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The Monitor Movie Guide

New Releases

THE BIG SLEEP (Not rated)

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*** Reissue of Howard Hawks's classic "film noir" in its original version, which was held out of American theaters in 1946 so Warner Bros. could redo some portions to enhance the glamour of Lauren Bacall, one of the studio's most promising stars. Humphrey Bogart plays wisecracking detective Philip Marlowe, who outwits bad guys while romancing the ladies and cracking a tough murder case. The whodunit plot doesn't carry much interest anymore, but the dialogue and performances still sparkle. William Faulkner wrote the screenplay with Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman. Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler, which spins a darker and more turbulent tale. V

THE JEW (Not rated)

*** Portugal has one of the world's most creative film industries, and its special gift for combining visual artistry with social conscience is movingly apparent in this fact-based historical drama. An 18th-century playwright is hounded to death by the Inquisition, less for his Jewish origins than for reasons of conflict between church and state authorities. Filmed by Jom Tob Azulay with a glow of melancholy beauty. V N S


**** Revival of Leo McCarey's poignant 1937 comedy about two elderly folks who run out of money, turn to their grown children for help, and find themselves separated for the first time in half a century. Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore head the superb cast. Almost everything about this undervalued masterpiece looks more rich, sophisticated, and insightful as the years go by.


*** A nonfiction look at Soviet/Russian missions to the Mir space station, loosely organized around the remarkable experience of flight engineer Sergei Krikalev, who took off from a place called the Soviet Union in 1991 and landed in a place called Russia almost a year later. Directed by Germany-based filmmaker Andrei Ujica and photographed by Vadim Yusov, who shot several of the great Andrei Tarkovsky's early pictures.

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*** The greatest living American filmmaker conducts a four-hour guided tour through the byways of film history that have mattered most in his own life and career, with attention to everything from sociopolitical importance to sheer entertainment value. Colorful, informative, fun. Written and directed by Scorsese and Michael Henry Wilson for the "Century of Cinema" series produced by the British Film Institute. P


*** The story of a real-life pornographer who turned a sleazy magazine into a publishing empire. One of his many battles involved the leader of the Moral Majority organization, who sued the trash-peddler over a vicious parody but lost the case in a unanimous Supreme Court opinion written by one of the most conservative justices. Milos Forman's drama is full of outrageous material that will offend liberals and conservatives alike, but it's positioned on the cutting edge of contemporary debates about free speech, feminism, and the effects of mass media on modern society. Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love play the title character and his drug-addicted wife.


* Raunchy, maudlin, superficial.


* A monster is terrorizing Chicago's natural-history museum. Can the local evolutionary biologist save the day without mussing her makeup, or is the supernatural too much for a mere scientist to handle? Penelope Ann Miller is more cuddly than convincing as the heroine, and it's a pity to see old pros like Linda Hunt and James Whitmore slogging through such silliness. Directed and photographed by Peter Hyams. Contains a great deal of over-the-top mayhem. V P


* When genres collide: A flight attendant fends off a serial killer while piloting a disabled airplane through a series of thunderstorms, hoping the military won't gun her down to avoid a disastrous big-city crash. Not since "Airport 1975" has a stewardess performed so stalwartly in the cockpit, and not since "Something Wild" has Ray Liotta played a nasty guy with such obvious glee. It would all add up to a good movie if the violence weren't so vicious and the dialogue so uproariously bad. Isn't this the sort of picture the hilarious "Airplane" was supposed to kill off years ago? Robert Butler directed. V P

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** Wandering into the real world because their TV set was stolen, the snickering teens leave a trail of messy misadventures from one coast to the other. Admirers of their MTV series will find a few laughs in this animated odyssey. Others will find it as repetitious as it is vulgar. Voices include Robert Stack, Cloris Leachman, Eric Bogosian, and director Mike Judge playing both heroes plus their high-school principal. Beware of gross-out gags galore. P V S N

* Adolescent, mindless, irritating.


** Not long after she begins a happy married life, a deeply religious woman's new husband becomes severely disabled and asks her to start relationships with other men. Lars von Trier's drama poses complicated moral questions, leaving the audience to decide whether the wife is engaging in noble self-sacrifice or allowing unhealthy impulses to rule and ruin her life. Unfortunately, the film is more successful at setting up ethical conundrums than at profitably exploring them. Robby Mller did the striking cinematography, using the unusual combination of wide-screen format and hand-held camera work. V S N P

*** Jarring, eerie, a movie that isn't easily forgotten.

LA CEREMONIE (Not rated)

*** This slyly unsettling thriller focuses on two working-class women who develop dangerous hostility toward the well-heeled household where one of them is employed. Claude Chabrol, the most Hitchcockian of all French directors, carries the absorbing story from a tantalizing start to a disturbingly violent climax. The extraordinary cast includes Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Bonnaire, and Jacqueline Bisset. V P


