Director: Guillermo del Toro. With Eduardo Noriega, Marisa Paredes, Federico Luppi, Inigo Garces. (106 min.)
sterritt *** Sent to a boarding school for orphans during the Spanish Civil War, a homeless boy deals with intrigues among students and teachers, and confronts two dark mysteries: Is there lurking danger in an undetonated bomb standing like a grim statue just outside the school's doors, and is there more menace
in the ghost of a murdered pupil who haunts its rooms and corridors? This moody ghost story follows generally familiar lines despite its unusual historical setting, but it's imaginatively filmed and builds a sense of brooding emotional power.
Director: Tony Scott. With Brad Pitt, Robert Redford, Catherine McCormack, Omid Jalili. (126 min.)
staff ** See review, page 17.
Director: Edward Burns. With Edward Burns, Heather Graham, Stanley Tucci, Brittany Murphy. (107 min.)
staff * Edward Burns is a charming actor and colorful writer, but his latest film lacks an anchor and a rudder. The aimless film drifts between the confusions, romantic liaisons, and infidelities of an assorted group of New Yorkers - a waitress, an unfaithful husband, an egotistical TV show host, and a hotel doorman. It's all meant to give an insight into the complexities of love, but, by the film's end, even Burns admits that he doesn't have any answers. So why bother?
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 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 cinematic fuss. In French with English subtitles
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. Ultimately, it's an offbeat comedy that's a few beats off. By John Kehe
Director: Chris Columbus. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith. (150 min.)
sterritt *** This richly produced fantasy stays true to the letter and spirit of J.K. Rowling's lively novel about an 11-year-old boy who discovers he's a natural-born wizard, enrolls in a school to learn magic and enchantment, and finds himself battling the sinister sorcerer who killed his parents when he was a baby. Columbus fills the screen with colorful images that make a world of spells seem as solid as the one we travel every day. What you won't find are qualities a truly great movie adaptation might have offered - new layers of meaning, perspectives on the story that only film images could provide, and fresh insights into the tale's moral and ethical questions.
staff **1/2 Stirs childhood memories, a bit ordinary, enchanting, top-notch effects.
VS/N: None. VV: 8 scenes, quite intense for small children. VP: 1 mild expression. VD: 1 scene with alcohol.
Director: David Mamet. With Gene Hackman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Delroy Lindo, Danny DeVito. (107 min.)
sterritt *** An aging thief (Hackman) assembles his accomplices and wife for an unusually ambitious crime. Complicating the job is the cantankerous crook they work for and the sleazy young thug he forces them to team up with. 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. 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 *** 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 and the help of his ex-wife. 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 arranges a blackmail scheme to raise money and take revenge on his cheating spouse. 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.
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 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: David Atkins. With Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Scott Caan. (95 min.)
staff **1/2 Steve Martin plays 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 noncomedic roles. Well, almost. There is comedy in "Novocaine," a film-noir tale about a dentist who becomes a murder suspect, but it's pitch black. 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. By Stephen Humphries
Director: Penny Marshall. With Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, Brittany Murphy, Adam Garcia. (132 min.)
staff **1/2 Barrymore plays an ordinary teenager with an extraordinary sense of destiny. When she becomes pregnant at 15 and reluctantly marries her young lover, 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 with 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 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. 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. The bad guy comes to Los Angeles to kill No. 124. 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 in 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.
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: Ken Loach. With Pilar Padilla, Adrien Brody, Elpidia Carrilo, George Lopez, Alonso Chavez. (110 min.)
sterritt *** Pitting his moral ideals against hard realities, a young American social worker helps two Mexican immigrant sisters and their friends with a strike they hope will improve their lives as economically exploited office-building janitors. This socially alert drama continually strives to do the right thing.
staff *** Inspiring, whimsical, impassioned.
Director: Jan Hrebejk. With Bolek Polivka, Csongor Kassai, Jaroslav Duslek, Anna Siskovà. (123 min.)
staff ** There's no time for heroes in a small Czech town torn apart by Nazi occupation. This is a typical tale of an unexceptional couple who risk their lives to hide a Jew in the basement while they desperately try to hold onto a sense of normalcy. With a tasteless combination of horror and humor, this is a semi-successful portrayal of the strength of human character. By Deborah Henderson
Ghosts of Mars (R)
Director: John Carpenter. With Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Pam Grier. (98 min.)
sterritt * Earthlings living in a Martian colony battle hostile forces who resent an alien invasion of their desolate red planet. Carpenter pulls out all the action-adventure stops, but he and coscripter Larry Sulkis forgot to write dialogue the audience could listen to without howling in disbelief.