Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
Ali (R)

Director: Michael Mann. With Will Smith, Mykelti Williamson, Giancarlo Esposito, Jamie Foxx. (140 min.)

Sterritt *** See review, page 15.

Charlotte Gray (R)

Director: Gillian Armstrong. With Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon. (120 min)

Recommended: Default

Sterritt ** Blanchett gives an intermittently forceful performance as a British woman who becomes an undercover agent for the French resistance during the Nazi occupation, searching for news of a missing pilot she loves while carrying out spy activity and getting involved with a French family endangered by its Jewish roots. The story has inherent emotional power, but Jeremy Brock's formula-bound screenplay rarely soars beyond cliches. Still, vivid cinematography and a few suspenseful scenes give the picture some bursts of energy.

Gosford Park (R)

Director: Robert Altman. With Eileen Atkins, Bob Balaban, Alan Bates, Charles Dance. (137 min.)

Sterritt **** See review, page 15.

In the Bedroom (R)

Director: Todd Field. With Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei. (138 min.)

Sterritt *** See review, page 15.

Last Orders (R)

Director: Fred Schepisi. With Tom Courtenay, Helen Mirren, Michael Caine, David Hemmings. (109 min)

Sterritt ** After the death of their closest chum, four old friends go for a long drive to dispose of his ashes by the seaside, reminiscing about the past in flashbacks that gradually reveal the complex ways in which their lives have intersected over the years. Good performances by a distinguished cast don't quite overcome the weaknesses of the disappointing screenplay, which takes turns as predictable as the road traveled by the characters.

Monster's Ball (R)

Director: Marc Forster. With Heath Ledger, Billy Bob Thornton, Sean Combs, Halle Berry. (111 min.)

Sterritt *** See review, page 15.

The Shipping News (R)

Director: Lasse Hallström. With Kevin Spacey, Judi Dench, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett. (115 min.)

Sterritt ** After the death of his unfaithful wife, a painfully insecure man moves to snowy Newfoundland with his young daughter and gradually finds a new career, a loving girlfriend, and a sense of purpose he's never had before. Spacey is endearing, bringing his shy character to life despite glaring psychological gaps in the screenplay, based on E. Annie Proulx's novel. Still, the film's impact is stronger on superficial uplift than deep-digging insight.

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.

Amélie (R)

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

Sterritt *** Amélie is a waitress who anonymously becomes a 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. VP: None. VD: 9 with alcohol, 1 with a cigarette.

Baran (not rated)

Director: Majid Majidi. With Hossein Abedini, Mohammad Reza Naji. (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 misadventures with a 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 conflict. In Farsi with English subtitles

A Beautiful Mind (PG-13)

Director: Ron Howard. With Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris. (120 min.)

Sterritt ** See review, page 15.

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 lively novel about a boy who discovers he's a natural-born wizard and finds himself battling the sinister sorcerer who killed his parents when he was a baby. Columbus fills the screen with colorful images, special effects, and a superbly chosen cast. What you won't find are qualities a great movie adaptation might have offered - new layers of meaning and fresh perspectives that only film images could provide.

Staff **1/2 Stirs childhood memories, a bit ordinary, enchanting, top-notch effects.

VS/N: None. VV: 8 scenes. VP: 1 mild expression. VD: 1 scene with alcohol.

Iris (R)

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

Sterritt *** Review, page 15

Kandahar (Not rated)

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

Sterritt *** Clad in a full-length veil that hides her identity and intentions, an Afghan woman tries to enter her homeland from Iran on a rescue mission to her sister, who has threatened to commit suicide; during her journey she witnesses much suffering, but she also sees the strength of people who assist her, including a black US medical worker who sacrifices his comfort to help others. This dark drama by one of Iran's great filmmakers casts a light on the climate of a troubled region and on fundamental human conflicts.

Kate and Leopold (PG-13)

Director: James Mangold. With Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Breckin Meyer. (118 min.)

Staff **1/2 When the world's first time traveler inadvertently transports Duke Leopold (Jackman) from the 19th century to present-day New York, an unexpected romance blooms between the bewildered Leopold, and a jaded advertising executive (Ryan). One obstacle: She doesn't believe Leopold has traveled through time. This, then, isn't your typical romance-comedy. But if you buy into the outlandish premise, then there's much fun to be had with Jackman's fish-out-of-water antics and a typically sprightly performance by Meg Ryan. By Stephen Humphries

Staff *** Romantic, playful, charmingly predictable, quick-witted.

