Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
Maelström (Not rated)

Director: Denis Villeneuve. With Marie-Josée Croze, Jean-Nicolas Verreault, Stephanie Morgenstern. (86 min.)

Sterritt *** (See review, page 15.)

Wannabees (R)

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Directors: Charles Addessi, William DeMeo. With William DeMeo, Ray Serra. (110 min.)

Sterritt *Two tough-talking Brooklyn brothers seek wealth and self-improvement by dabbling in a string of illegal enterprises, from bookmaking to extortion, dealing with unsavory friends and formidable foes along the way. The plot is predictable, the characters are cliches, and all the actors look and sound like refugees from a movie Martin Scorsese would have made vastly better three decades ago. Where are the "GoodFellas" when we need them?

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
Black Hawk Down (R)

Director: Ridley Scott. With Josh Hartnett, Sam Shepard, Tom Sizemore. (148 min.)

Sterritt * The fact-based story focuses on US troops sent to Mogadishu in 1993 to disable a powerful Somali warlord by kidnapping high lieutenants who've helped him rule by terror. Their obstacles include aggressive enemy soldiers and hostile civilians, and the nightmare grows worse when two high-tech helicopters are shot down, sparking a hard-fought battle to rescue crash survivors and then the rescuers themselves. The screenplay lauds the resolute spirits of the troops, and Scott uses hard-hitting images. But the nature of warfare merits more thoughtful examination at this precarious time. Since the filmmakers offer no insights, their motives must be to sensationalize war's horrors and capitalize on its thrills. We deserve better.

Staff ***Gut wrenching, extremely violent, savage, lacks content, well directed.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: Most of the film is violent with at least 45 battle scenes, many very gory. Profanity: 22 expressions. Drugs: 10 scenes.

Brotherhood of the Wolf (R)

Director: Christophe Gans. With Jean Yanne, Emilie Dequenne, Vincent Cassel. (142 min.)

Sterritt **In the time of Louis XV, a French detective and a native American mystic uncover a web of skullduggery as they probe a series of killings thought by local peasants to be the work of a supernatural monster. Gans tries to match "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" with his mix of action, romance, and mythic overtones, but much of the historical horrorfest is more frenetic than fascinating. Look out for over-the-top violence. In French with English subtitles.

Staff ***Good monster movie, excessive, dark, mystical.

Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes. Violence: 18 scenes. Profanity: None. Drugs: 8 scenes with drinking or smoking; 2 with drugs.

The Count of Monte Cristo (PG-13)

Director: Kevin Reynolds. With Jim Caviezel, Richard Harris, Dagmara Dominczyk, Guy Pearce. (113 min.)

Sterritt *** Caviezel plays Edmond Dantes, a French sailor who hits hard times when his best friend steals his girlfriend, a corrupt magistrate brands him as a courier for Napoleon, and he's thrown into an island prison. Things look up when he escapes, finds a fortune in buried treasure, and sets about revenging himself on his treacherous enemies. The filmmakers focus more on personalities and emotions than action and violence, and the acting soars even when the dialogue sags. Don't worry swordfighting fans, there's plenty of flashing steel and fancy footwork. In all, it's a nifty comeback for 19th-century novelist Alexandre Dumas.

Staff ***Campy, clever, punctuated with comic relief, beautiful scenery.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes implied sex. Violence: 14 scenes, mostly swordfighting. Profanity: 1 instance. Drugs: 15 scenes of drinking or smoking.

Eisenstein (Not rated)

Director: Renny Bartlett. With Simon McBurney, Raymond Coulthard, Jacqueline McKenzie. (96 min.)

Sterritt **Biopic about Soviet filmmaker and theorist Sergei Eisenstein, who energized cinema from the '20s to the '40s, but ran afoul of narrow-minded authorities with his avant-garde notions. McBurney works hard to convey Eisenstein's conflicted personality as an artistic radical and gay man living in an oppressive society. But Bartlett's screenplay is riddled with clichés, and the rhythms of his visual style are worlds away from the electrifying montage of Eisenstein's early films and the stately arabesques of his later work.

Gosford Park (R)

Director: Robert Altman. With Eileen Atkins, Bob Balaban, Alan Bates, Charles Dance. (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 an incisively satirical approach.

Staff **1/2 Too many characters, predictable, well-composed, witty, suspenseful.

Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes with implied sex. Violence: 2 scenes. Profanity: 7 harsh expressions. Drugs: 34 scenes with smoking, 14 with drinking.

I Am Sam (PG-13)

Director: Jessie Nelson. With Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer. (127 min.)

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 better home. The film means well, but scenes get clobbered by sappy screenwriting.

Staff **1/2 Creaky, mostly well acted, trite.

Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes implied sex. Violence: None. Profanity: 8 expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with drinking.

In the Bedroom (R)

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

Sterritt *** A small-town doctor and his wife aren't sure how to take their college-age son's romance with an unhappily married woman. The climax suggests drastic measures may be needed in drastic circumstances and, more subtly, that the lines between "moral" and "immoral" people may be more slender than we'd like to believe. The acting is excellent.

Staff *** Humanistic, dark, absorbing.

Sex/Nudity: 8 scenes, mostly innuendo. Violence: 7 scenes, 1 graphic. Profanity: 20 expressions. Drugs: 12 scenes.

Italian for Beginners (R)

Director: Lone Scherfig. With Anders W. Berthelsen, Annette Stovelbaek. (118 min.)

