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Movie Guide

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Staff *** Warm, winsome, fresh reworking of old ideas.

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Sex/Nudity: 3 innuendos. Violence: None. Profanity: 23 instances, most mild. Drugs: 5 scenes of drinking, 2 of smoking.

A Slipping Down Life (R)

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.

Troy (R)

Director: Wolfgang Petersen. With Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Eric Bana, Peter O'Toole, Orlando Bloom. (162 min.)

Sterritt *** Paris spirits his lover Helen from Sparta to Troy, sparking a decade-long war in which heroes like Achilles and Hector play leading roles. Pitt sports enough new musculature to make a credible Achilles if not a particularly imposing one, and O'Toole is just right as Priam, a dignified and melancholy monarch. The screenplay leaves out the fate-deciding Olympian gods and never quite decides whether war is glorious or not. Aside from these questionable aspects, the movie is old-fashioned fun in the venerable sword-and-sandal tradition.

Staff *1/2Handsome but hollow, macho, unsophisticated.

Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes with innuendo/implied sex, 4 with nudity. Violence: 18 scenes, mostly graphic. Profanity: 2 expressions. Drugs: 3 instances of drinking.

Van Helsing (PG-13)

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 Gypsy (Beckinsale). Along the way, they encounter everyone from Dr. Jekyll's alter ego to Frankenstein's monster. 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.

Staff ** Insubstantial, frenetic, fast-paced, campy.

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.

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

Director: Peter Jackson. With Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortenson, and Ian McKellen. (201 min.)

Staff ***1/2 Marathoner alert! The final installment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, "Return of the King," comes out on DVD next Tuesday, which means of course, that Memorial Day weekend is the time of the digital LOTR marathons - all three films in a row, popcorn and pizza for all. The extended edition of the film is yet to come, but for those who can't wait, the extras on this two-disc set are respectable: three in-depth programs, including a National Geographic Special, lots of behind-the-scenes commentary, and smaller featurettes. By Gloria Goodale

Miracle (PG)

Director: Gavin O'Connor. With Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, and Noah Emmerich. (135 min., 2 discs)

Staff *** "If we play 10 times, they'll probably win nine," coach Herb Brooks (Russell) tells his ragtag US hockey players before they face the Soviets in the 1980 Olympic games. Anyone with sports sense knows how it ends, but the authenticity and intensity turn a predictable movie into a provocative one. The heart-stopping hockey action will win over any sports nut, and the riveting historical context will recruit the rest. In addition to outtakes and commentary by the filmmakers, extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes, footage of Coach Herb Brooks, and an ESPN round table with members of the 1980 team - a field day for hockey fans. By Marie Ewald