Movie Guide

NEW RELEASES
The Aristocrats (Not rated)

Director: Paul Provenza. With Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Bill Maher, the Smothers Brothers. (92 min.)

Sterritt ** Comedians tell, discuss, and banter about their profession's most notorious dirty joke. Mighty monotonous after a while.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Not rated)

Director: Dai Sijie. With Zhou Xun, Liu Ye, Chen Kun, Wang Hong Wei. (110 min.)

Recommended: 'The Godfather': 10 behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the classic films

Sterritt ** Friendship, rivalry, and romance blossom in a Chinese reeducation camp during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. The story is winning but the telling, with Dai adapting and directing from his own novel, is too sentimental in the long run. In Mandarin and French with subtitles.

The Conformist (R)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci. With Jean-Louis Trintignant, Dominique Sanda, Pierre Clémenti, Stefania Sandrelli. (115 min.)

Sterritt **** One of the great Bertolucci's most acclaimed films, this 1970 political thriller focuses on a man whose wish to be part of the crowd makes him first a Mussolini follower and then a potential assassin. Trintignant gives a legendary performance. In Italian with subtitles.

Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen (Not rated)

Director: Michael Palm. With Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman, Ann Savage, Joe Dante. (77 min.)

Sterritt *** Nonfiction look at the enormously gifted maker of ultralow-budget movies like "The Black Cat" and "Detour," along with less brilliant efforts. The subject and the film clips are great, although the documentary as a whole is a bit gimmicky.

Must Love Dogs (PG-13)

Director: Gary David Goldberg. With Diane Lane, John Cusack, Stockard Channing, Christopher Plummer. (108 min.)

Sterritt ** See review.

9 Songs (Not rated)

Director: Michael Winterbottom. With Kieran O'Brien, Margo Stilley, Michael Nyman, the Dandy Warhols. (69 min.)

Sterritt ** A man and woman share their hankering for sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. It's always hard to predict what Winterbottom will try next, but this experiment isn't worth repeating, the lively concert scenes notwithstanding. Be forewarned that the sexual scenes aren't simulated.

Tony Takitani (Not rated)

Director: Jun Ichikawa. With Issey Ogata, Rie Miyazawa, Shinohara Takahumi, voice of Nishijima Hidetoshi. (75 min.)

Sterritt **** The haunting tale of a commercial artist, his couture-conscious wife, and their struggle with modern materialism. The movie's underlying theme is the complex relationship between objects and memories, worked out through a taut, compelling story and superbly understated acting. Ryuichi Sakamoto composed the atmospheric score.

CURRENTLY IN RELEASE
Bad News Bears (PG-13)

Director: Richard Linklater. With Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden, Greg Kinnear, Sammi Kane Kraft. (111 min.)

Sterritt *** Remake of the 1976 comedy about a burned-out ballplayer who finally grows up while coaching a seemingly hopeless kids' baseball team. Thornton is excellent as the coach, Kraft is just right as the estranged daughter he eventually bonds with, and the kids in the cast are uniformly fine. Look out for lots of foul language and sleaze-oriented gags, though.

Staff ** Sloppy, redundant, waste of talent.

Sex/Nudity: 7 instances. Violence: 9 scenes of schoolyard fighting. Profanity: 125 strong and mild expressions. Drugs: 16 with drinking/smoking.

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 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 with drinking, 1 with drug dealing.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (PG)

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

Sterritt **** A youngster wins a rare ticket for a guided tour of Willy Wonka's mysterious candy-making outfit, where zillions of surprises are in store. Depp wittily plays Willy as a sort of zoned-out hippie capitalist, and Burton lets his imagination soar to some of the most outlandish heights it's ever reached. Parents should check it out before taking very young viewers, though, since it's sometimes a patented Burton frightmare.

Staff *** Off-kilter, slightly insane, expressionistic.

Sex/Nudity: mild innuendo. Violence: 10 instances. Profanity: None. Drugs: 1 instance of drinking.

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.

Staff ** Reasonably creepy, should help keep rents low on Roosevelt Island.

Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo. Violence: 6 scenes. Profanity: 10 strong and mild words. Drugs: 3 instances of smoking.

The Devil's Rejects (R)

Director: Rob Zombie. With Sid Haig, Sheri Moon, Bill Moseley, William Forsythe. (101 min.)

Sterritt *** The aptly named filmmaker spins a nasty yarn about psychotic serial killers on the loose. If you're not in the mood for "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" meets "Last House on the Left," stay very far away. Horror fans will find what they're looking for, though.

Staff *1/2 Grisly, tongue in cheek (and all over the highway)

Sex/Nudity: 16 scenes. Violence: 38 instances. Profanity: 324 strong and mild profanities. Drugs: 16 with drinking, smoking, and drug use.

Fantastic Four (PG-13)

Director: Tim Story. With Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, Kerry Washington. (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.

Staff *1/2 Superfluous, miscalculated, some good effects

Sex/Nudity: some mild innuendo. Violence: 20 scenes. Profanity: 17 profanities. Drugs: 3 scenes with drinking.

Hustle & Flow (R)

Director: Craig Brewer. With Terrence Dashon Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, DJ Qualls. (116 min.)

Staff *** Small-time pimp and drug pusher DJay (Howard) is given to philosophizing, but he can't rationalize his lowly life style. When an old schoolmate (Anderson, in a serious role for once) takes him to a recording session in a church, DJay catches the vision of a better life. As his dream of being a rap artist turns to reality, he finds ways to give a hand up to others around him. Viewers who can wade through the thicket of sordidness and foul language will find this self-financed "indie" a labor of love and hope. By M.K. Terrell

The Island (PG-13)

Director: Michael Bay. With Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou, Steve Buscemi. (127 min.)

Sterritt ** The year is 2019, the heroes are escapees from a clone-making operation, and the villains are sinister agents tracking them down. The first half is high-quality science fiction, the rest is a high-tech chase adventure with a gleeful yen for destructive thrills.

Staff **1/2 Snappy, derivative, conscience-tweaking

Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes. Violence: 23 instances. Profanity: 11 profanities. Drugs: 6 scenes with drinking.

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 mishmash of action-adventure clichés, book-ended with lame attempts at psychological interest. Written, directed, and acted with ham-fisted heaviness.

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.

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.

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 almost two hours.

Staff **1/2 A guilty pleasure, juvenile, nutty.

Sex/Nudity: 24 instances. Violence: 7 scenes. Profanity: 78, ranging in severity. Drugs: 39 scenes.

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