Director: Shunji Iwai. With Hayato Ichihara, Shûgo Oshinari, Yû Aoi, Ayumi Ito. (146 min.)
Sterritt **** Lily Chou-Chou is a pop star we hardly see, and the main characters are Japanese adolescents who use idealized fantasies of her as respite from the meaningless routines and relentless power games that oppress them at school and play. Iwai's ambitious drama is strikingly shot, poignantly acted by a splendid young cast, and enriched by surprising use of Debussy classics on the soundtrack. It's remarkable for digital video and chat-room messages to look so richly cinematic on the screen. In Japanese with English subtitles.
Director: Ellory Elkayem. With David Arquette, Scarlett Johansson, Doug E. Doug, Kari Wuhrer. (98 min.)
Sterritt * Spiders get humongous after a toxic-waste debacle in a Southwestern town. You can guess the rest. Action freaks may enjoy the chasing and chomping, but there's no hint of human interest or moviemaking imagination. Stick with the 1955 classic "Tarantula," still the best of this creepy-crawly breed.
Director: Timothy Linh Bui. With Don Duong, Patrick Swayze, Forest Whitaker, Hiep Thi Le. (115 min.)
Sterritt ** As the Vietnam war winds to a close, Vietnamese immigrants start preparing for new American lives in a California refugee camp. The movie takes a humane look at an episode in recent history that's received little attention. Its pretty, sentimental style doesn't match the downbeat quality of some story elements, though. Duong makes a strong impression, Swayze shows new maturity, and Whitaker is at his likable best. In English and Vietnamese with English subtitles.
Director: Kathryn Bigelow. With Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Peter Sarsgaard, Joss Ackland. (138 min.)
Staff *** See review, page 15.
Director: David Jones. With Jeremy Irons, Judi Dench, Margaret Whiting, Harold Pinter. (105 min.)
Sterritt **** It took 24 years for this 1978 drama to reach its theatrical première, which is scandalous, since it's a first-rate achievement. Irons plays a self-centered German working on a scholarly thesis in the countryside near Dublin, and Dench plays a down-to-earth Irishwoman who becomes his ill-suited lover. Pinter's screenplay offers an exciting mixture of psychological suspense and storytelling surprise, and the lead performances are close to flawless.
Director: Rob Minkoff. With Michael J. Fox, Geena Davis, Melanie Griffith, Jonathan Lipnicki. (70 min.)
Staff ***1/2 See review, page 15.
Director: Gregor Schnitzler. With Til Schweiger, Nadia Uhl, Martin Feifel, Klaus Löwitsch. (102 min.)
Sterritt *** A group of scruffy German activists turn to political violence when the Berlin wall is crumbling, and then become average citizens who want to put the past behind them until police find a piece of long-buried evidence that could land them all in jail unless they pull off one last caper to get it back. This energetically acted, creatively directed comedy-drama has every ingredient for success except a satisfying finale. In German with English subtitles.
Director: John Stainton. With Steve Irwin, Terri Irwin, Magda Szubanski, David Wenham. (90 min.)
Staff **1/2 Australian naturalist and "Animal World" TV personalities Steve and Terri Irwin play themselves in this comedy involving a crocodile that swallows a top-secret satellite part. As the Irwins try to relocate the croc away from a shotgun-toting rancher, the CIA thinks they're spies, and they think the agents are poachers. This is not a great movie, but you'll learn much about outback wildlife and marvel at Steve's hands-on capture methods and boyish wonderment. Small children may find the critters and action scary I know I did. By M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances innuendo. Violence: 19 scenes, including wrestling with a croc. Profanity: 2 expressions. Drugs: None.
Les Destinées (Not rated)
Director: Olivier Assayas. With Emmanuelle Béart, Charles Berling, Isabelle Huppert. (180 min.)
Sterritt ** A well-to-do Protestant clergyman falls in love with a younger woman, complicating his passage through the World War I era and subsequent years of changing social conditions. Assayas has made more exciting films, and this drama is longer and more leisurely than it needs to be. It's very elegant, though, with strong acting by a distinguished cast. Originally entitled "Les Destinées Sentimentales." In French with English subtitles.
Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene, 1 brief nudity, 1 implied sex scene, 3 instances innuendo. Violence: 1 violent scene. Profanity: 1 expression. Drugs: 16 scenes tobacco and alcohol.
Director: John Schultz. With Bow Wow, Morris Chestnut, Jonathan Lipnicki, Anne Meara. (100 min.)
Staff **1/2 Some may see this as a feature-length commercial for the NBA. Or as a starmaking vehicle for diminutive 15-year-old rapper Bow Wow. They'd be right. But it's also a good-hearted fairy tale about finding a family and your dreams. An orphan (Bow Wow) discovers a pair of magic sneakers that make him a basketball phenomenon. But what he wants even more is a home. There's a genuine chuckle or two here and bring a hanky for the sentimental scenes. By Gregory M. Lamb
Sex/Nudity: Few instances innuendo. Violence: 10 instances, including fistfights and rough basketball play. Profanity: A few harsh expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with drinking.
Director: Nicole Holofcener. With Catherine Keener, Brenda Blethyn, Emily Mortimer. (89 min.)
