Director: Mario Van Peebles. With Mario Van Peebles, Ossie Davis, Nia Long, Bill Cosby. (108 min.)
Sterritt *** A docudrama account of how African-American film pioneer Melvin Van Peebles used a flash of Hollywood success to launch a production of his 1971 hit "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," recognized as a key event in modern independent moviemaking. This colorful time capsule of a movie was directed by Van Peebles's son, who appeared in "Sweetback" as a child and doesn't minimize the difficulties his father's underfinanced dream entailed for his hard-pressed family and friends.
Director: Roland Emmerich. With Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sela Ward, Ian Holm. (123 min.)
Sterritt ** See review.
Director: Lars von Trier. With Lars von Trier, Jorgen Leth, Patrick Bauchau, Majken Algren Nielsen. (90 min.)
Sterritt **** In one of his most ingenious cinematic stunts, Trier digs out an experimental short called "The Perfect Human," directed by Leth in 1967, and asks his former mentor to remake it five times in accord with instructions designed to guarantee bad outcomes, unless Leth manages to make a virtue of adversity. This movie equivalent of Robert Rauschenberg's artwork "Erased de Kooning" is funny, ornery, and ultimately inspiring. In English, Danish, French, and Spanish with English subtitles
Director: Garry Marshall. With Kate Hudson, John Corbett, Joan Cusack, Helen Mirren. (119 min.)
Sterritt * Kate Hudson gets top billing in the role of Helen, a chic fashion-industry star whose carefree lifestyle is interrupted when a car crash kills her older sister. Entrusted with caring for her nephews and nieces, she finds the élan knocked right out of her. To her surprise, a dashing Lutheran priest (Corbett) offers a hand. Great premise, but the ensuing trials and tribulations - not to mention hapless attempts at comedy - are as off-key as a karaoke scene in which Hudson sounds worse than any audition Simon Cowell has ever had to sit through. By Stephen Humphries
Director: Brian Dannelly. With Jena Malone, Macaulay Culkin, Mandy Moore, Heather Matarazzo. (92 min.)
Sterritt *** See review.
Director: Stephen J. Szklarski. With Mike Hatten, Cheyenne Webber, Ron Keppler. (90 min.)
Sterritt *** Nonfiction visits with seven young hard-drug addicts who hang around a large Manhattan park. The material is vivid and harrowing, although the movie provides little analysis or larger-scale context.
Director: David Taplitz. With Jamie Foxx, Morris Chestnut, Jennifer Esposito, Peter MacNicol. (85 min.)
Staff **1/2 Magazine editor Quincy Watson (Foxx) gets a shock at his engagement party: His fiancée is eloping to Paris with somebody else. Quincy's so upset he writes a sort of Breaking Up for Dummies manual, resulting in a romantic mix-up involving at least seven people, including his cousin Evan (Chestnut), who wants to dump his girlfriend Nicky. Snappy dialogue and a charming cast largely make up for lightweight material and scattered direction. By M.K. Terrell
Director: Jehane Noujaim. With Sameer Khader, Lt. Josh Rushing, Deema Khatib. (84 min.)
Sterritt **** An inside look at the Qatar-based TV network Al Jazeera, bringing out the mixed feelings many of its journalists have toward aspects of conflict between the United States and the Middle East, and underscoring the deeper message that all media reportage is controlled by editors, producers, and ideologies before it gets to its audience. Although it enters a spin room of its own at times, the movie is generally more fairer and more balanced than much day-to-day TV programming. In English and Arabic with subtitles
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 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 2 instances of 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.
Directors: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon. With voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz. (92 min.)
Sterritt *** The gentle ogre is dragged by his new spouse, Fiona, to meet her royal mom and dad, stirring up trouble with a fairy godmother who's furious with him for beating Prince Charming in the race for Fiona's hand. At its best, this "Shrek" sequel draws up a brilliant new blueprint for all-ages animation, blending fairy-tale whimsy with edgy social satire. Too bad it ends with worn-out homilies far less imaginative than the story as a whole.
Staff *** Worthy sequel, playful, slam-dunk finish.
Sex/Nudity: 6 instances of innuendo. Violence: 12 scenes. Profanity: None. Drugs: 3 instances of drinking, 1 of drugs.
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 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 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 innuendos. Violence: None. Profanity: 23 instances, most mild. Drugs: 5 scenes of drinking, 2 of smoking.
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.
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.
Creators: Joshua Brand, John Falsey. With Rob Morrow, Barry Corbin, Janine Turner, John Corbett. (2 discs)
Staff **** This quirky TV series about a New York doc (Morrow) fresh from med school who finds himself in a backwater Alaska town holds up exceptionally well on DVD. The truly ensemble feeling of the cast is evident from the pilot episode, in which even the minor players have settled into their roles without fumbling. Good writing sets this show apart. The story lines play around with both the doctor's and the townsfolk's assumptions about each other. The doctor achieves a grudging admiration - punctuated by moments of frustration - for the stoicism of his new neighbors. Morrow and Turner drive the show's energy with their prickly relationship. The extras - deleted scenes and bloopers - are not the DVD's highlight. By April Austin