Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
Big Fish (PG-13)

Director: Tim Burton. With Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup, Alison Lohman. (110 min.)

Sterritt ** A young man (McGregor) tries to understand the life of his estranged, now dying father (Finney) by sifting grains of truth from the mountains of tall tales the old guy was forever telling about himself. Burton spices up the story with touches of his trademarked surrealism, but they're swamped by the trickiness and sentimentality of John August's screenplay, based on Daniel Wallace's novel. What a waste of a fine cast.

Girl With a Pearl Earring (PG-13)

Director: Peter Webber. With Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth, Judy Parfitt, Tom Wilkinson. (95 min.)

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Sterritt **** See review.

Power Trip (Not rated)

Director: Paul Devlin. With residents of Tblisi, Georgia. (86 min.)

Sterritt **** Behind that vague-sounding title stands a riveting documentary, filmed in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, about the bewilderment of citizens who can't understand why the United States-based electric utility of their newly capitalist country insists on charging them for a power supply - something they've always considered a basic human right. Intelligent, revealing, and sometimes hilarious. In English and Georgian with English subtitles

Something's Gotta Give (PG-13)

Director: Nancy Meyers. With Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet. (121 min.)

Sterritt *** See review.

The Statement (R)

Director: Norman Jewison. With Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam, Charlotte Rampling. (120 min.)

Sterritt ** A sharp-eyed investigator (Swinton) hunts a Holocaust collaborator (Caine) in present-day France, where he's been living unnoticed for decades with support from an ultraconservative Roman Catholic organization. The drama starts with great promise, but loses credibility when it lapses into long stretches of hackneyed dialogue and a general failure to make the central character convincing as a deeply religious man who is also a self-absorbed psychopath. Caine puts all his formidable talent into pulling this off, but Jewison's directing and Roland Harwood's screenplay (based on Brian Moore's novel) provide a regrettably shaky foundation for him to build on.

Stuck on You (PG-13)

Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly. With Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Wen Yann Shih, Cher. (118 min.)

Sterritt ** Conjoined twins from New England have new problems in their relationship when one of them (Kinnear) decides to try for Hollywood stardom and the other (Damon) gets nervous about finally meeting an Internet pen pal he's never seen in person. The comedy is tooooo loooooong for the two or three jokes it has to play with, and Kinnear does the picture's only three-dimensional acting. Celebrities like Meryl Streep and Griffin Dunne are very good sports in their small supporting roles, though, and the Farrelly brothers again show their commendable interest in bringing out the talents of disabled performers most filmmakers would shy away from.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
21 Grams (R)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu. With Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro, Clea DuVall. (125 min.)

Sterritt **** A car crash sets off events affecting two sisters with emotional problems, a former thug who's now a Christian, an ailing professor, and his wife, who wants to have a baby. The title refers to the weight a body supposedly loses when its soul leaves the material world, a notion Iñárritu uses as a metaphor for the enigmas of the human experience.

Staff **1/2 Unrelentingly bleak, probing, heartbreaking.

Sex/Nudity: 5 instances of nudity, 2 scenes of sex, 2 scenes of innuendo. Violence: 13 instances of violence. Profanity: 54 harsh profanities. Drugs: 16 scenes with smoking, 13 scenes with drinking, 4 scenes with drugs.

Bad Santa (R)

Director: Terry Zwigoff. With Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Brett Kelly. (91 min.)

Staff ** "Bad Santa," indeed. With all the hype about this film, one may expect a dark, cynical comedy with some sort of commentary on the mass consumerism of the season. Sadly, moments like that are few. Instead, we get 93 minutes of Billy Bob Thornton drinking and pointlessly cussing in a Santa suit. Apparently the producers consider this comedy. The plot of a down-and-out safecracker who robs department stores posing as Santa is left by the wayside, as is the comedic potential of Bernie Mac and the late John Ritter. This movie is as welcome as a lump of coal. By Adam Weiskind

Staff ** Mean-spirited, juvenile, tasteless, raunchy.

Sex/Nudity: 13 scenes of innuendo, 3 sex scenes. Violence: 14 scenes of violence. Profanity: 275 harsh profanities. Drugs: 17 scenes with alcohol, 17 scenes with smoking, 1 with drugs.

