Director: InCounter Productions. With Sinan Antoon, assorted Iraqi citizens. (103 min.)
Sterritt **** Harrowing, informative, conscientiously balanced documentary about the social, cultural, and economic welfare of Baghdad and environs after Saddam Hussein's fall. It's hard to decide which are more saddening - the film's accounts of torture and oppression under the Hussein regime or the evidence of tragedy and privation under American occupation. In English and Arabic with subtitles
Director: Christophe Barratier. With Gérard Jugnot, Marie Bunel, François Berléand. (97 min.)
Sterritt *** In the late 1940s, a failed musician grudgingly takes a job at a school for difficult boys and uses his musical gifts to engage and uplift them. Extremely goodhearted, if not exactly original or exciting. Based on the 1945 musical "La Cage aux rossignols." In French with subtitles
Director: Thomas Carter. With Samuel L. Jackson, Ashanti, Robert Richard, Gwen McGee. (136 min.)
Sterritt ** Fact-based story of a high-school basketball coach who demands a great deal - some feel far too much - of the hard-boiled kids who play on his team. The movie's moral messages are all on target. Too bad the movie is much, much too long and Jackson gives one of his dullest performances ever.
Director: Luchino Visconti. With Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Pierre Clémente. (183 min.)
Sterritt **** Restored version of the Italian master's 1963 melodrama about the last days of a Sicilian prince who's had enough luxury and decadence to last two lifetimes and now longs only for a dignified exit from this world. Smart and sumptuous, although less nuanced and atmospheric than the brilliant Giuseppe Di Lampedusa novel it's based on. In Italian with subtitles. Playing in limited release.
Director: Frederik du Chau. With Hayden Panettiere, voices of Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg. (93 min.)
Sterritt ** See review at right.
Director: Niels Mueller. With Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Don Cheadle. (95 min.)
Sterritt **** Fictionalized account of a real-life businessman named Samuel Byck, whose frustration with getting nowhere led him to a mental breakdown and a crazy plot to kill the president in 1974. This is one of the rare movies to explore American materialism through the eyes of an all-too-ordinary person who isn't up to the challenges of everyday life. Penn gives the most engrossing performance of his career to date.
Director: Martin Scorsese. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale. (170 min.)
Sterritt *** Large-scale epic about the life and times of Howard Hughes, focusing on his experiences as a filmmaker, flyer, aircraft designer, and world-class eccentric. DiCaprio is excellent as Hughes and Blanchett is even better as movie star Katharine Hepburn, one of his lovers. The film largely lacks the personal, idiosyncratic touches that distinguish Scorsese's greatest work, though.
Director: Kevin Spacey. With Kevin Spacey, Brenda Blethyn, John Goodman, Kate Bosworth. (121 min.)
Sterritt ** The life and times of singer Bobby Darin, from his music-filled childhood to his untimely death, using the same kind of memoir storytelling as "De-Lovely," the Cole Porter biopic released slightly earlier. Spacey is almost as swinging as Darin was, but his filmmaking leans toward tried-and-true formulas.
Director: Jaume Balagueró. With Anna Paquin, Giancarlo Giannini, Lena Olin. (88 min.)
Sterritt *** A family haunted by its past moves to a house in Spain that's haunted by its own past. The thriller makes up in moody weirdness what it lacks in horror-tale originality.
Director: Terry George. With Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix. (121 min.)
Sterritt ** Fact-based drama about a hotel manager (Cheadle) who starts a sort of "Schindler's list" by giving shelter to displaced members of the Tutsi tribe under siege from Hutu fighters. The subject is crucially important, but the movie dilutes its impact with by-the-numbers filmmaking, and Cheadle's one-note performance displays few of his acting gifts.
Staff ***1/2 Depressing, educational, terrifying, heroic.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 21 scenes of gruelling violence. Profanity: 13 harsh profanities. Drugs: 14 scenes with alcohol, 5 scenes with smoking.
Director: Paul Weitz. With Dennis Quaid, Scarlett Johansson, Topher Grace, Marg Helgenberger. (109 min.)
Sterritt *** A middle-aged businessman (Quaid) gets demoted when his company is acquired by an international media mogul, and things get worse when his embarrassingly young new boss (Grace) starts dating his daughter (Johansson) during her first year at college. Lively acting and timely humor are the main assets of this garden-variety comedy.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (PG)
Director: Brad Silberling. With Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Jude Law. (108 min.)
