Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
The Beautiful Country (R)

Director: Hans Petter Moland. With Damien Nguyen, Tim Roth, Bai Ling, Nick Nolte. (125 min.)

Sterritt ** Decades after the Vietnam War, a young Vietnamese man and his little brother risk their lives on a voyage to Texas, where their American father may

live. The subject is compelling but the story is very, very slow.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (PG)

Director: Tim Burton. With Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, Helena Bonham Carter. (116 min.)

Sterritt **** See review, at right.

Happy Endings (R)

Director: Don Roos. With Lisa Kudrow, Jesse Bradford, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steve Coogan. (128 min.)

Sterritt *** A sleazy filmmaker, a woman who gave her child up for adoption years ago, a wealthy father, and his rock-singer mistress are among the many characters of this comedy-drama about intertwined lives, some heterosexual, others not. There are marvelous moments and dull ones. The best asset is first-rate acting; the worst liability is Roos's overuse of cinematic gimmicks.

Return to the Land of Wonders (Not rated)

Director: Maysoon Pachachi. With Adnan Pachachi, Iraqi politicians, voice of Maysoon Pachachi. (88 min.)

Sterritt **** The filmmaker visits her native Iraq with her father, a politician involved in designing the nation's post-Saddam Hussein constitution. She keeps things lively by roaming far and wide with her camera, returning to the statesmanship side of the documentary often enough to let us follow relevant events as they unfold. In English and Arabic with subtitles.

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (Not rated)

Director: Andrew Douglas. With Jim White, David Johansen, Johnny Dowd, Harry Crews. (84 min.)

Sterritt **** White is the informal guide on this utterly fascinating journey through the South on a quest for country musicians, many of them deeply religious, who compose deliciously peculiar songs with phrases like "wrong-eyed Jesus" in the titles. A travelogue unlike any other.

Wedding Crashers (R)

Director: David Donkin. With Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams, Christopher Walken. (113 min.)

Sterritt ** Wilson and Vaughn play immature Washington lawyers who get their kicks by crashing weddings in search of fun and sex, only to find their nuptial horseplay going sour when they agree to spend a weekend with a powerful politician and his attractive daughters. There are a few good laughs, but not nearly enough clever ideas to keep things hopping for two hours.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
Batman Begins (PG-13)

Director: Christopher Nolan. With Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman. (141 min.)

Sterritt ** How a young man became the Caped Crusader instead of just Bruce Wayne, millionaire playboy. Neeson plays a ninja, which shows how desperately the story stretches for angles. But you finally get good answers to the Joker's excellent question: "Where does he get those wonderful toys?!!?"

Staff *** Well plotted, dizzying, uneven, comical.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: 29 intense scenes. Profanity: 11 mild profanities. Drugs: 4 scenes with drinking, 1 scene with drug dealing.

Bewitched (PG-13)

Director: Nora Ephron. With Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine. (95 min.)

Sterritt ** Launching a new version of the TV sitcom "Bewitched," an actor (Ferrell) with more ego than talent inadvertently fills the role of a witch with a real witch (Kidman) who's trying to become a normal person. Always whimsical, occasionally quite funny.

Staff ** Occasionally charming, predictable, nostalgic.

Sex/Nudity: 4 instances of innuendo. Violence: 1 mild scene. Profanity: 23 profanities. Drugs: 3 scenes with drinking, 1 scene with a cigarette.

Crónicas (R)

Director: Sebastian Cordero. With John Leguizamo, Leonor Watling, José Maria Yazpik. (98 min.)

Sterritt *** Leguizamo plays his first Spanish-language movie role (with English dialogue as well) in this timely thriller about journalists who come across a violent mob, a repentant prisoner, and a puzzling mystery while tracking down a serial killer. The film begins strongly and violently, then simmers down to a standard-issue suspense story. In English and Spanish with subtitles.

Dark Water (PG-13)

Director: Walter Salles. With Jennifer Connelly, Tim Roth, John C. Reilly (104 min.)

Sterritt ** A single mom, dogged by psychological problems and impending divorce, rents the world's worst apartment for herself and her little girl, and on top of this it turns out to be haunted. The themes are somber but the filmmaking is so soggy and clunky that sometimes you can't help laughing.

Fantastic Four (PG-13)

Director: Tim Story. With Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis. (106 min.)

Sterritt ** The Human Torch, the Invisible Woman, The Thing, and Mr. Fantastic himself join forces for the Marvel Comics tale of astronauts who gain exotic powers from a radiation storm in outer space. It's fun to watch superheroes who aren't quite at ease with their abilities, but "The Incredibles" - last year's similarly themed animated film - is livelier and funnier.

Herbie: Fully Loaded (G)

Director: Angela Robinson. With Lindsay Lohan, Matt Dillon, Michael Keaton. (95 min.)

