Movie Guide

Ratings and comments by David Sterritt and Monitor staff Staff comments 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.

STAR RATINGS David Sterritt Monitor panel Meaning **** **** Excellent *** *** Good ** ** Fair * * Poor DUD DUD The Worst

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

New Releases

The Claim (R)

Director: Michael Winterbottom. With Peter Mullan, Sarah Polley, Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinski. (120 min.)

Sterritt ** An offbeat adaptation of Thomas Hardy's eccentric novel "The Mayor of Casterbridge," about a self-made man whose privileged existence masks two secrets: a sordid episode in his past, and an unstable personality that threatens to reemerge when life and love stop going his way. It's not clear why Winterbottom has moved the story to California in 1869, changing its wealthy grain merchant to a gold-rush tycoon and its young Scottish upstart to an aggressive railroad surveyor. In any case, his version seems more clever than heartfelt.

Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (PG)

Director: Simon Wincer. With Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski. (92 min.)

Staff * You'll sooner find snow on Ayers Rock than you will laughs in this third outing of the Crocodile Dundee series. The flimsiest plot device sends Dundee, his girlfriend, and child from the Australian outback to Los Angeles. Dundee then wanders about L.A. from one flat episode to another. Stay home and watch the real crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, on the cable channel Animal Planet instead.

By Stephen Humphries

Freaks, Glam Gods and Rockstars

(Not rated)

Director: John T. Ryan. With Jackie Beat, Justin Bond, Michael Musto, Jayne County. (74 min.)

Sterritt * A survey and celebration of New York City's underground rock scene, interviewing small-time celebrities and providing brief glimpses of their often outrageous acts. Traditional music fans won't find much to enjoy here, but the movie has value as an anthropological visit to a strange and thriving milieu.

Hidden Wars of Desert Storm (Not rated)

Directors: Gerard Ungerman, Audrey Brohy. With John Hurt, Ramsey Clark, Norman Schwarzkopf. (64 min.)

Sterritt *** An informative look at the Persian Gulf conflict, with emphasis on its cost in human lives and suffering, its roots in prior American involvement with the Middle East, the effect of subsequent economic sanctions on Iraqi citizens, and the possibility that the enigmatic Persian Gulf syndrome might be linked to munitions made of depleted uranium. Made by two investigative journalists, this concise documentary is worth viewing by anyone concerned about world events.

The Low Down (Not rated)

Director: Jamie Thraves. With Aidan Gillen, Kate Ashfield, Tobias Menzies. (96 min.)

Sterritt ** Our hero is a young Londoner who can't decide whether to find a nice girlfriend and settle down, as even his wilder friends are starting to do, or to stay with the day-to-day emotional drifting that has characterized his life so far. This comedy-drama has touches of quirky style to match its slightly edgy content, but its main audience will be 20-something audiences who haven't seen this kind of coming-of-age tale many times before.

The Luzhin Defence (PG-13)

Director: Marleen Gorris. With John Turturro, Emily Watson, Stuart Wilson, Geraldine James. (108 min.)

Sterritt ** Turturro plays a chess master whose brilliance with knights and pawns is offset by an insecure, even bumbling approach to other aspects of life. Visiting an Italian resort to play an important match, he gets romantically involved with a beautiful Russian woman, and has trouble coping with the situation - partly because he's so unworldly, and partly because his childhood was disrupted by his own parents' unhappy marriage. The story (based on a Vladimir Nabokov novel) has promise, but it fails to score a checkmate because of Gorris's failure to build dramatic momentum or elicit first-rate performances.

The Visit (Not rated)

Director: Jordan Walker-Pearlman. With Hill Harper, Marla Gibbs, Billy Dee Williams, Phylicia Rashad. (107 min.)

Sterritt ** Diagnosed with illness and imprisoned for a crime he swears he didn't commit, an African-American man receives different kinds of visits from ambivalent relatives, an old friend with her own problems to conquer, and a psychiatrist who wants to help him come to terms with his difficult life. The film's touches of unconventional style interfere with its emotional effectiveness at times, and some of the eclectic music score is downright distracting. Still, the drama has a welcome air of seriousness and sincerity.

