Movie Guide

Baran (Not rated)

Director: Majid Majidi. With Hossein Abedini, Mohammad Reza Naji, Zahra Bahrami, Hossein Rahimi. (105 min.)

Sterritt **** The unglamorous setting is an Iranian construction site, and the unlikely hero is a young Iranian man who falls in love with an Afghan woman after a string of misadventures with an illegal immigrant who works alongside him. Majidi became one of Iran's most internationally famed filmmakers with "Children of Heaven" and "The Color of Paradise," but he far surpasses those sappy melodramas with this expressively filmed story of rivalry, romance, and cultural conflict. In Farsi with English subtitles

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The Business of Strangers (R)

Director: Patrick Stettner. With Stockard Channing, Julia Stiles, Frederick Welle. (84 min.)

Sterritt ** Spending the night in the same hotel, an upwardly mobile executive (Channing) and a low-level assistant she's just fired (Stiles) decide to take psychological and physical revenge on a self-centered young man who may have sexually abused one of them in the past. Try to imagine "In the Company of Men" with a feminist twist and you'll have the gist of this fervently acted, ultimately unconvincing drama.

Ocean's Eleven (PG-13)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. With George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould. (105 min.)

Sterritt *** Flimsy but amusing remake of the 1960 comedy-thriller about a gang of rascally thieves who decide to burgle a trio of Las Vegas casinos. Clooney and company aren't as self-consciously stylish as Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack pals of yore, but they have good-natured fun with Soderbergh's blend of heist-movie suspense and smart-alecky dialogue, and Reiner and Gould are uproarious as old-timers helping with the job. Add the beguiling Roberts as a very wild card in the deck, and you have a caper that rarely goes wrong.

Currently in Release

The Affair of the Necklace (R)

Director: Charles Shyer. With Hilary Swank, Jonathan Pryce, Adrien Brody, Christopher Walken. (120 min.)

Sterritt ** Check off the ingredients for an old-fashioned historical melodrama: an orphan with noble blood, a secretly sinful churchman, an imperious queen, a mystic who may or may not know the future, and a piece of spectacular jewelry that becomes the center of an explosive 18th-century scandal. This sort of material goes back to D.W. Griffith and beyond, and Swank's persona seems too modern to compete with Lillian Gish on her own turf. The movie has almost enough corny appeal to offset its lack of originality, though.

Amélie (R)

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 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.

Behind Enemy Lines (PG-13)

Director: John Moore. With Gene Hackman, Owen Wilson, David Keith, Joaquim de Almeida. (105 min.)

Staff ** Comedian Owen Wilson in the role of a naval navigator whose plane is shot down over Bosnia? You'd be forgiven for thinking that there was a casting-agent strike going on in Hollywood. Fortunately Wilson's likeability goes a long way toward tempering the film's Rambo-like heroics as he evades Serbs on his way to a rendevouz with a rescue team. First-time director Moore does a sterling job with stylish camerawork, but cartoonish characterization and the score's unsubtle attempts to elicit a patriotic response from the audience are a liability. By Stephen Humphries

Staff **1/2 "The Fugitive" goes to war, gripping, melodramatic end, well-acted.

VS/N: None. VV: 6 gory scenes. VP: 18 mild expressions. VD: 7 scenes with smoking.

Black Knight (PG-13)

Director: Gil Junger. With Martin Lawrence, Tom Wilkinson, Marsha Thompson, Vincent Regan. (95 min.)

Staff ** Jamal (Martin Lawrence), a dispirited worker at Medieval World, a run-down amusement park, reaches for a medallion in the park's moat and hurtles back in time to 14thcentury England. There, his street smarts mobilize a ragtag bunch of rebels to depose the corrupt king. The movie is a lot better than you think it's going to be, thanks to Lawrence's energy, witty lines, and a good-natured take on old clichés. By M.K. Terrell.

VS/N: 9 scenes of innuendo, 1 with implied sex. VV: 8 scenes. VP: 42 harsh expressions. VD: 2 scenes with drinking.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (PG)

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 novel about an 11-year-old boy who discovers he's a natural-born wizard. The picture's best assets are its marvelous special effects and superbly chosen cast. Its worst liabilities are John Williams's bombastic music and a too-long running time that could have used an extra wave of the film editor's wand.

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.

Heist (R)

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 ambitious crime. It's fun watching the master criminal turn his worst mistakes into crafty comebacks, just as Mamet turns the most familiar ingredients into reverse-twist surprises.

