Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
Ace in the Hole (Not rated)

Director: Billy Wilder. With Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Richard Benedict, Ray Teal. (111 min.)

Sterritt **** Few films of bygone decades have retained their relevance as stingingly as this 1951 satire about a journalist who eagerly exploits the plight of a man trapped in a collapsed mine in order to restart his own failing career. It's dark, funny, ferocious, and vintage Wilder all the way. Originally released as "The Big Carnival."

City by the Sea (R)

Director: Michael Caton-Jones. With Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand, James Franco. (105 min.)

Recommended: Default

Sterritt ** See review, page 17.

The Decalogue (Not rated)

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski. With Krystyna Janda, Henryk Baranowski, Maria Pakulnis. (550 min.)

Sterritt **** An apartment complex in Warsaw is the primary setting for this series of 10, approximately hour-long dramas, loosely based on the Ten Commandments and exploring a wide range of moral, ethical, and psychological issues, from the motivations for capital punishment to the meaning of God in the modern world. Most are enthralling; some are small masterpieces. Originally produced as a miniseries for Polish television.

The Execution of Wanda Jean (Not rated)

Director: Liz Garbus. With Wanda Jean Allen, Ruby Wilson. (88 min.)

Sterritt *** A nonfiction chronicle of events leading to the execution of a mentally slow African-American woman in Oklahoma for the 1989 murder of her female lover. The documentary is revealing and chilling, although it doesn't explore the inner workings of the American criminal-justice system as thoroughly as one might wish.

Heartbreak Hospital (Not rated)

Director: Ruedi Gerber. With Chelsea Altman, John Shea, Diane Venora, Demián Bichir. (91 min.)

Sterritt * An actress lands the not-so-juicy role of a bandage-covered coma patient in a TV soap opera, sparking complications in her off-screen romantic life and lunacy in an eccentric neighbor who's got a crush on the leading man of the series. Everyone tries very hard to make the story sweet and funny, but the soggy screenplay defeats them every time.

In Praise of Love (Not rated)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard. With Bruno Putzulu, Cécile Camp, Jean Davy, Françoise Verny. (98 min.)

Sterritt **** See review, page 17.

Swimfan (PG-13)

Director: John Polson. With Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen, Kate Burton, Shiri Appleby. (85 min.)

Sterritt ** "Fatal Attraction" goes to high school, as a pretty psychopath stalks a swimming-team hunk with deadly results. Polson's well-filmed thriller swims down the usual lanes for this sort of story, and everyone looks way too old for senior year; but many of the suspense scenes work fine, and Bradford is terrific as the endangered hero.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
Blue Crush (PG-13)

Director: John Stockwell. With Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Matthew Davis, Mika Boorem. (103 min.)

Sterritt ** They're chambermaids by night, surfin' girls by day, and one of them has the makings of wave-riding stardom. Moviegoing tip: Skip the first hour or so, but grab a seat in time for the surfing contest that climaxes the picture, complete with mile-high waves and the most graceful ocean-gliding this side of "The Endless Summer."

Staff **1/2 Stunning surf footage, exhilarating, insipid dialogue.

Sex/Nudity: 6 instances innuendo; 1 scene implied sex. Violence: 12 scenes, including near drownings and surfing injuries. Profanity: 22 expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with drinking and smoking.

FearDotCom (R)

Director: William Malone. With Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone, Stephen Rea. (90 min.)

Staff *1/2 A homicide detective enlists the help of a Department of Health employee to solve a string of murders. Or suicides. They're not really sure, and it doesn't matter much. What really matters is that a website is (gasp!) tormenting the souls of all who visit it with their own worst fears, such as car crashes, cockroaches, or having to sit through this movie. A decent score and truly gorgeous cinematography are ruined by a terrible script and violence that defines gratuitous. Rent this one and watch it with the sound off. By Alex Kaloostian

Sex/Nudity: 7 instances, including nudity, innuendo. Violence: 27 scenes of graphic violence, including torture. Profanity: 23 strong expressions. Drugs: At least 5 scenes of smoking, drinking.

