Freeze Frame: 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


+++ A young princess escapes death in the Russian Revolution, grows up in an orphanage without knowing her royal origin, then meets a con artist who enlists her to impersonate herself so he can collect a big reward. This lavishly produced animation makes imaginative use of familiar formulas, filling the screen with handsome images accompanied by sprightly songs and lively voice-performances from Meg Ryan as the heroine, John Cusack as her shady friend, Christopher Lloyd as the demonic Rasputin, and Angela Lansbury as a royal grandmother who's seen so many false Anastasias she can't bear the thought of another. Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. Contains scenes of violence and menace that may be too intense for very young viewers. V


+ A teenage girl takes a job in a Singapore brothel populated by transvestites. The picture is clumsily written and directed, but it pokes interesting holes in Singapore's image as a highly controlled and moralistic city. Directed by the Taiwanese filmmaker Yonfan. S N V P


++ American officials spring a former IRA militant from prison so he can help foil a notorious assassin's plot to murder someone with high connections in the Federal government. The story is less compellingly handled than in Fred Zinnemann's classic "The Day of the Jackal," but it's fun to see Bruce Willis play a villainous role with hardly a leer or a wisecrack, and Sidney Poitier brings his usual blend of charm and dignity to the top government agent. Richard Gere and Diane Venora round out the cast. Directed by Michael Caton-Jones. V P

++ Weak, forgettable, plot is unbelievable.


++ An outlaw couple run from the law across the Australian countryside, as suspicious of each other as of the police officers chasing them. Australian director Bill Bennett reworks the popular "film noir" style with energetic editing and hard-hitting imagery, but the story and characters aren't fresh or deep enough to sustain long-term interest. V P S


+++ Reissue of the Walt Disney Studio's popular 1989 animation about an independent-minded young mermaid who bargains with a witch to venture on land and woo a prince, hoping eventually to become a full-fledged human. Great fun, especially when the music takes a calypso turn during an undersea song-and-dance number. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements. Voices include Jodi Benson, Rene Auberjonois, Pat Carroll, and Buddy Hackett. V

++++ Funny, well-animated, bubbly.


+ Visiting relatives in London, a bumbling American gets mixed up in a violent international plot, thinking it's all part of an experimental theater production. Bill Murray brings his customary talent to Jon Amiel's ironic comedy, but the gags are too flimsy to generate more than a handful of chuckles. V P

+++ Witty, light-hearted, carefree and fun.


+++ A young New York journalist visits a Southern city to cover a social event, becoming acquainted with offbeat residents including a transvestite, a voodoo practitioner, and a businessman whose after-hours activities lead to a dramatic murder trial. Kevin Spacey gives a richly nuanced performance as the accused killer, and director Clint Eastwood makes the sometimes sordid story less sensationalistic than it might have seemed in less accomplished hands. John Lee Hancock's screenplay tends to ramble, though, even as it reduces the complexity and ambiguity of John Berendt's nonfiction novel. Contains foul language and frank discussion of sexual matters. V P


O Cliche-ridden romance about a cab-driving artist who falls in love with a beautiful executive. Dana Wheeler-Dixon and James McCaffrey play the lackluster leads. Directed by Richard Mauro. P S


+ Wesley Snipes plays an affluent commercial director with a wife and family who tumbles into a one night tryst with a married woman (Nastassja Kinski). Director and screenwriter Mike Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas") tries to examine the emotional impacts of infidelity, but the message is overwhelmed by empty dialogue and erotic digressions. The characters end up seeming vacuous instead of torn and troubled - the intended effect. S N P By Kristina Lanier

+ Shallow, disturbing, perplexing.


+++ A novice Tennessee attorney takes on some emotionally charged cases, including a lawsuit against a shady insurance company on behalf of a dying man and his family. Francis Ford Coppola has directed the legal drama with his usual keen attention to atmosphere and texture, although his adaptation of John Grisham's bestselling novel leaves out connective material that would have made the tale smoother and savvier. Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, and Claire Danes head the solid cast. V P


++ In a future very different from our time, a young man joins the army to see the galaxy and kill the bug-eyed monsters who threaten Earth's safety. Scenes of bone-crunching military training are followed by an orgy of science-fiction mayhem, all punctuated with satirical views of the era's social and political climate. Paul Verhoeven's movie takes more action than ideas from Robert A. Heinlein's 1959 novel, which is just as well, considering the book's goofy suggestion that military veterans should control society from top to bottom. Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer head the cast, which seems chosen more for its comic-book looks than any conspicuous talent. V P N S

++ Techno-violent, male-bonding flick, awesome special effects.


