Director: David Cronenberg. With Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello. (96 min.)
David Cronenberg has spent so much time rooting around in the cellars of the human psyche that, by now, he could only surprise us if he made a sunny piece of inspirationalism. "A History of Violence" is certainly not that, but it ranks high on the Cronenberg scale as one of his more disturbing forays into depravity. Mortensen - he of the heroic jaw - plays the proprietor of a small-town diner whose idyllic family life is shattered when he kills two robbers during a hold up. Things, as usual, are not what they seem - they are much worse than you could imagine. Grade: B+
- Peter Rainer
Directors: Tim Burton, Mike Johnson. With the voices of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson. (76 min.)
A murdered bride hears a young man practicing wedding vows in the forest and drags him underground as her husband. Although the underworld is a lot less grim than the land of the living, he pines for his fiancée. Filmed in a style reminiscent of the model animation in Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," this one has many amusing bits, but it's too macabre to be out-and-out funny, and feels unfinished. Grade: C+
- M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: 1 scene of mild innuendo, 1 scene of partial male nudity. Violence: 6 instances Profanity: 1 mild expression. Drugs/cigarettes/alcohol: 2 scenes of smoking, 6 scenes with drinking.
Director: Thomas Vinterburg. With Jamie Bell, Bill Pullman, Chris Owen. (105 min.)
"Dear Wendy" is written by - and must be seen as the latest chapter in the ongoing American cultural critique of - screenwriter Lars von Trier, Denmark's foremost filmmaker and no fan of US hegemony. Like the von Trier-directed "Dancer in the Dark" and "Dogville," "Dear Wendy" is set in a depressed community where the local teenage outcasts form a gun club/cult. Each has a "partner" (a pistol), and each subscribes to the idea that the power of a gun, like that of a nuclear deterrent, requires that it never be used. Tragedy, of course, looms large. Via stylized language, fetishism, and some obvious erotic obsessions, the filmmakers have created one weirdly provocative film, which isn't very successful but ought still to be seen. Grade: C
- John Anderson
Director: Malcolm D. Lee. With Bow Wow, Nick Cannon, Mike Epps. (112 min.)
Directed by Spike's cousin, Malcolm D. Lee, this homage to the '70s teen movie is so on target it might as well be a '70s teen movie. Charming, but much better when it's being funny than when it waxes sentimental, "Roll Bounce" is built on formula: When their South Side roller rink closes, a group of hardcore Chicago skaters head for the North Side, to skate, dance, and conquer. What keeps the film from succumbing to fatigue is a refreshing cast and Lee's deftness with comedy. Grade: B-
Director: Liev Schreiber. With Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin. (96 min.)
Liev Schreiber is one of the finest stage and screen actors of his generation and he's nothing if not ambitious. For his directorial debut he has chosen to adapt a portion of the sprawling Jonathan Safran Foer novel about a young Jewish-American's journey to a Ukrainian village to seek out the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Shreiber's film doesn't bear the usual actor-director trademarks: stodgy camerawork, too many scenes of people sitting around talking. The presentation has verve. But the story is confusingly told - everything is not illuminated - and, as the seeker, Elijah Wood is a big blank.
- Peter Rainer
Director: Scott Derrickson. With Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson. (114 min.)
"The Trial of Emily's Exorcist" may be a better title. The filmmakers aren't sure what their movie's about. They want you to know that the real Emily's courage in the face of demonic possession practically made her a saint. They want you to believe her priest (Wilkinson) was justified in giving spiritual rather than medical treatment. It's sincere and well-acted, especially in straightforward courtroom scenes, but cheap horror movie tricks undercut the movie's credibility and even its scariness. Linney stands out as the defense lawyer. Grade: C+
- M.K. Terrell
Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 10 instances Profanity: 7 instances, occasionally harsh. Drugs/cigarettes/alcohol: 1 scene of smoking, 4 scenes of drinking.
