NEW RELEASES Focus (PG-13)
Director: Neal Slavin. With William H. Macy, Laura Dern, David Paymer, Meat Loaf Aday. (100 min.)
Sterritt *** Macy plays a 1940s businessman who doesn't worry much about anti-Semitism until some people get the idea that he looks sort of Jewish himself, sparking events that cause him to lose his job. Neighbors are also angry at a local Jewish shopkeeper, and he's tempted to regain their trust by joining in their attacks. Slavin treats the tale as a philosophical fable about the never-ending struggle between good and evil. The result would be an important drama if the screenplay (based on an early Arthur Miller novel) didn't lapse into preachiness and imprecision at times.
Directors: The Hughes Brothers. With Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane. (137 min.)
Sterritt *** Depp plays a 19th-century police inspector whose hunt for Jack the Ripper smokes out an enormous number of complications. The movie works well as a straight-out horror yarn, proving that the Hughes
Brothers are more versatile than their previous "ghetto pictures" suggest. But it lacks the near-cosmic resonance of the book it's based on, a "graphic novel" by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell that makes far more interesting speculations on mysteries of myth and history, space and time, good and evil, life and death.
Director: Terry Gilliam. With Michael Palin, Annette Badland, Max Wall. (105 min.)
Sterritt *** Palin, one of the most gifted members of England's fabled Monty Python comedy troupe, plays a mud-spattered medieval peasant whose life turns adventurous when a monster starts stalking the countryside. Gilliam's first solo flight as a director is more notable for its inspired visual ideas than for the frequency of its laughs, but Python devotees will have fun. First released in 1977.
Director: Rod Lurie. With Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Delroy Lindo. (120 min.)
Staff ** In his follow-up to "The Contender," former film critic-turned-director Rod Lurie seems to be trying to create a prison drama that recalls "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Great Escape." The prisoners this time are soldiers, including a legendary three-star general (Redford), serving a 10-year sentence. He soon finds himself rallying the men to oppose a ruthless colonel who runs the military prison. The film is often entertaining, but it's hampered by an unmerited sense of self-importance, too-obvious gestures, and ludicrous plot holes. By Stephen Humphries
Director: Penny Marshall. With Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, Brittany Murphy, Adam Garcia. (132 min.)
Staff **1/2 Beverly Donofrio (Drew Barrymore) is an ordinary teenager with an extraordinary sense of destiny. When she becomes pregnant at the age of 15 and reluctantly marries her young lover (Steve Zahn), her dreams are shattered by new - sometimes nasty - realities. She embarks on a 20-year quest to be a good mother and assert herself as a formidable writer. Based on the 1990 memoir of Beverly Donofrio, this film takes a touching, humorous look at the relationships and events that shaped one woman's life, and the lives of those closest to her. It's an enjoyable journey, though at times it loses its way and drags a bit. By Steven Savides
Director: Claude Lanzmann. With Yehuda Lerner.
Sterritt **** A feature-length interview with a Holocaust survivor who escaped from no fewer than eight Nazi strongholds and then participated in a Jewish rebellion against the overlords of the lethal Sobibor death camp. The conversation was shot in 1979 as part of Lanzmann's research for "Shoah," his nine-hour masterpiece on the Holocaust, and has now been fashioned into a rigorous and riveting stand-alone film. In Hebrew, French, and German with English subtitles
Director: Richard Linklater. With Wiley Wiggins, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Steven Soderbergh. (99 min.)
Sterritt *** This offbeat animation centers on a young man who's having the most vivid dream you can imagine - and possibly a permanent one, since every time he wakes up, this turns out to be part of the dream. Will he ever find his way back to waking life? Or is human existence a dream in the first place, with so-called sleep a gateway to liberating mental alternatives? The screenplay is crammed with conversations, often invoking philosophy and theology. Linklater is better at playing with concepts than synthesizing them. But few American filmmakers put more faith in the ability of words to stimulate mind and heart.
Director: Barry Levinson. With Bruce Willis, Cate Blanchett, Billy Bob Thornton, Troy Garity. (109 min.)
Staff ** Mildly amusing is probably not what veteran director Barry Levinson was going for when he teamed macho-man Bruce Willis with chatterbox-hypochondriac Billy Bob Thornton as odd-couple bank robbers in this quirky caper. The talented Cate Blanchett adds spice in her role as a runaway wife who falls for both men at once. But the film runs out of gas. Ultimately, it's an offbeat comedy that's a few beats off. By John Kehe
Director: Gary Fleder. With Michael Douglas, Brittany Murphy, Sean Bean, Famke Janssen. (110 min.)
Sterritt ** Douglas plays a New York psychiatrist treating a troubled teenager who's been faking most of her afflictions for years; then his daughter gets kidnapped by a twisted criminal who's after a crucial number buried in the teen's memory. The movie has promise as a psychological thriller, but the filmmakers show far more interest in chases and shoot-outs than in characters and ideas.
Director: Scott Hicks. With Anthony Hopkins, Hope Davis, Anton Yelchin, Mika Boorem,. (98 min.)
Sterritt *** A mysterious stranger (Hopkins) rents a room above the home of an 11-year-old boy, then asks the child to keep an eye out for enemies who want to capture him. The movie takes on a lot of material, from the boy's problems with bullies and romance to the stranger's clairvoyant powers. Hicks doesn't always keep the story clear and compelling, but Hopkins is in top form.
VS/N: 3 instances of innuendo, including implied rape. VV: 6 scenes including beatings. VP: 13 expressions. VD: 6 scenes with smoking, 2 scenes with drinking.
Director: John Dahl. With Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Paul Walker, Walt Goggins. (97 min.)
