Director: Christophe Gans. With Jean Yanne, Emilie Dequenne, Vincent Cassel. (142 min.)
Sterritt ** In the time of Louis XV, a French detective and a native American mystic uncover a web of skullduggery as they probe a series of killings thought by local peasants to be the work of a supernatural monster. Gans tries to match "Couching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" with his ambitious mix of action, romance, and mythic overtones, but much of the historical horrorfest is more frenetic than fascinating. Look out for bursts of over-the-top violence. In French with English subtitles.
Director: Stanley Kubrick. With Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood. (156 min.)
Sterritt **** This 1968 masterpiece is nothing less than a speculative biography of the human race, beginning at the dawn of humanity and culminating in a futuristic vision so far beyond commonplace notions of physics and metaphysics that Kubrick doesn't claim to explain it, only to open our minds to the endlessness possibilities. It's an utterly original film, introducing techniques so far ahead of their time that Hollywood hasn't begun to plumb their potential.
Director: Charles Shyer. With Hilary Swank, Jonathan Pryce. (120 min.)
Sterritt ** Check off the ingredients for an old-fashioned historical melodrama: an orphan with noble blood, a secretly sinful churchman, an imperious queen, and jewelry that becomes the center of an 18th-century scandal. The film has almost enough corny appeal to offset its lack of originality.
VS/N: 10 scenes, half innuendo. VV: 8 scenes. VP: 10 mostly mild expressions. VD: 12 scenes with alcohol, 1 with drugs.
Director: Michael Mann. With Will Smith, Giancarlo Esposito, Jamie Foxx, Jeffrey Wright. (140 min.)
Sterritt *** Fast-talking prizefighter Muhammad Ali was a key athletic and cultural figure of the '60s and '70s. This energetic biopic covers key events of his career, including his rise to the heavyweight championship, his role in the Black Muslim movement, and his comeback. Smith lacks the champ's physical presence, but his vocal impersonation is exactly right. Its heart is mainly in the boxing scenes.
Staff *** Riveting, revealing, good history lesson, way too long.
VS/N: Three scenes. VV: 11 scenes, mostly boxing. VP: 19 expressions, some harsh. VD: 13 scenes of smoking or drinking.
Director: Ron Howard. With Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris. (120 min.)
Sterritt ** Howard takes more storytelling risks than usual in this crisply made biopic about John Nash, an economist who began his career with a theoretical breakthrough, then fell prey to psychological problems that hobbled him. Crowe brilliantly portrays this complex character. But the screenplay seems cavalier in assuming mental illness is no match for will power. You won't learn much about economics, despite Nash's devotion to the field.
Staff ***1/2 Amazing acting, turbulent, triumphant, believably real.
VS/N: None. VV: 7 scenes. VP: 4 instances. VD: At least 6 scenes of drinking.
Director: Gillian Armstrong. With Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon. (120 min.)
Sterritt ** Blanchett gives an intermittently forceful performance as a British woman who becomes a spy for the French resistance during World War II, searching for a missing pilot she loves while getting involved with a French family endangered by its Jewish roots. The story has inherent emotional power, but Jeremy Brock's formula-bound screenplay rarely soars beyond cliches.
Director: Guillermo del Toro. With Eduardo Noriega, Marisa Paredes, Federico Luppi. (106 mins.)
Staff *** A remote orphanage during the 1930s Spanish Civil War is haunted by the ghost of a boy who has a story to tell and a score to settle. A new orphan bravely tries to solve the mystery and protect his friends. Top-notch acting by both the adult and child actors is marred somewhat by unnecessary profanity and strong sexual scenes. In Spanish, with subtitles. By Gregory M. Lamb.
VS/N: 2 scenes, 4 with innuendo. VV: 11 scenes. VP: 34 expressions VD: 6 scenes drinking, smoking.
Director: Robert Altman. With Eileen Atkins, Alan Bates. (137 min.)