Sterritt ** A teen who yearns for car-racing glory (Lohan) outwits her worried dad (Keaton) and leaves a smirky rival (Dillon) in the dust with the help of Herbie, the Volkswagen with a mind of his own who became a movie star in 1968 in "The Love Bug." Utterly predictable, but pleasant enough for its young target audience.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: 7 comic scenes. Profanity: 4 profanities. Drugs: None.

Land of the Dead (R)

Director: George A. Romero. With John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, Dennis Hopper, Robert Joy. (94 min.)

Sterritt *** Humans fight zombies in a city where a cocky capitalist is profiting from the rampant supernatural chaos. There may never be another "Night of the Living Dead," the 1968 masterpiece to which this is yet another gore-filled sequel, but Romero remains the best maker of movies about, well, remains.

Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes, including nudity. Violence: 35 gory scenes. Profanity: 61 harsh profanities. Drugs: 7 scenes with drinking, 8 scenes with a cigarette, 1 with drugs.

Madagascar (PG)

Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath. With voices of Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith. (80 min.)

Sterritt * Bored with his life, a zoo animal takes himself and some friends on a quest for more agreeable climes. The animation is deft but the screenplay is stilted, the voice-performances are unimaginative, and the whole project is surprisingly clumsy in its efforts to please young and old alike. A major disappointment from the DreamWorks team.

Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of mild innuendo. Violence: 12 scenes, mostly for comic effect. Profanity: 2 mild expressions. Drugs: None.

March of the Penguins (G)

Director: Luc Jacquet. With plenty of penguins, voice of Morgan Freeman. (80 min.)

Sterritt ** Documentary about the mating and chick-raising routines of Emperor Penguins, whose Antarctic habitat makes almost every activity hazardous to their health and even their lives. As a zoological spectacle, the movie is riveting. But the narration tries to make us think of these adorable animals as if they saw the world in human terms, which they obviously don't, and the images have been enhanced by digital effects, as if they wouldn't be impressive enough on their own.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: None. Profanity: None. Drugs: None.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (PG-13)

Director: Doug Liman. With Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn, Kerry Washington. (120 min.)

Sterritt * Pitt and Jolie play secret agents who don't know each other's line of work when they get married, then become rivals and eventually partners in the licensed-to-kill game. The movie is a mish-mash of action-adventure clichés, book-ended with lame attempts at psychological interest.

Staff ** Charmingly cast, surprisingly slow, poorly edited.

Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes with innuendos, 2 sex scenes. Violence: 16 scenes. Profanity: 29 strong profanities. Drugs: 12 scenes with drinking, 3 scenes with smoking.

Saraband (R)

Director: Ingmar Bergman. With Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, Julia Dufvenius, Borje Ahlstedt. (107 min.)

Sterritt **** A stately dance of love and hate among two senior citizens who were married years ago, a middle-aged musician, and his young daughter. Slow, still,

and transfixing, this flat-out masterpiece is the best movie from Bergman in decades, and one of the best movies from anyone. Hardly ever does such brilliant acting, screenwriting, and cinematography find its way into a single film. In Swedish with subtitles.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (PG-13)

Director: George Lucas. With Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Hayden Christensen. (142 min.)

Sterritt *** Lucas wraps up his second "Star Wars" trilogy, centering on Anakin Skywalker's secret marriage to Padme, his friendship with Obi-Wan Kenobi, and his temptation to use the Dark Side of the Force for personal gain. As spectacle this stands with the best.

Staff *** Fitting finale, poorly written, dark, violent.

Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of mild innuendo. Violence: 26 scenes, often grisly. Profanity: None. Drugs: None.

War of the Worlds (PG-13)

Director: Steven Spielberg. With Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins, Justin Chatwin. (117 min.)

Sterritt *** Earthlings battle alien invaders who wreak deadly havoc until they're stymied by ... you know what, if you've read H.G. Wells's influential 1898 novel. Spielberg gives the story his full high-tech treatment, building great scariness with help from first-class music and camera work. The picture gets repetitive, though, since its terrors are pretty much the same from start to finish. Cruise is in good form and Fanning is still the best child actress around.

Staff **1/2 Believably acted, made for TV, wait for the video

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 27 scenes. Profanity: 27 mild expressions. Drugs: 1 instance of drinking.

Yes (R)

Director: Sally Potter. With Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian, Shirley Henderson, Sam Neill. (100 min.)

Sterritt *** A laboratory researcher has an affair with a Lebanese physician who's emigrated to London and become a chef. Ambitious as ever, the director of "Orlando" tackles everything from geopolitical conflict to relations between science and religion, with all the dialogue in verse. The results are visually striking, but conceptually they oscillate between poetic, pretentious, and philosophically dubious.

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