Directors: Bob Connolly, Robin Anderson. With Anne Boyd and faculty and students at the Univ. of Sydney. (89 min.)
Sterritt *** This smart Australian documentary looks at shrinking education budgets and their effects on teachers, students, and society at large through a visit to a university music department run by a leading Australian composer who becomes increasingly politicized as her institution sinks into deeper and deeper deficits. Generous doses of bright-sounding music add to the movie's appeal.
Director: Stephen Herek. With Angelina Jolie, Edward Burns, Stockard Channing, Tony Shalhoub. (103 min.)
Sterritt ** An ambitious TV newswoman takes a fresh look at life and love after a sidewalk psychic tells her she has a week to live. This slickly produced romantic comedy takes its creaky premise down the most predictable, sentimental pathways it can find. If the heroine really had seven days left, she wouldn't waste it watching stuff like this.
Director: Christine Jeffs. With Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki, Marton Scokas, Sarah Peirse, Alistair Browning. (88 min.)
Sterritt *** The psychologically charged story of a 13-year-old girl whose adolescence is complicated by sexual tensions linked with her parents' troubled marriage. Jeffs is an unusually gifted director, but her screenplay (based on Kirsty Gunn's novel) never quite gets a firm grip or a fresh perspective on its coming-of-age subject matter.
Director: Benoit Jacquot. With Daniel Auteuil, Isild Le Besco, Gregoire Colin, Marianne Denicourt. (100 min.)
Sterritt ** Imprisoned in an asylum at the height of the French Revolution, the aging Marquis de Sade refines his subversive philosophy, plans his latest theatrical production, and works his seductive wiles on an aristocrat's daughter. Auteuil is a superb actor. Still, the real-life Sade would be dismayed to see himself portrayed more as an eccentric old codger than the world-changing firebrand he worked hard to be. In French with English subtitles.
Director: D.J. Caruso. With Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio, Deborah Kara Unger, Anthony LaPaglia. (100 min.)
Sterritt ** See review, page 15.
Director: Henry Barrial. With Stephanie Bennett. (77 min.)
Sterritt ** A young woman wanders through a series of sexual and romantic adventures, ultimately realizing there must be more to life than this. Based on Bennett's own experiences, the movie has no penetrating insights to offer, but it's acted and directed in an improvisational spirit well-suited to its ultra-low budget and digital-video technology.
Director: Roger Michell. With Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Affleck, Amanda Peet, Sidney Pollack. (96 min.)
Sterritt *** A corporate lawyer and an insurance salesman become adversaries after a highway fender-bender, sparking a day-long ordeal of threats and counter-threats. The filmmakers meant to whip up a high-tension thriller. What they ended up with is a psychological satire that's quite engrossing if you regard it as an absurdist morality tale rather than a straight-ahead suspense yarn. It loses its bite in a last-minute happy ending that's even less plausible than the rest of the picture, but much of the way it's a refreshingly novel ride.
Sex/Nudity: 3 instances innuendo. Violence: 5 scenes, including assault. Profanity: 13 strong expressions. Drugs: 3 instances drinking.
Director Danny DeVito. With Robin Williams, Edward Norton, DeVito. (100 min.)
Sterritt *** Producers replace a bribe-taking TV clown (Williams) with a straight-arrow entertainer who's shocked by the onslaughts of greed, corruption, and violence he gets from his agent and everyone in the kiddie-media world. This pitch-dark satire marks a surprising career step for Williams, who plays the vengeful clown with surprising ferocity. It's also an impressive achievement for DeVito, who turns the wildly cynical screenplay into a kinetic cartoon. Stay away if you treasure the lovable image of Williams. Don't take the kids!
Staff *** Demented, amusing, inventive.
Sex/Nudity: Innuendo in all scenes. 1 with implied sex, 3 with nudity. Violence: 12 scenes, including fights. Profanity: 87 harsh expressions. Drugs: 11 scenes smoking, drinking.
