Director: Majid Majidi. With Hossein Abedini, Mohammad Reza Naji, Zahra Bahrami, Hossein Rahimi. (105 min.)
Sterritt **** The unglamorous setting is an Iranian construction site, and the unlikely hero is an Iranian man who falls in love with an Afghan woman after a string of misadventures with an illegal immigrant who works alongside him. Majidi became one of Iran's most internationally famed filmmakers with "Children of Heaven" and "The Color of Paradise," but he far surpasses those sappy melodramas with this expressively filmed story of rivalry, romance, and cultural conflict. In Farsi with English subtitles.
Director: Chris Marker. With voices of Jim Broadbent, Cyril Cusack, Robert Kramer. (179 min.)
Sterritt **** This towering documentary spans the world in its overview of the war between left-wing radicalism and right-wing conservativism during the troubled '60s and '70s era. Completed in 1993 from material first assembled in 1977, it reconfirms Marker as one of the most serious-minded and artistically gifted filmmakers in France, or anywhere else. In English, Spanish, and French with English subtitles.
Director: Woody Allen. With Allen, Téa Leoni, Mark Rydell, George Hamilton, Debra Messing. (114 min.)
Sterritt *** See review, page 15.
Director: Chris Smith. With Bill Tregle, Linda Beech, Ben Skora, Darlene Satrinano. (66 min.)
Sterritt *** If one's domestic environment is a kind of autobiography, then the five households visited by this entertaining documentary reveal fascinating lives indeed. One couple lives in a converted missile silo, another in a home designed more for their pet cats than for themselves. Other folks live in a treehouse, an alligator-friendly boathouse, and a suburban house crammed with mechanized gadgets. Home, sweet home, was never like this!
Director: Ismail Merchant. With Aasif Mandvi, Om Puri, Ayesha Dharker, Zohra Segal. (117 min.)
Sterritt **** A little knowledge can be a wonderful thing, or so it seems to the hero of this delightful comedy-drama. He's an Indian man living in Trinidad, where his smattering of book learning brings him enough local prestige to become first a masseur and healer, then a small-time book writer, and then an aspiring politician although each step up the ladder of success doesn't necessarily bring more of the personal happiness he's always in search of. Merchant usually works as the producing half of the Merchant Ivory filmmaking team, but his skills as a director have grown by leaps and bounds. This delicious fable reflects his great love of language, his delicate visual sense, and his ability to make you think and laugh out loud, often at the very same time.
Director: Samuel Raimi. With Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco. (121 min.)
Staff ***See review, page 15.
Director: Shohei Imamura. With Koji Yakusho, Misa Shimizu, Mitsuko Baisho, Manasaku Fowa. (119 min.)
Sterritt ** On a quixotic hunt for buried treasure, a lonely man makes peculiar new acquaintances in a seaside Japanese town, including a woman whose body is attuned to the world of nature in disconcerting ways. Imamura has directed near-legendary films like "The Insect Woman" and "Vengeance Is Mine," but his acute sense of color and offbeat storytelling style aren't enough to make this sometimes sensual fantasy more than a whimsical trifle. In Japanese with English subtitles.
Director: Peter Bogdanovich. With Edward Herrmann, Kirsten Dunst, Cary Elwes, Jennifer Tilly. (112 min.)
Sterritt ** The place is newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst's yacht in the mid- 1920s, and the characters include comedian Charlie Chaplin, gossip columnist Louella Parsons, film producer Thomas H. Ince, and Hearst himself. They're hoping for a good time on their pleasure cruise, but the sea breezes carry whiffs of jealousy and danger. Based on a real-life murder case, this amiably dull comedy-drama resembles its setting: Everything is arranged for fun and diversion, but the vehicle takes too long to get us where we're going.
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.
Director: John McKay. With Andie MacDowell, Imelda Staunton, Anna Chancellor, Kenny Doughty. (110 min.)
Staff ** Crush begins with a sweeping view of the Cotswolds; for the next two hours, it swoops over stereotypes of femininity, as three lovelorn 40-somethings Kate (MacDowell), Molly (Chancellor), and Janine (Staunton) meet weekly to swap stories of amorous humiliation over gin, chocolate, and gibes. They are, ostensibly, allies in the quest for love, but when Kate gets involved with a former student, Molly spearheads a scheme to end the affair. Though engaging in its banter and its romance, the film's myopic vision of women borders on misogyny. When clumsy, catty Molly brings on disaster with her scheme, the women are softened not just by humiliation, but by a fresh awareness of their distinctly feminine failings. By Christina McCarroll
Staff **1/2 Predictable, silly, gabby, twisted.
