Mega Movie Guide 2005
Director: Robert Rodriguez. With Cayden Boyd, Kristen Davis. (94 min.)
You'll know who the target audience is when you discover the story's setting is called Planet Drool, and the hero is a schoolboy who joins the title characters to fight the evil Mr. Electric. Grade:C
- David Sterritt
Director: Karyn Kusama. With Charlize Theron. (95 min.)
In the future, the sexiest people among us will rise up to defend our freedom. They will all wear spandex. Is there more to "Aeon Flux" than that? Not really - not even for true sci-fi fans hoping to see this live-action film live up to last decade's MTV cartoon show of the same title. Grade: D
- Matt Bradley
Directors: James Cameron, Steven Quale. With James Cameron. (47 min.)
Cameron pursues undersea fascinations in this documentary about the astounding things one comes upon in deep-sea exploration, and how such discoveries help pave the way for exploration in other parts of the solar system. A terrific treat for the eyes. Grade: A
Director: Danae Elon. With Danae Elon, Musa Obeidallah. (79 min.)
The filmmaker looks for a Palestinian family who lived with her household during her childhood in Israel. Also present is her father, a respected author with strong views on the difference between Israeli security and Zionist goals. It's unlikely there will ever be a more moving portrait of the shared selfhood, usually veiled by politics, common to the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. Grade: A
Director: Pierre Salvadori. With Daniel Auteuil, José Garcia. (110 min.)
After saving a stranger from hanging himself, a restaurateur becomes involved with the unhappy guy's girlfriend. Garcia is great in this French dramatic comedy, and Auteuil remains one of the great European stars. But the pleasant film uses up its ideas long before it uses up its running time. In French with subtitles. Grade: B
Director: Brian Levant. With Ice Cube, Nia Long, Jay Mohr. (95 min.)
You may ask yourself that question as you watch a kid-phobic man take a road trip with the kids of a single mom he wants to woo. Cube is cute and Long is lovely, but the youngsters are too smug to bear. Grade: C
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo.
Violence: 14 scenes of comic violence.
Profanity: 4 mild profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 1 scene with alcohol.
Director: Paul Provenza. With Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams. (92 min.)
Comedians tell, discuss, and banter about their profession's most notorious dirty joke - and I mean filthy. Monotonous after a while. Grade: B
Director: Jean-François Richet. With Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne. (109 min.)
Remake of John Carpenter's popular 1976 thriller about a broken-down jailhouse under siege by a gang of bad guys. The cast is impressive, but admirers of the original will miss its crisp, clean style. Grade: B
Director: David Mackenzie. With Ian McKellen, Natasha Richardson. (90 min.)
A psychiatrist's wife falls in love with a demented mental patient. Patrick McGrath's novel provides a solid and suspenseful story, even if it loses much of its bite in Mackenzie's hands. Grade: B
Director: Richard Linklater. With Billy Bob Thornton. (111 min.)
Remake of the 1976 comedy about a burned-out ballplayer who finally grows up while coaching a hopeless kids' baseball team. Thornton is excellent as the coach. Look out for lots of foul language, though. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 7 instances.
Violence: 9 scenes of schoolyard fighting.
Profanity: 125 strong and mild expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 16 with drinking/smoking.
Director: Rebecca Miller. With Daniel Day-Lewis, Beau Bridges, Catherine Keener. (112 min.)
Marvelously acted story about an anarchist, his teenage daughter, and their struggle to keep up a life of happy solitude despite the distractions of his love life and a developer who wants houses to spring up around them. Smart and engrossing. Grade: B
Director: Christopher Nolan. With Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson. (141 min.)
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?!" Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of innuendo.
Violence: 29 intense scenes.
Profanity: 11 mild profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 4 with drinking, 1 with drug dealing.
Director: Jacques Audiard. With Romain Duris, Aure Atika. (107 min.)
Inspired by the 1978 thriller "Fingers," this superbly acted thriller focuses on an aspiring concert pianist who intersperses his piano lessons with errands for his mobster friends. As stylish as it is suspenseful. In French with subtitles. Grade: A
Director: Hans Petter Moland. With Tim Roth, Nick Nolte. (125 min.)
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 slow. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 9 scenes.
Violence: 9 occurrences.
Profanity: 8 profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 16 drinking, smoking, and hard drug use
Director: Wayne Wang. With Jeff Daniels, Cicely Tyson. (106 min.)
New to a small town where her father is the preacher, a young girl makes new friends including a couple of aging women and a friendly pooch she names after the grocery store where she finds him. Bland, amiable, innocuous. Grade: B
Directors: Scott McGehee, David Siegel. With Richard Gere, Flora Cross. (104 min.)
Eliza is an 11-year-old spelling prodigy. Her father, Saul, believes she communicates with God according to the precepts of kabbalah, which hold that the alphabet contains the secrets of the universe. As Eliza advances to the national spelling bee championship, her mother becomes unhinged and her brother rebels by joining the Hare Krishnas. "Bee Season," at its core, is about something powerful: The ways in which family members wreak destruction on each other with the best of intentions. Grade:B
- Peter Rainer
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes, including sex.
Profanity: 4 strong expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 2 scenes of drinking.
Director: Marco Tullio Giordana. With Luigi Lo Cascio, Alessio Boni. (366 min.)
The story of two smart and ornery Italian brothers, one of whom becomes a psychiatrist after a detour through radical politics, while the other copes with self-control problems by joining the police. Stretching from the tumultuous 1960s to the start of the 21st century, it uses every moment to the fullest, bringing us so far inside the characters that you feel you know them as well as your family and friends. This is epic filmmaking on a profoundly human scale. In Italian with subtitles. Grade: A
Director: Nora Ephron. With Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell. (95 min.)
Launching a new version of the TV sitcom "Bewitched," an actor with more ego than talent inadvertently fills the role of a witch with a real witch who's trying to give up hexes and become a normal person. Always whimsical, occasionally quite funny. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 4 instances of innuendo.
Violence: 1 mild scene.
Profanity: 23 profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 3 scenes with drinking, 1 scene with a cigarette.
Director: Neil Jordan. With Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson. (135 min.)
Cillian Murphy plays a hyper-feminine transvestite who spends much of the movie traipsing about an increasingly violent landscape in search of his long lost mother. His whirligig encounters, political and sexual, rarely soar. Grade: B
Director: Ang Lee. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger. (134 min.)
Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist are cowboys hired to herd sheep on Wyoming's Brokeback Mountain. In a startling turn, Ennis and Jack lie together for warmth one cold night and then, suddenly, have sex. The movie tracks the next 20 years of the relationship between two men and the devastation it brings their wives and children. Grade: A
Sex/Nudity: 18 scenes including sex and nudity.
Violence: 8 scenes including beating.
Profanity: 80 expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 20 scenes of smoking, 14 scenes of drinking, 1 scene with drugs.
Director: Jim Jarmusch. With Bill Murray, Sharon Stone. (106 min.)
Murray stars as the womanizing Don Johnston, whose name isn't the only thing about him that evokes Don Juan. A letter appears in Don's mailbox, supposedly from a previous conquest, informing him that he has a 19-year-old son. Don embarks on a trip to visit ex-lovers who, he hopes, will lead him to his son and enlighten him about where his life derailed. When the film finally arrives at its ambiguous climax, it provides less closure for the viewer than it does for the protagonist. Grade: B
- Marshall Heyman
Director: Susanne Bier. With Connie Nielsen, Ulrich Thomsen. (117 min.)
Deeply moving tale of a young mother caught between her husband, a soldier traumatized in Afghanistan, and his brother, a thief recently released from jail. Sensitively written and filmed to perfection, the drama raises crucial questions about humanity's capacity for moral transformation. In Danish with subtitles. Grade: A
Director: Terry Gilliam. With Matt Damon, Heath Ledger. (120 min.)
The literary siblings are portrayed as clever con artists who bilk superstitious peasants by exorcising bogus monsters - until a real threat challenges their courage. Gilliam has rarely been more inventive, energetic, or just plain funny. Grade: A
Director: Bennett Miller. With Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener. (98 min.)
"Capote" wisely centers on the five years in Truman Capote's life, 1959-65, when he composed "In Cold Blood," his landmark "nonfiction novel" about the murder of a rural Kansas family by two drifters. Hoffman does much more than mimic (perfectly) the dainty whine and lizardly savoir faire of the man. His Truman Capote is a fully fleshed-out portrait that lays bare the creepiest recesses of the writer's psyche. Grade: A
Director: Tim Burton. With Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore. (116 min.)
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 showing it to very young viewers. Grade: A
Sex/Nudity: mild innuendo.
Violence: 10 instances.
Drugs/Alcohol: 1 instance of drinking.
Director: Adam Shankman. With Steve Martin, Eugene Levy. (77 min.)
Off to the lake for one last summer before two kids leave home, the 14 members of the Baker family find themselves drawn into competition with the Murtaugh family, thus renewing a rivalry that goes back to the fathers' high school days. It's good clean fun - despite the fact that it's a sequel to a remake.Grade: C+ - M. K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of mild innuendo.
Violence: 3 comic scenes.
Profanity: 4 mild profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 3 scenes of drinking.
