Director: Atom Egoyan. With David Alpay, Arsinée Khanjian, Christopher Plummer, Elias Koteas. (116 min.)
Sterritt ** A young man explains to a troubled customs official why a film he's making - about the horrific treatment of Armenians by Turks in the World War I era - has strong reverberations in his own Armenian-Canadian family; this sparks a densely structured series of flashbacks, film-within-a-film scenes, and episodes from the present day. Egoyan is one of Canada's most ambitious and original filmmakers, but the power of this intricate drama falls short of its aspirations, despite his personal investment in the subject, since he is of Armenian ancestry himself.
Director: Carlos Carrera. Gael Garcia Bernal, Sancho Gracia, Ana Claudia Talancón, Damían Álcazar. (120 min.)
Sterritt **** A young Roman Catholic priest takes a position in a rural Mexican church and gets caught in a tangled web of temptations involving an older priest with ties to organized crime, a local drug kingpin, an idealistic cleric who believes the church must engage in active struggle on behalf of oppressed people, and a woman he falls in love with despite his vow of chastity. Excellent acting, intelligent screenwriting, and dynamic filmmaking give this Mexican production a forceful emotional and intellectual charge. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Director: Don Michael Paul. With Morris Chestnut, Steven Seagal, Nia Peeples.
Staff * The action genre reaches new levels of unintentional self-parody in Stephen Seagal's latest film. He plays Sasha Petrosevich, an undercover Fed who is almost killed when his partner in crime blows a fuse. All patched up, he's sent to the newly renovated and even tougher Alcatraz to keep on the case. But things go horribly awry when ninjas invade, looking for gold. Yes, you read right. This is a mess from start to finish - a noisy patchwork of explosions, clichés, more explosions, and a plot assembled from everything that was cut from Segal's last six movies. By Alex Kaloostian
Director: Chris Columbus. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, Robbie Coltrane. (160 min.)
Sterritt ** See review.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 8 scenes with scary images, 3 mildly violent scenes; 3 scenes with blood. Profanity: 2 mild expressions.
Director: George Ratliff. With members of the Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas. (85 min.)
Sterritt **** Hell House X: The Walking Dead is the 2000 edition of an annual extravaganza staged by members of a Pentecostal church in Texas doing their bit to spotlight the sinfulness of the modern world and remind their neighbors to safeguard their eternal souls. Drug abuse, teen suicide, "the homosexual lifestyle," and the dire consequences of abortion are among the evils predictably on display. Most cast members are students in the Trinity Christian School, and competition for juicy roles - the abortion girl, the suicide boy, the abusive dad - is fierce. Making this documentary with the cooperation of Hell House participants, Ratliff avoids Michael Moore-style interventions, letting his subjects expose their own follies - zealotry, sexism, homophobia - through the things they say and do. The result is a lively, insightful look at multiple levels of self-delusion among people who truly believe their Halloween funhouse is making our fallen world a better place.
Director: Paul Justman. With The Funk Brothers, Chaka Kahn Joan Osborne, Ben Harper. (108 min.)
Sterritt **** The self-named Funk Brothers were enormously gifted studio musicians who accompanied a wide range of Motown stars, from Stevie Wonder to Smoky Robinson and the Miracles. They changed the course of pop music while receiving little of the acclaim or attention they deserved. Justman redresses this injustice in his rollicking documentary about them, which will have your toes tapping and your ears sizzling whether you're a die-hard Motown fan or not.
Director: Curtis Hanson. With Eminem, Kim Basinger, Mekhi Phifer, Brittany Murphy. (111 min.)
Sterritt ** A rapper called Rabbit lives an unhappy life in a trailer with his amoral mom, spending his time with a racially mixed group of friends and learning to express his anger in rhythmic rhymes that win the big rap competition (surprise!) that climaxes the story. Eminem plays his movie-debut role with a sullen naiveté that's not very interesting, and Hanson's directing has little vigor apart from kinetic camerawork and very, very, very large amounts of yelling on the soundtrack.
Staff *** Gritty, compelling story, sympathetic.
Sex/Nudity: 3 sex scenes, fairly graphic, but no nudity. Some innuendo in rap songs. Violence: 9 scenes, including violent fights. Profanity: About 240 harsh expressions. Drugs: 3 drinking scenes; at least 12 smoking scenes. 1 instance of drugs.
Director: Todd Haynes. With Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson. (107 min.)
Sterritt **** The time is the 1950s, and the heroine is a well-to-do housewife struggling to understand her feelings and find a pathway back to happiness after her husband realizes he's gay and her friendship with a black gardener causes vicious gossip among her friends. Haynes works cinematic and emotional miracles in this near-remake of Douglas Sirk's masterpiece "All That Heaven Allows," reviving conventions of '50s melodrama that have gone out of fashion but haven't lost their ability to touch moviegoers' minds and hearts.
Director: Brian De Palma. With Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Antonio Banderas, Peter Coyote. (110 min.)
Sterritt ** A glamorous woman participates in a conspicuously spectacular French diamond heist, assumes an incognito life in America, and then heads to Paris, where she and a crafty photographer (Banderas) wend their way toward a predictably unpredictable finale. The story doesn't make much sense, and the actors are more like pieces on De Palma's chessboard than three-dimensional characters. The action is crammed with flamboyant images and frisky cinematic pranks, though, so De Palma's fans will be amused.
Sex/Nudity: 10 sex scenes, including seminudity. Violence: 14 scenes of violence, including shootings and beating. Profanity: 34 strong expressions. Drugs: At least 8 scenes of drinking, smoking.
Director: Julie Taymor. With Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd. (120 min.)