*** Pregnant yet again, drug-addicted Ruth Stoops considers an abortion as a way of dodging the child-care authorities, then becomes a hapless pawn in an ongoing battle between prochoice and prolife warriors. Alexander Payne's equal-opportunity satire persuasively argues that no ideological group has a lock on "values" or "correctness," and reminds us that fanatics can be found on every side of an issue. Laura Dern gets strong support from Swoosie Kurtz, Mary Kay Place, and Burt Reynolds. Contains drug abuse, foul language, and a graphic sex scene at the very beginning. S P V


*** Arthur Miller's classic drama about the 17th-century witch hunts in Salem, Mass., touched off when a group of girls are caught having a wild party, blame the devil for their crimes, and bolster their defense by accusing local women of consorting with the forces of evil. Winona Ryder, Daniel Day-Lewis, Joan Allen, and Paul Scofield head the cast. Effectively if unexcitingly directed by Nicholas Hytner. V S N

*** Emotional, powerful, an important film to see.


** Badly wounded in World War II, a pilot recovers under the care of a sensitive nurse while remembering his wartime experiences and his earlier involvement with another woman. Told through persuasive performances and stunning camera work, the sweeping story shows how pressures of war may shake up conventional notions of loyalty, integrity, and even identity itself. But the film doesn't gather the emotional momentum that would make it compelling as well as impressive. Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, and Kristin Scott Thomas head the cast. Directed by Anthony Minghella. S V N P

*** Profound, engaging, beautiful cinematography.


** The sequel to "Terms of Endearment" is at least as sentimental as its predecessor, but it still has an attention-grabbing heroine: the eccentric Aurora Greenway, now 15 years older and possibly a bit wiser now that she's raised her grandchildren after her daughter's death. Like any self-respecting soap opera, the film alternates between sexual relationships (usually extramarital) and illnesses (usually fatal) on its way to a bittersweet ending. In the cast, Shirley MacLaine and Juliette Lewis make the strongest impressions. Miranda Richardson, Jack Nicholson, and Donald Moffat are also on hand. Written and directed by Robert Harling. S N V P


*** Making his first musical, Woody Allen focuses on a lovelorn author and a wealthy Manhattan family whose members have a variety of interrelated adventures. The story and style are as catchy and carefree as any in Allen's career. But skeptics will observe that his view of human nature remains narrow and shallow beneath its beguiling surfaces. Allen stars along with Drew Barrymore, Alan Alda, Tim Roth, and Julia Roberts. P S


** The life and times of Eva Peron, who rose from back-country squalor to fame and fortune as the wife of Argentine leader Juan Pern, told entirely through songs and stylized dramatic scenes. The movie takes no particular stance on the controversies surrounding its heroine, seen by some as a self-serving egomaniac and others as a tireless champion of the poor. Nor can much insight be gleaned from Madonna's energetic but oddly impersonal performance. Alan Parker directed this adaptation of the stage hit by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. Jonathan Pryce and Antonio Banderas whip up a little charisma as the dictator and a man-in-the-street narrator. S V

*** Breathtaking, both Madonna and Banderas give good performances; music is great, but too loud at times.


*** Rob Reiner directed this fact-based drama about a young attorney's successful effort to prosecute the long-ago murderer of civil-rights leader Medgar Evers, with help from the victim's widow and other, more surprising sources. Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, and the frighteningly intense James Woods head the cast. V P

*** Moving, suspenseful, true story accurately portrayed.


** An athletics agent tries to start his own company after losing his job, and learns a lot about human decency from a family-loving football player who stays loyal to him. The movie takes a refreshing stance in favor of family life, but the repetitious story moves erratically and runs on too long. Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. are fine as the agent and client, and Renee Zellweger is better yet as the hero's new girlfriend. Contains foul language and a very explicit sex scene. S P V N

*** Laugh-out-loud humor, action-oriented, gives viewer a window into the sports business.


* While coping with family problems of her own, a young woman takes a job caring for a middle-aged woman recovering from a nervous breakdown, and the two develop a complex relationship. The story is often tritely told, but Helen Mirren and Kyra Sedgwick give earnest performances. S V P


** Martians invade Earth and kill lots of people with their rayguns. Rarely have so many Hollywood resources been expended to make every ingredient of a movie as tacky as possible. The result can be viewed as an uproarious satire of science fiction in the "Independence Day" mold, or as a rehash of "Gremlins" without the novelty of the original. Tim Burton directed a stellar cast including Jack Nicholson, Annette Bening, Danny DeVito, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Michael J. Fox, Glenn Close, Sarah Jessica Parker, Paul Winfield, and Rod Steiger. V P

*** Original, fun, slow to get going.


** Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton play estranged sisters who renew their relationship when their family is hit with serious illnesses. The movie places a wholesome emphasis on the importance of family ties and the invaluable support these can provide. But the story often seems unfocused, and the talented cast doesn't appear to be fully in synch with its heart-wrenching material. Also featuring Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Gwen Verdon. Directed by Jerry Zaks from the late Scott McPherson's screenplay, based on his stage drama. P V


