The Monitor Movie Guide

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.

++++ Excellent

+++1/2 Very Good

+++ Good

++ 1/2 Average

++ Fair

+1/2 Poor

+ Worst

New Releases


Director: Carl Franklin. With Meryl Streep, Rene Zellweger, William Hurt, Tom Everett Scott, Nicky Katt, Lauren Graham. (120 min.)

+++ A young woman leaves her big-city career to help with a family crisis in the college town where she grew up. There she gets caught in the crossfire between her seriously ill mother and brilliant but self-involved father, and in the turmoil stirred up by reawakened memories of her own complicated past. Heartfelt acting and imaginative filmmaking transform a soap-opera story into an affecting screen experience.


Director: James Ivory. With Kris Kristofferson, Leelee Sobieski, Barbara Hershey, Jesse Bradford, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Virginie Ledoyen, Jane Birkin, Macha Mril, Dominique Blanc, Harley Cross, Isaac de Bankole, Bob Swaim. (120 min.)

++++ Three episodes in the life of a novelist's family as seen through the eyes of his young daughter, first in Paris and then in a New England town where the household moves as a result of the father s declining health. No recent movie is more creatively directed, paints a more deeply felt portrait of family feelings, or handles such emotionally complex issues as friendship and adoption with more insight. The very loose plot has been adapted by Merchant Ivory from an autobiographical novel by the daughter of novelist James Jones, who apparently indulged in more drinking, four-letter language, and frank sexual discussions than some moviegoers will approve.


Director: Ramin Niami. With Sandra Bernhard, Bai Ling, Robert John Burke, Ornella Muti, Paul Anthony Stewart, Peter Stormare, Hon. Edward I Koch. (93 min.)

+ Dark comedy about the quest for a liveable life amid today's urban confusions, centering on characters as different as an oversexed psychotherapist and an undersexed immigrant, not to mention a kidnapped New York City mayor. Frenetic but forgettable, although Bernhard has her usual intensity.

Currently in Release


Director: Vincenzo Natali. With Nicole deBoer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett, Andrew Miller, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson, Maurice Dean Wint. (90 min.)

++ Surreal fantasy about a group of strangers who find themselves trapped in a mysterious structure where all the rooms are cube-shaped cages, many of them booby-trapped with deadly dangers. The characters are stereotypes and the psychology is simplistic, but the movie builds an effective sense of claustrophobic menace that thriller fans may enjoy.


Director: Randa Haines. With Vanessa L. Williams, Chayanne, Kris Kristofferson. (126 min.)

++1/2 Dancing is supposed to be fun, a teacher reminds an arguing dance team, and the dancing is what's fun in this picture. A young Cuban (Chayanne) comes to the United States as a dance-studio handyman in search of his family. Turns out he dances, too. Intrusive editing sometimes detracts from the musical sequences, and the dramatic scenes tend to drag. But great dancing, upbeat music, and a likable multiethnic cast make it worth watching. By M.K. Terrell

+++ Energetic, romantic, well danced.

Sex/Nudity/Violence: None. Profanity: 1 expression in Spanish. Drugs: 5 instances of drinking.

54 (R)

Director: Mark Christopher. With Mike Myers, Ryan Phillippe, Neve Campbell, Salma Hayek, Sela Ward. (90 min.)

DUD Myers plays the late Steve Rubell, Studio 54's real-life co-owner in the 1970s, who turns an innocent young man, into a desirable young stud. It's been reported that director Christopher toned the film down for Miramax, but he watered it down so much that he forgot to include a plot, lively disco music and dancing, or believable characters. By Lisa Leigh Parney

++ Graphic, weak plot, not for kids.

Sex/Nudity: Several scenes of nudity and sex; homosexual undertone. Violence: None. Profanity: Several dozen harsh expressions. Drugs: 65 instances of drugs and alcohol.


Director: William Nicholson. With Sophie Marceau, Stephen Dillane, Kevin Anderson, Lia Williams, Dominique Belcourt, Joss Ackland. (103 min.)

