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The Monitor Movie Guide

Reviews in this weekly guide are written by Monitor critic David Sterritt (the first set of '+' marks in each review) unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor staff panel (the second set of '+' marks in each review) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other viewers. Information on violence, drugs, sex/nudity, and profanity is compiled by the panel.

++++ Excellent

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+++1/2 Very Good

+++ Good

++ 1/2 Average

++ Fair

+1/2 Poor

+ Worst

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Director: Che-Kirk Wong. With Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christina Applegate. (93 min.)

++ Wahlberg plays a comically polite hit man who finds trouble when coworkers turn against him. Alternating between comedy and violent action, the movie is senseless and often unbelievable. The choreography and special effects are interesting, though. By Mariah Gardner

+ Vulgar, tasteless, funky.

Sex/Nudity: Sexual innuendo, backside nudity, attempted rape. Violence: About 55 instances, - shootouts, car crashes, assasinations, explosions, heavy on gore. Profanity: 163 vulgarities and profanities, often harsh. Drugs: 10 scenes with drinking or cigar smoking.


Director: Michael Winterbottom. With Robert Carlyle, Juliet Aubrey, James Nesbitt. (88 min.)

++ A worker who enjoys socializing, soccer-playing, and other simple pleasures learns that a serious illness may undermine his relationship with an attractive woman he's fallen in love with. Carlyle shows striking versatility after his roles in "The Full Monty" and "Trainspotting," but this movie is too downbeat to draw the widespread interest those pictures acquired.


Director: Spike Lee. With Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, John Turturro, Lonette McKee, Ned Beatty. (128 min.)

+++ A father is offered early release from prison if he can persuade his son, a gifted basketball player, to attend the local college instead of signing with one of the high-powered institutions that are tempting him with offers of money, sex, and sin. Combining elements of family drama, religious fable, and sports adventure, Lee's flawed but fascinating movie is sometimes brilliant and never dull. Contains brief but explicit sex and drug abuse.

Sex/Nudity: 8 sexual situations, brief nudity. Violence: 7 instances of violence, one involving an accidental murder. Profanity: 102 vulgarities, often harsh and generally crude dialogue. Drugs: 5 instances of drinking, one scene with a drunk man.


Director: Bille August. With Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Claire Danes, Uma Thurman. (140 min.)

+++ Handsomely produced adaptation of Victor Hugo's stirring novel about a decades-long duel between a rehabilitated convict and a police inspector who cares more about law and order than justice and redemption. Neeson and Rush give emotionally rich portrayals of the main characters, and August's proudly classical filmmaking keeps the dramatic energy high even when the secondary performances sag in the story's second half. The screenplay by Rafael Yglesias focuses on moral issues with a seriousness and insistence that illuminate current social-issue debates as well as the history of Hugo's own time.

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Director: Michael Moore. With Michael Moore, Rick Nielsen, Phil Knight. (90 min.)

+++ Almost a decade after "Roger & Me" made him a media star, filmmaker Moore documents a book tour that gave him another opportunity to talk with working-class Americans, poke fun at power brokers, and set up a showdown with a corporate leader. The results are frequently eye-opening and often hilarious, although viewers who don't share Moore's outspoken political opinions may find themselves more irked than amused.


Director: Neil Jordan. With Eamonn Owens, Stephen Rea, Aisling O'Sullivan, Fiona Shaw, Sinad O'Connor. (120 min.)

+++ A young Irish boy responds with increasing anger and violence to the chaotic world of dysfunctional grown-ups around him. Jordan has filmed this overwhelmingly boisterous tale in an overwhelmingly boisterous way, leaving viewers to decide whether his portrait of childhood upheaval is usefully insightful or simply anarchic.

++1/2 Dark, disturbing, humorous at times.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: A fight scene and a murder. Profanity: 49 instances. Drugs: Young boys smoking;, father is an alcoholic.


Director: Mike van Diem. With Jan Decleir, Fedja van Hut, Betty Sch++rman. (117 min.)