Sterritt * The legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo had a colorful life - great achievements in painting; a turbulent marriage with fabled muralist Diego Rivera; even a close relationship with Leon Trotsky, the communist leader. This biopic gets the facts on screen, but that's about it. Perhaps intimidated by the strength of Kahlo's own artistic personality, Taymor shows isolated flashes of the storytelling inventiveness she brought to "Titus." Hayek doesn't have the acting skills such a multifaceted character calls for.
Staff **1/2 Imaginative, colorful, passionate.
Sex/Nudity: 18 scenes innuendo, implied sex. Violence: 8 scenes, including brawls. Profanity: 12 expressions. Drugs: 29 scenes of smoking, drinking. 2 scenes morphine abuse.
Director: Chris Smith. With Bill Tregle, Linda Beech, Darlene Satrinano. (66 min.)
Sterritt *** If one's domestic environment is a kind of autobiography, then the five households visited by this entertaining documentary reveal fascinating lives indeed. One couple lives in a converted missile silo, another in a home designed more for their pet cats than for themselves. Other folks live in a treehouse, an alligator-friendly boathouse, and a suburban house crammed with mechanized gadgets. Home, sweet home, was never like this!
Director: Betty Thomas. With Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson, Famke Janssen, Gary Cole. (96 min.)
Staff *1/2 Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson are both masters of comic patter, and pairing them in a buddy film does result in some entertaining comic riffs. But everything else here is strictly spy by the numbers. Secret agent Alexander Scott (Wilson) must stop a stolen US super "stealth" airplane from being sold to evildoers. Boxing champion Kelly Robinson (Murphy) is recruited to help him. But can these two bickering teammates blend as buddies, stop the villain, and save the world? "I Spy" grabs its title, but little else, from the '60s TV show, which emphasized cool, witty repartee. Murphy and Wilson are more inspired by the "Dumb and Dumber" school of comedy. There are chuckles, but far too few. By Gregory M. Lamb
Staff **1/2 Fun, slick, surprising.
Sex/Nudity: 4 instances innuendo. Violence: 19 scenes, including kidnapping. Profanity: 41 harsh expressions. Drugs: 3 scenes of drinking.
Director: Patricia Cardoso. With America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros, Ingrid Oliu, Brian Sites. (93 min.)
Staff *** Ana (Ferrera) has just graduated from high school and earned a full scholarship to Columbia. The only problem is that her mother (Ontiveros) refuses to let her go, insisting Ana should work in her sister's sweat shop like she does. Moreover, she keeps nagging Ana about her weight, saying she'll never catch a husband until she slims down. Funny and touching, without resorting to stereotypes, "Real Women" paints a nuanced and down-to-earth portrait of one Latino family, and particularly of these two stubborn, feisty women who are more alike than they realize. It's clearly a low-budget film, and not all the actors are as strong as Ferrera and Ontiveros, but in the end, Patricia Cardoso has created a very compelling - and very real - coming-of-age tale. By Amanda Paulson
Staff *** Thoughtful, involving, triumphant
Sex/Nudity: 4 instances, mostly innuendo. Violence: None. Profanity: 2 strong expressions. Drugs: 1 scene with alcohol.
Director: Michael Lembeck. With Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson. (105 min.)
Sterritt ** Allen reprises his 1994 role as an ordinary guy who's taken over Santa's job. This time he has to marry a Mrs. Claus, get his misbehaving son off the "naughty" list, and save his workshop from a malfunctioning Santa robot, all before a Christmas Eve deadline rolls around. Allen does well with all three of his roles, ably helped by the Disney makeup department. The rest of the acting is bland, but the movie's preteen target audience won't mind, and adults will find occasional grown-up jokes to chuckle at.
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 3 scenes cartoonish fighting. Profanity: 3 mild expressions. Drugs: None.
Director: Hilary Birmingham. With Anson Mount, Julianne Nicholson, Bob Burrus, Glenn Fitzgerald. (102 min.)
Sterritt **** This is a quietly told drama of two young men, their troubled father, and their efforts to carve out a satisfying life on their modest farm as financial and emotional problems loom. Such understated storytelling, sensitive directing, and avoidance of easy filmmaking tricks are all too rare in American movies. This is truly one from the heart.
Director: Oliver Parker. With Rupert Everett, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon. (94 min.)
Staff *** If a dreamy romp and Oscar Wilde don't seem as if they should go together, then British director Oliver Parker has a surprise for fans of one of Wilde's great comedies. This late Victorian-era farce, the first film rendition of this play in 50 years, is based on the slimmest of conceits: that only a man named Earnest is marriage material to two English lasses, played winningly by Witherspoon and O'Connor. On the heels of Parker's successful "An Ideal Husband," this film is a nice addition to the updating of classic British theater works. By Gloria Goodale
Staff ***1/2 Freshly frivolous, witty, well-acted. Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: None. Profanity: None. Drugs: 11 scenes with drinking and smoking.
Director: George Lucas. With Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman Samuel L. Jackson. (136 min.)
Sterritt ** Anakin Skywalker is now a fledgling Jedi knight who helps Senator Padmé, his former Tatooine playmate, hide from assassins while Obi-Wan Kenobi probes a threat from Dark Side enemies. The film has a broader range of emotions and visual effects than any "Star Wars" installment since "The Empire Strikes Back," but the writing and acting are as stiff as R2-D2's metal torso. If clones are so scary, why does Lucas keep cloning pop-culture clichés he's latched onto from other films, including his own?
Staff **1/2 Cheesy dialogue, uninspired acting, technologically dazzling, Yoda is fantastic!
Sex/Nudity: Mild innuendo. Violence: 12 scenes, some long. Profanity: None. Drugs: 2 scenes with alcohol-like drinks.