Director: Carl Franklin. With Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Amanda Peet, Jim Cavaziel. (115 min.)
Sterritt ** When her husband is charged with a wartime atrocity he never told her about and says he never committed, an attorney (Judd) teams with an old-time military lawyer to clear his name, soon encountering threats from forces that want to hush up the affair. The story has potential, but you'll spot the plot twists long before they happen, and the acting by Judd and Cavaziel is strictly by the numbers. Ditto for the filmmaking.
Staff ** Vacuous, likable cast, gripping, formulaic.
Sex/Nudity: 7 instances of innuendo, including a few scenes implied sex. Violence: 13 instances. Profanity: 29 harsh expressions. Drugs: 16 scenes of drinking, smoking.
Director: Michel Gondry. With Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Robert Forster, Rosie Perez. (96 min.)
Sterritt ** A mild-mannered scientist wavers between his hair-covered wife and his pretty but aggressive assistant, and tries to civilize a recently discovered ape-man who could demonstrate the value of his behavior-changing techniques. This whimsical comedy-fantasy deserves a few points for the audacity of Charlie Kaufman's screenplay. Its problems come from Gondry's directing, which betrays his roots in music video and TV commercials. Every moment is cute and snappy, and that gets tiring.
Staff **1/2Off the wall, odd, not awfully funny.
Sex/Nudity: 20 instances, including nudity, frank sexual talk. Violence: 9 scenes, including shooting. Profanity: 16 strong expressions. Drugs: At least 6 scenes with drinking and smoking.
The Last Waltz (PG)
Director: Martin Scorsese. With The Band, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Dr. John. (117 min.)
Sterritt **** Scorsese directed this legendary concert film in 1976, planning and executing the production with meticulous care unprecedented for a rock movie at the time and editing it to perfection. The result is a rousing record of The Band's last full-fledged show, plus appearances by the era's most influential pop-music talents. It's never been topped.
Maryam (Not rated)
Director: Ramin Serry. With Mariam Parris, David Ackert, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Shaun Toub. (87 min.)
Sterritt ** The place is New Jersey, and the title character is a teen girl whose Iranian-American parents take in a politically cantankerous Iranian relative just before Iran's new Islamic government sparked the 1979 hostage crisis. This modestly produced drama isn't acted or directed with much flair, but it shows a welcome awareness of the complex links between personal and political impulses.
Director: Barbet Schroeder. With Sandra Bullock, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt, Ben Chaplin.
Staff ** Bullock stars as a brilliant, wise-cracking crime scene investigator whose own dark past is a mystery in itself. She quickly figures out who has committed a horrifying crime (shown with lingering shots of the corpse), but can she prove it? The murderers are daring her to outwit them. Gosling and Pitt shine as her troubled-teen prime suspects, and Chaplin is fine as her low-key partner and potential love interest. Some entertaining plot twists ensue, but it's a must-see only for Bullock fans. By Gregory M. Lamb
Sex/Nudity: 2 sex scenes, 1 scene with sounds of TV pornography (unseen). No nudity. Violence: 16 scenes, including some with severed body parts. Profanity: 33 expressions. Drugs: At least 16 scenes with alcohol and smoking.
Director: Fabián Bielinsky. With Gastón Pauls, Ricardo Darin, Leticia Brédice. (115 min.)
Sterritt *** The nine queens are a set of artfully forged postage stamps that draw a couple of petty swindlers into a money-making scheme that may prove far too tricky for them to successfully pull off. This cleverly structured Argentine heist movie isn't as original or ingenious as it tries to be, but it's fun watching the chicanery veer down one unexpected pathway after another. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Director: David Fincher. With Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Kristen Stewart. (110 min.)
