The Monitor Movie Guide

Welcome to the newest Monitor Movie Guide. We have combined the best elements of our two previous movie reports, Family Movie Guide and Freeze Frames, into this new feature.

You'll find our latest guide to be more comprehensive. There will be weekly capsules on current films from our movie critic, David Sterritt. There will also be star ratings, running times, and names of directors and casts.

Our movie panel, composed of Monitor staff members and their families, will also provide ratings (blue stars). And they will compile detailed information that many readers, including parents, may find especially helpful, such as levels of violence and profanity.

We have refined our star rating system to include half-stars. Panel members told us the rating they needed most often was 2-1/2 stars, or "average," a rating not previously available.

Another new feature is the "Out on Video" listing below.

So pop up the corn! It's movie time!

Reviews in this weekly guide are written by Monitor critic David Sterritt unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor staff panel (blue stars) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other viewers. Information on violence, drugs, sex/nudity, and profanity is compiled by the panel.


+++1/2 Very Good

+++ Good

++ 1/2 Average

++ Fair

+ Poor

New Releases


Director: Robert Altman. With Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davitz, Robert Duvall, Daryl Hannah. (115 min.)

+++ A lawyer lands in dangerous trouble with an unhappy young woman, her eccentric father, and a cultlike group to which the old man belongs. Popular novelist John Grisham cooked up the story for Robert Altman's engrossing thriller, which gains additional power from moody camera work and more atmospheric rainfall than any movie in ages.


Director: Mikael Salomon. With Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver. (96 min.)

++ Bank robbers chase an armored-car guard who's made off with their loot during a flood emergency in a Midwestern town. Mikael Salomon directed the silly but diverting action yarn, which benefits from the talents of Morgan Freeman as the chief robber, Randy Quaid as a shifty sheriff, and Minnie Driver and Betty White as the women of the otherwise male-dominated tale.


Directed by Bob Spiers. With the Spice Girls, Richard E. Grant, George Wendt, Roger Moore, Meat Loaf. (93 min.)

+ A few fictionalized days in the happy-hectic lives of a British singing group. The filmmakers aim at a spoofy tone somewhere between "A Hard Day's Night" and "This Is Spinal Tap," but the results are closer to the Village People's bland "Can't Stop the Music" than to the brash breeziness of pop culture at its best.


Director: Beeban Kidron. With Rachel Weisz, Vincent Perez, Kathy Bates, Sir Ian McKellen. (115 min).

+ Joseph Conrad's bittersweet story "Amy Foster" inspired this heavy-handed romance about a young British woman who falls in love with a shipwrecked Ukrainian sailor, sparking the wrath of her bigoted neighbors and her own hard-bitten father. Directed by English filmmaker Beeban Kidron, who serves up vivid images but fails to make the tale as resonant or convincing as the tale it's based on.

Currently in Release


Director: Steven Spielberg. With Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Pete Postlethwaite, Nigel Hawthorne, David Paymer, Stellan Skarsgrd. (150 min.)

++ A group of abducted Africans mutiny against the slave traders shipping them into bondage, wind up in a Connecticut jail, and fight for freedom with help from a black abolitionist and a former president. Steven Spielberg's historical drama is more stilted and didactic than its fascinating subject deserves, gathering great emotional force only in a harrowing scene depicting the Holocaust-like suffering of slave-ship captives.

+++ Gripping, moving, powerful.

Sex/Nudity: Some nudity. Violence: Horrific views aboard slave ships; graphic drowning; mutiny scenes with fighting, killing. Profanity: One scene, scatological dialogue. Drugs: Drinking.


Director: Robert Duvall. With Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton, Miranda Richardson, Farrah Fawcett. (133 min.)

++++ Robert Duvall wrote, directed, and stars in this riveting tale of a religiously devout but humanly flawed preacher, who flees from Texas to Louisiana after a violent incident sparked by his wife's infidelity and another minister's move to oust him from his church. Avoiding the clichs and condescension that characterize many films on religious figures, the movie is at once a compelling drama and a thoughtful look at faith-related issues on personal, social, and cultural levels.

