Director: Dariush Mehrjui. With Ezatollah Entezami, Gohar Kheirandish, Bita Farrahi, Ferdos Kaviani. (113 min.)
Sterritt *** After learning that her husband has taken a second wife, a young Iranian woman seeks spiritual comfort by helping a series of strangers with illnesses and other challenges in their lives. This well-produced Iranian drama has a poignant story and a fascinating theme, but it doesn't scale the emotional heights or plumb the psychological depths that Mehrjui reached in his earlier "Leilah," a richer and more engrossing film. In Farsi with English subtitles
Director: Michael Haneke. With Juliette Binoche, Alexandre Hamidi, Ona Lu Yenke, Luminita Gheorghiu, Thierry Neuvic. (117 min.)
Sterritt *** Two émigrés and a Frenchman have a streetside scuffle in Paris, and this fragmented drama traces the far-reaching ramifications of what might have seemed a fleeting, if unfortunate, encounter. Haneke brings his usual dark sensibility to bear on the multifaceted story, expressing the fractured quality of modern city life through scenes that wander through a labyrinth of missing links and lost connections. The overall effect is sometimes powerful, often puzzling, and generally less robust than single-minded Haneke films such as "The Seventh Continent" and the indelible "Funny Games." Originally titled "Code Inconnu." In French with English subtitles
Director: David Mamet. With Gene Hackman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Delroy Lindo, Patti LuPone, Danny DeVito, Ricky Jay. (107 min.)
Sterritt *** See review page 15.
Director: Rob Morrow. With Rob Morrow, Laura Linney, Robert Hogan, Craig Sheffer, Rose Gregorio. (97 min.)
Sterritt ** Morrow plays the title character, an artist diagnosed with a syndrome that gives him patterns of involuntary speech and movement. His condition doesn't stop him from becoming infatuated with his best friend's lover, touching off a string of unexpected events and raising questions about his capacities for love and loyalty. Although this is a likable comedy-drama, it never quite balances its humanitarian message (disabled people fall in love like everyone else) with its standard-issue romantic angles. Moviegoers interested in how people cope with Maze's syndrome would do better to see the witty 1993 documentary "Twitch and Shout," which included the real-life Lyle Maze among its subjects.
Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. With Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jason Alexander. (110 min.)
Sterritt ** See review, page 15.
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Arthus de Penguern. (121 min.)
Sterritt *** Amélie is a waitress who anonymously helps a stranger, observes the happiness this brings him, and becomes an eager do-gooder for people who never asked her to barge into their lives. Jeunet is never happy with a scene until he's directed it half to death with manic camera work and editing. But the lighthearted plot of this romantic French comedy balances his overeager style, and Tautou's acting is amiable enough to shine through any amount of cinematic fuss. In French with
Director: Barry Levinson. With Bruce Willis, Cate Blanchett, Billy Bob Thornton, Troy Garity. (109 min.)
Staff ** Mildly amusing is probably not what veteran director Barry Levinson was going for when he teamed macho-man Bruce Willis with chatterbox-hypochondriac Billy Bob Thornton as odd-couple bank robbers in this quirky caper. Cate Blanchett adds spice in her role as a runaway wife who falls for both men at once. Ultimately, it's an offbeat comedy that's a few beats off. By John Kehe
Directors: The Hughes Brothers. With Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane. (137 min.)
Sterritt *** Depp plays a 19th-century police inspector whose hunt for Jack the Ripper smokes out an enormous number of complications. The movie works well as a straight-out horror yarn, proving that the Hughes Brothers are more versatile than their previous "ghetto pictures" suggest. But it lacks far more interesting speculations on mysteries of myth and history, space and time, good and evil, life and death.
Staff *** Amazing ambience, gritty, gory.
VS/N: 7 scenes, including sex and nudity. VV: 26 highly gory scenes. VP: 24 harsh expressions. VD: 15 scenes with alcohol, 7 scenes with cigarettes, 5 scenes with drugs.
Director: Iain Softley. With Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Alfre Woodard, Mary McCormack. (120 min.)
Sterritt * Spacey plays Prot, an amiable oddball who claims to be from a planet called K-PAX and is promptly whisked off to a mental hospital. There, he helps other patients - he's the Patch Adams of the extraterrestrial set - until psychiatrist Bridges uses hypnosis and sleuthing to investigate his life. The result is exactly the kind of escapist fantasy that Prot is suspected of having. There's a difference between movies that lift our thoughts and movies that put our heads in the clouds.
Staff **1/2 Lacks courage, confused, intriguing.
VS/N: 1 scene with slight nudity. VV: 2 scenes, including a mugging. VP: 1 expression. VD: 3 scenes with alcohol, some scenes with prescription drugs.
Director: Irwin Winkler. With Kevin Kline, Kristen Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen. (124 min.)
Staff *** "Life as a House" has a predictable story line, but a few fresh twists keep it compelling. A lonely, eccentric architect (Kevin Kline) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. To atone for a lifetime of mistakes, he builds his dream home, enlisting his estranged and rebellious teenage son (Christensen), and the help of his ex-wife (Scott Thomas). Building the house becomes a metaphor for a life rebuilt and relationships restored. The lead actors give credible, real, meaningful performances. By Steven Savides
Staff *** Enriching, sad but inspiring, preachy.
VS/N: 9 scenes of sex and graphic innuendo. VV: 2 scenes. VP: 31 harsh expressions. VD: 1 scene of alcohol, 4 scenes with cigarettes, 4 scenes with substance abuse.
Director: Joel Coen. With Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Tony Shalhoub. (116 min.)
