Movie Guide

Iris (R)

Director: Richard Eyre. With Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet, Hugh Bonneville, Eleanor Bron. (90 min.)

Sterritt *** Winslet and Dench play novelist Iris Murdoch at two very different periods in her life. Some scenes show her early years as a writer, when she flirted with everyone in sight and decided to marry fellow author John Bayley. Others paint a sad portrait of the declining mental and physical powers that eventually burdened her. Dench and Winslet give strong and creative performances, and Broadbent is positively brilliant as old Bayley.

Kandahar (Not rated)

Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf. With Nilofaur Pazira, Sadou Teymouri, Hassan Tantai. (82 min.)

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Sterritt *** See review, page 15.

Vanilla Sky (R)

Director: Cameron Crowe. With Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Jason Lee, Cameron Diaz. (136 min.)

Sterritt ** See review, page 15.

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.

VS/N: 10 scenes, half innuendo. VV: 8 scenes. VP: 10 mostly mild expressions. VD: 12 scenes with alcohol, 1 with drugs.

Amelie (R)

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Arthus de Penguern. (121 min.)

Sterritt *** Amelie 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.

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 an Iranian man who falls in love with an Afghan woman after several misadventures with an illegal immigrant coworker. Majidi became one of Iran's most internationally famed filmmakers with "Children of Heaven" and "The Color of Paradise," but he far surpasses those melodramas with this expressively filmed story of rivalry, romance, and cultural conflict. In Farsi with English subtitles

Behind Enemy Lines (PG-13)

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

Sterritt ** Comedian Owen Wilson in the role of a naval navigator whose plane is shot down over Bosnia? You'd be forgiven for thinking 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 (Lawrence), a dispirited worker at Medieval World, a run-down amusement park hurtles back in time to 14th century England. There, his street smarts mobilize a bunch of rebels to depose the corrupt king. It's a lot better than you'd think, thanks to Lawrence's energy and witty lines. 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.

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) take psychological and physical revenge on a self-centered 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.

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 (Kline) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. To atone for a lifetime of mistakes, he builds his dream home, enlisting his rebellious teenage son and the help of his ex-wife. Building the house becomes a metaphor for a life rebuilt. 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 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 gets the difficult tone right. By Stephen Humphries

Staff ** Ridiculous plot twist, entertaining, improbable.

VS/N: 10 scenes including implied sex and nudity. VV: 10 grisly scenes. VP: At least 40 harsh expressions. VD: 11 scenes with smoking, 3 with alcohol, 1 with drugs.

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.

Staff *** Crowd-pleaser, slick, big-budget caper.

VS/N: None. VV: 3 scenes, plus several explosions. VP: 21 expressions, some harsh. VD: 17 scenes with drinking and smoking.

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 eyes, contradicting the movie's aim to convey an enlightened message. It's only half as funny and constructive as it wants to be.

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 his protégé Tom Bishop (Pitt) is about to be executed in China. Worse, the CIA aren't going to save him. While trying to mount a covert rescue operation, Muir stalls for time by telling superiors how he trained Bishop. The flashback scenes, though an intriguing indictment of CIA methods, detract from the story. But Redford's charm is engaging. By Stephen Humphries

Staff **1/2 Well edited, engaging, fast.

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

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. 18
Moulin Rouge (PG-13)

Director: Baz Luhrmann. With Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo. (120 min.)

Sterritt *** The setting is Paris a century ago. The heroine is a can-can dancer caught between the love of a poor poet and the lust of a wealthy count who could help her career. Kidman and McGregor make a fetching couple and some will find it exhilarating fun. Others will pine for the days when musicals cared more about singing and dancing than cinematic shenanigans for their own sake.

Staff **1/2 Visual delight, uneven, good songs.

VS/N: Several scenes of innuendo. VV: 2 scenes, one with attempted rape. VP: None. VD: 8 scenes of smoking, 11 with alcohol.

The Princess Diaries (G)

Director: Garry Marshall. With Julie Andrews, Anne Hathaway, Heather Matarazzo, Hector Elizondo. (114 min.)

Sterritt ** Andrews is excellent as queen of an itsy-bitsy European principality who decides the next ruler should be her granddaughter, a California teen. With its leisurely pace and unfancy filmmaking, this is a likable throwback to a tradition of family-friendly comedies from Disney. The problem is that it goes on too long.

Staff *** Benign, whimsical, endearing, fluffy.

VS/N: None. VV: None. VP: None. VD: 2 scenes with drinking.

Series 7 (R)

Director: Daniel Minahan. With Brooke Smith, Mark Woodbury, Michael Kaycheck, Marylouise Burke, Richard Venture, Donna Hanover. (85 min.)

Sterritt *** This ferocious satire of "reality TV" presents a marathon of episodes from a (bogus) show that arms ordinary people with weapons, then videotapes them as they hunt and kill one another. Too cynical and savage to believe? Have another look at the TV listings in your local paper, project your imagination into the future, and ponder the possibilities.

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