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.
+++1/2 Very Good
++ 1/2 Average
NEW RELEASES The Generals Daughter (R) Director: Simon West. With John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, James Woods, Leslie Stefanson, James Cromwell, Clarence Williams III, Timothy Hutton. (116 min.) ++ A military cop and a rape investigator make disturbing discoveries as they probe the bizarre murder of a female officer whose father, a top-ranking commander, is about to enter politics. The capably filmed story builds effective suspense at times, and scores telling points against military machismo. But its impact is weakened by clunky dialogue, too many plot twists, and a weakness for pop psychologizing. Contains explicit sexual violence.
An Ideal Husband (PG-13) Director: Oliver Parker. With Jeremy Northam, Julianne Moore, Rupert Everett, Cate Blanchett, John Wood, Minnie Driver, Peter Vaughan, Jeroen Krabb. (97 min.) +++ Oscar Wildes play inspired this supple comedy, centering on a well- starched British gentleman whos hiding a secret that could touch off a political scandal if a beautiful blackmailer doesnt get what she wants. The dialogue is witty, the cast is appealing, and modern-day moviegoers will spot more than a few parallels between their morally checkered age and London of a century ago.
The Red Dwarf (Not rated) Director: Yvan Le Moine. With Jean-Yves Thual, Anita Ekberg, Arno Chevrier, Dyna Gauzy. (102 min.) ++ Feeling himself a perpetual outsider because of his small stature and moody temperament, a law-office assistant strikes up emotionally charged relationships with an aging opera singer and a young circus performer, bringing strange and ultimately drastic consequences. Thuals sensitive acting and Le Moines imaginative directing dont quite manage to steer this Belgian melodrama around pitfalls of sentimentality and sensationalism. In French with English subtitles.
Run Lola Run (R) Director: Tom Tykwer. With Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, Nina Petri, Herbert Knaup, Armin Rohde. (81 min.) +++ Amazingly creative filmmaking propels this anything-goes tale of a young woman who has just 20 minutes to save her boyfriends life by raising a huge amount of cash. Tykwers style gives the movie an explosive energy that never quits, marking him as the most ingenious new talent to hail from Germany in ages. Contains violent action. In German with English subtitles.
Sitcom (Not rated) Director: Franois Ozon. With Evelyne Dandry, Franois Marthouret, Marina de Van, Adrien de Van. (80 min.) ++ Darkly satirical tale of a comfortable French family that sinks into a morass of self-destructive perversity. The movies critique of middle-class hypocrisy carries a morbid kick at times, but its so heavily influenced by the vastly superior films of Luis Buuel that his name should appear over the title. Contains explicit sexual material. In French with English subtitles.
Tarzan (G) Directors: Kevin Lima, Chris Buck. With voices of Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Alex D. Linz, Glenn Close, Nigel Hawthorne, Rosie O Donnell, Wayne Knight. (88 min.) +++ Animated version of the classic yarn about an orphaned child who grows up with gorillas, enjoys a contented life in the African jungle, and faces eye- opening new experiences when humans barge into his domain. The cartooning is lively and funny, and the voice-only cast brings the characters to vivid life. Theres no over-the-top music or comedy sequence to place this with the very best Disney animations, though, and Phil Collinss songs wont be to everyones taste.
Currently in Release Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (PG-13) Director: Jay Roach. With Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Michael York, Elizabeth Hurley, Seth Green, Robert Wagner. (100 min.) ++ The silly secret agent returns in his first sequel, wherein the evil Dr. Evil time-travels to the 60s and steals the mojo that powers our heros sex appeal. The satire is crammed with sexual and scatological humor; some may find this Rabelaisian and refreshing others, the end of civilization as we know it. +++ Dr. Evil steals the show, shagadelic, witty. Sex/Nudity: 12 references to sexual activity. Violence: 4 slapstick scenes. Profanity: 35 expressions. Drugs: 12 scenes with drinking and/or smoking.