Director: Mark Dindal. With the voices of Zach Braff, Joan Cusack. (77 min.)
It's finally happened. The Walt Disney Studio, which pioneered hand-drawn animation, has made its first fully animated computer feature, "Chicken Little." Is the sky falling? The visuals are irrepressibly witty and so is the script, which morphs from the classic fable into a spoof on "War of the Worlds." I prefer this version to Spielberg's. Grade: A-
Director: Christophe Barratier. With Gérard Jugnot, Marie Bunel. (97 min.)
In the late 1940s, a failed musician grudgingly takes a job at a school for difficult boys and uses his musical gifts to engage and uplift them. Extremely goodhearted, if not exactly original or exciting. In French with subtitles. Grade: B
Director: Andrew Adamson. With Tilda Swinton, Jim Broadbent. (140 min.)
Adamson, the director of the two "Shrek" films, has done a highly creditable job of visualizing C.S. Lewis's book about four children in the mythical land of Narnia where animals talk. The film works surprisingly well both as a boisterous fantasia and as the Christian fable that Lewis intended. Beneath all the special effects you can detect something recognizably, and cherishably, human. Grade: A-
Violence: 17 scenes.
Drugs/Alcohol: 2 scenes of smoking.
Director: Arie Posen. With Ralph Fiennes, Glenn Close. (102 min.)
Suburban teens and their parents grapple with family tensions, antisocial impulses, and each other. At once dreamily surreal, acutely intelligent, and strikingly tough-minded, this pitch-dark dramatic comedy recalls David Lynch and "Donnie Darko" while remaining fresh and original. Grade: A
Director: Ron Howard. With Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger. (144 min.)
Story of Jim Braddock, a 1930s prizefighter who suffered from Depression poverty but captured the American imagination when he overcame injuries to take on the heavyweight title. Howard's rock-solid directing and superb acting by Crowe make this one of the all-time-great boxing films. Grade: A
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes with innuendos.
Violence: 13 scenes, including fighting.
Profanity: 71 strong profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 9 scenes with drinking, 18 scenes with smoking.
Director: Thomas Carter. With Samuel L. Jackson, Ashanti, Robert Richard. (136 min.)
Fact-based story of a high-school basketball coach who demands a great deal - some feel far too much - of the hard-boiled kids who play on his team. The movie's moral messages are all on target. Too bad Jackson gives one of his dullest performances ever. Grade: C
Director: Francis Lawrence. With Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton. (118 min.)
Reeves plays a James Bond of the supernatural, tracking down demons and helping a woman solve the mystery of her twin sister's suicide. It delivers as much action as fans of the genre could want. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of innuendo.
Violence: 34 instances
Profanity: 33 instances.
Drugs/Alcohol: 12; smoking in almost every scene.
Director: Fernando Meirelles. With Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz. (129 min.)
After the murder of his wife, Justin (Fiennes) is compelled to root out her killers across two continents. The movie, based on a book by John Le Carré, is a love story crossed with international intrigue. But when it all comes together, it rises to a pitch of terror and outrage that leaves one shaken. Grade: A-
Sex/Nudity: 7 scenes including sex and nudity.
Violence: 9 instances
Profanity: 29 strong expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 2 scenes of smoking and 2 scenes of drinking.
Director: Paul Haggis. With Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle. (113 min.)
Interlocking stories of diverse Los Angeles characters, from cops and crooks to folks caught in between. The writer of "Million Dollar Baby" makes his directing debut with a screenplay that seems contrived, but comes to life via excellent acting and a philosophical argument that bigotry and benevolence are inextricably intertwined. Grade: B
Director: Walter Salles. With Jennifer Connelly, Tim Roth. (104 min.)
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 that you can't help laughing. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo.
Violence: 6 scenes.
Profanity: 10 strong and mild words.
Drugs/Alcohol: 3 smoking scenes.
Director: Thomas Vinterburg. With Jamie Bell, Bill Pullman. (105 min.)
"Dear Wendy" is written by Lars von Trier, Denmark's foremost filmmaker. Like von Trier's "Dogville," "Dear Wendy" is set in a depressed community where the local teenage outcasts form a gun club/cult. Tragedy, of course, looms large. The filmmakers have created one weirdly provocative film, which isn't very successful but ought still to be seen. Grade: C
- John Anderson
Director: Shona Auerbach. With Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone. (102 min.)
After years of pretending her estranged husband is just working far away, a Scottish woman hires a stranger to impersonate him so her deaf son and his "dad" can meet. Well acted, capably directed, not as substantial as it might have been. Grade: B
Director: Mikhal Håfström. With Jennifer Aniston, Clive Owen. (100 min.)
Owen plays a Chicago ad executive who meets a magnetically friendly commuter on the morning train to work. Though both are married with children, they soon find themselves booking a seedy hotel room. What happens next shall remain a secret, but here's a hint: Retribution awaits. Grade: C
Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes.
Violence: 10 scenes including rape.
Profanity: 86 harsh expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 8 scenes with smoking. 9 scenes with drinking.
Director: Paul Schrader. With Stellan Skarsgard, Clara Bellar. (115 min.)
While grappling with his faith, a Roman Catholic priest battles a demon in an East African outpost. The material is right up Schrader's alley, and while his vision of the first "Exorcist" chapter isn't a masterpiece, it's far superior to the Renny Harlin prequel to "The Exorcist" released last year. Grade: A
Director: Tony Scott. With Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke. (127 min.)
The real-life Domino, a bounty hunter who died of an overdose, was the daughter of privilege. Clearly what lured director Tony Scott is the massive contradiction of her life: Born into the glamour of London and Beverly Hills, she ended up a female Rambo. Whatever reality the actual Domino may have possessed has been sliced and diced by Scott's usual barrage of whiplash camera work. Grade: C-
Sex/Nudity: 8 scenes including nudity and implied sex
Violence: 20 brutal scenes.
Profanity: 186 harsh expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 30 scenes with drinking and 28 scenes with smoking.
Director: Sergio Castellitto. With Penélope Cruz. (125 min.)
Cruz transforms her glamorous image remarkably, playing a working-class Italian woman who gets sexually involved with a married physician. The story wants to be a sort of "Last Tango in Paris" redux, but it falls into mere melodrama after a brilliant beginning. In Italian with subtitles. Grade: B
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel. With Bruno Ganz. (149 min.)
Fictionalized account of Adolf Hitler's last days, depicting his personal downfall. Ganz reminds us why he's one of the world's great screen actors. In German with subtitles. Grade: A
Director: John Gatins. With Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning. (102 min.)
When racehorse Soñador breaks a leg, trainer Ben Crane (Russell) sees a potential brood mare, if he can at least get her well enough to walk. We've seen it all before, but this one is so well made it's a sure crowd pleaser. Grade: B
Violence: 2 mild scenes.
Profanity: 4 mild expressions.
Director: Carroll Ballard. With Alex Michaeletos. (100 min.)
Ballard ("The Black Stallion") has such a powerful feeling for the poetry of movement that I would have been content if this movie, set in South Africa, about a runaway boy and his pet cheetah, had simply shown us two hours of the cheetah. "Duma" is ostensibly a children's movie, but adults will want to see it, too. Grade: A-
Director: Cameron Crowe. With Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon. (123 min.)
Drew Baylor (Bloom) is a shoe designer whose latest, botched creation, is about to hit the stores. As an added bonus, Drew's girlfriend dumps him, and he gets word that his father has suddenly died in his hometown of Elizabethtown, Ky. Jetting in to plan the funeral, he encounters an attractive flight attendant (Dunst). "Elizabethtown" is scaled big but is curiously uninvolving. Grade: C-
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of innuendo and implied sex.
Violence: 1 scene of attempted suicide.
Profanity: 11 expressions, some harsh.
Drugs/Alcohol: 9 scenes with drinking.
Director: Alex Gibney. With Bethany McLean, various Enron executives. (110 min.)
Spellbinding documentary about the rise and fall of Enron, which aspired to be the world's leading business until it was sabotaged by its leaders' outrageous financial fraud. As real-life stories go, this is as riveting - and as revealing about the dark side of American business - as they come. Grade: A
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance.
Violence: 1 instance.
Profanity: 23 instances.
Drugs/Alcohol: 1 scene of smoking.
Director: Liev Schreiber. With Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz. (96 min.)
Liev Schreiber, one of the finest actors of his generation, has chosen to adapt the sprawling Jonathan Safran Foer novel about a young Jewish-American's journey to a Ukrainian village to seek out the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The presentation has verve. But the story is confusingly told - everything is not illuminated - and, as the seeker, Elijah Wood is a blank. Grade: C+
Director: Thomas Bezucha. With Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel McAdams. (102 min.)
Could we please declare a moratorium on funny-sad movies about dysfunctional families, especially families that come together for the holidays? Writer-director Thomas Bezucha practically turns the Stones into the Addams family. Diane Keaton, as the family matriarch, does her considerable best to add some flesh tones to her Crayola role. Grade: C
Sex/Nudity: 5 instances of innuendo.
Violence: 1 scene.
Profanity: 21 expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 4 scenes of drinking, 1 scene with drugs.
Director: Tim Story. With Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis. (106 min.)
