NEW RELAESES IT HAPPENED HERE (NOT RATED) Directors: Kevin Brownlow, Andrew Mollo. With Pauline Murray, Sebastian Shaw, Fiona Leland, Honor Fehrson. (96 min.) +++ Strikingly unusual pseudo-docudrama about what might have transpired if the Nazis had launched a full-scale occupation of Great Britain during the World War II era. Shot on a shoestring budget over several years ending in 1963, the movie is often ragged around the edges, but it has enough energy and originality to compensate for its technical shortcomings. Brownlow went on to become a distinguished film historian, and his sensitivity to historical currents is clearly visible in this early project.
KISS ME DEADLY (NOT RATED) Director: Robert Aldrich. With Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Cloris Leachman, Paul Stewart, Wesley Addy, Juano Hernandez, Maxene Cooper. (106 min.) ++++ Revival of the hard-hitting 1955 melodrama that turns Mickey Spillanes pulp-fiction hero Mike Hammer into an embodiment of the hidden rage, resentment, and anxiety of the deceptively placid 1950s era. The screenplay by A.I. Bezzerides touches on everything from atomic-age paranoia to the American worship of fast cars, all fiercely visualized by Aldrichs take-no-prisoners directing style. A key work in his career and in Hollywoods energetic cycle of film noir thrillers.
PRIVATE CONFESSIONS (NOT RATED) Director: Liv Ullmann. With Pernilla August, Max von Sydow, Samuel Froler, Thomas Hanzon, Kristina Adolphson. (125 min.) +++ Renowned filmmaker Ingmar Bergman wrote the highly personal screenplay for this drama based on the lives of his parents in the early years of their marriage. August is excellent as a spirited woman who enters an extramarital affair to escape what she perceives as dull and confining domesticity, and Max von Sydow is brilliant as an elderly clergyman in whom she confides her discontents and indiscretions.
THE SWINDLE (NOT RATED) Director: Claude Chabrol. With Isabelle Huppert, Michel Serrault, Franois Cluzet. (105 min.) +++ For his 50th movie, one of Frances original New Wave directors has joined forces with three popular stars to cook up this tasty comedy-thriller about an aging con artist, his beautiful and crafty accomplice, a handsome businessman working on a scam of his own, and an armored briefcase stuffed with millions of Swiss francs. Picturesque fun in settings that swing from the Alps to the Riviera, all dazzlingly captured by Eduardo Serras eloquent camera. (Also known as Rien ne va plus.)
THE THIRD MAN (NOT RATED) Director: Carol Reed. With Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Bernard Lee, Ernst Deutsch, Siegfried Breuer, Erich Ponto. (100 min.) ++++ Revival of the brilliant 1943 thriller about an American writer who visits Vienna to join an old friend and gets caught up in a mystery as perplexing as the social transformations of postwar Europe itself. Welles gives one of his greatest performances as the enigmatic Harry Lime, and his presence in the picture clearly influenced Reeds directing style, which also benefits from Graham Greenes literate screenplay and Anton Karass unforgettable zither score.
CURRENTLY IN RELEASE AFFLICTION (R) Director: Paul Schrader. With Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek, Willem Dafoe, James Coburn, Mary Beth Hurt. (115 min.) +++ Closely following Russell Bankss richly textured novel, this dark-toned drama traces a series of emotionally wrenching events in the life of a New Hampshire policeman whose family problems range from spats with his former wife to intermittent rage against his alcoholic father. Nolte gives one of his most fully realized performances, Coburn makes an amazingly powerful comeback, and Schraders filmmaking has never been more expressive or assured.
ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE (R) Director: Larry Clark. With James Woods, Vincent Kartheiser, Melanie Griffith, Natasha Gregson Wagner. (101 min.) ++ An experienced thug invites a drug-abusing teenager to become his protg, leading to a violent crime spree. Clarks first movie since the controversial Kids manages to be jarringly naturalistic and flagrantly melodramatic at the same time, bursting with explicit horrors that sound a loud alarm over antisocial elements in Americas heartland.
A CIVIL ACTION (PG-13) Director: Steven Zaillian. With John Travolta, Robert Duvall, James Gandolfini, Kathleen Quinlan, William H. Macy, Dan Hadaya, Tony Shalhoub, John Lithgow. (113 min.) +++ A self-centered attorney takes on a case involving claims of illness caused by toxic waste, and finds himself making great personal and professional sacrifices as he becomes increasingly committed to righting the insidious wrongs uncovered by his investigations. Splendid acting and a taut screenplay make the fact-based tale highly involving until its abrupt, underdeveloped ending.
