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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

NEW RELEASES AMONG GIANTS (R) Director: Sam Miller. With Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Griffiths, James Thornton, Andy Serkis, Lennie James, Rob Jarvis, Alan Williams. (100 min.) +++ Love blossoms between an English- painting foreman and an Australian rock climber who joins his crew for a job atop high electrical towers in the Yorkshire countryside. The basic story is tried and true, but Postlethwaite is older and more seasoned than many of today's romantic leads, and the scenery looks terrific from the unusual perspective provided by the high-climbing camera.

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DAYS OF HEAVEN (PG) Director: Terrence Malick. With Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz. (95 min.) +++ Revival of Terrence Malick's second movie, released in 1978 and celebrated mainly for astonishingly gorgeous camera work by the legendary Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler, who shot much of the action during the photographic "magic time" just before sundown. Manz's acting and narrating are also very touching, even though the story about an itinerant woman who falls in love with a wealthy farmer while traveling with her boyfriend doesn't quite hold together.

DOUG'S 1ST MOVIE (G) Director: Maurice Joyce. With voices of Thomas McHugh, Becca Lish, Fred Newman, Chris Phillips, Alice Playten, Connie Shulman, Doug Preis. (77 min.) ++ A friendly sea monster and a Valentine's Day dance are among the main ingredients of the first animated feature based on TV's popular "Disney's Doug" series. Fans will have a good time; others may yawn at the low-grade animation and intermittently exciting plot.

EDTV (PG-13) Director: Ron Howard. With Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, Ellen DeGeneres, Martin Landau, Elizabeth Hurley, Dennis Hopper. (110 min.) ++ A hammy video-store clerk volunteers to star in a round-the-clock TV series displaying his everyday life to a nation of tube-watching strangers; he enjoys his fame at first but changes his mind when unintended consequences strike his friends, his family, and him. The movie begins as an interesting new spin on the basic idea behind "The Truman Show," but veers toward cheapness and vulgarity on its way to a mean-spirited climax.

THE MOD SQUAD (R) Director: Scott Silver. With Claire Danes, Giovanni Ribisi, Omar Epps, Michael Lerner, Dennis Farina, Josh Brolin, Steve Harris. (94 min.) + Uninspired spinoff from the TV series of 30 years ago, centering on three young delinquents helping the police solve a case involving drugs and corrupt cops. Everyone works hard, but the results are sadly short of style and personality, not to mention irony and intelligence.

A WALK ON THE MOON (R) Director: Tony Goldwyn. With Diane Lane, Liev Schreiber, Anna Paquin, Viggo Mortensen, Tovah Feldshuh. (107 min.) ++ The first lunar landing and the Woodstock music festival are the historical backdrops of this mostly well-acted drama about a married woman who has an affair with a traveling salesman while tending her kids at a Jewish bungalow colony in the summer of 1969. The movie doesn't quite manage to weave its lonely-wife story and summer-of-love setting into a satisfying whole, but Lane is touching as a woman who fears she missed the fun of life by marrying too young.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE ANALYZE THIS (R) Director: Harold Ramis. With Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Viterelli, Chazz Palminteri. (105 min.) ++ Bothered by a vulnerable streak in his personality, a New York mobster decides to visit a psychiatrist, and soon the unwilling therapist is up to his ears in revelations, confidences, and confessions he'd rather have nothing to do with. Ramis doesn't reach the comic heights of his "Groundhog Day" or "National Lampoon's Vacation," but the acting is excellent, and the screenplay offers some hearty laughs if you can stand bursts of violence and language as foul as a Mafioso's business agenda. +++ Hilarious, a bit hammy, great to see De Niro in a comedic role. Sex/Nudity: 2 instances. Violence: 11 mild instances. Profanity: 145 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 13 instances of smoking and drinking.

THE BOYS IN THE BAND (R) Director: William Friedkin. With Cliff Gorman, Laurence Luckinbill, Leonard Frey, Ruben Greene, Keith Prentice, Kenneth Nelson, Peter White. (119 min.) ++ Reissue of the 1970 comedy-drama written by Mart Crowley from his scathingly sardonic play about a boisterous birthday party attended by eight gay men and an uninvited straight guest. Friedkin's filmmaking is clunky, and only Frey turns in a truly riveting performance, but the screenplay paints a blistering portrait of a subculture beset with social and emotional problems.

