Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
Karmen Geé¯ (Not rated)

Director: Joseph Gaé¯ Ramaka. With Djeé¯naba Diop Gaé¯, Magaye Niang, Stéphanie Biddle, Thierno Ndiaye Dos. (84 min.)

Sterritt *** You won't hear the familiar strains of Georges Bizet's opera, but you'll recognize the classic story of a proud seductress, able to mesmerize anyone she fancies with her sensual beauty, and the soundtrack pulse with the music of Senegal, where this energetic movie was filmed. Directors as different as Otto Preminger and Jean-Luc Godard have taken a crack at "Carmen" and Ramaka's version is a colorful addition to the list. In French and Wolof with English subtitles.

Nine Queens (R)

Director: Fabié¡n Bielinsky. With Gasté³n Pauls, Ricardo Darin, Leticia Brédice. (115 min.)

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Sterritt *** The nine queens are a set of artfully forged postage stamps that draw a couple of petty swindlers into a money-making scheme that may prove far too tricky for them to successfully pull off. This cleverly structured Argentine heist movie isn't as original or ingenious as it tries to be, but it's fun watching the chicanery veer down one unexpected pathway after another. In Spanish with English subtitles.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
Changing Lanes (R)

Director: Roger Michell. With Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Affleck, Amanda Peet, Sidney Pollack. (96 min.)

Sterritt *** A corporate lawyer and an insurance salesman become adversaries after a highway fender-bender, sparking a day-long ordeal of threats and counter-threats. The filmmakers meant to whip up a high-tension thriller. What they ended up with is a psychological satire that's quite engrossing if you regard it as an absurdist morality tale rather than a straight-ahead suspense yarn. It loses its bite in a last-minute happy ending that's even less plausible than the rest of the picture, but much of the way it's a refreshingly novel ride.

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances innuendo. Violence: 5 scenes, including assault. Profanity: 13 strong expressions. Drugs: 3 instances drinking.

Clockstoppers (PG)

Director: Jonathan Frakes. With: Jesse Bradford, French Stewart, Paula Garcés. (90 min.)

Staff ** Zak Gibbs, a physics professor's son, accidentally gets hold of an experimental wristwatch that almost stops the world around him. Evil forces kidnap the prof, hoping to turn this invention into a weapon for sale to the highest bidder. Zak and two friends set out to stop them. A fresh cast and delightful effects early on promise something special, but the script quickly shifts out of hypertime into plodding formula. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: A few instances of innuendo. Violence: 9 scenes, including shootings. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with drinking.

Death to Smoochy (R)

Director Danny DeVito. With Robin Williams, Edward Norton, DeVito. (100 min.)

Sterritt *** Producers replace a bribe-taking TV clown (Williams) with a straight-arrow entertainer (Norton) who's shocked by the onslaughts of greed, corruption, and violence he gets from his agent (DeVito) and everyone in the kiddie-media world. This pitch-dark satire marks a surprising career step for Williams, who plays the vengeful clown with surprising ferocity. It's also an impressive achievement for DeVito, who turns the wildly cynical screenplay into a kinetic cartoon. Stay away if you treasure the lovable image of Williams, and don't take the kids!

Staff *** Demented, amusing, inventive.

Sex/Nudity: Innuendo in every scene. 1 scene implied sex, 3 with nudity. Violence: 12 scenes, including fights. Profanity: 87 harsh expressions. Drugs: 11 scenes of smoking, drinking.

High Crimes (PG-13)

Director: Carl Franklin. With Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Amanda Peet, Jim Cavaziel. (115 min.)

Sterritt ** When her husband is charged with a wartime atrocity he never told her about and says he never committed, an attorney (Judd) teams with an old-time military lawyer to clear his name, soon encountering threats from forces that want to hush up the affair. The story has potential, but you'll spot the plot twists long before they happen, and the acting by Judd and Cavaziel is strictly by the numbers. Ditto for the filmmaking.

Staff ** Vacuous, likable cast, gripping, formulaic.

Sex/Nudity: 7 instances of innuendo, including a few scenes implied sex. Violence: 13 instances. Profanity: 29 harsh expressions. Drugs: 16 scenes of drinking, smoking.

