Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
Assassination Tango (R)

Director: Robert Duvall. With Duvall, Luciana Pedraza, Ruben Blades, Kathy Baker. (114 min.)

Sterritt *** See review.

Basic (R)

Director: John McTiernan. With John Travolta, Connie Nielsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Giovanni Ribisi. (98 min.)

Recommended: Default

Sterritt * A retired military man (Travolta) investigates the murder of a brutal sergeant (Jackson) in a chaotic training situation where too many people had too many motives and opportunities for the crime. Travolta and Jackson have some effective scenes, but Nielsen is lacking in charisma, and James Vanderbilt's screenplay ought to be court-martialed.

The Core (PG-13)

Director: Jon Amiel. With Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci. (136 min.)

Staff * It's the end of the world as we know it when a military experiment ends up destabilizing Earth's core. Before long, subpar fire-and-brimstone special effects are raining on postcard scenery such as the Coliseum in Rome and the Golden Gate in San Francisco. In an attempt to restore gravity to the planet and add gravitas to the lightweight story, a distinguished cast is gathered to journey to Earth's center. The actors tackle their roles with laughable temerity, and the result, though hardly laudable, is still better than "Armaggedon." By Stephen Humphries

Head of State (PG-13)

Director: Chris Rock. With Rock, Bernie Mac, Robin Givens. (95 min.)

Sterritt ** See review.

Stevie (Not rated)

Director: Steve James. With Stephen Fielding, Steve James, Verna Hagler, Tonya Gregory. (140 min.)

Sterritt **** See review.

Unknown Pleasures (Not rated)

Director: Jia Zhang-ke. With Wei Wei Zhao, Hong Wei Wang, Ru Bai, Qiong Wu. (113 min.)

Sterritt ** The life and times of two teens in provincial China, where every pursuit from romantic longing to family life is tinged with a deeply felt, utterly ignorant envy of Western wealth and culture. This sequel to Jia's excellent 1997 drama "Xiao Wu" is less original and absorbing than its predecessor, and less visually impressive than "Platform," his 2000 look at Chinese sociopolitical change. It offers a lot of commentary about life in China, however. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (PG-13)

Director: Lee Hirsch. With Miriam Makeba, Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masakela, Thandi Modise. (103 min.)

Sterritt ** A look at the role played by popular music in the war against apartheid during 40 years of South Africa's history. There are lots of lively tunes in an excellent cause, but in the end you wish you'd either probed more deeply into historical events or heard more uninterrupted minutes of inspired performing. In English, Xhosa, and Zulu, with English subtitles.

Staff *** Rousing, toe-tapping, interesting slice of history, could have offered more depth.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 12 scenes of violent historical footage, including shootings. Profanity: 4 profanities. Drugs: 6 scenes of smoking, drinking.

Agent Cody Banks (PG)

Director: Harald Zwart. With Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon. (110 min.)

Sterritt * An ordinary high-schooler becomes a junior James Bond when the CIA recruits him for an assignment only Hollywood could dream up: dating a pretty girl so he can spy on her dad, a scientist whose schemes could destroy the world. The name-brand cast doesn't muster much entertainment value because the repetitious script shows interest in nothing beyond action-centered plot gimmicks and romantic shenanigans.

Sex/Nudity: At least 2 scenes with innuendo. Violence: 12 scenes with violence, including explosions, fighting. Profanity: 10 expressions. Drugs: None noted.

Bend It Like Beckham (PG-13)

Director: Gurinder Chadha. With Parminder K. Nagra, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Keira Knightley. (112 min.)

Sterritt ** The heroine is a soccer-loving Indian teen living in London with her highly traditional family; they believe nice young women shouldn't chase after balls in front of ogling crowds, and their conservatism may prevent her from fashioning her future on her own terms. The film isn't original or exciting, probing territory already explored in pictures like "East Is East," but its look at cultural clashes is always well-meaning and good-humored.

Violence: Mild violence on the soccer field. Profanity: 7 instances of profanity.

Boat Trip (R)

Director: Mort Nathan. With Cuba Gooding Jr., Vivica A. Fox, Horatio Sanz, Roselyn Sanchez. (93 min.)

Sterritt * Hoping for sexual adventures on a singles cruise, two woman-crazy guys find themselves on a ship full of gay men instead, plus a bevy of bikini models brought on board by a feeble plot twist. This boatload of clichés is strenuously unfunny. Switch your travel reservation to another theater!

Sex/Nudity: 23 sex scenes, including innuendo, seminudity. Violence: 6 scenes. Profanity: 56 expressions. Drugs: 13 scenes of drinking, smoking.

Bringing Down the House (PG-13)

Director: Adam Shankman. With Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright. (105 min.)

Sterritt * Likable white lawyer (Martin) meets earthy black exconvict (Latifah) who won't stop pestering him until he helps her clear her name. Parts of this boisterous comedy are in remarkably poor taste - a scene where Martin dudes himself up in ghetto-style gear - and the rest is just not funny. What's such a talented cast doing in this brain-dead farce?

Staff ** Slapstick, funny at times, racially tense.

Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes with innuendo, strong at times. Violence: 7 scenes, including fights. Profanity: 7 harsh expressions; 42 mild. Drugs: 13 scenes of drinking, smoking. 1 scene of drugs.

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 - who would have guessed Zellweger, Zeta-Jones, and Gere could hoof and croon with the best of them? But the story is a cynical take on serious human failings.

Staff ***1/2 Visual razzle-dazzle, strong acting.

Sex/Nudity: 1 sex scene; mild dance numbers. Violence: 6 scenes of mild violence. Profanity: 20 expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes of smoking, drinking.

