Freeze Frames: The Monitor Movie Guide
Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted. Ratings and comments by the panel (blue stars) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other viewers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews.
o Forget It
ARGUING THE WORLD (Not rated)
++++ Entertaining, thought-provoking documentary about the personal lives, professional activities, and passionate ideas of four classic New York intellectuals - Irving Howe, Daniel Bell, Irving Kristol, and Nathan Glazer. The film pays special attention to the changes their political views have undergone as they and American society have changed over the years. Written, produced, and directed by Joseph Dorman.
THE BOXER (R)
++ A prizefighter returns to Belfast, Northern Ireland, after 14 years in a British prison for IRA activity, renewing his affection for a former girlfriend and entering a difficult relationship with his politically active neighbors. Jim Sheridan's topical drama gains power from strong performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson, but the screenplay is too scattered for the picture to build the great emotional impact of "In the Name of the Father," an earlier collaboration between Sheridan and Day-Lewis on a somewhat similar subject. V S P
THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE (PG)
++ An eight-year-old Cherokee orphan goes to live with his grandparents in rural Tennessee, where the family fends off interference by public school authorities and government agents who want to destroy their illicit moonshine still. The movie takes an admirable interest in topics related to Indian affairs and the challenges of growing up different. Much of the story seems contrived and sentimental, though. V P
THE LEOPARD (Not rated)
++++ Reissue of Luchino Visconti's three-hour-plus 1963 drama about an aging Sicilian aristocrat doing his best to change with the times as Italy gropes its way toward unification. Burt Lancaster is uncannily right as the melancholy hero, even with his voice dubbed into Italian, and Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon are perfect as young lovers awaiting a more exciting future. Giuseppe Rotunno did the gorgeous cinematography. V
OSCAR AND LUCINDA (R)
++ A clergyman and a glassmaker fall in love in 19th-century Australia, brought together by their weakness for gambling. The first 20 minutes blend elements of childhood, history, romance, and religion into a series of lively and promising scenes, and later there are some striking images of a glass church. But most of the movie is a disappointingly slow and commonplace love story. Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett are the attractive stars. Directed by Australian filmmaker Gillian Armstrong. Contains brief but explicit sex. S N P V
Currently in Release
++ A group of abducted Africans mutiny against the slave traders shipping them into bondage, wind up in a Connecticut jail, and fight for freedom with help from a black abolitionist and a former president. Steven Spielberg's historical drama is more stilted and didactic than its fascinating subject deserves, gathering great emotional force only in a harrowing scene depicting the Holocaust-like suffering of slave-ship captives. The cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, and Djimon Hounsou. V S N P
+++ Gripping, moving, powerful.
+++ A young princess escapes death in the Russian Revolution, grows up in an orphanage without knowing her royal origin, then meets a con artist who enlists her to impersonate herself so he can collect a big reward. This lavishly produced animation makes imaginative use of familiar formulas, filling the screen with handsome images accompanied by sprightly songs and lively voice-performances from Meg Ryan as the heroine, John Cusack as her shady friend, Christopher Lloyd as the demonic Rasputin, and Angela Lansbury as a royal grandmother who's seen so many false Anastasias she can't bear the thought of another. Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. Contains scenes of violence and menace that may be too intense for very young viewers. V
+++ Captivating, clever, lovely animation.
THE APOSTLE (Not rated)
++++ Robert Duvall wrote, directed, and stars in this riveting tale of a religiously devout but humanly flawed preacher, who flees from Texas to Louisiana after a violent incident sparked by his wife's infidelity and another minister's move to oust him from his church. Avoiding the clichs and condescension that characterize many films on religious figures, the movie is at once a compelling drama and a thoughtful look at faith-related issues on personal, social, and cultural levels. V P
AS GOOD AS IT GETS (PG-13)
++ Jack Nicholson plays an obsessive-compulsive writer who makes life miserable for everybody around, but starts to lose his obnoxious habits when acquaintances badly need his help. The story makes Nicholson's character arbitrarily awful at the beginning so he can become arbitrarily sweet by the end; none of the action is very convincing, but Nicholson's over-the-top acting gives an entertaining edge to the plot's feel-good manipulations. Helen Hunt plays a waitress with a sick child and Greg Kinnear plays the hero's gay neighbor. Directed by James L. Brooks. S N P V
+++ Exceptional, touching, funny.
