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
BROTHER (NOT RATED)
Director: Alexei Balabanov. With Sergei Bodrov Jr., Victor Suhorukov, Svetlana Pismichenko, Maria Zhokova. (96 min.)
+++ Ready to start life afresh after leaving the military, a young Russian man goes to work for his brother, an unthinking thug who regards the new capitalist system as a license to cheat, steal, and kill. Balabanov employs both humor and horror in painting this harrowing portrait of Russia today.
DECALOGUE (NOT RATED)
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski. With Krzysztyna Janda, Miroslaw Baka, Olaf Lubaszenko. (600 min.)
++++ Revival of a towering Polish masterpiece, completed in 1988 and comprising 10 episodes set in a Warsaw apartment complex and loosely based on the Ten Commandments, the meanings of which are teased out in subtle or indirect ways through the experiences of diverse characters. Kieslowski directed other great works during his lifetime, including a couple of spinoff features from this TV-supported project, but no additional proof is needed to confirm his place among the world's great filmmakers.
JANE AUSTEN'S MAFIA! (PG-13)
Director: Jim Abrahams. With Lloyd Bridges, Christina Applegate, Jay Mohr, Billy Burke, Olympia Dukakis. (86 min.)
++ Over-the-top parody of the "Godfather" saga, with Bridges as a klutzy patriarch, Mohr as his basically decent son, and Burke as his basically indecent son. The movie pitches so many gags that the quantity will impress you even if the quality doesn't. Some are hilarious but others are silly, stupid, vulgar, pointless, old, borrowed, or blue.
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of sex; no nudity. Violence: 17 instances of cartoonish violence. Profanity: 9 expletives. Drugs: 5 instances of drug use, 4 instances of drinking.
POLISH WEDDING (PG-13)
Director: Theresa Connelly. With Lena Olin, Gabriel Byrne, Claire Danes, Mili Avatal, Adam Trese, Rade Serbedzija. (111 min.)
+++ The lives and loves of a working-class family in Detroit, centering on the emotional adventures of a teenage daughter whose place in a church pageant is threatened by her high-spirited nature and pregnancy. The appealing honesty of this modest comedy-drama is supplemented with beautifully filmed touches of atmospheric detail, although the story takes some regrettably unconvincing turns during its last half-hour.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (R)
Director: Steven Spielberg. With Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg. (160 min.)
+++ This extremely violent World War II drama focuses on an Army captain ordered to penetrate dangerous territory and rescue an ordinary private whose mother has already lost three sons in combat, even though this places the lives of his other soldiers in jeopardy. The story raises hard moral questions relating to the relative value of human lives and the overwhelming debt that may be felt by those who benefit when others sacrifice. But the movie falls short of excellence because it doesn't so much explore these issues as finesse them in an action-filled climax. Contains horrific mayhem and very foul language.
+++ Masterpiece, grimly realistic, definitely not for kids.
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of soldiers talking about women and sex. Violence: 5 sweeping scenes of violence, all of them graphic, war-related, and almost continuous. First and last scenes are at least a half-hour long. Profanity: 79 expletives, usually during battle. Drugs: Medicinal use of morphine, 22 instances of smoking.
THE THIEF (R)
Director: Pavel Chukhrai. With Vladimir Mashkov, Ekaterina Rednikova, Misha Philipchuk. (97 min.)
+++ The setting is the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and the main character is a little boy facing the difficult task of growing up with an attractive but dependent mother and her emotionally unstable boyfriend, a Stalinist with a tendency toward mean, sometimes violent behavior. The story is bleak, but the acting is strong and the filmmaking is vivid.
WESTERN (NOT RATED)
Director: Manuel Poirier. With Sergei Lpez, Sacha Bourdo, lisabeth Vitali, Marie Matheron, Basile Sieouka. (120 min.)
+++ Offbeat buddy movie about a Spanish-born shoe salesman and a Russian-born con artist wandering through France's picturesque Brittany region in search of companionship and contentment, however temporary these may prove. The story meanders down a couple of unproductive pathways during its journey, but the characters are appealing and the wide-screen cinematography has extraordinary charm.
