Movie guide

NEW RELEASES
Against the Ropes (PG-13)

Director: Charles S. Dutton. With Meg Ryan, Omar Epps, Tony Shalhoub, Charles S. Dutton. (111 min.)

Sterritt * See review, page 15.

The Big Animal (Not rated)

Director: Jerzy Sturh. With Jerzy Stuhr, Anna Dymna, Blazej Wójcik, Dominika Bednarczyk. (73 min.)

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Sterritt *** A nondescript Polish couple finds a lost circus camel in their yard and adopts it - at first pleasing their town, which enjoys its novelty value, but stirring trouble when their neighbors resent what they see as the self-reliant airs of a creature and its masters. The drama is a gentle, witty parable of the mixed feelings some people show toward free choice when it confronts them not in theory but in everyday life. In Polish with English subtitles.

Clifford's Really Big Movie (G)

Director: Robert Ramirez. With voices of John Ritter, Jenna Elfman, John Goodman, Wayne Brady. (74 min.)

Sterritt ** Capping a long career in children's books and TV, the much-loved Big Red Dog gets a frame large enough for his body - as well as his sweet nature and loving disposition. In his first feature film he runs away to a performing-animals show, hoping he'll win a lifetime supply of the dog food that bankrupts his owner because he eats so much. The movie is tamer than tame in every respect, which makes it great for little kids, if not for the grownups who bring them.

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (PG)

Director: Sara Sugarman. With Lindsay Lohan, Adam

Garcia, Megan Fox, Alison Pill. (86 min.)

Staff * Lola Cep (Lohan) is a desperately spoiled "New York City doll" forced to move to a sleepy New Jersey suburb. She thinks everyone is standing between her and stardom, but she refuses to stop dreaming and ends up with the lead role in her school play and an invitation to her favorite rockstar's afterparty. The plot is as unbelievable as Lola (whose crush, Sam, pops in and out of scenes at random), and if the preteens this film is aimed at fall for it and look up to Lola, the world won't be a better place. By Elizabeth Armstrong

Kitchen Stories (Not rated)

Director: Bent Hamer. With Tomas Nörstrom, Joachim Calmeyer, Reine Brynolfsson, Bjorn Floberg. (92 min.)

Sterritt *** Marvelously wry comedy about the odd relationship between a crusty Norwegian man and a snoopy Swedish researcher who's assigned to sit in his kitchen and chart his movements there. Acted and directed with a savvy understatement that perfectly matches the eccentric story. In Norwegian and Swedish with English subtitles.

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (PG)

Director: Larry Blamire. With Andrew Parks, Susan McConnell, Brian Howe, Fay Masterson. (96 min.)

Sterritt ** An interstellar husband and wife crash-land their spaceship on Earth and get involved with a helpful couple, a sinister scientist, and a desiccated carcass. Intended as a parody of B-movie fantasies from the '50s, this satire more directly lampoons kiddie thrillers like "Captain Video," putting it perilously close to the pop-culture trash it aims to mock.

Secret Things (Not rated)

Director: Jean-Claude Brisseau. With Sabrina Seyvecou, Coralie Revel, Roger Mirmont, Fabrice Deville. (115 min.)

Sterritt *** Deciding that sex appeal is power, two young Frenchwomen test their theory in the Parisian business world. The sensationalistic beginning and needless mumbo-jumbo ending aside, this is a female buddy film with bite. In French with English subtitles.

Welcome to Mooseport (PG-13)

Director: Donald Petrie. With Gene Hackman, Maura Tierney, Ray Romano, Marcia Gay Harden. (110 min.)

Sterritt * See review at right.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
Along Came Polly (PG-13)

Director: John Hamburg. With Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Debra Messing. (90 min.)

Sterritt * A neurotically cautious man (Stiller) gets cheated on by his wife (Messing) during their honeymoon, whereupon he inexplicably starts chasing a woman (Aniston) whose life philosophy is the opposite of his. If you can swallow that premise, you may be able to tolerate the crass humor and weak acting, even by Hoffman. Aniston is so far above this material she should never, ever have signed on.

Barbershop 2 (PG-13)

Director: Kevin Rodney Sullivan. With Ice Cube, Eve, Michael Ealy. (98 min.)

Staff **1/2 The crew from the original "Barbershop" comes back to cut hair, only this time a national chain tries to shut them down. Sullivan brings forth a narrative buzzing with energy and sharpness and the actors perform with an earthy vigor, but the film's bare-boned script and mawkish ending keep it from achieving 'shear' brilliance. By Brad Rosenberg

Sex/Nudity: 9 scenes with innuendo. Violence: 5 scenes. Profanity: 77 instances. Drugs: 5 instances.

The Butterfly Effect (R)

Directors: J. Mackye Gruber, Eric Bress. With Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Eric Stoltz. (113 min.)

Sterritt * A troubled young man gradually learns he's been traveling back in time, inhabiting his body in earlier stages of his life and altering events in ways that befuddle him when he returns to a present changed in unexpected ways. A promising premise; too bad the screenplay is as confused as the hero.

