The 5th annual Mega Movie guide


David Sterritt Monitor panel Meaning

**** **** Excellent

*** *** Good

** ** Fair

* * Poor

DUD DUD The Worst

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.

Motion picture Association of America ratings are as follows:

G General Audiences: All ages admitted.

PG Parental Guidance: Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned: Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

R Restricted: Children under 17 require accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 No Children Under 17 Admitted: Age may vary in certain areas.


October Sky (PG) *** Director: Joe Johnston. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Chris Owen, William Lee Scott, Laura Dern. (105 min.)

The real-life career of scientist Homer Hickam inspired this good-natured tale of a 1950s teenager who resists the destiny his West Virginia family has mapped out for him: a lifetime of work in the local coal mine. Pursuing his passion for rocketry leads to backyard experiments with results that range from comical to explosive. The movie is more likable than believable, but it recaptures the mystique of rocket science at a time when the space age was moving from science-fiction stories to newspaper headlines. ***1/2 Great family fare, good message, sappy.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of mild innuendo. Violence: 9 instances including mining accidents and brief scuffles. Profanity: 40 expressions. Drugs: 1 scene of beer drinking; 1 instance of smoking.

Office Space (R) *** Director: Mike Judge. With Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Gary Cole, Ajay Naidu, David Herman. (89 min.)

Fed up with his dehumanizing job, a software engineer bands together with some downsized friends to rip off his company and strike a blow for bored computer geeks everywhere. In a surprise move, the creator of "Beavis and Butt-Head" has made a laid-back, even subtle comedy that generally favors mischievous ironies over outlandish jokes. Look out for extremely foul language in the rap music on the soundtrack, though. *** Irreverent, clever, entertaining.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of brief toplessness and sexual innuendo. Violence: 4 mild scenes. Profanity: 124 expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes of drinking.

On the Ropes (Not rated) *** Directors: Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgen. With Tyrene Manson, George Walton, Noel Santiago. (94 min.)

Hard-hitting documentary about a Brooklyn boxing gym and three aspiring prizefighters who see the ring as a possible route out of the inner city. The movie is revealing and troubling in its portrait of a young woman whose promising sports career is threatened by a dauntingly hard personal life.

Onegin (Not rated) *** Director: Martha Fiennes. With Ralph Fiennes, Liv Tyler, Martin Donovan, Irene Worth, Toby Stephens. (106 min.)

Love and death hover in the Russian air as a jaded 19th-century sophisticate leaves the big city for a rural estate he's inherited, only to enter a web of jealousy and misunderstanding that culminates in a duel with a tragic outcome. This intensely romantic movie lacks the sardonic irony of Alexander Pushkin's book-length poem - not since "Jude the Obscure" has a film so completely missed the spirit of the story that inspired it - but it works effectively on its own moody terms. Fiennes is just right as the morose protagonist. His sister directed the picture with quiet skill, and another sibling (Magnus Fiennes) composed the music.

Open Your Eyes (R) *** Director: Alejandro Amenbar. With Eduardo Noriega, Penlope Cruz, Najwa Nimri, Chete Lera. (110 min.)

This extremely clever Spanish thriller starts as the romantic story of a young man and his jealous lover, then becomes a tale of physical and emotional trauma, and finally plunges into surreal mystery and science-fiction pyrotechnics. That may sound like a hodgepodge, but it is a smoothly flowing tale that's as gripping as it is unpredictable.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes implied sex; 2 sex scenes, 1 with nudity. Violence: 6 scenes including a graphic shootout. Profanity: 67 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 7 scenes with alcohol and/or smoking; 2 with drugs.

The Other Sister (PG-13) ** Director: Garry Marshall. With Juliette Lewis, Diane Keaton, Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Skerritt, Hector Elizondo. (130 min.)

After years in a boarding school for the mildly retarded, a twentysomething woman starts to carve out a life of her own, alarming her wealthy parents when she starts falling in love with a young man who shares her mental condition. **1/2 Skillfully acted, idealized, uneven.

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of sexual innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes of drinking.

The Out-of-Towners (PG-13) * Director: Sam Weisman. With Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn, Mark McKinney, John Cleese. (91 min.)

Martin treads the remake route again in this updated version of the Neil Simon comedy about a Midwestern couple who travel to New York for a job interview and stumble into one big-city pitfall after another. There are a few clever lines and Cleese has some sensational moments, but that's not enough to make the farce seem fresh. * Boring, formulaic, pointless.

Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene. Violence: None. Profanity: 2 expressions. Drugs: 1 bar scene, and accidental use of a hallucinogenic.

Outside Providence (R) ** Director: Michael Corrente. With Shawn Hatosy, Alec Baldwin, Amy Smart, George Wendt. (95 min.)

A working-class father packs his trouble-making son off to a prep school, where the well-heeled students show instant contempt for his blue-collar background. The story is lively and energetic, if you can take its rowdy behavior, but Corrente's flair for ethnic portraiture fails to raise the movie above a zillion other similar themed pictures. ** Predictably funny, sometimes entertaining, dazed 1970s atmosphere

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes with sexual activity; 5 instances of innuendo. Violence: 2 mild scenes plus a couple of car crashes. Profanity: 165 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 21 scenes with alcohol, smoking, marijuana, or some combination of these.

