Director: Seth Kearsley. With (voices) Adam Sandler, Jackie Titone, Jon Lovitz, Tyra Banks. (71 min.)
Staff ** Bitterness over losing both parents 20 years ago has turned Davey Stone into the town drunk. Yet as Hanukkah begins, Whitey, the basketball league's retiring referee, sees through the Grinch-like façade and hopes to make Davey his replacement. Sandler provides voices for the characters and co-wrote the screenplay and songs. This is hardly classic holiday material, as tasteless gags and language undermine the moments of warmth and comic brilliance. See it if you must, but leave the kids at home. By M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 7 instances innuendo. Violence: 7 scenes of cartoonish, dark violence. Profanity: 12 harsh expressions. Drugs: At least 7 scenes of drinking.
Director: Phillip Noyce. With Kenneth Branagh, David Gulpilil, Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury. (95 min.)
Sterritt ** See review.
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 4 scenes, including kidnapping. Profanity: None. Drugs: None.
Director: Steven Soderbergh. With George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis. (99 min.)
Sterritt *** See review.
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker. With (voices) Emma Thompson, Brian Murray, Martin Short. (95 min.)
Staff **1/2 See review.
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.
Director: Lee Tamahori. With Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, John Cleese, Judi Dench. (132 min.)
Sterritt ** The suave British agent starts his 20th screen adventure by falling into enemy hands and getting kicked out of Her Majesty's Secret Service. But don't fret - he's running true to form within a scene or two, wowing everyone with hairbreadth escapes, jaunty wisecracks, and amorous escapades. Tamahori both humanizes the hero and surrounds him with so many computer-enhanced visual effects that you might think you're watching a sci-fi fantasy rather than an espionage epic. Brosnan is in top form, though, making the 007 role more thoroughly his own than anyone since Sean Connery called it quits.
Staff **1/2 Predictable but entertaining, Berry is a tough match, action galore.
Sex/Nudity: 13 instances of innuendo or implied sex. Profanity: 1 harsh expression. Drugs: 11 scenes of drinking and smoking; several bar scenes.
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. 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.
Director: Carlos Carrera. Gael García Bernal, Ana Claudia Talancón, Damían Alcázar. (120 min.)
Sterritt **** A young Roman Catholic priest takes a position in a rural Mexican church and gets caught in a tangled web of temptations involving an older priest with ties to organized crime, a local drug kingpin, an idealistic cleric who believes the church must engage in active struggle on behalf of oppressed people, and a woman he falls in love with despite his vow of chastity. Great acting, intelligent screenwriting, and dynamic filmmaking give this Mexican production an emotional and intellectual charge. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Director: Michael Hoffman. With Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch, Harris Yulin, Ron Morrow. (115 min.)
Sterritt ** An idealistic classics teacher sticks to his principles when less scrupulous folks 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 public education is in a state of decay, one wonders whether this sentimental ode to old-school dignity and privilege is in touch with today's pressing realities.
Staff **1/2 Inspiring, moralistic, well acted.
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes with innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 8 expressions. Drugs: 1 scene of smoking. 4 scenes with drinking.
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.
Director: Marcus Raboy. With Ice Cube, Mike Epps, John Witherspoon, Don 'D.C.' Curry. (93 min.)
Staff * 'Tis the night before Christmas Eve, and the only creature stirring is the Santa Claus burglar, breaking into Craig and Day-Day's ghetto apartment, and stealing presents and rent money. If Craig (Ice Cube) can keep his cousin Day-Day (Epps) in line on their new job as security guards, maybe they'll be able to pay the rent and not have to face the landlady's bodybuilding son. The frantic hip-hop pace and realistic setting of this third "Friday" movie will help viewers overlook old jokes and sloppy fillmmaking, but beware of the drugs and dirty language. By M.K. Terrell
Staff ** Vulgar, cheesy, vacuous.
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes implied sex or nudity. 14 instances of innuendo. Violence: 10 fight scenes, some gory. Attempted rape. Profanity: 150 harsh expressions. Drugs: At least 12 scenes of drinking, smoking, and drug use.
Director: Chris Columbus. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, Robbie Coltrane. (160 min.)
Sterritt ** Harry returns for his second school year at Hogwarts, where an unseen enemy is casting an evil spell on students, leading some to think Harry 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 "magical" violence. Some kicking, shoving, and scary images. Profanity: 2 expressions. Drugs: None.
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 more deeply into a world of conspiracies.
Director: Philip Noyce. With Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen. (101 min.)
Sterritt **** Caine plays a jaded British journalist covering the French Indochina war in the early '50s. Fraser plays a young American who claims to be on a charity mission but is really scheming to help a renegade Vietnamese general gain control. Based on Graham Greene's richly intelligent 1955 novel, this thoughtful drama deals with a host of timely issues including terrorism, international strife, and the use and abuse of American power. Caine and Fraser are superb.
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, 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, 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 of alcohol.
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. Profanity: 1 mild expression. Drugs: 2 mild scenes with alcohol.
Director: Paul Justman. With The Funk Brothers, Chaka Kahn Joan Osborne. (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 Motown fan or not.
Staff ***1/2 Energetic, informative, celebratory.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 2 archival clips of violence against civil rights activists. Profanity: 3 expressions. Drugs: 7 scenes of drinkingand smoking.
Director: Pedro Almodóvar. With Javier Cámara, Darío Grandinetti, Geraldine Chaplin. (116 min.)
Sterritt **** The main characters are two very different men caring for women in long-term comas, and the message is that the power of love and compassion must never be underestimated, even when the recipients seem oblivious. The intricate story is challenging to follow and sometimes perverse in its content, including a surreal sex fantasy that many viewers may find too weirdly explicit for comfort. There's no mistaking the rays of optimism shining at the movie's heart, though. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Director: Hilary Birmingham. With Anson Mount, Julianne Nicholson, Bob Burrus, Glenn Fitzgerald. (102 min.)
Sterritt **** This is a quietly told drama of two young men, their troubled father, and their efforts to carve out a satisfying life on their modest farm as financial and emotional problems loom. Such understated storytelling, sensitive directing, and avoidance of easy filmmaking tricks are all too rare in American movies. This is truly one from the heart.