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. Grade: C
Sex/Nudity: some mild innuendo.
Violence: 20 scenes.
Profanity: 17 profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 3 scenes with drinking.
Director: Robert Schwentke. With Jodi Foster, Peter Sarsgaard. (98 min.)
Foster is convincing enough as a newly widowed mother who awakens to find her daughter missing from her plane seat. We're so off-balance about whether or not Kyle has imagined boarding with her daughter - a child no one else on the plane can remember seeing - that we never work up any sympathy for a character who may simply be a delusional nuisance. Grade:C
Sex/Nudity: 1 innuendo.
Violence: 10 scenes.
Profanity: 12 instances.
Director: Dean Parisot. With Jim Carrey, Téa Leoni. (90 min.)
This update of the 1977 George Segal-Jane Fonda comedy stars Jim Carrey as an executive at an Enron-style company who, faced with bankruptcy, goes on a crime spree with his peppy wife, played by Téa Leoni. Most of it plays out as sub-medium-grade farce but Carrey has some funny calisthenic bits where appears to have the pliability of a rubber toy. Director Dean Parisot, who made the hilarious sci-fi spoof "Galaxy Quest," ladles on too much socially-conscious sauce. In what is basically an airhead romp, he goes in for way too much nudging about Bush-era corporate malfeasance. Even Ralph Nader makes an appearance! Grade: C+
Director: Hal Hartley. With Sabrina Lloyd, Bill Sage. (84 min.)
One of the few truly independent filmmakers with an ongoing career, Hartley dives into science-fiction allegory with this story about a future when consumerism is the law and counterrevolutionaries want to fight it any way they can. There's heavy influence from the "Brave New World" brand of dystopian fantasy, but engaging performances and a stylized visual approach lend it originality. Grade: B
Director: Henry Jaglom. With Victoria Foyt, Rob Morrow. (106 min.)
In this witty follow-up to director Henry Jaglom's "Eating" and "Baby Fever," Foyt plays a dress designer who has 24 hours to raise three months rent or lose her boutique. Meanwhile, she's coping with a doltish boyfriend, a precocious daughter, and unwelcome advice from her overbearing mom. The whole thing is as frantic as a two-hour bargain-basement sale. Grade: B-
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo.
Violence: 1 instance of slapping.
Profanity: 39 instances (1 strong).
Drugs/Alcohol: 2 scenes with drinking, 1 with smoking.
Director: John Dahl. With Benjamin Bratt, Connie Nielsen. (132 min.)
Bratt, doing a commendable Clark Gable, must lead a once-ragtag-now-crackerjack team of Army Rangers into the Philippines to rescue 500 American soldiers imprisoned on the Philippines during World War II. Overheated acting and bulked-up direction are a lot older than even John Wayne, whose spirit casts a none-too-gentle shadow over the film. Grade: B
Directors: Bill Paxton. With Shia LeBeouf, Stephen Dillane. (120 min.)
No one but Harry Vardon has ever won the British Open six times. But at the 1913 US Open in Brookline, Mass., Francis Ouimet, an amateur who had only caddied at the club and who idolized Vardon, beat him. This charming film is rich in humor and period detail, and amazingly suspenseful considering we already know the outcome. Grade: B
Violence: 1 scene.
Profanity: 3 mild.
Drugs/Alcohol: 10 scenes with alcohol, 11 scenes with smoking.
Director: Lexi Alexander. With Elijah Wood, Charlie Hunnam. (109 min.)
Shaking off the hairy foot of the hobbit for the jackboot of the football (don't call it "soccer") fan, Wood plays a student who goes to London only to be seduced by the violence of the football hooligan. The film has a convincing performance by Wood as a meek kid out of his element for whom the group provides something larger than himself. Grade: B
Director: Werner Herzog. With Timothy Treadwell, Werner Herzog. (103 min.)
Documentary about a highly peculiar nature enthusiast who lived in the woods with bears and recorded his close encounters on video, until one decided to eat him. As revealing about Herzog as about his subject, the movie is brilliant, poetic, and utterly unique. Grade: A
Director: Don Roos. With Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal. (128 min.)
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. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 17 scenes.
Violence: 4 instances.
Profanity: 83 instances.
Drugs/Alcohol: 18 drinking, smoking, and drug use.
Director: Mike Newell. With Daniel Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, Emma Watson. (157 min.)
Now in his fourth year at Hogwarts, Harry is mysteriously made a participant in the dreaded Triwizard Tournament, a competition that involves tasks such as evading a ferocious dragon. Equally harrowing, in some respects, is the student's Yule Ball, where for the first time we are made thunderously aware that Harry and the carrot-topped Ron and Hermione are, well, adolescents. The film has the tension and velocity of a good thriller. Grade: A-
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of mild innuendo.
Violence: 21 scenes of violence.
Profanity: 7 mild expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 4 scenes of drinking.
Director: Chris Terrio. With Glenn Close, Jesse Bradford. (93 min.)
A young actor, a middle-aged actress, a snoopy journalist, a rising photographer, and her possibly gay fiancé are among the diverse characters of this psychological comedy-drama, which unfolds in New York in a 24-hour period. There's much subtle beauty in the last movie completed by Merchant Ivory Productions before Merchant's untimely death. Grade: A
Director: Angela Robinson. With Lindsay Lohan, Matt Dillon. (95 min.)
A teen who yearns for car-racing glory (Lohan) outwits her worried dad and leaves a smirky rival in the dust with the help of Herbie, the Volkswagen with a mind of its own who became a movie star in 1968 in "The Love Bug." Utterly predictable, but pleasant enough for youngsters. Grade: C
Sex/Nudity: 1 innuendo.
Violence: 7 comic scenes.
Profanity: 4 profanities.
Director: John Polson. With Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning. (101 min.)
After his wife's violent death, a psychologist moves to a new country home with his daughter, who starts playing very sinister games. The acting is excellent in this gory psychological thriller. Grade: B
Director: David Cronenberg. With Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen. (96 min.)
"A History of Violence" ranks high on the Cronenberg scale as one of his more disturbing forays into depravity. Mortensen - he of the heroic jaw - plays the proprietor of a small-town diner whose idyllic family life is shattered when he kills two robbers during a holdup. Things, as usual, are not what they seem - they are much worse. Grade: B+
Director: Andy Tennant. With Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James. (118 min.)
Smith is terrific as a "date doctor" who teaches klutzy men how to woo women. But the screenplay is silly and the comedy is much too long. Nice work from James, perhaps inspired by Smith's refusal to let the material drag him down. Grade: C
Director: Garth Jennings. With Martin Freeman, Zooey Deschanel. (110 min.)
An ordinary man is beamed to safety by an interstellar friend just before Earth is demolished by aliens who need room for their new hyperspace highway. This movie adaptation of the late Douglas Adams's book, TV, and radio franchise is surprisingly bland. Die-hard fans should enjoy it, though. Grade: D
Director: Florent Siri. With Bruce Willis, Michelle Horn, Kevin Pollak. (113 min.)
A former hostage negotiator faces two awful situations at once. He has to rescue youngsters held by thugs in a fortified house and also save his own family from kidnappers. The action is dynamically filmed and Willis is at his best. Suspense is soon hijacked by outright gore and grisliness, though. Grade: C
Director: David Duchovny. With David Duchovny, Téa Leoni. (97 min.)
Duchovny makes his film-directing debut with this comedy-drama about a man recalling his troubled adolescence, including his relationships with his unstable mom, a mentally challenged janitor, and a prostitute who hollers advice to him from a window in a Greenwich Village house of detention. The package rarely seems genuine. Grade: D
Director: Jaume Serra. With Elisha Cuthbert, Paris Hilton. (105 min.)
This remake of the 1953 classic brings a group of college kids to a haunted town where wax rules, along with terror, derangement, and other nasty things. As a frightfest it's better than average. Grade: B
Director: Hayao Miyazaki. With voices of Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale. (119 min.)
Miyazaki outdoes his flamboyant "Spirited Away" with this fantasy about a vain prince, a fireplace with a talkative flame, and a girl trapped in an elderly body by a wicked witch. The story doesn't always make sense, but the visuals are dazzling. One version in English with subtitles, the other dubbed into English. Grade: A
Violence: 12 action scenes.
Drugs/Alcohol: 1 scene of smoking.
Director: Craig Brewer. With Terrence Howard, Taryn Manning. (116 min.)
Small-time pimp and drug pusher DJay (Howard) is given to philosophizing, but he can't rationalize his lowly lifestyle. When an old schoolmate takes him to a recording session in a church, DJay catches the vision of a better life. Viewers who can wade through the thicket of sordidness and foul language will find this indie film a labor of love and hope. Grade: B+
Director: Harold Ramis. With John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton. (88 min.)
"The Ice Harvest" pays homage to the usual noir tropes - the femme fatale, the heist gone bad, the dark bars - but it's freshly conceived. Cusack plays Charlie Arglist, a mob lawyer in Wichita, Kan., who has just embezzled more than $2 million from a local boss on Christmas Eve. Charlie wants to cut out of town with sultry Renata, who runs the Sweet Cage strip club. Grade: A-
Sex/Nudity: 11 instances, some graphic.