+++ Winner of the Oscar for best foreign-language film, this Dutch drama focuses on a young man struggling for personal and professional success in Rotterdam of the 1920s while waging an emotional war against his distant, domineering father. The movie steers a steady course between realistic drama and Kafkaesque delirium, handling both skillfully.

+++1/2 Well-crafted, intriguing, intense.

Sex/Nudity: Brief scene of backside nudity. Violence: Several scenes of physical fighting. Profanity: None. Drugs: Some social drinking and smoking.


Director: Wayne Wang. With Jeremy Irons, Gong Li, Maggie Cheung, Ruben Blades. (99 min.)

++ A gravely ill British journalist observes the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule while cultivating complex relationships with two very different Asian women. The screenplay is as ambitious and multilayered as its subject, but filmmaker Wang doesn't achieve either the artful insights of his "Chan Is Missing" or the audience-pleasing drama of "The Joy Luck Club."


Director: Brad Silberling. With Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan, Dennis Franz. (112 min.)

++ In love with a beautiful heart surgeon, an angel decides to "fall" into mortality so he can experience human love. Many will welcome the movie's interest in spirituality, but some may wonder why it's couched in a celebration of sensual pleasures ranging from sex to cigarette smoking. Based on Wim Wenders's more insightful German film "Wings of Desire."

+++ Life-affirming, thought-provoking, pensive.

Sex/Nudity: Fairly explicit sex scene, a sensuous bath scene, and one character is shown nude from behind while running into the ocean. Violence: One mugging scene. Profanity: 13, mostly mild. Drugs: 6 instances of smoking, drinking.


Director: Robert Gudiguian. With Grard Meylan, Ariane Ascaride. (102 min.)

++ Modest but sincere French drama about two 40-something workers who fall in love with a little help from their friends.


Director: Nicholas Hytner. With Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, John Pankow, Alan Alda, Nigel Hawthorne. (112 min.)

++ A young woman decides to have a baby without marrying her somewhat hard-to-take boyfriend, turning to her new gay roommate as a partner and confidant. Paints a reasonably tasteful if not exactly credible portrait of domestic life among the unconventional urban set.

++ Promiscuous, humorous, thoughtful.

Sex/Nudity: No nudity, but there's one seduction scene, sexual innuendo, and implied homosexual sex. Violence: One punch. Profanity/Obscenity: 48 profanities and obscenities. Drugs: 12 scenes of high-society wine drinking.


Director: John Roberts. With Gena Rowlands, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, Bruce Davison, Jay Mohr. (91 min.)

+++1/2 Paulie is sort of a "Babe" with wings. It's a gracious, lump-in-your-throat family film with enough substance to appeal to adults and enough slapstick to make it fun for children. A talking parrot with a tart tongue is separated from his first owner, a little girl who stutters. Subsequent owners - an elderly artist, an East L.A. musician/taco vender, and a petty thief - teach Paulie about life, honesty, poetry, and romance. And a shy Russian migr, who frees the bird from a basement purgatory, discovers he has the courage to speak up when the moment requires it. By David Scott

+++ Wholesome, entertaining, fun.

Sex/Nudity/Violence/Drugs: None. Profanity: 4 mild instances.


Director: Peter Howitt. With Gwyneth Paltrow, John Lynch, Jeanne Tripplehorn, John Hannah. (105 min.)

+ A woman hurries toward the subway after work, and her story suddenly splits in two, alternating between different versions of what might have happened depending on whether she boarded the train or not. The gimmick behind the screenplay is clever, but the filmmakers don't rise to the challenge they've set themselves, merely spinning two unimaginative stories for the price of one.

+++ Imaginative, surprising, light.

Sex/Nudity: 2 mild scenes. Violence: 2 accidents. Profanity: A few mild British-inspired expressions.Drugs: Several scenes of social drinking.


Director: Takeshi Kitano. With "Beat" Takeshi, Tetsu Watanade, Aya Kokumai. (90 min.)