VS/N: 1 scene of implied sex. VV: none. VD: 8 scenes with alcohol.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (PG-13)

Director: Peter Jackson. With Elijah Wood, Richard Harris, Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett.

(178 min.)

Sterritt ** As generations of admirers know, J.R.R. Tolkien's great trilogy tells an epic story centered on a modest character: Frodo Baggins, a Middle Earth hobbit who finds himself the custodian of a powerful magic ring that must be destroyed in the fires of Mordor, the malevolent land where it was made. He sets off to accomplish this, helped by a loyal band of companions and opposed by terrifying supernatural foes. Jackson understands that wicked characters are often more interesting than virtuous ones, and the movie works best when he acts on this. The movie is a drab experience, though, marred by a talky screenplay, a lack of psychological insight, and precious few laughs despite some stabs at rustic humor. Stay home and reread the books.

Staff *** Outstanding special effects, action-packed, dark, enchantingly scenic, violent.

VS/N: None. VV: 28 scenes, many involving sword fights. VP: Some minor expressions. VD: 7 scenes of smoking, 3 of drinking.

The Majestic (PG)

Director: Frank Darabont. With Jim Carrey, Martin Landau, Laurie Holden, Bob Balaban. (153 min.)

Sterritt * Carrey gets serious in this sentimental drama about a screenwriter who high-tails it out of Hollywood when he's unjustly placed on a cold-war blacklist, loses his memory in an accident, and gets adopted by a sleepy California town that mistakes him for a long-lost war hero. The film tries to revive the sort of good-hearted optimism associated with Frank Capra classics of the 1940s era, but pictures like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" were never so simplistic, syrupy, or tedious to sit through.

Ocean's Eleven (PG-13)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. With George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia.

(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. Add the beguiling Roberts, 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.

The Royal Tenenbaums (R)

Director: Wes Anderson. With Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Bill Murray, Ben Stiller, Alec Baldwin. (130 min.)

Sterritt *** Hackman plays the patriarch of a conspicuously eccentric family, indulging his self-centered whimsies while sparring with a romance-starved wife and three adult children who've fallen way short of the promise they showed as precocious kids. Anderson's cinematic style gets more adventurous from one movie to the next, and he begins this story with bursts of originality that leave his respected "Rushmore" far behind. The plot loses momentum, though, and not everyone in the cast is up to Hackman's lofty level.

Vanilla Sky (R)

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

Sterritt ** Cruise plays a self-centered media magnate who ditches his current lover and shoves his best friend out of the picture when a gorgeous new girlfriend comes his way. You might shed a tear at this in an ordinary movie, but here you're too busy figuring out additional mysteries, introduced in fragmentary scenes that make little sense until a minor character explains them near the end. In all, it's a fast-and-flashy variation on "The Sixth Sense," with touches of "Jerry Maguire" and "The Matrix" as a bonus.

OUT ON VIDEO
Evolution (PG-13)

Director: Ivan Reitman. With David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott. (105 min.)

Sterritt *** Two scholars from a Southwest community college discover a microscopic horde of space aliens and realize they're the only ones who can stop the menace once the cute little critters become ugly big critters. At its best, the film is an amusing parody of monster movies. At its worst, it's a gross-out farce.

Staff ** "Ghostbusters" redux, pretty dumb.

VS/N: 3 scenes of innuendo, 1 with partial male nudity. VV: 7 scenes. VP: 40 expressions. VD: 2 scenes of smoking, 2 of drinking.

coming Jan. 2 The Fast and the Furious (PG-13)

Director: Rob Cohen. With Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordanna Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez. (140 min.)

Staff **1/2 Brian (Walker), a rookie detective, goes undercover to get to the bottom of a rash of truck hijackings. But will Brian learn to double-pump the clutch before he blows another set of piston rings? Did I mention there are lots of neat car chases? By Alex Kaloostian

VS/N: 3 instances of innuendo. VV: 11 scenes. VP: 58 harsh expressions. VD: 3 scenes with smoking, 3 with drinking.

The Glass House (PG-13)

Director: Daniel Sackheim. With Leelee Sobieski, Diane Lane, Stellan Skarsgard, Trevor Morgan. (111 min.)

Staff * When Ruby and Rhett Baker's parents die in a car accident, they're adopted by the Glasses. It isn't long before Ruby realizes there's something creepy about them. This is a thriller in which lightning flashes in a dark house, the girl drops the car keys as the baddie closes in, and the killer has to be killed twice. By Stephen Humphries

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