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Almost Famous (R)
Director: Cameron Crowe. With Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee. (122 min.)
Sterritt *** The adventures of a young rock-music journalist who accompanies a second-rate band on tour in the early '70s, chasing his story through a maze of distractions ranging from groupies and parties to the group's insecurity about its future. Crowe's screenplay is loosely based on his past experiences, and a sense of authenticity and sincerity shines through the movie's Hollywood veneer. Fugit gives a starmaking performance as the teenage reporter, and Crudup and Lee are excellent as the band's lead guitarist and singer, respectively. Best of all is Hoffman as Lester Bangs.
Staff ***1/2 A valentine to '70s rock, poignant, funny.
Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene, 2 with implied sex, 3 scenes with nudity. Violence: 1 scuffle and 1 instance of a girl getting her stomach pumped for overdose. Profanity: 37 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 18 scenes with alcohol, 12 with tobacco, 5 with drugs.
Director: Sally Field. With Minnie Driver, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Joey Lauren Adams. (112 min.)
Staff ** Driver is a woman so consumed with winning beauty pageants that she's failed to develop a heart, even having a devoted friend (Adams) raise her daughter (Eisenberg). Field's directorial debut assembles a marvelous cast, but is less a film than a sampler box of genres - nostalgia piece, buddy flick, satire, expose, coming-of-age story. Some of these morsels are tasty indeed. Others take a long time to chew. Fields has a heart. If she can emulate her heroine's focus and drive, she may make a great movie some day. By M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes with violence, including suicide and a thwarted threat. Profanity: 17 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 2 with tobacco.
Billy Elliot (R)
Director: Stephen Daldry. With Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Draven, Adam Cooper. (110 min.)
Sterritt *** The sprightly tale of a feisty lad who lives in England's coal-mining country and wants to become a ballet dancer even though his family thinks that's no ambition for a real man. The movie does a fine job of integrating its political interests - a fierce 1984 mining strike - with a deeply felt love of dancing. It also trumpets the worthwhile message that ballet is just as manly and athletic as any other masculine activity - and maybe a touch more so, if you have to defy an uncomprehending community in order to pursue it.
The Contender (R)
Director: Rod Lurie. With Jeff Bridges, Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, Christian Slater, William Petersen, Philip Baker Hall, Saul Rubinek, Sam Elliott. (125 min.)
Sterritt ** A well-meaning chief executive chooses a female senator to replace his deceased vice president, then discovers that her many assets are accompanied by a liability: an alleged sex scandal that surfaces from her distant past. Will the president stick to his convictions and help her refurbish her reputation? What will follow from the explosive event that opens the movie: A jolting accident that boosts yet another politician to prominence? The story is so calculated that it ultimately bears little relation to the real world.
Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of explicit sex and 1 scene with graphic descriptions of sexual activity. Violence: None. Profanity: 63 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: Cigar smoking throughout; a few scenes with cigarette smoking.