Director: George Clooney. With Sam Rockwell, Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Drew Barrymore. (113 min.)Skip to next paragraph
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Sterritt *** An apocryphal memoir by Chuck Barris inspired this partly true story, which blends his real experiences as TV producer and "Gong Show" host with his ersatz secret life as a CIA assassin. Clooney shows strong filmmaking imagination in his directorial debut, but the movie's driving force is Charlie Kaufman's screenplay, a genre-bending romp that blurs all boundaries between the factual and the fantastical. The picture would be better if it took a less jokey tone, though, allowing its style to be as surreal as its story.
Director: Burr Steers. With Kieran Culkin, Clare Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Susan Sarandon. (97 min.)
Sterritt ** Rebelling against his decadent upper-class family but still uncertain what direction he wants his life to take, a military-school dropout seeks romance and adventure with a motley crew of companions. Although this wannabe "Catcher in the Rye" has moments of effective social satire, it hammers home its tragicomic points too heavily for either its humorous or dramatic aspects to gather much emotional steam. (Reissue.)
Director: Spike Lee. With Edward Norton, Rosario Dawson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brian Cox. (134 min.)
Sterritt **** A young drug dealer tries to come to terms with his past on the day before he leaves for a seven-year prison term. The movie is flawed by implausible psychology and moments of weak acting. But it's more than redeemed by Lee's passionate ideas about America today, which he sees as plagued by evils of violence and materialism, yet unbounded in its possibilities. He's a unique filmmaker, and this uneven drama is truly one of a kind.
Director: Alexander Payne. With Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates. (125 min.)
Sterritt *** After his wife's unexpected death, a retired man rethinks his future and reevaluates his past while traveling across the Midwest to his daughter's wedding. Nicholson's acting is awesome, and Payne and cowriter Jim Taylor haven't lost their ear for the empty aphorisms of middle-class speech.
Staff *** Jack truly is back, bittersweet, touching.
Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of partial nudity. Violence: 1 instance of a brief tussle. Profanity: 12 expressions, sometimes harsh. Drugs: 8 scenes with drinking; 1 with prescription drugs.
Director: Spike Jonze. With Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox. (114 min.)
Sterritt *** A fictional doppelgänger of real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman struggles to write the screenplay of this film, dogged by the success of his (totally fictional) twin brother and spurred by his bashful admiration for the journalist who wrote the nonfiction book he's trying to adapt. The film is less confusing than it sounds, and it's great mazelike fun until it bogs down in familiar chase-picture conventions near the end.
Staff *** Original, clever, disappointing third act.
Sex/Nudity: 9 scenes with sex or sexual activity, including partial male and female nudity. Violence: 2 car crashes, gator attack, and gunshots. Profanity: 30 instances of harsh profanity. Drugs: 8 instances of smoking; 11 with alcohol.