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Director: Todd Haynes. With Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert. (107 min.)

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Sterritt **** The time is the 1950s, and the heroine is a well-to-do housewife struggling to understand her feelings and find a pathway back to happiness after her husband realizes he's gay and her friendship with a black gardener causes vicious gossip among her friends. Haynes works cinematic and emotional miracles in this near-remake of Douglas Sirk's masterpiece "All That Heaven Allows," reviving conventions of '50s melodrama that have gone out of fashion but haven't lost their ability to touch moviegoers' minds and hearts.

Staff *** Nuanced, inspired, wrenching, uneven.

Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes, including domestic abuse. Profanity: 1 harsh expression. Drugs: 18 scenes drinking, smoking.

Frida (R)

Director: Julie Taymor. With Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd. (120 min.)

Sterritt * The legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo had a colorful life - great achievements in painting; a turbulent marriage with fabled muralist Diego Rivera; even a close relationship with Leon Trotsky, the communist leader. This biopic gets the facts on screen, but that's about it. Perhaps intimidated by the strength of Kahlo's own artistic personality, Taymor shows isolated flashes of the storytelling inventiveness she brought to "Titus." Hayek doesn't have the acting skills such a multifaceted character calls for.

Staff **1/2 Imaginative, colorful, passionate.

Sex/Nudity: 18 scenes innuendo, implied sex. Violence: 8 scenes, including brawls. Profanity: 12 expressions. Drugs: 29 scenes of smoking, drinking. 2 scenes morphine abuse.

Half Past Dead (PG-13)

Director: Don Michael Paul. With Morris Chestnut, Steven Seagal, Nia Peeples.

Staff * The action genre reaches new levels of unintentional self-parody in Stephen Seagal's latest film. He plays Sasha Petrosevich, an undercover Fed who is almost killed when his partner in crime blows a fuse. All patched up, he's sent to the newly renovated and even tougher Alcatraz to keep on the case. But things go horribly awry when ninjas invade, looking for gold. Yes, you read right. This is a mess from start to finish - a noisy patchwork of explosions, clich├ęs, more explosions, and a plot assembled from everything that was cut from Segal's last six movies. By Alex Kaloostian

Sex/Nudity: A few instances innuendo. Violence: 21 intense scenes. Profanity: 17 expressions. Drugs: 8 scenes of drinking and smoking.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (PG)

Director: Chris Columbus. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, Robbie Coltrane. (160 min.)

Sterritt ** Harry returns for his second year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where an unseen enemy is casting an evil spell on students, leading some to think Harry himself may be the culprit. The movie hews closely to J.K. Rowling's novel, decking it out with lavish settings, costumes, and effects. These are impressive in an ostentatious way, but their cumulative impact has a lumbering spirit quite different from that of Rowling's easy-going prose. If the essence of magic is its make-believe promise of life that soars above the material realm, this overproduced yarn is an unmagical movie.

Staff ***1/2 Magical, scary, better than first film

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 12 scenes, mostly "magical" violence. Some kicking, shoving, and scary images. Profanity: 2 expressions. Drugs: None.

I Spy (PG-13)

Director: Betty Thomas. With Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson, Famke Janssen, Gary Cole. (96 min.)

Staff *1/2 Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson are both masters of comic patter, and pairing them in a buddy film does result in some entertaining comic riffs. But everything else here is strictly spy by the numbers. Secret agent Alexander Scott (Wilson) must stop a stolen US super "stealth" airplane from being sold to evildoers. Boxing champion Kelly Robinson (Murphy) is recruited to help him. But can these two bickering teammates blend as buddies, stop the villain, and save the world? "I Spy" grabs its title, but little else, from the '60s TV show, which emphasized cool, witty repartee. Murphy and Wilson are more inspired by the "Dumb and Dumber" school of comedy. There are chuckles, but far too few. By Gregory M. Lamb

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