Staff ** A stylish but ultimately cheap thrill, "Joy Ride" is a skillful production in the service of nothing better than your average teen fright-flick experience. Two brothers play a practical joke on a truck driver, who turns out to be Freddy Kreuger on 10 wheels as he pursues his revenge to its noisy, gory conclusion (and, of course, beyond).
By Gloria Goodale
Director: Tim Hill. With Alex Linz, Clifton Davis, Amy Hill, Orlando Brown. (86 min.)
Staff **1/2 Will Max survive his first week of junior high? He's tormented by a crazed ice cream vendor, a bulldozer-driving principal, and a ninth-grader trying to make him her pet. Under the impression that he's about to move to another town, Max decides to strike back. This scattered production often loses positive messages in the shuffle, but Linz's savvy performance as Max almost compensates. By M.K. Terrell
Director: David Lynch. With Laura Herring, Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts, Robert Forster. (147 min.)
Sterritt *** After losing her memory in a Los Angeles car crash, a young woman comes under the care of a wannabe actress who agrees to help her discover who she is and figure out why her purse is crammed with cash. That's just the bare bones of the plot - the movie is closer to a delirious dream than a conventional thriller. Fans of provocative puzzles will have mind-teasing fun if they can stomach Lynch's trademark outbursts of sex and violence.
VS/N: 7 scenes of explicit sex and innuendo. VV: 9 instances, often disturbing. VP: 9 harsh expressions. VD: 2 scenes with alcohol, 2 scenes with cigarettes.
Director: Christine Lahti. With Albert Brooks, Leelee Sobieski, Desmond Harrington, Carol Kane. (109 min.)
Staff ***1/2 Leelee Sobieski and Albert Brooks play odd-couple opposites in this unconventional romantic comedy. He's a prim 49-year-old haberdasher, she's a heavily-pierced goth just out of high school. While there are significant taboos in this pairing - she's underage at 17, and he's her boss - the movie ultimately displays that true love is about positive transgressions. As their love-interest turns from flirtation to familial love, the triumph of trust between the characters remains utterly convincing and upliftingly funny. By Ben Arnoldy
uuu Touching, modest, tear-jerking
VS/N: 6 scenes of implied sex and innuendo. VV: 4 instances of self-inflicted wounds. VP: 64 expressions. VD: 2 scenes with alcohol, 1 scene with marijuana.
Director: Peter Chelsom. With John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, Molly Shannon, Eugene Levy. (100 min.)
Sterritt ** A young man meets the woman of his dreams, but she wants a sign that destiny means them to be together, and destiny doesn't quite come through. This exceedingly romantic comedy begins with flair, but lapses into clichés long before the sentimental (and predictable) finale. The stars are fetching, though.
Staff *** Great chemistry, stylish, no depth.
VS/N: 1 scene of implied sex, 2 instances of innuendo. VV: 1 mild instance. VP: 21 expressions. VD: 6 scenes of alcohol, 2 scenes with cigarettes.
Director: Antoine Fuqua. With Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn, Macy Gray. (120 min.)
Staff *** Nothing can prepare ordinary cop Jake Hoyt for what he endures on his "training day" as he shadows a veteran narcotics cop in Los Angeles. Aided by superb performers, director Fuqua has fashioned a gripping thriller in which both moral and immoral actions have consequences. By Stephen Humphries
Staff *** Sweaty, disturbing, great moral struggle.
VS/N: 3 scenes of implied sex, 1 scene with nudity. VV: 12 often gory scenes. VP: 268 harsh expressions. VD: 4 scenes of alcohol, 9 scenes with cigarettes, 2 scenes with drugs.
Director: Ben Stiller. With Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Christine Taylor, Will Ferrell, Jerry Stiller. (95 min.)
Staff ** The loose plot - it's more of a concept, actually - has Ben Stiller starring as the world's most famous supermodel who becomes unwittingly embroiled in a plot to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Like a "Saturday Night Live" sketch it's a mixture of hit and miss. By Stephen Humphries
Staff **1/2 Zany, juvenile, uneven.
VS/N: 2 scenes of implied sex, 1 scene with innuendo. VV: 13 scenes of cartoonish violence. VP: 19 expressions, sometimes harsh. VD: 6 scenes with drinking, 1 scene with smoking, 2 scenes with drugs.
Director: Steve Carr. With Eddie Murphy, Kristen Wilson, and voices of Steve Zahn, Lisa Kudrow. (90 min.)
Staff *1/2 Murphy reprises his 1998 role as Dr. Dolittle who must help save a forest from money-hungry loggers. The writers must have thought, "Hey, if we can feature a mafia-type raccoon, a drinking monkey, and a Latino chameleon that can talk, this movie will write itself!" They were so wrong. By Lisa Leigh Parney
uuu Family fun, quick humor, upbeat.
Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi. With the voices of Alec Baldwin, Ming Na, James Woods. (106 min.)
Sterritt ** It's the distant future and Earth has been decimated by aliens. The beautiful Dr. Aki Ross thinks she can solve things with a high-minded approach. The movie is the first to feature an entire cast of human characters generated through computer animation, but it abandons the imaginativeness of animation by slavishly imitating human traits.
Staff ** Creative, pantheistic, intense.
Director: Dominik Moll. With Laurent Lucas, Sergi López, Mathilde Seigner, Sophie Guillemin. (117 min.)
Sterritt *** With a friend like Harry you don't need enemies, and with a foreign movie like this - a startling, suspenseful ride few will forget in a hurry - you don't need Hollywood pictures. López is perfect as an off-kilter old friend who barges into the life of a high-school pal and starts doing shady, violent favors that nobody ever asked him for. The result is a pitch-dark tragicomedy. In French with English subtitles
Staff **1/2 Often funny, intense, absorbing.