The Good Girl (R)

Director: Miguel Arteta. With Jennifer Aniston, John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson. (93 min.)

Sterritt **** What's a well-meaning young woman to do when she's stuck in a miserable marriage, a tedious town, and a boring job, and the only chance for escape is a love affair she can't resist? Aniston and Reilly give the best of many excellent performances. A few plotty scenes aside, this quietly directed drama paints a sensitive, sympathetic portrait of modern malaise, and also has a smart sense of humor.

Staff ***1/2 Well-acted, thoughtful, sad.

Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes with innuendo, several explicit, adulterous sex scenes. Violence: 6, including fighting. Profanity: 14 expressions. Drugs: 14 scenes with illegal drugs, alcohol, smoking.

I'm Going Home (Not rated)

Director: Edouardo de Oliveira. With Michel Piccoli, Catherine Deneuve, John Malkovich. (90 min.)

Sterritt **** An aging actor relies on work to balance his life after a family tragedy takes a great toll on him, but he eventually finds himself facing the end of his career with mingled nostalgia and regret. Piccoli gives one of the most nuanced performances of his distinguished career, but the primary star of the movie is de Oliveira, who unfolds the story with unfailing skill and sensitivity.

Mostly Martha (PG)

Director: Sandra Nettelbeck. With Martina Gedeck, Sergio Castellitto. (107 min.)

Staff ***1/2 Martha is a perfectionist chef in Hamburg who can't quite cope when her 8-year-old niece unexpectedly comes to live with her. There's no recipe for raising Lina, but slowly Martha finds a new rhythm – especially when she gets over feeling threatened by a free-spirited chef who joins the staff at her restaurant. Not to be seen on an empty stomach, this beautiful film is equal parts drama and humor, seasoned with a hint of romance. By Stacy A. Teicher

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance innuendo. Violence: 1 scene with slapping. Profanity: 5 mild expressions. Drugs: 3 smoking scenes. 9 scenes with drinking or cooking with alcohol.

One Hour Photo (R)

Director: Mark Romanek. With Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen. (98 min.)

Sterritt ** Williams plays a seemingly bland photo-booth clerk who's become dangerously obsessed with a local family whose pictures he's been processing for years. Williams's acting is as chilling as it is restrained, but Romanek's directing damps down the drama's psychological impact, making it look as glossy and two-dimensional as the snapshots that run through the photo man's finely calibrated machines.

Staff ** Overdone, twisted, unnecessarily violent, creepy and vacuous.

Sex/Nudity: 6 instances, including innuendo, photos of sex, graphic sex scene. Violence: 3 instances, 1 graphic. Profanity: 17 strong expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol.

Possession (PG-13)

Director: Neil LaBute. With Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Ehle, Jeremy Northam. (102 min.)

Sterritt * Two scholars (Paltrow, Eckhart) unearth a long-ago love affair between two Victorian poets whose strait-laced morality supposedly ruled out illicit adventures like this. The movie is based on A.S. Byatt's novel, which presents a kaleidoscopic array of Victorian-style prose and poetry alongside lively accounts of modern-day literary sleuthing. LaBute's adaptation extracts the bare bones of her plot for purposes of bland Hollywood romance, filmed and acted with lots of glamour but precious little depth.

Staff ***1/2 Captivating, elegant, romantic.

Sex/Nudity: 6 instances innuendo. 2 sex scenes. No nudity. Violence: 2, including a fistfight and implied suicide. Nothing graphic. Profanity: 6 expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with alcohol.

Secret Ballot (G)

Director: Babak Payami. With Nassim Abdi, Cyrus Abidi, Youssef Habashi, Gholbahar Janghali. (105 min.)

Sterritt **** On a remote island in the Persian Gulf, a young woman combs the countryside for people to cast votes in the ballot box she carries with her, accompanied by a grumpy soldier who – like many folks – knows this is all very important but isn't quite certain what elections are for. Payami's gentle comedy captures a subtle range of human feelings through a quietly inventive visual style that embodies the best life-affirming tendencies of modern Iranian film. In Farsi with English subtitles.

