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Movie Guide

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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.

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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, Laura Dern. (124 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 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 with drinking or smoking.

Italian for Beginners (R)

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

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

Staff *** Witty, romantic, quirky, uplifting.

Sex/Nudity: 2 implied instances. Violence: None. Profanity: 8 expressions. Drugs: 8 scenes.

Monster's Ball (R)

Director: Marc Forster. With Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry. (108 min)

Sterritt *** Thornton plays a Southern death-row guard whose father and son share the same profession. His life changes when he falls in love with the widow of a criminal he executed. Performances are superb and the screenplay focuses on engrossing issues like racism, capital punishment, and the ways tragedy can intrude on ordinary lives. Its insights wane when the love story kicks in.

Staff *** Redemptive, intense, well-acted, unnecessarily explicit sex scenes.

Sex/Nudity: 4 sex scenes. Violence: 11 scenes. Profanity: 26 expressions, many harsh Drugs: 12 scenes.

Rollerball (PG-13)

Director: John McTiernan. With: Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J. (99 min.)

Staff *1/2 Jonathan is the best player in the world's most dangerous game, a confusing mix of skates, motorcycles, balls, and fireworks. Even players don't understand it. You'll be better off if you don't try to understand this chopped-up remake; just rock 'n' roll with its driving score and flashy camerawork. LL Cool J as Jonathan's buddy and Reno as a franchise owner who'd kill his star to boost ratings, are watchable, but why not just rent the '75 original? By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 7 instances, mostly innuendo. Violence: 16 scenes. Profanity: 27 expressions. Drugs: 13 scenes of drinking, smoking.

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 outrageous comedy-drama. The first, "Fiction," probes the psychosexual tensions between a disabled student, his fickle girlfriend, and their creative-writing teacher. The second, "Nonfiction," follows the exploits of a wannabe filmmaker who decides to shoot a documentary on a pallid teenage boy. Solondz is a thoughtful writer-director; he's also a canny provocateur who loves to spark debate

Staff **1/2 tedious, dark, cynical, eerie.

Sex/Nudity: 7 scenes. Profanity: 50 expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes drinking or smoking, 3 with drugs.

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