Sterritt ** A woman and her daughter scurry to a bunkerlike sanctum when crooks invade their Manhattan home to steal a fortune that happens to be locked away in the panic room itself. This is a minimalist thriller, centering the action on five characters in one place. Also present is Fincher's affection for hyperactive camera movements, juicing up any scene where the acting sags. There are many, since the screenplay isn't nearly clever enough to sustain a reasonable degree of suspense on its own.
Staff **1/2Nail-biter, intense, goofy at times.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 9 instances, some quite violent. Profanity: 60 harsh expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes with drinking, smoking, illegal drugs.
Director: John Lee Hancock. With Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez. (129 min.)
Staff ***1/2 Quaid plays a teacher-turned-Major League Baseball player in this Disney movie based on the true story of Jim Morris. While coaching a losing season of high school baseball, Morris cuts a deal: If his players start winning, he'll try out for the majors. A father in his late 30s, Morris defies skeptics with his uncanny 95-m.p.h. fastball. For adults who think G stands for "goofy," Quaid's intense performance will convince them to take this film seriously. By Ben Arnoldy
Staff ***1/2 Home run, avoids clichés, inspiring.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: None. Profanity: None. Drugs: 5 scenes with alcohol.
Director: Chuck Russell. With Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Kelly Hu, James Purefoy. (90 min.)
Staff **1/2An evil warlord is sweeping across the Near East, and it's up to the last of a long line of assassins to stop him, win the girl, and save Gomorroah (for the time being, of course). Surprisingly, pro wrestler "The Rock" is the best thing about this film, playing the title role like an antedeluvian Jackie Chan, even if his dialogue is delivered flatter than a pita. With just a bit more polish, this could have been Indiana Jones Revisited. Can you smell The Rock signing on for a sequel? By Alex Kaloostian
Director: Laurent Cantet. With Aurélien Recoing, Karin Viard. (132 min.)
Sterritt **** Disillusioned with his life, a businessman stops working and hides this from his family. He hooks up with a small criminal operation, abandoning this when he finds it just as spirit-killing as ordinary work. The story gathers power as he exhausts one option after another, making his future seem more ominous. Cantet's previous film, "Human Resources," also probed social and ideological problems tied to family and work. He offers rich insights, and brings them alive with sensitive acting.
Director: Claire Denis. With Vincent Gallo, Aurore Clement, Beatrice Dalle, Tricia Vessey. (102 min.)
Sterritt ** People literally consume each other in this fragmented drama of two modern-day cannibals: a Frenchwoman who seduces her victims and an American man who's transformed by a medical concoction. Denis's pungent images create a nightmarish mood but don't bring full artistic coherence to her odd mix of gothic horror and postmodern reverie. In English, French with English subtitles.
Director: Vittorio De Sica. With Carlo Battisti, Maria Pia Casilio. (91 min.)
Sterritt **** The credo of Italy's fabled neorealist movement was that movies rooted in real, unadorned experience carry more dramatic impact than studio concoctions can dream of, and this 1952 masterpiece exemplifies that argument brilliantly. The title character is an aging man who needs a few lire to pay his rent; the story follows him and his little dog down the streets of postwar Rome as he tries to replenish his empty pockets. That's all. And you'll never forget it. In Italian with English subtitles.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón. With Maribel Verdú, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal. (115 min.)
Sterritt ** Faced with serious problems in her life, a young Spanish woman living in Mexico takes off on an impulsive road trip with two adolescent boys fueled by youthful energy, various intoxicants, and hyperactive sex drives. Cuaron gives an offbeat flavor to this coming-of-age tale by combining up-close camera work with a modernistic third-person narration, and by touching on noteworthy social and political issues in the margins of the story. Too much repetition and an unconvincing finale take their toll on the film's overall effectiveness, though. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Staff *** Reckless, life-affirming,beautifully shot.
Sex/Nudity: 9 scenes, very graphic, including full nudity. Violence: 3 instances, mild. Profanity: 109 very harsh expressions. Drugs: 19 scenes with smoking, 9 with drinking, 5 with marijuana.