Dreamcatcher (R)

Director: Lawrence Kasdan. With Morgan Freeman, Jason Lee, Tom Sizemore, Donnie Wahlberg. (131 min.)

Sterritt ** Four young men with a knack for mind-reading battle aliens in the New England woods. Also present is a macho military man who's supposed to stop the invasion but may be the loosest cannon of all. The main characters are compendiums of Gen-X clichés, and most of the cast is too unseasoned to transcend the silly screenplay.

Staff ** Odd, clichéd, gross.

Sex/Nudity: 4 instances of innuendo. Violence: 25 scenes, including burning aliens. Profanity: 52 expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes of heavy drinking.

The Hunted (R)

Director: William Friedkin. With Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen, Jenna Boyd. (94 min.)

Sterritt * A former military teacher (Jones) pursues a "killing machine" (Del Toro) who learned his lessons all too well. The chief aim of this ham-fisted chase movie is to stage its story against as many Pacific Northwest backgrounds as possible. There's hardly a pause for breath. Or thought. Or anything besides fights, face-offs, and showdowns.

Staff **1/2 Predictable, gritty, good premise.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 17 graphic scenes, including shootouts. Profanity: 13 expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes with drinking, smoking.

Laurel Canyon (R)

Director: Lisa Cholodenko. With Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale. (103 min.)

Sterritt *** Fresh from medical school, a conscientious young man and his fiancée move into the southern California home of his mother, an aging flower child whose domicile does extra duty as recording studio for her young lover's rock band. The story doesn't ultimately live up to its technical polish, but it paints a vivid picture of emotional vibes emanating from the Hollywood Hills.

Max (R)

Director: Menno Meyjes. With John Cusack, Noah Taylor, Leelee Sobieski, Molly Parker. (106 min.)

Sterritt **** After World War I, a Jewish art dealer in Munich befriends an aspiring painter named Adolf Hitler, thinking he can distract the young man from his crazy political ideas by encouraging his creativity. This moodily filmed drama traces the roots of German fascism not only to the demented notions of the Nazis but to German culture in the early 1900s. It also explores fascism's cynical use of art and architecture to mesmerize a vulnerable society.

Staff *** Sharp, unsettling, inventive.

Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes, including implied sex, innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes, including a severe beating. Profanity: 13 strong expressions. Drugs: 27 scenes with drinking and smoking.

Nowhere in Africa (Not rated)

Director: Caroline Link. With Karoline Eckertz, Merab Ninidze, Juliane Köhler, Regine Zimmermann. (141 min.)

Sterritt *** The story begins in 1938, when a Jewish refugee from Germany's Nazi violence moves to a lonely farm in Kenya, then sends for his wife and daughter, resulting in major adjustment problems. The film focuses on the girl as she grows into adolescence. It also shows the difficulties her parents face in their new world. If lush landscapes and exotic wildlife are what you're after, this isn't the safari for you. But many viewers will respond to its understated mix of family drama and Holocaust-era history.

Piglet's Big Movie (G)

With (voices): John Fiedler, Jim Cummings, Ken Sansom. (75 min.)

Staff *** "Piglet's Big Movie" is a lot bigger - and better - than its predecessor, "The Tigger Movie." OK, so a 5-year-old may not see the nuance in the always dear, always pastel Pooh pals in either Disney riff, but parents will recognize a whole new level of plot development. Piglet's kindness is sorely tested by his honey-obsessed friends - until he gets lost and they realize he's a hero who may be small, but in the "biggest, helpfulest way." By Clara Germani

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 5 very mild scenes. Profanity: None. Drugs: None.

Spider (R)

Director: David Cronenberg. With Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson. (98 min.)

Sterritt **** A mentally troubled man tries to understand his tormented past as he is flooded by delusions and memories of his abused childhood. Cronenberg doesn't draw clear boundary lines between illusion and reality, depicting the main character's experiences as a complex web of memories, fantasies, and dreads. Honors also go to first-rate acting by Fiennes and Richardson in many roles.

Staff ***1/2 Harrowing, metaphorical, lonely.

Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes. Violence: 3 scenes of violence, including self-mutilation. Profanity: 7 expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes of drinking, smoking.

Tears of the Sun (R)

Director: Antoine Fuqua. With Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci. (105 min.)

Sterritt ** US soldiers led by a hard-boiled lieutenant (Willis) penetrate the Nigerian jungle to rescue an endangered Italian physician (Bellucci) who refuses to leave unless she can bring a group of refugees with her. Dark-toned camera work and moody music give this slowly paced war film a chilling atmosphere until the final scenes, when US missiles and flaming Columbia Pictures fireballs turn the climax into a reunion of combat-movie clichés.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of partial nudity. Violence: 10 scenes of extreme war violence, including torture. Profanity: 38 expressions.

View from the Top (PG-13)

Director: Bruno Barreto. With: Gwyneth Paltrow, Christina Applegate, Rob Lowe. (88 min.)

Staff **1/2 The movie opens with a red balloon drifting into the sky, setting the tone for the next hour and a half: light and airy, but overall a lot of fun. Paltrow's character is charming, and one can almost buy her act as a small-town girl who aspires to become a flight attendant. Mike Myers is especially funny as Paltrow's teacher. Overall, this view is clear and uncomplicated - with few clouds and plenty of sunshine. By Sasha Brown

OUT ON VIDEO
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 sex scene; several instances of innuendo. Violence: 1 mild scene. Profanity: 12 expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes of smoking, drinking.

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