Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
Arna's Children (Not rated)

Directors: Juliano Mer Khamis, Danniel Danniel. With Arna Mer Khamis, Juliano Mer Khamis. (83 min.)

Sterritt **** Documentary about a Jewish woman who set up a theater center for Palestinian children in a West Bank refugee camp, and some of her pupils who later became suicide bombers in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Contains amazingly candid views of warriors behind the scenes of battle. In English, Hebrew, and Arabic with subtitles.

DIG! (Not rated)

Director: Ondi Timoner. With Anton Newcombe, Courtney Taylor, Matt Hollywood, Zia McCabe. (106 min.)

Recommended: Default

Sterritt **** Documentary about two rock bands, the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols, whose leaders are (usually) friendly rivals, and one of whom (Newcombe) seems bent on sabotaging his life as well as his career. What makes the movie powerful is Timoner's decision to structure it via Taylor's perspective on his competitor, with no holds barred.

The Grudge (PG-13)

Director: Takashi Shimizu. With Sarah Michelle Gellar, Clea DuVall, William Mapother, Bill Pullman. (96 min.)

Staff *** When a young Japanese day-care volunteer responsible for nursing an elderly, demented woman fails to show up to work one day, an American exchange student (Gellar) is asked to take her place. The disturbing events that follow in the old woman's home will leave you hanging by a thread as you gradually become acquainted with the horror that inescapably clutches all those who enter the house. Based on the Japanese hit motion picture "JU-ON: The Grudge," and shot by the same director, this film is a beautiful blend of tension, good performances, and a shocking ending. By Gabino Villanueva

Happy Hour (Not rated)

Director: Mike Bencivenga. With Anthony LaPaglia, Caroleen Feeney, Eric Stoltz, Robert Vaughn. (93 min.)

Sterritt ** The acting is excellent in this bittersweet story of a man whose life and love affair are wrecked by alcoholism. The first hour is eloquent and true. Once the story takes its big turn toward tragedy, though, it becomes predictable and sentimental.

The Machinist (Not rated)

Director: Brad Anderson. With Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Ironside, Anna Massey. (107 min.)

Sterritt *** Effectively weirded-out chiller about a factory worker who may - or may not - be a cold-blooded killer. Bale is brilliant.

The Manson Family (Not rated)

Director: Jim Van Bebber. With Marc Pitman, Marcelo Games, Michelle Briggs, Jim Van Bebber. (95 min.)

Sterritt ** Docudrama about the group of late-'60s murderers, emphasizing rank-and-file members usually obscured by Charles Manson's psychotic shadow. Harrowing and imaginatively made.

Sex Is Comedy (Not rated)

Director: Catherine Breillat. With Anne Parillaud, Grégoire Colin, Roxane Mesquida, Dominique Colladant. (92 min.)

Sterritt ** Making a movie, a filmmaker guides two young performers toward a sex scene that has everyone nervous. Talky and mostly humorless, but interesting as a reflection of Breillat's experiences directing her own popular film "Fat Girl" in 2001.

Sideways (R)

Director: Alexander Payne. With Paul Giamatti, Sandra Oh, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen. (123 min.)

Sterritt **** See review.

Surviving Christmas (PG-13)

Director: Mike Mitchell. With Ben Affleck, Christina Applegate, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara. (91 min.)

Sterritt ** Deciding not to spend Christmas alone, a spoiled yuppie pays a fortune to a family for pretending to be his own loving relatives during the yuletide season. There are a few amusing moments, helped by subdued performances from Affleck and Gandolfini, but this is no "Bad Santa" despite its obvious ambition to play similar holiday tricks.

Undertow (R)

Director: David Gordon Green. With Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, Devon Alan. (107 min.)

Sterritt *** A young rural man flees his dysfunctional household but is followed by a dangerous uncle who'd be happy to kill him. Taking great artistic chances in storytelling and performance style, Green finally fulfills the promise he showed in his fine 2000 drama "George Washington" as a terrific builder of mood, atmosphere, and psychological suspense.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
The Forgotten (PG-13)

Director: Joseph Ruben. With Julianne Moore, Dominic West. (91 min.)

Staff ** Telly Paretta's grief over her 8-year old son, who passed away a little over a year ago, is replaced by angry despair as she learns that even those closest to her deny her child ever existed. Telly's unrelenting search for the truth delivers a few good jumps and allows Julianne Moore to display her acting prowess once again. By Gabino Villanueva

Sex/Nudity: 2 mild innuendos. Violence: 14 instances. Profanity: 20 expressions. Drugs: 4 instances of drinking.

Friday Night Lights (PG-13)

Director: Peter Berg. With Billy Bob Thornton, Garrett Hedlund. (117 min.)

