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Movie Guide

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

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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 clutches all those who enter. The film is a beautiful blend of tension, good performances, and a shocking ending. By Gabino Villanueva

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances. Violence: 16 instances. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: 3 instances of drinking and smoking.

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.

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

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.

Sideways (R)

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

Sterritt **** Two friends, a recently divorced writer and a marriage-bound actor, spend a weekend together in rural California, running into more complications and conundrums of the heart than they ever expected. This bittersweet comedy-drama positively crackles with wit, intelligence, and flair, and Giamatti cements his status as the smartest, savviest actor of his generation. Bravo.

Surviving Christmas (PG-13)
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