+++ An aging yakuza gangster leaves his own turf for a special assignment, entering a complicated web of ambiguous motives and conflicting loyalties. Directed with the blend of moody atmosphere and punchy violence that has made Kitano one of Japan's most powerful culture heroes.


Director: Larry David. With Steven Weber, Craig Bierko, Karen Sillas, Matt Keeslar, Viola Harris, Robyn Peterman. (95 min.)

+ Two men turn to dirty tricks after feuding over a gambling jackpot one of them won with money borrowed from the other. Graduating to the big screen after years of "Seinfeld" on TV, filmmaker David proves to be inordinately fond of smarmy jokes, overstated acting, and the dubious notion that homeless people are hilarious.


Director: David Mamet. With Campbell Scott, Steve Martin, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ben Gazzara, Ricky Jay. (112 min.)

++++ Ingenious thriller about a young inventor who seeks help from an unpredictable new acquaintance when he suspects his company may be pushing him out of the profits from a high-tech formula he's developed. Witty performances and stylized dialogue give Mamet's edgy gamesmanship a sly, refreshing touch.

+++1/2 Intriguing, suspenseful, surprising twists.

Sex/Nudity: Some mild innuendo. Violence: A bloody murder scene, a threat with a gun. Profanity: 3 very mild expressions. Drugs: Smoking and social drinking.


Director: Francesco Rosi. With John Turturro, Rade Serbedzija. (116 min.)

++ Turturro plays author Primo Levi in this drama adapted from Levi's memoir about his post-World War II journey from the Auschwitz death camp to his Italian homeland. Rosi is one of Italy's most thoughtful directors, but his portrayal of this harrowing voyage never gets below surface events to probe their deeper human and historical meanings.


Director: Shane Meadows. With Bob Hoskins, Danny Nussbaum, Bruce Jones, Annette Badland. (96 min.)

++ A tough-talking entrepreneur builds up a small-town boxing club as a way of coaxing misguided young men toward some semblance of purpose and discipline. Shot with a deliberately rough-hewn camera style, the movie has more good intentions than genuine substance, but filmmaker Meadows is a newcomer to watch.


Director: James Toback. With Robert Downey Jr., Heather Graham, Natasha Wagner. (83 min.)

++ Downey gives a startlingly vivid performance as a young man juggling two angry girlfriends while worrying over his mother's uncertain health. Contains an explicit sex scene and very rough language.


Director: Barbara Kopple. With Woody Allen, Soon-Yi Previn, members of Allen's jazz band. (114 min.)

++ A documentary about Allen and his Dixieland combo on a European concert tour. There's short-term interest in peering at a private celebrity, but the movie could use a lot more music and a lot less "intimate" footage of Allen and Co. checking into hotels, chatting over breakfast, and the like. There's no hint of the social awareness or emotional charge that surges through Oscar-winning Kopple films like "Harlan County USA" and "American Dream."

Sex/Nudity/Violence: None. Profanity: 1 expression. Drugs: One woman drinking.



The Monitor's review of "The Object of My Affection" on Page B3 of the April 17 issue states: "The whimsical comedy ... takes a reasonably tasteful approach to its subject." At the end, the rating states "much vulgar language and sexual innuendo." These statements seem totally incompatible to me. Is there anything tasteful in vulgar and sexual innuendo? Prevalent it is; tasteful, it is not. I have about given up going to the movies. By Priscilla Holzworth, Laguna Hills, Calif.

If you would like to sound off about any movie or review, we'd be happy to hear from you - in 70 words or less! Send your views to "Counterpoint!" c/o The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail to:

Out On Video

(In stores May 5)



++ Heavy on violence and special effects, light on everything else.

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman. (108 min.)

+ Overdone, gross, gooey.



+++ An intelligent and suspenseful sci-fi drama featuring strong performances.

Director: Andrew Niccol. With Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Gore Vidal, Xander Berkeley, Blair Underwood. (106 min.)

+ Bleak, uninspired, poor acting.



Director: Gore Verbinski. With Nathan Lane, Lee Evans, Vicki Lewis. (99 min.)

++ Light, funny, predictable.

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