++ Needing money to settle her father's debts, a young woman agrees to bear a child for a wealthy man whose wife is an invalid, then tracks down the little girl years later and takes a job as her governess. The story is compassionate and humane, but many scenes are trite or unbelievable, and the movie is drenched in corny music that detracts from the emotions it's supposed to enhance.

+++ Romantic, Bront-esque, period drama.

Sex/Nudity: 4 brief sex scenes, 2 include partial nudity. Violence: None. Profanity: 9 mild expressions. Drugs: 8 instances of social drinking. .


Director: Kevin Rodney Sullivan. With Angela Bassett, Taye Diggs, Whoopi Goldberg, Regina King. (125 min.)

++ Vacationing in Jamaica after getting downsized from her executive desk, a 40-year-old woman falls for a 20-year-old man who refuses to be dissuaded by either their age difference or the skepticism of their friends and relatives. Bassett and Diggs are appealing as the slightly odd couple, but the movie rambles on too long and falls back on steamy clichs.

+++ Warm, funny, refreshing.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of nudity, 2 scenes of sex. Violence: None. Profanity: 21 expressions. Drugs: 1 cigar smoker, 1 scene with alcohol, drugs discussed in a hospital.


Director: Arnaud Desplechins. With Emmanuel Salinger, Thibault de Montalembert, Valerie Dreville, Bruno Todeschini. (150 min.)

+++ After a train journey during the height of the cold war, a European student finds a shrunken head inexplicably placed into his luggage and encounters a series of sociopolitical enigmas as he tries to unravel this mystery. Although it loses some of its punch as its secrets are revealed, this 1992 drama placed Desplechins on the cinematic map as a thoughtful French filmmaker whose style is a saVy blend of the cool, the calculated, and the paradoxical.


Director: Robert Bierman. With Richard E. Grant, Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Wadham. (101 min.)

+++ Entertaining adaptation of George Orwell's amusing novel "Keep the Aspidistra Flying," about a young poet who declares war on money and sticks to his guns even when the ugliness of poverty draws uncomfortably near. The filmmaking is smooth and the acting is excellent, but the picture shares the novel's weakness of a flabby final scene.


Director: Brad Anderson. With Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alan Gelfant, Jos Zuiga, Lyn Vaus, Robert Klein, Victor Argo, Arnie Reisman. (94 min.)

++ A young woman tries to convince herself that contented solitude is preferable to the unenticing men who dog her trail, but can't stop wondering if a really nice guy will ever come her way. The movie gains a few points for its colorfully filmed Boston background and bright bossa-nova music. But it's filmed in a fake-spontaneous style that's as stale and artificial as the relationships between the characters.

+++ Down-to-earth, contemporary, romantic.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex. Violence: None. Profanity: 19 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: Some social drinking and smoking, the main character drinks and smokes to relieve boredom.


Director: John Dahl. With Matt Damon, Edward Norton, Gretchen Moll, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Martin Landau, Famke Janssen. (120 min.)

++ The hero is an on-and-off law student with a passion for poker, and an honest streak that keeps him from cheating even when he's desperate for money to pay off dangerous debtors. The acting is solid, but the story builds less drama and suspense than its high-stakes subject might lead you to expect.

++1/2 Seamy, intense, sobering.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes in a brothel, 1 scene in a bar with topless dances, some innuendo. Violence: 2 fight scenes, one which is very brutal. Profanity: 205 expressions. Drugs: 1 scene of drug use, numerous instances of drinking and smoking.


Director: Mark Steven Johnson. With Ian Michael Smith, Joseph Mazzello, Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, Dana Ivey, Jan Hooks. (110 min.)

+++ The hero is a very small boy who's convinced his "abnormal" physique is proof of God's particular interest in him, and feels he'll fulfill some special purpose as soon as he can figure out what it's supposed to be. The movie is lively, funny, and endearing until melodramatics and sentimentality take over in the last few scenes.

+++ Tear-jerker, intriguing, literary.

Sex/Nudity: Several adolescent references to female anatomy. Violence: None. Profanity: 19 expressions, usually mild. Drugs: 5 scenes with smoking.


