Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
Auto Focus (R)

Director: Paul Schrader. With Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson, Ron Leibman. (107 min.)

Sterritt *** See review, page 15.

Fidel (Not rated)

Director: Estela Bravo. With Fidel Castro, Alice Walker, Sydney Pollack, Harry Belafonte. (91 min.)

Recommended: Default

Sterritt *** In place of the cold-war biases that have affected most American treatments of Castro's career, this well-produced documentary offers a sympathetic view of the Cuban leader's aims and ambitions. If anything, Bravo works too hard at extolling Castro, treating some of the issues – such as the case of Cuban boy Elian Gonzales – with sketchy, imprecise strokes that weaken her overall argument. The film's historical footage is compelling, though, and provides plenty to think about.

The Ring (PG-13)

Director: Gore Verbinski. With Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox, David Dorfman. (109 min.)

Staff ***1/2Rachel, a no-compromise reporter for a Seattle paper, is asked to investigate the strange deaths of four teens, all seven days after watching a haunted video tape. Urban legend, or deadly curse? Rachel must watch and find out. But soon, her own family is in danger. Will she solve the mystery in time, or will haunting visions from the tape overcome her? The film is one of the most intelligent and genuinely scary ghost stories to come around in a long time. The acting is adequate, and Verbinski directs with a Hitchcock confidence and menace, filling his compositions with subtle nuances and homages to horror classics. By Alex Kaloostian

Solaris (Not rated)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky. With Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Nikolai Grinko. (165 min.)

Sterritt **** Based on Stanislaw Lem's brilliant novel, this towering 1972 allegory takes place mostly on a space station near a mysterious planet that may be a living, thinking entity capable of sending phantoms from the past into its visitors' minds. Some of the uncanny power surging through this visionary epic comes from changes Tarkovsky made to divert the attention of Soviet censors. The triumph was all his – along with his astonishing "Stalker," this stands with the greatest science-fiction movies ever made.

Stealing the Fire (Not rated)

Directors: John S. Friedman, Eric Nadler. With Karl-Heinz Schaab, Carl von Weizsacker, A.Q. Khan. (95 min.)

Sterritt *** This lucid documentary digs into Schaab's activities as a spy who provided a key German connection for Iraq's nuclear-weapons program, tracing a history of greed and deceit back to the 1930s. The film is timely, chilling, and grimly instructive. In English and German with English subtitles.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
Bowling for Columbine (R)

Director: Michael Moore. With Moore, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson. (120 min.)

Sterritt *** Contemporary film's most freewheeling documentary-maker turns his sights on the longtime American love affair with guns, including a living-room confrontation with National Rifle Association leader Heston and a discussion with goth-rocker Manson that's amazingly articulate. Moore turns the camera on himself too often for comfort, but he provides an eye-opening array of revelations.

Brown Sugar (PG-13)

Director: Rick Famuyiwa. With Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Mos Def, Nicole Ari Parker, Queen Latifah.

Staff ** She's an editor at a music magazine. He's a record-company executive. Dre and Sidney have been friends since childhood. They share a love of hip-hop and know every detail about each other's lives, but they have never been romantically involved. Dre ends up getting married and Sidney gets engaged, but did they make a mistake? It gets tiresome when Sidney uses hip-hop as an endless metaphor for her love for Dre. The movie has some funny moments, but it ultimately never crystallizes. By Lisa Parney Connors

Sex/Nudity: 6 instances, including implied sex and innuendo. Violence: 1 boxing scene. Profanity: 13 strong expressions. Drugs: 11 scenes drinking, smoking.

Heaven (R)

Director: Tom Tykwer. With Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Remo Girone, Stefania Rocca. (96 min.)

Sterritt *** Blanchett plays a British teacher who turns vigilante after her Italian husband dies in a drug- related crime scheme. She ends up running from the law, accompanied by an Italian police officer (Ribisi) who sympathizes with her plight. Tykwer doesn't aim for the heights of excitement and invention he reached in "Run Lola Run," but he blends an impressively varied palette of moods into an intriguingly unpredictable story that's never short of ideas. The late Krzysztof Kieslowski, one of Europe's great modern filmmakers, wrote the morally centered screenplay.

Knockaround Guys (R)

Directors: David Levien, Brian Koppelman. With John Malkovich, Dennis Hopper, Vin Diesel. (92 min.)

Sterritt * A group of young Brooklyn thugs invade a small Montana town to retrieve a satchel of illicit cash they've lost there, coming to blows with various locals including a sheriff who's as corrupt as they are. The story is a string of sub-Scorsese clichés, and if engaging actors like Malkovich and Hopper seem to be sleepwalking through their roles, imagine how unwatchable Diesel manages to be.

Moonlight Mile (PG-13)

Director: Brad Silberling. With Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Holly Hunter. (112 min.)

Sterritt * After his fiancée is tragically killed, a young man moves into her parents' home, where he gets caught between the conflicting goals of pleasing needy friends or being true to his own desires. This fuzzy-minded drama fails to build much emotional power, and its '70s time period is evoked so wanly you'll hardly recognize it. What's a superstar like Hoffman doing in a meandering soap opera like this?

Staff *** Hopeful, well paced, detailed, poignant.

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances, mostly innuendo. 1 implied sex scene. Violence: 1 discussion of murder. Profanity: 67, with some strong expressions. Drugs: 14 scenes drinking and smoking.

Punch-Drunk Love (R)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. With Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman. (95 min.)

Sterritt *** A small-time businessman copes with a nagging family, eludes a predatory con artist, woos a woman who's as kooky as he is, and wonders how he can attain a happy life when he knows he's nerdy and whiney to his bones. Anderson's filmmaking is quirky and original, but his biggest creative coup is drawing on submerged aspects of Sandler's usual screen persona – a wounded insecurity, a sense of repression that's almost violent in its emotional effects – to give the comedy an edgy undertone that's truly one of a kind.