Violence: 14 instances, some very graphic.
Profanity: 151 (90 strong).
Drugs/Alcohol: at least 15 instances.
Director: Tim Fywell. With Michelle Trachtenberg, Kim Cattrall. (98 min.)
Should our high-school heroine stick with physics, which everyone says is her calling, or become a figure skater, which entices her when she tries to work out its aerodynamics in scientific terms? Trite but nice, this enjoyable comedy drama has good-spirited warmth toward almost all its characters, from the domineering moms to the daughters beginning to find themselves. Grade: B
Director: Paul Weitz. With Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson. (109 min.)
A middle-aged businessman (Quaid) gets demoted when his company is acquired by an international media mogul, and things get worse when his embarrassingly young new boss (Grace) starts dating his daughter (Johansson). Lively acting and timely humor are the main assets of this garden-variety comedy. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 2 suggestive scenes.
Violence: 3 scenes including a fistfight.
Profanity: 32 profanities, occasionally harsh.
Drugs/Alcohol: 4 scenes with drinking.
Director: John Boorman. With Samuel L. Jackson, Juliette Binoche. (104 min.)
Jackson plays a skeptical American journalist covering Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, where he meets a white South African writer (Binoche) who hopes the proceedings will help her country heal. Boorman treats this subject with restraint, tact, and candid views of horrors suffered by the nation. In English and Afrikaans with subtitles. Grade: B
Director: Luis Mandoki. With Carlos Padilla, Leonor Varella. (120 min.)
Chava is an 11-year-old boy caught up in the civil war in 1980s El Salvador in "Innocent Voices," which is partly based on the childhood of its screenwriter, Oscar Torres. As an almost daily ritual, Chava and his fatherless family dodge bullets in their cardboard shack as they attempt to maintain a semblance of sanity in a village turned battlefield. The actors, all of whom seem too posed, are not accomplished, and director Mandoki lacks the visual imagination to bring the story to a boil. Grade:B
Director: Sydney Pollack. With Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn. (123 min.)
Kidman plays a UN interpreter who says she overheard a death threat against an African tyrant - whom she turns out to have reasons for hating - and Penn plays a Secret Service agent determined to head off the deadly embarrassment of an assassination in the UN building. The thriller is swiftly told and smartly acted. Grade: B
Director: Michael Bay. With Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson. (127 min.)
The year is 2019, the heroes are escapees from a clonemaking 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. Grade: C
Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes.
Violence: 23 instances.
Profanity: 11 profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 6 scenes with drinking.
Director: John Stockwell. With Paul Walker, Jessica Alba. (110 min.)
Four friends searching for a sunken shipwreck in the Bahamas get mixed up with a drug cartel. The film poses ethical dilemmas, but leaves the viewer annoyed when characters continually make foolish decisions. Full of scantily clad women and gore, its only redeeming value is Sam's (Alba) sense of morality amid the corruption. Grade: C
- Jennifer Moeller
Director: John Maybury. With Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley. (102 min.)
Accused of murder, a veteran of the Persian Gulf war with amnesia lands in a hospital for the criminally insane where a psychiatrist subjects him to bizarre experiments. While the time-bending story is ambitious, Maybury is more interested in striking images than in top-drawer performances from his cast. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes, including nudity.
Violence: 12 scenes.
Profanity: 26 harsh profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 4 scenes of drinking, 6 scenes with smoking.
Director: Sam Mendes. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx. (123 min.)
"Jarhead" is a minimalist epic - a grunt's-eye view of the 1991 Persian Gulf War that follows the brief military career of the 20-year-old marine recruit. In the framework of the movie, basically a portrait of masculine ritual - i.e. men behaving badly - politics are irrelevant. More perplexing, it doesn't draw any parallels to our current cauldron in the Middle East. The film raises the question: Why was it made? Grade: B-
Sex/Nudity: 10 scenes including nudity and sex .
Violence: 15 scenes, including torture.
Profanity: 332 profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 10 scenes smoking, 4 scenes with drinking.
Director: Phil Morrison. With Embeth Davidtz, Amy Adams. (107 min.)
A sophisticated art dealer travels to the South with her husband to check out a half-crazy "outsider" painter, meeting her eccentric in-laws and making unexpected friends in the process. This low-key drama is a miracle of mood, atmosphere, and sensitivity. Grade: A
Director: Roger Kumble. With Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris. (96 min.)
Chris, a former fat kid who blossoms into a handsome music executive, returns to "Jersey" to woo his dream girl. On the way, the story breathes new life into tired topics such as high school sweethearts, sibling rivalries, and ditsy celebs. Director Roger Kumble wisely picks a brisk tempo from the get-go and never breaks cadence for long gags or gushiness. Grade: A
Sex/Nudity: 12 scenes of innuendo and frank talk about sex.
Violence: 1 slapstick scene.
Profanity: 69 expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 6 scenes with drinking.
Director: Mark Waters. With Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo. (95 min.)
David Abbott (Ruffalo) sublets a San Francisco apartment, only to find it occupied by a phantasm named Elizabeth Masterson (Witherspoon). Early on, the movie is a well-executed comedy with David trying to figure out if he's crazy, if she's really dead, and whether a few ancient spells might cast out the squatting spirit. But it has a weighty, bordering-on-morbid, subtext. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of innuendo, 1 scene of partial male nudity.
Violence: 2 instances
Profanity: 22 fairly mild profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 10 scenes of drinking.
Director: Jesse Dylan. With Will Ferrell, Robert Duvall, Mike Ditka. (90 min.)
Ferrell plays a soccer dad who coaches a preteen squad with his klutzy son as a member and his hotly competitive father (Duvall) determined to lead his own team to the championship. Some scenes are just silly, others are dead-on uproarious. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes with innuendos.
Violence: 6 scenes, including fighting.
Profanity: 12 mild profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 4 scenes with drinking, 6 scenes with smoking, plus subplot about caffeine addiction.
Director: Ridley Scott. With Orlando Bloom, Jeremy Irons. (138 min.)
Scott turns to history again in this epic about Crusaders fighting Muslims in the Holy Land several centuries ago. The screenplay aims for relevance to current events, but the story's medieval setting and the camera's obsession with action dilutes its potential as sober commentary. Grade: C
Director: Peter Jackson. With Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody. (187 min.)
Ann Darrow (Watts), a struggling actress in Depression-era Manhattan, is picked by Carl Denham to star in his jungle epic. Ultimately she finds herself, literally, in the palm of the giant ape's hands, and director Jackson wants us to feel their love. When she pours it out for Kong as he battles the biplanes atop the Empire State Building, you can almost believe that some day these two will have a rosy future together in some vast Valhalla. Grade: B+
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo.
Violence: 26 incidents. Profanity: 21, mostly mild. Drugs: 12 smoking, 3 drinking.
Director: Arnaud Desplechin. With Emmanuelle Devos, Catherine Deneuve. (150 min.)
A 30-something art dealer copes with challenges posed by the male friends, relatives, and lovers who inhabit her life and memory. Desplechin is in top form with this ingenious tale, enriched by shifting moods, stylistic imagination, and wry satire. In French with subtitles. Grade: A
Director: Shane Black. With Val Kilmer, Robert Downey Jr. (102 min.)
As a petty thief turned aspiring actor and detective in Shane Black's raucously entertaining "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," Downey is on screen almost all the time, which is good news, since few performers can hold the screen as well. Black, who wrote "Lethal Weapon," makes his directorial debut, and he puts a fresh spin not only on that film but also on a whole slew of films noirs. Grade: B+
Sex/Nudity: 13 scenes, including nudity.
Violence: 20 gory scenes.
Profanity: 130 harsh expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 9 scenes with drinking, 8 scenes with smoking.
Director: Nimród Antal. With Sandór Csányi, Eszter Balla. (110 min.)
The setting is the grungy depths of the Budapest subway system, where the main characters work, travel, hang out, and get into far-too-frequent trouble. Part mystery, part melodrama, part comedy, this genre-bender is fascinating from start to finish. In Hungarian with subtitles. Grade: A
Director: Charles Dance. With Judi Dench, Maggie Smith. (103 min.)
Two elderly women find a young musician stranded on shore after a shipwreck during the World War II era and decide, for differing reasons, to nurse him back to health. Dance's directorial debut isn't exciting, but it's deeply felt and engagingly acted. Grade: B
Director: George A. Romero. With John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper (94 min.)
Humans fight zombies in a city where a capitalist is profiting from the 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. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 6 scenes, including nudity.
Violence: 35 gory scenes.
Profanity: 61 harsh profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 7 scenes with drinking, 8 scenes with smoking, 1 with drugs.
Director: Gus Van Sant. With Michael Pitt, Asia Argento, Lukas Haas. (97 min.)
Van Sant continues his risk-taking string of melancholy tone poems with this loosely plotted look at the last days of a drug-dazed rock musician, suggested by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's untimely death. A true American tragedy, directed with skill and conviction. Grade: A
Director: Christopher Browne. With Pete Weber, Wayne Webb (98 min.)
Documentary about efforts to turn bowling into a big-time spectator sport. While the movie is strong on the history of its subject, it allows some yawns to enter its own account of a big tournament. Grade:B
Director: Martin Campbell. With Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones. (100 min.)
