Director: Spike Jonze. With Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox. (114 min.)
Sterritt *** See review.
Director: Harold Ramis. With Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Viterelli. (94 min.)
Sterritt * See review.
Director: Samira Makhmalbaf. With Said Mohamadi, Gahman Ghobadi. (85 min.)
Sterritt **** Two teachers, seeking students in the mountains along the border between Iran and Iraq, find new uses for the blackboards they've been toting when a military attack separates them from their colleagues and puts them into close contact with hard realities of existence in the region. Makhmalbaf continues her rise as Iran's most promising young female filmmaker, and Iranian cinema extends its reign as one of the world's most exciting cultural phenomena. In Kurdish with English subtitles.
Director: Christophe de Ponfilly. With Ahmed Shah Massoud, Christophe de Ponfilly. (90 min.)
Sterritt **** This documentary about an Afghan resistance leader who struggled against the Taliban despite crushing odds led de Ponfilly to look more deeply at his own fascination with brutal warfare in far-flung places. The movie doesn't reach any deep insights, but its mixture of psychology, philosophy, and realpolitik is downright riveting. In French and Pashtu with English subtitles.
Director: Seth Kearsley. With (voices) Adam Sandler, Jackie Titone, Jon Lovitz, Tyra Banks. (86 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. Staff ** **** **• • **
Sex/Nudity: 7 instances innuendo. Violence: 7 scenes of cartoonish, dark violence. Profanity: 12 harsh expressions. Drugs: At least 7 scenes of drinking.
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 present day. Egoyan is one of Canada's most ambitious filmmakers, but the power of this intricate drama falls short, despite his personal investment in the subject, since he is of Armenian ancestry himself.
Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of nudity and sex. Violence: Violence includes rape and torture. Profanity: 5 harsh expressions.
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 fast escapes, jaunty wisecracks, and amorous escapades. Tamahori both humanizes the hero and surrounds him with so many 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 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. Violence: 18 scenes of extended violence, including explosions and shootings. Profanity: 1 harsh expression. Drugs: 11 scenes of drinking, smoking; several bar scenes.
Director: Michael Hoffman. With Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch. (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 is in touch with today's pressing realities.
Staff **1/2 Inspiring, moralistic, well acted.
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 8 expressions. Drugs: 1 scene of smoking. 4 scenes of 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 filmmaking, 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.
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: Rebecca Miller. With Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, Fairuza Balk, Leo Fitzpatrick. (85 min.)
Sterritt **** This movie looks at 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.
Director: Phillip 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: 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 Christmas Eve. 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, heartwarming, romantic.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 5 scenes cartoonish violence. Profanity: 1 mild expression. Drugs: 2 mild scenes with alcohol.
Director: Steven Soderbergh. With George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis. (99 min.)
Sterritt *** Astronauts on a space station investigate a mysterious planet that's really a living entity capable of haunting the Earthlings with strange visitors, replicas of people they had troubled relationships with in their earlier lives. The story comes from Stanislaw Lem's brilliant novel, and Soderbergh's style is strongly influenced by Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky's classic 1972 version. The audience for this slow, dreamlike epic isn't Clooney fans or adventure buffs, but viewers who enjoy thinking about compelling questions of past and present, reality and unreality, life and death - with no easy answers.
Staff *** Contemplative, brooding, smart, dark.
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes implied sex, partial nudity. Violence: 5 scenes of violence, including suicide. Profanity: 5 expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes of 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 drinking, 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 its heart, though. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker. With (voices) Emma Thompson, Martin Short. (95 min.)
Staff **1/2 Disney's latest animated film launches Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" into outer space. Jim is a rebellious teen who yearns to explore the galaxy. So when a stranger hands him a holographic map with the location of a pirate's fortune, he and a crew of "spacers" set off solar sailing to find it. Emma Thompson's voice is put to excellent use as the modern, feminine Captain Amelia, but the most valuable gem in this film is the combination of handrawn and computer-generated animation. Overall, this is a worthwhile family movie, but don't expect it to be priceless. By Stephanie Cook Broadhurst
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 12 scenes of cartoon violence. Profanity: None. Drugs: 1 scene with smoking.
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.
Staff ***1/2 Touching, nuanced, well-paced.
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of implied sex. Violence: 3 mild scenes. Drugs: 9 scenes with alcohol. 2 scenes of smoking.