Movie Guide

Iris (R)

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

Sterritt *** In alternating scenes, Winslet and Dench play novelist Iris Murdoch at two very different periods in her life. Some episodes 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 mental and physical decline that eventually burdened her. Dench and Winslet give strong and creative performances, and Broadbent is positively brilliant as old Bayley, reconfirming his status as one of the greatest actors anywhere.

John Q (PG-13)

Director: Nick Cassavetes. With Denzel Washington, Anne Heche, Robert Duvall. (116 min.)

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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 crisscrossed over the years. Good performances by a distinguished cast don't quite overcome the weaknesses of the disappointing, predictable screenplay.

Much Ado About Something (Not rated)

Director: Michael Rubbo. With Michael Rubbo, Mark Rylance, John Michell. (93 min.)

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

No Man's Land (R)

Director: Danis Tanovic. With Branko Djuric, Rene Bitorajac, Filip Sovagovic, Katrin Cartlidge. (93 min.)

Sterritt *** As battle rages between Bosnians and Serbs in 1993, a wounded soldier lies atop a new-fangled land mine that will blast destruction if he moves - flummoxing everyone from his friend to UN peacekeepers called in on the case. It's too simple to call this pitch-dark satire an antiwar statement, since self-righteous cant on the absurdity of war is one of its many targets. Some of the film's points are made a bit too heavily, but the subject is as timely as it is timeless, and many of the performances strike a pitch-perfect balance between parody and passion. In Bosnian, French, and English with English subtitles.

Return to Never Land (G)

Director: Robin Budd. With voices of Harriet Owen, Blayne Weaver, Corey Burton, Jeff Bennett. (72 min.)

Sterritt *** It's taken Walt Disney Pictures almost half a century to follow up "Peter Pan," but fans of the 1953 animated classic will find many familiar faces in this belated sequel, which follows Wendy's daughter on her adventure with wicked Captain Hook, magical Tinkerbell, the Pirates and Lost Boys, and Peter himself. The story lacks the freshness of the original film - and whose idea was it to replace the ominously ticking crocodile with a funny-looking octopus? Kids should enjoy its action and humor, though. And in the age of "Monsters, Inc." it's refreshing to see a cartoon that looks like a cartoon - and a lovingly drawn one - rather than a conglomeration of computer-generated bits and bytes.

The Son's Room (R)

Director: Nanni Moretti. With Nanni Moretti, Laura Moranti, Giuseppe Sanfelice, Jasmine Trinca. (99 min.)

Sterritt ** In the modest Italian city of Ancona, a gentle psychotherapist and his family face unexpected trauma when his teenage son dies in an accident. Don't look for Moretti's comic touch and autobiographical approach in this drama, which relies on straightforward screenwriting and unassuming performances for its emotional power. Moretti's acting skills aren't up to the demands of the main role, and his portrait of family life is too simplistic to be credible. In Italian with English subtitles.

Wendigo (R)

Director: Larry Fessenden. With Jake Weber, Patricia Clarkson, Erik Per Sullivan, John Speredakos. (90 min.)

Sterritt **** Spending a get-away weekend in a borrowed farmhouse, a city couple has a tense feud with a demented deer hunter, and their 8-year-old son copes with his anxieties through imaginative encounters with a rage-filled phantasm he's learned about from an enigmatic native American sage. Fessenden's latest horror yarn is a smart and scary voyage into the uncanny realm where hard realities,mind-spinning myths, and hallucinatory visions blur. Produced on a modest budget, it sports moody cinematography, razor-sharp editing, and good acting that make most of Hollywood's big-budget fakery look tame.

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Beijing Bicycle (PG-13)

Director: Wang Xiaoshuai. With Cui Lin, Li Bin, Shou Xun, Gao Yuanyuahn, Zhao Yiwel. (113 min.)

Sterritt *** Guei is a country boy filled with enthusiasm over his new job as a big-city courier until his new bike gets stolen before it's even paid for. Jian wants a bike so he can impress a girl, but as soon as he buys one, Guei arrives with the awful news that it's stolen and he's the rightful owner. This quickly paced comedy-drama careens from lowdown humor to anxiety and violence as briskly as the protagonists steer from one crowded avenue to another on their contested bike. The film occasionally meanders from its course. But it's vividly acted and creatively directed. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

Staff **1/2Subtle, touching, ambulant, wry.

Sex/Nudity: 1 brief scene. Violence: 6 scenes. Profanity: 4 expressions. Drugs: 7 scenes smoking.

Birthday Girl (R)

Director: Jez Butterworth. With: Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin, Vincent Cassel. (93 min.)

Staff ** It must have taken Nicole Kidman months to learn this script. For her role as Nadia, a Russian mail-order bride, the actress spends half the movie speaking Russian. Arriving in England, Nadia is met by her intended, John, a lonely bore of a banker wanting to spice up his life. Nadia isn't all she seems; John finds his British reserve punctured as his life spirals out of control. The movie, alas, isn't as lively as Kidman's performance. A quirkier sensibility and fleshed-out plot are missing. By Stephen Humphries

Staff **1/2 Odd, forgettable, edgy, lots of plot twists, ultimately shallow.

Sex/Nudity: 10 scenes. Violence: 17 scenes. Profanity: 19 expression, 10 of which are mild. Drugs: At least 16 scenes of smoking and drinking.

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 helicopters are shot down, sparking a hard-fought battle to rescue crash survivors. The screenplay lauds the resolute spirits of the troops. But the nature of warfare merits more thoughtful examination at this 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.

Collateral Damage (R)

Director: Andrew Davis. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Francesca Neri, John Leguizamo, Cliff Curtis. (110 min.)

Sterritt * Schwarzenegger strikes again, this time as a firefighter who embarks on a vendetta against Colombian terrorists, hunting them in their own country and in Washington after his wife and child are killed in a Los Angeles bombing. The movie paints a strikingly hostile portrait of its Latin American characters and some of its mayhem is vicious, even by the debased standards of today's action-movie genre.

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances innuendo. Violence: 16 scenes. Profanity: 33 expressions, including 21 mild. Drugs: At least 4 scenes with drinking and smoking.

The Count of Monte Cristo (PG-13)

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

Sterritt *** Edmond Dantes is a French sailor who hits hard times when his best friend steals his girlfriend, a magistrate brands him as a courier for Napoleon, and he's thrown into prison. Things look up when he escapes, finds buried treasure, and sets about revenging himself on his treacherous enemies. The filmmakers focus more on personalities than on action and violence, but there's plenty of flashing steel. It's a nifty comeback for 19th-century novelist Alexandre Dumas.

Staff *** Clever, comic, beautiful scenery.

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

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, 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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