Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
Esther Kahn (Not rated)

Director: Arnaud Desplechin. With Summer Phoenix, Ian Holm, Frances Barber. (145 min.)

Sterritt ** The setting is London a century ago; the heroine is a young daughter of Jewish immigrants who gradually overcomes her apathy toward life through enthusiasm for a theatrical career and the jolt of an unhappy love affair. Desplechin wants to film an adventure of the human spirit in the manner of a Hitchcockian drama, but he doesn't have a solid enough grasp of English culture to equal the complexity of his French productions like "The Sentinel" and "The Life of the Dead."

Pépé le Moko (Not rated)

Director: Julien Duvivier. With Jean Gabin, Mireille Balin, Marcel Dalio, Gabriel Gabrio. (90 min.)

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Sterritt **** Pépé is a gifted French criminal who's moved his operation to the Casbah, where he lords it over friends and foes until a slinky French temptress leads him into a romantic muddle that proves his downfall. Made in 1937, this masterpiece of poetic realism features one of Gabin's most renowned performances, a smart subtext about French colonialism, and enough exotic atmosphere to keep your head in the clouds long after the final scene. In French with English subtitles.

Trouble Every Day (Not rated)

Director: Claire Denis. With Vincent Gallo, Aurore Clement, Beatrice Dalle, Tricia Vessey. (102 min.)

Sterritt ** People literally consume each other in this fragmented drama of two modern-day cannibals: a Frenchwoman who seduces her victims and an American man who's transformed by a medical concoction. Denis's pungent images create a nightmarish mood but don't bring full artistic coherence to her odd mix of gothic horror and postmodern reverie. In English, French with English subtitles.

We Were Soldiers (R)

Director: Randall Wallace. With Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Greg Kinnear. (140 min.)

Sterritt * See review, page 15.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
Big Bad Love (R)

Director: Arliss Howard. With Howard, Debra Winger, Paul Le Mat, Angie Dickinson. (111 min.)

Sterritt *** Howard plays a cranky Mississippi writer who spends hours drinking with his buddy, feuding with his former spouse, worrying about his kids, and collecting rejection slips. He also deals with traumatic events like an alarming car accident and a tragic death in the family. The filmmakers clearly see him as a creative maverick, but he's really a likable cliché. The movie's best asset is Howard's filmmaking, which makes time-worn story ideas seem fresh and engaging through inventive camera moves and editing effects.

Big Fat Liar (PG)

Director: Shawn Levy. With Frankie Muniz, Paul Giamatti, Amanda Bynes. (83 min.)

Staff *** A Hollywood producer steals the English essay of eighth-grader and inveterate liar Jason Shepherd (Muniz) and turns it into a movie. Naturally, his parents and teacher don't believe him. To regain their trust, he and his girlfriend head to Tinseltown to extort a confession. The resulting romp through the Universal Studios lot will amuse older children and their parents. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 4 instances. Profanity: A few mild expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes.

Collateral Damage (R)

Director: Andrew Davis. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Francesca Neri, 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 country and in Washington after his wife and child are killed in a L.A. bombing. The film paints a strikingly hostile portrait of its Latin American characters and some of its mayhem is vicious, even by debased standards of today's action-movie genre.

Staff **1/2 Standard, phone-in plot, suspenseful, intense.

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances innuendo. Violence: 16 scenes, some very bloody. Profanity: 33 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 4 scenes with drinking, smoking. 1 with illegal drugs.

Crossroads (PG-13)

Director: Tamra Davis. With Britney Spears, Dan Aykroyd. (92 min.)

Staff * Britney and her pals take off on a cross-country road trip, in a convertible driven by a guy with an ambiguous past. Britney's on a quest to see her estranged mom; the others want to compete in a music contest. Between blasting pop tunes, serious issues emerge: date rape, teen pregnancy, and parental abandonment. But only superficial dialogue occurs. Britney fans will enjoy, though the singing and acting seem manufactured. By Stephanie Cook

Sex/Nudity: 13 scenes, including innuendo, suggestive dancing, implied sex. Violence: 4 scenes with mild fighting. Profanity: 7 expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with drinking.

Dragonfly (PG-13)

Director: Tom Shadyac. With Kevin Costner, Kathy Bates. (100 min.)

Sterritt ** A physician copes with grief after the untimely death of his wife, who was also a doctor, and starts to believe she may be communicating with him through messages passed along by her former patients, kids who've had near-death experiences. The story blends elements of "Ghost" and "Close Encounters" but lacks the romantic charge of the former and the imaginative thrill of the latter. Costner is convincing until the sappy finale.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene implied sex. 1 with seminudity. Violence: 6 scenes. Profanity: 10 mild expressions. Drugs: 3 with drinking.

