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Freeze Frames: The Monitor Movie Guide

Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted. Ratings and comments by the panel (end of review) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other viewers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews


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David Sterritt Monitor Panel Meaning

o Forget It

+ Poor

++ Fair

+++ Good

++++ Excellent

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++ Jewish folklore and stories by the great Isaac Bashevis Singer inspired this colorfully drawn animation about a 10-year-old boy who visits Chelm, a town of well-meaning but silly folks, and helps defeat an evil wizard who's threatening the people with a monstrous golem. Tovah Feldshuh and Tommy Michaels lead the voices-only cast, and acclaimed composer Michel Legrand wrote the music for Sheldon Harnick's lyrics. Directed by Albert Hanan Kaminski with additional material from Buzz Potamkin. V


++ Because he bears a resemblance to a notorious terrorist, an American soldier is drafted into a clandestine scheme by an amoral CIA agent and a tough-minded Israeli operative. The plot raises the keenly important question of whether professionals who fight evil may be corrupted by the ruthless means they employ; but the movie takes too much pleasure in sensationalistic digressions to explore this issue very thoroughly. Donald Sutherland, Aidan Quinn, and Ben Kingsley star. Christian Duguay directed. V S N P


+++ A middle-aged actor (Lou Castel) wavers between his family and the temptation to stray from his wife, measuring his uncertainties against the eccentric impulses of a friend who's determined to make something of his life before it's too late. Directed with a melancholy sense of emotional realism by French filmmaker Philippe Garrel, who richly deserves his rising international reputation. Photographed by Raoul Coutard and costarring Jean-Pierre Leaud, two great veterans of France's revolutionary New Wave movement. John Cale composed the music. N


+++ A billionaire gets stranded in a snowy wilderness with a companion who may prove a valuable friend or a deadly foe. David Mamet's screenplay tackles imposing themes: the limitations of material wealth, and the usefulness of civilized values in uncivilized surroundings. But moviegoers interested in probing these issues may grow restless with the bear-chasing scenes and other less-than-cerebral material. Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin are convincing even when the story's credibility slips. Lee Tamahori directed. V P S

+++ Powerfully acted, gripping, unrealistic.


++++ Errol Morris's unique method of nonfiction filmmaking is to choose fascinating people, aim the camera squarely at their faces, and let them talk about what concerns them most deeply. This time he focuses on a lion tamer, a designer of computerized robots, a gardener who prunes trees into animal shapes, and the world's leading authority on mole rats. They're a varied bunch, but their different lines of work have common threads, and Morris weaves their anecdotes and observations into a rich, rollicking experience.


++ The setting is a well-to-do New England suburb; the time is the Watergate era of 1973; and the main characters are members of various families whose complex relationships become even more tangled when an ice storm causes last-minute changes in their social and sexual arrangements. Directed by Ang Lee, whose exposure of middle-class hypocrisy would be more effective if some scenes weren't rigged to provide evidence for the story's particular take on contemporary values. Contains material that many will find realistic but distasteful, including sex and drug experimentation by youngsters. S N P V

IN & OUT (PG-13)

+++ A small-town English teacher takes a new look at his life and self-image after a former student goes on national TV and identifies him as gay. Frank Oz's comedy combines a celebration of tolerance with an affirmation of family and community values, and a surprising amount of laugh-out-loud hilarity. The cast includes Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, and Bob Newhart. Contains dialogue and other material dealing frankly with sexuality. P S V

++ Clever dialogue, mildly embarrassing, politically correct.


++ The hero is a young Manhattan roughneck who needs to do some growing up in a hurry, but gets stymied by ill-chosen companions and an uncle who keeps suckering him into criminal schemes. Like its main character, Matthew Harrison's movie has more energy than intellect. It's inventively directed, though, and vigorously acted by Michael Rapaport, James Woods, Linda Fiorentino, and Lili Taylor. V P S N


+++ During the 1950s, an honest cop and a tough cop become involved with an egotistical colleague, who conspires with a tabloid journalist to get the goods on headline-making crimes. The story is so complicated that the movie can't quite make it clear, but the picture has impressive energy and high-intensity performances from Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, Russell Crowe, and Guy Pearce. S V N P

+++ Compelling, suspenseful, brutally violent.