Simone (PG-13)

Director: Andrew Niccol. With Al Pacino, Catherine Keener, Winona Ryder, Evan Rachel Wood. (117 min.)

Sterritt * A has-been director tries to restart his career by creating a computer-generated cyberstar and passing her off as an elusive flesh-and-blood actress. This might have been a savvy satire on today's celebrity-struck media culture, but Niccol unfolds the story at a lumbering pace, peppered with not-funny gags and dramatic scenes that build little emotional power. The deliberately bogus sets of "The Truman Show," which Niccol wrote, look like cinéma-vérité next to the ersatz Hollywood he's cooked up here. In all, it's a sadly missed opportunity.

Staff *** Inventive but falls short of potential, witty, predictable, shallow in parts.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 4 instances, nothing severe. Profanity: 2 mild expressions. Drugs: 13 scenes of drinking or smoking.

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (PG)

Director: Robert Rodriguez. With Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara. (100 min.)

Staff *** Rodriguez crafts an imaginative sequel for kids that reflects his own creative urge to play. There are enough nifty gadgets to make 007 drool, like RALPH, a bug robot that can tie a bow tie and crawl into secret meetings. The story picks up with the Cortez family as part of a global spy organization. Amid stiff competition and sibling bickering, a vital mission arises: to find a device that may destroy the world. The trail leads to an island filled with hybrid animals. At times this colorful adventure causes sensory overload. But it teaches valuable lessons, like the importance of family and integrity. By Stephanie Cook

Staff ***1/2Refreshingly childlike, strong sequel.

Sex/Nudity: None. Profanity: 1 mild expression. Violence: 8 scenes with mostly mild violence. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol.

Undisputed (R)

Director: Walter Hill. With Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames, Peter Falk. (96 min.)

Staff **1/2 George "Iceman" Chambers (Rhames), the world's undisputed heavyweight boxing champion, goes to prison for a rape he denies, but is mean enough to have committed. There he encounters Monroe Hutchens (Snipes), an introspective lifer, undefeated in the prison system's fight program. It's inevitable that the two will meet in the ring, especially with an aging mobster and oddsmaker (Falk) pulling strings inside and outside to bring it about. Director Hill's spare, macho style manages to avoid clichés and to keep things moving enough that you don't think too much about plausibility. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 5 instances, mostly innuendo; some nudity. Violence: 16 instances violence, including fight scenes. Profanity: 70 strong expressions. Drugs: At least 2 instances smoking.

XXX (PG-13)

Director: Rob Cohen. With Vin Diesel, Asia Argento, Samuel L. Jackson. (120 min.)

Sterritt * Extreme sports meet cold-war politics as our hero gets recruited by the government to battle an anarchist gang in Eastern Europe. If your idea of star power is "buff to the max" with "attitude to spare," as the publicity puts it, then Diesel is your man. But do we really need a warmed-over James Bond adventure with 007 transformed into the movie-poster version of a village idiot?

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes. Violence: 18 scenes, including shootings. Profanity: 15 strong expressions. Drugs: 12 scenes with smoking, drinking, drugs.

OUT ON VIDEO
In stores sept. 10
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 daylong 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, 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.

The Count of Monte Cristo (PG-13)

Director: Kevin Reynolds. With Jim Caviezel, Richard Harris, Dagmara Dominczyk, Guy Pearce. (113 min.)

Sterritt *** Edmond Dantes is a French sailor who hits hard times when his best friend steals his girlfriend, a magistrate brands him as a courier for Napoleon, and he's thrown into prison. Things look up when he escapes, finds buried treasure, and sets about avenging himself on his treacherous enemies. The filmmakers focus more on personalities than on action and violence, but there's plenty of flashing steel. It's a nifty comeback for 19th-century novelist Alexandre Dumas.

Staff *** Clever, comic, beautiful scenery.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes implied sex. Violence: 14 scenes, mostly swordfighting. Profanity: 1 instance. Drugs: 15 scenes of drinking or smoking.

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