Red Dragon (R)

Director: Brett Ratner. With Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson. (125 min.)

Sterritt *** Hopkins makes his third appearance as Hannibal Lecter, psychiatrist and cannibal, joined by Norton and Keitel as FBI agents tracking down a new serial killer (Fiennes) with Lecter's grudging help. The story is a rehash of "The Silence of the Lambs" featuring Norton in the Jodie Foster role, with solid acting and hardly a special effect in sight. The violence level is a lot lower than in "Hannibal," but don't expect a gentle ride.

Staff **1/2Good thriller, better than "Hannibal," disturbing.

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes with nudity, including full male nudity. 1 scene implied sex. Violence: 14 scenes, including stabbings, shootings, and slides of victims. Profanity: 26 expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with drinking; 2 scenes smoking.

The Rules of Attraction (R)

Director: Roger Avary. With James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Faye Dunaway. (110 min.)

Sterritt * Sex and love meet fear and loathing on a college campus in this hyperactive adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's novel. Most of the characters are one-dimensional, and Avary's over-the-top directing doesn't make them interesting for more than a few isolated moments. At least the cast includes someone for every possible taste.

Skins (R)

Director: Chris Eyre. With Graham Greene, Eric Schweig, Gary Farmer. (86 min.)

Sterritt ** Outraged by social problems that plague the South Dakota reservation where he lives, a native American sheriff turns to vigilante violence, with results that boomerang on his own conscience and well-being. The story gets off to a slow start after its riveting documentary-style introduction, but heartfelt acting and unexpected plot twists eventually give it solid dramatic impact.

Staff ***1/2 Eye-opening, daring, good character development, insightful.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene implied adultery. Violence: 12 scenes, including close-up of beaten murder victim. Profanity: 58 harsh expressions. Drugs: 15 instances smoking, drinking.

Sweet Home Alabama (PG-13)

Director: Andy Tennant. With Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey, Fred Ward. (102 min.)

Sterritt ** A young New York fashion designer visits her Southern hometown to divorce her husband, sparking bittersweet reunions and a chance to rediscover her roots. This glossy romantic comedy doesn't have a speck of authentic heart or soul – you can bet its Hollywood creators wouldn't move to Alabama if their lives depended on it – but it provides a colorful setting for Witherspoon's charm.

Staff *** Funny, light-hearted, dreamy.

Sex/Nudity: Some innuendo. Violence: 2 mild scenes. Drugs: 7 scenes with alcohol.

Swept Away (R)

Director: Guy Ritchie. With Madonna, Adriano Giannini, Jeanne Tripplehorn, John Turturro. (92 min.)

Sterritt * A working-class fisherman is stranded on a deserted island with the rich, obnoxious women he works for, and both succumb to their worst instincts before inevitably falling in love. Giannini makes a promising English-language acting debut. Madonna gives the most monotonous, unimaginative, all-around tiresome performance of her career. The material girl is running out of material!

The Transporter (PG-13)

Director: Corey Yuen. With Jason Statham, Qi Shu, Matt Schulze, François Berléand. (92 min.)

Staff * For those who get their kicks from watching karate kicks, meet Jason Statham, Britain's bald-headed answer to Vin Diesel. In this film, Statham's black BMW is a car-for-hire in Southern France – be it for carrying contraband or providing robbery getaway. One day, he discovers that the "package" he's due to deliver is a Chinese woman who knows too much about a global slavery ring. And that's the whole plot. The two first flee from the bad guys, then return to beat them up – preferably 15 thugs at a time. The choreography and editing are sensational – did you know that a T-shirt could be turned into an effective weapon? – but the nonstop action soon numbs. The story is little more than a karate contest. By Stephen Humphries

Tuck Everlasting (PG)

Director: Jay Russell. With Alexis Bledel, William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Ben Kingsley, Amy Irving. (90 min.)

Sterritt *** A teen girl is abducted by a backwoods family that fears she's discovered a closely guarded treasure – the secret of human immortality, available to anyone who drinks from a spring that flows near their home. Meanwhile, she's sought by her worried parents and an enigmatic stranger. The story is engrossing after a slow start. Kingsley is perfect as the menacing outsider.

Staff **1/2 Dark, good cast, predictable, semi-shallow.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 10 scenes, including kidnapping. Profanity: None. Drugs: 1 bar scene.

Welcome to Collinwood (R)

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. With William H. Macy, George Clooney, Jennifer Esposito. (96 min.)

Sterritt *** Small-time crooks decide to pull off a big-time heist in their Cleveland neighborhood, with predictably chaotic results. Inspired by Mario Monicelli's internationally 1958 comedy "Big Deal on Madonna Street," which it mimics in numerous details, the farce is energetically written, breezily acted, and never quite as dumb as the lunkheads it's about.

White Oleander (PG-13)

Director: Peter Kosminsky. With Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Renée Zellweger, Robin Wright-Penn. (110 min.)

Sterritt ** A 15-year-old shuttles through a series of foster homes after her strong-willed mother is imprisoned for killing her abusive boyfriend. She stays under her mom's sway during their jailhouse visits but eventually realizes she has to chart her own course in life. The acting is heartfelt and Kosminsky directs with quiet assurance. The story is too schematic, though, watching the heroine take on the coloration of each new environment as if she had almost no mind at all, not the unformed but promising mind of a smart, creative youngster.

Staff *** Probing, great cast, crisp, moving.

Sex/Nudity: 8 instances, including implied sex and innuendo. Violence: 11 scenes, including statutory rape, shootings. Profanity: 4 strong expressions. Drugs: 13 scenes of smoking and drinking.

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