A COUCH IN NEW YORK (Not rated)
++ William Hurt and Juliette Binoche play a Manhattan psychoanalyst and a Parisian gadabout who swap apartments, then get involved in each other's lives. The story is a trifle and the comic rhythms are skewed, but Belgian director Chantal Akerman provides some glowing images along the way. A minor work by a major filmmaker. P
DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (R)
++ A writer flip-flops between reality and illusion on a complicated day when his former wife won't let him take their son to a college ceremony in his honor. Woody Allen wrote and directed this inventive comedy, which has some good laughs but a very nasty edge. Allen also heads the wonderful cast including Judy Davis, Kirstie Alley, Bob Balaban, Richard Benjamin, Eric Bogosian, Julie Kavner, Billy Crystal, Mariel Hemingway, Amy Irving, Demi Moore, Robin Williams, Elisabeth Shue, and Stanley Tucci. Contains brief but graphic sex and explosively foul language. S N P V
++++ Witty, insightful, engaging.
++ Disney's popular comedy "The Absent-Minded Professor" rides again in this remake, centering on a charmingly mad scientist who invents a green goo with antigravity powers and uses it to win a basketball game, save his college from bankruptcy, and regain his exasperated fiance. Robin Williams is no Fred MacMurray, but he plays the hero with his customary energy. Les Mayfield directed. V
+++ Imaginative, goofy, energetic.
GOOD WILL HUNTING (R)
++ A brilliant but aimless young man develops a complex relationship with a psychotherapist who's never gotten over his wife's untimely death. Matt Damon and Robin Williams give touching performances, but Gus Van Sant's filmmaking is surprisingly ordinary. Although he dedicates the picture to the memories of Beat Generation authors Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, it's hard to think of a movie that's less true to their anarchic spirits. P S V
+++ Well-constructed, inspiring, intelligent.
JACKIE BROWN (R)
+++ In trouble with the law, a flight attendant cooks up a self-protective scheme that plays a murderous old friend against a burned-out businessman and a wheeler-dealer cop. Quentin Tarantino's third feature has moments of harrowing violence and vulgarity, but seems almost restrained after the excesses of "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs." Its greatest assets are imaginative camera work and top-flight performances from Pam Grier as the heroine, Samuel L. Jackson as the deadly boyfriend, and Robert Forster as the bail-bondsman who falls battily in love with her. Tarantino's screenplay is a fairly faithful adaptation of Elmore Leonard's energetic novel "Rum Punch." S V P
+++ Clever, gripping, great soundtrack.
+++ The life of Tibet's spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama, from childhood until his flight to India after China's brutal invasion of his country. Taking great commercial risks, director Martin Scorsese avoids movie-star performances and the psychological storytelling that Hollywood movies normally thrive on. The result is a visually spectacular epic depicting both the tragic vicissitudes of Tibetan history and the bedrock integrity of its spiritual traditions. Philip Glass composed the transfixing music. V
++ As an apartment dweller who conducts her own real-life mouse hunts, this comic kiddie flick hit home. Two quarreling brothers inherit a rundown estate from their father, a string magnate, but a tiny (and of course cute) house mouse doesn't like visitors. While the brothers attempt to poison, bludgeon, trap, and drown the rodent while they prepare the house for sale, the wily beast turns the tables. Unnecessary profanity for PG, a little slow for grown-ups, but good for laughs and promoting sibling peace. P By Katherine Dillin
++ Light, funny, predictable.
MR. MAGOO (PG)
+ It's clean and energetic. The "howevers" come later. Based on the vision-impaired cartoon character Mr. Magoo, this movie retains a comic-book feel with its no-consequences violence. No profanity until one slips in during ending credit outtakes. Magoo hunts down a stolen ruby after he becomes a suspect in the theft. However, silliness ad nauseam and uninspired dialogue make 97 minutes of a flesh-and-blood cartoon seem much longer. Even kids in the audience didn't laugh a lot. And Disney plugs EuroDisney. It's too bad clean has come to mean dumb. Stars Leslie Nielsen. V P By Katherine Dillin
+ Corny, absurd, a Disney disappointment.
OFFICE KILLER (Not rated)
++ A lonely office worker loses what little sanity she ever had and starts populating her home with the bodies of murdered colleagues. Cindy Sherman's first film explores the issues of illusion, artifice, and social conditioning that inform her deservedly acclaimed work as a photographer, but she hasn't yet mastered the visual and rhythmic challenges that make cinema a very different art form. Carol Kane and Jean Tripplehorn star. V P
THE POSTMAN (R)
+ Trying to survive the chaos and violence that dominate America after World War III, a drifter poses as a friendly letter-carrier rebuilding links among isolated communities, and becomes a folk hero whose message helps defeat an evil tyrant. The story takes place in 2013, but you'd hardly know it from the age-old clichs Kevin Costner purloins to tell this overblown action yarn, which relies so heavily on ideas borrowed from John Ford westerns that the Hollywood giant should have been credited as codirector; too bad Costner can't invest them with Ford's kind of life and originality, though. At least Will Patton is great as the villain. V S N P
+++ Earnest, purposeful, heroic.
