Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
The Backyard (Not rated)

Director: Paul Hough. With enthusiasts of backyard wrestling. (88 min.)

Sterritt * This is a documentary about backyard wrestling, where opponents thrash each other with barbed wire, heave each other into flaming pits, and the like - most of which turns out to be relatively harmless when the trickery behind it is exposed. More of that trickery comes to light as the film proceeds, and eventually you realize the whole movie has been about young showoffs who think it's uproarious to gross out neighborhood grownups.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
American Splendor (R)

Directors: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini. With Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar. (100 min.)

Recommended: 5 solutions for Mexico's drug violence and security challenges

Sterritt **** This movie breaks all the rules, offering a partly fictionalized look at the life and times of Pekar, a writer of underground comic books who earns most of his living as a file clerk and finds an equally idiosyncratic comics fan, Brabner, to be his wife. Pekar and Brabner are played by Giamatti and Davis, but also appear as themselves in interview sequences. It's emotionally poignant, socially revealing, and wildly entertaining.

Staff ***1/2 Wry humor, ode to an antihero, triumphant.

Sex/Nudity: 2 innuendoes. Violence: 1 slap. Profanity: 20 profanities. Drugs: 2 drinking, smoking scenes.

Freaky Friday (PG)

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.

Freddy vs. Jason (R)

Director: Ronny Yu. With Robert Englund, Monica Keena, Ken Kirzinger, Kelly Rowland.

Staff ** The movie opens with Freddy Krueger of "Nightmare on Elm Street" explaining he's lost the ability to claim his victims because they have forgotten about him. To remedy his situation, he resurrects Jason of "Friday the 13th" to do his dirty work. This works, of course, until Jason starts taking all the credit. And then the fun begins. This is purely a gory, knockdown street fight. One can only imagine what lies in store for Michael Myers of "Halloween." By Adam Weiskind

Madame Satã (Not rated)

Director: Karim Ainouz. With Lázaro Ramos, Marcelia Cartaxo, Felipe Bauraqui. (105 min.)

Sterritt ** Rio de Janeiro is the setting for this fact-based story of an all-around social, sexual, and romantic rogue who became a widely renowned female impersonator. No-nonsense critiques of Brazil's endemic poverty and deeply flawed criminal-justice system lend substance to what otherwise might have seemed a flimsy and sensationalistic tale. In Portuguese with English subtitles.

The Magdalene Sisters (R)

Director: Peter Mullan. With Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy. (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 '90s, Mullan's sensitive screenplay exposes almost medieval misogyny in a supposedly civilized society and provides a vivid reminder that piety without compassion is meaningless.

Staff *** Brutally honest, enraging, uncompromising.

Sex/Nudity: 10 scenes with innuendo, nudity. Violence: 10 scenes, including rapes. Profanity: 22 profanities. Drugs: 4 scenes of drinking; 2 smoking.

Marci X (R)

Director: Richard Benjamin. With Lisa Kudrow, Damon Wayans, Christine Baranski. (84 min.)

Staff *1/2 Seizing on a rap CD as symbolic of all that's wrong with America, a conservative senator (Baranski) calls a boycott of the conglomerate that owns the record label, putting the stressed-out CEO (Benjamin) into the hospital. His socialite daughter (Kudrow) tries to get the rapper (Wayans) to apologize nationally, but she falls in love instead. The film sheds weak satirical light on the issues of freedom of speech, media responsibility, and oppression of minorities. It's anybody's guess who the target audience could be. There are lively musical numbers, though. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex; 6 innuendoes. Violence: 1 punching scene. Profanity: 15 profanities. Drugs: 5 drinking, smoking scenes.

The Medallion (PG-13)

Director: Gordon Chan. With Jackie Chan, Claire Forlani, Christy Chung, Lee Evans.

Staff * Three Interpol agents end up in Ireland to fight evil forces and save a gifted boy who is the keeper of a magical medallion of immortality. Eddy Yang (Chan) saves the day over and over while charming a fellow agent (Fiorlani). The story line, acting, and dialogue are disjointed and only nominally logical, but Jackie Chan fans will be pleased with good action sequences and new Hollywood acrobatics. The story is best summed up by the bizarre sight of Jackie Chan "kung fu-ing" the bad guys while wearing an Irish tweed suit. By Shannon Shaper

Sex/Nudity: 2 innuendoes. Violence: 14 scenes, including shootouts, martial arts. Profanity: 3 profanities. Drugs: At least 1 smoking scene.

My Boss's Daughter (PG-13)

Director: David Zucker. With Ashton Kutcher, Tara Reid, Molly Shannon, Andy Richter.

