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 Monitor Panel Meaning
**** **** Excellent
*** *** Good
** ** Fair
* * Poor
DUD DUD The Worst
If You Only Understood (Not rated) *** Director: Rolando Diaz. With Aline Jerez, Joanni Fernandez, Flor Araujo, Anais Brunet, Belkis Vasallo. (87 min.)
This genre-bending "documentary musical" focuses on a Cuban filmmaker's travels through Havana in search of a talented black woman to star in his next picture. It also looks in on his interviews with a series of women who talk candidly about how racism, sexism, and poverty affect their everyday experiences. The movie will appeal most to people with a special interest in Cuban society, but anyone can appreciate its warmly sympathetic vision of ordinary people living ordinary lives. In Spanish with English subtitles (see story, page 17).
Life is to Whistle (Not rated) *** Director: Fernando Prez. With Luis Alberto Garcia, Isabel Santos, Coralia Veloz, Rolando Brito, Bebe Perez, Claudia Rojas, Joan Manuel Reyes, Monica Guffanti. (110 min.)
High drama, low comedy, and experimental storytelling techniques distinguish this Cuban production, which centers on a teenage narrator whose hyperactive imagination churns out a number of loosely linked tales about a woman prone to fainting spells, a ballerina who vows to give up men if she
can dance a cherished role, and many others. Lively all the way. In Spanish with English subtitles (see story, page 17).
Trans (Not rated) ** Director: Julian Goldberger. With Ryan Daugherty, Justin Lakes, Michael Guinac, Jon Daugherty, Elijah Smith, Charles Walker, Jeremiah Robinson, Vince Kelly, Stephanie Davis, Edge Edgerton. (80 min.)
A trouble-prone teenager impulsively escapes from a detention center just before the end of his sentence, and spends the next hours drifting through his small-town Florida community wondering what in the world he should do next. The drama has a certain gritty realism, but in the end it's as aimless as its unlikable hero.
CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
Anna and the King (PG-13) ** Director: Andy Tennant. With Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Bai Ling, Tom Felton. (146 min.)
An English schoolteacher tutors a Siamese prince and enters a deliciously complex relationship with the boy's regal father. Based on the memoir that inspired "The King and I," this colorfully filmed drama makes changes from the classic 1956 version of the tale - most important, the music numbers are gone - but doesn't develop enough momentum to justify its too-long running time. ***1/2 Chow Yun-Fat is great, lush landscapes, tender.
Sex/Nudity: 1 very mild scene of implied sex. Violence: 12 scenes from shooting to children tussling. Profanity: None. Drugs: 1 scene with alcohol, 6 with smoking, 1 with alcohol and smoking.
Any Given Sunday (R) *** Director: Oliver Stone. With Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Dennis Quaid. (162 min.)
Pacino plays the aging coach of a football team that's seen better days, and Foxx is excellent as a stylish new player who revitalizes the franchise while breaking many rules along the way. The characters are hardly original - the cynical owner, the hard-working quarterback, the stony-faced commissioner, the sportscaster with an attitude - but Stone puts them into play with his usual fever-pitch gusto, producing what's probably the most heart-pounding gridiron movie ever made. **1/2 Most machismo in a movie ever, compelling portrait of American football, vulgar.
Sex/Nudity: 5 fairly graphic scenes with nudity, including 2 with full frontal male nudity; 1 sex scene with nudity. Violence: 13 scenes of off-field violence, mostly shoving; 22 instances of especially rough on-field play. Profanity: 288 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 11 scenes with alcohol, 6 with cigarettes, 14 with cigars, 1 with cocaine.
Close-Up (Not rated) **** Director: Abbas Kiarostami. With Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf. (90 min.)
The quirky true-life story of an Iranian man arrested for impersonating a famous movie director, and then befriended by another filmmaker who persuaded the con artist to play himself in this movie. Widely regarded as Iran's greatest director, Kiarostami has crafted a funny, suspenseful, ultimately endearing look at the lure of celebrity and the mysteries of filmmaking. In Farsi with English subtitles (see cover story, page 13).
Cradle Will Rock (R) *** Director: Tim Robbins. With Emily Watson, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Susan Sarandon. (122 min.)
Set in the New York theater scene during the 1930s, this colorful comedy-drama scampers through various plots and subplots from the ambitions of a starving actress to the love-hate relationship of an American millionaire and a Mexican muralist. It culminates in a struggle between boy-wonder Orson Welles and government officials who want to veto his production of a pro-union opera. Some may find the movie too crowded and preachy to serve as a meaningful history lesson, but it will delight anyone who thinks our cynical age could benefit from recalling the vigorous idealism and venturesome artistry of a bygone era. ***1/2 Political overtones, thrilling, exquisite, mainstream masterwork.
Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes including implied sex, sex, and an instance of nudity; a few nude modeling scenes; some innuendo. Violence: 2 scenes including demonstrators clubbed by police. Profanity: 25 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 11 scenes with alcohol, 4 with smoking, 1 with both.
The End of the Affair (R) *** Director: Neil Jordan. With Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea, Jason Isaacs, Ian Hart. (110 min.)
After hiring a detective to investigate a woman he had an affair with during World War II, an English author learns she ended their relationship for religious reasons that are difficult for his cynical sensibility to understand. Based on Graham Greene's thoughtful novel, this unconventional drama begins as a sexually explicit love-triangle story and ends as a sober reflection on the meaning of faith. Splendid acting helps Jordan achieve most of his goals. ***1/2 Unsettling, literary, passionate.
Sex/Nudity: 7 sex scenes with both male and female nudity. Violence: 3 scenes of the same bomb blast. Profanity: 1 mild expression. Drugs: 14 scenes with alcohol, 2 with smoking.
