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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 +++1/2 Very Good +++ Good ++ 1/2 Average ++ Fair +1/2 Poor + Worst

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THE EMPTY MIRROR (NOT RATED) Director: Barry Hershey. With Norman Rodway, Camilla Soeberg, Joel Grey, Glenn Shadix, Peter Michael Goetz. (119 min.) +++ An impressionistic visit with the defeated Adolf Hitler as he skulks around his bunker, communes with associates both real and imagined, and has a hallucinatory dialogue with Sigmund Freud, whose psychological insights are closer to the mark than the dictator can tolerate. Parts of the movie threaten to become stagy or pretentious, but it gains power from the ingenious mix of multimedia ingredients woven around Rodway's strong performance.

IDLE HANDS (R) Directed by Rodman Flender. With Seth Green, Devon Sawa, Elden Henson, Vivica A. Fox. (92 min.) + Anton is a lazy, good-for-nothing pot-smoking high schooler who's life ambition is to watch loads of TV. That soon changes, however, when his right hand gets possessed by a demonic spirit that uncontrollably kills most of his friends. There's scads of blood and gore, but the story is a lowbrow comedy disguised as a teen-horror film. By John Christian Hoyle

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (PG-13) Director: Michael Hoffman. With Kevin Kline, Michel Pfeiffer, Christian Bale, Rupert Everett, Calista Flockhart, Sophie Marceau, Stanley Tucci, David Strathairn. (115 min.) ++ The latest adaptation of Shakespeare's romantic comedy isn't exactly the real thing. It trims the text, shifts the action to turn-of-the-century Italy, and douses the soundtrack with opera music but it retains the antic plot about lovers and actors discombobulated by magic spells, and serves up some of the Bard's most popular verse. Often less than spellbinding, the fault lies with uneven performances and Hoffman's reliance on theatrical devices instead of truly cinematic effects.

THE MUMMY (PG-13) Director: Stephen Sommers. With Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Kevin J.O. Connor, Arnold Vosloo, Jonathan Hyde. (125 min.) ++ High-tech remake of the 1932 horror classic about an ancient Egyptian schemer who launches an evil plot after 20th-century adventurers revive him. The movie is long, bombastic, and violent, but fantasy fans may enjoy its fast- moving energy, and some of the digitized effects are entertainingly hokey.

PUSHER (NOT RATED) Director: Nicolas Winding Refn. With Kim Bodnia, Laura Drasbaek, Zlatko Buric, Slavko Labovic. (105 min.) +++ The life and times of a Danish drug dealer in trouble with dangerous colleagues. The action is horrific at times, but it adds up to a vigorous message about the hazards of a criminal life. In Danish, with subtitles.

THIS IS MY FATHER (R) Director: Paul Quinn. With Aidan Quinn, James Caan, John Cusack, Stephen Rea, Donal Donnelly. (120 min.) ++ An impressive cast lends intermittent appeal to the story of an American teacher who visits Ireland to explore his family's troubled emotional roots. The tale is powerful in its understated US scenes, but rambles a bit when it switches to the Irish countryside. Caan does the most memorable acting, and Quinn is also strong in his brother's feature-filmmaking debut.

XIU XIU: THE SENT-DOWN GIRL (R) Director: Joan Chen. With Lu Lu, Lopsang, Gao Jie, Li Qianqian.(99 min.) +++ During the Cultural Revolution about three decades ago, a Chinese teenager leaves home for an educational experience in the countryside, where she is brutally exploited by men holding power in the region. Chinese authorities have censored this movie, apparently upset at its negative treatment of a disturbing subject, but audiences are likely to find its candor as honest as it is unsettling. Already a talented actress, Chen shows filmmaking promise in her directorial debut. In Mandarin, with subtitles.

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CURRENTLY IN RELEASE ELECTION (R) Director: Alexander Payne. With Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell. Delaney Driscoll, Molly Hagan. (104 min.) ++ The director of "Citizen Ruth" strikes again with this pitch-dark satire about a high-school election, three contrasting candidates, and a teacher with very divided loyalties. Many moviegoers will find its rough sexual humor unnecessary, unjustified, and offensive. Others may consider this the perfect teen comedy for the Clinton era, saVy and cynical about the adolescent version of modern politics. Either way, Broderick and Witherspoon give perfectly matched performances at the head of a first-rate cast.

ENTRAPMENT (PG-13) Director: Jon Amiel. With Sean Connery, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Will Patton, Ving Rhames, Maury Chaykin, Kevin McNally. (105 min.) ++ Romance and intrigue mingle as an insurance-company investigator crosses the path of a master thief who specializes in stealing priceless art. As usual in caper movies, the characters are duplicitous, and circumstances are rarely what they seem. The movie's main charm comes from Connery's smooth acting, but Zeta- Jones also makes an appealing impression as the woman who could be his nemesis, his partner, or both. ++1/2 Lacks supense, weak dialogue, exciting techno-feats. Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of nudity. Violence: 3 instances. Profanity: 17 expressions. Drugs: 1 instance of drug use, 4 of alcohol.

HIDEOUS KINKY (R) Director: Gillies Mackinnon. With Kate Winslet, Sad Taghmaoui, Bella Riza, Carrie Mullan. (99 min.) +++ After moving to North Africa in search of '60s-style adventure and enlightenment, a young Englishwoman raises her little girls and plans a visit to an Algerian guru for an encounter with Sufi wisdom. Winslet gives a very creative performance, and Mackinnon sketches a bemused yet sympathetic portrait of the cultural clash between the idealistic heroine and the ancient, intricate society that she embraces but scarcely understands. +++ Colorful travelogue, luminous, delightful performances by the two young girls. Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of nudity. Violence: None. Profanity: 10 expressions. Drugs: 12 scenes with smoking.