Just Like Heaven (PG-13)
Director: Mark Waters. With Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Jon Heder. (95 min.)
David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo) sublets a San Francisco apartment, only to find it occupied by a phantasm named Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon). Once a doctor, she now finds herself considerably less substantial: She walks through walls, she walks out windows; she sits inside the refrigerator and harasses David for having another beer. Early on, the movie is a well-executed comedy with David trying to figure out if he's crazy, if she's really dead, and whether a few ancient spells and exorcisms might cast out the squatting spirit. But the movie has a weighty, bordering-on-morbid, subtext that's impossible to discuss without giving a key plot point away. It's a terrific movie. It just happens to be haunted. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: 3 scenes of innuendo, 1 scene of partial male nudity. Violence: 2 instances Profanity: 22 fairly mild profanities. Drugs/cigarettes/alcohol: 10 scenes of drinking.
Lord of War (R)
Director: Andrew Niccol. With Nicolas Cage, Ethan Hawke, Bridget Moynahan, Jared Leto. (122 min.)
"Lord of War" is a bitterly funny comedy about arms dealers. Russian refugee Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) makes his fortune helping Third World dictators attack their neighbors or oppress their own people. He's doing dastardly work while telling himself it's not his responsibility. Writer/director Andrew Niccol is a keen satirist who can stick the blade between the ribs. As you laugh you become aware that Yuri is less a criminal than a tool of foreign policy. In showing us a man who tries not to notice what happens after he closes the deal, Niccol gives us a fast and funny movie that should leave you feeling a bit queasy. Grade: A -
- Daniel M. Kimmel
Sex/Nudity: 12 scenes including nudity. Violence: 16 scenes, including a massacre. Profanity: 70 strong expressions. Drugs/cigarettes/alcohol: 15 scenes of smoking, 12 scenes with drinking, 6 scenes with drug taking.
One Bright Shining Moment (Not Rated)
Director: Stephen Vittoria. With Gore Vidal, Gloria Steinem, Warren Beatty. (125 min.)
Lively documentary about McGovern's disastrous run for the US presidency. The interviews with him are worth the price of admission. Grade: A+
- David Sterritt
Director: John Madden. With Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hope Davis. (99 min.)
For a decade, Catherine (Paltrow) had been caring for her famous mathematician father Robert (Hopkins), who spiraled into schizophrenia until his death. Now, as his funeral approaches, we realize that she, too, is afflicted, if not with madness then at least with the shadow of it. In "Proof," Paltrow seems to be drawing upon a fund of real pain and it does wonders for the film, which sorely needs wonderment. In the world of "Proof," madness and creativity are one. It's a very old romantic notion; maybe it's time to put it to rest. Grade: B
The Thing About My Folks (PG-13)
Director: Raymond De Felitta. With Paul Reiser, Peter Falk, Olympia Dukakis. (96 min.)
On the occasion of his wife's self-imposed disappearance, gruffly appealing Sam Kleinman (Falk) shows up at the door of his son, Ben (Reiser, who wrote the screenplay) and the well-cast pair embark on a road trip meant to keep dad busy while Ben's sisters sort things out. Result: a comedic, sometimes jarring, and deeply human interaction with only a few brief feints toward hyper-sentimentality. Grade: B+
- Clayton Collins
In the middle of this Oscar-winning documentary, one of the children who have been given cameras to photograph life in Calcutta's red-light district unwittingly explains the film's power. Describing one of his pictures, he says: "We get a good sense of how these people live. And though there is sadness in it, and though it's hard to face, we must look at it, because it is truth."
The temporal truth of "Born Into Brothels" is, indeed, hard to face. The offspring of prostitutes, these young Indians live in physical, mental, and verbal squalor. But their lenses capture a more transcendent truth: the indefatigable good of children.
Compelling extras include seeing the young photographers watch the movie for the first time. "We had a really tough life," says one.
Responds another: "Well, you're better now." Grade: A
- David S. Hauck