Director: Lucky McKee. With Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto, Anna Faris, Nichole Hiltz. (93 min.)
Sterritt *** A lonely, crazy young woman works at a veterinarian's office and lives in a fantasy world that's not too harmful to others until her "best friend" doll is destroyed and she decides to replace it with a modern-day Frankenstein monster of her own making. McKee's directing and screenwriting are unusually low-key for a psychological horror thriller, and Bettis is excellent as the disturbed antiheroine.
Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien. With Qi Shu, Chun-hao Tuan, Yi Hsuan-chen, Jack Kao. (105 min.)
Sterritt **** Looking back at her earlier life from the vantage point of 2010, a woman remembers her dreary relationship with a fiercely jealous boyfriend and the friendship with a small-time mobster that encouraged her to seek more freedom, resulting in creepy conflict between the two men. Hou combines his celebrated minutes-long shots with a brilliant use of exquisitely detailed close-ups, frustrating viewers looking for action and melodrama but deeply moving those interested in film's ability to capture the subtlest, most ephemeral human feelings. This is a great companion piece to Hou's masterly "Flowers of Shanghai" and fresh evidence of his status as Taiwan's greatest filmmaker. In Mandarin with English subtitles
Director: Terry Zwigoff. With Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Brett Kelly. (91 min.)
Staff ** "Bad Santa," indeed. With all the hype about this film, one may expect a dark, cynical comedy with some sort of commentary on the mass consumerism of the season. Sadly, moments like that are few. Instead, we get 93 minutes of Billy Bob Thornton drinking and pointlessly cussing in a Santa suit. This movie is as welcome as a lump of coal. By Adam Weiskind
Staff ** Mean-spirited, juvenile, tasteless, raunchy.
Sex/Nudity: 13 scenes of innuendo, 3 sex scenes. Violence: 14 scenes of violence. Profanity: 275 harsh profanities. Drugs: 17 scenes with alcohol, 17 scenes with smoking, 1 with drugs.
Director: Nigel Cole. With Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, Linda Bassett, John Alderton. (108 min)
Sterritt ** Wanting to juice up their charity fundraising, members of an English ladies' club decide to replace the bucolic views on their annual calendar with photos of themselves coyly photographed in the buff. This actually happened, and the calendar was a great success. The same can't be said for this female "Full Monty" because it follows formulas already overused in British comedies.
Director: Bo Welch. With Mike Myers, Kelly Preston, Alec Baldwin, Dakota Fanning. (71 min.)
Sterritt * Dismal adaptation of Dr. Seuss's classic book about a magical cat who coaxes two kids into having mischievous fun while their mom's away. Myers plays the title feline as if he were a borscht-belt comedian without a speck of talent, and Welch's frenetic style is more like a Freudian fever dream than a children's amusement. In all, jaw-droppingly miscalculated.
Staff * Irritating, Cat-astrophic, inappropriate for kids.
Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes with innuendo. Violence: 10 scenes of mild violence, played for laughs. Profanity: 1 profanity, and several scenes of vulgarity, crudity. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol.
Director: Shawn Levy. With Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Hilary Duff, Piper Perabo. (95 min.)
Sterritt ** Remake of the 1950 comedy about a couple with almost more kids than they can count, focusing on how football-coach dad (Martin) and book-writing mom (Hunt) learn they've got to spend more time at home. Soft, sentimental, and as unlike real family life as you can get.
Director: Anthony Minghella. With Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Renée Zellweger, Philip Seymour Hoffman. (155 min.)
Sterritt ** Just as the Civil War is breaking out, a young Southern couple falls in love, and the man (Law) deserts the Confederate army for a long trek home to his love, who's been struggling for survival against mighty odds. The story builds some melodramatic momentum, but its celebration of endurance and romance is interrupted by episodes of sadism and suffering that smack more of sensationalism than candor and compassion. The fine cast is also misused - especially Kidman, who looks as unruffled at the end of her torments as before they began, and Zellweger, who does a job of overacting that might have gotten rejected by "The Beverly Hillbillies."
Sex/Nudity: 5 instances including nudity. Violence: 19 scenes including bloody battles. Profanity: 14 instances. Drugs: 5 scenes of drinking.
Director: Robert Altman. With Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell, Susie Cusack, Lar Lubovitch. (112 min.)
