Director: José Padilha. With Yvonne Bezerra de Mello, Luiz Eduardo Soares, Sandro do Nascimento. (122 min.)
Sterritt *** An up-close and personal documentary about the 2000 hijacking of a commuter bus by a homeless man in Rio de Janeiro, exploring aspects of Brazilian life that contributed to the crime. A fascinating account, if less urgently compelling than it might have been. In Portuguese with English subtitles.
Director: Claude Chabrol. With Nathalie Baye, Benoît Magimel, Suzanne Flon, Bernard Lecoq. (104 min.)
Sterritt **** Borrowing his title from French poet Charles Baudelaire, the venerable Chabrol has crafted a subdued thriller about young love, marital deception, and the dark side of France's history in the Nazi era, explored in the meticulously groomed household of a woman running for political office. Chabrol's filmmaking has rarely seemed more assured, elegant, and intelligent. In French with English subtitles.
Director: John Robert Hoffman. With Liam Aiken, Kevin Nealon, Molly Shannon, and the voices of Matthew Broderick, Brittany Murphy, Carl Reiner. (89 min.)
Staff * Talking dogs were cute, once. It's a wonder that the genre, started by the marvelous "Babe," has any currency left after "Cats and Dogs" and "Snow Dogs." In "Good Boy," the dogs themselves are worthy of show at Crufts. It's a tad disconcerting, however, when a shepherd dog starts lip syncing to the voice of Carl Reiner so it can complain about flatulence. That's typical of the dialogue in this story about a lonely boy (Aiken) who discovers a UFO with a dog who comes from a planet ruled by mutts. The canine visitor is astonished to find that earth dogs are subservient to humans instead of ruling the planet. Given the intelligence level of "Good Boy," he might have a point. By Stephen Humphries
Director: Joel Coen. With George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Billy Bob Thornton, Cedric the Entertainer. (100 min.)
Sterritt *** See review and interview, page 15.
Director: Quentin Tarantino. With Uma Thurman, Vivica A. Fox, Sonny Chiba, Lucy Liu. (110 min.)
Sterritt *** See review, page 15.
Director: Clint Eastwood. With Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney. (137 min.)
Sterritt **** See review, page 16.
Director: John Sayles. With Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daryl Hannah, Susan Lynch, Rita Moreno, Lili Taylor. (95 min.)
Staff *** At first glance, Casa is about the lives of six American women with little in common apart from their journey to South America to adopt. As they are forced by corruption and bureaucratic hangups to stay on for months waiting for babies, though, Sayles's multilayered film deals as intimately with another cast of characters: a hotel maid who gave up her baby, a 15-year-old being pressured to give up hers, a boy living on the streets, and a manipulative hotel owner. Sayles deftly draws their stories together in a film you'll be sorry to see end. By Mary Wiltenburg
Staff **1/2 Minimal, tender, poorly edited.
Sex/Nudity: 2 innuendoes. Violence: None. Profanity: 15 profanities. Drugs: At least 10 scenes of drinking, smoking, drug use.
Director: Danny DeVito. With Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore, Eileen Essel, Harvey Fierstein. (97 min.)
Staff ** Newlyweds Alex and Nancy can't believe the gem of a townhouse they find. It even has an income-generating unit upstairs. But the sweet little tenant turns out to be such a nuisance that the new owners plot her demise. This is not the tribute to "The Ladykillers" it wants to be, but the leads are likable. By M.K. Terrell
Director: Jonathan Lynn. With Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyoncé Knowles, Mike Epps, Wanda Williams. (123 min.)
Staff ** The Music Man goes gospel in this tale of a New York con man returning to his Georgia roots. Cuba Gooding, Jr. stars as an unemployed advertiser scheming to win an inheritance from his small-town aunt. When he spots sultry jazz singer Lilly in a local club, he decides the sadder but wiser girl is for him. To win her, though, he has to lose his lying ways - and lead their gospel choir to glory. No 76 trombone-calibre acting here, but the music will make you want to stand up and say "Amen." By Mary Wiltenburg
Sex/Nudity: 5 innuendoes. Violence: None. Profanity: 9 profanities. Drugs: 12 scenes of drinking, smoking.