DOWN IN THE DELTA (PG-13) Director: Maya Angelou. With Alfre Woodard, Mary Alice, Wesley Snipes, Esther Rolle, Al Freeman Jr. (110 min.) +++ Long celebrated as a poet, Angelou makes her movie-directing debut with this casually told but emotionally engaging story of an African-American woman who takes her drug-abusing daughter and endangered grandchildren from Chicago to Mississippi so they can connect with their Southern roots. The picture makes up in dramatic warmth what it lacks in technical finesse. VSex/Nudity/Violence: None. VProfanity: 5 mild expressions. VDrugs: 14 scenes of cocaine, smoking pot, and drinking alcohol.
THE FACULTY (R) Director: Robert Rodriguez. With Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Josh Hartnett, Famke Jannsen, Bebe Neuwirth, Salma Hayek, Usher Raymond, Jon Stewart. (102 min.) + Teenagers discover their school has been taken over by aliens from outer space, or someplace like that, and use the products of a local drug dealer to knock them dead. The cast is attractive, the story is trite unless you havent seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers even once, and the special effects are anything but special. ++ Creepy, alienesque, heart-pounding. VSex/Nudity: None. VViolence: 21 violent scenes. VProfanity: 108 expressions. VDrugs: 4 scenes with cigarettes, 2 with alcohol, 5 with drug use.
THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T (G) Director: Roy Rowland. With Hans Conreid, Tommy Rettig, Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy. (88 min.) +++ Revival of the 1953 fantasy, cowritten by the legendary Dr. Seuss, about an imaginative boy whose real-life problems spark a wild dream that brings to life every nightmare you could have about a stern piano teacher. The everyday scenes are uninspired, but the dream sequence is a classic of its kind.
HILARY AND JACKIE (R) Director: Anand Tucker. With Emily Watson, Rachel Griffiths, Charles Dance, David Morrissey. (121 min.) +++ Handsomely filmed drama based on the real-life relationship between Jacqueline du Pr, a cellist who became one of the worlds most acclaimed musicians, and her sister, who traded in her musical talent for domestic life. The acting is splendid, the family issues are sensitively explored, and the treatment of Jackies illness and untimely death is tactful though explicit.
HURLYBURLY (R) Director: Anthony Drazan. With Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright Penn, Garry Shandling, Meg Ryan, Chazz Palminteri, Anna Paquin. (122 min.) +++ The gifted cast acts up a storm in this deliberately ill-mannered tragicomedy about a group of rowdy Hollywood men and the miserably treated women in their lives. The characters are so rude and crude that civilized moviegoers may head quickly for the exit, but the pictures anthropological interest gains morbid energy from its furious pace and dizzying dialogue, adapted by David Rabe from his successful Broadway play of 1984. ++ Self-centered, excessive, satirical. VSex/Nudity: 8 scenes of talk about sex. VViolence: 4 scenes of physical abuse of women. VProfanity: 177 expressions. VDrugs: 32 scenes of pot, cocaine, drinking, and smoking.
LITTLE VOICE (R) Director: Mark Herman. With Jane Horrocks, Michael Caine, Brenda Blethyn, Ewan McGregor. (99 min.) +++ A shy young woman with a gift for movie-star impersonations wants a quiet life but cant escape the pushy plans of her loud-mouthed mother and a sleazy entrepreneur who wants to capitalize on her talent. The movie is often as raucous and seedy as its less-attractive characters, but it gains power from inventive acting and poignant touches.
MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (PG) Director: Ron Underwood. With Bill Paxton, Charlize Theron, Regina King, Peter Firth, David Paymer. (115 min.) ++ Run-of-the-mill remake of the memorable 1949 adventure about a giant ape that raises a ruckus in an American city after being uprooted from the jungle. Bring back the original Joe or King Kong, the granddaddy of them all and forget this overcooked 90s imitation! ++1/2 Wholesome, effective gorilla animatronics, good lessons for children. VSex/Nudity: None. VViolence: 14 instances, many involving guns. VProfanity: 8 mild swears and oaths. VDrugs: 2 scenes with cigars, 1 with alcohol.