Sterritt **** Campbell started her career as a dancer, and she's just right for this colorful tale about a young ballerina with high ambitions. Like many Altman movies, this is less a dramatic story to follow than an atmospheric environment to visit. His virtuoso directing gets ample assistance from Barbara Turner's loosely choreographed screenplay, Andrew Dunn's supple camera work, and superb dancing by members of the real-life Joffrey Ballet of Chicago.
Director: Jon Favreau. With Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Edward Asner. (92 min.)
Sterritt **** Buddy was raised at the North Pole by Santa but when he learns he's an adopted human rather than an everyday elf, he heads for Manhattan to meet his dad, a Scrooge-like executive. The cast is perfect, and David Berenbaum has written a smart and funny sugarplum of a screenplay.
Staff *** Sprightly, festive, good-hearted fun.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 4 scenes of violence, including a beating. Profanity: 2 mild profanities. Drugs: 5 scenes with alcohol, 1 scene with smoking.
Director: Errol Morris. With Robert S. McNamara, Errol Morris. (107 min.)
Sterritt **** Morris turns his unblinking documentary eye on the controversial secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, punctuating interview segments with archival footage and other historical material. Among the film's many revelations is the fact that Robert McNamara today has far more complex and conflicted views of the Vietnam War - which he helped orchestrate and direct - than either his champions or detractors may expect. The filmmaking is meticulous and the ideas are endlessly thought-provoking.
Director: Ron Minkoff. With Eddie Murphy, Marsha Thomason, Terence Stamp, Wallace Shawn. (88 min.)
Sterritt ** Hoping to land a commission, two married real estate brokers and their kids visit a spooky old manor containing a mysterious young man, his weirded-out butler, and ghosts galore. While this uneven horror comedy may supply giggles and shivers to the preteens it's aimed at, grownups won't find anything they haven't seen before. Stamp's portrayal of the butler is fun, though.
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: 12 scenes. Profanity: 10 mild expressions. Drugs: 2 scenes of drinking.
Director: Vadim Perelman. With Jennifer Connolly, Ben Kingsley, Ron Eldard, Shohreh Aghdashloo. (126 min.)
Sterritt ** A county mistakenly evicts a troubled woman from her family home and auctions it off to a conservative Iranian immigrant, sparking a fierce battle over conflicting rights that threatens to turn violent when a cop in love with the woman gets involved. The first hour is excellent, spinning an ethically and emotionally compelling tale. Narrative logic fades during the second half, though, reducing the movie's impact on every level - and it's worse if you've read the novel by André Dubus III, which carries its grim premise to a more tough-minded conclusion.
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes. Violence: 12 grim scenes. Profanity: 16 harsh expressions. Drugs: 8 scenes of smoking, 8 scenes with drinking. 1 with drug overdose.
Director: Edward Zwick. With Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Timothy Spall, Billy Connelly. (144 min.)
Sterritt ** A down-and-out Civil War veteran, who also served under General Custer in the Indian wars, accepts an offer to teach Japanese troops how to shoot so they can subdue Japan's remaining samurai swordsmen. But his loyalties shift when he's held captive in a samurai village overflowing with values of dignity, fidelity, and honor. The slow-moving movie puts more weight on pretty pictures than on historical issues.
Staff *** Flawed plot, 'Dances with Wolves' remake, beautifully shot, epic.
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 21 scenes of bloody battle. Profanity: 4 instances. Drugs: 10 scenes of drinking, 2 scenes smoking.
Director: Peter Jackson. With Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler. (301 min.)
Sterritt **The hugely popular series comes to a close as Frodo and Sam struggle toward Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring in the fires where it was forged, ending an evil threat. This is one of the rare times when a trilogy's third chapter is the best of the bunch, thanks mostly to the character of Gollum and the spectacular effects of the climactic battle scene. Jackson can't sustain such power for way over three hours, though, and most of the acting is dull, dull, dull.
Staff **** Incredible, stunning, built to last forever.
Sex/Nudity: None Violence: 97 scenes, including battle gore. Profanity: None. Drugs: 2 scenes of drinking, 4 with smoking.
Director: Mike Newell. With Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal. (118 min.)