** Three tabloid reporters visit a rural town where an angel has taken up residence; taking him back to Chicago, they quickly discover that the heavenly visitor is a down-to-earth fellow with a surprising taste for profane pleasures. Nora Ephron's comedy tries to be sweet, hip, innocent, and sophisticated all at the same time, and it doesn't take long for these contradictory goals to cancel one another out. John Travolta is winning in the title role. William Hurt and Andie MacDowell head the supporting cast. S V P

*** Uplifting, unpredictable humor, amusing.


*** Wondering where his life took a wrong emotional turn, a twice-divorced writer moves back in with his mother and finds her personality just as inscrutable as his own. Albert Brooks has devoted his career to exploring the American psyche in comic terms, and while this installment in his ongoing chronicle is less engrossing than "Real Life" or the great "Lost in America," it makes many mischievous points about middle-class folkways, mores, and idiosyncrasies. Debbie Reynolds is terrific as the mother. Contains a bit of very raunchy dialogue. S P


* Grumpy old presidents. Jack Lemmon and James Garner play two former chief executives schlepping through the American heartland with sinister assassins at their heels. Peter Segal's comedy has a few witty moments surrounded by a lot of silliness. P V


*** Live-action remake of the classic Walt Disney animation about a fur-obsessed woman who kidnaps 101 pooches so she can make a luxurious coat from their silky fur. The story seems far-fetched when real people play the characters, but the canines are cute and Glenn Close was born to play Cruella De Vil, the monstrous magnate who sets the plot in motion. Contains some cartoonish violence that might be too strong for very young viewers. V

**** Fun, colorful, cute.


** Two single parents juggle each other's kids during a hectic day of schedule changes, cellular-phone mixups, and other complications. The most original touch in Michael Hoffman's romantic comedy is that the perfect couple hardly set eyes on one another during the story, yet manage to fall madly in love all the same. Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney head the attractive cast. P V

*** Witty, slightly predictable, great chemistry between Pfeiffer and Clooney.


**** Jane Campion directed this adaptation of Henry James's richly textured novel, about a young woman who jeopardizes her bright future by marrying a self-absorbed man despite signs that he regards her as just one more addition to his collection of beautiful things. Nicole Kidman plays the heroine with panache, ably supported by John Malkovich and the remarkable Barbara Hershey. Laura Jones wrote the energetic screenplay; Stuart Dryburgh did the radiant camera work. S V

*** Visually stunning, mysterious, authentic Henry James.


** An angel arrives in New York to help a minister who's determined to build an imposing new church, and almost gets sidetracked by his other project of cheering up the clergyman's neglected wife. Based on "The Bishop's Wife," an eccentric Hollywood comedy from 1947, this warm-hearted film gives attention to the importance of religious and family values in today's African-American community. It never builds much excitement outside the Whitney Houston musical numbers, though, and even appealing stars like Denzel Washington and Gregory Hines seem a little bland. V P

*** Tear-jerker, can't touch the original 1947 classic, great gospel music!


*** In the time of Louis XIV, as revolutionary flames are beginning to sizzle, a French engineer enters the royal court to propose a new drainage and sanitation system that will improve the nation's life. But he finds himself surrounded by a network of petty rivalries in which a well-timed witticism can cut down an entire career. Patrice Leconte's dark comedy is splendidly acted by Jean Rochefort and Fanny Ardant. Look out for some jarring scatological humor near the beginning, though. S N P V


** Teens battle a masked killer, using tips they've picked up from video-store horror flicks. Once again, director Wes Craven finds creative new ways to serve up the same old gore. Here he suggests that slasher movies play a part in brutalizing poorly balanced minds. But if he really believes that, why does he deliver the message through yet another slasher movie of his own? Contains a great deal of prolonged and explicit violence. V P S


*** The fact-based story of a brilliant pianist whose musical gifts are offset by mental and emotional problems, made more severe by conflicts with his father, who never recovered from seeing the Holocaust destroy his family. The movie benefits from an involving story and sparkling music, and it avoids easy cliches about music's power to solve every problem in time for a happy ending. Scott Hicks directed the Australian production. P V

*** Tragic, moving, uplifting.


*** A mentally slow man is released from a "nervous hospital" in Arkansas years after he killed his mother and her lover, who shocked him with their immoral behavior. The story has unsavory elements including some strongly suggested violence, but the film also focuses on positive elements such as the hero's capacities for friendship and loyalty. Directed with skill and compassion by Billy Bob Thornton, who also plays the protagonist. V P


*** The lives of two very different Irish women are thrown together when their sons are imprisoned for revolutionary violence and join a hunger strike that gains worldwide attention but threatens to kill them both. Helen Mirren is extremely moving as a dedicated pacifist caught between maternal love and her own philosophical convictions. Directed by Terry George. V P


* Lonely after her family members disperse in different directions, an aging woman helps care for a neighbor's child, and the experience helps her take new initiatives in her own life. Gena Rowlands is wonderful in the lead, but the picture as a whole seems calculated and predictable, diminishing the impact of its able performances. Also featuring Marisa Tomei and Gerard Depardieu. P V

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