THE CORRUPTOR (R) Director: James Foley. With Mark Wahlberg, Chow Yun-Fat, Brian Cox, Ric Young, Paul Ben-Victor, Tovah Feldshuh, Byron Mann. (111 min.) ++ A young white cop teams with a jaded Asian-American officer for a tough Chinatown assignment, touching off racial and generational tensions along with the usual conflicts between heroes and villains. The trite story has plenty of distasteful moments, but Wahlberg and Yun-Fat justify their growing reputations as capable Hollywood actors. Contains much violence, nudity, and sexploitation. Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes, including several involving frontal or backside nudity and graphic sex. Violence: 14 scenes of gun battles, a car chase, and explosions. Profanity: 61 expressions. Drugs: 23 scenes with cigarettes and alcohol.

DANCEMAKER (Not rated) Director: Matthew Diamond. With Paul Taylor, members of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. (98 min.) +++ A splendidly entertaining visit with the world's greatest modern-dance choreographer and members of his brilliant troupe, focusing on the hardships as well as the rewards of their highly exacting profession. Dance lovers will have a ball, and newcomers to this territory will get a revealing and high-spirited look at both its inner workings and its public face.

DEVIL'S ISLAND (Not rated) Director: Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. With Baltasar Kormakur, Gisli Halldorsson, Sigurveig Jonsdottir. (103 min.) ++ This ambitious but uneven Icelandic drama portrays a poor, eccentric family struggling to make a decent life in an abandoned US military base set aside for people with nowhere else to live. The picture's most effective element is its cleareyed look at the influence exerted by American pop culture on undiscriminating consumers in a different part of the world; accordingly, the soundtrack is filled with classic '50s tunes that keep the movie hopping even when the action sags.

FORCES OF NATURE (PG-13) Director: Bronwen Hughes. With Sandra Bullock, Ben Affleck, Maura Tierney, Blythe Danner, Steve Zahn, Ronny Cox, Bert Remsen. (102 min.) +++ Romantic comedy about a bridegroom-to-be who gets sidetracked on the way to his wedding by various small disasters - and more to the point, an unexpected traveling companion who's both free-spirited and beautiful. Bullock gives a sweet, breezy performance opposite Affleck's nicely underplayed comic acting, and Hughes gives a gently offbeat look to the less-than-credible plot.

THE HARMONISTS (R) Director: Joseph Vilsmaier. With Ben Becker, Heino Ferch, Ulrich Noethen, Heinrich Schafmeister, Max Tidof, Kai Wiesinger, Meret Becker. (114 min.) +++ A tuneful comedy-drama based on the real-life exploits of the Comedian Harmonists, a German vocal group that broke up after the Nazis started harassing its Jewish members on and off the stage. Like the Harmonists in their shows, this neatly assembled German production serves up a beguiling blend of humor, sentiment, and nostalgia.

THE KING AND I (G) Director: Richard Rich. With voices of Miranda Richardson, Christiane Noll, Martin Vidnovic, Ian Richardson, Darrell Hammond, Armi Arabe, Tracy Venner Warren. (88 min.) ++ Animated version of the Rogers & Hammerstein musical about a 19th-century English schoolteacher and the King of Siam, who wants to modernize his country while maintaining the powers and privileges to which he and his court are accustomed. Not trusting kids to appreciate a classic show on its own terms, this remake leaves out many of the songs and sensationalizes the story with added ingredients ranging from a palace plot to a sea monster. Since the original 1956 movie is itself superb family entertainment, and available on video in its wide-screen CinemaScope format, that's clearly the way to go. Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 26 mild instances.

LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (R) Director: Guy Ritchie. With Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Vinnie Jones, P.H. Moriarty, Steven Mackintosh, Sting. (107 min.) ++ Boisterous comedy about a young gambler who loses a high-stakes card game, fears for his life if he doesn't pay his debt, and coaxes his motley friends into a robbery that will score them a pile of money if they're smart enough to pull it off. The humor is as rude and crude as the characters, but the picture certainly isn't lacking in energy.