Sterritt ** The time is 1953, the place is a tradition-bound women's college in New England, and the heroine is an ornery Berkeley grad who takes a job teaching art history there, reasoning that she'd rather enlarge the minds of conservative students than preach her feminist-type ideas to folks who already agree with her. Roberts contributes as much energy as she can, but sentimentality trumps substance at every opportunity. The movie is a call for women's liberation in the 1950s - haven't we been there, done that already?
Sex/Nudity: 9 instances of innuendo including implied sex. Violence: None. Profanity: 16 mild profanities. Drugs: 15 scenes of smoking, 10 instances of drinking.
Director: Patty Jenkins. With Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Scott Wilson, Bruce Dern. (110 min.)
Sterritt *** Based on the real-life exploits of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, this scalding drama follows her psychopathic career through the alternately awed and terrified eyes of a young woman who's fallen in love with her. Theron's performance is like a force of nature, transfixing and ferocious, and Ricci's understatement provides a perfect complement. If you can endure watching it, you won't forget this grim cautionary tale for a long time.
Director: John Woo. With Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti, Joe Morton. (118 min.)
Sterritt ** Affleck plays an engineer who returns from his latest job - involving a new machine that can see into the future - with no memories of the three years he worked on the project and plenty of evidence that someone wants to kill him right now. Woo's customary action-film pyrotechnics gather more substance than usual from the implausible but inventive plot, drawn from a Philip K. Dick story.
Sex/Nudity: 2 scenes of innuendo. Violence: 10 scenes of violence, including torture. Profanity: 9 profanities. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol, 4 scenes with smoking.
Director: P.J. Hogan. With Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Ludivine Sagnier, Lynn Redgrave. (105 min.)
Sterritt *** Still another retelling of J.M. Barrie's classic fable about a magical boy who won't grow up and three English siblings who fly with him to Neverland for adventures with Indians, pirates, and a very mean crocodile. Hogan's version brings out the story's somber side, showing how the mischief of unworldly characters like Peter and Tinkerbell can do real damage, and how refusing to grow up is an awful idea if you actually try it. The visual effects are inventive, if too violent for very young viewers.
Director: Nancy Meyers. With Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet. (121 min.)
Sterritt *** An aging businessman (Nicholson) realizes that the 20-something he's wooing (Peet) is less interesting, fun, and sexy than her mother (Keaton), but before he can cement a solid relationship with this mature woman, a young physician (Reeves) arrives to complete the love quadrangle. While it's a standard romantic comedy in most respects, Meyers's movie deserves extra credit for challenging Hollywood clichés about love across the generations, and for teaming up Nicholson and Keaton, whose chemistry bubbles off the screen.
Staff **1/2 Lovably cast, long-winded, Keaton is radiant.
Sex/Nudity: 4 scenes with nudity, 2 sex scenes, 3 innuendos. Violence: None. Profanity: 19 profanities. Drugs: 14 scenes with drinking. 4 scenes with smoking.
Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly. With Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Wen Yann Shih, Cher. (118 min.)
Sterritt ** Conjoined twins from New England have new problems in their relationship when one of them (Kinnear) decides to try for Hollywood stardom and the other (Damon) gets nervous about finally meeting an Internet pen pal he's never seen in person. The comedy is tooooo loooooong for the two or three jokes it has to play with, and Kinnear does the picture's only three-dimensional acting.
Staff *** Farrelly decent, surprisingly cute, good-natured fun.
Sex/Nudity: 8 instances of innuendo, 1 instance of implied sex. Violence: 4 instances. Profanity: 39 profanities. Drugs: 5 scenes with smoking. 9 scenes with drinking.
Director: Tim Fywell. With Romola Garai, Henry Thomas, Rose Byrne, Bill Nighy. (113 min.)
Staff *** Calling all Anglophiles: In case you missed this gem of an English import this summer, now's your chance. Based on the charming novel by Dodie Smith, the film centers on Cassandra, a 17-year-old girl living in a crumbling English castle with her sister Rose and their eccentric parents. The rent is two years overdue, so Rose cooks up a scheme to marry the new American landlord. Unfortunately, Cassandra is the one who's in love with him. The film ties with "Whale Rider" for most absurd rating by the MPAA in 2003. This movie was tailor-made for romantic teenage girls, and contains far less objectionable material than the average PG-13 Hollywood comedy. Extras include a filmmakers' commentary, a few deleted scenes, and a so-so interview with star Romola Garai. By Yvonne Zipp