The Monitor Movie Guide

Red stars denote the reviews of Monitor movie critic David Sterritt unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor panel ( blue stars) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other moviegoers. Information on violence, drugs, sex/nudity, and profanity is compiled by the Monitor panel.


David Sterritt,

Staff movie criticMonitor

Staff panelMeaning

Excellent ****

Good ***

Fair **

Poor *

The Worst DUD


American Movie: The Making of Northwestern (R)

Director: Chris Smith. With Mark Borchardt, Bill Borchardt, Mike Schank, Robert Richard Jorge. (104 min.)

** Documentary about a young Wisconsin man trying to make a low-budget horror movie despite severe limitations of money, resources, and probably talent. Smith's study is loaded with hilarious and revealing moments. It has

an undertone of condescension toward its unsophisticated "characters," though, and at times this spills over into implicit ridicule that spoils the film's frequently enjoyable tone.

The Bone Collector (R)

Director: Phillip Noyce. With Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah, Michael Rooker, Luis Guzman, Mike McGlone, Leland Orser, Ed O'Neill. (118 min.)

** From his electronically enhanced apartment, a paralyzed policeman guides a talented young colleague through a dangerous hunt for a sadistic serial killer. This variation on the "Rear Window" format works best when director Noyce gives free rein to Washington's thoughtful charm. But the story grows progressively more unpleasant as it goes along, escalating its gory details as it builds toward a standard horror-movie climax.

The House on Haunted Hill (R)

Director: William Malone. With Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Peter Gallagher, Chris Kattan. (115 min.)

DUD In this remake of the 1958 classic, the film revolves around four people who are offered $1 million if they spend the night in a haunted mansion. There are loaded guns as party favors, flashes of insane people from years past, and really no coherent plot. This remake is more laughable than scary and has lame effects. It's an insult to horror-movie fans.

By Lisa Leigh Parney

Unoriginal, not interesting, predictable.

The Insider (R)

Director: Michael Mann. With Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Christopher Plummer, Lindsay Crouse, Debi Mazar, Rip Torn, Michael Gambon, Colm Feore, Gina Gershon, Bruce McGill, Stephen Tobolowsky. (155 min.)

**** Pacino is in top form as a crusading "60 Minutes" journalist and Crowe is even better as a whistle-blower in the tobacco industry whose life is almost ruined by his decision to take a stand against corporate greed and deceit. Excellent acting, a stirring screenplay, and crisply intelligent directing make this fact-based movie a great human drama as well as a riveting and revealing look at crucially important social issues.

Last Night (R)

Director: Don McKellar. With Don McKellar, Sandra Oh, Sarah Polley, Callum Keith Rennie, David Cronenberg, Genevieve Bujold. (93 min.)

*** The setting of this quirky comedy-drama is a Canadian city a few hours before the end of the world, and the main characters are ordinary people who cling to habit and convention as the most reliable defense against fear and despair. A gifted cast and a surprisingly delicate ending are the movie's best assets, but look out for some brashly vulgar touches in McKellar's inventive screenplay.

My Best Fiend - Klaus Kinski (Not rated)

Director: Werner Herzog. With Klaus Kinski, Werner Herzog, Eva Mattes, Claudia Cardinale. (95 min.)

*** Herzog soft-pedals his cinematic ingenuity in this personal documentary about his love-hate relationship with Kinski, whose performances in Herzog classics like "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" and "Fitzcarraldo" helped both of them become towering figures on the international movie scene before Kinski's untimely death. In English and German with English subtitles

Portraits Chinois (Shadow Play) (Not rated)

Director: Martine Dugowson. With Helena Bonham Carter, Romane Bohringer, Marie Trintigant, Jean-Claude Brialy, Yvan Attal. (105 min.)

** Comedy-drama about the lives and loves of two Parisian screenwriters and their friends. Nicely acted and capably directed, but hardly memorable. In French with English subtitles

Rosetta (R)

Directors: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. With Emilie Dequenne, Anne Yearnaux, Olivier Gourmet, Fabrizio Rongione. (95 min.)

*** Assailed by poverty and unemployment, a Belgian teenager makes a series of desperate efforts to get a regular job, hoping this will ensure a normal life for her alcoholic mother and herself. This hard-edged drama has less urgency than "La Promesse," the brilliant 1996 feature by the Dardenne brothers, but it carries a strong emotional charge along with its valuable reminder of the suffering that youngsters may undergo when a heedless society overlooks their needs. In French with English subtitles

The Silence (Not rated)

Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf. With Tahmineh Normativa, Nadereh Abdelahyeva, Golbibi Ziadolahyeva. (73 min.)

*** The sensory pleasures of music are at the heart of this gentle tale about the daily life of a 10-year-old blind boy who may find himself homeless if his carefree ways make him lose his job as an instrument tuner. The movie's exquisitely filmed images and impressionistic sound reconfirm Makhmalbaf as one of Iran's most poetic filmmakers. In Farsi with English subtitles

Train of Life (R)

Director: Radu Mihaileanu. With Lionel Abelasnski, Rufus, Agathe de la Fontaine, Clement Harari, Michel Muller, Bruno Abraham-Kremer, Johan Leysen. (103 min.)