Human Nature (R)

Director: Michel Gondry. With Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Robert Forster, Rosie Perez. (96 min.)

Sterritt ** A mild-mannered scientist wavers between his hair-covered wife and his pretty but aggressive assistant, and tries to civilize a recently discovered ape-man who could demonstrate the value of his behavior-changing techniques. This whimsical comedy-fantasy deserves a few points for the audacity of Charlie Kaufman's screenplay. Its problems come from Gondry's directing, which betrays his roots in music video and TV commercials. Every moment is cute, slick, and snappy, and that's awfully tiring after a while.

Staff **1/2Off the wall, odd, not awfully funny.

Sex/Nudity: 20 instances, including nudity, frank sexual talk. Violence: 9 scenes, including shooting. Profanity: 16 strong expressions. Drugs: At least 6 scenes with drinking and smoking.

The Last Waltz (PG)

Director: Martin Scorsese. With The Band, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Dr. John. (117 min.)

Sterritt **** Scorsese directed this legendary concert film in 1976, planning and executing the production with meticulous care Â- unprecedented for a rock movie at the time Â- and editing it to perfection. The result is a rousing record of The Band's last full-fledged show, plus appearances by the era's most influential pop-music talents. It's never been topped.

Maryam (Not rated)

Director: Ramin Serry. With Mariam Parris, David Ackert, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Shaun Toub. (87 min.)

Sterritt ** The place is New Jersey, and the title character is a teen girl whose Iranian-American parents take in a politically cantankerous Iranian relative just before Iran's new Islamic government sparked the 1979 hostage crisis. This modestly produced drama isn't acted or directed with much flair, but it shows a welcome awareness of the complex links between personal and political impulses.

Mule Skinner Blues (Not rated)

Director: Stephen Earnhart. With Beanie Andrew, Annabelle Lea Usher, Larry Parrot, Ricky Lix. (93 min.)

Sterritt *** Earnhart met the residents of a rural trailer park in Florida while shooting a music video, and stayed on to make this documentary about a handful of would-be filmmakers who create a home-grown horror flick starring themselves and friends. The end product is as deliciously eccentric as the real-life characters it chronicles.

National Lampoon's Van Wilder (R)

Director: Walt Becker. With Ryan Reynolds, Tara Reid, Kal Penn. (95 min.)

Staff * Van loves being big man on campus so much he's been an undergraduate for nearly seven years. Truth is, he's afraid to try his people skills in the real world. What shakes him out of it is a serious-minded journalism major trying to crown her college career with a story on him. What could've been an off-the-wall comedy collapses under its own excesses as these two Â- out of character Â- hatch obscene revenge plots against her vacuous pre-med boyfriend. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 48 instances, innuendo and implied sex. Violence: 5 instances. Profanity: About 30 harsh expressions. Drugs: 13 scenes with drinking and smoking, including 1 instance drug use.

The Other Side of Heaven (PG)

Director: Mitch Davis. With Christopher Gorham, Anne Hathaway, Joe Folau, Miriama Smith, Nathaniel Lees.

Staff *** Based on the true story of a young American who travels in the 1950s to the exotic island of Rarotonga to become a missionary. His assignments: Learn the language and convert the Indians to Christianity. At first, he is mocked by the natives. But they quickly change their tune after he helps heal a dying boy. His faith is then put to the test again and again. Meanwhile, the missionary corresponds with his love back home in Idaho, hoping they will marry after his 2-1/2 year mission. The film carries a simple, yet meaningful message about God's healing power and how it can bring people together. By Lisa Leigh Parney

Sex/Nudity: 1 implied scene. Violence: 5 scenes. Profanity: None. Drugs: 2 with smoking, 2 with drinking.

Panic Room (R)

Director: David Fincher. With Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Kristen Stewart. (110 min.)

Sterritt ** A woman and her daughter scurry to a bunkerlike sanctum when crooks invade their Manhattan home to steal a fortune that happens to be locked away in the panic room itself. This is a minimalist thriller, centering the action on five characters in one place. Also present is Fincher's affection for hyperactive camera movements, juicing up any scene where the acting sags. There are many, since David Koepp's screenplay isn't nearly clever enough to sustain a reasonable degree of suspense on its own.