Besieged (R) Director: Bernardo Bertolucci. With David Thewlis, Thandie Newton. (92 min.) +++ After fleeing her violence-torn homeland, an African woman goes to work for an eccentric English composer in Rome, developing a complex and increasingly affectionate relationship with him. Inventive acting and imaginative filmmaking transform what might have been a minor variation on Bertoluccis notorious Last Tango in Paris into an offbeat fantasia thats romantic, whimsical, and unsettling by turns.
Buena Vista Social Club (Not rated) Director: Wim Wenders. With Ry Cooder, Ibrahim Ferrer, Eliades Ochoa, Rubn Gonzlez. (106 min.) +++ This excursion into Cubas traditional pop-music scene had its start when Cooder decided to record an album in Havana, and one of Germanys most expressive filmmakers decided to make a record of the experience, spotlighting a number of old-time musicians who were rediscovered in the course of this project. Not great cinema, but lots of toe-tapping fun.
Desert Blue (R) Director: Morgan J. Freeman. With John Heard, Casey Affleck, Christina Ricci, Brendan Sexton III (87 min.) ++ A young actress hangs out with like-minded teenagers when she and her professor dad are stranded in a rural California town by a nuclear-hazard scare. Low-key performances and a meandering plot are bolstered by Freemans skill at building a quietly absorbing atmosphere.
Instinct (R) Director: Jon Turteltaub. With Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Donald Sutherland, Maura Tierney. (126 min.) ++ Looking like Hannibal Lecter with a beard, Hopkins plays another demented scientist a primate researcher whos killed some African park rangers and Gooding plays an ambitious psychiatrist who wants to learn why he did it. Both stars have high-octane moments, but too many of the storys ideas are borrowed from better pictures. Call it The Silence of the Gorillas. +++ Intriguing concept, thought-provoking, nice acting. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 9 instances, ranging from gun shootings and beatings to face slaps. Profanity: 8 expressions. Drugs: 3 instances.
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 the cinematography is dazzling. +++ Fairy-like, gentle, ennobling. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 4 instances of a man beaten off-camera, a child bruised from a beating, and man shoots a slingshot. Profanity: 7 expressions in subtitles. Drugs: 2 scenes of smoking, 1 of drinking.
The Last Cigarette (Not rated) Directors: Kevin Rafferty, Frank Keraudren. With Henry Waxman, various movie and TV performers, members of the tobacco industry. (82 min.) +++ An engrossing, informative, sometimes hilarious look at the history of tobacco smoking in the mass media, from recent congressional hearings to the kinds of TV ads that arent allowed anymore. Entertainingly assembled, if not very deep or analytical.
Limbo (R) Director: John Sayles. With Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, David Strathairn, Vanessa Martinez, Casey Siemaszko, Kris Kristofferson. (126 min.) +++ Working to support her alienated teenage daughter through a small-time singing career, a woman meets a new boyfriend with a troubled past, and the three of them enter an unexpected adventure that could have deadly consequences. The movie is less about plot twists than about the struggles of decent people to sustain one another at lifes most trying moments. Sayles takes great storytelling risks to explore this theme; his unusual approach will please some viewers and irritate others. ++1/2 Somewhat unrealistic, severe, depressing. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Nothing graphic, but a dead body is found in the woods and a young girl struggles with suicidal ideas. Profanity: 30 expressions. Drugs: 11 scenes with drinking and/or smoking.
The Loss of Sexual Innocence (R) Director: Mike Figgis. With Julian Sands, Saffron Burrows, Jonathan Rhys- Meyers, Kelly Macdonald. (101 min.) +++ A modern retelling of the Adam and Eve story frames this extremely offbeat study of the relationships among sexuality, love, possessiveness, hostility, and guilt. The nonlinear story consists of loosely linked fragments, some more effective than others, threaded together in a broodingly poetic way. Contains explicit sexual and scatological material. Sex/Nudity: 11 instances such as Adam and Eve emerging nude from the lake, sexual situations, and implied sex. Violence: 4 scenes including a couple of stabbings and still photos of dead bodies. Profanity: 15 expressions. Drugs: 7 instances of smoking and/or drinking.