Sterritt **** Thornton gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a 1940s barber who's unhappy about the affair his wife is having. The plot thickens when he meets a fast-talking entrepreneur looking for investors and arranges a blackmail scheme to raise money and take revenge on his cheating spouse. From its ominous title to its black-and-white cinematography, this is an affectionate homage to the shadowy "film noir" genre of old, written with gusto by Coen with his brother Ethan, and acted to near-perfection by a well-chosen cast. Haunting use of Beethoven music puts a crowning touch on the nostalgic package.
Staff ***1/2 Sustained tension, well-paced, impeccable acting, atmospheric.
VS/N: None. VV: 3 scenes, including graphic violence. VP: 38 mostly mild expressions. VD: 5 scenes with alcohol, 32 scenes with cigarettes.
Director: Pete Docter. With voices of John Goodman, Jennifer Tilly, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi. (90 min.)
Sterritt *** The setting is a monster-populated city where energy is generated from children's screams, helped by a company that employs professional kiddie-scarers to frighten tykes in their beds. The monsters are more scared of kids than kids are of them, however. The characters of this animated comedy are as sweet as they are ridiculous, and the story is told with gentleness and tact. But many of the story's grownup touches - a monster love affair, references to old movies - are more calculated than clever.
Staff ***1/2 Warm and fuzzy, Not as good as "Toy Story," inventive, well-voiced.
VS/N: None. VV: 10 scenes, of comic violence. VP: None. VD: None.
Director: Penny Marshall. With Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, Brittany Murphy, Adam Garcia. (132 min.)
Staff **1/2 Beverly Donofrio (Barrymore) is an ordinary teenager with an extraordinary sense of destiny. When she becomes pregnant at 15 and reluctantly marries her young lover (Steve Zahn), she embarks on a 20-year quest to be a good mother and assert herself as a formidable writer. The film is a touching look at the relationships and events that shaped one woman's life. By Steven Savides
Staff *** Full of pathos, satisfying, well-acted.
VS/N: 2 scenes innuendo. VV: 4 scenes, including a mild fight. VP: 15 expressions. VD: 7 scenes with alcohol, 7 scenes with cigarettes, 3 scenes with drugs.
Director: Peter Chelsom. With John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, Molly Shannon, Eugene Levy. (100 min.)
Sterritt ** A young man meets the woman of his dreams, but she wants a sign that destiny means them to be together, and destiny doesn't quite come through. This romantic comedy begins with flair, but lapses into clichés before the sentimental finale.
Staff *** Great chemistry, stylish, no depth.
VS/N: 1 scene of implied sex, 2 instances of innuendo. VV: 1 mild instance. VP: 21 expressions. VD: 6 scenes of alcohol, 2 scenes with cigarettes.
Director: James Wong. Jet Lee, Carla Gugino, Delroy Lindo, Jason Statham. (80 min.)
Staff **1/2According to the plot of "The One," there are 125 parallel universes. And in each there is a parallel version of each one of us. A megalomaniac (Jet Lee) is killing off his alter egos, knowing that those who remain will inherit the victims' strength and intelligence. Kill them all off, and he'll be a godlike creature: "The One." The bad guy comes to Los Angeles to kill number 124. It's to give us the ultimate battle: Li vs. Li. As the non-stop action hurtles toward a rather predictable conclusion, you may have to look hard for a spiritual dimension, but it's there. By M.K. Terrell
Director: Steve Beck. With Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davitz, F. Murray Abraham, Shannon Elizabeth. (90 min.)
Sterritt * A single dad with two kids inherits a house populated with multiple spooks, each trapped its own chamber by magic spells. Pandemonium soon breaks out. The thriller's one good performance is given by the house, full of ominous inscriptions, inscrutable corridors, and fiendish machines that stump even the ghost-friendly experts who join the family there.
Director: Antoine Fuqua. With Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn, Macy Gray. (120 min.)
Staff *** Nothing can prepare ordinary cop Jake Hoyt for what he endures on his "training day" as he shadows a veteran narcotics cop in Los Angeles. Aided by superb performers, director Fuqua has fashioned a gripping thriller in which both moral and immoral actions have consequences. By Stephen Humphries
Staff *** Sweaty, disturbing, a moral struggle.
VS/N: 3 scenes of implied sex, 1 scene with nudity. VV: 12 often gory scenes. VP: 268 harsh expressions. VD: 4 scenes of alcohol, 9 scenes with cigarettes, 2 scenes with drugs.
After running in theaters, foreign and independent films may be available on home video. Good sources include Facets Multimedia at www.facets.org; Kino International at www.kino.com; and www.Reel.com.
Director: Joe Roth. With Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Billy Crystal. (109 min.)
Sterritt * To build enthusiasm for an expensive production, a Hollywood publicist (Crystal) asks a feuding movie-star couple (Cusack and Zeta-Jones) to fake a reconciliation, helped by an assistant (Roberts) who has her own personal stakes in the situation. This story is complicated enough to look interesting on paper, but it falls flat on screen.
Staff ** Formulaic, funny (at times), half-baked.
Director: Francis Veber. With Gerard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, Michel Aumont. (84 min.)
Staff *** Francois Pignon's wife has left him and he is about to be fired. Desperate, he pretends he's gay to save his job. And thus begins his trajectory from a superbly dull, utterly conventional bore to a man suddenly more interesting to his co-workers, his family, and himself. This is a delightful farce in the tradition of "La Cage Aux Folles." In French with English subtitles. By Amanda Paulson
Director: Simon West. With Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight, Daniel Craig, Iain Glenn. (80 min.)
Staff * The plotline has young archaeologist Lara Croft (Jolie) traversing the planet's ancient temples in search of keys that control time and space. "Tomb Raider" isn't a story as much as it is a show reel of circus stunts inside elaborate sets. By Stephen Humphries