Sex/Nudity, Drugs: None. Violence: One brief outburst. Profanity: One vulgarity.


Director: James L. Brooks. With Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear. (130 min.)

++ Jack Nicholson plays an obsessive-compulsive writer who makes life miserable for everybody around, but starts to lose his obnoxious habits when acquaintances badly need his help. The story makes Nicholson's character arbitrarily awful at the beginning so he can become arbitrarily sweet by the end; none of the action is very convincing, but Nicholson's over-the-top acting gives an entertaining edge to the plot's feel-good manipulations.

+++ Exceptional, touching, funny.

Sex/Nudity: Strong innuendo. Brief nudity. Violence: One person attacked, badly injured. VProfanity: Many vulgarities. Racist and homophobic insults. VDrugs: Drinking.


Director: Jim Sheridan. With Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson, Brian Cox. (107 min.)

++ A prizefighter returns to Belfast, Northern Ireland, after 14 years in a British prison for IRA activity, renewing his affection for a former girlfriend and entering a difficult relationship with his politically active neighbors. Jim Sheridan's topical drama gains power from strong performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson, but the screenplay is too scattered for the picture to build the emotional impact of "In the Name of the Father," an earlier collaboration between Sheridan and Day-Lewis on a similar subject.

+++ Thoughtful, tense, unsettling.

Violence: Graphic prizefighting. Terrorism involving explosions, executions. Profanity: Four dozen vulgarities. Drugs: 10 scenes involving alcohol; five depicting use of tobacco.


Director: Woody Allen. With Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Kirstie Alley, Billy Crystal, Mariel Hemingway, Amy Irving, Demi Moore, Robin Williams, Elisabeth Shue. (96 minutes).

++ A writer flip-flops between reality and illusion on a complicated day when his former wife won't let him take their son to a college ceremony in his honor. Woody Allen wrote and directed this inventive comedy, which has some good laughs but a very nasty edge.

+++1/2 Witty, insightful, engaging.

Sex/Nudity: A great deal of sexual dialogue; one scene with nudity. Violence: Minimal, presented in a comic way. Profanity: Incredible amount of four-letter words for an Allen film. Drugs: Frequent drinking.


Director: Gregory Hoblit. With Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland. (124 min.)

++ A detective battles a fallen angel who commits awful crimes while inhabiting the bodies of ordinary people. An energetic but uneven thriller.

++ Too slow, gloomy, morbid.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Several killings, much fighting, graphic depiction of a gas-chamber execution. Profanity: 55 instances of four-letter words. Drugs: 2 scenes of liquor use; 8 scenes involving cigars or cigarettes.


Director: Dean Semler. With Howie Long, Scott Glenn, William Forsythe, Suzy Amis. (89 min.)

++ Forest firefighters match wits against a brutal killer who's escaped from a Wyoming prison with several accomplices. Directed by Dean Semler with more attention to special effects than smooth storytelling, but fun to watch during the high-temperature fire scenes. ++ Ruthless, cruel, a humdrum zinger.

Sex/Nudity: None. VViolence: Killing, fighting, and harrowing forest-fire scenes. Profanity: Four-letter words and other vulgarities. Drugs: Drinking.


Director: Gus Van Sant. With Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Stellan Skarsgrd, Minnie Driver. (126 min.)

++ A brilliant but aimless young man develops a relationship with a psychotherapist who's never gotten over his wife's untimely death. Matt Damon and Robin Williams give touching performances, but Gus Van Sant's filmmaking is surprisingly ordinary. Although he dedicates the picture to the memories of Beat Generation authors Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, it's hard to think of a movie that's less true to their anarchic spirits.

+++ Well-constructed, inspiring, intelligent.

Sex/Nudity: Two bedroom scenes, not graphic; dirty jokes. Violence: Three instances of fighting. VProfanity: 191 mostly harsh four-letter words. Drugs: 14 scenes involving alcohol; cigarette smoking throughout the film.