Staff **** Altman visits England for the first time in this peek at the British class system about 70 years ago, focusing on masters and servants at a rural estate during a shooting-party weekend roiled by a murder. This is familiar territory if you recall BBC miniseries "Upstairs Downstairs," but this great US filmmaker gives it new twists with an incisively satirical approach.
Staff **1/2 Too many characters, predictable, well-composed, witty, suspenseful.
VS/N: 5 scenes implied sex. VV: 2 scenes. VP: 7 harsh expressions. VD: 34 scenes with smoking, 14 with drinking.
Director: Chris Columbus. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith. (150 min.)
Sterritt *** This richly produced fantasy stays true to the letter and spirit of J.K. Rowling's lively novel about a boy who discovers he's a natural-born wizard and finds himself battling a sinister sorcerer. Columbus fills the screen with special effects and a superbly chosen cast. You won't find qualities of a great movie adaptation or new layers of meaning.
Staff **1/2 Stirs childhood memories, a bit ordinary, enchanting, top-notch effects.
VS/N: None. VV: 8 scenes. VP: 1 mild expression. VD: 1 scene with alcohol.
Director: Jessie Nelson. With Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer. (127 min.)
Sterritt * Penn's bravura performance is the only reason to watch this wildly sentimental comedy-drama about a mentally retarded man trying to regain custody of his daughter after social workers decide she needs a more normal home. The film means well, but scenes get clobbered by sappy screenwriting.
Director: Gary Fleder. With Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tony Shalhoub. (96 min.)
Staff *1/2 In 2079, Earth is locked in interplanetary battle with the ruthless and powerful Centaurians, who have secretly sent an android who is a living bomb. Is our hero (Sinise) still himself, a good-guy scientist, or the impostor? Some fun futuristic gadgets, and Sinise is believable, but otherwise it's routine Grade B sci-fi worthy of an "Outer Limits" episode. By Gregory M. Lamb
Director: Todd Field. With Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei. (138 min.)
Sterritt *** A small-town doctor and his wife aren't sure how to take their college-age son's romance with an unhappily married woman. The climax suggests drastic measures may be needed in drastic circumstances and, more subtly, that the lines between "moral" and "immoral" people may be more slender than we'd like to believe. The acting is excellent.
Staff *** Humanistic, dark, deliberate pacing, absorbing, superbly acted.
VS/N: 8 scenes, mostly innuendo. VV: 7 scenes, 1 graphic. VP: 20 expressions. VD: 12 scenes drinking or smoking.
Director: John Davis. With voices of Martin Short, Debi Derryberry, Patrick Stewart. (84 min.)
Staff **1/2 James "Isaac" Neutron is hardly a typical 10-year-old. The genius's quirky mannerisms and inventions - such as a super bubble-gum mobile - make the pocket protector set look like jocks. But when aliens resembling lime Jell-O kidnap the parents, it's up to Jimmy and his pals to save them. So they build a fleet of spaceships and head for the stars. The animation is stunning, and kids will roar. But unlike Monsters Inc., the prosaic plot may spur the older crowd to take flight. By Stephanie Cook
Staff **1/2 Inventive, nice length, family fun, bright animation, forgettable storyline.
VS/N: None.VV: 12 scenes of cartoonish violence.VP: None. VD: None.
Director: James Mangold. With Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber. (118 min.)
Staff **1/2 When the world's first time traveler inadvertently transports Duke Leopold from the 19th century to present-day New York, an unexpected romance blooms between bewildered Leopold and a jaded advertising exec. If you buy into the outlandish premise, then there's much fun to be had with Jackman's antics and a typically sprightly performance by Ryan. By Stephen Humphries
Staff *** omantic, playful, charmingly predictable, quick-witted.
VS/N: 1 scene of implied sex. VV: None. VP: 6 expressions. VD: 8 scenes of alcohol.
Director: Ray Lawrence. With Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush. (110 min.)