"The Legend of Zorro," starring Antonio Banderas as the masked one, made me long to re-watch "Zorro the Gay Blade," the great spoof starring George Hamilton. In that film, the Spanish accents were meant to sound deliberately fake. Here, even Banderas sounds like he's having a hard time sounding authentic. Zorro's nemesis plans to blow up America. He seems to be under the misapprehension that Zorro is James Bond. Grade: C-
Director: Laurence Dunmore. With Johnny Depp, John Malkovich. (130 min.)
As the depraved John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, Depp adds yet another sly sleazoid to his burgeoning portrait gallery. The 17th-century Wilmot was like a junior-league Casanova, and his descent here from raunchy fop to syphilitic wastrel is lovingly detailed by Dunmore. That detail, however, is obscured by some of the darkest tableaux this side of the Bat Cave. Grade: B-
Director: Peter Segal. With Adam Sandler, Chris Rock. (114 min.)
The wicked warden of a Texas prison engineers a rigged football game between guards and inmates, with the convicts led by a former pro who's been jailed for reckless behavior. Lively but also rude, crude, and mean-spirited. Grade: D
Sex/Nudity: 10 scenes of innuendo, 2 with minor nudity.
Violence: 18 scenes, including fights and torture.
Profanity: 130 harsh profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 4 scenes with drinking, 7 scenes with smoking.
Director: Catherine Hardwicke. With Heath Ledger, Emile Hirsh. (107 min.)
Three buddies in 1970s California revolutionize skateboarding when they put new polyurethane wheels on their boards and invade empty backyard swimming pools. Screenwriter Stacy Peralta, a member of this real-life trio, draws on material from his 2001 documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys." Hardwicke's furiously paced directing doesn't measure up to the real thing in the earlier film. Grade: C+
Director: Andrew Niccol. With Nicolas Cage, Ethan Hawke. (122 min.)
"Lord of War" is a bitterly funny comedy about arms dealers. Russian refugee Yuri Orlov (Cage) makes his fortune helping Third World dictators attack their neighbors or oppress their own people. As you laugh you become aware that Yuri is less a criminal than a tool of foreign policy. In showing us a man who tries not to notice what happens after he closes the deal, Niccol gives us a fast and funny movie that should leave you feeling a bit queasy. Grade: A-
- Daniel M. Kimmel
Sex/Nudity: 12 scenes of innuendo and sex.
Violence: 16 instances.
Profanity: 60 strong profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 16 scenes of smoking, 12 scenes of drinking, and 6 scenes of drug taking.
Director: Shainee Gabel. With John Travolta, Scarlett Johansson. (119 min.)
Travolta plays a dissolute codger who lives with a former student from his English-professor days in a Louisiana house that takes on a new atmosphere when its new owner (Johansson) decides to reside there too. Rambling, meandering, likable. Grade: B
Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath. With voices of Chris Rock, Ben Stiller. (80 min.)
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. Grade: D
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of mild innuendo.
Violence: 12 comic scenes.
Profanity: 2 mild expressions.
Director: Marilyn Agrelo. With New York City public school pupils. (110 min.)
Documentary about New York preteens learning ballroom dancing in a public-school program. Many moviegoers will swoon over the young folks' earnest efforts to learn gracefulness and sociability. But at heart this is a cuteness-exploitation flick. Grade: C
Director: Les Mayfield. With Samuel L. Jackson, Eugene Levy. (83 min.)
Eugene Levy gets his first costarring role playing a dental salesman, which is ironic since the film has no teeth - also no brain or heart. Levy's opposite number here, a federal agent with whom he gets entangled in an arms heist plot, is played by Jackson in full scowl. Grade: C-
Director: Luc Jacquet. With the voice of Morgan Freeman. (80 min.)
Documentary about the mating 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. Grade: C
Director: Miranda July. With Miranda July, John Hawkes. (90 min.)
Performance artist July plays a performance artist with a sudden crush on a young shoe salesman. Many other characters also weave in and out of the story, which is sometimes sweet and ingenious, extremely explicit about adolescent sex and occasionally too clever for its own good. A mixed package, but often fun to watch. Grade: A
Director: Woody Allen. With Radha Mitchell, Will Ferrell. (100 min)
During a friendly debate about optimism vs. pessimism, two writers work out the adventures of the title character(s) by imagining how differently the same person might behave with different circumstances and companions. Allen's view of life is limited to the urban middle class, as usual, but it's good to see his thoughtfulness back in action as he ponders the divide - or is it? - between comic and tragic perspectives. Grade: B
Director: Rob Marshall. With Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe. (137 min.)
A poor country girl, Sayuri (Zhang), becomes the geisha equivalent of a supermodel. But she pines for the baron who once did her a good turn when she was a 9-year-old and whom she still has a thing for as an adult. Beautiful geishas flit and whoosh through the equally beautiful scenery. So why is the film so boring? It could be because Marshall ("Chicago") is so transfixed by all the ritualistic hoo-ha that he never brings the story down to earth. Grade: C+
Director: Danny Boyle. With Alexander Nathan Etel, Lewis Owen McGibbon, Jane Hogarth. (97 min.)
Two young English boys stumble on a bag crammed with pounds just before Britain switches to the euro, and if they don't decide how to use the cash fast, it'll be worthless. Is it a gift from God, as one believes, or just a chance to win friends and influence people, as the other thinks? It's a movie about family that family viewers will find good fun. Grade: B
Director: Dave McKean. With Stephanie Leonidas, Rob Brydon. (101 min.)
Helena wishes she could run away from her family circus and "join real life." Like "Alice in Wonderland," her odyssey spirals her through a series of increasingly dark fantasias. Unlike Lewis Carroll's Alice, the wit and invention often flags. Grade: B
Director: Robert Luketic. With Jane Fonda, Jennifer Lopez. (102 min.)
A bride-to-be dukes it out with her mother-in-law-to-be as the wedding day draws near. The comedy is shamelessly stupid and flagrantly vulgar by turns. Grade: D
Director: Doug Liman. With Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie. (120 min.)
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. Grade: C
Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes with innuendo, 2 sex scenes.
Violence: 16 scenes.
Profanity: 29 strong profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 12 scenes with drinking, 3 scenes with smoking.
Director: Stephen Frears. With Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins. (103 min.)
Laura Henderson (Dench) purchases a West End theater and comes up with a show in which girls appear naked. Vivian Van Damm is the impresario she hires and locks horns with. He wants artistic freedom, she wants to meddle. The key to Dench's performance is the depth of feeling beneath the imperiousness. Grade: A
Sex/Nudity: 12 scenes including nudity.
Violence: 4 scenes of wartime violence.
Profanity: 5 expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 18 scenes of smoking, 8 scenes of drinking.
Director: Dan Ireland. With Joan Plowright, Rupert Friend. (108 min.)
With the encouragement of her daughter, Mrs. Palfrey moves from rural Scotland into London's musty but comfortable Claremont Hotel. After stumbling in the street while out for a walk, Mrs. Palfrey is tended to by a would-be novelist, Ludo (Rupert Friend). He is a free spirit who learns many life lessons from his new best friend, while Mrs. Palfrey basks in the chaste companionship. Plowright's performance as a genteel widow is a small-scale gem. Grade: B+
Director: Steven Spielberg. With Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush. (160 min.)
"Munich," which is about the aftermath to the 1972 Olympics massacre, is rarely less than gripping. Unofficially, Prime Minister Golda Meir dispatched a five-man commando unit to assassinate 11 Palestinian ringleaders of the massacre. The team is led by Avner, who, as the only native Israeli in the unit, is clearly intended to represent the conflicted Israeli soul. Spielberg focuses on Avner's crisis of conscience and wants to show us the way out of the cycle of violence in the Middle East. In essence his answer is "give peace a chance." The director has a reformer's instincts, which are admirable in a politician but can be detrimental to an artist, who almost by definition sees life in more complex colors. Grade: B
Directors: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro. With Keith Cavill,
Joe Soares, Andy Cohn. (86 min.)
The game of the title is a sort of rugby, and the players are quadriplegics tucked into wheelchairs customized for the sport. This is a lively, life-affirming documentary no viewer is likely to forget for a long time. Grade: A
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski. With Natalie Press, Emily Blunt. (85 min.)
A relationship blossoms between two teenage girls alienated from their dysfunctional English families, one damaged by adultery, the other by religious zealotry. Superbly acted, movingly written, and directed with a tough-minded lyricism rarely found in today's films. Grade: A
Director: Savi Gabizon. With Aviv Elkabets, Ayelet July Zurer. (110 min.)
The place is Israel, and the hero is a 14-year-old boy who falls in love with his aunt, moving in with her as a sympathetic family member after her husband dies. This wry comedy drama has excellent acting and surprises galore. In Hebrew with subtitles. Grade: A
Director: Rodrigo García. With Glenn Close, Dakota Fanning. (115 min.)
Nine stories about nine women filmed in nine separate unbroken takes. The uneven "Nine Lives" has an impressive cast, but the best section features Mexican actress Elpidio Carrillo as a prison inmate kept from her child. Grade:B-
Director: Volker Schlöndorff. With Ulrich Matthes, August Diehl. (90 min.)