Staff * Anxious to move up in the publishing company office, as well as impress the tyrannical owner's daughter, nice guy Tom Stansfield (Kutcher) agrees to baby sit the old man's adored pet owl. After receiving strict orders to have no visitors, he's unable to prevent a steady stream of people from wrecking the boss's mansion - and letting the owl escape. But the real disaster is the slapstick-ridden script, which a great supporting cast is powerless to salvage. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 5 innuendoes; 1 nude scene. Violence: 8 scenes, including shooting. Profanity: 6 profanities. Drugs: 8 scenes of smoking, drinking, drugs.

Open Range (R)

Director: Kevin Costner. With Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Annette Bening, Michael Jeter. (139 min.)

Sterritt ** Most of this western takes place not on the open range but in a small frontier town where a grizzled old wrangler (Duvall) and his crusty partner (Costner) get into a deadly feud with a corrupt Irish land baron and a bought-off sheriff who couldn't care less about the law. Costner is comfortable directing westerns, as he showed with "Dances With Wolves" in 1990, and here he takes a strictly traditional approach - tricky to pull off, since what seems nostalgically classical to one viewer may seem hopelessly hackneyed to another. Few will quarrel with the lavishly filmed landscapes, though.

Staff **1/2 Old-fashioned, formulaic, earthy.

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 11 scenes, including many shootouts. Profanity: 35 mostly mild expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes with smoking, 1 with drinking.

OT: Our Town (Not rated)

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.

Staff ***1/2 Touching, hopeful, spirited.

Sex/Nudity: 4 innuendoes. Violence: 1 scene with gunshots. Profanity: 17 expressions. Drugs: None.

Passionada (PG-13)

Director: Dan Ireland. With Jason Isaacs, Sofia Milos, Emmy Rossum, Theresa Russell, Seymour Cassel.

Staff ** This is a tale of romance set in New Bedford, a picturesque New England seaport, between a working-class single mom with traditional Portuguese moral values and a carefree, charming English cardplayer. Despite its talented cast and dazzling scenery, this love story is bland and predictable. What starts out with all the ingredients for a rich and spicy Portuguese paella ends up tasting more like fish and chips with ketchup. By Bernard Cabrera

Staff ** Sweet, sincere, cute.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex. Violence: None. Profanity: 12 mild expressions. Drugs: 12 scenes with drinking, 1 with smoking.

Seabiscuit (PG-13)

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 *** Heartwarming, 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.

The Secret Lives of Dentists (R)

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. Profanity: 20 expressions, some strong. Drugs: 8 scenes of drinking, smoking.

Step Into Liquid (Not rated)

Director: Dana Brown. With various surfers. (88 min.)

Sterritt ** Hanging ten from southern California, universally known for surfing, to places like Ireland and Vietnam, totally unknown for surfing, this sun-struck documentary tries to recapture the 1966 magic of "The Endless Summer," which makes sense, since director-writer- editor Brown is son of Bruce Brown, who made that surfboard classic. There are some novelties, but there's also far too much self-congratulation by surfers. Don't step into this not-so-new wave unless you're a die-hard surfing buff.

Staff *** Insane, tubular, fluid.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 4 scenes with injuries. Profanity: 18 profanities. Drugs: 1 drinking scene.

S.W.A.T. (PG-13)

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. 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 believable as it goes along. By M.K. Terrell

Staff * Insipid, unsatisfying, noisy.

Drugs: 4 smoking scenes; 8 with drinking. Profanity: 78 profanities.

Thirteen (R)

Director: Catherine Hardwicke. With Evan Rachel Wood, Holly Hunter, Nikki Reed. (100 min.)

Staff **1/2This raw film chronicles how a 13-year-old honors student (Wood) succumbs to a range of peer pressures when she gains acceptance from the ringleader (Reed) of the cool clan at her junior high. Her grades, her self-esteem, and her relationships plummet as her mom (Hunter) struggles to understand and stop the self-destructiveness. Co-written by Reed when she was 13, the film's style is as volatile as a rebellious teen - at times veering over the top. Acting is impressive, though. By Stephanie Cook Broadhurst

Uptown Girls (PG-13)

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, and they are both driven crazy before they learn valuable life lessons. Murphy is a sensational comic actress and Fanning's talent far exceeds her years. Add imaginative directing - finally Yakin fulfills the promise he showed in "Fresh" almost a decade ago - and you have a colorful, creative, deliciously frolicsome romp.

Staff ** Insipid, means well, falls flat.

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo. Violence: 1 slap. Profanity: 5 minor expressions. Drugs: 4 scenes of drinking.

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