Sex/Nudity: 37 instances, including innuendo, partial nudity and implied sex. Violence: 2 scenes. Profanity: 12 expressions. Drugs: 16 scenes with drinking and smoking.
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.
Director: Stephen Herek. With Angelina Jolie, Edward Burns, Stockard Channing, Tony Shalhoub. (103 min.)
Sterritt ** An ambitious TV newswoman takes a fresh look at life and love after a sidewalk psychic tells her she has a week to live. This slickly produced romantic comedy takes its creaky premise down the most predictable, sentimental pathways it can find. If the heroine really had seven days left, she wouldn't waste it watching stuff like this.
Sex/Nudity: 9 instances, including innuendo and 2 scenes implied sex. Violence: 1 shooting scene. Profanity: 13 expressions. Drugs: At least 13 scenes with drinking and smoking.
Director: Barbet Schroeder. With Sandra Bullock, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt, Ben Chaplin.
Staff ** Bullock stars as a brilliant, wise-cracking crime-scene investigator whose own dark past is a mystery in itself. She quickly figures out who has committed a horrifying crime (shown with lingering shots of the corpse), but can she prove it? The murderers are daring her to outwit them. Gosling and Pitt shine as her troubled-teen prime suspects, and Chaplin is fine as her low-key partner and potential love interest. Some entertaining plot twists ensue, but it's a must-see only for Bullock fans.
By Gregory M. Lamb
Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes, 1 scene with sounds of TV pornography (unseen). No nudity. Violence: 16 scenes, including some with severed body parts. Profanity: 33 expressions. Drugs: At least 16 scenes with alcohol and smoking.
Director: Fabián Bielinsky. With Gastón Pauls, Ricardo Darin, Leticia Brédice. (115 min.)
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.
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 the 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: 60 harsh expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes with drinking, smoking, illegal drugs.
Director: Christine Jeffs. With Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki, Marton Scokas, Sarah Peirse. (88 min.)
Sterritt *** The psychologically charged story of a girl whose adolescence is complicated by sexual tensions linked with her parents' troubled marriage. Jeffs is an unusually gifted director, but her screenplay (based on Kirsty Gunn's novel) never quite gets a firm grip or fresh perspective on its coming-of-age subject.
Director: D.J. Caruso. With Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio, Deborah Kara Unger, Anthony LaPaglia. (100 min.)
Sterritt ** Plot twists proliferate in this gimmicky thriller about a seemingly drug-dazed loser who turns out to be more cool and calculating than he appears. Full-throttle performances by D'Onofrio and Goldberg provide the most memorable moments. Otherwise the film gets less interesting as it goes along, and Tony Gayton's violence-prone screenplay is sometimes as hard to fathom as the salt-smothered California lake it's named after.
Director: Chuck Russell. With Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Kelly Hu, James Purefoy. (90 min.)
Staff **1/2An evil warlord is sweeping across the Near East, and it's up to the last of a long line of assassins to stop him, win the girl, and save Gomorrah (for the time being, of course). Surprisingly, pro wrestler "The Rock" is the best thing about this film, playing the title role like an antediluvian Jackie Chan, even if his dialogue is delivered flatter than a pita. With just a bit more polish, this could have been Indiana Jones Revisited. Can you smell The Rock signing on for a sequel? By Alex Kaloostian
Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes, including innuendo and implied sex. Violence: 18 scenes, including swordfights. Profanity: 1 mild expression. Drugs: 4 instances of drinking.
Director: Laurent Cantet. With Aurélien Recoing, Karin Viard. (132 min.)
Sterritt **** Disillusioned with his life, a businessman stops working and hides this from his family. He hooks up with a small 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 offers rich insights, and brings them alive with sensitive acting.
Director: Michael Mann. With Will Smith, Giancarlo Esposito, Jamie Foxx, Jeffrey Wright. (140 min.)
Sterritt *** Fast-talking prizefighter Muhammad Ali was a key athletic and cultural figure of the '60s and '70s. This energetic biopic covers key events of his career, including his rise to the heavyweight championship, his role in the Black Muslim movement, and his comeback. Smith lacks the champ's physical presence, but his vocal impersonation is exactly right. The film's heart is in the boxing scenes.
Staff *** Riveting, revealing, good history lesson.
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes. Violence: 11 scenes, mostly boxing. Profanity: 19 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 13 scenes with smoking or drinking.