Movie guide

NEW RELEASES
The Butterfly (Not rated)

Director: Philippe Muyl. With Michel Serrault, Claire Bouanich, Pierre Poirot, Nade Dieu. (85 min)

Sterritt ** An elderly butterfly collector tracks down a rare species while minding a little girl who's run away from her single mom. It's all very sweet and occasionally touching. More lasting shots of more beautiful butterflies would have added a lot, though. In French with English subtitles.

Calendar Girls (PG-13)

Director: Nigel Cole. With Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, Linda Bassett, John Alderton. (108 min)

Recommended: Default

Sterritt ** See review, page 18.

Cinemania (Not rated)

Directors: Angela Christlieb, Stephen Kijak. With Jack Angstreich, Harvey Schwartz, Roberta Hill. (83 min)

Sterritt **** What if nothing on earth interested you except going to the movies, and you had the leisure time to do it? The impassioned New Yorkers profiled in this documentary aren't critics or film profs, just folks who think the good life means racing from one screen to another as many hours each day as possible. Think of the intricate schedules to be drawn up and split-second travel routes to be plotted out! You may become a cinemaniac yourself after sitting through this beauty.

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara (PG-13)

Director: Errol Morris. With Robert S. McNamara, Errol Morris. (107 min.)

Sterritt **** Morris turns his unblinking documentary eye on the controversial secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, punctuating interview segments with archival footage and other historical material. Among the film's many revelations is the fact that Robert McNamara today has far more complex and conflicted views of the Vietnam War - which he helped orchestrate and direct - than either his champions or detractors may expect. As in Morris movies like "Gates of Heaven" and "The Thin Blue Line," the filmmaking is meticulous and the ideas are endlessly thought-provoking.

House of Sand and Fog (R)

Director: Vadim Perelman. With Jennifer Connolly, Ben Kingsley, Ron Eldard, Shohreh Aghdashloo. (126 min.)

Sterritt ** A county mistakenly evicts a troubled woman from her family home and auctions it off to a conservative Iranian immigrant, sparking a fierce battle over conflicting rights that threatens to turn violent when a cop in love with the woman gets involved. The first hour is excellent, spinning an ethically and emotionally compelling tale. Narrative logic fades during the second half, though, reducing the movie's impact on every level - and it's worse if you've read the novel by André Dubus III, which carries its grim premise to a more tough-minded conclusion.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (PG-13)

Director: Peter Jackson. With Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd. (201 min.)

Sterritt ** See review, this page.

Mona Lisa Smile (PG-13)

Director: Mike Newell. With Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal. (118 min.)

Sterritt ** See review, page 18.

Warrior of Light (Not rated)

Director: Monika Treut. With Yvonne Bezerra de Mello, Alváro Bezerra de Mello. (91 min)

Sterritt **** Absorbing documentary about Yvonne Bezerra de Mello's selfless work helping street children in Rio de Janeiro, also showing her simultaneous life as a well-to-do woman with a ritzy lifestyle. Moving, revealing, harrowing. In English and Portuguese with English subtitles.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
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. 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, 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. Stamp's portrayal of the butler is fun, though.

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.

Something's Gotta Give (PG-13)

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

Sterritt *** An aging businessman (Nicholson) realizes that the 20-something he's wooing (Peet) is less interesting, fun, and sexy than her mother (Keaton), but before he can cement a solid relationship with this mature woman, a young physician (Reeves) arrives to complete the love quadrangle. While it's a standard romantic comedy in most respects, Meyers's movie deserves extra credit for challenging Hollywood clichés about love across the generations, and for teaming up Nicholson and Keaton, whose chemistry positively bubbles off the screen.

Staff **1/2 Lovably cast, long-winded, Keaton is radiant.

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes with nudity, 2 sex scenes, 3 innuendos. Violence: None. Profanity: 19 profanities. Drugs: 14 scenes with drinking. 4 scenes with smoking.

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. Meryl Streep and Griffin Dunne are good sports in their small roles, though.

Sex/Nudity: 9 instances of innuendo and sex. Violence: 4 instances. Profanity: 39 profanities. Drugs: 5 scenes with smoking. 9 scenes with drinking.

Out on DVD
Freaky Friday (PG)

Director: Mark Waters. With Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, Harold Gould, Mark Harmon. (93 min.)

Staff *** Jamie Lee Curtis is a one-woman special effects team in this loopy delight, which surpasses the original 1973 Jodie Foster-Barbara Harris film. Curtis and Lindsay Lohan (who's making a career of Disney remakes - she also starred in 19987's "The Parent Trap") play Tess and Anna, a squabbling mother and daughter who become trapped in each other's bodies for 24 hours. The extras are strictly Disney Channel fodder (I'll let you decide for yourself if that's a good thing). Lohan giggles good-naturedly through a back-stage featurette, and there are one deleted snippet, two music videos, and a couple of alternate endings, none of which, sadly, features Curtis zooming off into the sunset on a motorcycle, electric guitar strapped to her back. By Yvonne Zipp

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