40 Days and 40 Nights (R)

Director: Michael Lehmann. With Josh Hartnett, Shannyn Sossamon, Maggie Gyllenhaal. (110 min.)

Staff * Seeking solace after a breakup with his ex-girlfriend, a young dotcom programmer can't seem to break his habit of engaging in a different one-night stand every day of the week. So, for Lent, he takes a vow of celibacy. The film's protagonist may be chaste, but the movie certainly isn't. With enough ribald humor to make the cast of "American Pie" blush, this sex comedy tries in vain to soften its edginess by having the sex-starved character fall in love with a girl he meets. The overall result: too few laughs, and a story that paints men as leering leches and woman as wanton profligates. By Stephen Humphries

Hart's War (R)

Director: Gregory Hoblit. With: Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell, Cole Hauser. (125 min.)

Staff *** In a German POW camp, Lt. Thomas Hart (Farrell) must defend a black pilot accused of murdering a white racist. Hart, with only two years of law school, is up against his colonel (Willis), the self-appointed judge, and an experienced prosecutor. Two characters raise this drama well above the routine: the jazz-loving commandant, who permits the court martial in the first place, and the pilot, who testifies that back home in Alabama, German POWs eat in restaurants that won't serve black soldiers. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 13 scenes. Profanity: 25 expressions. Drugs: 18 scenes, mostly smoking.

I Am Sam (PG-13)

Director: Jessie Nelson. With Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laura Dern. (124 min.)

Sterritt * Penn's bravura acting 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.

Iris (R)

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

Sterritt *** 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 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, creative performances, and Broadbent is positively brilliant as old Bayley, reconfirming his status as one of the world's greatest actors.

Staff ***1/2 Poignant, heartbreaking, well-acted.

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes sex or implied sex, 4 scenes partial nudity. Violence: 3 mild scenes. Profanity: 3 expressions. Drugs: 8 with smoking, drinking.

John Q (PG-13)

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

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.

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

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

Monsoon Wedding (R)

Director: Mira Nair. With Naseeruddin Shah, Roshan Seth, Lillete Dubey, Shefali Shetty. (111 min.)

Sterritt *** Celebrants gather in Delhi for the Punjabi wedding of an Indian-American groom and an Indian bride who's not sure she's ready for matrimony. Despite its entertaining trappings, this is a thoughtful story, touching on sensitive issues of sexuality and child abuse. Nair hasn't lost her eye for revealing details of personality and environment. In English, Hindi, and Punjabi with English subtitles.

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 helped execute. 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.

Queen of the Damned (R)

Director: Michael Rymer. With: Stuart Townsend, Aaliyah. (100 min.)

Staff ** Roused from a 200-year sleep by 21st century rock 'n' roll, Anne Rice's vampire Lestat becomes a rocker himself, inviting other vampires to "come out, come out, wherever you are" and co-exist with humans. His fame brings back his mentor, decidedly of the "don't ask, don't tell" school, and wakes the mother of all vampires, Queen Akasha (Aaliyah). Bouncing between campiness and bloodbath, this one's a failed effort, but your only opportunity to see the late Aaliyah in a starring role.

By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances innuendo. Violence: 14 gory scenes. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes, 2 with illegal drugs.

Return to Never Land (G)

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

Sterritt *** Fans of the 1953 animated classic "Peter Pan" will find familiar faces in this sequel, which follows Wendy's daughter on an adventure with Captain Hook, magical Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, and Peter himself. The story lacks the freshness of the original film. But kids will enjoy its action and humor. 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 of cartoonish violence. Profanity: None. Drugs: None.

Scotland, PA (R)

Director: Billy Morrissette. With: James LeGros, Maura Tierney, Christopher Walken (97 min.)

Staff ** This reworking of Shakespeare's MacBeth is set in a rural Pennsylvania diner in the 1970s. Joe McBeth, an underappreciated cook and his waitress wife, Pat, conspire to eliminate the owner of Duncan's and transform the sleepy diner into a fast-food McDonald's clone. Walken gives a good performance as a Columbo-style, laid-back cop. Some creative adaptions to the Bard include Lady McBeth's guilt manifesting as a deep-fat fryer burn that won't heal. Director Morrissette tries too hard to make the dark comedy feel like "Fargo."

By Seth Stern

Staff **1/2Quirky, low-budget feel, clever, dark.

Sex/Nudity: 8 instances, 2 with nudity. Violence: 10, including several murders. Profanity: At least 53 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 41 scenes with smoking and drinking.

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. Don't look for Moretti's comic touch and autobiographical approach in this drama, which relies on straightforward screenwriting 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.

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