Currently in Release
Director: Michael Bay. With Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Will Patton, Ben Affleck, Peter Stormare, Keith David, Steve Buscemi. (144 min.)
+ Rowdy astronauts rocket to an asteroid that's speeding toward Earth, hoping they can blow it up before a catastrophic collision. Everything about the first half-hour is so outrageously crude that you may hope the asteroid lands on the theater where you're watching the movie. Things improve once the heroes arrive in outer space, where the special effects are reasonably imaginative, but the story's emotions remain forced and artificial to the unsurprising end.
++ Corny, wild space ride, video-game-ish.
Sex/Nudity: One scene of nearly nude dancing, some sexual innuendo and kissing. Violence: 3 scenes involving guns and/or fistfights, many high-action scenes with explosions, 3 scenes of massive destruction. Profanity: 49, mostly mild, expressions. Drugs: 5 instances of drinking in bars.
DR. DOLITTLE (PG-13)
Director: Betty Thomas. With Eddie Murphy, Ossie Davis, Oliver Platt, Peter Boyle. (86 min.)
+New version of the old story about a man whose conversations with animals lead to consternation among his human friends. The animals are cute and Murphy gives a lively performance, but as with his remake of "The Nutty Professor," the original is still the best. Contains a great deal of vulgar dialogue and scatological humor.
++1/2 Lighthearted, droll, fun.
Sex/Nudity: One brief scene of backside nudity. Violence: None. Profanity: About 10, mostly mild, expressions. Drugs: A monkey gets drunk.
HOME BEFORE DARK (NOT RATED)
Director: Maureen Foley. With Stephanie Castellarin, Katharine Ross, Patricia Kalember, Brian Delate, Helen Lloyd Breed. (110 min.)
++ An 11-year-old girl copes with a mentally unstable mother and a dad who's not ready for single parenthood. Foley makes a solid filmmaking debut in this modest but sensitive drama about a Massachusetts family during the JFK era.
LETHAL WEAPON 4 (R)
Director: Richard Donner. With Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Renee Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li. (127 min.)
++ As fans of this series know, the lethal weapons aren't the guns the guys carry, but the guys themselves - two L.A. cops whose pursuit of wrongdoers often causes more damage than the wrongdoers. Gibson and Glover haven't lost their crowd-pleasing chemistry, and the story's manic violence is partly balanced by glimpses of antigun posters at the police station. The movie has homophobic touches, though, and with so many Asian characters, some viewers may wonder why every single one is portrayed as either a hapless victim or a wicked villain.
++ Explosive, gratuitous violence, plotless.
Sex/Nudity: Sexual innuendo, nothing graphic. Violence: About 75 instances. The film was a vehicle for violent action sequences. Profanity: Over 110 expressions, most highly offensive. Drugs: About 6 scenes of drinking and/or smoking.
Director: Daisy von Scherler Mayer. With Hatty Jones, Frances McDormand, Nigel Hawthorne, Stphane Audrane. (90 min.)
+++ Young children will enjoy this colorful tale of a little girl who tries to save her beloved boarding school from being shut down by the wealthy old coot who owns it; there's also a subplot about a naughty neighbor who gets kidnapped by his tutor. Based on the classic children's books by Ludwig Bemelmans.
++++ Witty, sweet, charming.
Sex/Nudity/Violence/Drugs: None. Profanity: One French swearword.
THE MASK OF ZORRO (PG-13)
Director: Martin Campbell. With Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Maury Chaykin Stuart Wilson, Matt Letscher. (136 min.)
++ The legendary freedom-fighter of 19th-century California trains a young bandit to carry on his struggle against a former Spanish governor who has already wrecked Zorro's family and now wants to create an independent nation on the backs of its ruthlessly exploited people. This is proudly old-fashioned entertainment in every respect except its often excessive violence. The heroes are as dashing as can be, and Zeta-Jones definitely has a promising Hollywood future.
++1/2 Spirited, classic hero-villain tale, fun.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Several dozen scenes of high-intensity sword-fighting and brawls resulting in deaths, some explosions. Profanity: One mild expression. Drugs: 11 scenes of social drinking and smoking, 2 scenes of drunkenness.