Galaxy Quest (PG) *** Director: Dean Parisot. With Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Daryl Mitchell. (102 min.)
A delegation from a faraway planet recruits the cast of a "Star Trek"-type TV show to help them win an intergalactic war, not realizing the Earthlings are just actors who've defeated all their "aliens" with plastic rayguns and camera tricks. The story is silly, the acting is campy, the effects are amusingly tacky. In all, a mildly entertaining romp that pokes refreshing fun at its own occasional violence. *** Warp-speed spoof, affectionate Star Trek parody, more amusing than hilarious.
The Green Mile (R) ** Director: Frank Darabont. With Tom Hanks, David Morse, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bonnie Hunt. (180 min.)
Death-row guards in a Southern penitentiary meet a highly unusual prisoner with a gift for healing that appears incongruous next to the horrific crime he's been convicted of. The movie deals with substantial issues, but it treats capital punishment as a plot device rather than a moral issue, and its view of spiritual healing is closer to Spielberg fantasy than religious insight. Still, its good acting and good intentions will be enough to please many viewers. ***1/2 Never dull, compassionate, transcendent storytelling.
Sex/Nudity: 1 mild scene of implied sex; 5 instances of innuendo. Violence: 22 scenes including disturbing death row electrocutions. Profanity: 36 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 5 scenes with beer.
The Hurricane (R) ** Director: Norman Jewison. With Denzel Washington, Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber, Dan Hedaya. (140 min.)
Washington gives a sizzling performance as real-life hero Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, an African-American boxer who was arrested and jailed by racist authorities for a grisly crime he had nothing to do with. The story is
so important and compelling that you wish Jewison had treated it more as an urgent wake-up call than a by-the-numbers morality play. Still, it's well worth seeing as a poignant reminder of how readily injustice can prevail when racial bigotry runs loose.
Magnolia (R) ** Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. With Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Melinda Dillon. (185 min.)
The director of "Boogie Nights" makes less impact with this large-scale panorama of life in Los Angeles, focusing on a varied cast of characters - an insecure policeman, a woman-hating sex lecturer, a dying media mogul, his grief-stricken young wife, and others - many of whom are linked to one another by connections with the world of TV quiz shows. The cast is terrific and the multitudinous story lines allow Anderson to cook up an impressive display of moviemaking logistics. But there's precious little to think about despite the screenplay's comic-philosophical musings on fate and coincidence.
Man on the Moon (R) **** Director: Milos Forman. With Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti. (118 min.)
Carrey is flat-out brilliant as Andy Kaufman, the maverick entertainer who pushed the limits of comic inventiveness - and the patience of TV and comedy-club audiences - before his untimely death in 1984. Less a biography than an essay on theatrical illusion and the changing nature of comedy, the picture continues Forman's string of movies ("Amadeus," "The People vs. Larry Flynt") about cultural issues as embodied by public figures who're as eccentric as they are creative. Love it or hate it, you've never seen anything quite like it. *** A superb performance by Jim Carrey, disturbing, unsympathetic protagonist.
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes with partial nudity, 2 scenes of a sexual nature. Violence: 3 scenes with mild violence. Profanity: 27 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 5 scenes with smoking, 7 with alcohol and smoking, 1 with references to marijuana.
A Moment of Innocence (Not rated) **** Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf. With Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Ammar Tafti, Marjam Mohamadamini. (75 min.)
One of the most creative filmmakers in Iran tells the story of his effort to direct a film about a true event from his own past, when he physically attacked a political enemy who's now forgiven him and wants to star in the movie! Touching, funny, and totally original. In Farsi with English subtitles (see cover story, page 13).
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 (see cover story, page 13).
Snow Falling on Cedars (PG-13) ** Director: Scott Hicks. With Ethan Hawke, Youki Koudoh. (130 min.)
Covering a murder trial on a Pacific Northwest island, a reporter rekindles an old relationship with the wife of the Japanese-American man who's charged with the crime. The story leaps between the World War II years and the mid-1950s, exploring issues of racism, greed, and injustice along the way. The movie is too chilly and distanced to build the emotional impact it would like to have, but it raises important questions about troubling aspects of recent American history.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (R) *** Director: Anthony Minghella. With Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett. (130 min.)
A highly neurotic young man decides to impersonate a wealthy acquaintance during a European visit, starting a chain of bizarre and ultimately violent events. Based on Patricia Highsmith's ingenious novel, which also inspired the superior European thriller "Purple Noon" in 1960, the picture has fine ensemble acting and superb Italian scenery. It would have more power if it were shorter and tighter. *** Suspenseful, highly disturbing, psycho-sexual drama, gruesome at times.
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes with male nudity, 1 sexual situation. Violence: 7 instances of violence, some graphic. Profanity: 6 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 15 scenes with alcohol, 9 with smoking.
OUT ON VIDEO
(In stores Jan. 11)
Lake Placid (R) * Director: Steve Miner. With Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, Bill Pullman, Brendan Gleeson. (88 min.)
Placid lake, giant crocodile, chomp chomp. Stay away unless you enjoy gross-out violence. *1/2 Gory, mediocre, short.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 11 scenes, most with a hungry crocodile. Profanity: 41 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: None.
Mystery Men (PG-13) *** Director: Kinka Usher. With Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy, Paul Reubens, Geoffrey Rush. (121 min.)
A superhero named Captain Amazing gets kidnapped by his archenemy, and the only people who can save him are a rag-tag group of amateur superheroes armed with nothing more exotic than shovels, bowling balls, and dinner-table cutlery. Contains comic-book violence and gross-out humor. **1/2 Funny, comic bookish, grows on you.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 8 scenes including fights and slapstick violence. Profanity: 4 very mild expressions. Drugs: 4 instances of alcohol and/or smoking.
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