Director: Sofia Coppola. With Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Akiko Takeshita. (102 min.)
Sterritt **** Murray and Johansson play two Americans in Tokyo, a movie star doing a tedious photo shoot for a whiskey ad and a young woman whose new husband (Ribisi) loves his work more than her. They cope with loneliness by forming a friendship across generations - but will it blossom into a romance? Not quite a love story and not quite NOT a love story, Coppola's sophomore effort (after "The Virgin Suicides," also excellent) is smart, funny, and splendidly acted.
Staff **** Stylish, witty, thoughtful, layered.
Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of implied sex; 1 nude scene; some innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 5 profanities. Drugs: 16 drinking scenes; 9 with smoking.
Director: Emile Gaudreault. With Luke Kirby, Ginette Reno, Paul Sorvino, Claudia Ferri. (90 min.)
Staff ** The proper way for Italian kids to leave home is to grow up and get married. Twenty-something Angelo Barberini (Kirby), son of Italian immigrants in Montreal, still has some growing up to do, but he wants to do it in his own apartment. He's also not about to get married, because he's gay. These bombshells have predictable effects on his traditional family, but Reno's charming performance and some hilarious moments help this Canadian import rise above clichés. By M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 8 innuendoes; 3 scenes of implied sex. Violence: None. Profanity: 25 profanities. Drugs: At least 15 drinking and smoking scenes.
Matchstick Men (PG-13)
Director: Ridley Scott. With Nicolas Cage, Alison Lohman, Sam Rockwell, Bruce Altman. (116 min.)
Sterritt *** A conspicuously neurotic con artist (Cage) gets distracted from a swindle he's pulling off with his partner (Rockwell) when he meets his teenage daughter (Lohman) whose existence he's recently discovered. True to the caper-movie format, deceit and double-dealing run deeper than the plot's surface suggests. Cage plays a difficult character with skill and sympathy, helped by a solid supporting cast. It's mischievous fun.
Staff *** Touching, oddball characters, suspenseful.
Sex/Nudity: 1 scene at a nude bar. Violence: 2 scenes, including murder. Drugs: 14 scenes of drinking; 25 smoking.
Director: Isabel Coixet. With Sarah Polley, Scott Speedman, Deborah Harry, Mark Ruffalo. (106 min.)
Sterritt * Learning that she has only a few months to live, a 20-something woman keeps this a secret from her husband and daughters, but makes a list of things she wants to do with her remaining time, like record future birthday messages and entice a new man to fall in love with her. It wants to be funny and sad, but it's really a schmaltzy soap opera full of coincidence, sentimentality, and behavior far less life-affirming than we're meant to think.
Director: Carl Franklin. With Denzel Washington, Eva Mendes, Sanaa Lathan, Dean Cain. (114 min.)
Sterritt ** The protagonist is the police chief of a tiny Florida town where a double homicide has occurred and various clues - including the fact that one of the victims was his lover - may finger him as the culprit if he can't solve the case in a hurry. There are a few exciting scenes, and Washington gives another fine performance as a man who's upright in some respects, sly in others. But the thriller has so many contrived escapes and last-minute switcheroos that they could have called it "Just in Time."
Sex/Nudity: 8 scenes of sex, innuendo. Violence: 6 scenes, including shootings. Profanity: 4 profanities. Drugs: 8 scenes of smoking, drinking.
Director: Peter Berg. With The Rock, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken. (105 min.)
Sterritt ** A big-muscled "retrieval expert" visits Brazil to kidnap a mobster's son, then makes a deal with a revolutionary leader to help find an artifact that's also coveted by an American capitalist who runs a slave-labor operation. This is basically a 10th-tier rehash of the Indiana Jones genre, laced with moments that are actually clever and exciting. Dawson is alluring, Scott is smug, Walken is terrific, and The Rock is, well, The Rock.
