Reviews in this weekly guide are written by Monitor critic David Sterritt (the first set of '+' marks in each review) unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor staff panel (the second set of '+' marks in each review) 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
++ 1/2 Average
CHINESE BOX (R)
Director: Wayne Wang. With Jeremy Irons, Gong Li, Maggie Cheung, Ruben Blades. (99 min.)
++ A gravely ill British journalist observes the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule while cultivating complex relationships with two very different Asian women. The screenplay is as ambitious and multilayered as its subject, but filmmaker Wang doesn't achieve either the artful insights of his "Chan Is Missing" or the audience-pleasing drama of "The Joy Luck Club."
CITY OF ANGELS (PG-13)
Director: Brad Silberling. With Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan, Dennis Franz. (112 min.)
++ In love with a beautiful heart surgeon, an angel decides to "fall" into mortality so he can experience human love. Many will welcome the movie's interest in spirituality, but some may wonder why it's couched in a celebration of sensual pleasures ranging from sex to cigarette smoking. Based on Wim Wenders's more insightful German film "Wings of Desire."
+++ Life-affirming, thought-provoking, pensive.
Sex/Nudity: Fairly explicit sex scene, a sensuous bath scene, and one character is shown nude from behind while running into the ocean. Violence: One mugging scene. Profanity: 13, mostly mild. Drugs: 6 instances of smoking, drinking.
DJ VU (NOT RATED)
Director: Henry Jaglom. With Victoria Foyt, Stephen Dillane, Vanessa Redgrave, Anna Massey. (116 min.)
++ Just as her long-delayed wedding approaches, a woman falls crazily in love with a married man, and coincidence throws them together even when she seeks to avoid the temptation he poses. Jaglom's heavily romantic style is not for every taste, but the story's corny sincerity lends it a mild interest.
GREY GARDENS (PG)
Directors: David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, Susan Froemke. With Edie Beale, Edith Bouvier Beale. (95 min.)
++++ Reissue of the classic 1976 documentary about two eccentric relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, visiting them in their run-down Long Island home and savoring the quirks of their utterly unpredictable personalities. One of the most entertaining films ever made by the legendary Maysles brothers and their gifted associates.
LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY (NOT RATED)
Director: Werner Herzog. With Dieter Dengler, Werner Herzog. (80 min.)
+++ Fascinating nonfiction movie about a German-American pilot who endured harrowing experiences as a captive in Vietnam but survived to tell the tale with energy and high spirits. One of the better documentaries by one of Germany's most renowned filmmakers.
MY GIANT (PG)
Director: Michael Lehmann. With Billy Crystal, Kathleen Quinlan, Gheorghe Muresan. (103 min.)
+++ While traveling in Romania on business, a hustling but good-hearted American talent agent named Sammy (Crystal) happens upon a giant, Max (portrayed by basketball player Gheorghe Muresan). The agent's attempt to exploit his "client" for the sake of a Hollywood movie deal lands the pair in Las Vegas, where Sammy must call on his disillusioned wife to bail him out. The comedy, which produces more smiles than laughs, hits its introspective stride after a corny, mostly flat start. By Ross Atkin
THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION (R)
Director: Nicholas Hytner. With Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, John Pankow, Alan Alda, Nigel Hawthorne. (112 min.)
++ A young woman decides to have a baby without marrying her somewhat hard-to-take boyfriend, turning to her new gay roommate as a partner and confidant. Paints a reasonably tasteful if not exactly credible portrait of domestic life among the unconventional urban set.
Sex/Nudity: No nudity, but there's one seduction scene and sexual innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity/Obscenity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: Some high-society wine drinking, cigarette smoking.
THE ODD COUPLE II (PG-13)
Director: Howard Deutch. With Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Christine Baranski, Jonathan Silverman, Barnard Hughes. (96 min.)
++1/2 Honestly, Neil Simon has run out of ideas for the irresistibly funny duo he created: the hypochondriac, hyperalergic, hyperhygenic Felix (Jack Lemon) and Oscar (Walter Matthau) the placid slob. There's a rationing of hearty chuckles and the script is weak. Reunited after 17 years, the bickering buddies are in constant trouble as they travel to the wedding of their children: Oscar's son with Felix's daughter. By Suman Bandrapalli
++1/2 Mellow, enjoyable ride, dj vu.