On temporary leave from the Dachau death camp, a Roman Catholic priest struggles with his conscience, his fears for his family, and with a Nazi officer who hopes he'll push his bishop toward more sympathy with the Nazi cause. This is moviemaking on the highest dramatic, psychological, and moral plane. In German with subtitles. Grade: A
Director: Niki Caro. With Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson. (126 min.)
Theron plays a battered wife who fights sexual harassment at her job in the iron mines. She has her best role since "Monster," but overall "North Country" is too self-consciously scaled as an anthem for the human spirit. Grade: B-
Sex/Nudity: 16 scenes of innuendo and sexual harassment.
Violence: 8 scenes, including one of rape.
Profanity: 76 harsh expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 11 scenes with smoking, 10 scenes with drinking.
Director: Greg Harrison. With Courteney Cox, James LeGros, Anne Archer. (78 min.)
Trying to track down the truth about her boyfriend's murder, a photographer finds a mass of contradictory clues, some of which point back to her. An ingeniously scripted psychological thriller. Grade: A
Director: Campbell Scott. With Joan Allen, Sam Elliott. (105 min.)
Domestic eccentricities - some amusing and some troubling - surface when the IRS arrives to audit a New Mexico family that lives in the middle of nowhere. Scott has the courage to let the imaginative story unfold at its own leisurely pace, and it's not surprising that the acting is excellent, considering that he's among the very best American screen actors. Grade: A
Director: Roman Polanski. With Ben Kingsley, Barney Clark. (130 min.)
"Oliver Twist" is a near-masterpiece. All of the familiar scenes are here: The starving, orphaned Oliver risking the wrath of his overseers at feeding time by asking for "more"; Oliver's introduction to the lair of street-gang leader Fagin; the murder of the prostitute Nancy - Oliver's one true friend. Polanski's film is the first to truly put forth the dark derangement of Oliver's world, and it is this passion for emotional honesty that binds the famous scenes into a flowing whole. Grade:A
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of innuendo.
Violence: 20 instances.
Profanity: 5 instances.
Drugs/Alcohol: 6 scenes of smoking, 9 drinking.
Director: Stephen Vittoria. With Gore Vidal, Gloria Steinem, Howard Zinn, Warren Beatty. (125 min.)
Lively documentary about McGovern's disastrous run for the US presidency. The interviews with him are worth the price of admission. Grade: A
Director: Marcos Bernstein. With Fernanda Montenegro, Raul Cortez, Laura Cardoso. (98 min.)
Participating in a neighborhood-watch program for senior citizens, a lonely Brazilian woman spies a murder in an apartment across the street and starts dating the retired judge who she thinks committed it. An absorbing new spin on the "Rear Window" concept, with poignant comments on aging in modern society. In Portuguese with subtitles.Grade: B
Director: Adam Shankman. With Vin Diesel, Lauren Graham. (95 min.)
In this variation on "Kindergarten Cop," a Navy Seal is assigned to protect a family of kids from ruthless foreign agents. Cooped up in their home, the five children resent their babysitter/bodyguard and try to oust him, bringing a whole new meaning to the term "domestic terrorism." As predictable as you'd expect, but it exudes a low-wattage charm. Grade: C-
Director: Todd Solondz. With Ellen Barkin, Jennifer Jason Leigh. (100 min.)
The controversial Solondz strikes again with this indirect sequel to "Welcome to the Dollhouse," focusing on a 13-year-old girl whose desire to get pregnant sends her into a strange odyssey away from her family and friends. Having several actresses (and an actor) portray the heroine is just one of the drama's weirdly absorbing strategies. It's truly one of a kind. Grade: A
Director: Hany Abu-Assad. With Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman. (90 min.)
Said (Nashef) and his friend Khaled (Suliman) are recruited as human bombs by an underground Palestinian terrorist organization in the West Bank in the intermittently powerful "Paradise Now." Director Abu-Assad attempts to get inside the psyches of men who would blow themselves up for the cause. The film is better than the recent "The War Within," which tried for the same things, but ultimately, and perhaps unavoidably, we are left face to face with the unknowable. Grade: B+
Director: Frank Nissen. With voices of Jim Cummings, Brenda Blethyn. (68 min.)
Pooh and his pals - except Roo, who's too young for the trip - set out to capture a mysterious new creature who's shown up in their neck of the woods. The gentle story, told via old-fashioned "flat" animation, is perfect for young viewers. Grade: B
Director: Joe Wright. With Keira Knightley, Judi Dench, Matthew Macfadyen. (135 min.)
One of the great romances in the canon, Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" has been adapted for TV five times but only once before as a movie. Wright's version, set in the 18th century, brings out the vigor in Austen's romance in a way that the other adaptations never quite accomplished. Keira Knightley triumphantly comes into her own as Elizabeth, the heroine. Grade:A
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of mild innuendo.
Drugs/Alcohol: 8 scenes with drinking. 1 scene with smoking.
Director: Ben Younger. With Meryl Streep, Uma Thurman. (105 min.)
Rafi, 37 and recently divorced, lusts after David, 23 and living with his grandparents. There's an even bigger twist: Rafi's therapist, Lisa (Streep) is, unknown to her patient, David's mother. Just in case we didn't think that the age differences here were enough of a roadblock, Rafi is Catholic and David is Jewish. It's just an excuse for a lot of Yiddish-mama shtick, although Streep, who seems to have found a new lease on life as a loosey-goosey comedienne, does more with it than might have seemed possible. Grade: B-
Sex/Nudity: 9 scenes of frank talk and innuendo.
Violence: 1 scene.
Profanity: 36 expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: Not counted.
Director: Jane Anderson. With Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern. (99 min.)
Evelyn Ryan rewrote the definition of resilience in the 1950s and '60s, supporting 10 children and an alcoholic husband by composing jingles and 25-word essays to win hundreds of contests. The film veers from tongue-in-cheek documentary to gritty drama to sitcom, but it's true to the spirit of daughter Terry's book and of Evelyn's life - lumpy but filled with expectancy of good, and utterly charming. Grade: B
Violence: 4 scenes.
Profanity: 25 expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 8 scenes with drinking.
Director: Susan Stroman. With Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Will Ferrell. (134 min.)
Lane and Broderick reprise their Broadway roles as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, who figure out they can make more money with a theatrical flop than with a hit - hence the musical "Springtime for Hitler." It succeeds despite itself. It is possible, of course, to take great offense at the very notion of a musical comedy about Hitler. But for creator Mel Brooks, the Hitler humor is a sign of life. He's saying: We survived, you didn't. Grade: B+
Sex/Nudity: 19 instances of innuendo.
Violence: 5 comic scenes.
Profanity: 20 fairly mild expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 2 scenes of smoking, 2 scenes of drinking.
Director: John Madden. With Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal. (99 min.)
For a decade, Catherine (Paltrow) had been caring for her famous mathematician father (Hopkins), who spiraled into schizophrenia until his death. Now, as his funeral approaches, we realize that she, too, is afflicted, if not with madness then at least with the shadow of it. In the world of "Proof," madness and creativity are one. It's a very old romantic notion; maybe it's time to put it to rest. Grade: B
Director: Frederik du Chau. With Hayden Panettiere, voices of Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg. (93 min.)
The aptly named hero is a zebra who thinks he's a racehorse, and has the good fortune to be adopted by a teenage girl who's convinced he can outrun any thoroughbred on the track. Not as funny as it wants to be. Grade: C
Violence: 5 mild scenes.
Profanity: 2 mild profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 1 scene with drinking.
Director: Wes Craven. With Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy. (85 min.)
Taut. Tense. Gripping. Suspenseful. This reviewer hasn't used those words in so long I think I heard the keyboard cough. Nevertheless, they all apply to "Red Eye." McAdams is a workaholic hotel manager en route to her Miami home. Murphy is the smoothie who flirts with her in the airport, turns up next to her on the plane, and promises, soon after takeoff, that her father will be killed if she doesn't call the hotel and have the visiting secretary of Homeland Security moved to a room more advantageous for assassins. Grade: B+
Director: Chris Columbus. With Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs. (135 min.)
As directed by Columbus, Jonathan Larson's East Village reworking of "La Bohème" in the age of AIDS retains its calisthenic pathos, as well as most of its original cast, but you'd have to be a real Rent-Head (apparently their numbers are legion) to envisage Academy Awards in its future. As a new addition to the corps, Dawson is like a human Slinky. This is meant as a compliment. Grade: B-
Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo, 1 instance with slight nudity.
Violence: 2 instances.
Profanity: 29 instances (5 strong).
Drugs/Alcohol: 14 scenes with smoking and/or drinking, 6 with drug use.
Director: Hideo Nakata. With Naomi Watts, Simon Baker. (111 min.)
More about the insidious video that kills its viewers if they don't copy it and pass it to another victim. Subtler than "The Ring" and scarier than "Ringu," the Japanese thriller that started it all, this is sequel-spinning with a vengeance. Watts is wonderful, and the story's forsaken-child theme still has plenty of horrific power. Grade: B
Director: Barry Blaustein. With Johnny Knoxville, Brian Cox. (94 min.)