With a Friend Like Harry... (R)

Director: Dominik Moll. With Laurent Lucas, Sergi Lopez, Mathilde Seigner, Sophie Guillemin. (117 min.)

Sterritt *** With a friend like Harry you don't need enemies, and with a movie like this - a startling, suspenseful ride few will forget in a hurry -you don't need Hollywood pictures. Lopez is perfect as an off-kilter old friend who barges into the life of a high-school pal and starts doing shady, violent favors that nobody ever asked him for. Moll mingles mystery with humor in just the right proportions, painting a perceptive portrait of middle-class domestic life into the bargain. The result is a pitch-dark tragicomedy that really deserves the often-abused adjective "Hitchcockian."

In French with English subtitles

Currently in Release

Along Came A Spider (R)

Director: Lee Tamahori. With Morgan Freeman, Monica Potter, Michael Wincott, Jay O. Sanders. (104 min.)

Staff **1/2 Morgan Freeman is back as Washington detective Dr. Alex Cross in this well-paced thriller, which is technically the prequel to "Kiss the Girls." He's on the trail of an intelligent and cunning villain - Gary Soneji (Michael Wincott) - who has kidnapped the daughter of a US senator. "Along Came a Spider" is filled with surprising twists, which often evoke a smile. By Steven Savides

Staff * Stale dialogue, ridiculous twists, Morgan Freeman is the only redeeming aspect.

Sex/Nudity: 1 reference to sex. Violence: 9 instances of fairly graphic violence, including one car crash and several shootings. Profanity: 9 harsh expressions. Drugs: 1 cigarette.

Amores Perros (Not rated)

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. With Gael Garcia Bernal, Goya Toledo. (153 min.)

Sterritt *** Dogs and a cataclysmic car accident play key roles in this sometimes enticing, frequently savage Mexican drama, which weaves three stories into a sustained look at the complicated lives of a canine named Cofi and his human companions. Gonzalez Inarritu is a highly promising new talent, although his depictions of animal travails will put this movie way off-limits for many viewers. In Spanish with English subtitles

Staff ***1/2 Very violent, yet filled with humanity; "Pulp Fiction"-like, innovative, too long.

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of implied sex, no nudity. Violence: 22 scenes, including car accidents and shooting. Extremely graphic. Profanity: 113 harsh expressions. Drugs: 22 scenes with cigarettes. 7 scenes with drinking.

Blow (R)

Director: Ted Demme. With Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ray Liotta, Paul Reubens, Rachel Griffiths. (119 min.)

Sterritt ** The fact-based story of George Jung, a small-time California crook who became a big-time associate of Pablo Escobar's notorious Colombia drug cartel, is inherently stale, especially since Martin Scorsese did it better in the 1990 hit "GoodFellas." But Depp evokes emotional depth with a characteristically subtle performance, and Demme elicits fine acting from the strong supporting cast.

Staff *** Realistic, compelling, thought-provoking.

Sex/Nudity: Brief nude shots in a photo collage, topless women in a pool, and backside shots of nude women. Violence: Graphic fighting scenes with guns and 1 slap to a woman. Profanity: 134 harsh expressions. Drugs: 31 scenes with alcohol and 39 with drugs.

Bridget Jones's Diary (R)

Director: Sharon Maguire. With Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent. (94 min.)

Sterritt ** A romantic Englishwoman searches for a man who won't mind her slightly bulky figure and slightly dissolute habits, and finds herself dallying with her cocky boss while dodging the company of a lawyer who'd be a duller but more dignified partner. This lightweight comedy evidently sees itself as a Jane Austen spinoff in the "Clueless" vein - Firth even plays a character called Mr. Darcy - and fans of the genre will enjoy it if they're not distracted by trite plot twists, Firth's one-note formality, or Zellweger's on-and-off English accent.

Staff ***1/2 Exaggerated, v.g. (very good), very British.

Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes, no nudity. 3 instances of innuendo and several sexual references. Violence: 1 scene with a fistfight. Profanity: 35 including many harsh expressions. Drugs: 15 scenes of smoking and drinking.

Josie and the Pussycats (PG-13)

Directors: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont. With Rachael Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson, Tara Reid, Alan Cumming, Parker Posey. (98 min.)