PATCH ADAMS (PG-13) Director: Tom Shadyac. With Robin Williams, Monica Potter, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel London. (110 min.) ++ A middle-aged medical student rebels against the dehumanizing methods of his professors, insisting that physicians should treat people rather than illnesses. Williams plays his well-worn role of a lovable eccentric who reforms the system by being spontaneous and wacky. The movie starts with insights about the need for more humane values in health care, then buries them under an avalanche of vulgarities and clichs. +++ Touching, funny, inspiring. VSex/Nudity: 1 instance. VViolence: None shown, but implied. VProfanity: 32 expressions, mostly mild. VDrugs: None.
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (R) Director: John Madden. With Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush. (122 min.) ++ The young playwright fights off writers block, scrambles for ideas, and falls in love with a would-be actress who wears mens clothing as readily as a character in one of his cross-dressing comedies. This romantic farce has a talented cast and energy to spare, but somehow the ingredients dont burn as brightly as one would expect from such promising ingredients. ++++ Finally, a literate movie; passionate, abundantly witty. VSex/Nudity: 5 sex scenes, several with waist-up nudity; plus a few references to promiscuity. VViolence: 6 instances of violence ranging from comical to an offstage killing. VProfanity: 2 expressions. VDrugs: 3 instances of drinking.
STEPMOM (PG-13) Director: Chris Columbus. With Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Ed Harris, Jena Malone, Liam Aiken. (124 min.) ++ A divorced woman vies with her former spouses new fiance for the affection of her young children. The movie is reasonably smart and touching when it deals with the plight of a family on the rocks, but it pushes too many emotional buttons when the ex-wife is diagnosed with a fatal illness that takes over the story. Still, theres some fine acting. +++ Touching, uplifting, the little boy stole the show! VSex/Nudity: Verbal references. VViolence: None. VProfanity: 12 expressions. VDrugs: 4 scenes of social drinking; 1 with marijuana.
THE THIN RED LINE (R) Director: Terrence Malick. With Sean Penn, John Travolta, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, Gary Oldman, John C. Reilly, Elias Koteas, John Savage, John Cusack, George Clooney. (166 min.) +++ American soldiers battle elusive enemies in this sweeping adaptation of James Joness thoughtful World War II novel about the Guadalcanal campaign. Although the story seems disjointed at times, no other war movie has tried so valiantly to convey not only the suffering of combat but the awful fissures it leaves between humanitys ideal oneness with itself and the world we live in. +++ Intense, violent, poetic. VSex/Nudity: 1 bedroom scene with no nudity; 3 scenes of partially nude natives or soldiers bathing. VViolence: Gunfire, beatings, dismemberment; combat violence throughout. VProfanity: More than 30 expressions. VDrugs: 3 scenes of alcohol; 26 with smoking.
YOUVE GOT MAIL (PG) Director: Nora Ephron. With Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, Greg Kinnear. (120 min.) ++ Romance blooms on the Internet between the manager of a little bookshop and a wheeler-dealer who wants to replace it with a superstore. Hanks and Ryan are as appealing as ever, and Ephrons fashion-conscious camera gives the action a slickly attractive sheen. But the story would be tighter and snappier if it didnt spend so much energy extolling the virtues of big-money conglomerates over the old-fashioned entrepreneurial spirit. +++ Cute, warm, clean-cut. VSex/Nudity/Violence: None. VProfanity: 8 expressions. VDrugs: 1 scene of social drinking.
OUT ON VIDEO HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK (R) Director: Kevin Rodney Sullivan. With Angela Bassett, Taye Diggs, Whoopi Goldberg, Regina King. (125 min.) ++ Vacationing in Jamaica after getting downsized from her executive desk, a 40- year-old woman falls for a 20-year-old man who refuses to be dissuaded by either their age difference or the skepticism of their friends and relatives. +++ Warm, funny, refreshing.
OUT OF SIGHT (R) Director: Steven Soderbergh. With George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson. (121 min.) ++ A tough-minded policewoman develops a weak spot for a bank robber on the lam after a jailbreak. The screenplay, written by Elmore Leonard, serves up quirky dialogue and ironic twists. +++ Amusing, involving, sexy.
COMING SOON ... (In stores Jan. 12)
THE TRUMAN SHOW (PG) Director: Peter Weir. With Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris, Natasha McElhone, Noah Emmerich. (107 min.) ++++ Smart, funny, thought-provoking comedy about a painfully ordinary man who gradually learns hes the unwitting star of a real-life TV show. +++ Original, bittersweet, clever.