+++ Romantic relations among young Paris intellectuals are the focus of this meticulously assembled dramatic comedy, directed by Arnaud Desplechin, one of today's most thoughtful French filmmakers. S N P


+++ A family spends Thanksgiving together for the first time in three years, using the occasion to confront lingering conflicts and revive old quarrels. The characters are sharply etched but the plot is made deliberately ambiguous, suggesting that family life is so emotionally intricate that no single story can contain or explain it. The fine ensemble cast includes Julianne Moore, Blythe Danner, Roy Scheider, Noah Wyle, Arija Bareikis, Hope Davis, and James LeGros. Bart Freundlich directed his own screenplay. Contains a considerable amount of sex and vulgar language. S N P V


+ After greedy terrorists hijack a trainload of nuclear missiles in the Russian countryside, a brainy atomic scientist (Nicole Kidman) and a brawny intelligence officer (George Clooney) track down first the evil gang and then a lone psychopath stalking New York with a bomb in his backpack. First-time filmmaker Mimi Leder builds a couple of suspenseful scenes in the last half-hour, but most of the story is stale and predictable. V P


++ The setting is an idyllic 1,000 acres in America's heartland. The plot is anything but serene, as three sisters - Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, and Jennifer Jason Leigh - struggle with the jealousies and misunderstandings that follow their father's decision to divide the family farm among them. The exposure of devastating family secrets further darkens the King Lear-like story. The film is hurt by rough acting and a lack of the nuance, which made Jane Smiley's book such a good read. By Amelia Newcomb P

+ Melodramatic, relentless, sad.

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++ Terrorists hijack the president's plane, threatening to kill hostages until a tyrant is released in the former Soviet Union, and everyone pitches in to beat the villains and preserve American honor. There's plenty of action, and Harrison Ford certainly puts the chief back in chief executive. But the movie wastes a good opportunity to look at important questions, such as who's responsible for American policy when the president is busy killing terrorists. Glenn Close is good as the vice president and Gary Oldman is better as the head bad guy. V P

++ Fast-paced, silly, flawed.


+++ Two women get together for the first time since they graduated from college six years earlier, and spend a weekend in London where they run into old acquaintances. Mike Leigh's dark comedy features strong acting by Katrin Cartlidge and Lynda Steadman and paints a vivid portrait of working women in London today. The plot meanders out of control, though, almost getting lost in a string of coincidences so odd that even the characters start wondering what's going on. P S

++ Quirky, tender, well-acted.


+++ The setting is a town across the river from Manhattan, where police officers raise their kids away from big-city hazards. Sylvester Stallone plays the local sheriff, a melancholy loser who gradually realizes that his neighbors are up to their badges in conspiracy and corruption. James Mangold follows up the promise of his excellent "Heavy" with this smartly written, superbly acted melodrama. Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, and Ray Liotta round out the cast. Contains hard-hitting violence and much foul language. V P N

+++ Intense, slow-moving, tragic.

DELINQUENT (Not rated)

++ A teenage boy struggles with hopes, fears, and temptations that take him from his sadly broken home to an unorthodox relationship with a young woman facing uncertainties of her own. First-time filmmaker Peter Hall tells this sexually frank coming-of-age tale with a rough-hewn sincerity that shows promise for his future work. S N P V


++ Media manipulators and government agents are among the characters of this allegorical suspense story, which focuses on a Hollywood filmmaker who is shocked when violence arrives in his life, even though he's long exploited it in his movies. Directed by the justly respected Wim Wenders, the picture suffers from weak screenwriting but shows commendable interest in important issues. Bill Pullman, Andie MacDowell, and Gabriel Byrne star. V P S N


++ Things are tough all over - from tough-guy humor to rough-guy shenanigans. Businessmen are illegally disposing toxic waste, making millions, and poisoning eastern Kentucky waters. Who better to step in than Steven Segal as Jack Taggert, undercover EPA agent, carpenter, and musician to boot. This picture is entertaining and a little thoughtful with a look at the Appalachians through old black-and-white photos. However, there is a lot of violence, foul language, and a suggestion of incest. V P By Katherine Dillin

+++ Simplistic, cathartic, predictable.


+++ Four jobless men become so desperate for work that they decide to explore the male-stripper profession. Peter Cattaneo's comedy has brash and boisterous scenes, but its message about the humiliations of unemployment is serious and insightful, and applies far beyond the English setting of this story. Contains a small amount of nudity. N P V

+++ Hilarious, touching, clever.


