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
MARIUS AND JEANNETTE (NOT RATED)
Director: Robert Gudiguian. With Grard Meylan, Ariane Ascaride. (102 min.)
++ Modest but sincere French drama about two 40-something workers who fall in love with a little help from their friends.
Director: John Roberts. With Gena Rowlands, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, Bruce Davison, Jay Mohr. (91 min.)
+++1/2 Paulie is sort of a "Babe" with wings. It's a gracious, lump-in-your-throat family film with enough substance to appeal to adults and enough slapstick to make it fun for children. A talking parrot with a tart tongue is separated from his first owner, a little girl who stutters. Subsequent owners - an elderly artist, an East L.A. musician/taco vender, and a petty thief - teach Paulie about life, honesty, poetry, and romance. And a shy Russian migr, who frees the bird from a basement purgatory, discovers he has the courage to speak up when the moment requires it. By David Scott
+++ Wholesome, entertaining, fun.
Sex/Nudity/Violence/Drugs: None. Profanity: 4 mild instances.
SLIDING DOORS (R)
Director: Peter Howitt. With Gwyneth Paltrow, John Lynch, Jeanne Tripplehorn, John Hannah. (105 min.)
+ A woman hurries toward the subway after work, and her story suddenly splits in two, alternating between different versions of what might have happened depending on whether she boarded the train or not. The gimmick behind the screenplay is clever, but the filmmakers don't rise to the challenge they've set themselves, merely spinning two unimaginative stories for the price of one.
SOUR GRAPES (R)
Director: Larry David. With Steven Weber, Craig Bierko, Karen Sillas, Matt Keeslar, Viola Harris, Robyn Peterman. (95 min.)
+ Two men turn to dirty tricks after feuding over a gambling jackpot one of them won with money borrowed from the other. Graduating to the big screen after years of "Seinfeld" on TV, filmmaker David proves to be inordinately fond of smarmy jokes, overstated acting, and the dubious notion that homeless people are hilarious.
THE TRUCE (R)
Director: Francesco Rosi. With John Turturro, Rade Serbedzija. (116 min.)
++ Turturro plays author Primo Levi in this drama adapted from Levi's memoir about his post-World War II journey from the Auschwitz death camp to his Italian homeland. Rosi is one of Italy's most thoughtful directors, but his portrayal of this harrowing voyage never gets below surface events to probe their deeper human and historical meanings.
TWO GIRLS AND A GUY (R)
Director: James Toback. With Robert Downey Jr., Heather Graham, Natasha Wagner. (83 min.)
++ Downey gives a startlingly vivid performance as a young man juggling two angry girlfriends while worrying over his mother's uncertain health. Contains an explicit sex scene and very rough language.
Currently in Release
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.
++1/2 Dark, disturbing, humorous at times.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: A fight scene and a murder. VProfanity: 49 instances. Drugs: Young boys smoking;, father is an alcoholic.
CHARACTER (NOT RATED)
Director: Mike van Diem. With Jan Decleir, Fedja van Hut, Betty Sch++rman. (117 min.)
+++ Winner of the Oscar for best foreign-language film, this Dutch drama focuses on a young man struggling for personal and professional success in Rotterdam of the 1920s while waging an emotional war against his distant, domineering father. The movie steers a steady course between realistic drama and Kafkaesque delirium, handling both skillfully.
+++1/2 Well-crafted, intriguing, intense.
Sex/Nudity: Brief scene of backside nudity. Violence: Several scenes of physical fighting. Profanity: None. Drugs: Some social drinking and smoking.
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.
++ Promiscuous, humorous, thoughtful.
Sex/Nudity: No nudity, but there's one seduction scene, sexual innuendo, and implied homosexual sex. Violence: One punch. VProfanity/Obscenity: 48 profanities and obscenities. Drugs: 12 scenes of high-society wine drinking.
THE ODD COUPLE II (PG-13)
Director: Howard Deutch. With Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Christine Baranski, Jonathan Silverman. (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, occasionally harsh. Drugs: 2 drinks, 2 cigars.
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.
SPECIES II (R)
Director: Peter Medak. With Natasha Henstridge, Michael Madsen, James Cromwell. (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. By Katherine Dillin
VSex/Nudity: 9 scenes with frontal nudity and graphic sex scenes that are often long and violent. VViolence: 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 private celebrity, but the movie could use a lot more music and a lot less "intimate" footage of Allen and Co. 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. Profanity: 1 expression. Drugs: One woman drinking.
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Out On Video
(In stores April 28)
+++ Lively, colorful, smart.
Directors: Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. With Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Christopher Lloyd, Bernadette Peters. (94 min.)
+++ Captivating, clever, lovely animation.
THE JACKAL (R)
++ Violent, contrived, overdone.
Director: Michael Caton-Jones. With Bruce Willis, Richard Gere, Sidney Poitier. (124 min.)
++ Weak, long, forgettable.