NEW RELEASES CONCEIVING ADA (NOT RATED) Director: Lynn Hershman Leeson. With Tilda Swinton, Francesca Faridany, Karen Black, Timothy Leary. (85 min.) ++ Using a computer as a time-travel device, a contemporary woman makes contact with a female mathematician who dreamed up the prototype for computer programming during the Victorian era. The movie's feminist themes are more compelling than its ungainly dialogue, but Swinton's charisma makes its usual strong contribution.
8MM (R) Director: Joel Schumacher. With Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini. (123 min.) + Hired to discover whether an eight-millimeter "snuff" movie depicts an actual murder, a private eye enters a horrific world of degrading sex and bottom- feeding pornographers. We enter it with him, and the journey turns out to be so nasty and convoluted that you can't help wondering why major players like Cage and Schumacher signed onto it. Sex/Nudity: 12 instances - one mild sex scene, one strip bar scene, three instances of innuendo, and 7 scenes from the hard core pornographic trade. Violence: 12 instances, from cross bow killing to rape and murder in a snuff film to suicide. Profanity: 93 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 29 scenes with cigarettes, cigars, and/or alcohol.
JAWBREAKER (R) Director: Darren Stein. With Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, Pam Grier, Carol Kane, Julie Benz. (89 min.) + Three girls accidentally kill the fourth member of their clique in a prank gone wrong; one has a conscience, while the other two use their popularity to manipulate a "geek" who has discovered their secret. The screenplay steals situations and even dialogue from the 1989 film with a similar premise, "Heathers," but this time the result is an offensive satire that lacks good performances and cinematic integrity. By Laura Danese ++1/2 Unoriginal, dark, '90s "Heathers." Sex/Nudity: A few scenes of sexual innuendo. Violence: 4 minor instances. Profanity: 38 expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes of cigarette smoking.
THE OTHER SISTER (PG-13) Director: Garry Marshall. With Juliette Lewis, Diane Keaton, Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Skerritt, Hector Elizondo. (130 min.) ++ After years in a boarding school for the mildly retarded, a twentysomething woman starts to carve out a life of her own, alarming her wealthy parents when she starts falling in love with a young man who shares both her mental condition and her unquenchable high spirits. The movie serves up poignant and comical moments, but it's ridiculously long for the souffl-like story it has to tell.
20 DATES (R) Director: Myles Berkowitz, With Myles Berkowitz, Robert McKee, Tia Carrere, Richard Arlook. (88 min.) ++ Berkowitz plays himself in this offbeat documentary about a film project that involves videotaping his dates with 20 different women, hoping to capture on screen the magical moment when two people fall in love. Like its candid-camera premise, the picture is intriguing and obnoxious in equal measure; even Berkowitz gets tired of the game before it's over, but there are some laughs and surprises along the way.
OSCAR NOMINEES IN RELEASE Children of Heaven (PG) Director: Majid Majidi. With Mohammad Amir Naji, Mir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi. (88 min.) +++ Burdened by the poverty of his family, a young boy in Tehran dreams of winning a prize in a local race so he won't have to share a pair of shoes with his sister. This modestly produced family drama has all the poignancy and humor associated with today's vibrant Iranian film industry. Sex/Nudity/Violence/Profanity/Drugs: None.
ELIZABETH (R) Director: Shekhar Kapur. With Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, Christopher Eccleston, Kathy Burke, John Gielgud. (124 min.) +++ Pungent biopic about the famous queen and the tumultuous times in which she lived. Acted and directed with great energy and imagination, it may be too explicit in its depictions of sex and mayhem for moviegoers accustomed to old- fashioned historical epics. +++ Majestic, complex, bloody. Sex/Nudity: 8 instances. Violence: 19 graphic instances. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 1 instance of drinking.
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (PG-13) Director: Roberto Benigni. With Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini. (122 min.) ++ In the late 1930s, an Italian man finds his household in peril because of his Jewish background. He determines to protect his little boy from physical and psychological harm, even when they're sent to a brutal concentration camp. This prizewinning Italian comedy has good intentions, but its exaggerated celebration of quick-witted improvisation ultimately trivializes the human and historical horrors evoked by the story. ++++ Exceptional, well- crafted, uplifting. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Some slapstick. Profanity: Mild. Drugs: Smoking and drinking.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (R) Director: Steven Spielberg. With Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg. (160 min.) +++ This extremely violent World War II drama focuses on an Army captain ordered to penetrate dangerous territory and rescue an ordinary private whose mother has already lost three sons in combat, even though this places the lives of his other soldiers in jeopardy. The story raises hard moral questions relating to the relative value of human lives and the overwhelming debt that may be felt by those who benefit when others sacrifice. But the movie falls short of excellence because it doesn't so much explore these issues as finesse them in an action- filled climax. +++ Masterpiece, grimly realistic, definitely not for kids. Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of soldiers talking about women and sex. Violence: 5 sweeping scenes of violence, all of them graphic, war-related, and almost continuous. Profanity: 79 expletives. Drugs: Medicinal use of morphine, 22 instances of smoking.
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (R) Director: John Madden. With Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush, Rupert Everett, Colin Firth. (122 min.) ++ The young playwright fights off writer's block, scrambles for ideas, and falls in love with a would-be actress who wears men's clothing as readily as a character in one of his cross-dressing comedies. This romantic farce has a talented cast and energy to spare, but somehow the ingredients don't burn as brightly as one would expect. ++++ Finally, a literate movie; passionate, abundantly witty. Sex/Nudity: 5 sex scenes, several with waist-up nudity; plus a few references to promiscuity. Violence: 6 instances of violence ranging from comical to an off- screen killing. Profanity: 3 expressions. Drugs: 3 instances of drinking.