Sex/Nudity: 4 innuendoes. Violence: 19 scenes, including beatings, shootings. Profanity: 11 profanities. Drugs: At least 11 drinking, smoking scenes.
Director: Richard Linklater. With Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White, Sarah Silverman. (108 min.)
Sterritt **** Kicked out of his band and desperate for rent money, a washed-up rock singer impersonates a friend, takes a job as a substitute teacher in a snooty private school, and decides to turn his fourth-grade class into a jivin' pop group. Black gives the performance of his career as the hilarious hero. White, who also wrote the sharp-witted screenplay, is perfect as his nebbishy landlord. Cusack is equally terrific as the school's stiff principal. Best of all, the kids are marvelous. Viewers of all musical tastes will find crisp comic pleasures in this amiable tale, which is so likable it doesn't even have a villain. Rock on!
Staff *** One-man show, family film, the next "Spinal Tap."
Sex/Nudity: 3 innuendoes. Violence: 1 minor scene. Profanity: 13 mild profanities. Drugs: 4 scenes of smoking and drinking.
Director: Tim McCanlies. With Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, Haley Joel Osment, Kyra Sedgwick. (110 min.)
Sterritt *** Duvall and Caine play two cranky old codgers whose idea of a good time is firing shotguns at the salesmen who dare to approach their ramshackle porch. They learn to enjoy life better when they take in a young relative (Osment) who listens to their tales of bygone adventures. Duvall and Caine are anything but secondhand, and their acting is marvelous - as is McCanlies's screenplay.
Staff *** Uplifting, funny, adventurous.
Sex/Nudity: 1 innuendo. Violence: 14 scenes, including swordfights. Profanity: 28 mild profanities. Drugs: 6 scenes with drinking or tobacco.
Director: István Szabó. With Harvey Keitel, Stellan Skarsgard, Birgit Minichmayr. (105 min.)
Sterritt *** This is a fictionalized account of the post-World War II effort by US authorities to discredit brilliant German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler as having been a Hitler supporter during the Nazi period. Ronald Harwood's screenplay brings an impressive range of moral and political issues into play. The acting is also strong.
Sex/Nudity: 1 innuendo. Violence: 4 scenes, including World War II footage. Profanity: 15 harsh profanities. Drugs: 9 scenes of smoking and drinking.
Director: Nicolas Philibert. With Georges Lopez and his pupils. (104 min.)
Sterritt *** This is a gentle documentary about Lopez's work as the sole teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in rural France, where he treats his students with rare delicacy, intelligence, and affection. The film has much quiet charm, although it would be more interesting if we learned about Lopez's private life, the development of his teaching techniques, and what he's planning to do after his imminent retirement. In French with English subtitles.
Director: Audrey Wells. With Diane Lane, Raoul Bova, Sandra Oh, Lindsay Duncan. (113 min.)
Staff *** Lane plays Frances Mayes, a divorced US writer in search of a new start. When her best friend gives her a 10-day trip to Tuscany, it turns out to be the right ticket. While touring the Italian countryside, Frances spots a charming villa and buys it. While restoring it, she meets colorful characters, including an eccentric woman and a handsome Italian man who sweeps her off her feet. But thankfully, it's not a by-the-numbers romantic comedy. Lane does a superb job. Kudos also go to director Wells for delivering a delightful script. By Lisa Leigh Connors
Staff **1/2 Picturesque, lively, predictable.
Sex/Nudity: 7 scenes, including sex. Violence: None. Profanity: 13 profanities. Drugs: 7 drinking scenes.
Director: Len Wiseman. With Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen. (121 min.)
Sterritt *** A physician gets caught up in a war between vampires and werewolves. At heart, this is an old-fashioned monster flick decked out with Hollywood's battery of high-tech visual effects. It's as goofy as it is gory, but Tony Pierce-Roberts's moody camera work and Martin Hunter's rat-a-tat-tat editing give it an electricity that horror buffs will enjoy.
Sex/Nudity: 1 mild scene. Violence: 30 gory scenes, including massacres. Profanity: 10 profanities. Drugs: At least 4 scenes of smoking.