SCREAM 2 (R)
++ "What's your favorite scary movie?" Evidently, it was last year's sleeper hit "Scream," which pulled in more than $100 million. So it's not surprising that screenwriter Kevin Williamson cranked out another script just in time for the holidays. It's two years later on a college campus, and tabloid television reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) has written a book ("Stab") about the events in the first film. Williamson doesn't give many clues as to who the new murderer is, so he keeps you guessing until the very end. There are multiple murders and two gory scenes, but if you love getting scared, then you'll enjoy this thrill ride. Neve Campbell, Jada Pinkett, and Laurie Metcalf also star. Directed by Wes Craven. V P S By Lisa Leigh Parney
++ Frightening, exhilarating, clever.
THE SWEET HEREAFTER (R)
++++ Traumatized by a recent schoolbus accident, parents in an isolated town debate whether to organize their anger and grief into a lawsuit filed by a visiting attorney, who is grappling with severe family problems of his own. This poetic and compassionate drama by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan combines the intricate structure of his earlier movies with an emotional power that raises his remarkable career to a whole new level. Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, and Maury Chaykin head the fine cast. A subplot dealing with incest treats that difficult subject with exemplary taste and tact. S V P
THE TANGO LESSON (PG)
+++ Playing herself as the main character, writer-director Sally Potter tells the offbeat tale of a filmmaker who's so frustrated by commercial obstacles to her latest project that she strikes up a relationship with a handsome tango teacher, hoping dance and music will turn her imagination in new directions. Potter breaks many rules of mainstream moviemaking, from using subtitles to centering the story on her own less-than-polished performance. The drama is full of surprises, though, including an unpredictable visual style and a refreshing acknowledgment of religion as an important value for the protagonists. S V P
+++ Passionate, innovative, graceful.
+++ The great ship's legendary voyage, as recalled by an elderly woman who fell in love with a young scamp and rejected her pompous fianc in the hours before the awful iceberg struck. The first half drags a bit, but the adventure scenes are exciting and the visual effects are as dazzling as Hollywood's most advanced technology can make them. Focusing as much on time and memory as on danger and disaster, it's an epic with a heart. James Cameron directed his own screenplay. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are the likable stars. S N V P
++++ Awesome epic, riveting, tragic.
TOMORROW NEVER DIES (PG-13)
++ James Bond chases a megalomanical media mogul with help from a Chinese sidekick, lots of high-tech gadgets, and a screenplay that allows him to fend off all-but-certain death without so much as mussing his hair. Pierce Brosnan wisecracks his way through the starring role with more aplomb than credibility. Michelle Yeoh and Judi Dench shore up the supporting cast. V S P
++ Disappointing, lacks Bond's usual elegance, tired.
WAG THE DOG (R)
+++ Desperate to distract the public from a Presidential sex scandal just before an election, a White House adviser (Robert De Niro) hires a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to help him whip up an international incident complete with suspenseful situations, winsome heroes, and a media circus to publicize it all. Barry Levinson's dark comedy is sly, funny, and unnerving. S V N P
+++ Cynical, wry, imaginative.
WELCOME TO SARAJEVO (R)
+++ Covering the siege of Sarajevo with other international journalists, a British reporter is shocked to discover that an orphanage is under bombardment, and he decides to take personal responsibility for one child's safety. Mixing a fact-based story with fictional scenes and documentary footage, Michael Winterbottom's drama probes urgent sociopolitical issues with hard-hitting skill. Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei head the cast. V P
WILL IT SNOW FOR CHRISTMAS? (Not rated)
+++ At once deeply touching and surprisingly unsentimental, this no-frills French drama portrays a hard-working Frenchwoman who runs a good-sized farm with help from her seven illegitimate children and occasional visits from their father; he lives elsewhere with his wife and regards this home-away-from-home as more of a management chore than a full-fledged family. Written and directed with skill and sincerity by Sandrine Veysset, a hugely talented newcomer. P
THE WINGS OF THE DOVE (R)
+++ Sensitive adaptation of Henry James's melancholy novel about an illicit affair between an upper-class socialite and a middle-class journalist. Helena Bonham Carter and Linus Roach play the lovers, supported by Alison Elliott, Elizabeth McGovern, and Charlotte Rampling. Thoughtfully directed by Iain Softely from Hossein Amini's screenplay. Contains an unerotic nude scene that conveys the sad wages of immoral behavior. S N
+++ Passionate, compelling, not quite Henry James's novel.