Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
A Man Apart (R)

Director: F. Gary Gray. With Vin Diesel, Larenz Tate, Timothy Olyphant, Jacqueline Obradors. (109 min.)

Sterritt * See review, page 15.

The Good Thief (R)

Director: Neil Jordan. With Nick Nolte, Tchéky Karyo, Emir Kusturica. (110 min.)

Recommended: 'The Godfather': 10 behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the classic films

Sterritt ** See review, page 15.

The Guys (PG)

Director: Jim Simpson. With Sigourney Weaver, Anthony LaPaglia. (88 min.)

Sterritt ** See review, page 15.

Levity (R)

Director: Ed Solomon. With Billy Bob Thornton, Kirsten Dunst, Morgan Freeman, Holly Hunter. (100 min.)

Sterritt *** Leaving jail after serving 23 years for a murder he committed as a teenager, a lonely man (Thornton) takes a job in a forlorn community center run by an enigmatic preacher (Freeman). He strikes up hesitant relationships with a troubled young woman (Dunst) and the sister of the man he killed (Hunter). Solomon keeps the drama generally clear and interesting, though some touches make the film-noir plot seem too pretentious.

Manna From Heaven (PG)

Directors: Maria and Gabrielle Burton. With Louise Fletcher, Frank Gorshin, Seymour Cassell. (119 min.)

Sterritt ** Out of nowhere, a cascade of cash rains down on a working-class neighborhood, changing the lives of those who run outside to gather it up - and changing them even more years later, when a moral-minded member of the group decides this was only a heaven-granted loan that must now be repaid with interest. This non-Hollywood production, made by five Burton sisters and their parents in their hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., is colorful and cute. It would be better if it weren't quite so sitcommy and if it didn't outlast its ideas.

The Man Without a Past (PG-13)

Director: Aki Kaurismäki. With Markku Peltola, Kati Outinen, Annikki Tähti, Sakari Kousmanen. (97 min.)

Sterritt **** An ordinary man gets beaten and robbed by thugs, develops a walloping case of amnesia, and spends the rest of the film rebuilding his life with help from the kindness of strangers and the love of a good woman. Kaurismaki is Finland's greatest filmmaker, and never has he more artfully balanced his patented blend of deadpan humor, low-key melodrama, and toe-tapping music. In Finnish with English subtitles.

Phone Booth (R)

Director: Joel Schumacher. With Colin Farrell, Katie Holmes, Forest Whitaker, Kiefer Sutherland. (81 min.)

Sterritt *** See review, page 15.

What a Girl Wants (PG)

Director: Dennie Gordon. With Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Eileen Atkins. (103 min.)

Sterritt * See review, page 15.

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. (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.

Assassination Tango (R)

Director: Robert Duvall. With Duvall, Luciana Pedraza. (114 min.)

Sterritt *** Duvall is terrific as an American hit man who learns to tango in Argentina while waiting for the return of a general he's been hired to murder. As usual in the films he writes and directs, Duvall blends a fictional story with authentic background details and performances by cast members who aren't trained actors. There's plenty to please the eye and the ear, but Pedraza's acting skills don't equal her excellence as a dancer.

Basic (R)

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

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.

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 15 scenes, including bloody fights. Profanity: 69 profanities. Drugs: 9 scenes of drinking, smoking.

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.

Staff **1/2 Joyous, innocent, predictable.

Sex/Nudity: 1 mild sex scene. Violence: Mild violence on the soccer field. Profanity: 7 instances of profanity. Drugs: 8 scenes of drinking; 1 with smoking.

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 Colosseum 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

Staff ** Core-ny, explosive, good effects.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 14 scenes, including explosions. Profanity: 3 harsh expressions. Drugs: 11 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 drinking.

Head of State (PG-13)

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

Sterritt ** Rock plays a black alderman who's coaxed into running for president by an underhanded politico who really wants him to lose. You can guess the rest - he speaks his mind, charms average citizens, and sweeps in from behind. But along with painfully predictable gags the film has moments of sharp social satire, and Rock makes a promising directorial debut. Chris Rock 4 President.

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 8 violent scenes, including shootings.

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.

Staff *** Evocative setting, shocking, quirky.

Sex/Nudity: 9 scenes, including 3 with nudity and 6 of sex. Violence: 1 scene. Profanity: 50 profanities. Drugs: 20 scenes of smoking, drinking.

Lawless Heart (R)

Directors: Neil Hunter, Tom Hunsinger. With Tom Hollander, Bill Nighy, Douglas Henshall. (110 min.)

Sterritt *** After a friend's untimely death, three men rethink the other relationships in their lives. What's essentially a commonplace story is broadened and deepened by the filmmakers' strategy of telling it multiple times from multiple points of view. Solid acting and engaging characters round out the neatly assembled tale.

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.

Staff **** Enriching, absorbing, artful.

Sex/Nudity: 8 scenes, including innuendo, partial nudity, and 2 sex scenes. Violence: 2 scenes with slapping. 3 graphic scenes with dead animals. Profanity: 4 expressions. Drugs: 15 scenes of drinking, smoking.

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.

Spun (Not rated)

Director: Jonas Akerlud. With Jason Schwartzman, Mena Suvari, Brittany Murphy, Mickey Rourke. (96 min.)

Staff **1/2 Unlike other films that have come out recently about drugs, "Spun" takes on the unglamorous lifestyle of crystal-meth addicts. With the help of a washed-out color scheme and Billy Corgan's hollow crooning and watery guitar riffs, the "Spun" experience - played out among a circle of speed junkies in the Los Angeles area - is a draining one. No detail is spared (from a prolonged toilet sequence to animated pornographic fantasies), and you are certain to walk away with a nagging queasiness. This makes "Spun" a thematic success but likely a failure at the box office. By Elizabeth Armstrong

Staff ** Gritty, manic, punishing.

Sex/Nudity: 23 scenes, including nudity, violent sex. Violence: 11 scenes, including shootings and a woman left handcuffed to a bed for days. Profanity: 250 profanities. Drugs: At least 35 scenes, including drug use, drinking, smoking.

Till Human Voices Wake Us (R)

Director: Michael Petroni. With Guy Pearce, Helena Bonham Carter, Frank Gallacher. (101 min.)

Sterritt ** Visiting his Australian hometown after his father's death, a man remembers a romance of his teenage years and develops an enigmatic relationship with a mysterious woman who can't remember her past. Petroni's directorial debut is too bittersweet and atmospheric for its own good, wrapping a potentially strong story in too many layers of misty emotion.

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, and 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

Staff **1/2 cheerful, fluffy, disappointing.

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo. Violence: 1 scene. Profanity: 5 profanities. Drugs: 9 scenes.

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