Too tenderhearted to fire the office custodian, Steve Barker hires the man as his gardener, only to be stuck with a huge medical bill for an on-the-job injury. His uncle, challenged by gambling debt, has a plan: Have Steve pose as a Special Olympics contestant and win big betting on him. Real-life Special Olympians in the cast prove "differently abled" to be more than a euphemism, but this lame-brained film lets them down. Grade: C-
Director: Chris Wedge. With the voices of Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Mel Brooks, Jennifer Coolidge. (89 min.)
The animated adventures of a young robot with big ambitions, and an old robot who's been kicked out of his own business by a profit-hungry upstart. The visuals are spectacular, but the screenplay is trite, intermittently vulgar, and not funny. Grade: C
Director: Malcolm D. Lee. With Bow Wow, Nick Cannon. (112 min.)
This homage to the '70s teen movie is built on formula: When their South Side roller rink closes, a group of hard-core Chicago skaters head for the North Side, to skate, dance, and conquer. What keeps the film from succumbing to fatigue is a refreshing cast and Lee's deftness with comedy. Grade: B
Director: Michael McGowan. With Adam Butcher, Campbell Scott, Jennifer Tilly. (98 min.)
The unlikely hero is a 14-year-old boy with an ailing mother, a penchant for trouble at his parochial school, and an odd notion that if he wins the Boston Marathon he'll receive a miracle to cure his problems. This deliciously offbeat Canadian comedy gets its charm from marvelous acting and from a screenplay bursting with ideas. Great fun. Grade: A
Director: Ingmar Bergman. With Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson. (107 min.)
A stately dance of love and hate among two senior citizens who were married years ago, a middle-aged musician, and his young daughter. This masterpiece is the best movie from Bergman in decades. Hardly ever does such brilliant acting, screenwriting, and cinematography find its way into a single film. In Swedish with subtitles. Grade: A
Sex/Nudity: 7 scenes with innuendos and nudity.
Violence: 2 instances.
Profanity: 27 strong and mild profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 4 scenes with drinking.
Director: Michael Schorr. With Horst Krause, Ursula Schucht. (114 min.)
Bored with retirement, an aging German realizes that it's a lot more fun to play American zydeco music than polkas on his accordion. Eventually, he makes it to the US to hear the music in person. Filmed in a leisurely, understated style, this dark comedy is downright entrancing. A spectacular directorial debut. In German and English with subtitles. Grade: A
Director: Julian Fellowes. With Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson. (87 min.)
London solicitor Thomas Manning (Wilkinson) is wounded deeply when his younger wife (Watson) takes up with an insufferably arrogant neighbor. The film manages to make reasonable parallels between physical violence and emotional betrayal without curdling the pudding. Grade: B
Director: Joss Whedon. With Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres. (119 min.)
"Serenity" is yet another tale that foretells of an interplanetary dictatorship, following a war of insurgency: In this case, the Alliance has made outlaws of the intrepid crew of the spaceship Serenity. The action sequences are intense, and the film is fun, if you can swallow all the hokum. Grade: C+
Director: Anand Tucker. With Steve Martin, Claire Danes. (104 min.)
Martin plays a dotcom millionaire who successfully woos Mirabelle (Danes), a salesgirl at Saks. Whether intentionally or not, Martin has given us something truly spooky: A full-fledged portrait of a hollow man. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 13 frank scenes of innuendo and sex.
Profanity: 9 fairly mild expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 3 scenes with smoking, 11 scenes with drinking.
Directors: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez. With Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson. (126 min.)
Interlocking stories of crime, revenge, and horror based on Miller's comic books and graphic novels. The cast is excellent and the computer-generated visuals are consistently stunning. Too bad the movie never comes within hailing distance of a moral perspective on its hyperviolent material. Grade: B
Director: Ken Kwapis. With Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel. (110 min.)
The adventures of four girls who part for different summer vacations and stay in touch by mailing each other a pair of jeans that mysteriously fits them all and may have magical powers - or perhaps just enhance the self-esteem of young women who'll soon leave adolescence behind. Grade: B
Director: Noah Baumbach. With Laura Linney, Jeff Daniels. (80 min.)
Writer-director Noah Baumbach's squiggly semiautobiographical comedy has the freshness of firsthand observation. It's about the breakup of a marriage between a self-infatuated novelist and his headstrong wife as seen through the eyes of their two sons, 16-year-old Walt and his younger brother Frank. Baumbach captures the ways in which children takes sides in a war they can't even begin to comprehend. Grade: A-
Director: George Lucas. With Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen. (142 min.)
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. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of mild innuendo.
Violence: 26 scenes, often grisly.
Director: Marc Forster. With Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts. (99 min.)
If you're the kind of moviegoer who likes puzzling out the plots of insoluble movies, then by all means rush to see "Stay," a great big blurry mess starring Ewan McGregor as a psychiatrist who gets pulled into the dreamscape of his disturbed patient. Grade: C-
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of innuendo.
Violence: 10 horror scenes.
Profanity: 28 harsh expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 3 scenes with smoking, 4 scenes with drinking, 1 scene with prescription drugs.
Director: Rob Cohen. With Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx. (121 min.)
Three Navy flying aces aren't happy that a computer will pilot the fourth plane in their squadron. Most dismaying is that it learns bad habits from its human counterparts - such as not always following orders - and it begins to pursue its own agenda. Grade: C
Sex/Nudity: 5 scenes of innuendo and implied sex.
Violence: 16 instances.
Profanity: 34 profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 7 scenes of smoking cigars or drinking.
Director: Katsuhero Otomo. With voices of Albert Molina, Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart. (106 min.)
Visually stunning animation about a 19th-century boy caught between factions using steam power for combat and destruction in London, where most of the action takes place. Otomo outdoes his "Akira" with this cinematic feast, which also raises big moral questions about science as benefactor or enemy of true human progress. Grade: A
Director: Russell Mulcahy. With Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Tim Draxl, Jesse Spencer. (98 min.)
Drama based on the life of a real Australian swimming champion who rose to success despite challenges posed by his alcoholic father, his abused mother, and his brother, who's his keenest competitor as well as his best friend. Rush and Davis shine, and the drama is engrossing until it turns sadly sentimental in the last minutes. Grade: B
Director: Stephen Gaghan. With George Clooney, Matt Damon. (126 min.)
A lot of people held out high hopes for "Syriana," a vast mosaic about the prospective merger of two American oil companies against the backdrop of a reformist Persian Gulf prince who has sold drilling rights to the Chinese. But the discussion most moviegoers will likely have is: "Could you figure out what was going on?" "Syriana" falls down at the most basic storytelling level, and this incoherence damages even the good parts. Grade: B-
Violence: 8 scenes, including torture.
Profanity: 35 strong expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 7 scenes of smoking, 7 scenes of drinking.
Director: Mark Wexler. With Haskell Wexler, Mark Wexler. (95 min.)
Portrait of legendary cinematographer and political activist Haskell Wexler, directed by his son, who has a hard time keeping control of the project with such a forceful dad in front of the camera. A fascinating glimpse of family love and rivalry, if not a deep-digging documentary of "My Architect" quality. Grade: B
Director: Raymond De Felitta. With Paul Reiser, Peter Falk. (96 min.)
On the occasion of his wife's self-imposed disappearance, Sam Kleinman (Falk) shows up at the door of his son, Ben (Reiser, who wrote the screenplay), and the well-cast pair embark on a road trip meant to keep dad busy while Ben's sisters sort things out. Result: a comedic, sometimes jarring, and deeply human interaction with only a few brief feints toward hyper-sentimentality. Grade: B+
- Clayton Collins
Director: Steven Greenstreet. With Michael Moore, Sean Hannity, Jim Bassi. (88 min.)
Documentary about the uproar that ensued when student leaders at a mostly Mormon college invited filmmaker Michael Moore to give a talk on their Utah campus. Frequently funny, sometimes sad, often electrifying. Grade: A
Director: Stephen Marshall. With Rosario Dawson. (90 min.)
A rogue journalist tracks the activities of a black anarchist group as the Republican National Convention draws near. It's a pity that such vital, thought-provoking material has been rendered so lifeless and inauthentic on the screen. Grade: C
Director: Tommy Lee Jones. With Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper. (121 min.)
Jones plays Pete Perkins, a ranch foreman whose friend and coworker, Melquiades (Julio Cesar Cedillo), is accidentally shot by a border patrolman (Pepper) who doesn't own up to the deed. Pete figures things out and commandeers the man across the borderlands with his friend's corpse in tow. His goal: A proper burial to fulfill Melquiades last wish. It's a hickory-smoked tale of contrition and redemption. Grade: B
Director: Kim Ki-duk. With Jae Hee, Lee Seung-yeon. (87 min.)
Enigmatic drama centering on a young Korean man whose hobby is living secretly in the homes of strangers, and an abused wife who abandons her husband to join him. Mysterious, sometimes violent, ultimately close to sublime. In Korean with subtitles. Grade: A
Directors: Tim Burton, Mike Johnson. With the voices of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter. (76 min.)
A murdered bride hears a young man practicing wedding vows in the forest and drags him underground as her husband. Although the underworld is a lot less grim than the land of the living, he pines for his fiancée. It's too macabre to be out-and-out funny, and feels unfinished. Grade: C+
Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of mild innuendo, 1 scene of partial male nudity.
