INSTINCT (R, 126 minutes)Acted with energy and put together with every slick Hollywood trick up its hairy gorilla-suit sleeve, "Instinct" could transfix teens interested in conservation issues and others hungry for character-driven drama in which the actors actually show emotion. Only later, perhaps when discussing the film in a history or social studies class, will they note that according to the myopic worldview in "Instinct," the biggest horror to occur in Rwanda in recent years wasn't genocide but the tragic killing of mountain gorillas.
A relatively mild R-rated film, suitable for most teens, "Instinct" does contain frequent profanity and several moments of loud, intense -- though fairly bloodless -- violence, including the shooting of gorillas (actors in suits) and the poignant close-up death of one. Grim scenes in a psychiatric prison could upset some.
Anthony Hopkins plays a famed primatologist who, before the film begins, went missing in Rwanda while studying the mountain gorillas. When Rwandan park rangers found him, he killed them. Transferred from a Rwandan prison to a psychiatric penitentiary in Florida, he has long refused to speak. Cuba Gooding Jr. plays an ambitious psychiatric resident who tries to get through to him, and maybe write a book about the case. He learns humility instead.
XIU XIU THE SENT DOWN GIRL (R, 99 minutes)A heart-rending and visually striking fable about a girl whose life is ruined by the Cultural Revolution in Mao's China, "Xiu Xiu" isn't appropriate for any but the most mature high-schoolers because of its explicit and upsetting sexual content. For them, however, it would provide not only a fine way to begin a habit of attending foreign films, but also a poetic rather than historic insight into the upheaval in China in the 1960s. The rating covers graphic sexual situations and semi-nudity, out-of-wedlock pregnancy and bloody sheets after an abortion or miscarriage.
Directed by Chinese-born but U.S.-based actress Joan Chen, "Xiu Xiu" tells the story of a pretty young teen (Lu Lu) who leaves her family in the big city and is "sent down" by the leaders of the Cultural Revolution to lose her urban ways and learn horse tending in Tibet. She's assigned as apprentice to a nomadic horse herder named Lao Jin (Tibetan actor Lopsang), living in his tent on the vast tundra. He's a kindly man who respects her privacy and chastity.
When Xiu Xiu is unable to get bureaucratic permission to go home to her family, she begins to give her body to a string of brutish men, all of whom promise to pull strings on her behalf, but never do. Lao Jin cannot stop her self-destruction and eventually commits a desperate act to save her. An achingly beautiful tale about the power of love and the human tragedy created by oppressive governments, "Xiu Xiu" was shot without permission on the border between Tibet and China.
For 8 and Up
"Endurance" (G). Moving docudrama reenacts life of Olympic gold medalist Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, who grew up in poor village, persevered, trained and triumphed. Graphic scenes of Third World poverty; Haile's mother collapses, dies off-screen; he weeps at funeral.
"Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace" (PG). First installment of prequel trilogy looks good, plays dull -- leaden characters, murky plot, sterile, computer-generated imagery. Loud, fast, bloodless violence includes light saber impalement, endless pod race, battles; sad moment when young Anakin Skywalker leaves mother; tots may find aliens scary.
Art Films Teens Might Like
"Tea With Mussolini" (PG). Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright as ladies in 1930s Italy facing fascist thuggery, war in sentimental but diverting tale. Rare profanity; drinking, smoking; unwed characters' trysts; illegitimate child; mild sexual innuendo; hint of male nudity.
"Trekkies" (PG). Eccentric, witty documentary about "Star Trek" fans who attend conventions, obsess over costumes, paraphernalia, characters, sometimes meeting real "Trek" stars. Brief sexual innuendo. For adults, teens with sense of irony.
"Notting Hill." Julia Roberts as movie star falls in love with Hugh Grant as London bookshop owner in warm, witty romantic comedy. Crude comic language, occasional profanity; sexual innuendo, masturbation jokes; mild sexual situation with unwed couple spending night.
"The Love Letter." Anonymous love letter wafts through small town, changing lives of those who think it's for them in flimsy but likable romantic comedy with Kate Capshaw, Tom Selleck, Ellen DeGeneres. Steamy, non-graphic sexual situations; hint of nudity; rare profanity.
"William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream." Whimsical, earthy adaptation, prettily set in Tuscany, c. 1900, with Kevin Kline as a droll Bottom. Brief semi-nudity; mild sexual situations, innuendo; scatological humor.
"Entrapment." Sean Connery as art thief pursued by Catherine Zeta-Jones as investigator in slick but less-than-zippy romantic thriller. Rare profanity, mild sexual innuendo, muted love scenes; implied semi-nudity; hashish or opium use; bloodless violence.
"The Thirteenth Floor." Software company creates virtual-reality time travel; employee enters virtual world to trace boss's murder in murky, pretentious thriller. Relatively bloodless violence includes threat of rape; profanity; mild sexual innuendo; muted sexual situation; smoking, drinking. High-schoolers.
"Election." Teacher Matthew Broderick tries to stop smug student Reese Witherspoon from winning school election in smart, cynical adult comedy. Graphic sexual situations, innuendo; gay themes; semi-nudity; profanity; marijuana; teacher-student affair. Older high-schoolers.