Directors: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini. With Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar. (100 min.)
Sterritt **** See full review.
Director: Kevin Costner. With Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Annette Bening, Michael Jeter. (139 min.)
Sterritt ** See full review.
Director: Scott Hamilton Kennedy. With students at a Compton, Calif., high school. (76 min.)
Sterritt *** A creative teacher persuades a group of high-school students to mount a production of Thornton Wilder's classic small-town play "Our Town" in their own community, populated mostly by minority groups and dogged by poverty-related problems. Kennedy documents their efforts with skill and compassion, almost entirely avoiding the pitfalls of sentimentality and victimology. He and his likable "cast" deserve a standing ovation.
Director: Boaz Yakin. With Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Heather Locklear. (90 min.)
Sterritt *** A spoiled but sweet young woman becomes the nanny of a spoiled but not- so-sweet little girl, driving both of them crazy before they learn some valuable life lessons from the ordeal. Murphy is a sensational comic actress and Fanning's talent far exceeds her years. Add marvelously imaginative directing - finally Yakin fulfills the promise he showed in "Fresh" almost a decade ago - and you have a colorful, creative, deliciously frolicsome romp.
Director: Jesse Dylan. With Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Eugene Levy, January Jones. (102 min.)
Sterritt * Jim and Michelle get married in the third "American Pie" film, and the whole gang gets involved in planning the shindig. Whatever novelty this series ever possessed has gone down the proverbial tube. Actors are on autopilot, and Adam Herz's screenplay panders to its immature target audience so relentlessly it verges on incompetence. Even gross-out films ought to maintain some standards!
Staff *** Sophomoric, crass, zany, playful.
Sex/Nudity: 22 scenes, including sex, nudity, innuendo. Violence: 4 scenes, including whipping. Drugs: 5 drinking scenes.
Director: Claude Lelouch. With Jeremy Irons, Patricia Kaas, Thierry Lhermitte, Alessandra Martines. (133 min.)
Staff *** It is kismet in Morocco. An aging con artist Valentin (Jeremy Irons) wants to forget his past and find his future by sailing around the world. Jane, a lounge singer nobody listens to, wants to leave her love troubles behind by taking a new gig. Thrown off course and thrown out of the new lounge, both wind up in Morocco. While it takes the first quarter of the movie to decipher the plot, your attention is held by mesmerizing filmmaking, quirky people, and exotic locals. Jane's songs weave through the movie like one of the scarves from the marketplace, and it feels like the story might be the conjuring of an oracle. In French and English with English subtitles. By Katie Nesse
Staff *** Complex, artsy, lush, original.
Sex/Nudity: 3 innuendoes. Violence: 5 scenes, including robbery. Profanity: 16 profanities. Drugs: 16 smoking and drinking scenes.
Director: Gregor Jordan. With Joaquin Phoenix, Anna Paquin, Ed Harris. (98 min.)
Sterritt *** The year is 1989, the setting is an American army base in West Germany, and the subject is rampant corruption orchestrated by a young officer and participated in by more soldiers and other people than you'd like to think. The irony and skepticism of this dark comedy-drama are closer to "Catch-22" and "M*A*S*H" than to movies with more reverent views of the military, and at its best it's as refreshing as it is daring.
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of implied sex. Violence: 13 scenes, including shootouts. Profanity: 127 mostly strong expressions. Drugs: 27 instances of drug use and smoking; a few scenes of drinking.
Director: Todd Graff. With Daniel Letterle, Joanna Chilcoat, Robin de Jesus. (114 min.)
Staff *** At Camp Ovation, teens and preteens rehearse and put on musicals all summer. Misfits back at school, these kids all like musical comedy, and most of the boys are gay. Here they find acceptance and identity. Charmingly performed by a cast of talented newcomers, "Camp" is reminiscent of "Fame," but it's all the more engaging for its lack of Hollywood gloss. Filmed at the actual Catskills camp where writer-director Graff performed as a child. By M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 7 scenes, including innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes, including severe beating. Profanity: 42 profanities. Drugs: 8 smoking and drinking scenes.
Director: Stephen Frears. With Audrey Tautou, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sergi Lopez, Sophie Okonedo. (107 min.)
Staff *** An illegal Nigerian immigrant (Ejiofor), who works as both a night clerk and a cabbie just to make ends meet, discovers an underground organ-trading operation at a posh London hotel. A morally centered man who's fled a tragic past, he enlists the help of a maid (Tautou), also an illegal immigrant. Together they try to expose the crime ring while avoiding authorities threatening to deport them at any moment. In this intelligent thriller, Frears offers an unflinchingly gritty view of the underbelly of life as an illegal immigrant, often exploited and clinging to survival. Acting by both Tautou and Ejiofor is top-notch. By Stephanie Cook Broadhurst
Staff ***1/2 Probing, realistic, heart wrenching.
Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes, including sex, innuendo. Violence: 8 scenes, including rapes, graphic surgeries, fights. Profanity: 19 profanities. Drugs: 13 scenes of smoking, drinking, and drug use.
Director: Mark Waters. With Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, Harold Gould, Mark Harmon. (93 min.)
Sterritt *** This delicious remake of Disney's popular 1976 comedy stars Curtis and Lohan as a middle-aged mother and teen daughter who inexplicably exchange bodies, causing each to live in the other's shoes (and jeans, dresses, and underwear) for a confusing and amusing 24-hour period. Lohan is winsome, Curtis is even better, and there's hardly a special effect in sight. The only freaky thing about this "Friday" is its delightful difference from the trendy eye candy that's come to dominate family-friendly filmmaking.
Staff **1/2 Funny Friday, childlike, Curtis's show.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: None. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 3 drinking scenes.
