Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
The Gospel of John (PG-13)

Director: Philip Saville. With Henry Ian Cusick, Lynsey Baxter, Christopher Plummer. (180 min.)

Sterritt ** The movie describes Jesus' life as related in the Book of John (Good News Bible translation). It's interesting to see a movie of this kind based on a single gospel, with no additions or interpolations from other sources. But except for a few scenes that evoke the reverent beauty of Renaissance painting, the filmmaking and acting are awfully stiff - certainly not worthy of the timeless story being told. Spending three hours with the original would be a far better use of time.

A House on a Hill (Not rated)

Director: Chuck Workman. With Philip Baker Hall, Laura San Giacomo, Henry Rollins, Shirley Knight. (94 min.)

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Sterritt **** An aging architect (Hall) unexpectedly returns to a long-abandoned project at the same time as a documentary is being made about his life and work. Content and style dovetail superbly in this offbeat drama, where images continually change in size and shape, evoking the story's message that human experience is always a pathway, not a destination.

Looney Tunes: Back in Action (PG)

Director: Joe Dante. With Brendan Fraser, Joan Cusack, Steve Martin (91 min.)

Sterritt ** Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck join two humans on a search for a magical diamond, quarreling about star status all the way. Dante's technical tour de force combines live action and animation as good as anything in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" but the film is preoccupied with whiz-bang adventure rather than storytelling. There's also too much cartoon violence for young kids.

My Architect (Not rated)

Director: Nathaniel Kahn. With Nathaniel Kahn, Frank Gehry, I.M. Pei, Philip Johnson. (116 min.)

Sterritt **** See review.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (PG-13)

Director: Peter Weir. With Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd, James D'Arcy. (138 min.)

Sterritt **** See review.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
Brother Bear (G)

Directors: Aaron Blaise, Robert Walker. With voices of Joaquin Phoenix, Joan Copeland, Michael Clarke Duncan, Rick Moranis. (85 min.)

Sterritt ** This old-fashioned animation tells the story of three native American brothers, one of whom is mysteriously turned into a bear as a path to redemption from his human faults. All the old Disney trademarks are here, except the wit and surprise that were once the studio's stock in trade. There's little appeal to grownups, but kids should enjoy it.

Staff **1/2 Warm, scenic, enthralling storyline.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 8 scenes. Profanity: None. Drugs: None.

Elf (PG)

Director: Jon Favreau. With Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Edward Asner. (92 min.)

Sterritt **** Buddy was raised at the North Pole by Santa, and when he learns he's an adopted human rather than an everyday elf, he heads for Manhattan to meet his dad, a Scrooge-like executive. The cast is perfect, and David Berenbaum has written a smart and funny sugarplum of a screenplay. Feel free to open before Christmas, or any other time of year.

Staff *** Sprightly, festive, good-hearted fun

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 4 scenes of violence, including a beating. Profanity: 2 mild profanities. Drugs: 5 scenes with alcohol, 1 scene with smoking.

The Human Stain (R)

Director: Robert Benton. With Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise. (106 min.)

Sterritt ** Philip Roth's story of a famous author who befriends a professor, learning of a great secret in his past and an incongruous love affair in his present. Although the cast is excellent, the intelligence and passion of Roth's novel are lost in glossy camera work and well-worn Hollywood mannerisms.

Staff *** Gripping, poignant, issue-driven

Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes. Violence: 6 scenes. Profanity: 46 instances. Drugs: 8 scenes of smoking, 3 of drinking.

Love Actually (R)

Director: Richard Curtis. With Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Laura Linney. (128 min..)

Sterritt * Set in London during the holiday season, this overstuffed romantic comedy tells intertwined tales about the prime minister and an assistant he's infatuated with, his sister and her straying husband, a rock star who hates the holiday song he's just recorded, a pair of porn actors, and plenty more. The cast glitters, but most of the storytelling falls flat, relying on gimmicks like bathroom humor and needless nudity.

Staff *** Charming, light, impressive cast.

Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes, 7 instances of innuendo, including scenes set on a porn shoot. Violence: Mostly comic violence. Profanity: 26 instances. Drugs: 9 scenes of drinking.

The Matrix Revolutions (R)

Directors: The Wachowski Brothers. With Keanu Reeves, Jada Pinkett Smith, Laurence Fishburne, (129 min.)

Sterritt ** The "Matrix" trilogy concludes with lots of fighting between the machines, who've trapped most of humanity in a virtual reality, and the holdout humans, struggling for freedom with help from their leader, Neo, and the prophetic Oracle who advises him. This is basically a war movie decked out in fashionable sci-fi duds, plus touches of New Age hokum to make it seem profound.