The Cat in the Hat (PG)

Director: Bo Welch. With Mike Myers, Kelly Preston, Alec Baldwin, Dakota Fanning. (71 min.)

Sterritt * Dismal adaptation of Dr. Seuss's classic book, about a magical cat who coaxes two kids into having mischievous fun while their mom's away. Myers plays the title feline as if he were a borscht-belt comedian without a speck of talent, and Welch's frenetic style is more like a Freudian fever dream than a children's amusement. In all, jaw-droppingly miscalculated.

Staff * Irritating, Cat-astrophic, inappropriate for kids.

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes with innuendo. Violence: 10 scenes of mild violence, mostly played for laughs. Profanity: 1 profanity, and several scenes of vulgarity, crudity. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol.

Gothika (R)

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz. With Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Penélope Cruz, Charles S. Dutton. (97 min.)

Sterritt ** Accused of murdering her husband, a psychiatrist (Berry) is forcibly committed to her own mental institution, where her colleagues have trouble believing her growing realization that an evil ghost is behind the whole tragic misunderstanding. Great cast, great atmosphere, little sense or first-rate suspense.

Staff **1/2 Dark, eerie, grisly.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of nudity, 2 innuendos. Violence: 15 instances of violence, including rape and sexual torture. Profanity: 5 profanities. Drugs: 3 scenes with smoking.

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 but 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.

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 Haunted Mansion (PG)

Director: Ron Minkoff. With Eddie Murphy, Marsha Thomason, Terence Stamp, Wallace Shawn. (88 min.)

Sterritt ** Hoping to land a commission, two married real-estate brokers and their kids visit a spooky old manor containing a mysterious young man, his weirded-out butler, and ghosts galore. While this uneven horror comedy may supply giggles and shivers to the preteens it's aimed at, grownups won't find anything they haven't seen before.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: 12 scenes. Profanity: 10 mild expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes of drinking.

The Last Samurai (R)

Director: Edward Zwick. With Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Timothy Spall, Billy Connelly. (144 min.)

Sterritt ** A down-and-out Civil War veteran accepts an offer to teach Japanese troops how to shoot so they can subdue Japan's remaining samurai swordsmen. But his loyalties shift when he's held captive in a samurai village overflowing with values of dignity, fidelity, and honor. The slow-moving movie puts more weight on pretty pictures than on historical issues.

Staff *** Flawed plot, 'Dances with Wolves' remake, beautifully shot, epic.

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 21 scenes of bloody battle. Profanity: 4 instances. Drugs: 10 scenes of drinking, 2 scenes smoking.

Love Actually (R)

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

Sterritt * Set in London during the Christmas 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, and plenty more. The cast glitters but the storytelling falls flat, relying on bathroom humor and needless nudity.

Staff *** Charming, light, impressive cast.

Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes, 7 instances of innuendo, including scenes with nudity. Violence: Mostly comic violence. Profanity: 26 instances. Drugs: 9 scenes of drinking.

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 **** During the Napoleonic Wars, Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey plays an oceanic cat-and-mouse game from Brazil to the Galápagos Islands as he tries to get the better of an enemy ship. Based on novels by Patrick O'Brian, this rip-roaring epic combines edge-of-your-seat battle scenes with vivid historical details and more fascinating characters than most action movies dream of.

Staff *** Captivating, masterfully atmospheric, gory.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 15 scenes of extended warfare, including flogging, amputation. Profanity: 9 profanities. Drugs: 11 instances of drinking, 1 of smoking.

The Missing (R)

Director: Ron Howard. With Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd. (130 min.)

Sterritt ** A frontier physician (Blanchett) and her estranged father (Jones) search for her young daughter, who's been kidnapped by a native American shaman with evil intentions. The screenplay often contradicts its supposed celebration of strong women and condemnation of anti-Indian oppression, and the last third is a lackluster barrage of fighting.

Staff *** Epic, entertaining, gruesome.

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo, 1 scene of implied sex. Violence: 23 scenes of violence, including kidnappings, attempted rape. Profanity: 4 profanities. Drugs: 3 scenes with smoking, 5 with drinking.

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