NEW RELEASE COOKIE'S FORTUNE (PG-13) Director: Robert Altman. With Glenn Close, Liv Tyler, Julianne Moore, Charles S. Dutton, Chris O'Donnell, Patricia Neal, Lyle Lovett, Ned Beatty, Courtney B. Vance, Donald Moffat. (118 min.) +++ Friendships and family ties are tested when the police of a little Mississippi town launch an investigation into the death of a local dowager, not knowing her nieces have tampered with evidence to protect their inheritance from the old lady. As in most of Altman's best pictures, the story is a loosely strung excuse for various digressions, distractions, and diversions, filmed by a restless camera that pokes around like a sharp-eyed traveler on the lookout for tantalizing anecdotes to share with the folks back home.
THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS (NOT RATED) Director: Erick Zonca. With Elodie Bouchez, Natacha Regnier, Patrick Mercado, Jo Prestia, Grgoire Colin. (113 min.) +++ Sharing an apartment in a small French city, two rootless young women develop a complex relationship based on their mutual need for companionship and support. Zonca's filmmaking is smooth and assured, but top honors go to Bouchez and Regnier for their superb performances as the emotionally troubled heroines. Contains sex and nudity.
THE MATRIX (R) Directors: The Wachowski Brothers. With Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano. (132 min.) +++ Juiced up with nonstop action and a megadose of special effects, this science-fiction thrill ride begins with the paranoid premise that evil conspirators have all humanity trapped in a web of illusion that perpetuates their control by blinding us to reality. The plot switches gears every time it threatens to run out of energy, which keeps the show as lively as it is preposterous.
THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS (PG-13) Director: Sam Weisman. With Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn, Mark McKinney, John Cleese. (91 min.) + Martin treads the remake route again in this updated version of the Neil Simon comedy about a Midwestern couple who travel to New York for a job interview and stumble into one big-city pitfall after another. There are a few clever lines and Cleese has some sensational moments, but that's not enough to make the farce seem fresh.
PAULINA (NOT RATED) Director: Vicky Funari. With Paulina Cruz Suarez, Mriam Manzano Durn, Erika Isabel de la Cruz Ramrez, Mathyselene Heredia Castillo. (88 min.) +++ A woman returns to her poverty-stricken Mexican hometown for confrontations with various people who either wronged her or helped her during her extremely troubled youth. This isn't a "pure" nonfiction movie, since it supplements its documentary scenes with stylized reenactments of events not accessible to the camera, but it packs great emotional power and has much to reveal about the horrifying effects of sexist attitudes.
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (PG-13) Director: Gil Junger. With Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, Larry Miller, David Krumholtz, Andrew Keegan. (94 min.) ++ Shakespeare strikes again with this teenage comedy based on "The Taming of the Shrew," transferred to an American high school where boys launch a complicated scheme to woo a pair of sisters who won't go out with them. Junger spins hilariously written scenes with split-second timing, although the story sags during its long middle portion. Contains a lot of explicit sexual humor.
CURRENTLY IN RELEASE AMONG GIANTS (R) Director: Sam Miller. With Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Griffiths, James Thornton, Andy Serkis, Lennie James, Rob Jarvis, Alan Williams. (100 min.) +++ Love blossoms between an English-painting foreman and an Australian rock climber who joins his crew for a job atop high electrical towers in the Yorkshire countryside. The basic story is tried and true, but Postlethwaite is older and more seasoned than many of today's romantic leads, and the scenery looks terrific from the unusual perspective provided by the high-climbing camera.
DAYS OF HEAVEN (PG) Director: Terrence Malick. With Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz. (95 min.) +++ Revival of Terrence Malick's second movie, released in 1978 and celebrated mainly for astonishingly gorgeous camera work by the legendary Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler, who shot much of the action during the photographic "magic time" just before sundown. Manz's acting and narrating are also very touching, even though the story about an itinerant woman who falls in love with a wealthy farmer while traveling with her boyfriend doesn't quite hold together.