++++ Traumatized by a recent schoolbus accident, parents in an isolated town debate whether to organize their anger and grief into a lawsuit filed by a visiting attorney, who is grappling with severe family problems of his own. This poetic and compassionate drama by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan combines the intricate structure of his earlier movies with an emotional power that raises his remarkable career to a whole new level. Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, and Maury Chaykin head the fine cast. A subplot dealing with incest treats that difficult subject with exemplary taste and tact. S V P


+++ Playing herself as the main character, writer-director Sally Potter tells the offbeat tale of a filmmaker who's so frustrated by commercial obstacles to her latest project that she strikes up a relationship with a handsome tango teacher, hoping dance and music will turn her imagination in new directions. Potter breaks many rules of mainstream moviemaking, from using subtitles to centering the story on her own less-than-polished performance. The drama is full of surprises, though, including an unpredictable visual style and a refreshing acknowledgment of religion as an important value for the protagonists. S V P

Currently in Release

BEAN (PG-13)

+++ To get rid of its dopiest security guard, a British museum dubs him an authority on painting and sends him to Los Angeles, where the arrival of "Whistler's Mother" has the art world in a tizzy. This knockabout comedy centers on the physical antics of English comedian Rowan Atkinson, who conveys the creepiness of the main character so convincingly that he comes off as rather creepy himself. But there's no denying the movie's frequent hilarity, abetted by Mel Smith's superbly laid-back directing and on-target performances by an excellent supporting cast. Contains a good deal of bathroom humor and other vulgarities. P

+ Juvenile, vulgar, moronic.


++ A money-driven pornographer (Burt Reynolds) invites a handsome teenager (Mark Wahlberg) to earn lowdown fame and fortune as a sex-movie star. Heavily influenced by Quentin Tarantino's brand of quirky sensationalism, this high-energy saga by Paul Thomas Anderson goes a long way toward exposing the greed and stupidity of the pornography trade, then loses its moral compass and steers toward a sadly superficial ending. Contains a very large amount of extremely graphic sex. S N V P

+++ Thought-provoking, well-acted, definitely not appropriate for children.


+++ A young physician grapples with life-and-death issues at a hospital that cares more about technology and profit than health and compassion. Directed by the prolific Sidney Lumet from Steven Schwartz's intelligent screenplay, this biting social satire scores telling points against shortcomings in today's health-care system, and shows unexpected depth when fantasy scenes put these issues into philosophical and religious perspective. The expertly chosen cast includes James Spader, Helen Mirren, Albert Brooks, Kyra Sedgwick, Wallace Shawn, Anne Bancroft, Jeffrey Wright, and Edward Herrmann. S N V P


++ A talented young attorney takes a job in a high-powered law firm and gradually learns that it's run by the devil himself. Taylor Hackford's thriller makes a mischievous assault on today's legal system, but its points would be more telling if the story didn't veer so often into needless sensationalism and eye-catching effects. Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves attack their roles with gusto under Hackford's direction, and the screenplay is witty enough to name the villain John Milton, after one of literature's greatest chroniclers of infernal doings. Contains explicit sex and violence. S V N P

+++ Clever, chilling, intriguing plot.


++ In a rural Louisiana town, a 10-year-old girl grows up in a troubled African-American family that includes a beautiful but unfulfilled mother, an educated but unfaithful father, and an eccentric aunt with an interest in the supernatural. The movie deserves enormous credit for paying serious attention to the family lives of black people, and for casting a compassionate, unsensational light on problems like infidelity and incest. In the end, however, the story is too contrived and melodramatic to reach its full potential. Written and directed by Kasi Lemmons. Debbi Morgan, Lynn Whitfield, Samuel L. Jackson, and young Jurnee Smollett head the solid cast. S V P


+++ Two girls snap a photo of fairies in their family's English garden, sparking different responses from interested parties, including the author Arthur Conan Doyle, who believes in supernatural beings, and the magician Harry Houdini, who takes a skeptical view of such matters. Charles Sturridge's fantasy is slow and complicated for very young viewers, but others will enjoy its wholesome story and detailed depiction of the World War I era, not to mention the fairyland scenes, which are truly magical. The strong cast includes Peter O'Toole as the celebrated writer and Harvey Keitel as the world's greatest escape artist.