RAVENOUS (R) Director: Antonia Bird. With Robert Carlyle, Guy Pearce, Jeffrey Jones, David Arquette, Jeremy Davies, Stephen Spinella, Neal McDonough, John Spencer. (105 min.) ++ A horror movie disguised as a western, with cannibals stalking victims in the mountainous terrain of the American frontier. Most of the picture's ideas are drawn from the old vampire-film tradition; viewers with no tolerance for grisly violence should stay far away from it, but Bird's keen visual imagination keeps the action grimly watchable for those who can stomach such stuff.

THE ROOK (Not rated) Director: Eran Palatnik. With Martin Donovan, John A. MacKay, Diane Grotke, Michael Finesilver, Sean Clark, Harrison Baker. (84 min.) +++ At an unspecified time in the future, when humanity appears to have taken more backward steps than forward ones, a detective investigates the murder of a woman who may have been involved in a subversive plot. The story is murky at times, but the picture's highly original screenplay and visual design make it distinctive and absorbing.

TRUE CRIME (R) Director: Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, James Woods, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Denis Leary, Diane Venora. (115 min.) +++ Assigned to interview a condemned prisoner, an aging reporter tries to salvage what's left of his alcohol-ruined career by proving the convict's innocence just hours before his execution. The drama is crisply acted and entertainingly filmed until credibility wanes in the last half hour. It would be even better if Eastwood followed his character's lead and emphasized "real issues" over "human interest" in a story that touches on important social problems without doing much to illuminate them. Contains a subplot about sexual exploits and a great deal of foul language. +++1/2 Sharp dialog, grown-up, Eastwood-esque. Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of adultery. Violence: 3 scenes. Profanity: 98 expressions. Drugs: 15 scenes of cigarettes and/or alcohol.

WING COMMANDER (PG-13) Director: Chris Roberts. With Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard, Saffron Burrows, David Warner. (109 min.) u1/2 The sci-fi gibberish is overwhelming at times, so to prepare you for fictional galaxies unexplored: the Kilrathi are the bad guys, the Confederation represents the good, and Pilgrims have the uncanny ability to navigate the stars by gut instinct, a gift only faintly matched by a computerized system called Navcom. On the downside, it's a bit amateurish and hyper. By Katherine Dillin ++ Non-stop action, comic-book fun, shallow. Sex/Nudity: 1 mild scene of implied sexual activity; 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: 4 scenes including one lengthy battle. Profanity: 25 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol, 1 scene with cigarettes.

OUT ON VIDEO PLEASANTVILLE (PG-13) Director: Gary Ross. With Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Don Knotts, Jeff Daniels, J.T. Walsh. (116 min.) +++ Two average 1990s teens find themselves transported to a 1950s-type town right out of a TV sitcom, where values and ideas are as black-and-white as the cinematography. Ross's comedy isn't as inventive as "The Truman Show," which it resembles, but it explores interesting ideas with nimble humor. +++ Refreshingly original, technically inventive, fun but meaningful.

Coming Soon ... (In stores March 30)

THE RUGRATS MOVIE (G) Directors: Norton Virgien, Igor Kovalyov. With E.G. Daily, Kath Soucie, Whoopie Goldberg, David Spade. (87 min.) ++ A new baby enters the Pickles family, sparking jealousy in his big brother and danger for his friends when they load the newcomer into a wagon and lose their way in the woods. The animation is rough around the edges, and the sometimes vulgar jokes lack the wit of a good "Simpsons" episode, but fans of the TV series will be pleased. ++ Hyperactive, family-oriented, cutesy.

HOME FRIES (PG-13) Director: Dean Parisot. With Drew Barrymore, Catherine O'Hara, Jake Busey, Luke Wilson, Shelley Duvall. (105 min.) ++ An unexplained corpse, a pregnant fast-food waitress, and two feuding brothers are among the characters of this very dark, fitfully amusing comedy. Barrymore and Busey walk away with the acting honors, but no aspect of the picture is more than mildly entertaining. +++ Sweet love story, rowdy, funny.

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