Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (R)

Director: George Clooney. With Sam Rockwell, Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Drew Barrymore. (113 min.)

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.

Igby Goes Down (R)

Director: Burr Steers. With Kieran Culkin, Clare Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Susan Sarandon. (97 min.)

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

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.)

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
25th Hour (R)

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.

About Schmidt (R)

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.

Adaptation (R)

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.

Antwone Fisher (PG-13)

Director: Denzel Washington. With Derek Luke, Joy Bryant, Washington. (117 min.)

Sterritt ** This is a fact-based drama about a Navy psychiatrist (Washington) who treats a violence-prone sailor (Luke) by encouraging him to probe the abusive childhood that he has long repressed. Although it's touching and sincere, Washington's directorial debut is weakened by a too-slow pace and a story that offers few real surprises.

Catch Me If You Can (PG-13)

Director: Steven Spielberg. With Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nathalie Baye, Christopher Walken. (140 min.)

Sterritt *** The mostly true story of a master impostor (DiCaprio) who passes himself off as everything from a Pan Am copilot to a Harvard-trained physician, cashing bad checks along the way - to the consternation of an FBI agent (Hanks) who spends years tracking him down. Spielberg's directing is less tricky than usual, but he doesn't have much talent for psychological suspense, which is the heart of the story. DiCaprio underplays nicely and Walken is superb as the con artist's downtrodden dad.

Staff *** DiCaprio shines, zip and verve, stylish.

Chicago (PG-13)

Director: Rob Marshall. With Renée Zellweger, Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah. (113 min.)

Sterritt ** Two women of the Roaring '20s land on death row after killing men who've wronged them, and their friendship turns to rivalry when they go after the same money-minded lawyer to defend them. The music is irresistible, and who would have guessed Zellweger, Zeta-Jones, and Gere could hoof and croon with the best of them?

Drumline (PG-13)

Director: Charles Stone III. With Nick Cannon, Orlando Jones, Zoe Saldana. (118 min.)

Staff *** Hotshot drumming earns a young African-American a full scholarship to a Southern college, but he must learn humility and teamwork if he's to succeed in music and life. What drives this feel-good film is not the plot, but the drumming performances. It's mostly good, clean fun. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 1 minor fight scene. Profanity: 37 expressions. Drugs: None.

Gangs of New York (R)

Director: Martin Scorsese. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, John C. Reilly. (155 min.)

Sterritt *** Scorsese depicts the physical and psychological mayhem that poisoned relations between European immigrants and American bigots in New York City during the Civil War era. The film offers a wide-ranging portrait of this bitter period, showing how the evils of ethnic bigotry, political corruption, and blind personal ambition helped shape the foundations of American society. The movie is strong in sound and fury, weak in nuance and insight.

Staff *** Stunning sets; Daniel Day-Lewis plays scariest big-screen villain since Hannibal Lecter; starts strong but loses its way.

Sex/Nudity: 11 scenes, including partial nudity and a scene in a brothel. Violence: 36 instances of graphic violence of punches, beatings, and battle scenes. Profanity: 4 mild expressions. Drugs: 35 scenes with smoking and/or drinking; 1 scene with opium.

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 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 film hews closely to J.K. Rowling's novel, decking it out with lavish settings and effects. These are impressive in an ostentatious way, but their cumulative impact has a lumbering spirit different from that of Rowling's easygoing prose.

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

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

The Hours (PG-13)

Director: Stephen Daldry. With Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, Ed Harris. (120 min.)

Sterritt **** Superb adaptation of Michael Cunningham's novel about three women - author Virginia Woolf, a 1949 housewife, and a liberated woman of today - facing emotional crises. David Hare's screenplay ingeniously translates the time-jumping story into cinematic terms, and Daldry's directing subtly orchestrates the motifs (kisses, parties, partings) that link the episodes into a smoothly flowing whole.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (PG-13)

Director: Peter Jackson. With Elijah Wood, Liv Tyler, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee. (179 min.)

Sterritt ** Frodo and Sam head for the dark land of Mordor to destroy the ring of power before evil Sauron can use it to enslave Middle Earth forever. The second installment in Jackson's trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien's marvelous novels is more effective than "The Fellowship of the Ring" because it isn't weighed down with plodding exposition. Its greatest asset is Gollum, almost as creepy on the screen as he was in Tolkien's pages.

Staff *** Visually stunning, action-packed.

Sex/Nudity: None. Profanity: None. Violence: Relentless graphic violence including hacked limbs, submerged corpses, and impaled heads. Drugs: 2 scenes with a pipe.

Maid in Manhattan (PG-13)

Director: Wayne Wang. With Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes, Stanley Tucci, Bob Hoskins. (105 min.)