Sex/Nudity: Mild sexual innuendo. Violence: Abduction at gunpoint. Profanity: 40 profanities and crudities, mostly mild, but occasionally harsh. Drugs: 2 drinks and 2 cigars.
SPECIES II (R)
Director: Peter Medak. With Natasha Henstridge, Michael Madsen. (103 min.)
+ American astronauts on a mission to Mars unwittingly shuttle alien killer-goo with imperialistic motives back to Earth. What ensues is a Halloween-style blood bath accompanied by graphic sex scenes. The fear factor makes this horror flick gripping in spite of its excessive vices. James Cromwell from wholesome "Babe" plays a supporting role as a US senator. By Katherine Dillin
Sex/Nudity: 9 scenes with frontal nudity and graphic sex scenes that are often long and violent. Violence: 15 scenes of attempted rape, births of half-human/half-alien babies that rip open women's stomachs, cruel experiments. Profanity/Obscenity: 60 instances. Drugs: 2 incidental scenes of alcohol, 3 of smoking.
SUICIDE KINGS (R)
Director: Peter O'Fallon. With Christopher Walken, Jay Mohr, Henry Thomas, Johnny Galecki, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jeremy Sisto. (106 min.)
+ Walken's acting savvy is the main asset of this uninspired thriller-comedy about a group of young wiseacres who kidnap a crime boss in order to solve the kidnapping of a friend.
Director: Shane Meadows. With Bob Hoskins, Danny Nussbaum, Bruce Jones, Annette Badland. (96 min.)
++ A tough-talking entrepreneur builds up a small-town boxing club as a way of coaxing misguided young men toward some semblance of purpose and discipline. Shot with a deliberately rough-hewn camera style, the movie has more good intentions than genuine substance, but filmmaker Meadows is a newcomer to watch.
WILD MAN BLUES (PG)
Director: Barbara Kopple. With Woody Allen, Soon-Yi Previn, members of Allen's jazz band. (114 min.)
++ A documentary about Allen and his Dixieland combo on a European concert tour. There's short-term interest in peering at a famously private celebrity, but the movie could use a lot more music and a lot less "intimate" footage of Allen and company checking into hotels, chatting over breakfast, and the like. There's no hint of the social awareness or emotional charge that surges through Oscar-winning Kopple films like "Harlan County USA" and "American Dream."
Sex/Nudity/Violence: None. Violence: A fight scene and a murder. Profanity: 1 expression. Drugs: One woman drinking.
Currently in Release
AYN RAND: A SENSE OF LIFE (NOT RATED)
Director: Michael Paxton. With Ayn Rand, Mike Wallace, Sharon Gless, Leonard Peikoff. (141 min.)
+ Documentary about the Russian-born writer who emigrated to the United States, wrote provocative novels like "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged," and developed her Objectivist philosophy based on capitalism, atheism, and selfishness as the highest moral good. The subject is fascinating, but the movie is less a thoughtful exploitation than an uncritical commercial for Rand's notions.
+++ Thought-provoking, intellectually demanding, a lengthy treatment.
THE BIG ONE (PG-13)
Director: Michael Moore. With Michael Moore, Rick Nielsen, Phil Knight. (90 min.)
+++ Almost a decade after "Roger & Me" made him a media star, filmmaker Moore documents a book tour that gave him another opportunity to talk with working-class Americans, poke fun at power brokers, and set up a showdown with a corporate leader. The results are frequently eye-opening and often hilarious, although viewers who don't share Moore's outspoken political opinions may find themselves more irked than amused.
THE BUTCHER BOY (R)
Director: Neil Jordan. With Eamonn Owens, Stephen Rea, Aisling O'Sullivan, Fiona Shaw, Sinad O'Connor. (120 min.)
