Elizabeth: The Golden Age (PG-13)
Director: Shekhar Kapur. With Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett. (104 min.)
This new film starring Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I is a distinct letdown from the 1998 predecessor that helped make Blanchett a star. She spends much of her time flouncing around in outré outfits that seem more Kabuki than England circa 1585. (No doubt they are historically accurate. Who would have the nerve to invent them?) In spite of everything, Blanchett miraculously gives a good performance, even when saddled with lines like this one, to Clive Owen's Sir Walter Raleigh: "In another world, could you have loved me?" Maybe, but in the world of this film, with a score that's positively deafening, it's amazing that she could even hear herself. Grade: C– – Peter Rainer
The Final Season (PG)
Director: David Mickey Evans. With Sean Astin, Larry Miller, Amy Acker, Powers Boothe. (118 min.)
Sporting more baseball clichés than "Scarface" had swearwords is "Sandlot" creator David Mickey Evans's rote tale of a champion Iowa high school team working for one more victory before their school is closed. Predictability pervades, from turns by Powers Boothe and Sean Astin as robotic coaches/inspiration dispensers to the slow-motion climaxes, making for a forgettable diamond version of "Varsity Blues," destined to wander the cornfield of second-squad wannabes forever. Grade: C – Robert Newton
Still in theaters Michael Clayton (R)
Director: Tony Gilroy. With George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson. (120 min.)
"Michael Clayton" is styled as a throwback to such socially conscious 1970s morality plays as "The China Syndrome" and "The Parallax View." These movies center on people whose conscience ultimately short-circuits their drive for power. Here, the title character (George Clooney) is a "fixer" for a big law firm. When the firm's chief attorney (Tom Wilkinson) suffers a nervous breakdown during a major case, Clayton is called in to clean up the mess. Director Tony Gilroy isn't content to spin a simple story simply. Told mostly in flashback over a period of four frenetic days, "Michael Clayton" has an unnecessarily complicated structure and a surfeit of back stories. Still, fine playing from Clooney and Wilkinson save the film from becoming glossy claptrap.
Grade: B– – P.R.