TANGO (PG-13) Director: Carlos Saura. With Miguel Angel Sol, Elena Flores. (100 min.) +++ A filmmaker works on a movie about his favorite dance, bringing his personal loves and longings into the picture. The plot and dialogue are far less engaging than in Saura's best work, but the dance sequences are exuberantly performed and radiantly filmed.
THE THIN RED LINE (R) Director: Terrence Malick. With Sean Penn, John Travolta, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson. (166 min.) +++ American soldiers battle elusive enemies in this sweeping adaptation of James Jones's thoughtful World War II novel about the Guadalcanal campaign. Although the story seems disjointed at times, no other war movie has tried so valiantly to convey not only the suffering of combat but the awful fissures it rips through humanity's ideal oneness with itself and the world we live in. Also remarkable is Malick's reworking of the Hollywood star system, spotlighting new acting talents while putting famous faces in cameo roles. Flawed but fascinating. +++ Intense, violent, poetic. Sex/Nudity: 1 bedroom scene with no nudity; 3 scenes of partially nude natives or soldiers bathing. Violence: Gunfire, beatings, dismemberment; combat violence throughout. Profanity: 59 expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes of alcohol; 26 with smoking.
CURRENTLY IN RELEASE MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE (PG-13) Director: Luis Mandoki. With Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn, Paul Newman, Illeana Douglas. (130 min.) ++ A recently divorced woman finds a romantic letter in a bottle washed ashore, tracks down the man who wrote it, and falls hesitantly in love with him despite their shared wariness about affection and commitment. The cast and the scenery are equally attractive, but the story is so sentimental that even soap-opera buffs may feel it eventually outwears its welcome. ++ Breathtaking scenery, overlong, Paul Newman steals the show. Sex/Nudity: 1 bedroom scene. Violence: 1 bar brawl. Profanity: 19 instances. Drugs: 4 scenes of drinking, 1 with cigar smoking.
OCTOBER SKY (PG) Director: Joe Johnston. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Chris Owen, William Lee Scott, Chad Lindberg, Natalie Canerday, Laura Dern. (105 min.) +++ The real-life career of scientist Homer Hickam inspired this good-natured tale of a 1950s teenager who resists the destiny his West Virginia family has mapped out for him: A bit of high school, then a lifetime of work in the local coal mine while pursuing his passion for rocketry, leading to backyard experiments with results that range from comical to explosive. The movie is more likable than believable, but it recaptures the mystique of rocket science at a time when the space age was moving from science-fiction stories to newspaper headlines. +++1/2 Great family fare, good message, sappy. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 3 scuffles. Profanity: 4 expressions. Drugs: 1 scene of beer drinking, implied tipsiness, 1 instance of smoking.
OFFICE SPACE (R) Director: Mike Judge. With Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Gary Cole, Ajay Naidu, David Herman. (89 min.) +++ Fed up with his dehumanizing job, a software engineer bands together with some downsized friends to rip off his company and strike a blow for bored computer geeks everywhere. In a surprise move, the creator of "Beavis and Butt- Head" has made a laid-back, even subtle comedy that generally favors mischievous ironies over outlandish jokes. Look out for extremely foul language in the rap music on the soundtrack, though. +++ Irreverent, clever, entertaining. Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of brief toplessness and sexual innuendo. Violence: 4 mild scenes.. Profanity: 124 expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes of drinking.
RUSHMORE (R) Director: Wes Anderson. With Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams, Mason Gamble. (95 min.) ++++ A precocious prep-school student juggles a ridiculous number of extracurricular projects while falling in love with an attractive teacher and sparring with his romantic rival, a sleazy businessman. Anderson fulfills the promise of his inventive "Bottle Rocket" with this quirky, hilarious comedy, and Murray gives his most uproarious performance since the groundbreaking "Groundhog Day." +++1/2 Extremely funny, irreverent, wildly original. Sex/Nudity: 1 scene. Violence: 5 mild scenes. Profanity: 26 expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes of drinking, 15 of smoking.
THE 24 HOUR WOMAN (R) Director: Nancy Savoca. With Rosie Perez, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Patti LuPone. (95 min.) +++ Eager for the joys of motherhood, a TV producer combines the personal with the professional by making her pregnancy a part of her show, then runs into difficulty juggling her many responsibilities. The movie is rough around the edges, and the ending doesn't resolve the questions raised. But it bursts with energy and commitment in exploring women's lives.
OUT ON VIDEO Ronin (R) Director: John Frankenheimer. With Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgrd. (121 min.) +++ A group of outlaws tries to intercept a mysterious package with various combinations of guile and violence. Director Frankenheimer doesn't recapture the magic he once created in movies like "The Manchurian Candidate," but he does cook up an effective thriller in the "French Connection" vein. ++1/2 Thin plot, overly dramatic, ludicrous.
Coming Soon ... (In stores March 2)
EVER AFTER (PG-13) Director: Andy Tennant. With Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston, Dougray Scott, Jeanne Moreau. (124 min.) +++ Prettily filmed retelling of the Cinderella story, complete with mistreated heroine, wicked stepmother, and handsome prince. Huston is tart as the stepmom and it's hard to resist a movie that substitutes Leonardo da Vinci for the traditional fairy godmother. +++ Charming, romantic, spunky.
SOLDIER (R) Director: Paul Anderson. With Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Connie Nielsen, Gary Busey. (99 min.) ++ Stranded on an isolated outpost in deep space, a highly trained super-soldier tries to join a community of ordinary people, and winds up battling a new breed of warriors. Although it's the opposite of deep, this moody science-fiction adventure gains a bit of distinction from Russell's offbeat performance and the melancholy tone it generates. ++1/2 Inventive, macho fun, predictable finish.