THE HOLE (NOT RATED) Director: Tsai Ming-liang. With Yang Kuei-mei, Lee Kang-sheng, Miao Tien, Tong Hsiang-chu. (95 min.) +++ A few days before the millennium, a lonely man and woman are drawn into an arm's-length relationship by a gaping hole in the floor of their desperately decayed apartment building. The minimalist plot is interrupted by perky musical numbers that lend extra surprise to this oddly engaging experiment in avant- garde tragicomedy.

THE KING OF MASKS (NOT RATED) Director: Wu Tianming. With Zhu Xu, Zhou Ren-Ying, Zhang Riuyang, Zhao Zhigang. (101 min.) +++ Dwelling in a rigidly traditional society that values youth over age and males over females, an old Chinese entertainer and a homeless little girl become unlikely partners in the quest for a reasonably contented life. The story becomes slow and repetitive during its long middle section, but the acting is expressive, and some of the cinematography is dazzling. In Mandarin, with subtitles.

LIFE (R) Director: Ted Demme. With Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Ned Beatty, Obba Babatunde, Clarence Williams 3rd, Bernie Mac, Cicely Tyson. (118 min.) +++ Two small-time criminals are sentenced to life on a Mississippi prison farm for a murder they didn't commit, and sway between hope and despair as the decades roll by. The humor doesn't have much subtlety and the atmosphere doesn't have much authenticity, but Murphy and Lawrence are a natural-born comedy team, and the supporting cast is fine. ++ Incongruous, difficult subject, endearing crooks. Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of implied sex. Violence: 10 instances. Profanity: 214 expressions. Drugs: 18 instances.

LOST & FOUND (PG-13) Director: Jeff Pollack. With David Spade, Sophie Marceau, Martin Sheen, Patrick Bruel, Artie Lange. (105 min.) + A lovestruck Californian kidnaps a neighbor's dog as a way of getting her attention. Marceau's charm keeps this dopey, demeaning comedy from being a total loss, but it comes perilously close. ++ Corny, slow, a few laughs.. Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of nudity. Violence: 1 scene. Profanity: 31 expressions. Drugs: 8 instances of social drinking.

THE MATRIX (R) Directors: The Wachowski Brothers. With Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano. (132 min.) +++ Juiced up with nonstop action and a megadose of special effects, this science-fiction thrill ride begins with the paranoid premise that evil conspirators have all humanity trapped in a web of illusion that perpetuates their control by blinding us to reality. The plot switches gears every time it threatens to run out of energy, which keeps the show as lively as it is preposterous. +++ Original, clever, solid sci-fi. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 11 scenes, some lengthy. Profanity: 48 expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes of smoking and/or drinking.

OPEN YOUR EYES (R) Director: Alejandro Amenbar. With Eduardo Noriega, Penelope Cruz, Najwa Nimri, Chete Lera. (110 min.) +++ This extremely clever Spanish thriller starts as the romantic story of a young man and his jealous lover, then becomes a tale of physical and emotional trauma, and finally plunges into surreal mystery and science-fiction pyrotechnics. That may sound like a hodgepodge, but Amenbar weaves a smooth-ly flowing tale that's as gripping as it is unpredictable. In Spanish, with subtitles. Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of sex and/or innuendo. Violence: 6 instances. Profanity: 67 expressions. Drugs: 7 scenes with smoking and/ or drinking, 2 with drugs.

PUSHING TIN (R) Director: Mike Newell. With John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie. (120 min.) ++ Romance and rivalry among a group of air-traffic controllers, portrayed as suburban roughnecks with a penchant for rowdy behavior. The movie bids for novelty by focusing on a profession that Hollywood rarely notices, but there's nothing fresh about the smart-alecky characters or love-triangle plot. Such an appealing cast deserves more appealing material to work with. ++ Pointless, aimless macho posturing, mildly entertaining. Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of implied sex. Violence: 1 instance. Profanity: 42 expressions. Drugs: 10 scenes with smoking and/or drinking.

THREE SEASONS (PG-13) Director: Tony Bui. With Harvey Keitel, Zo Bui, Don Duog, Gnoc Hiep, Manh Cuong. (110 min.) +++ Set in present-day Vietnam, this gently filmed drama tells alternating tales about several characters including a lovestruck worker, a good-hearted prostitute, a little boy who's lost his livelihood, and a former US soldier hunting for a daughter he's never met. Although the movie is stronger on atmosphere than suspense or psychology, its Vietnamese-American director paints a frequently vivid portrait of life in a rapidly changing nation caught between a troubled past and an uncertain future.

THE WINSLOW BOY (G) Director: David Mamet. With Nigel Hawthorne, Rebecca Pidgeon, Jeremy Northam, Gemma Jones, Matthew Pidgeon. (110 min.) ++++ Superbly acted, elegantly filmed adaptation of Terrence Rattigan's classic 1940s drama about an aging Edwardian father who launches a drawn-out legal fight to clear his son's name after the boy is convicted of a petty crime, with repercussions that affect his entire family. The subject remains as relevant as ever, touching on still-timely issues like feminist activism and media madness. Mamet uses it to explore a wide range of moral complexities, imbuing the story with his own pungent rhythms while preserving the best elements of Rattigan's play and the stately film version produced in 1948. This is the kind of movie that literate viewers pine for, laced with gracefulness and wit from first scene to last.

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