Director: Hector Babenco. With Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos, Ivan de Almeida, Milhem Cortaz. (146 min.)
Sterritt *** The inventive though uneven Brazilian filmmaker turns a fictionalized spotlight on an overcrowded São Paulo prison where more than 100 inmates were killed by police during a 1992 riot, picturing events that led up to the slaughter through the eyes of a sympathetic physician. Harrowing, realistic, humanistic. In Portuguese with subtitles
Director: Jim Jarmusch. With Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Joie Lee, Steve Buscemi. (96 min.)
Sterritt *** A series of vignettes, starting with a "Saturday Night Live" sketch from 1986, about conversations taking place as people consume (or reject) the title substances. Some are weak, some are superb - there's a priceless one with Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan as Brits with different feelings about learning they're cousins - but they get better as they go along, ending with the most understated and touching of all, featuring Taylor Mead and Bill Rice as cultural rebels who've outlived their rebellions.
Director: Toni Kalem. With Lili Taylor, Guy Pearce, Sara Rue, John Hawkes. (109 min.)
Sterritt *** A modestly filmed drama about a small-town girl who goes crazy (literally) over a local rock singer with more pretensions than talent. Taylor is utterly believable even when the screenplay (from an Anne Tyler novel) is too self-consciously quirky, and Pearce nicely portrays the guy she obsesses over.
Director: André Téchiné. With Emmanuelle Béart, Gaspard Ulliel, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet. (95 min.)
Sterritt *** Béart plays a Parisian widow who rescues her children from the Nazi occupation and becomes unexpectedly close to a young stranger who helps them survive in the French wilderness. The story is dramatic and Béart gives one of her best performances, even if Téchiné's style has its usual sense of distance. Originally titled "Les Égarés." In French with subtitles
Director: Wolfgang Petersen. With Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Eric Bana, Peter O'Toole. (162 min.)
Sterritt *** See review, page 13.
Director: Peter Gilbert. With Julian Bond, Barbara Johns, Vernon Jordan, Thurgood Marshall Jr. (101 min)
Sterritt *** A documentary about the Supreme Court's history-changing decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954, contending that the phrase quoted in the title seriously delayed the hoped-for end of segregation in Southern schools. Straightforward and informative, but overlong and repetitious.
Director: Peter Howitt. With Julianne Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Parker Posey, Michael Sheen. (87 min.)
Sterritt * Two top-notch divorce attorneys (Moore and Brosnan) fall for each other while battling in the courtroom. This sort of legal-eagle premise worked beautifully in the bygone Tracy and Hepburn days, declined when the Coen brothers made "Intolerable Cruelty," and hits rock bottom here. Poor writing and directing.
Sex/Nudity: 4 instances of innuendo, 2 of implied sex. Violence: Only threats. Profanity: 21 instances, nearly all mild. Drugs: At least 10 instances of drinking.
Director: Tony Scott. With Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken, Dakota Fanning, Giancarlo Giannini. (146 min.)
Sterritt **An alcoholic, Bible-reading assassin (Washington) becomes the bodyguard of a little Mexican girl whose wealthy parents fear she might become a victim of kidnappers who are terrorizing their city. The first hour is sharply directed, character-driven drama that ranks with Scott's best work. Then he lapses into his usual mode - more a bombardier than an entertainer, filling the screen with sadistic violence and arbitrary plot twists. A wasted opportunity.
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo, 2 of implied sex. Violence: 24 instances of violence. Profanity: 20 instances, mostly harsh. Drugs: 13 scenes with smoking, 8 with drinking, 3 with both.
Director: Mark Waters. With Lindsay Lohan, Tina Fey, Rachel McAdams. (97 min.)
Sterritt *** "Clueless" meets "Election" in this sharp-eyed comedy about a girl (Lohan) who enters a regular high school after years of homeschooling, wangles her way into a snooty clique, and thereby betrays the nerds who have befriended her. Fey's screenplay is incredibly smart, and Lohan is captivating.
Staff *** Fun, fast-paced, with sly observations.
Sex/Nudity: 9 instances of innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes. Profanity: 49 instances, mostly mild. Drugs: 2 scenes with drinking.
Director: Dennie Gordon. With Ashley Olsen, Mary-Kate Olsen, Eugene Levy. (85 min.)