Staff *** What is most lovely and amazing about this story of a family of confused women is director Holofcener's wit, timing, and affection for her highly flawed characters. The white mother (Blethyn) of two grown daughters (Keener and Mortimer) has adopted an 8-year-old African-American girl who is beginning to show signs of the family obsession with looks. Her oldest sister is even jealous of the child, but when a health crisis arises with the mom, the women rally, and it becomes evident how they keep each other in balance. Some nudity, adult situations, and rough language. By M.S. Mason
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld. With Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Lara Flynn Boyle, Tony Shalhoub. (88 min.)
Sterritt ** Agent J needs Agent K to help him combat Serleena, a Victoria's Secret model who's really an insidious alien; but K has lost all memory of his top-secret career, and the high-tech gizmo they need to retrieve it is in the hands of a guy who's weird even by MIB standards. That's just the starting point of this moderately amusing sequel, which is best when it relies on dead-pan acting by the stars, worst when it drags in summer-movie stupidities like an incessantly talking dog.
Staff ** Nutty, obvious jokes, OK sequel.
Sex/Nudity: 7 instances, mostly innuendo. Violence: 11 scenes, including attempted rape. Profanity: 17 mild expressions. Drugs: At least 3 scenes with drinking and smoking.
Director: Steven Spielberg. With Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow. (145 min.)
Sterritt *** The year is 2054, when clairvoyant "precogs" enable police to arrest murderers before they murder. Cruise plays a dedicated cop who's inexplicably accused as the would-be killer of someone he's never heard of. Most of the movie is clever, imaginative, and savvy in its questions about social anxiety and government power. Too bad Spielberg also indulges the kiddie side of his talent, cooking up a silly chase sequence that only video-game nuts will be able to watch without wincing.
Staff ***1/2 Timely, politically relevant, future-noir, well-paced.
Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes with sex, 2 with innuendo. Violence: 20 (often extended) scenes. Profanity: 3 harsh words. Drugs: 3 scenes with alcohol. 1 with smoking and 8 with drug use.
Directors: Anthony Abrams, Adam Larson Broder. With Christina Ricci, Hank Harris, Brenda Blethyn, Dominique Swain. (113 min.)
Staff ** Alpha Omega Pi sorority, always runner-up as sorority of the year, decides the way to beat the Tri-Omegas is to coach a group of disabled athletes. Ricci, usually the group's spark plug, resists at first, but then much to her own and everyone's horror, falls in love with her severely challenged protégé, whom everyone calls Pumpkin. Ricci is always worth watching, but she can't save this satire, which, despite some telling moments, wades into subject matter too deep for its broadly farcical approach. By M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 3 implied sex scenes, 3 scenes with innuendo, 1 scene with semi-nudity. Violence: 3 scenes, including fistfight. Profanity: 22 harsh expressions. Drugs: At least 5 instances of drinking and smoking. 1 scene with abuse of household remedies.
Director: Sam Mendes. With Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law. (119 min.)
Sterritt ** Hanks plays a 1930s hit man seeking revenge against the mobsters who killed his wife and son. Mendes surrounds the slow-moving plot with a lonely, dreary view of middle America in the Depression era. The cinematography provides much moody atmosphere, and Law is terrific as an enticingly weird thug; but the plot has huge holes, and it's hard to swallow the notion that we should love a paid assassin because his heart is full of family values.
Staff ***1/2 Well-acted, dark, epic, visually stunning.
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance. Violence: 16 extremely violent scenes. Profanity: 20 expressions. Drugs: About 20 scenes with drinking and smoking.
Director: Rob Bowman. Starring Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, Izabella Scorupco. (100 min.)
Staff ** How do you reinvent the monster movie? How about casting a mythological creature that is as much a part of biblical lore as ancient Chinese culture: the dragon. Here, hibernating dragons reawaken and, by 2020, have reduced mankind to little bands of feudal refugees. But, when one such group in Northern England meets a traveling group of American soldiers, they join forces to vanquish the winged beasts. Result? Ridiculous macho posturing as Matthew McConaughey's soldier chews more scenery than even the toothiest of the dragons. Still, there's a nifty sky-diving sequence, a funny homage to "Star Wars," and enough action to keep undemanding monster-movie fans momentarily distracted. By Stephen Humphries
Director: D.J. Caruso. With Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio Meat Loaf. (103 min.)
Sterritt ** Plot twists proliferate in this gimmicky thriller about a seemingly drug-dazed loser who turns out to be cooler and more 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.
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances innuendo, 2 sex scenes. Violence: 14 scenes, including beating and torture. Profanity: 83 strong expressions. Drugs: At least 30 scenes of drinking, illegal drug use, and smoking.
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz. (121 min.)
Sterritt *** Amélie is a waitress who anonymously becomes a do-gooder for people who never asked her to barge into their lives. Jeunet is never happy with a scene until he's directed it half to death with manic camera work and editing. But Tautou's acting is amiable enough to shine through any cinematic fuss. In French with English subtitles.
Staff ***1/2 Unconventional, delightful, mischievous, visually stunning.
Sex/Nudity: 8 scenes with implied sex, innuendo, and brief nudity. Violence: 4 mild scenes. Profanity: None. Drugs: 9 with alcohol, 1 with a cigarette.
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 awful screenplay.
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: 8 scenes, including fistfighting. Profanity: 31 expressions, some harsh. Drugs: 2 scenes with smoking.