+++ A young Irish boy responds with increasing anger and violence to the chaotic world of dysfunctional grown-ups around him. Jordan has filmed this overwhelmingly boisterous tale in an overwhelmingly boisterous way, leaving viewers to decide whether his portrait of childhood upheaval is usefully insightful or simply anarchic.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: A fight scene and a murder. Profanity: 22 instances. Drugs: Young boys smoking, father is an alcoholic.
FIREWORKS (HANA-BI) (NOT RATED)
Director: Takeshi Kitano. With "Beat" Takeshi, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi. (103 min.)
+++ Kitano is a hugely popular Japanese comedy star, but his numerous movies have tended more toward action and dramatic themes. In this prize-winning drama, he plays a well-meaning but impulsively violent policeman who tries to retreat from his dangerous urban environment with his seriously ill wife. Although it doesn't always live up to its ambitions, the film provides an offbeat portrait of universally relevant human issues.
LOST IN SPACE (PG-13)
Director: Stephen Hopkins. With William Hurt, Gary Oldman, Mimi Rogers, Matt LeBlanc, Heather Graham. (125 min.)
++ High-tech version of the '60s television series about a family whose intergalactic mission goes astray when a nasty stowaway sabotages their spaceship. Hurt and Rogers are a bit more believable than Guy Williams and June Lockhart, their small-screen predecessors in the main roles, but most of the movie is an uneasy blend of shallow psychology, campy comedy, and perfunctory action episodes.
++1/2 Eye-candy, formulaic, silly but fun.
Sex/Nudity/Drugs: None. Violence: About 17 instances of laser shooting and fights against monster spiders. Profanity: 8 mild instances.
MERCURY RISING (R)
Director: Harold Becker. With Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Miko Hughes, Chi McBride. (114 min.)
+++ A fast-paced suspense starring Willis as an FBI undercover agent who investigates a double murder and stumbles into a governmental security breach involving a nine-year-old autistic child. Fresh dialogue and believable acting on Willis's part save this from being just an "action" flick, but do expect heavy violence. By Whitney Dodds Woodruff
+++ Fast-paced, gripping, a little too long.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Frequent and extreme violence throughout, including shootouts, explosions, and assassin's bullets to the head, back, and chest. Profanity: 27 instances, occasionally harsh. Drugs: 10 instances of drinking and pill-popping.
NO LOOKING BACK (R)
Director: Edward Burns. With Edward Burns, Jon Bon Jovi, Lauren Holly, Blythe Danner. (96 min.)
+++ After the disappointments of "The Brothers McMullen" and "She's the One," this vaunted independent filmmaker creates an absorbing tale of working-class suburbanites coping with lives far less glowing than their dreams. Burns also gives a star-quality performance at the head of a finely chosen cast.
Director: Takeshi Kitano. With "Beat" Takeshi, Tetsu Watanade, Aya Kokumai. (90 min.)
+++ An aging yakuza gangster leaves his own turf for a special assignment, entering a complicated web of ambiguous motives and conflicting loyalties. Directed with the blend of moody atmosphere and punchy violence that has made Kitano one of Japan's most powerful culture heroes.
THE SPANISH PRISONER (PG)
Director: David Mamet. With Campbell Scott, Steve Martin, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ben Gazzara, Ricky Jay. (112 min.)
++++ Ingenious thriller about a young inventor who seeks help from an unpredictable new acquaintance when he suspects his company may be pushing him out of the profits from a high-tech formula he's developed. Witty performances and stylized dialogue give Mamet's edgy gamesmanship a sly, refreshing touch.
+++1/2 Intriguing, suspenseful, surprising twists.
Sex/Nudity: Some mild innuendo. Violence: A bloody murder scene, a threat with a gun. Profanity: 3 very mild expressions. Drugs: Smoking and social drinking.
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OUT ON VIDEO
(In stores April 21)
COP LAND (R)
+++ Director: James Mangold. With Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg. (104 min.)
+++ Intense, slow-moving, tragic.
++ Director: Les Mayfield. With Robin Williams, Marcia Gay Harden, Christopher McDonald. (93 min.)
+++ Imaginative, goofy, energetic.
MRS. BROWN (PG)
+++ Director: John Madden. With Billy Connolly, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer. (103 min.)
+++ Poignant, witty, historically illuminating.