Staff **1/2Nail-biter, intense, goofy at times.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 9 instances, some quite violent. Profanity: About 60 harsh expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes with drinking, smoking, including illegal drug use.

The Rookie (G)

Director: John Lee Hancock. With Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez, Brian Cox. (129 min.)

Staff ***1/2 Quaid plays a teacher-turned-Major League Baseball player in this Disney film based on the true story of Jim Morris. While coaching another losing season of high school baseball, Morris cuts a deal: If his players start winning, he'll try out for the majors. By now an older father, Morris defies skeptics with his uncanny 95-m.p.h. fastball. For adults who believe G stands for "goofy," Quaid's intense performance will convince them to take this film seriously. By Ben Arnoldy

Staff ***1/2 Home run, avoids clichés, inspiring.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: None. Profanity: None. Drugs: 5 scenes with alcohol.

Son of the Bride (R)

Director: Juan José Campanella. With Ricardo Daré–n, Norma Aleandro, Héctor Alterio. (124 min.)

Sterritt *** Flustered by family and personal problems as he heads into middle age, a mildly successful restaurateur helps his elderly father and mentally failing mother have the church wedding she's always wanted. Energetic acting and filmmaking help this likable Argentine comedy-drama avoid the sentimentality that intermittently threatens it. In Spanish with English subtitles.

The Sweetest Thing (R)

Director: Roger Kumble. With Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, and Thomas Jane. (87 min.)

Staff * Best friends Christina and Courtney claim to love singlehood and a life of one-night-stands and unemotional flings. But when Christina finds her true love, they abandon their philosophy and chase him down. This not-quite-love story, not-quite-gal-pal movie is an unoriginal comedy that's nothing more than a recitation of platitudes and stereotypes. For fans of "Something About Mary," it is a letdown. By Katie Nesse

Time Out (PG-13)

Director: Laurent Cantet. With Aurélien Recoing, Karin Viard. (132 min.)

Sterritt **** Disillusioned with his life, a businessman stops working and conceals this from his family. He hooks up with a small-time criminal operation, abandoning this when he finds it just as spirit-killing as ordinary work. The story gathers power as he exhausts one option after another, making his future seem more ominous. Cantet's previous film, "Human Resources," also probed social and ideological problems tied to family and work. He provides rich insights, and brings them alive with sensitive acting and powerful filmmaking.

Umberto D. (Not rated)

Director: Vittorio De Sica. With Carlo Battisti, Maria Pia Casilio. (91 min.)

Sterritt **** The credo of Italy's fabled neorealist movement was that movies rooted in real, unadorned experience carry more dramatic impact than studio concoctions can dream of, and this 1952 masterpiece exemplifies that argument brilliantly. The title character is an aging man who needs a few lire to pay his rent; the story follows him and his little dog down the streets and sidewalks of postwar Rome as he tries to replenish his empty pockets. That's all. And you'll never forget it. In Italian with English subtitles.

Y Tu Mamé¡ También (Not rated)

Director: Alfonso Cuaré³n. With Maribel Verdéº, Diego Luna, Gael Garcé–a Bernal. (115 min.)

Sterritt ** Faced with serious problems in her life, a young Spanish woman living in Mexico takes off on an impulsive road trip with two adolescent boys fueled by youthful energy, various intoxicants, and hyperactive sex drives. Cuaron gives an offbeat flavor to this coming-of-age tale by combining up-close camera work with a modernistic third-person narration, and by touching on noteworthy social and political issues in the margins of the story. Too much repetition and an unconvincing finale take their toll on the film's overall effectiveness, though. In Spanish with English subtitles.

Staff *** Reckless, life-affirming, sexually graphic, beautifully shot.

Sex/Nudity: 9 scenes, very graphic, including full nudity. Violence: 3 instances, mild. Profanity: 109 very harsh expressions. Drugs: 19 scenes with smoking, 9 with drinking, 5 with marijuana.

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