Sterritt * The fictional author narrates peril-filled adventures of the Baudelaire orphans and their guardians, none of whom guard them very well. You needn't be per-Snickety to find this an unfortunate lemon of a movie, flawed by Carrey's overacting.
Director: Wes Anderson. With Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston. (118 min.)
Sterritt **** A publicity oriented oceanographer (Murray) and his could-be illegitimate son (Wilson) begin a "Moby-Dick"-style hunt for a so-called jaguar shark. What might have a self-consciously quirky comedy is humanized by its performances, especially from Murray, who keeps getting better and better.
Director: Shainee Gabel. With John Travolta, Scarlett Johansson, Gabriel Macht, Deborah Kara Unger. (119 min.)
Sterritt *** Travolta reinvents his screen persona once again, playing a dissolute codger who lives with a former student from his English-professor days in a ramshackle Louisiana house that takes on a new atmosphere when its new owner (Johansson) decides to reside there too. Rambling, meandering, likable. Playing in limited release.
Director: Jay Roach. With Robert De Niro, Barbra Streisand, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman. (115 min.)
Sterritt * Sequel to "Meet the Parents," with an engaged couple hoping their respective parents - including a tough-as-nails CIA retiree on one side, a touchy-feely sex therapist on the other - will get along. De Niro and Hoffman almost give comic life to this brainless, vulgar farce.
Director: Michael Radford. With Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Lynn Collins, Joseph Fiennes. (138 min.)
Sterritt ** Shakespeare's play about a Jewish moneylender in the 16th century has reached the screen many times, and in this exquisitely filmed adaptation Pacino is as vivid a Shylock as we're likely to see. Despite all the scholarly excuses for this drama, though, it's shot through with outrageously anti-Semitic attitudes, which raises the question of why Radford and company wanted to film it in the first place.
Director: Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Margo Martindale. (129 min.)
Sterritt **** Eastwood gives his deepest performance ever as an aging gym owner who reluctantly agrees to train a female prizefighter, played by Swank in excellent form. Going all the way with both triumph and tragedy, it's as bold as it is engrossing.
Director: Jon Turteltaub. With Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Harvey Keitel, Jon Voight. (131 min.)
Sterritt ** "The Da Vinci Code" meets "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in this adventure about two teams, one good and one evil, scrutinizing patriotic artifacts for clues to a hidden treasure. The clever bits are swamped by no-brainer gunfights, rescues, and chases.
Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of innuendo. Violence: 11 Profanity: 5 mild theological expressions. Drugs: 1 instance of drinking.
Director: Steven Soderbergh. With George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones. (123 min.)
Sterritt *** Danny Ocean's gang expands to a dirty dozen when he decides to pull off three heists in three European cities so his associates can reimburse a crook who's angry about getting ripped off. The action is sparkling entertainment most of the way through.
Staff **1/2 Playful, improbable, fresh sequel.
Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of innuendo. Violence: 1 explosion. Profanity: 2 harsh expressions. Drugs: 6 scenes with cigarettes; 7 scenes with alcohol.
Director: Joel Schumacher. With Gerard Butler, Minnie Driver, Simon Callow, Miranda Richardson. (141 min.)
Sterritt ** Hollywood adaptation of the Broadway smash about a demented fiend who skulks, slays, and sings in the Paris Opera's mysterious underbelly. The acting and crooning are sadly uneven, making this a shaky comeback vehicle for the screen musical.
Director: Alejandro Amenábar. With Javier Bardem, Belén Rueda, Tamar Novas, Lola Dueñas. (125 min.)
Sterritt *** Fact-based story of an articulate Spanish man who fights for the right to die after almost 30 years of lying paralyzed in bed while his family, and two women in his life, take care of him. Bardem is brilliant. In Spanish with subtitles. In limited release
Director: James L. Brooks. With Adam Sandler, Paz Vega, Téa Leoni, Cloris Leachman. (131 min.)
Sterritt ** A likable, successful chef falls for a new maid hired by his hyperactive handful of a wife. The acting is enjoyable, but the movie cares more about feel-good formulas than anything that touches on real life.
Director: Geoffrey Sax. With Michael Keaton, Deborah Kara Unger, Ian McNeice, Chandra West. (98 min.)
Sterritt ** A middle-aged architect believes his recently deceased wife is trying to contact him from "beyond" through VCRs and computer discs operated by a peculiar man he's just met. The story doesn't make much sense, but Keaton is good.