+++ Heartwarming, intricate, marvelous fairy effects.


++ Two couples who just graduated from high school accidentally kill a man in an auto accident and cover up the crime to save their promising futures. A year later a mysterious figure appears in a fisherman's slicker and, wielding an ice hook, begins to stalk them. The screenplay by Kevin Williamson ("Scream") keeps the lighting low and the tension high, though a bit more wit would have helped. The performances by the young actors are engaging. Contains profanity and some scenes of graphic violence. S V P By Greg Lamb

++ Suspenseful, scary, exhilarating.


++ The setting is a well-to-do New England suburb; the time is the Watergate era of 1973; and the main characters are members of various families whose complex relationships become more tangled when an ice storm causes last-minute changes in their social and sexual arrangements. Directed by Ang Lee, whose exposure of middle-class hypocrisy would be more effective if it weren't rigged to provide evidence for the story's take on contemporary values. Contains material that many will find realistic but distasteful, including sex and drug experimentation by youngsters. S N P V

+++ Compelling, intelligent, disturbing.


+++ An ambitious TV reporter (Dustin Hoffman) happens to be nearby when a gun-toting security guard (John Travolta) storms into a museum with hopes of regaining his former job, sparking a hostage crisis and a frenzy of cynical maneuvering by media manipulators hoping to capitalize on the event. Strongly influenced by Billy Wilder's classic "Ace in the Hole," this dark comedy-drama rambles on too long and strains credibility at times; still, it calls needed attention to the increasingly blurred boundary between journalism, entertainment, and public spectacle for its own sake. Directed by Costa-Gavras, a thoughtful filmmaker with a commendable list of socially alert movies to his credit. V P

++ Timely, thought-provoking, simplistic.


++ Richard Gere plays an American businessman framed for murder in Beijing, where the rights of defendants are limited and an independent-minded Chinese attorney is the only person who might save him from a punishment as severe as it is unwarranted. The film wobbles between mediocre suspense scenes and critical barbs aimed at China's criminal-justice system; it would be more persuasive if its sociopolitical commentary weren't squeezed so relentlessly into the familiar formulas of Hollywood melodrama. Bai Ling is very good as the Chinese lawyer. Jon Avnet directed. Contains sex, nudity, and a considerable amount of violence. S N V P

++ Slow, intense, sincere.


+ An intense, gripping, often scary thriller about a lone FBI agent (Dennis Quaid) tracking down a knife-wielding serial killer. The mystery, also featuring Danny Glover, takes several unexpected turns that often make it entertaining. But an all-too-predictable finish, graphic violence, and a script cheapened by Hollywood's current penchant for profanity and nudity leave a foul aftertaste. V N P By John Dillin

+++ Exploitative, action-filled, shocking, gory.


++ Newly arrived in the United States, a young Hungarian immigrant becomes the protg of a seedy disc jockey, who teaches him that people are rarely as honest as they appear. Joe Eszterhas's screenplay is vastly more thoughtful than his scripts for "Basic Instinct" and its ilk, but the storytelling is too spotty for the movie to become the effective moral tale it might have been. Kevin Bacon and Brad Renfro are excellent as the sleazy mentor and his immature friend. Guy Ferland directed. S V P


+++ A plain, sensitive young woman is caught between a handsome but penniless suitor and her father, a cool-minded physician who's determined to prevent their marriage. Jennifer Jason Leigh shows a surprising flair for modest, introspective moods in Agnieszka Holland's deftly directed adaptation of Henry James's quietly compassionate novel. Albert Finney, Ben Chaplin, and Maggie Smith head the fine supporting cast. S

+++ Intelligent, strong acting, provocative.


+++ Sensitive adaptation of Henry James's melancholy novel about an illicit affair between an upper-class socialite and a middle-class journalist, which seems headed for a dead end until the man agrees to woo a fatally ill heiress whose fortune will solve their social problems after her death. Helena Bonham Carter and Linus Roach play the lovers, capably supported by Alison Elliott, Elizabeth McGovern, and Charlotte Rampling. Thoughtfully directed by the versatile Iain Softely from Hossein Amini's screenplay, which reduces James's intricately structured narrative to feature-film scale without losing the book's rueful psychological tone. Contains an unerotic nude scene that forcefully conveys the sad wages of immoral behavior. S N

+++ Passionate, compelling, not quite Henry James's novel.

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