Staff **1/2 Inscrutable, crisp, tired plot.

VS/N: 1 scene of implied sex. VV: 2 scenes. VP: 92 harsh expressions. VD: 15 scenes with cigarettes, 3 scenes with alcohol.

Life as a House (R)

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. 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.

The Man Who Wasn't There (R)

Director: Joel Coen. With Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini. (116 min.)

Sterritt **** Thornton plays a 1940s barber who's unhappy about the affair his wife is having. The plot thickens when he arranges a blackmail scheme to take revenge. This is an affectionate homage to the "film noir" genre, acted to near-perfection.

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.

Monsters, Inc. (G)

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 the monsters are more scared of kids than kids are of them. The characters are sweet, and the story is told with gentleness and tact. But many of the story's grown-up 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.

Novocaine (R)

Director: David Atkins. With Steve Martin, Laura Dern. Helena Bonham Carter. (95 min.)

Staff **1/2 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

VS/N: 10 scenes including implied sex and nudity. VV: 9 grisly scenes. VP: 9 harsh expressions. VD: 11 scenes with smoking, 3 scenes with alcohol, 1 with drugs.

Shallow Hal (PG-13)

Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. With Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow. (110 min.)

Sterritt ** The main character 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. Usually we view her through Hal's idealizing eyes, contradicting the movie's effort to convey an enlightened message. In all, this comedy is sheer compromise, only half as funny and constructive as it wants to be.

Sidewalks of New York (R)

Director: Edward Burns. With Edward Burns, Heather Graham, Stanley Tucci, Brittany Murphy. (107 min.)

Staff * Edward Burns's latest film lacks an anchor and a rudder as he follows the romantic liaisons and infidelities of an assorted group of New Yorkers. 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

VS/N: 46 scenes with frank sex talk, 4 scenes with sex. VV: 1 mild scene. VP: 99 harsh expressions. VD: 6 scenes with alcohol, 1 scenes with smoking.

Spy Game (R)

Director: Tony Scott. With Brad Pitt, Robert Redford, Catherine McCormack, Omid Jalili. (126 min.)

Staff ** On the verge of retirement, veteran CIA man Nathan Muir (Redford) discovers that his protégé Tom Bishop (Pitt) is about to be executed in China. Worse, the CIA aren't going to save their operative. While trying to mount a covert rescue operation, Muir stalls for time by telling his superiors about how he trained Bishop. These flashback scenes, though an intriguing indictment of the CIA's methods, detract from the tension of the main story. But Redford's old-school charm will keep audiences engaged. By Stephen Humphries

VS/N: 2 scenes of innuendo. VV: 13 scenes, fairly intense. VP: 34 harsh expressions. VD: 7 scenes with smoking, 7 scenes with alcohol.

The One (PG-13)

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 is a parallel version of each one of us in 125 parallel universes. A megalomaniac decides to gain power by killing his alter egos. As the action hurtles toward a predictable conclusion, you may have to look hard for a spiritual dimension, but it's there. By M.K. Terrell

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.

Coming to Video

In Stores Dec. 11

Jurassic Park III (PG-13)

Director: Joe Johnston. With Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Laura Dern. (90 min.)

Sterritt ** After their 14-year-old son disappears into an island jungle inhabited by Jurassic Park's prehistoric critters, a couple shanghais paleontologist Alan Grant into helping their rescue. The cast is solid, the special effects are impressive, but the screenplay is so stale that fans of the previous "Jurassic" installments might think this is one clone too many.

Staff 1 1/2 Poor pace, theme-park ride, thankfully short.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (R)

Director: John Cameron Mitchell. With John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask. (94 min.)

Sterritt *** The hero was named Hansel during his East Berlin childhood. But after changing his sex and moving to the United States, he's become Hedwig the transgendered rock singer, dreaming of revenge against a protégé who stole his songs. Cameron's imaginative directing and screen-shaking performance give this rock musical plenty of oomph. Some may find it a calculated effort at instant cult-film fame.

Rush Hour 2 (PG-13)

Director: Bret Rattner. With Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Chris Penn, Don Cheadle, Zhang Ziyi. (88 min.)

Staff **1/2 Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker chase Triad counterfeiters from Hong Kong to Las Vegas. Never mind that the sequel's stunts and fight-scene choreography aren't as impressive as those of the first movie - the amped-up comedy more than compensates. By Matthew MacLean

Staff *** Flashy, nonsensical, simplistic, cocky.

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