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Movie Guide

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Sterritt ** John is a working-class guy whose boy needs life-saving surgery not covered by his insurance. After failing to raise enough cash, and getting no sympathy from the hospital's financial office, he becomes a vigilante dad. The early scenes persuasively etch John's fatherly love and raise crucial questions about the US healthcare system. Things start to go wrong when he pulls a gun on a cardiac surgeon, and they go very wrong when Capra-esque crowds gather outside the emergency room to cheer him on. It's grimly fascinating to watch fine actors wrestle with the increasingly awful screenplay. It's just plain grim to think that such hokey stuff was directed by Nick Cassavetes, whose father John waged a lifelong campaign for emotional realism in film.

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Staff ** Manipulative, bad dialogue, well-paced.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance innuendo. Violence: 8 scenes. Profanity: 31 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes smoking.

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.

Much Ado About Something (Not rated)

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

Sterritt *** And you thought William Shakespeare wrote his own plays? This entertaining documentary makes a lively argument that his comedies, tragedies, romances, histories - and yes, the sonnets - were really penned by Christopher Marlowe, who allegedly faked his own murder at age 29 and high-tailed it for Italy, smuggling his plays back to England under an assumed moniker. All right, it's a far-fetched theory. But it's fun to think about, and Rubbo's collection of quibbling scholars provides a colorful account of the pros, and cons, and imponderables of the debate. Will the real Bard of Avon please stand up?

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 familiar faces in this sequel, which follows Wendy's daughter on her adventure with 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 will enjoy its action and humor, though. And in the age of "Monsters, Inc." it's refreshing to see a cartoon that looks like one rather than a conglomeration of computer bits and bytes.

Sex/Nudity: none. Violence: 16 scenes cartoonish violence. Profanity: None. Drugs: None.

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: 24 scenes. Profanity: 33 expressions. Drugs: 15 scenes.

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.