Sterritt ** Lopez plays a single mom who cleans hotel rooms while dreaming of a better life, and Fiennes plays the handsome politico who sweeps her into his arms. The stars of this toned-down "Pretty Woman" clone don't exude much romantic chemistry, but Wang moves the action along smoothly and has the good sense to make Manhattan itself one of the most prominent attractions.

Staff **1/2 Breezy, fun, touching.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex; innuendo. Profanity: 12 expressions. Violence: 1 mild scene. Drugs: 1 scene with smoking; 2 with drinking.

Nicholas Nickleby (PG)

Director: Douglas McGrath. With Charlie Hunnam, Anne Hathaway, Jim Broadbent. (133 min)

Sterritt *** Large-scale adaptation of Charles Dickens's novel about a young man who encounters a motley list of friends and foes while trying to rescue his family from poverty. Some portions of the film are a Dickensian delight, especially when Broadbent's slimy Squeers and Tom Courtenay's good-natured Noggs are on the screen. But Hunnam isn't up to the title role. It's uneven, but Dickens admirers shouldn't miss it.

The Pianist (R)

Director: Roman Polanski. With Adrien Brody, Maureen Lipman, Frank Finlay, Emilia Fox. (148 min)

Sterritt *** Fact-based drama about the experiences of concert pianist Wladislaw Szpilman in Warsaw, where he survived in hiding as Nazis occupied the city after Germany's defeat of Poland in 1939. Polanski has personal links with Polish suffering in the Nazi era, and his movie has a sense of emotional urgency and deep-dwelling grief.

Russian Ark (Not rated)

Director: Alexander Sokurov. With Sergey Dreiden, Maria Kuznetsova, Leonid Mozgovoy. (96 min.)

Sterritt **** A somewhat bewildered time traveler and a cynical 19th-century aristocrat ponder the vicissitudes of Russian and European history as they wander the corridors and galleries of a monumental Russian palace, witnessing large and small scenes from the country's turbulent past. Filmed in a single 90-minute-plus shot that makes cinema history all by itself, this sumptuous masterpiece is an unforgettable treat for the eyes, ears, and mind. In Russian with English subtitles.

Star Trek: Nemesis (PG-13)

Director: Stuart Baird. With Patrick Stewart, Tom Hardy, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton. (116 min.)

Staff *1/2 The crew from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" pilot the 10th Star Trek movie to the screen. But the warp drive is offline, and this alleged adventure never picks up much speed. Captain Picard must face an evil younger version of himself, with Earth and the Federation at stake. But the lack of fresh ideas leave viewers with something closer to Star dreck. By Gregory M. Lamb

Staff **1/2 Slow trek, tense, time to retire the fleet.

Sex/Nudity: 1 implied sex scene. Violence: 11 scenes, including combat and impalement. Profanity: 2 expressions. Drugs: 2 drinking scenes.

Two Weeks Notice (PG-13)

Director: Marc Lawrence. With Sandra Bullock, Hugh Grant, Dorian Missick, Katheryn Winnick. (100 min)

Sterritt *** She's an idealistic lawyer, he's the devil-may-care businessman who hires her, and you know love sparks will fly before the final credits roll. Bullock is cute. Grant is even cuter. They have the timing and panache of a first-rate comedy team. They should make a million movies together.

Staff ** Cute, a bit contrived, worth a matinee.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: None. Drugs: 8 scenes with alcohol.

The Wild Thornberrys Movie (PG)

Directors: Cathy Malkasian, Jeff McGrath. With (voices) Ian Abercrombie, Brenda Blethyn. (79 min.)

Sterritt **** Eliza can talk with animals, which is handy in the African wild, where she lives with her eccentric parents, a chimpanzee named Darwin, and a self-absorbed sister. It's less handy when she's sent to a British boarding school where neither she nor Darwin fits in, and worse yet, poachers are threatening her elephant friends back home. Lively characters, snappy dialogue, and snazzy visuals make this an uncommonly fine animation.

Staff *** Most intrepid family this side of the Swiss Family Robinsons, charming, spunky.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 6 scenes, mostly with the poachers. Profanity: None. Drugs: None.

COMING TO VIDEO JAN. 7
Signs (PG-13)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan. With Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin. (106 min.)

Sterritt * A clergyman who's lost his faith regains it while undergoing an attack by aliens. The film raises important issues of religion and the meaning of life, but when it promises to get thoughtful, Shyamalan douses it with family-values clichés, tepid space-monster suspense, and humor that's never funny. Think "Roswell" meets "Father Knows Best."

Staff *** Scary, clichéd, pseudo-philosophical.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 4 violent scenes. Profanity: 11 mild expressions. Drugs: None.

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