+++ A wealthy, self-centered man receives a strange birthday present: a gift certificate for a dangerous "game," devised by a mysterious and possibly evil company, and tailored to the history and personality of each client. David Fincher's thriller is an unusually imaginative suspense movie and a sardonic attack on the arrogance of power in the socially uncertain 1990s. Michael Douglas gives one of his best performances as the increasingly threatened hero, and Sean Penn is characteristically energetic as his brother. V P S

+++ Riveting, far-fetched, tension-filled.


+++ A woman becomes the first female to enter a rigorous Navy Seal training program and discovers that various people want to see her fail. Instead of exploring issues, Ridley Scott's drama turns them into sledgehammers and whomps you over the head with them. The action is often gripping, if you can stand the bone-battering violence and raunchy language, and the images have a color-drained grimness that makes you feel you're in the same dismal surroundings as the characters. The picture's big moral problem is a failure to ask whether brutal, sadistic military training is really an excellent route to strength of mind and character. Demi Moore is the hard-working star. V S N P

+++ Hard-hitting, intense, thought-provoking.


++ The setting is Harlem in the 1930s, and the "hero" is an African-American gangster fighting to stop psychopathic mobster Dutch Schultz from taking over the numbers racket in his territory. Laurence Fishburne and Tim Roth play the main characters with conviction, but Bill Duke's punchy filmmaking style banishes any hope of storytelling subtlety or psychological nuance. V P S N

++ Action-packed, excessive violence, typical "gangsta" movie.


++ Smarting from romantic humiliations, two insensitive yuppies decide to woo a vulnerable woman by flattering and pampering her, then dump her as revenge on her entire gender. Although the plot is as repulsive as its main characters, the movie is far from gratuitous in its scathing portrayal of me-generation selfishness and insensitivity. Written and directed by newcomer Neil LaBute. P V S

++ Provocative, compelling, disturbing.


++ Television's Hercules (Kevin Sorbo) strides onto the big screen to play Kull, a somewhat less civilized but no less muscular ancient hero. Kull the barbarian wins a kingdom in a duel and then must protect it from a evil sorceress by going on a quest to find some counter-magic. Standard fantasy stuff for Sorbo's fans and the sword-and-sorcery crowd only. S V N By Greg Lamb


+++ Judi Dench gives a rich and riveting performance as Queen Victoria in this colorful drama about the aging monarch's loving friendship with a feisty Scots horseman. Billy Connolly is equally good as the unconventional companion, and filmmaker John Madden keeps the action moving at a rattling good clip. V P

+++ Poignant, witty, historically illuminating.

A SELF MADE HERO (Not rated)

++ In the aftermath of World War II, a Frenchman rises in society by claiming a heroic past in the Resistance movement. Jacques Audiard's tragicomic French drama raises fascinating social and historical issues but doesn't investigate them as compellingly as they deserve. V P


+++ A Japanese businessman takes a departure from his routine and enters a ballroom-dance class, his interest initially piqued by an attractive instructor. His wife encourages him to pursue a new activity but suspects him of infidelity and hires a detective. Viewers are led into a revealing glimpse of the ballroom-dance competition circuit as well as Japanese society in the 1990s. P By Leigh Montgomery

+++ Powerful, touching, exquisite.


+++ Unable to control his combustible emotions, a man goes to prison for avenging an attack on his wife, then returns home 10 years later to find her happily married. Nick Cassavetes directed from a screenplay by his father, John Cassavetes, whose stories focus on out-of-control lives in order to explore their human richness and celebrate their spontaneity. This tale is as turbulent and confused as its unglamorous characters, but its savvy performances and streetwise dialogue provide impressive energy. Sean Penn, Robin Wright Penn, and John Travolta star. V P S

+++ Dark, unusual, well-acted.

SUNDAY (Not rated)

+++ The ambiguities of identity and the loneliness of isolated lives are the subjects of this atmospheric drama about an unlikely pair of middle-aged lovers. Directed by Jonathan Nossiter with loving attention to textures of human behavior and the influence of environments on people's moods and activities. David Suchet and Lisa Harrow are very convincing as the couple. Contains nudity and graphic sex. S N P

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