Paulina (Not rated) *** Director: Vicky Funari. With Paulina Cruz Suarez, Mriam Manzano Durn, Erika Isabel de la Cruz Ramrez. (88 min.)

A woman returns to her poverty-stricken Mexican hometown for confrontations with various people who either wronged her or helped her during her extremely troubled youth. This isn't a "pure" nonfiction movie, but it packs emotional power and reveals much about the horrifying effects of sexist attitudes.

Payback (R) * Director: Brian Helgeland. Mel Gibson, Deborah Kara Unger, James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson. (105 min.)

An interesting cast is wasted in this misanthropic thriller about a criminal bent on revenge against his ex-wife and former partner. Mayhem is expected in this sort of story, but the filmmakers add torture and sadomasochism into the bargain, and it's hard to remember a mainstream movie that aims so much gleeful violence at its female characters. ** Lots of 'attitude,' no redeeming qualities, cold-blooded.

Sex/Nudity: Four scenes with generally sadistic sexual situations. Violence: 21 scenes involving violence (beatings, torture, gunshots, explosions, kidnapping). Profanity: 81 expressions. Drugs: 34 scenes with cigarettes, cigars, alcohol, and/or hard drugs.

Peeping Tom (R) *** Director: Michael Powell. With Carl Boehm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer. (109 min.)

Revival of the controversial 1960 thriller about a mentally deranged photographer who makes movies of women in the act of murdering them. Powell's film was greeted with derision and disgust when it was first released, but it is now justly recognized as a classic, treating its material with a restraint, seriousness, and compassion that many of today's filmmakers could learn from.

Perfect Blue (Not rated) ** Director: Satoshi Kon. With voices of Ruby Marlowe, Wendee Lee. (80 min.)

A young pop singer decides to become a serious actress, but her career turns in dark directions when a real-life stalker starts blurring the line between everyday reality and the unhappy character she plays in her TV series. This is a technically strong specimen of Japan's popular "anime" animation style. At heart, though, it's a fairly standard thriller.

Pizzicata (Not rated) *** Director: Edoardo Winspeare. With Cosimo Cinieri, Fabio Frascaro, Chiara Torelli, Anna Dimitri. (93 min.)

A peasant family shelters an Italian-American pilot shot down near an isolated Italian village during World War II, sparking jealousy and suspicion when he falls in love with a young woman of the household. *** Melancholy, gentle, unusual.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 1 scene with a stabbing, but not graphic. Profanity: 2 mild expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol, 4 with smoking.

Playing by Heart (R) *1/2 Director: Willard Carroll. With Gillian Anderson, Angelina Jolie, Gena Rowlands, Sean Connery. (121 min.)

Four couples must resolve their tortured relationships by coming to terms with death, disease, and emotional barriers. While the previews promise romance, love plays second fiddle to gloomy melodrama. More lightheartedness and fewer grim faces would have been a welcome relief. By Katherine Dillin *1/2 Unenjoyable, miserable, implausible.

Sex/Nudity: 7 scenes of implied sex and adultery. Violence: 2 mild instances. Profanity: 41 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 23 scenes with drinking, mostly at bars.

Plunkett & Macleane (R) *** Director: Jake Scott. With Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Liv Tyler, Alan Cumming, Ken Stott. (93 min.)

Set to pounding and occasionally haunting modern music, the bandit film unfolds across an 18th-century landscape as seen through the eyes of a director of late 20th-century TV commercials and rock videos. Think "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" meets "Shakespeare in Love" meets "Smashing Pumpkins." By Gloria Goodale

Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes, some innuendo. Violence: 15 instances from robbery to sexual assault. Profanity: 30 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 8 scenes with alcohol, 1 with smoking.

Pokmon: The First Movie (G) * Director: Kunihiko Yuyama. With voices of Veronica Taylor, Philip Bartlett, Rachael Lillis, Eric Stuart. (75 min.)

Kids and their "pocket monsters" visit a distant island to fight a cloned creature who rejects human and Pokmon rules. The story is trite and the cartooning is cut-rate, but youngsters will enjoy seeing their TV heroes in a movie-length adventure. **1/2 Energized, average, moralistic.

Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 8 instances including punches and explosions.

Portraits Chinois (Shadow Play) (Not rated) ** Director: Martine Dugowson. With Helena Bonham Carter, Romane Bohringer, Marie Trintigant, 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

Princess Mononoke (PG-13) *** Director: Hayao Miyazaki. With voices of Billy Crudup, Gillian Anderson, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver. (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. This animated epic is 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 children. **1/2 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.

Psycho (Not rated) **** Director: Alfred Hitchcock. With Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, John Gavin, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam. (109 min.)

Revival of the 1960 thriller that set new standards for unpredictable plot twists, ingenious camera work and editing, and the ability to get under the audience's skin in ways that few movies have ever equaled. The movie's surface is brilliantly entertaining, and its deeper levels are intricately embroidered with fascinating variations on themes that preoccupied Hitchcock throughout his career.

Punitive Damage (Not rated) *** Director: Annie Goldson. With Helen Todd, Michael Ratner Beth Stephens, Constancio Pinto, Alan Nairn. (77 min.)

Documentary about a New Zealand mother's battle for justice in a United States court after her 20-year-old son was killed by military thugs in an East Timor massacre. A timely, touching, and informative account.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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