Director: James Ivory. With Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Glenn Close, Sam Waterston. (115 min.)
Sterritt *** This contemporary tale from the Merchant Ivory team focuses on a well-meaning American woman (Hudson) who arrives in Paris to help out her pregnant sister (Watts), only to find that the sister's French husband has walked out on her and is causing additional family trouble related to a painting that could be worth a fortune. Flawed by some weak performances and an over-the-top climax, the film is no masterpiece. Still, it's a flavorful concoction with many light and lissome moments, a strong undercurrent of serious domestic drama, and a commitment to intercultural themes.
Staff **1/2 Well-paced, bicultural, too fluffy.
Sex/Nudity: 9 scenes, including sex, innuendo. Violence: 2 violent scenes. Profanity: 10 profanities. Drugs: 19 drinking and smoking scenes.
Director: Peter Mullan. With Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy, Geraldine McEwan. (119 min.)
Sterritt **** Four young Irish Catholic women are sent to live in a home for "wayward girls" run by an order of Roman Catholic nuns who discipline their inmates - many of whom have been deemed incorrigibly sinful by fraudulent families that want one fewer mouth to feed - with a regime of celibacy, forced labor, and isolation from the world. Based on realities that persisted into the 1990s, Mullan's sensitive screenplay exposes near-medieval misogyny in a supposedly civilized society and provides a vivid reminder that piety without compassion is meaningless.
Director: Larry Charles. With Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, Bob Dylan, John Goodman. (120 min.)
Staff ** A Latin-American dictator has turned the whole North American continent into a third-world country. A sleazy promoter (Goodman), promising the state network a "benefit" concert (for his own profit), can't come up with big names, but gets a washed up great (Dylan) out of jail to perform. This throwback to '70s protests, anonymously scripted by Dylan, never really comes together, but it has its moments. By M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of sex, innuendo. Violence: 9 scenes, including brutal tussles. Profanity: 3 profanities. Drugs: 20 scenes of drinking, smoking.
Director: Fernando León de Aranda. With Javier Bardem, Nieve de Medina, José Ángel Egido. (115 min.)
Sterritt *** Bardem conveys his familiar brand of understated sensitivity in this drama about a small group of newly unemployed Spanish men whose lives grow lonelier and edgier day by day. The story's rambling, meandering style is just right for the melancholy subject being explored, and all the acting is excellent.
Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes of sex, innuendo. Violence: 2 scenes. Profanity: 52 profanities. Drugs: 15 scenes of drinking, smoking.
Director: Gore Verbinski. With Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush, Jonathan Pryce. (136 min.)
Sterritt ** This swashbuckling yarn centers on an endangered woman, a mysterious pendant, and a crew of cursed pirates who want to get their hands on both so they can undo the malediction that's turned them into undead versions of the Flying Dutchman. The story is silly, but the cinematography is handsome and Cap'n Depp dandified demeanor is more fun to watch than the rest of the spectacle.
Staff *** Depp steals the show, swashbuckling fun, long.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 18 violent scenes, including stabbings, hangings. Drugs: 10 scenes with drinking. Profanity: 6 mild profanities.
Director: Gary Ross. With Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Tobey Maguire. (129 min.)
Sterritt * This is a story of an unlikely trio - a millionaire, an eccentric loner, and an oversized jockey - who made a runty horse with an ungainly gallop into the most famous racer of the Depression and World War II eras. The subject is fascinating, but writer-director Ross never goes a millimeter beneath the surface of his characters, substituting a superficial kind of "uplift" for a thoughtful look at what made Seabiscuit and his handlers special.
Staff *** Heart-warming, triumphant, iconic.
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of nudity, sex. Violence: 6 scenes, including bloody fights, animal cruelty. Drugs: 29 scenes of smoking; 22 of drinking. Profanity: 20 profanities.
Director: Alan Rudolph. With Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Denis Leary, Robin Tunney. (105 min.)
Sterritt **** This is a story about the marriage of two dentists. The wife may be having an affair so secret that her spouse can't be certain it's happening at all. The husband is still in love with her but can't help recognizing that three lively kids, professional success, and money to spare add up to much less than a picture-perfect existence. This bittersweet comedy-drama ranks with the best work Rudolph has ever done, offering a smart, sensitive look at domestic life. Also invaluable are Scott's acting and Craig Lucas's screenplay, based on Jane Smiley's novella "The Age of Grief."
Staff *** Original, touching, ingenuous.
Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes, nothing graphic. Violence: 1 scene of brutal beating; several scenes of child-slapping parents. Profanity: 20 expressions, some strong. Drugs: 8 instances of drinking and/or smoking.
Director: Robert Rodriguez. With Daryl Sabara, Ricardo Montalban, Salma Hayek. (83 min.)
Sterritt ** The popular series continues with young Juni entering a computer-generated world to save his sister Carmen from the evil Toymaker. The celebrity-studded cast does its best to treat this gimmicky fantasy like a regular film, which isn't easy in a movie that interrupts its action with instructions to "Put On Glasses" whenever it morphs into 3-D phantasmagoria. You'll enjoy it if you're 8 years old or in the mood for mindless fun.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 11 scenes. Drugs: None. Profanity: None.
Director: Clark Johnson. With Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J.
Staff ** Farrell, still looking for his breakthrough role, plays a resourceful LAPD cop reduced to weapons clerk for refusing to rat on a buddy in this resurrection of the '70s TV series. The ever-watchable Jackson plays a sergeant who wants Farrell for his super-elite S.W.A.T. unit. The fresh cast breathes some life into the proceedings, but the formulaic plot gets less and less believable as it goes along. By M.K. Terrell
Staff * Insipid, unsatisfying, noisy.
Drugs: 4 smoking scenes; 8 with drinking. Profanity: 78 profanities.