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


Director: Woody Allen. With Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Melanie Griffith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joe Mantegna, Winona Ryder, Michael Lerner, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Charlize Theron, Hank Azaria. (113 min.)

++ A journalist drifts away from his marriage while cultivating acquaintances with various celebrities who cross his path for professional and personal reasons. The idea of a Woody Allen movie about fame is enticing, given the complexities of his real-life media image, but a meandering screenplay and uninspired acting make this one of his thinnest, tinniest films.


Director: Walter Salles. With Fernanda Montenegro, Vinicius de Oliveira, Marilia Pra, Othon Bastos, Matheus Nachtergaele. (115 min.)

+++ A feisty Brazilian widow meets a little boy with no home, takes him under her wing, and helps him find elusive family members deep in the country's interior. The performances are engaging and the views of rural Brazil are captivating, making the film a solid audience-pleaser even though its story often seems familiar and sentimental.


Director: Tony Scott. With Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Regina King, Loren Dean, Lisa Bonet, Jake Busey, Gabriel Byrne, Barry Pepper. (128 min.)

++ After a congressman is murdered, a piece of deadly evidence comes into the hands of an easygoing lawyer who doesn't even know he has it, and can't imagine why a rogue security agent has mustered all the high-tech power of the US government to track him down and ruin his life. The movie itself has plenty of high-tech power, spinning out action so explosive you'll hardly notice how preposterous the story is or how cardboard-thin the characters are.


Director: Bruce McDonald. With Callum Keith Rennie, Hugh Dillon, John Pyper-Ferguson, Julian Richings, Bernie Coulson. (92 min.)

++ The adventures of a punk-rock band fueled more by lunkheaded energy than genuine talent. The music has lots of edgy drive, but the humor never approaches the hilarity of "This Is Spinal Tap," obviously the model for this fictional "rockumentary."


Directors: Norton Virgien, Igor Kovalyov. With E.G. Daily, Kath Soucie, Whoopie Goldberg, David Spade, Tim Currey, Melanie Chartoff. (87 min.)

++ A new baby enters the Pickles family, sparking jealousy in his big brother and danger for his friends when they load the newcomer into a wagon and lose their way in the woods. The animation is rough around the edges, and the sometimes vulgar jokes lack the wit of a good "Simpsons" episode, but fans of the TV series will find much to please them.


Director: Amos Kollek. With Anna Thompson, Tahnee Welch, Matthew Powers, Tracee Ross, Robert Kya Hill, John Ventimiglia, Austin Pendleton. (91 min.)

++ A young New Yorker drifts into depression while navigating through the day-to-day challenges of finding a job, paying the rent, and dodging at least some of the men who want to take advantage of her open nature. Thompson's acting has an interesting mixture of toughness and vulnerability, and might be truly impressive if the screenplay gave her more meaningful material to work with.


Director: Eric Bross. With Adrien Brody, Sybil Temchen, Frank Vincent, Michael Gallagher, Tony Gillian. (101 min.)

+ A young salesman's dream of a better tomorrow goes sharply downhill when he falls dangerously in debt to a neighborhood loan shark on the eve of his engagement to the woman he loves. A few absorbing scenes and a good sense of New Jersey authenticity don't disguise the picture's reliance on story ideas we've seen a zillion times before.

Currently in Release


Director: Bennett Miller. With Timothy "Speed" Levitch. (76 min.)

+++ Funny, fascinating documentary about a New York City tour guide who sees his occupation as a mercurial metaphor for life itself. The movie is at once a portrait of a great city, a penetrating character study, and an existential rumination on the human condition, all in less time than it takes the average Hollywood picture to set up its big chase scene.


Director: Pat O Connor. With Meryl Streep. Michael Gambon, Sophie Thompson, Kathy Burke, Catherine McCormack, Brid Brennan, Rhys Ifans. (94 min.)

+++ Likable, low-key version of Brian Friel's play about five rural Irish sisters and a slightly mad brother who symbolizes the change that overtakes even the simplest of lives. Not surprisingly, Streep makes the strongest impression, wielding an Irish brogue as expressively as the many other accents she's mastered during her versatile career.


Director: Shekhar Kapur. With Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, Christopher Eccleston, Kathy Burke, John Gielgud, Fanny Ardant. (124 min.)

+++ Pungent bio-pic about the famous queen and the tumultuous times in which she lived. Acted and directed with great energy and imagination, it may be too explicit in its depictions of sex and mayhem for moviegoers accustomed to more old-fashioned historical epics.

Sex/Nudity: 8 instances. Violence: 19 instances. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 1 instance of drinking.


Director: Danny Cannon. With Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Brandy, Mekhi Phifer, Muse Watson, Bill Cobbs, Matthew Settle, Jeffrey Combs, Jennifer Esposito, and John Hawkes. (110 min.)

u1/2 Julie James (Hewitt) is still having nightmares about her friends who were brutally murdered by a hook-handed man named Ben Willis (Watson) one summer ago. So when Julie and her best friend Karla (pop star Brandy) win an all-expense-paid trip to the Bahamas, she can't wait to get away. But when Julie and friends arrive on the island, hurricane season quickly moves in and tourists move out. And guess what? The hook is hot on Julie's trail. The star-powered sequel may satisfy the taste of horror fans, but the overly gory shocker is tiresome and predictable. By Lisa Leigh Parney

Sex/Nudity: Sexual innuendo. Violence: 20 scenes of gory violence, including 12 murders with a hook, knife, hedge clippers, and gun. Profanity: 53 mostly harsh expressions. Drugs: Some social drinking; 1 scene with cigarette smoking and two with marijuana.


Director: Roberto Benigni. With Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini, Giustino Durano. (122 min.)