Staff ***1/2 Every fall west Texans' fancy turns from the boom and bust oil economy to high-school football. Friday night's game makes a coach the town hero or a whipping boy. Thornton, in a sympathetic role, is Coach Gaines of the Odessa-Permian Panthers, whose tough love and character-building pep talks mitigate the fanaticism pouring from the stands. Director Berg treats the sports-movie conventions with freshness. By M.K. Terrell

Sex/Nudity: 4 instances. Violence: 11 instances. Profanity: 34, mostly mild expressions. Drugs: 7 instances of drinking and smoking.

Ladder 49 (PG-13)

Director: Jay Russell. With Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Morris Chestnut. (115 min.)

Staff *** As firefighter Jack Morrison (Phoenix) waits for his buddies to evacuate him from a collapsing warehouse, he relives his 10 years with the department. The clunky flashback storytelling doesn't detract from the believable vignettes of fire fighting and the job's pressures on home life. By M.K. Terrell

The Motorcycle Diaries (R)

Director: Walter Salles. With Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, Mía Maestro, Mercedes Morán. (126 min.)

Sterritt **** Fictionalized version of the freewheeling travels around Latin America that gave young Ernesto "Che" Guevara, still a middle-class medical student, a glimpse of his future calling as a revolutionary fighter. A fascinating study of an energetic personality. Superbly acted. In Spanish with subtitles.

Shall We Dance (PG-13)

Director: Peter Chelsom. With Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Lopez. (106 min.)

Sterritt * For inexplicable reasons, a middle-aged man decides to take dancing lessons but keep this secret from his wife. The cast is promising, but this remake of the popular Japanese movie falls flat, with more "sound design" than delicious music, more slick film editing than graceful ballroom gliding.

Sex/Nudity: 5 instances of innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 19 expressions, mostly mild. Drugs: 5 scenes of drinking.

Shark Tale (PG)

Directors: Vicky Jenson, Rob Letterman, Eric Bergeron. With voices of Will Smith, Renée Zellweger, Robert De Niro, Angelina Jolie. (90 min.)

Sterritt ** Animated feature about a little fish who poses as a macho underwater dude after a shark's accidental death makes him look like a hero, pleasing the late shark's vegetarian brother but irking his Mafia boss- like dad. The screenplay isn't remotely as funny as it tries to be, and the visual style is equally unexciting.

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 8 Profanity: 7 mild expressions. Drugs: 1 scene of drinking, 1 of smoking.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (PG)

Director: Kerry Conran. With Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Angelina Jolie. (107 min.)

Sterritt * A newspaperwoman and a pilot race across continents to find an evil scientist and stop a robot invasion in 1939. This piece of soulless merchandise is no less mechanical than its own automatons.

Staff *** Uneven pace, cold story, stunning effects.

Sex/Nudity: 3 innuendos. Violence: 13 scenes. Profanity: 6 mild expressions. Drugs: None.

Stage Beauty (R)

Director: Richard Eyre. With Billy Crudup, Clair Danes, Richard Griffiths, Zoe Tapper. (110 min.)

Sterritt *** Crudup shines as the greatest female impersonator in the serious theatrical world of 17th-century London, but hits a crisis when King Charles II issues a decree allowing women's roles to be played by actual women. A clever story, good chemistry between Crudup and Danes, and first-rate acting make this a jolly good show.

Taxi (PG-13)

Director: Tim Story. With Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon, Jennifer Esposito. (79 min.)

Sterritt ** She's a cab driver, he's a cop, and their adversaries are bank robbers who look like supermodels. Frivolous but fun, somewhere between a comic "French Connection" and the craziest Nascar race you never saw.

Staff **1/2 Idiotic plot, laughs aplenty, Latifah shines.

Sex/Nudity: 1 innuendo. Violence: 3 scenes. Profanity: 60 expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol.

Team America: World Police (R)

Director: Trey Parker. With voices of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Elle Russ. (98 min.)

Sterritt ** A team of bumbling military heroes do battle with North Korea's dictator, who's enlisted a gaggle of Hollywood peaceniks as his dupes. With all the characters played by marionettes, this is an equal-opportunity satire, making fun of everyone from Michael Moore to flag-waving militarists. The only stand it appears to take is that all grownups are equally stupid - a childish attitude borne out by the comedy's heavy reliance on gross-out jokes.

Staff **1/2 Technical wonder, irreverent, brilliant satire.

Sex/Nudity: 11 instances. Violence: 21 instances. Profanity: 177 expressions, mostly strong. Drugs: at least 13 instances of smoking and drinking.

OUT ON DVD
Control Room (Not rated)

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 underscores 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 fairer and more balanced than much day-to-day TV programming. In English and Arabic with subtitles.

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