OUT OF SIGHT (R)
Director: Steven Soderbergh. With George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson. (121 min.)
++ A tough-minded policewoman develops a weak spot for a longtime bank robber on the lam after a jailbreak. The screenplay serves up the quirky dialogue and ironic twists associated with author Elmore Leonard, who wrote the original novel, but much of the action seems more like warmed-over Quentin Tarantino than first-rate Steven Soderbergh.
+++ Amusing, involving, sexy.
Sex/Nudity: Some sexual situations, mostly implied. Violence: About 5 instances. 1 stabbing, 1 implied murder; some shooting. Profanity: Heavy dose of obscenities. Drugs: Some social drinking and references to marijuana use.
THE SILVER SCREEN: COLOR ME LAVENDER (NOT RATED)
Director: Mark Rappaport. With Dan Butler and clips of Walter Brennan and other classic movie stars. (101 min.)
+++ The gifted director of "Rock Hudson's Home Movies" and "From the Diaries of Jean Seberg" assembled this revealing look at the devious ways in which Hollywood winked, peeked, and indirectly glanced at homosexuality in countless pictures of bygone decades, but hardly ever faced up to the social, cultural, or psychological issues raised by the subject.
SMALL SOLDIERS (PG-13)
Director: Joe Dante. With Kirsten Dunst, Grergory Smith, Jay Mohr, Phil Hartman, Kevin Dunn, Denis Leary, and voices of Frank Langella, Tommy Lee Jones, Christina Ricci. (101 min.)
++ Two groups of ridiculously high-tech action figures - soldiers with more muscles than brains and barbarians looking for their homeland - get into a furious war in a sleepy Midwestern town, thanks to a high-schooler who installs them in his dad's toy store. The teenage characters are bland and the cartoonish violence is surprisingly strong at times, but the picture erupts into Dante's patented lunacy - he directed "Explorers" and "Gremlins" years ago - just often enough to keep things interesting.
++ Cynical, ballistic, violent.
Sex/Nudity/Drugs: None. Violence: Numerous scenes of fighting between toy action figures, bloodless but strong hints of ugliness. Profanity: Several strong expressions.
SMOKE SIGNALS (PG-13)
Director: Chris Eyre. With Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Tantoo Cardinal, Gary Farmer, Irene Bedard. (89 min.)
++ Two young native Americans leave their economically and emotionally depressed reservation in search of heightened awareness regarding their personal and ethnic histories. The movie makes up in sincerity and goodwill what it lacks in originality and style.
+++ Poignant, wry, original.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 5 instances, none graphic. Profanity: 17 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: One character has a drinking problem.
THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (R)
Directors: Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly. With Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Chris Elliott, Lee Evans, Lin Shaye, Jeffrey Tambor, W. Earl Brown. (120 min.)
++ Still hopelessly in love with a high school heartthrob he hardly knew, a New England yuppie tracks her down to Miami, then competes for her affection with various new rivals, including the private eye he hired to locate her. This comedy is as down-and-dirty as you'd expect from the Farrelly team, who launched their career with "Dumb and Dumber" and "Kingpin," but more than one sequence manages to be hilarious on its own outrageously crass terms.
++ Crass, irreverent, gross-out comedy.
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of implied sex, 3 brief instances of nudity. Violence: Mostly slapstick, nothing graphic. Profanity: About 80 crude or harsh expressions. Drugs: 5 instances of drinking, 3 instances of smoking.
OUT ON VIDEO
(In stores July 28)
THE GINGERBREAD MAN (R)
Director: Robert Altman. With Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz, Robert Duvall. (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.
HARD RAIN (R)
Director: Mikael Salomon. With Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Ed Asner. (98 min.)
++ Bank robbers chase an armored-car guard who's made off with their loot during a flood emergency in a Midwestern town.
PAPERBACK ROMANCE (R)
Director: Ben Lewin. With Gia Carides, Anthony La Paglia, Rebecca Gibney, Sioban Tuke. (89 min.)
+++ 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.