Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
Birth (R)

Director: Jonathan Glazer. With Nicole Kidman, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, Cameron Bright. (100 min.)

Sterritt **** A widow, about to remarry, meets a 10-year-old boy who insists he's the reincarnation of her late husband. The eerie tale is steeped in brooding atmosphere and psychological suspense thanks to Glazer's hugely imaginative visual style and creative use of music, sound, and silence. Huston gives a starmaking performance and Kidman is better than ever. Brilliant.

Enduring Love (R)

Director: Roger Michell. With Daniel Craig, Samantha Morton, Rhys Ifans, Bill Nighy. (100 min.)

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Sterritt *** See review.

Home of the Brave (Not rated)

Director: Paola di Florio. With Sander Vanocur, Gloria Steinem, John Lewis, voice of Stockard Channing. (75 min.)

Sterritt **** Amazing footage from the glory period of the civil rights movement energizes this documentary about Viola Gregg Liuzzo, a white woman whose 1965 murder by white supremacists in Alabama helped push Congress to pass key voting rights legislation. Fascinating.

Let the Church Say Amen (Not rated)

Director: David Petersen. With members of a Washington, D.C., church. (87 min.)

Sterritt *** Documentary about a small, minimally funded church that helps its African-American members face the challenges of ghetto life. Affecting, though not very artistic.

Ray (PG-13)

Director: Taylor Hackford. With Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Regina King. (152 min.)

Sterritt *** See review.

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (Not rated)

Director: Xan Cassavetes. With Robert Altman, James Woods, F.X. Feeney, Kevin Thomas. (122 min.)

Sterritt **** Riveting documentary about the early California cable outlet and its ingenious programmer, Jerry Harvey, whose unsettled life and tragic death provide a dramatic framework for the account. Cassavetes does a fine job of orchestrating film clips, talking heads, and archival footage.

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 plays Coach Gaines of the Odessa-Permian Panthers, whose tough love and 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.

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 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)

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.

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. 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.

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.

Vera Drake (R)

Director: Mike Leigh. With Imelda Staunton, Peter Wight, Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent. (125 min.)

Sterritt **** Staunton plays a middle-aged cleaning woman in 1950s London who performs illegal abortions in her spare time, motivated by an intuitive conviction that she's providing a desperately needed service for desperately needy women. The acting is brilliant and Leigh's screenplay is very long on compassion, very short on preaching and politics.

OUT ON DVD
Mulan: Special Edition (G)

Directors: Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft. Voices of Pat Morita, Eddie Murphy, Ming-Na. (88 min.)

Staff **** "Mulan: Special Edition" marks the return of one of Disney's A-list animated films. There are some fun extras in this two-disc set: alternative openings, a wonderful song from Eddie Murphy that was cut, games, music videos, and backstage footage - but come Saturday night, the real reason to own this little gem is the lush animation and compelling storytelling. All the computers at Pixar can't match the ability of modern cel animation to create lush, flowing naturalistic movement that looks like a painting come to life. By Gloria Goodale

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