Staff *** Stellar special effects, thrilling, poor dialogue

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of topless nudity. Violence: 12 scenes of extended violence Profanity: 20 profanities. Drugs: 1 scene of drinking, 3 of smoking.

Mystic River (R)

Director: Clint Eastwood. With Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney. (137 min.)

Sterritt **** The lives of a cop (Bacon) and a shopkeeper (Penn) intersect for the first time since childhood when the merchant's daughter is murdered and it appears that another boyhood friend (Robbins) may have committed the crime. Robbins is brilliant as a troubled man who was sexually abused as a child, and so is Linney as the shopkeeper's wife. Best of all is Eastwood's decision to probe serious themes through a leisurely style and a lingering sense of ambiguity.

Staff ***1/2 Engrossing, great acting, complex.

Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex. Violence: 11 scenes, including dead body, child abuse. Profanity: 30 profanities. Drugs: 15 scenes of drinking, smoking.

Radio (PG)

Director: Mike Tollin. With Cuba Gooding, Jr., Ed Harris, Alfre Woodard. (109 min.)

Sterritt * In a small Southern town, a mentally slow African-American man (Gooding) comes under the wing of a high-school football coach (Harris) who helps him achieve a happier and more trusting relationship with the everyday world. This fact-based drama is very well-meaning but also cloying, sentimental, and simplistic.

Sex/Nudity: 0 Violence: 2 mild scenes. Profanity: 14 profanities. Drugs: 2 scenes of tobacco.

Runaway Jury (PG-13)

Director: Gary Fleder. With Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack, Rachel Weisz. (123 min.)

Sterritt ** A woman sues the gun manufacturer whose product killed her husband. She's represented by a folksy lawyer (Hoffman), and opposed by a mercenary jury-selection consultant (Hackman) who's willing to sway the verdict by illegal means - and may succeed because a juror (Cusack) has told both he'll manipulate the deliberations for money. The story puts most of its energy into gimmickry.

Staff **1/2 No objections, jury duty you'll enjoy, suspenseful.

Sex/Nudity: 1 mild sex scene. Violence: 8 scenes of violence, including a severe beating. Profanity: 12 mild profanities. Drugs: 6 scenes with alcohol, 1 scene with drugs.

Scary Movie 3 (PG-13)

Director: David Zucker. With Anna Faris, Charlie Sheen, Denise Richards, Jeremy Piven, Queen Latifah. (90 min.)

Staff *** Acting? Minimal. Character development? Nil. Plot? Barely: An anchorwoman has seven days to discover the source of a videotape before she is killed. Elsewhere, a farmer wants to know who is planting crop circles in his fields that spell out "ATTACK HERE," while his white brother competes in a rap contest. Thanks to director Zucker, this is by far the best installment yet - there's less bathroom humor and more "Airplane!"-type lunacy. By Alex Kaloostian

Sex/Nudity: 14 instances of innuendo. Violence: 28 instances. Profanity: 47 profanities. Drugs: 2 scenes of smoking, 1 of alcohol.

School of Rock (PG-13)

Director: Richard Linklater. With Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White, Sarah Silverman. (108 min.)

Sterritt **** Kicked out of his band and desperate for rent money, a washed-up rock singer takes a job as a substitute teacher in a snooty private school, and decides to turn his fourth-grade class into a jivin' pop group. Black gives the performance of his career and the kids are marvelous. Viewers of all musical tastes will find crisp comic pleasures in this amiable tale.

Staff *** One-man show, family film, next "Spinal Tap."

Sex/Nudity: 3 innuendoes. Violence: 1 minor scene. Profanity: 13 mild profanities. Drugs: 4 scenes of smoking, drinking.

Shattered Glass (PG-13)

Director: Billy Ray. With Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, Chloƫ Sevigny, Steve Zahn. (90 min.)

Sterritt **** Based on a 1998 article in Vanity Fair, this is a dramatized version of the real-life journalism scandal sparked by Stephen Glass, a New Republic staffer who built a temporarily dazzling career by juicing up, distorting, and inventing supposed "facts" in many of his articles. Intimate in scale and marvelously acted - yes, Christensen can do more than swing a light saber - Ray's debut film is the most resonant movie about American journalism since "All the President's Men."

OUT ON DVD
The West Wing

Staff **** If ever there was a good use for lots of extras, the first season of NBC's "West Wing" provides it. Not only can you indulge in a fabulous marathon of some of the best TV drama ever written, you can enjoy listening to writer/creator Aaron Sorkin talk about the rhythms of dialogue-writing. The political consultants discuss what gives the show its heft and all the cast and crew explain the elements of the show's signature style. Did I hear somebody say, "Too bad Sorkin has left the show...?" By Gloria Goodale

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