Steritt *** Our heroines are wannabe rock stars who soar to fame and fortune without quite knowing why, then stumble on a sinister scheme for selling pop-culture products through subliminal messages. The action is as perky as the main characters, all of whom are awesomely cute, and the ubiquitous Mr. Moviephone makes an amusing contribution to the plot. It's ironic that this satire of pop commercialism sets a record for product-placement plugs, but ironies like this should appeal to hip young viewers.

Kingdom Come (PG)

Director: Doug McHenry. With Whoopi Goldberg, LL Cool J, Vivica A. Fox, Jada Pinkett Smith. (95 min.)

Staff ** Newly widowed Raynelle Slocumb (Goldberg) finds herself in the eye of a family hurricane. When the Slocumbs gather to pay their last respects to her husband, the funeral becomes a time to settle family differences involving religion, alcoholism, and infidelity. The filmmakers alternate between farce and compassion in treating these issues, no doubt to sugar coat a positive message. But the abrupt shifts in tone and over-reliance on caricature undercut the drama and blunt the comedy. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 4 instances of innuendo; 1 mild scene of implied sex. Violence: 3 scenes, including tussles. Profanity: 23 mostly mild expressions. Drugs: 7 scenes with cigarettes; 6 scenes with drinking.

Memento (R)

Director: Christopher Nolan, With Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano. (118 min.)

Sterritt *** A young man hunts the criminal who murdered his wife, hampered by a physical condition that obliterates his short-term memory on a day-by-day basis. This unconventionally structured thriller moves at an energetic pace, spurred by clever variations on conventional film narrative.

Staff ***A reelful of Polaroid moments, fresh, intricate, long.

Sex/Nudity: None. V: 9 scenes of violence, including a rape. Profanity: 143 harsh expressions. Drugs: 6 instances of drinking; 1 scene with smoking.

Someone Like You (PG-13)

Director: Tony Goldwyn. With Ashley Judd, Greg Kinnear, Hugh Jackman, Marisa Tomei, Ellen Barkin. (93 min.)

Staff *1/2 Judd plays a single woman who gets dumped by a Lothario in sheep's clothing (Kinnear). Stung, she adopts a pseudonym for a woman's magazine and begins to serialize her theories about why men can't commit by observing her roommate, a king of one-night stands. Sadly, wearisome ruminations about relationships are no substitute for plot.

By Stephen Humphries

uu Sweet, singlesesqe, refreshing, believable, never quite jells, lacks chemistry.

Sex/Nudity: 4 sex scenes of mostly innuendo and frank talk. Violence: None. Profanity: 23 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 7 instances of drinking.

Spy Kids (PG)

Director: Robert Rodriguez. With Antonio Banderas, George Clooney, Alan Cumming, Teri Hatcher. (93 min.)

Staff ** Billed as a spy caper for all ages, "Spy Kids," is indeed that. Carmen and Juni Cortez are two ordinary kids who must save their parents - and the world - from the evil techno-wizard, Floop. With bright colors and child-friendly names and settings, the movie definitely skews toward the under-10 set. By Gloria Goodale

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 12 scenes of comic violence. Profanity: None. Drugs: 2 instances with drinking.

Out on Video In stores April 21

Finding Forrester (PG-13)

Director: Gus Van Sant. With Sean Connery, Rob Brown, Anna Paquin, F. Murray Abraham, Busta Rhymes. (136 min.)

Sterritt ** Unlikely friendship develops between a gifted black high-school student and a curmudgeonly old author who won a youthful Pulitzer Prize and then slipped into sullen seclusion. The premise is more interesting than the movie, which takes several wrong turns on its way to an unconvincing conclusion. Brown gives a smartly understated performance, though, and Paquin's talent continues to blossom.

Little Nicky (PG-13)

Director: Steven Brill. With Adam Sandler, Harvey Keitel, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Kevin Nealon, Dana Carvey, Ozzy Osbourne. (84 min.)

Staff * Adam Sandler plays Nicky, the soft-hearted son of Satan who is forced to save the world from evil. Stoner jokes, awful gags, and just stupid stuff add up to one bad movie. By Lisa Leigh Parney

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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