*** As the Holocaust spreads its tentacles far and wide, a group of Jewish villagers decide to save their community by purchasing a railroad train, putting Nazi uniforms on their most military-looking menfolk, and deporting themselves to Palestine before German boxcars can carry them to extermination camps. More imaginative and responsible than the somewhat similar "Life Is Beautiful," this bittersweet comedy recalls the long tradition of Eastern European tale-telling, which has spun such yarns for centuries as a way of confronting and understanding severe hardships. In French with English subtitles


Bats (PG-13)

Director: Louis Morneau. With Lou Diamond Phillips, Dina Meyer, Carlos Jacott, Leon, Bob Gunton. (91 min.)

* Handsome lawman and gorgeous zoologist save rural town from smart, murderous bats. The story is violent and vapid, but the visual jolts may please horror buffs.

Campy, a good rental, not scary.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 23 instances of mostly fake-looking violence including bat attacks. Profanity: 60 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 2 with smoking.

Being John Malkovich (R)

Director: Spike Jonze. With John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, John Malkovich, Catherine Keener. (112 min.)

***1/2 Hilarious, utterly unpredictable comedy about an out-of-work puppeteer who finds a secret passageway into the famous actor's mind and decides to make a few bucks off his discovery. Jonze makes an uproarious feature-film debut, and Charlie Kaufman's screenplay is no less inventive. Contains sex scenes and gender-bending plot twists, however, which some moviegoers will find offensive.

Weird, entertaining, boldly creative, comical.

Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes with nudity; innuendo. Violence: 2 fistfights. Profanity: 30 expressions, many harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol or smoking; 1 with marijuana.

The Best Man (R)

Director: Malcolm Lee. With Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Harold Perrineau, Terrence Howard. (118 min.)

*** Written and directed by Malcolm Lee (cousin to well-known director Spike Lee), the movie is what some are calling a black "The Big Chill," a coming-of-age film about a group of young black professionals who are reunited after college graduation for the wedding of one of the group. When a thinly disguised autobiographical novel written by the best man reveals truths the group can't handle, old and new wounds surface. This is a compelling, well-made story that appeals across age and race lines. By Gloria Goodale

Warm, genuine, lots of coarse sex talk, well-woven plot.

Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes including an explicit sex scene, 2 flashbacks of the scene, and a bachelor party. Violence: 5 scenes ranging from a long fistfight to a light slap. Profanity: 137 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 1 with a cigarette, 2 with alcohol and cigarettes.

Music of the Heart (PG)

Director: Wes Craven. With Meryl Streep, Angela Bassett, Aidan Quinn, Cloris Leachman, Gloria Estefan. (120 min.)

** Remaking her life after her husband walks out on her, a middle-aged schoolteacher decides to share the joys of classical music with minority kids in an inner-city neighborhood. The story's can-do attitude and moments of soaring music make it a must-see for moviegoers seeking positive visions on the screen. It would convey its worthwhile themes more effectively, though, if it soft-pedaled its heartwarming sentiments and gave fuller attention to showing us exactly how the devoted teacher accomplishes her educational feats.

Princess Mononoke (PG-13)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki. With voices of Billy Crudup, Gillian Anderson, Billy Bob Thornton. (133 min.)

*** The setting is ancient Japan, and the hero is a young warrior who gets caught up in a struggle between warring communities and powerful forest spirits who want to protect their natural world from the ravages of selfish, insensitive humans. This animated epic combines the storytelling ambition of Japan's popular anime tradition with dialogue dubbed into English by a well-chosen cast. It's more thoughtful and varied than the average Hollywood cartoon, and its environmental message is appealing, but moviegoers who prefer live-action features won't find it all that special. Contains violence and innuendo that some parents may find unsuitable for young children.

Breathtaking epic, ambitious, innovative animation, repetitive.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 26 instances of violence, many from battle scenes. Profanity: 4 mild expressions. Drugs: 1 banquet scene with alcohol.

The Straight Story (G)

Director: David Lynch. With Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek. (111 min.)

*** Determined to pay his ailing brother an overdue visit, an elderly man travels from Iowa to Wisconsin on a lawnmower tractor, having low-key adventures with the strangers he meets during his eccentric odyssey. As slow-moving as the voyage it portrays, this warmly human comedy-drama marks a radical departure for Lynch, who's known for violent and surrealistic fare like "Blue Velvet" and the "Twin Peaks" series. View it carefully, though, and you'll see a surprisingly complex view of contemporary life beneath its good-natured surface.

Peaceful, wonderfully slow, sincere.

Sex/Nudity/Violence: None. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 10 scenes with cigarettes or cigars, 5 with beer.



(In stores Nov. 9)

Besieged (R)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci. With David Thewlis, Thandie Newton. (92 min.)

*** After fleeing her violence-torn homeland, an African woman goes to work for an eccentric English composer in Rome, developing a complex and increasingly affectionate relationship with him.

Life Is Beautiful (PG-13)

Director: Roberto Benigni. With Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini. (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.

Exceptional, well-crafted, uplifting.

Notting Hill (PG-13)

Director: Roger Michell. With Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Emma Chambers. (124 min.)

*** A world-famous Hollywood star falls inexplicably in love with a bookstore owner in a modest London neighborhood. Worst weakness: too many love-conquers-all clichs. Strongest asset: Grant's dewy eyes and Roberts's voluptuous mouth are a romantic-comedy dream team.

Charming, refreshing, good date flick.

Trekkies (PG-13)

Director: Roger Nygard. With Denise Crosby, members of the "Star Trek" cast, assorted fans. (85 min.)

*** People committed to the "Star Trek" way of life are the focus of this quirky, often hilarious documentary.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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