++ In the late 1930s, an Italian man finds his household in peril because of his Jewish background. He determines to protect his little boy from physical and psychological harm, even when they're sent to a brutal concentration camp. This prizewinning Italian comedy has good intentions, but its exaggerated celebration of quick-witted improvisation ultimately trivializes the human and historical horrors evoked by the story.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: some slapstick. Profanity: Mild. Drugs: Smoking and drinking.


Director: Richard LaGravenese. With Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, Queen Latifah, Rachel Leigh Cook. (102 min.)

++ Overwhelmed by loneliness after her husband dumps her, a wealthy New Yorker strikes up an unlikely friendship with the elevator operator in her apartment building, himself still grieving over the recent death of his daughter. Hunter and DeVito turn in affecting performances, but the movie steers a wobbly course between comedy and melodrama, never quite deciding which niche it wants to fall into.


Director: Martin Brest. With Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Claire Forlani, Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Tambor, David S. Howard. (174 min.)

++ "Touched by an Angel" meets "Wall Street" in this long, sometimes labored fantasy depicting Death as a handsome young man who takes a vacation to explore the everyday world and romance the daughter of a wealthy executive. Brest deserves credit for letting the story unfold at a thoughtful pace, but the drama falls apart in the last half-hour, gushing with exaggerated emotions and abandoning its fairy-tale premises for an unconvincing feel-good finale.

+++ Romantic, beautiful, not insidious.

Sex/Nudity: one lengthy sex scene. Violence: 1 car accident. Profanity: 29 expressions. Drugs: 5 instance of social drinking at parties.


Director: Gary Ross. With Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Don Knotts, Jeff Daniels, J.T. Walsh. (116 min.)

+++ Two average 1990s teens find themselves transported to a 1950s-type town right out of a TV sitcom, where values and ideas are as black-and-white as the cinematography. And when they succeed in opening up their neighbors' minds a bit, they touch off a ferocious backlash that reveals the dark side of "family values" clichs. Ross's comedy isn't as inventive as "The Truman Show," which it resembles in some ways, but it explores interesting ideas with nimble humor.

+++ Refreshingly original, technically inventive, fun but meaningful.

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes, one fairly explicit. Violence: 3 scenes. Profanity: 16 mild expressions. Drugs: Scenes of smoking.


Director: Griffin Dunne. With Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Dianne Wiest, Stockard Channing, Aidan Quinn. (105 min.)

+++ The adventures of two modern-day witches, one of whom craves an ordinary life but finds her supernatural powers continually getting in the way. Lively acting, eye-catching cinematography, and funny dialogue lift this fantasy a notch above the average until love-story clichs and horror-movie shocks bog it down in the second half.

++ Uneven, slow, unbewitching.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene - not graphic. Violence: 8 fairly gruesome scenes (poisoning, bludgeoning, verbal threats of sexual violence). Profanity: 14 mild expressions. Drugs: 10 scenes involving alcohol, cigarettes, or both.


Director: Edward Zwick. With Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Bruce Willis, Tony Shalhoub, Sami Bouajila, David Proval. (109 min.)

++ Struggling to stop a blitz of terrorist attacks on American targets, a dedicated FBI agent spars with a slippery CIA operative, and then with a tough-skinned military commander who takes control when New York is placed under martial law and Arab-Americans are herded into internment camps. The story is an odd mixture of preachiness and paranoia, but the stars provide sizzling performances and the action moves at a lively clip.

++ Hollywood slick, slow, predictable.

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes - including nudity. Violence: 20 scenes. Profanity: 33 obscenities. Drugs: 7 scenes involving alcohol and cigarettes.


Director: Nicholas Barker. With Aimee Kopp, Michael Russo. (100 min.)

+++ Four ordinary New Yorkers play characters like themselves in this sometimes hilarious docu-fiction about the never-ending quest for companionship and contentment, directed by Barker with methods that filmmakers Jean Rouch and Robert Duvall have also explored over the years. A fair amount of less-than-admirable behavior is displayed, but the end result is poignant, compassionate, and within the narrow limits it sets itself - almost anthropological in the crispness of its vision.

Sex/Nudity: 25 instances, many graphic. Violence: None. Profanity: 56 strong expressions. Drugs: 3 instances of drinking and smoking.


Director: Frank Coraci. With Adam Sandler, Kathy Bates, Jerry Reed, Henry Winkler, Fairuza Balk. (140 min.)

++ Sandler plays a lovable but dimwitted Louisiana-bayou water boy who is sheltered by his overprotective mama and picked on by the football team - that is, until he unleashes his hidden talent for tackling quarterbacks and 300-pound linemen. If you're a Sandler fan, "The Waterboy" is what you want: a deluge of funny, inane jokes. However, if you despised "Happy Gilmore" and "Billy Madison," save your dough, "The Waterboy" will leave you dehydrated. By John Christian Hoyle

++ Juvenile, beyond absurd, good for a laugh.

Sex/Nudity: None Violence: 38 scenes of cartoonish violence. Profanity: 34 vulgarities. Drugs: 8 scenes of cigarette smoking, drinking, and drugs.



Director: Bob Saget With Norm Macdonald, Chevy Chase, Arti Lange, Christopher McDonald, Traylor Howard. (96 min.)

++ "Saturday Night Live" vet Norm McDonald plays a down-on-his-luck schmo who exploits his only talent - getting revenge on people who've done him wrong. By John Christian Hoyle.

++ Crass, juvenile, ribald.

Coming Soon ...

(In stores Nov. 24)



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.

++1/2 Lighthearted, droll, fun.

(In stores Dec. 1)


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 exploited people.

++1/2 Spirited, classic hero-villain tale, fun.

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