Directors: Richard Glatzer, Wash West. With Michael Cunio, Roxanne Day, Scott Gurney. (96 min.)
Sterritt ** A young man goes to work in the porn-movie business and gets more involved with his favorite star than he expected or intended. This satirical drama tries to be an updated "Boogie Nights," but it would have more heft if the filmmakers had been supplied with talented stars, original ideas, and a barely adequate budget. A wry peek at the porn industry is all it has to offer.
Director: Chris Columbus. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Rupert Grint, Fiona Shaw, Richard Harris, Julie Walters, Alan Rickman, John Hurt, John Cleese. (150 min.)
Sterritt *** See review, page 15.
Director: David Atkins. With Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Scott Caan.
Staff **1/2 Steve Martin returns to the screen in the role of a dentist for the second time in his career (the first was in "Little Shop of Horrors"), but this is one of Martin's rare non-comedic roles. Well, almost. There is comedy in "Novocaine," a film-noir tale about a dentist who becomes a murder suspect after one of his patients scams him for prescription drugs, but it's pitch black and only reveals itself gradually. Martin is excellent in the role: One immediately empathizes with him during his plight as he runs from both cops and the real murderer. This is an unconventional film, but director Atkins manages to get the difficult tone right. It also has a far more satisfying denouement than the otherwise superb "The Man Who Wasn't There," another film-noir movie currently in cinemas. (But stay away if you're the type who gets squeamish in the dentist's chair!) By Stephen Humphries
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
Staff ***1/2 Unconventional, delightful, mischievous, visually stunning.
VS/N: 8 scenes with implied sex, innuendo and brief nudity. VV: 4 mild scenes of comic violence. VP: None. VD: 9 scenes with alcohol, 1 scene with a cigarette.
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
Director: David Mamet. With Gene Hackman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Delroy Lindo, Patti LuPone, Danny DeVito, Ricky Jay. (107 min.)
sterritt *** An aging thief (Hackman) assembles his accomplices (Lindo, Jay) and wife (Pidgeon) for an unusually ambitious crime. Complicating the job is the cantankerous crook they work for (DeVito) and the sleazy young thug (Rockwell) he forces them to team up with. At once a purebred caper movie and a loving tribute to that popular genre, the picture has plenty of tried-and-true elements, from its "one last job" scenario to the untried youngster who messes up the scam. It's fun watching the master criminal turn his worst mistakes into crafty comebacks, just as Mamet turns the most familiar ingredients into unpredictable jolts and reverse-twist surprises.
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 Kline, Thomas, and Christiansen 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. (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 he 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.
Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. With Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow. (110 min.)
sterritt ** The main character is a self-absorbed businessman who judges women by their physical beauty, until a self-help guru makes him blind to everything but a person's inner worth. Under this spell, Hal thinks overweight Rosemary is gorgeous until reality kicks in again, causing him to see her as others do. He hurts her badly, decides he loves her anyway,... and you can guess the rest. Paltrow wears a fat suit for some of Rosemary's scenes, but usually we view her through Hal's idealizing eyes, contradicting the movie's effort to convey an enlightened message about seeing people for what they are instead of how they look. In all, this comedy is sheer compromise, only half as funny and constructive as it wants to be.
Director: James Wong. With Jet Lee, Carla Gugino, Delroy Lindo, Jason Statham. (80 min.)
staff **1/2 According to the plot of "The One," there are 125 parallel universes. 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 No. 124 and 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: James Ivory. With Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Northam, Uma Thurman. (130 min.)
sterritt *** Henry James's psychologically dense novel inspired this introspective drama about an American businessman and his daughter, who discover that their new spouses share a hidden past. The film will be too staid and stolid for audiences on the hunt for easy entertainment. Ivory gives it a sumptuous visual style and an exquisitely crafted early-20th-century milieu, though, offering fine pleasures for the eye and the imagination.
Director: Ron Howard. With Jim Carrey, Molly Shannon, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin. (105 min.)
sterritt*** A lavishly produced adaptation of Dr. Seuss' classic children's book about a mountain-dwelling monster who decides to make the residents of nearby Whoville as grouchy as he is in the Yuletide season. Carrey is excellent, making the most of his comic gifts even in a cumbersome Grinch outfit, and the eye-spinning color scheme is dazzling to behold.
staff *** A holiday classic, Jim Carrey's perfect, great for kids, fantastic visuals.
Director: Tim Burton. With Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth, Michael Clarke Duncan. (119 min.)
sterritt ** Wahlberg crash-lands his spaceship on a world where supersmart simians have all the power and human beings are their slaves. Burton is an imaginative director, but his originality is nowhere to be seen in this by-the-numbers retread of a science-fiction premise that seemed much fresher in 1968, when the original "Planet" was released.
staff *1/2 One-dimensional, never dull, terrific set design and makeup.