Sterritt *** A widowed minister takes a post in a small Danish town and starts attending weekly Italian lessons to pass the time, meeting new acquaintances more concerned with figuring out their problems than practicing their verbs and prepositions. Scherfig has made the movie in line with Denmark's distinctive Dogma 95 movement, avoiding extravagant effects. The story and performances have a low-key charm. In Danish with English subtitles.

Kandahar (Not rated)

Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf. With Nilofaur Pazira, Sadou Teymour. (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. During the journey she witnesses suffering but sees the strength of people who assist her, including a US medical worker. This drama by one of Iran's great filmmakers casts a light on fundamental human conflicts.

Staff **1/2 Stunning images, weak acting, amateurish, impressionistic.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 1 robbery scene. Profanity: None. Drugs: 1 scene with smoking.

Lantana (R)

Director: Ray Lawrence. With Anthony LaPaglia, Barbara Hershey, Geoffrey Rush, Rachael Blake. (110 min.)

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

The Mothman Prophecies (PG-13)

Director: Mark Pellington. With Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Alan Bates. (120 min.)

Sterritt **After his wife's death in a mysterious car accident, a hotshot Washington reporter finds himself stranded in a small town plagued by enigmatic incidents, weird visions, and auguries of catastrophies to come. The first third of this overambitious horror yarn builds an ominous mood of menace and suspense; the rest is drained of dramatic energy by uneven acting and a too-long running time. Gere shows an impressive ability to undergo great emotional ordeals without mussing his neatly combed hair.

Staff **Unsatisfying thriller, creepy, gimmicky direction, plot drags, run-of-the-mill.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes implied sex, 1 innuendo. Violence: 5 scenes. Profanity: 8 mild expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes with drinking.

Orange County (PG-13)

Director: Jake Kasdan. With Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Lily Tomlin, Schuyler Fisk. (81 min.)

Staff **Hanks (son of Tom) and Fisk (daughter of Sissy Spacek) make a charming couple in this tale of a class president fighting to get into Stanford after his high school submits the wrong grades. Black, Ben Stiller and a raft of stars in minor parts lend support, but the filmmakers couldn't decide whether to make a teen romance, a wry look at suburbia, or a broad farce. "All of the above" was the wrong answer. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 11 scenes, mostly innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes. Profanity: 18 expressions. Drugs: 15 scenes of drinking, smoking, and drug use.

Snow Dogs (PG)

Director: Brian Levant. With Cuba Gooding Jr., James Coburn, Joanna Bacalso. (99 min.)

Staff **1/2 A Miami dentist learns he's adopted when he inherits his birth mother's Alaskan sled dogs. Amid predictable slapstick episodes, the film champions courage and tenacity, and raises some serious issues: racial harmony, appreciation of adoptive parents despite the yearning for biological roots, and the worth of every child irrespective of parents' marital status. City kids will appreciate the snow and mountains. By M.K. Terrell

Storytelling (R)

Director: Todd Solondz. With John Goodman, Heather Matarazzo, Paul Giamatti, Selma Blair. (90 min.)

Sterritt *** The maker of "Happiness" and "Welcome to the Dollhouse" tells two tales in this deliberately outrageous comedy-drama. The first, "Fiction," probes the psychosexual tensions between a disabled student, his fickle girlfriend, and the man who teaches their creative-writing class. The second, "Nonfiction," follows the ineffectual exploits of a wannabe filmmaker who decides to shoot a documentary on a teenage boy who's almost as pallid and pathetic as he is. Solondz is a thoughtful writer-director who has an affinity for the pathetic specimens of humanity he frequently portrays; he's also a canny provocateur who loves to spark debate.

A Walk to Remember (PG)

Director: Adam Shankman. With Mandy Moore, Shane West, Daryl Hannah. (100 min.)

Staff **1/2 An initiation prank seriously injures a high school student trying to join a clique. The principal thinks their leader needs a new group of friends and orders him to tutor underprivileged kids on weekends and act in the spring play. To make matters worse, both jobs throw him in with Jamie, the highly ethical minister's daughter (Moore). The principal was right - he begins to learn some character while also drawing Jamie out of her shell. The film may be trite or weepy in spots, but it's a celebration of purity and decency. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes with innuendo. Violence: 2 scenes. Profanity: 13 expressions. Drugs: 3 drinking scenes.

What Time Is It There? (Not rated)

Director: Tasi Ming-Liang. With Lee Kang-Sheng, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Cecilia Yip. (116 min.)

Sterritt **** A streetside salesman falls instantly in love with a woman who wants to buy a wristwatch from him. But she's heading to Paris for an extended stay, so he consoles himself by resetting every clock he can find to French time, to make her feel closer and to distract himself from the burden of caring for his mother. Meanwhile the elusive traveler has a random series of Parisian adventures. Tsai's style is unique, unfolding the tale in long, static shots that allow you to discover their surprises on your own. (In Cantonese, Mandarin, and French with English subtitles)

OUT ON VIDEO
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (PG-13)

Director: Woody Allen. With Mr. Allen, Helen Hunt, Dan Aykroyd, Charlize Theron. (93 min.)

Sterritt ** Allen falls back on fast-talking comedy and old-movie nostalgia in this parody of 1940s melodrama, with Woody as an insurance investigator trying to unravel a crime that he committed after a session with a sinister nightclub hypnotist. There are lots of plot twists and romantic angles but few laughs.

Staff *** Superb period detail, Slow start but great finish, good fun.

Sex/Nudity: 11 instances of innuendo. Violence: 1 comic scene. Profanity: 13 mild expressions.Drugs: 10 scenes with alcohol, 21 with cigarettes.

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