Notting Hill (PG-13) Director: Roger Michell. With Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Emma Chambers, Hugh Bonneville. (124 min.) +++ A world-famous Hollywood star falls inexplicably in love with a bookstore owner in a modest London neighborhood, sparking ups and downs involving a prior boyfriend and a pornography scandal. Theres some very funny dialogue, but the picture falls apart when it tries to think real thoughts about celebrity, publicity, and the media. Worst weakness: too many love-conquers-all clichs. Strongest asset: Grants dewy eyes and Robertss voluptuous mouth are a romantic-comedy dream team. +++ Charming, refreshing, good date flick. Sex/Nudity/Violence: None. Profanity: 18 expressions. Drugs: 11 instances of smoking and/or social drinking. The Red Violin (Not rated) Director: Franois Girard. With Samuel L. Jackson, Greta Scacchi, Don McKellar, Jean-Luc Bideau, Carlo Cecchi, Jason Flemyng, Sylvia Chang. (130 min.) +++ This omnibus-style film traces the fictional history of a superbly crafted violin, and the mystery attached to it, as it passes from 17th-century Italy to China during the Cultural Revolution, with stops in Austria and England along the way. Movies in this genre are often made with more attention to international marketing than first-rate storytelling, but Girard invests each episode of this Canadian production with dramatic credibility and emotional strength. In four languages, with English subtitles when appropriate.
Return With Honor (Not rated) Directors: Freida Lee Mock, Terry Sanders. With Everett Alvarez, Jim Stockdale, Jerry Denton, John McCain, Robbie Risner. (102 min.) +++ Gripping, touching, sometimes warmly humorous documentary about American fliers shot down during the Vietnam war and held as prisoners under conditions that were often too horrifying to be imagined. A lovingly filmed tribute to human resilience.
Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace (PG) Director: George Lucas. With Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Pernilla August, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Terence Stamp. (132 min.) +++ The series heads into its second trilogy as Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn and apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi meet a boy named Anakin Skywalker on the desert world Tatooine during a dispute between the minor planet Naboo and a powerful trade federation. The computer-driven effects are impressive, but the adventure is hampered by a flat screenplay, dull acting, and just a hint as to why the dark side of the Force will eventually transform cute little Anakin into the evil Darth Vader. +++ Thrilling visuals, earnest, action-packed. Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 27 scenes of bloodless combat.
OUT ON VIDEO Dancing at Lughnasa (PG) Director: Pat OConnor. With Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon, Sophie Thompson, Kathy Burke. (94 min.) +++ Likable, low-key version of Brian Friels play about five rural Irish sisters and a slightly mad brother who symbolizes the change that overtakes even the simplest of lives. Not surprisingly, Streep makes the strongest impression, wielding an Irish brogue as expressively as the many other accents shes mastered during her versatile career.
Little Voice (R) Director: Mark Herman. With Jane Horrocks, Michael Caine, Brenda Blethyn, Ewan McGregor. (99 min.) +++ A shy young woman with a gift for movie-star impersonations wants a quiet life but cant escape the pushy plans of her loud-mouthed mother and a sleazy entrepreneur. The movie is often as raucous and seedy as its less-attractive characters, but it gains power from inventive acting and poignant touches. +++1/2 Upbeat, hilarious, stunning performances by the two female leads.
Coming Soon ... (In stores June 22)
A Simple Plan (R) Director: Sam Rami. With Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda, Brent Briscoe, Gary Cole. (115 min.) +++ Two brothers face a moral crisis when they stumble on a cache of apparently illicit money and decide to keep it instead of calling the authorities. Sensitive performances and intelligent storytelling keep the sometimes-violent tale involving from start to finish. +++1/2 Gripping moral tale, intelligent thriller, dark but very well done.