DEVIL'S ISLAND (NOT RATED) Director: Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. With Baltasar Kormakur, Gisli Halldorsson, Sigurveig Jonsdottir. (103 min.) ++ This ambitious but uneven Icelandic drama portrays a poor, eccentric family struggling to make a decent life in an abandoned US military base set aside for people with nowhere else to live. The picture's most effective element is its cleareyed look at the influence exerted by American pop culture on undiscriminating consumers in a different part of the world; accordingly, the soundtrack is filled with classic '50s tunes that keep the movie hopping even when the action sags.
DOUG'S 1ST MOVIE (G) Director: Maurice Joyce. With voices of Thomas McHugh, Becca Lish, Fred Newman, Chris Phillips, Alice Playten, Connie Shulman, Doug Preis. (77 min.) ++ A friendly sea monster and a Valentine's Day dance are among the main ingredients of the first animated feature based on TV's popular "Disney's Doug" series. Fans will have a good time; others may yawn at the low-grade animation and intermittently exciting plot. ++ Inoffensive, unimaginative, cute monster. Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: Two mild instances.
EDTV (PG-13) Director: Ron Howard. With Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, Ellen DeGeneres, Martin Landau, Elizabeth Hurley, Dennis Hopper. (110 min.) ++ A hammy video-store clerk volunteers to star in a round-the-clock TV series displaying his everyday life to a nation of tube-watching strangers; he enjoys his fame at first but changes his mind when unintended consequences strike his friends, his family, and him. The movie begins as an interesting new spin on the basic idea behind "The Truman Show," but veers toward cheapness and vulgarity on its way to a mean-spirited climax. ++1/2 Interesting characters, short on surprises, no "Truman Show." Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes and frequent sexual innuendo. Violence: 1 mild instance. Profanity: 61 expressions. Drugs: 17 scenes with cigarettes and/or alcohol.
FORCES OF NATURE (PG-13) Director: Bronwen Hughes. With Sandra Bullock, Ben Affleck, Maura Tierney, Blythe Danner, Steve Zahn, Ronny Cox, Bert Remsen. (102 min.) +++ Romantic comedy about a bridegroom-to-be who gets sidetracked on the way to his wedding by various small disasters - and more to the point, an unexpected traveling companion who's both free-spirited and beautiful. Bullock gives a sweet, breezy performance opposite Affleck's nicely underplayed comic acting, and Hughes gives a gently offbeat look to the less-than-credible plot. ++1/2 Quirky, romantic, bumpy. Sex/Nudity: 10 instances of innuendo. Violence: 1 mild instance. Profanity: 61 expressions. Drugs: 17 scenes with cigarettes and/or alcohol.
THE HARMONISTS (R) Director: Joseph Vilsmaier. With Ben Becker, Heino Ferch, Ulrich Noethen, Heinrich Schafmeister, Max Tidof, Kai Wiesinger, Meret Becker. (114 min.) +++ A tuneful comedy-drama based on the real-life exploits of the Comedian Harmonists, a German vocal group that broke up after the Nazis started harassing its Jewish members on and off the stage. Like the Harmonists in their shows, this neatly assembled German production serves up a beguiling blend of humor, sentiment, and nostalgia. Sex/Nudity: Violence: 2 scenes. Profanity: 4 expressions. Drugs: 10 scenes with either smoking, drinking, or drug use.
THE KING AND I (G) Director: Richard Rich. With voices of Miranda Richardson, Christiane Noll, Martin Vidnovic, Ian Richardson, Darrell Hammond, Armi Arabe, Tracy Venner Warren. (88 min.) ++ Animated version of the Rogers & Hammerstein musical about a 19th-century English schoolteacher and the King of Siam, who wants to modernize his country while maintaining the powers and privileges to which he and his court are accustomed. Not trusting kids to appreciate a classic show on its own terms, this remake leaves out many of the songs and sensationalizes the story with added ingredients ranging from a palace plot to a sea monster. Since the original 1956 movie is itself superb family entertainment, and available on video in its wide-screen CinemaScope format, that's clearly the way to go. Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None. Violence: 26 mild instances.
LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (R) Director: Guy Ritchie. With Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Vinnie Jones, P.H. Moriarty, Steven Mackintosh, Sting. (107 min.) ++ Boisterous comedy about a young gambler who loses a high-stakes card game, fears for his life if he doesn't pay his debt, and coaxes his motley friends into a robbery that will score them a pile of money if they're smart enough to pull it off. The humor is as rude and crude as the characters, but the picture certainly isn't lacking in energy. +++ Energetic, tongue-in-cheek, unique. Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of innuendo; 1 scene of a topless dancer in background. Violence: 17 scenes ranging from slapping and beatings to shootouts. Profanity: 180 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 4 scenes with drug dealing; smoking and drinking throughout.
THE MOD SQUAD (R) Director: Scott Silver. With Claire Danes, Giovanni Ribisi, Omar Epps, Michael Lerner, Dennis Farina, Josh Brolin, Steve Harris. (94 min.) + Uninspired spinoff from the TV series of 30 years ago, centering on three young delinquents helping the police solve a case involving drugs and corrupt cops. Everyone works hard, but the results are sadly short of style and personality, not to mention irony and intelligence. Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes. Violence: 6 instances. Profanity: 43 expressions. Drugs: 5 scenes with cigarettes and/or alcohol.
TRUE CRIME (R) Director: Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, James Woods, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Denis Leary, Diane Venora. (115 min.) +++ Assigned to interview a condemned prisoner, an aging reporter tries to salvage what's left of his alcohol-ruined career by proving the convict's innocence just hours before his execution. The drama is crisply acted and entertainingly filmed until credibility wanes in the last half hour. It would be even better if Eastwood followed his character's lead and emphasized "real issues" over "human interest" in a story that touches on important social problems without doing much to illuminate them. Contains a subplot about sexual exploits and a great deal of foul language. +++1/2 Sharp dialogue, grown-up, Eastwood-esque. Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of adultery. Violence: 3 scenes. Profanity: 98 expressions. Drugs: 15 scenes of cigarettes and/or alcohol.
A WALK ON THE MOON (R) Director: Tony Goldwyn. With Diane Lane, Liev Schreiber, Anna Paquin, Viggo Mortensen. (107 min.) ++ The first lunar landing and the Woodstock music festival are the historical backdrops of this mostly well-acted drama about a married woman who has an affair with a traveling salesman while tending her kids at a Jewish bungalow colony in the summer of 1969. The movie doesn't quite manage to weave its lonely-wife story and summer-of-love setting into a satisfying whole, but Lane is touching as a woman who fears she missed the fun of life by marrying too young.
OUT ON VIDEO THE RUGRATS MOVIE (G) Directors: Norton Virgien, Igor Kovalyov. With E.G. Daily, Kath Soucie, Whoopie Goldberg, David Spade. (87 min.) ++ A new baby enters the Pickles family, sparking jealousy in his big brother and danger for his friends when they load the newcomer into a wagon and lose their way in the woods. The animation is rough around the edges, and the sometimes vulgar jokes lack the wit of a good "Simpsons" episode, but fans of the TV series will be pleased. ++ Hyperactive, family-oriented, cutesy.
HOME FRIES (PG-13) Director: Dean Parisot. With Drew Barrymore, Catherine O'Hara, Jake Busey, Luke Wilson, Shelley Duvall. (105 min.) ++ An unexplained corpse, a pregnant fast-food waitress, and two feuding brothers are among the characters of this very dark, fitfully amusing comedy. Barrymore and Busey walk away with the acting honors, but no aspect of the picture is more than mildly entertaining. +++ Sweet love story, rowdy, funny.
COMING SOON ... (In stores April 6)
MEET JOE BLACK (R) Director: Martin Brest. With Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Claire Forlani, Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden. (174 min.) ++ "Touched by an Angel" meets "Wall Street" in this long, sometimes labored fantasy depicting Death as a handsome young man who takes a vacation to explore the everyday world and romance the daughter of a wealthy executive. Brest deserves credit for letting the story unfold at a thoughtful pace, but the drama falls apart in the last half-hour. +++ Romantic, beautiful, not insidious.