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Movie Guide

January 4, 2002


Director: Jessie Nelson. With Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianne Wiest, Laura Dern. (127 min.)

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Sterritt * Penn's bravura performance is the only reason to watch this wildly sentimental comedy-drama about a mentally retarded man trying to regain custody of his daughter after social workers decide she needs a more normal home. The film means well, but each scene gets clobbered by sappy screenwriting.

Lantana (R)

Director: Ray Lawrence. With Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush. (110 min.)

Sterritt *** A grieving mother, an adulterous police officer, and the hunt for a missing person are among the ingredients of this somber detective thriller, which explores the insecurities of four married couples. While the movie is well acted and creative, its story and style are too self-consciously clever to build a high degree of emotional power.

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, and jewelry that becomes the center of an 18th-century scandal. The film has almost enough corny appeal to offset its lack of originality.

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

Ali (R)

Director: Michael Mann. With Will Smith, Jamie Foxx. (140 min.)

Sterritt *** Fast-talking prizefighter Muhammad Ali was a key athletic and cultural figure of the '60s and '70s. This energetic biopic covers key events of his career, including his rise to the heavyweight championship, his role in the Black Muslim movement, and his comeback. Smith lacks the champ's physical presence, but his vocal impersonation is exactly right. Its heart is mainly in the boxing scenes.

Staff *** Riveting, revealing, good history lesson, way too long.

VS/N: Three scenes. VV: 11 scenes, mostly boxing. VP: 19 expressions. VD: 13 scenes of smoking or drinking.

A Beautiful Mind (PG-13)

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

Sterritt ** Howard takes more storytelling risks than usual in this crisply made biopic about John Nash, an economist who began his career with a theoretical breakthrough, then fell prey to psychological problems that hobbled him. Crowe brilliantly portrays this complex character. But the screenplay seems cavalier in assuming mental illness is no match for will power. You won't learn much about economics, despite Nash's devotion to the field.

Staff ***1/2 Amazing acting, turbulent, triumphant, believably real.

VS/N: None. VV: 7 scenes. VP: 4 instances. VD: At least 6 scenes of drinking.

Charlotte Gray (R)

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

Sterritt ** Blanchett gives an intermittently forceful performance as a British woman who becomes a spy for the French resistance during World War II, searching for a missing pilot she loves while 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, there's vivid cinematography and some suspense.

Gosford Park (R)

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

Sterritt **** Altman visits England for the first time in this peek at the British class system about 70 years ago, focusing on masters and servants at a rural estate during a shooting-party weekend roiled by a murder. This is familiar territory if you recall BBC miniseries "Upstairs Downstairs," but this great US filmmaker gives it new twists with his roaming camera and incisively satirical approach.

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 a sinister sorcerer. Columbus fills the screen with 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.