lynda Steadman and paints a vivid portrait of working women in London today. The plot meanders out of control, though, almost getting lost in a string of coincidences so odd that even the characters start wondering what's going on. P S

++ Quirky, tender, well-acted.


+++ Convinced that modern America is crawling with conspiracies, an eccentric taxi driver teams with a government official to fight some very real enemies who want to kill him. Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts contribute major star power to the uneven tale, but it never becomes as convincing as a real conspiracy theory should. Contains some very nasty violence. V P

+++ Fast-paced, intriguing, predictable.


+++ Slowly paced science-fiction drama about an idealistic astronomer who detects a message from outer space with blueprints for a one-person spacecraft, and eventually sets out on a voyage guided by some superior intelligence. Meanwhile, an offbeat theologian becomes her lover, and they have an ongoing dialogue about the relationship between science and religion. Jodie Foster is excellent as the astronomer, and the screenplay is more thoughtful than most. But its discussions don't go very deep, and moviegoers with strong religious values may wonder why it comes down for humanism over spirituality. S V P

++++ Intelligent, smartly directed, exhilarating.

CONTEMPT (Not rated)

++++ Reissue of Jean-Luc Godard's legendary 1963 drama about a French screenwriter who takes a job adapting "The Odyssey" for a crass Hollywood producer, then loses the respect of his wife, who feels he has lowered his standards of loyalty and integrity. Godard's graceful style is enhanced by performances from Michel Piccoli as the writer, Brigitte Bardot as his spouse, Jack Palance as the producer, and the great German director Fritz Lang as himself. N V


+++ The setting is a town across the river from Manhattan, where police officers raise their kids away from big-city hazards. Sylvester Stallone plays the local sheriff, a melancholy loser who gradually realizes that his neighbors are up to their badges in conspiracy and corruption. James Mangold follows up the promise of his excellent "Heavy" with this smartly written, superbly acted melodrama. Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, and Ray Liotta round out the cast. Contains hard-hitting violence and much foul language. V P N


++ Astronauts explore a spooky rocketship that entered a terrifying new dimension by "folding space" with a portable black hole. The settings and visual effects are imaginatively done, but the dialogue is silly and the plot is a mish-mash, with echoes of everything from the "Aliens" movies to Michael Crichton's novel "Sphere," which pushes similar buttons a little more intelligently. Laurence Fishburne and Kathleen Quinlan head the cast. Paul Anderson directed. Contains violence, nudity, and much vulgar language. V N P

+Unenjoyable, grueling, overkill.


++++ A filmmaker agrees to produce a classic play in Sarajevo, but when the Bosnian war arrives he switches to a movie project that runs into a new set of difficulties. Jean-Luc Godard wrote and directed this French production, which sees war as a symbol of modern greediness and materialism, and cries out for a rebirth of art to heal society by guiding it toward more humane values. The intricate, puzzlelike story contains violence and sexuality. V P S N


++++ Spike Lee's nonfiction account of a racially motivated 1963 bombing that killed four African-American girls in a Birmingham, Ala., church. The film's approach is highly instructive, deeply moving, and geared to deploring the racism that breeds violence rather than reactivating old hatreds. V

GABBEH (Not rated)

+++ A gabbeh is an Iranian carpet with symbolic weavings that reflect the lives of its makers. This stunningly beautiful Iranian drama uses a gabbeh to introduce the tale of a young woman who falls in love with a mysterious horseman, then waits for years while her father continually postpones his permission for their marriage. Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the most energetic of Iranian filmmakers. V

++ Exotic, educational, colorful.


++ Pesky poachers and talking monkeys romp through this jungle romance between a fainting heiress, played by Leslie Mann, and the title character (Brendan Fraser). The plot is predictable, and the humor is uncreative and often crude. The heroine, however, is endearing in her quirkiness. Alcohol is imbibed by jungle beasts as well as people, and there are some violent, though cartoonlike, fight scenes. V By Laura Lipscomb


+++ A funeral procession traveling through the countryside is the background for this dramatic comedy about life, love, and bureaucracy in Cuba today. The story is slight, but the acting has great conviction, and the movie's underlying humanity shines brightly through the sometimes sad or suggestive details. Directed by Juan Carlos Tabio and the late Toms Gutirrez Alea, the most brilliant filmmaker Cuba has produced. S N V P

+++ Insightful, clever, amusing.

HAMSUN (Not rated)

+++ Max von Sydow plays Norwegian author Knut Hamsun, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature and then became a Nazi sympathizer, based on misguided notions of what Hitler's evil empire was all about. The real Hamsun was a gifted author who knew how to chronicle the lives of flesh-and-blood characters in clear, vigorous prose. The movie gives some insight into how his politics could stray so outrageously, but it would be more compelling if Swedish director Jan Troell approached the high level of Hamsun's own artistic imagination. V P


++ Smarting from romantic humiliations, two insensitive yuppies decide to woo a vulnerable woman by flattering and pampering her, then dump her as revenge on her entire gender. Although the plot is as repulsive as its main characters, the movie is far from gratuitous in its scathing portrayal of me-generation selfishness and insensitivity. Written and directed by newcomer Neil LaBute. P V S

++ Provocative, compelling, disturbing.


+++ You know those people you run across who look, talk, and act like aliens from outer space? They really are aliens from outer space, thinly disguised in human bodies they'll never learn to handle very well. That's the idea behind this hilarious comedy, directed with boisterous wit by Barry Sonnenfeld. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith give uproarious comic performances as government agents ordered to keep New York's monsters in Manhattan, where they'll blend right in with the rest of the confusion. Contains some sexual innuendo and cartoonish violence in the "Ghostbusters" tradition. V P

+++ Original, clever, witty.


+++ Judi Dench gives a rich and riveting performance as Queen Victoria in this colorful drama about the aging monarch's loving friendship with a feisty Scots horseman. Billy Connolly is equally good as the unconventional companion, and filmmaker John Madden keeps the action moving at a rattling good clip. V P

+++ Poignant, witty, historically illuminating.


+++ The heroine is a disabled woman who writes lurid novels for a living; her new boyfriend is a jewel dealer whose business connections are suspiciously vague. Delicious acting by Gia Carides and Anthony LaPaglia is the strongest suit of this bright-eyed Australian comedy, which is marred by some over-the-top physical gags and surprisingly explicit sex scenes that seem out of sync with the rest of the picture. S N V P


+++ Jennifer Aniston plays a young advertising exec who must prove to her boss that she is a stable and dedicated worker, so she turns a near stranger (Jay Mohr) into her fianc. In the process, she attracts a co-worker (Kevin Bacon) who only likes unavailable women. V S P By Lisa Leigh Parney

+++ Romantic, lighthearted, funny.


+++ A Japanese businessman takes a departure from his routine and enters a ballroom-dance class, his interest initially piqued by an attractive instructor. His wife encourages him to pursue a new activity but suspects him of infidelity and hires a detective. Viewers are led into a revealing glimpse of the ballroom-dance competition circuit as well as Japanese society in the 1990s. P By Leigh Montgomery

+++ Powerful, touching, exquisite.


++ A murdered government agent agrees to help the forces of darkness so he can return to the world and see his family again, sparking a huge battle of good against evil. The adventure is vulgar and violent, although the special effects are impressive. V P S N

O\ Brooding, sophomoric, scatological.

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