Violence: 6 instances
Profanity: 1 mild expression.
Drugs/Alcohol: 2 scenes of smoking, 6 scenes with drinking.
Director: Thomas Riedelsheimer. With Evelyn Glennie, Fred Frith. (99 min.)
Documentary about Glennie, a professional percussionist who happens to be deaf. Exquisitely beautiful for the eyes as well as for the ears. Grade: A
Director: Duncan Tucker. With Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers. (103 min.)
The best, and perhaps the only, reason to see Duncan Tucker's "Transamerica" is for Felicity Huffman's touching, shape-shifting performance as Bree, a transgendered man on the verge of surgery to become a woman. Bree discovers just before the procedure that she has a son needing to be bailed out of a New York jail for turning tricks. Believing Bree to be a kindly church worker, he accompanies her on one of those interminable cross-country odysseys that indie filmmakers are so inordinately fond of. Grade: B-
Director: Bahman Ghobadi. With Soran Ebrahim, Avaz Latif. (98 min.)
The place is Kurdistan, the time is just before the Iraq war, and the main characters are kids who earn their living any way they can, including selling landmines. Superb acting and authentic details energize this rare Iran/Iraq coproduction. In Kurdish with subtitles. Grade: A
Director: Wong Kar-wai. With Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi. (129 min.)
Past, present, and future blend into an exquisite whole in this sort-of-sequel to Wong's great "In the Mood for Love," about a writer and an enigmatic train. Filmed to perfection by the great Christopher Doyle and others. In Cantonese, Mandarin, and Japanese with subtitles. Grade: A
Director: D.J. Caruso. With Al Pacino, Matthew McConaughey. (122 min.)
A hotshot quarterback wins a big bowl game, but injury ends his hopes of going pro. However, his knowledge of the game begins to earn him fame and fortune as a prognosticator for a New York betting service - until he becomes so full of himself that he loses his touch. Grade: B-
Sex/Nudity: 9 instances, including sex scene.
Violence: 2 scenes, including a fight.
Profanity: 123 harsh profanities.
Drugs/Alcohol: 17 scenes with smoking, 7 scenes with alcohol.
Director: Keith A. Beauchamp. With Mamie Till-Mobley, the Rev. Al Sharpton. (70 min.)
Harrowing documentary about the 1955 lynching of a Southern black teenager that became a national scandal, partly because of his mother's courage in refusing to hide its most horrific details. Required viewing for anyone interested in the struggle for American racial equality. Grade: A
Director: Mike Binder. With Joan Allen, Kevin Costner. (118 min.)
A mother and her four daughters cope with bitterness and confusion after her husband abruptly vanishes from the household. Allen and Costner give admirably understated performances as the woman and her eccentric next-door neighbor, but the story feels more contrived than deeply felt. Grade: C
Director: Gary Chapman. With the voices of Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais. (76 min.)
Valiant, a small but forceful fowl (voiced by McGregor), has aspirations to join the Royal Homing Pigeon Service and serve Britain. With the royal fleet under attack by enemy falcons - who don't make particularly effective villains - the RHPS is looking for a few good pigeons. What they get are bad-news birds. Grade:B
Director: Rob McKittrich. With Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris.(80 min.)
This gross-out comedy takes place almost entirely inside a generic chain restaurant, and what happens inside the kitchen isn't pretty. Neither is the look of the film, which is so bleary it should have been pulled over for a sobriety test. Grade: B-
Directors: Steve Box, Nick Park. With voices of Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes. (85 min.)
In their first feature film, the animated duo of Wallace, a cheese-obsessed inventor, and Gromit, his innovative dog, become a town's only protection from the infestation of rabbits that threaten to destroy its annual vegetable-growing contest. When a gigantic "were-rabbit" materializes, it's up to Wallace and Gromit to save the competition. Despite elements of predictability, Gromit's lovable personality makes the film a delight. Grade: A-
Director: James Mangold. With Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon. (136 min.)
Johnny Cash gets the full bio treatment in "Walk the Line." It's consistently engrossing and filled with great music and strong performances - beginning with Phoenix as Cash and Witherspoon as his second wife, June Carter. But this film is, finally, too conventional to account for Cash's jagged complexities. Cash was a true anomaly: a poseur who was also the genuine article. A better movie would have made that contradiction its core. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 6 instances of innuendo.
Violence: 9 scenes.
Profanity: 17 expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 9 scenes of smoking, 8 scenes of drinking, 9 scenes with drugs.
Director: Steven Spielberg. With Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins, Justin Chatwin. (117 min.)
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. Grade: B
Violence: 27 scenes.
Profanity: 27 mild expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: 1 instance of drinking.
Director: Joseph Castelo. With Ayad Akhtar, Firdous Bamji. (90 min.)
Hassan is a Pakistani student in Paris who is abducted by Western authorities for suspected terrorism and illegally shipped back to Pakistan, where he is tortured. His imprisonment radicalizes him. While staying with unsuspecting friends in New York, he joins a cell intent on blowing up Grand Central Terminal. Yet by keeping his culpability ambiguous, the filmmakers avoid the real issue: Was he or wasn't he a terrorist? Hassan's blankness is a symptom of the filmmakers's lack of commitment. Grade: B
Director: Gore Verbinski. With Nicolas Cage, Hope Davis. (101 min.)
Cage plays a forecaster for a top-rated Chicago TV show. Away from the camera, though, his marriage has come apart, his teenage son is in counseling, and his daughter is sullen and overweight. "The Weather Man" is about the meaninglessness of celebrity. David is a star but all he does is read the weather report. Stardom, in the movie's terms, is a sick joke. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 9 scenes including sex with nudity.
Violence: 11 scenes.
Profanity: 77 expressions.
Drugs/Alcohol: Not counted.
Director: David Donkin. With Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn. (113 min.)
Wilson and Vaughn play 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 spend a weekend with a powerful politician and his attractive daughters. A few good laughs, but not enough clever ideas to keep things hopping for two hours. Grade: C
Sex/Nudity: 24 instances.
Violence: 7 scenes.
Profanity: 78, ranging in severity.
Drugs/Alcohol: 39 scenes.
Director: James Ivory. With Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave. (138 min.)
At the disquieting center of the beautifully shot but somewhat stolid Merchant Ivory film "The White Countess" is Todd Jackson (Ralph Fiennes), a blind and disillusioned American diplomat who fulfills his fantasy of owning a nightclub in 1930s Shanghai. Natasha Richardson plays Russian émigré Countess Sofia, who is hired by Jackson to be his hostess even though he knows she moonlights as a prostitute to support her family. Vanessa Redgrave, Richardson's real-life mother, plays Sofia's aunt, and her real-life aunt, Lynn Redgrave, plays her mother-in-law, making this movie something of a family affair. But Fiennes's performance, tricky and impassioned, is the showpiece. Grade: B
Director: Geoffrey Sax. With Michael Keaton, Deborah Kara Unger, Ian McNeice. (98 min.)
A middle-aged architect believes his recently deceased wife is trying to contact him from "beyond" through VCRs and computer discs operated by a peculiar man he's just met. The story doesn't make much sense, but Keaton is good and McNeice is excellent as his oddball mentor. Grade: C
Violence: 7 scary scenes.
Profanity: 4 profanities, often harsh.
Drugs/Alcohol: 2 scenes with drinking.
Director: Judy Irving. With Mark Bittner, Judy Irving. (83 min.)
A nonfiction portrait of a West Coast eccentric who devotes his life to caring for a particular flock of wild parrots in his neighborhood. Lovely to look at, if not very deep in its thinking about relations between humans and their animal friends. Grade: B
Director: Jia Zhangke. With Chen Taisheng, Zhao Tao, Jing Jue, Jiang Zhong-wei. (139 min.)
The place is the World Park entertainment center in Beijing, which contains scaled-down versions of international landmarks. The characters are people who've come from all over China to work there. The themes are the globalization and homogenization of Eastern and Western cultures. Brilliant, from the sensitively filmed dramatic scenes to the atmospheric animated sequences that fill the screen whenever someone's cellphone receives a text message. In Mandarin and Shanxi dialect with subtitles. Grade: A
Director: Sally Potter. With Joan Allen, Sam Neill. (100 min.)
A laboratory researcher has an affair with a Lebanese physician who's emigrated to London and become a chef. The film 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. Grade: B
Director: Raja Gosnell. With Dennis Quaid, Rene Russo. (90 min.)
The film is a remake of a 1968 movie of the same title, starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball. But for audiences, the film's slapdash writing and slapstick performances by Quaid and Russo look more like a faithful mimicry of every other "big family" family comedy. Grade: C
Director: Jon Favreau. With Tim Robbins, Jonah Bobo. (113 min.)
Two squabbling brothers, home alone for a few minutes, find an old board game in the basement with mysterious, not to mention dangerous, properties. Once the duo sets the game in motion, they find their home adrift in outer space. Here, appropriately retro effects and family values outweigh an episodic script. Grade: B-
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of mild innuendo.
Violence: 15 scenes.
Profanity: 5 mild expressions.