Director: Henry Jaglom. With Victoria Foyt, Rob Morrow, Lee Grant. (106 min.)
In this witty follow-up to director Henry Jaglom's "Eating" and "Baby Fever," Victoria Foyt plays a Santa Monica dress designer who has just 24 hours to raise three months rent or lose her boutique. Meanwhile, she's coping with a doltish boyfriend, a precocious daughter, and unwelcome advice from her overbearing mom. Talking heads punctuate the action as a sort of Greek chorus of obsessive shoppers. The whole thing is as frantic as a two-hour bargain-basement sale. Grade: B-
- M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 2 instances of innuendo. Violence: 1 instance of slapping. Profanity: 39 instances (1 strong). Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: 2 scenes with drinking, 1 with smoking.
Director: Duncan Tucker. With Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers. (103 min.)
The best, and perhaps the only, reason to see Duncan Tucker's "Transamerica" is for Felicity Huffman's touching, shape-shifting performance as Bree, a transgendered man on the verge of surgery to become a woman. Bree discovers just before the procedure that she has a son Toby (Zegers) - the result of some early sexual experimentation - needing to be bailed out of a New York jail for turning tricks. Believing Bree to be a kindly church worker, he accompanies her on one of those interminable cross-country odysseys that indie filmmakers are so inordinately fond of. Grade: B-
- Peter Rainer
Aeon Flux, a sci-fi picture starring Charlize Theron, was not screened for critics. (Usually a sign that a film is a dud.) A review of the film, which opens Friday, will appear Monday at csmonitor.com/movies.
Director: Mike Newell. With Daniel Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, Emma Watson. (157 min.)
Now in his fourth year at Hogwarts, Harry is mysteriously made a participant in the dreaded Triwizard Tournament. Equally harrowing, in some respects, is the student's Yule Ball, where for the first time we are made thunderously aware that Harry and the carrot-topped Ron and Hermione are, well, adolescents. The new Potter movie has the tension and velocity of a good thriller. Grade: A-
Director: Stephen Gaghan. With George Clooney, Matt Damon. (126 min.)
A lot of people held out high hopes for "Syriana," a vast mosaic about the prospective merger of two American oil companies against the backdrop of a reformist Persian Gulf prince who has sold drilling rights to the Chinese. But the discussion most moviegoers will likely have is: "Could you figure out what was going on?" "Syriana" falls down at the most basic storytelling level, and this incoherence damages even the good parts. Grade: B-
Director: Chris Columbus. With Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs. (135 min.)
The musical "Rent" won just about every award known to man, and its tortuous route to Hollywood has been well documented. Now that it is at last on screen, my reaction is ... what's all the fuss? As directed by Columbus, Jonathan Larson's East Village reworking of "La Bohème" in the age of AIDS retains its calisthenic pathos, as well as most of its original cast, but you'd have to be a real Rent-Head (apparently their numbers are legion) to envisage Academy Awards in its future. As a new addition to the corps, Dawson is like a human Slinky. This is meant as a compliment. Grade: B-
Sex/Nudity: 3 instances of Innuendo, 1 instance with slight nudity. Violence: 1 mugging scene, 1 riot scene. Profanity: 29 instances (5 strong). Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: 14 scenes with smoking and/or drinking, 6 with drug use.
Director: Harold Ramis. With John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton. (88 min.)
"The Ice Harvest" pays homage to the usual noir tropes - the femme fatale, the heist gone bad, the dark bars - but it's freshly conceived, as if the filmmakers had just happened upon the genre because of their own woozy, wary temperaments. John Cusack plays Charlie Arglist, a mob lawyer in Wichita, Kan., who, along with his scurvy associate, Vic Cavanaugh (Thornton), has just embezzled more than $2 million from a local boss (Randy Quaid) on Christmas Eve. Charlie wants to cut out of town with sultry Renata (Connie Nielsen), who runs the Sweet Cage strip club. The movie isn't a subversive piece of work; it's not making some grand statement about the dark side of the holiday spirit. But what it is saying in its grimly funny way is that we can't always control the timing of our disasters. Grade: A-
Sex/Nudity: 11 instances, some graphic. Violence: 14 instances, some very graphic. Profanity: 151 (90 strong). Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: at least 15 instances.