Director: Tamara Jenkins. With Natasha Lyonne, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, David Krumholtz. (91 min.)

+++ The tacky side of the 90210 ZIP Code is spotlighted in this sardonic comedy about a teenage girl coping with adolescent uncertainties plus an eccentric family that can't hold onto the bottom rung of the bourgeoisie. SaVy performances and an unpredictable story make this a memorable debut for filmmaker Jenkins, a newcomer with a promising future.

++1/2 Offbeat, lightweight, humorous.

Sex/Nudity: Four scenes with nudity, one scene of implied sex. Violence: 2 instances of stabbing a man's thigh with a fork. Profanity: 50 somewhat-mild expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes including cigarette smoking, drug overdose, and selling pot.


Director: Orson Welles. With Orson Welles, Janet Leigh, Charlton Heston, Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver, Joseph Cotten, Zsa Zsa Gabor. (108 min.)

++++ This explosive 1958 crime drama was altered by its studio to make it more conventional, but now a team of experts has restored it to Welles's own specifications, making it more clear and coherent - if not more exciting and original - than in its previous version. Welles gives one of his boldest performances as a crooked American cop, ably supported by Heston as the Mexican policeman who ferrets out his nasty secrets.


Director: Gregory Nava. With Larenz Tate, Halle Berry, Vivica A. Fox, Lela Rochon, Little Richard (120 min.)

++ The story of pop singer, bigamist, and drug abuser Frankie Lymon as seen through the eyes of his three widows. Many of the comic and dramatic scenes are wildly off-kilter, but the doo-wop music packs a nostalgic wallop and Little Richard shows up occasionally to blow the movie wide open.

+ Uninspired, melodramatic, good sound track.

Sex/Nudity: 2 fully nude love scenes, one highly suggestive scene. Violence: 4 scenes of physical fighting. Profanity: 82 expressions. Drugs: 2 hallucinogen scenes, 1 scene of heroin use.


Director: Robert Towne. With Billy Crudup, Donald Sutherland, Monica Potter, Judith Ivey, Dean Norris. (116 min.)

+++ The story of Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine, focusing on his feisty individuality and his relationship with a crusty old coach who ends up learning a lesson or two from his student. The athletic scenes are so lively and the main performances are so magnetic that even moviegoers who resist sports-centered pictures may be won over. But while Towne's screenplay carries the worthwhile message that competition is better than conquest, it fails to go a step further and teach that cooperation is best of all.


Director: Neil LaBute. With Ben Stiller, Catherine Keener, Aaron Eckhart, Nastassja Kinski, Jason Patric. (100 min.)

++ Six young urbanites turn their personal relationships into a complicated web of friendship, romance, deception, and betrayal, which LaBute appears to believe is normal behavior for the Generation X crowd. The results have a grim fascination, but as with his earlier "In the Company of Men," the movie is a lot nastier than necessary to make its cautionary points.

Sex/Nudity: 13 instances of sex enacted, depicted on stage, fantasized, or explicitly described; also constant talk about sex.Violence: Discussion of homosexual rape and sex used for revenge; man beats violently on locked bathroom door. Profanity: 133 expressions, mostly strong. Drugs: Social drinking; cigarette smoking.


(In stores Sept. 22)



Director: Marshall Herskovitz. With Catherine McCormack, Rufus Sewell, Jacqueline Bisset. (114 min.)

+ Set in 16th-century Venice, a young courtesan gets involved in high-level political intrigue and lands in trouble when a would-be lover wields the power of the Inquisition against her.

++1/2 Sensual, historical, melodramatic.



Director: Harold Becker. With Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Miko Hughes, Chi McBride. (114 min.)

An FBI undercover agent investigating a double murder stumbles into a governmental security breach involving a nine-year-old autistic child.

+++ Fast-paced, gripping, a little long.



Director: Michael Lehmann. With Billy Crystal, Kathleen Quinlan, Gheorghe Muresan. (103 min.)

+++ While traveling in Romania, a hustling but good-hearted American talent agent happens upon a giant, Max. The agent's attempt to exploit Max for a movie deal lands the pair in all sorts of sticky situations.

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