Director: Achero Mañas. With Juan José Ballesta, Pablo Galán, Alberto Jiménez, Manuel Morón. (88 min.)
Sterritt *** The poignant yet unsentimental story of a 12-year-old boy - the film's title means "Pellet," his nickname - caught between his abusive father and a grown-up friend who'd like to rescue him from his bad family environment but is afraid of legal reprisals if he does. This drama has won an armload of international prizes, including multiple honors in Spain's equivalent of the Oscar race, marking Mañas as a director with a bright future. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. With Alain Delon, Yves Montand, Gian Maria Volonté, André Bourvil. (140 min.)
Sterritt **** A glistening gem among caper movies, this impeccably elegant jewel-heist drama takes its title from Buddhist lore, its cast from France's great gallery of leading men, and its style from the unique blend of cinematic savoir-faire and brooding existential angst that Melville polished throughout his rich career. Completed by Melville and legendary cinematographer Henri Decae in 1970, the picture waited more than 30 years to reach American screens. In French with English subtitles (reissue).
Director: Akira Kurosawa. With Takashi Shimura, Haruo Tanaka, Minoru Chiaki, Shinichi Himori. (143 min.)
Sterritt **** Told by a physician that he has only six months to live, an aging Japanese bureaucrat takes a mournful look at the meaning of his life so far, then decides to accomplish something worth doing in the little time he has left. This masterpiece of 1952 is one of the gentlest, subtlest tales from one of Japan's all-time-great filmmakers, combining the sweep of a novel with the intimacy of an elegy. Also known as "To Live." In Japanese with English subtitles (reissue).
Director: Shawn Levy. With Ashton Kutcher, Brittany Murphy, Christian Kane, Taran Killam. (95 min.)
Staff * A fairy-tale honeymoon in Europe quickly becomes a nightmare for a young couple (Murphy and Kutchner) through her father's attempted sabotage and the groom's boorish treatment of the locals. The principals try to breathe life into the old gags, and the scenery is magnificent, but the filmmakers are unable to marry these elements into a cohesive motion picture. By M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 7 instances of innuendo. 1 scene of implied sex. Violence: 8 scenes, including assault. Profanity: 29 instances of profanity. Drugs: 12 scenes with drinking or smoking.
Director: Thomas Riedelsheimer. With Andy Goldsworthy. (90 min.)
Sterritt **** This documentary features a leisurely visit with a dedicated artist who treks into a variety of natural settings - from the meadows of his native Scotland to the rocks and rivers of Nova Scotia - to create sculptures out of nature. The film would be more informative if it put Goldsworthy into the broader context of modernist art movements. It's visually ravishing from start to finish, though, helped by Fred Frith's music, which puts a crowning touch on the movie as a work of art in its own right.
Directors: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne. With Olivier Gourmet, Morgan Marinne. (103 min.)
Sterritt **** See review.
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 film is flawed by implausible psychology and moments of weak acting. But it's more than redeemed by Lee's passionate ideas about America, 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 sexual activity, including partial nudity. Violence: 2 car crashes, gator attack, and gunshots. Profanity: 30 instances of profanity. Drugs: 19 scenes with smoking, alcohol.
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 his abusive childhood. Although it's touching and sincere, Washington's directorial debut is weakened by too slow a pace and a story that offers few real surprises.
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of implied sex. 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 10 scenes, including fighting and shootings. Profanity: 41 expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes of drinking and smoking.
Director: George Clooney. With Sam Rockwell, Julia Roberts, 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.
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 *** Leo shines, zip and verve, stylish.
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes with implied sex; 2 scenes of innuendo. Violence: Several scenes in which guns are pulled but not fired. Profanity: 7 instances of harsh profanity. Drugs: 17 scenes of smoking, drinking, and illegal drugs.
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?
Staff ***1/2 Visual razzle-dazzle, clever choreography, strong acting.
Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene; mildly provocative costumes and lyrics in dance numbers. Violence: 6 scenes of mild violence. Profanity: 20 expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes of smoking, drinking.
Director: Martin Scorsese. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz. (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 US society. The film 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 semi-nudity. Violence: 36 instances of graphic violence of punches, beatings, and battle scenes. Profanity: 4 expressions. Drugs: 35 scenes of smoking, drinking. 1 scene with opium.
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 modern woman - 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 smoothly link the episodes.
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. Drugs: 2 scenes with a pipe.
Director: Douglas McGrath. With Charlie Hunnam, Anne Hathaway, Jim Broadbent. (133 min)
Sterritt *** Large-scale adaptation of Charles Dickens's novel about a 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.
Staff *** Satisfying, miscast, more sugar than spice.
Sex/Nudity: None. Profanity: None. Violence: 10 scenes, including suicide. Drugs: 8 instances of drinking; 1 scene with smoking.
Director: Roman Polanski. With Adrien Brody, Maureen Lipman, Frank Finlay, Emilia Fox. (148 min.)
Sterritt *** Fact-based drama about the experiences of concert pianist Wladyslaw 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.
Staff **** Harrowing, detailed, beautifully shot.
Sex/Nudity: None. Profanity: 6 harsh expressions. Violence: 23 scenes of graphic violence. Drugs: 6 scenes of smoking, drinking.
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. Profanity: 2 mild expressions. Drugs: 8 scenes with alcohol.
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.