Catch that Kid (PG)

Director: Bart Freundlich. With Kristen Stewart, Corbin Bleu, Max Thieriot, Jennifer Beals. (92 min.)

Sterritt ** As her father lies ill after scaling Mount Everest, a young girl asks two pals to get on their go-karts and help her steal money to pay medical bills - from the same bank where her mother is installing a new security system. There's humor, suspense, and not a hint of reality.

Staff * Unengaging, preposterous.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 11 instances. Profanity: 8 instances. Drugs: 4 instances of drinking.

City of God (R)

Director: Fernando Meireilles, Kátia Lund. With Matheus Nachtergaele, Alexandre Rodrigues, Seu Jorge, Leandro Firmino da Hora. (130 min.)

Sterritt ** Ferocious drama visits Rio de Janeiro's anarchic slums from the late 1960s to the early '80s. The characters are violent criminals ranging from 9 to 14 years old, so lacking in judgment and experience that they're at least as dangerous as the veteran thugs they imitate. The story and characters recall Brazil's great Cinema Novo movement of the '60s and '70s, combining stark realism with expressive atmosphere. Cinematically, the film is as slick as any Hollywood thriller. In Portuguese with English subtitles.

Cold Mountain (R)

Director: Anthony Minghella. With Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Renée Zellweger. (155 min.)

Sterritt ** Just as the Civil War is breaking out, a young couple fall in love, and the man (Law) deserts the Confederate army for a long trek home. The story builds melodramatic momentum, but is interrupted by episodes of suffering that smack more of sensationalism than candor. The fine cast is also misused.

Staff *** Poetic, book is better, Zellweger adds verve.

Sex/Nudity: 5 instances. Violence: 19 scenes. Profanity: 14 instances. Drugs: 5 scenes of drinking.

The Dreamers (NC-17)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci. With Michael Pitt, Eva Green. (112 min.)

Sterritt *** Amid the cultural and political turmoil of Paris in 1968, an American student grows close to a French brother and sister whose abnormally intimate relationship makes them both eager and hesitant to welcome him into their lives. The movie is strongest when it depicts the idealistic upheavals of the '60s and weakest when it retreats to the apartment that houses the story's explicit sexual adventures. In all, it's a middling-good chapter in Bertolucci's exploration of links between sexual and political liberty.

Staff *** Edgy, time-warped, a hazy, dreamlike plot.

Sex/Nudity: 17 scenes, with overtones of incest. Violence: 3 scenes or riots. Profanity: 16 instances. Drugs: 8 instances of drinking, 16 of smoking, one of marijuana.

50 First Dates (PG-13)

Director: Peter Segal. With Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Sean Astin, Dan Aykroyd. (99 min.)

Sterritt * A womanizer (Sandler) falls for a woman (Barrymore) whose short-term memory has been destroyed by an injury, which means each time he woos her is the first time for her. Set in picturesque Hawaii, this could have been a tasty romantic comedy about love conquering disability, but the filmmakers swamp the story with tasteless jokes, phony animal stunts, and bathroom humor. Forget it.

Staff *** Lighthearted, fun, sweet but corny.

Sex/Nudity: 19 instances. Violence: 10 scenes. Profanity: 18 instances, mostly mild. Drugs: 10 instances.

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

Director: Peter Jackson. With Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler. (301 min.)

Sterritt **The popular series comes to a close as Frodo and Sam struggle toward Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring in the fires where it was forged. This is one of the rare times when a trilogy's third chapter is the best of the bunch, thanks mostly to Gollum and the climactic battle scene.

Staff **** Incredible, stunning, built to last forever.

Sex/Nudity: None Violence: 97 scenes, including intense instances of battle gore. Profanity: None. Drugs: 2 scenes of drinking, 4 scenes with smoking.

You Got Served (PG-13)

Director: Christopher B. Stokes. With Marques Houston, Lil' Kim, Raz B, Steve Harvey. (93 min.)

Staff ** Hip-hop dance battles take the place of gang warfare in South Central L.A., as rival "crews" fight for choreographic and acrobatic dominance. The eye-popping originality and athleticism are crowd pleasers and almost make up for distracting camera tricks and the insipid "keep away from my sister" subplot. Good, clean fun - and loud. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of mild innuendo Violence: 6 scenes. Profanity: 13 instances. Drugs: 3 scenes.

OUT ON DVD
Stone Reader (PG-13)

Director: Mark Moskowitz. With: Mark Moskowitz, Dow Mossman, Leslie Fiedler, Robert Gottloeb. (128 min.)

Staff *** In 1972, The New York Times raved about "The Stones of Summer" by first-time writer Dow Mossman. But he disappeared and his book went out of print. "Stone Reader" traces Mark Moskowitz's attempt to find Mossman and discover why he stopped writing. But the quest is an excuse for Moskowitz - an affable raconteur but a lousy detective - to talk to book critic Leslie Fiedler, former Knopf editor Robert Gottlieb, and others about the impact a great book can have. The bonus disc includes additional conversations and traces how the film's success led to the book's reprint. By Stephen Humphries

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