Sterritt *** A grieving mother, an adulterous police officer, and the hunt for a missing person are among the ingredients of this detective thriller, which explores the insecurities of four married couples. While the movie is well acted and creative, its story and style are too self-consciously clever to build a high degree of emotional power.
Director: Peter Jackson. With Elijah Wood, Richard Harris, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett. (178 min.)
Sterritt ** J.R.R. Tolkien's great trilogy tells an epic story centered on a modest character: Frodo Baggins, a hobbit who becomes custodian of a powerful ring that must be destroyed. He sets off to do this, helped by a loyal band of companions and opposed by terrifying supernatural foes. The bad characters are often more interesting than the virtuous ones. The film is a drab experience, marred by a lack of insight and few laughs.
Staff *** Outstanding special effects, action-packed, dark, enchantingly scenic, violent.
VS/N: None. VV: 28 scenes, many involving sword fights. VP: Some minor expressions. VD: 7 scenes of smoking, 3 of drinking.
Director: Frank Darabont. With Jim Carrey, Martin Landau, Laurie Holden, Bob Balaban. (153 min.)
Sterritt * Carrey gets serious in this sentimental drama about a screenwriter who high-tails it out of Hollywood when he's unjustly placed on a cold-war blacklist, loses his memory, and gets adopted by a sleepy town that mistakes him for a long-lost war hero. The film tries to revive the optimism of 1940s Frank Capra classics, but films such as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" were never so simplistic.
Staff **1/2 Capra-esque, sugary, sentimental.
VS/N: None. VV: 2 scenes. VP: 11, mostly mild. VD: 6 scenes of smoking or drinking.
Director: Steven Soderbergh. With George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia. (105 min.)
Sterritt *** Flimsy but amusing remake of the 1960 comedy-thriller about a gang of thieves who decide to burgle Las Vegas casinos. Clooney and company aren't as self-consciously stylish as Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack, but they have good-natured fun in this blend of heist-movie suspense and smart-alecky dialogue.
Staff *** Crowd-pleaser, slick, big-budget caper.
VS/N: None. VV: 3 scenes, plus several explosions. VP: 21 expressions, some harsh. VD: 17 scenes with drinking and smoking.
Director: Wes Anderson. With Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, Ben Stiller. (130 min.)
Sterritt *** Hackman plays the patriarch of an eccentric family, indulging his whimsies while sparring with a romance-starved wife and three adult children who've fallen way short of the promise they showed as precocious kids. Anderson begins this story with bursts of originality, but the plot loses momentum.
Staff *** Zany, slap-stick, dark, original.
VS/N: At least 5. VV: 8 scenesVP: 12 expressions, some harsh. VD: 48 scenes with drinking and smoking; 1 scene with drugs.
Director: Lasse Hallström. With Kevin Spacey, Judi Dench, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett. (115 min.)
Sterritt ** After the death of his wife, a painfully insecure man moves to Newfoundland with his daughter and finds a new career, a girlfriend, and a sense of purpose. Spacey is endearing, bringing his shy character to life despite glaring psychological gaps in the screenplay, based on Annie Proulx's novel.
Staff ***1/2 Stark, charming, moody, spare.
VS/N: 1 scene; 6 instances innuendo. VV: 10 scenes, one of rape. VP: 17 expressions. VD: 15 instances of drinking and smoking.
Director: Cameron Crowe. With Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Jason Lee, Cameron Diaz. (136 min.)
Sterritt ** Cruise plays a self-centered media magnate who ditches his lover when a gorgeous new girlfriend comes his way. You might normally shed a tear, but you're too busy figuring out additional mysteries, introduced in fragmentary scenes that make little sense until a minor character explains them near the end.
Staff *** Mesmerizing puzzle, gripping, confusing.
VS/N: 3 scenes. VV: 8 scenes. VP: 58 mostly harsh expressions. VD: 7 scenes of drinking.