Director: Quentin Tarantino. With Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton. (160 min.)

+++ In trouble with the law, a flight attendant cooks up a self-protective scheme that plays a murderous old friend against a burned-out businessman and a wheeler-dealer cop. Quentin Tarantino's third feature has moments of harrowing violence and vulgarity, but seems almost restrained after the excesses of "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs." Its greatest assets are imaginative camera work and top-flight performances from its cast.

+++ Clever, gripping, great soundtrack.

Sex/Nudity: Brief, explicit sex. Violence: Brief, graphic violence. Profanity: More than 100 vulgarities and racial epithets. Drugs: Frequent drinking, smoking, and marijuana use.


Director: Martin Scorsese. With Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, Gyurme Tethong, Tencho Gyalpo. (128 min.)

+++ The life of Tibet's spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama, from childhood until his flight to India after China's brutal invasion of his country. Taking great commercial risks, director Martin Scorsese avoids movie-star performances and the psychological storytelling that Hollywood movies normally thrive on. The result is a visually spectacular epic depicting both the tragic vicissitudes of Tibetan history and the bedrock integrity of its spiritual traditions. Philip Glass composed the transfixing music.

+++ Majestic, educational, worthwhile.

Sex/Nudity, Profanity, Drugs: None. Violence: Brief, graphic depictions of Chinese brutality toward Tibetans.


Director: Kevin Costner. With Kevin Costner, Will Patton, Larenz Tate, Olivia Williams. (170 min.)

+ Trying to survive the chaos and violence that dominate America after World War III, a drifter poses as a friendly letter-carrier rebuilding links among isolated communities, and becomes a folk hero whose message helps defeat an evil tyrant. The story takes place in 2013, but you'd hardly know it from the age-old clichs Kevin Costner purloins to tell this overblown action yarn, which relies heavily on ideas borrowed from John Ford westerns.

+++ Earnest, purposeful, heroic.

Sex/Nudity: One brief, explicit scene. Violence: 20 instances: executions, punches, knifings, cannons, lion attack, murders. Profanity: 40 instances, mostly mild. Drugs: One instance of alcohol being swigged; three scenes with cigarettes.


Director: James Cameron. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates. (197 min.)

+++ The great ship's legendary voyage, as recalled by an elderly woman who fell in love with a young scamp and rejected her pompous fianc in the hours before the awful iceberg struck. The first half drags a bit, but the adventure scenes are exciting and the visual effects are as dazzling as Hollywood's most advanced technology can make them. Focusing as much on time and memory as on danger and disaster, it's an epic with a heart.

++++ Awesome epic, riveting, tragic.

Sex/Nudity: Brief, fairly explicit sex. Violence: One suicide; much suffering as ship sinks; some gunfire. Profanity: Several dozen four-letter words. Drugs: Drinking, smoking.


Director: Alan Rickman. With Emma Thompson, Phyllida Law. (110 min.)

+++ Four couples encounter small adventures on a freezing day in their remote Scottish village: an elderly woman and her widowed daughter, two aging neighbors, a pair of schoolboys, and a teenage boy and girl trying to decide whether they're meant for each other.

+++ Poignant, beautifully filmed, moving.

Sex/nudity: Sex scene; brief nudity; sex-related dialogue. Violence: None. Profanity: Four-letter words and other vulgarities. Drugs/Alcohol: Drinking.

Out On Video

In stores on Jan. 27:

Brassed Off (R)

(Seriocomic drama)

Director: Mark Herman. With Tara Fitzgerald, Ewan McGregor, Pete Postlethwaite. (107 min.)


(Action drama)

+ Director: John Irvin. With Harvey Keitel, Stephen Dorff, Timothy Hutton. (97 min.)

++ Brutal, gloomy, deadly.


(Science fiction)

++ Director: Paul Anderson. With Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlan. (95 min.)

+ Unenjoyable, grueling, overkill.



++ Director: John Nicolella. With Kevin Sorbo, Tia Carrere. (95 min.)

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