Director: Joey Lauren Adams. With Ashley Judd, Jeffrey Donovan, Tim Blake Nelson, Diane Ladd, Stacey Keach. (97 min.)
The squeaky-voiced actress Joey Lauren Adams ("Chasing Amy") makes her writing-directing debut in "Come Early Morning," which stars Ashley Judd as Lucy, a Southern woman with too many one-night stands in her past. The film is constructed as a redemptive odyssey in which Lucy, as a result of the attentions of Cal (Jeffrey Donovan), the new guy in town, comes to terms with her inner turmoil. It's all rather neatly plotted, and Donovan doesn't bring much to the party – he practically overdoses on empathy. But Adams has a good camera eye and a fine feeling for the regional mores of the South, where she's from. Judd, who for a change isn't being terrorized in a thriller, is more nuanced and intense than she's ever been. Grade: B
– Peter Rainer
Director: Agnieszka Holland. With Diane Kruger, Ed Harris, Matthew Goode, Phyllida Law. (104 min.)
As Ludwig van Beethoven, Ed Harris is the perfectly irascible tyrant we'd expect, and yet, as we might hope, he has a sense of humor about himself. When a young woman (Kruger) shows up to write out the choral parts for his Ninth Symphony (and unofficially serve as housemaid and nurse), she's initially terrified, but he coaches her to stand her ground rather than let him bully her. This comedy-drama is mostly fiction, but its big scene, re-creating the Ninth Symphony's 1824 première, is truly moving. And rarely has any actor disappeared into a role as thoroughly as Harris does here. Grade: B
– M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes, 1 with partial nudity. Violence: 2 scenes. Profanity: 16 instances. Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: 5 scenes with drinking, 1 with smoking.
Director: Steven Shainberg. With Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr., Ty Burrell, Harris Yulin, Jane Alexander. (122 min.)
Fur is subtitled "An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus," as it well should be. Arbus's life has been put through the fantasy blender. The result is this metabiography that says almost nothing about the great photographer's life or art. Nicole Kidman plays Diane in a mode that is icy even for her, while Robert Downey Jr., the film's sole point of interest, is Lionel, the man of mystery who lives upstairs from her. With his entire face thickly covered in hair for most of the movie, Downey is as touching in this role as John Hurt was in "The Elephant Man." But the photographer, a woman of privilege who was obsessively drawn to capture outsiders and misfits with her camera, is too disturbing a character to fit comfortably inside this freaky phantasmagoria. Grade: C–
Sex/Nudity: 10 scenes, including sex and nudity. Violence: 1 scene of suicide by drowning. Profanity: 10 instances, including harsh profanity. Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: 7 scenes with drinking, 12 with smoking, 2 scenes with marijuana.
Note: "The Return," a horror film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, and "Harsh Times," a drama starring Christian Bale and Eva Longoria, were not screened for critics.
Director: Michael Lembeck. With Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell, Martin Short, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margaret. (98 min.)
Having hit the ice ceiling careerwise, Jack Frost (Short) will try any form of dirty trick to take over Santa's job at the North Pole. He sabotages the toy factory, woos Mrs. Claus (Mitchell), and tries to get Santa (Allen) in trouble with the in-laws (Arkin, Ann-Margret) – all aimed at conning Saint Nick into resigning. Jack's meanness makes the story a downer most of the way, despite the efforts of a large and talented cast. It's not until the last 10 minutes that we get the movie we came to see. Things lighten up and the ending is quite charming. Grade: C
Sex/Nudity: 3 mild instances of innuendo. Violence: 6 scenes of cartoonish violence. Profanity: None. Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: 1 scene with drinking.