Sterritt ** The insanely popular Olsen twins play suburban teens having a wild Manhattan day. As one heads for a scholarship speech, the other sneaks off to a rock-video taping session, and both wonder if the boy of their dreams might be just around the next crowded corner. The cast is cute and the action is colorful, but the comedy isn't as captivating as it sets out to be.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 7 slapstick scenes. Profanity: 4 expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with drinking.
Director: Guy Maddin. With Isabella Rossellini, Maria de Madeiros, Mark McKinney, Ross McMillan. (99 min.)
Sterritt **** The time is 1933 and the heroine is a wealthy Canadian woman (Rossellini) who sponsors a contest to see which country can come up with the most melancholy tune. What brings brilliance to this zany premise is Maddin's mad style, which follows his frequent practice of making the movie look like a long-ago production that's been heedlessly stored under somebody's bed for the past few decades. Utterly artificial, outrageous, and enjoyable if you're as adventurous a moviegoer as Maddin is a filmmaker.
Staff **** Quirky, intriguing, hauntingly beautiful
Sex/Nudity: 9 instances, none graphic. Violence: 10 scenes, including a leg amputation. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes with drinking, 1 with smoking.
Director: Morgan Spurlock. With Morgan Spurlock, Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, Dr. Daryl Isaacs. (96 min.)
Sterritt ** Spurlock wanted to test the claim that eating fast food is making Americans too fat, so he went on a medically charted diet of McDonald's products and found that - surprise! - he got fatter. He also recorded the experiment in this documentary, which is far from persuasive since Spurlock didn't scarf his McDiet the way ordinary people do, but relentlessly stuffed himself like the human equivalent of a force-fed goose. The results have more journalistic flab than scientific muscle.
Staff **** Unsettling, witty, not entirely convincing.
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 1 harsh expression. Drugs: 1 scene with smoking, 3 references to drugs.
Director: Gary Winick. With Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Kathy Baker, Andy Serkis. (98 min.)
Sterritt **Snubbed by the cool chicks she envies, 13-year-old Jenna wishes she were 30 and flirty, and suddenly "wishing dust" makes her exactly that - editing a fashion magazine, sparring with a cool-chick rival, and hoping to capture the heart of a boy she spurned when she was too young to know better. The early scenes are full of too-familiar situations and stereotypes, but the story picks up steam when Jenna tackles a crisis at her magazine, and Ruffalo's laid-back manner helps maintain some plausibility and charm.
Staff *** Warm, winsome, fresh reworking of old ideas.
Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 23 instances, almost all mild. Drugs: 5 instances of drinking, 2 of smoking.
Director: Stephen Sommers. With Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, David Wenham, Richard Roxburgh (131 min.)
Sterritt * Portrayed as a sort of James Bond of the supernatural, the famous vampire hunter (Jackman) goes after Dracula with help from a randy friar and a lovely woman (Beckinsale). Along the way, they encounter everyone from Dr. Jekyll's alter ego to Frankenstein's monster, who holds the key to vanquishing the vampire. The touches of gothic horror are edited so quickly that no real atmosphere has a chance to develop, and there's not a shred of psychology in the characters, human or otherwise. This is yet another video game disguised as a wide-screen epic, and it deserves to have a box-office stake driven through its hokey Hollywood heart.
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes with innuendo/implied sex. Violence: 35 scenes, mostly graphic. Profanity: 10 mild expressions. Drugs: 2 instances of drinking, 2 of smoking.
Staff **1/2 With the Jackie Chan remake coming out in June, it's fun to see the definitive version of this Jules Verne classic that took home five Oscars in 1956, including best film. Broadway showman Mike Todd created this extravaganza, which launched the venerable movie tradition of the celebrity cameo. The color holds up well, although the leisurely pace may be an adjustment in today's world of fast-paced editing. Extras include the George Melies' 1902 "A Trip to the Moon." By Gloria Goodale
Staff **1/2 The Disney vaults are being mined for all their worth, and this collection is one of the more intriguing. In 1941 the military took over the Disney Studio as part of the war effort. As Leonard Maltin explains in the introduction, for the next four years, no studio helped out with film propaganda more than Disney. Topical cartoons put Donald, Mickey, and Pluto to work, showing whom the US was fighting and why, including one that puts a pie in Hitler's face. This piece of often startling cultural history includes the full-length feature "Victory Through Air Power." By Gloria Goodale