Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
Better Housekeeping! (R)

Director: Frank Novak. With Bob Jay Mills, Petra Westen. (90 min.)

Sterritt ** The boisterous story of a feuding couple whose fights disrupt friends and family when the husband builds a "Berlin Wall" in the middle of their home. The movie was originally called "Good Housekeeping," but the magazine didn't want louts like these associated with its name. It's hard to argue with that, but you don't see such feisty acting very often.

Die Another Day (PG-13)

Director: Lee Tamahori. With Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, John Cleese, Judi Dench. (110 min.)

Recommended: Default

Sterritt ** See review.

The Emperor's Club (PG-13)

Director: Michael Hoffman. With Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsh, Harris Yulin, Ron Morrow. (115 min.)

Sterritt ** An idealistic classics teacher sticks to his principles when less scrupulous folks around him let their moral values slide. Kline is excellent as the lovable hero, and the story makes valuable points about the importance of ethics in a society driven by money and prestige. But at a time when much public education is in a state of perilous decay, one wonders whether this sentimental ode to old-school dignity and privilege is in touch with today's pressing realities.

Personal Velocity (R)

Director: Rebecca Miller. With Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, Fairuza Balk, Leo Fitzpatrick. (85 min.)

Sterritt **** Three separate tales of troubled young women: one on the run from an abusive husband, one sorting through mixed emotions as her professional fortunes rise, and one a pregnant runaway with a horrific past. The episodes don't give as much insight into their subjects or characters as one would hope, but Miller shows terrific talent as a director with a sharp eye for images, a keen ear for dialogue, and a refreshing willingness to take storytelling risks.

The Quiet American (R)

Director: Philip Noyce. With Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen. (101 min.)

Sterritt **** See review.

'R Xmas (Not rated)

Director: Abel Ferrara. With Ice-T, Drea de Matteo, Lillo Brancato. (85 min.)

Sterritt ** Don't expect Christmas cheer in this melodrama about a crooked cop, a drug-dealing couple, and a kidnapping. The title refers to the commercialization of just about everything in modern society, and Ferrara brings touches of his ornery filmmaking imagination to bear on the pessimistic parable. It's not as memorable as his best pictures, though.

Talk to Her (R)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar. With Javier Cámara, Darío Grandinetti, Geraldine Chaplin. (116 min.)

Sterritt **** See review.

CURRENTLY in RElease
Ararat (R)

Director: Atom Egoyan. With David Alpay, Arsinée Khanjian, Christopher Plummer, Elias Koteas. (116 min.)

Sterritt ** A young man explains to a troubled customs official why a film he's making - about the horrific treatment of Armenians by Turks in the World War I era - has strong reverberations in his own Armenian-Canadian family; this sparks a densely structured series of flashbacks, film-within-a-film scenes, and episodes from the present day. Egoyan is one of Canada's most ambitious and original filmmakers, but the power of this intricate drama falls short of its aspirations, despite his personal investment in the subject, since he is of Armenian ancestry himself.

8 Mile (R)

Director: Curtis Hanson. With Eminem, Kim Basinger, Mekhi Phifer, Brittany Murphy. (111 min.)

Sterritt ** A rapper called Rabbit lives an unhappy life in a trailer with his amoral mom, spending his time with a racially mixed group of friends and learning to express his anger in rhythmic rhymes that win the big rap competition (surprise!) that climaxes the story. Eminem plays his movie-debut role with a sullen naiveté that's not very interesting, and Hanson's directing has little vigor apart from kinetic camerawork and very, very large amounts of yelling on the soundtrack.

Staff *** Gritty, compelling story, sympathetic.

Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes, fairly graphic. Some innuendo in rap songs. Violence: 9 scenes, including violent fights. Profanity: 240 harsh expressions. Drugs: 3 drinking scenes; 12 smoking scenes. 1 scene of drugs.

Far From Heaven (PG-13)

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

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, clichés, 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

Staff **1/2 Fun, slick, surprising.

Sex/Nudity: 4 instances innuendo. Violence: 19 scenes, including kidnapping. Profanity: 41 harsh expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes of drinking.

Interview With the Assassin (Not rated)

Director: Neil Burger. With Raymond J. Barry, Dylan Haggerty, Christel Khalil, Jack Tate. (88 min.)

Sterritt ** An unemployed newsman probes the story of an enigmatic neighbor who claims he wants to unveil his experiences as the second gunman in John F. Kennedy's assassination. This documentary-style fiction is no "JFK," but the story is weirdly compelling when it focuses on the journalist's growing paranoia as he plunges ever more deeply into a world of conspiracies that may or may not really exist.

Real Women Have Curves (PG-13)

Director: Patricia Cardoso. With America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros, Ingrid Oliu, Brian Sites. (93 min.)

Staff *** Ana (Ferrera) has just graduated from high school and earned a full scholarship to Columbia. The only problem is that her mother (Ontiveros) refuses to let her go, insisting Ana should work in her sister's sweat shop like she does. Moreover, she keeps nagging Ana about her weight, saying she'll never catch a husband until she slims down. Funny and touching, without resorting to stereotypes, "Real Women" paints a nuanced and down-to-earth portrait of one Latino family, and particularly of these two stubborn, feisty women who are more alike than they realize. It's clearly a low-budget film, and not all the actors are as strong as Ferrera and Ontiveros, but in the end, Patricia Cardoso has created a very compelling - and very real - coming-of-age tale. By Amanda Paulson

Staff *** Thoughtful, involving, triumphant

Sex/Nudity: 4 instances, mostly innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 2 strong expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with alcohol.

The Santa Clause 2 (G)

Director: Michael Lembeck. With Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson. (105 min.)

Sterritt ** Allen reprises his 1994 role as an ordinary guy who's taken over Santa's job. This time he has to marry a Mrs. Claus, get his misbehaving son off the "naughty" list, and save his workshop from a malfunctioning Santa robot, all before a Christmas Eve deadline rolls around. Allen does well with all three of his roles, ably helped by the Disney makeup department. The rest of the acting is bland, but the movie's preteen target audience won't mind, and adults will find occasional grown-up jokes to chuckle at.

Staff *** Funny, playful, heartwarming, romantic.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 5 scenes cartoonish violence, including snowball battles and skirmishes. Profanity: 1 mild expression. Drugs: 2 mild scenes with alcohol.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown (PG)

Director: Paul Justman. With The Funk Brothers, Chaka Kahn Joan Osborne, Ben Harper. (108 min.)

Sterritt **** The self-named Funk Brothers were enormously gifted studio musicians who accompanied a wide range of Motown stars, from Stevie Wonder to Smoky Robinson and the Miracles. They changed the course of pop music while receiving little of the acclaim or attention they deserved. Justman redresses this injustice in his rollicking documentary about them, which will have your toes tapping and your ears sizzling whether you're a die-hard Motown fan or not.

Staff ***1/2 Energetic, informative, celebratory, good mix of music and narrative.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 1 or 2 archival clips of violence against civil rights activists. Profanity: 3 harsh expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes of drinking; 4 scenes with smoking.

Out on video
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (G)

Directors: Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook. With voices of Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi. (84 min.)

Sterritt ** The adventures of a wild stallion who wants to stay wild, the young Indian who befriends him, and a mean-tempered cavalry captain who wants to break his will and hold him in captivity. The proudly traditional style of this kid-friendly animation seems rather tame in the age of "Shrek" and "Monsters, Inc.," but the action is mild enough for fairly young children, and grownups may enjoy its old-fashioned spirit.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 11 scenes of cartoonish violence; none graphic. Profanity: None. Drugs: 1 instance of cigar smoking.

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