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Recently Released Videos and DVDs

Tuesday, April 19, 2005;

The following is a list of recently released DVDs and videos. All capsule reviews have been taken from The Washington Post's Weekend section.

April 19

"Birth" (R): Centering on a beautiful widow (Nicole Kidman) who comes to believe that a 10-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) is the reincarnation of her dead husband, "Birth" lies somewhere between the weird eroticism of the art house and the cheesy horror of movies like the recent "Godsend" -- an infelicitous comparison made all the more unavoidable, seeing as Kidman's juvenile co-star had the extreme misfortune of also being cast in that transmigration-of-souls stinkfest.

Unfortunately, in an attempt to extricate itself from this uncomfortable spot, it ends up painting itself even further into a corner. Too highbrow for the multiplex and too literal for the hipsters, it's unsatisfying both as gothic camp and serious cinema. Contains a sex scene and plenty of creepy erotic tension involving a grown woman and a 10-year-old boy.

"House of Flying Daggers" (PG-13): In China, circa 859 A.D., minions of the corrupt Tang dynasty capture a revolutionary named Mei (Ziyi Zhang), a blind dancer suspected of being one of the dreaded House of Flying Daggers. But she is sprung from jail by Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who professes his love to her during their flight from the Tang authorities. Is he sincere? Is he really trying to help her escape? Mei can't quite trust him yet. Chinese director Zhang Yimou, whose extraordinary list of films include "Ju Dou," "Raise the Red Lantern" and "Red Sorghum," mixes old-school inventiveness with cutting-edge special effects. The result is a wonderfully visual adventure with fantastic martial arts choreography by Siu-Tung Ching; and the director's usual gorgeous use of composition and color. A scene in which Mei and Jin fight troops who are all straddling the highly bendable tops of graceful bamboo trees is unforgettable. Contains chaste sexual scenes and martial arts violence. In Mandarin Chinese with subtitles.

"Meet the Fockers" (PG-13): Apparently, it had to be done. So the makers and performers of 2000's "Meet the Parents" agreed to reunite for this gross and unfunny sequel. Nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and his fiancee, Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo), decide it's time for both sets of in-laws to meet. Cue a blockheaded comedy of opposition, in which Pam's right-wing, WASPish parents, Jack (Robert De Niro) and Dina Byrnes (Blythe Danner), drive to Florida to meet Greg's father (Dustin Hoffman) and mother (Barbra Streisand). Oh, those sexually uptight conservatives! Oh, those nutty, huggy Jewish liberals! (Streisand's character is a sex therapist who teaches seniors to discover their inner Kama Sutra batteries.) The movie basically consists of every character difference the hack scriptwriters could squeeze out of their trivial minds. Contains crude and sexual humor, obscenity and a brief drug reference.

"Primer" (PG-13): Don't believe the hype. Despite winning both the Grand Jury Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for advancing science and technology in film at Sundance -- and, really, how hard can that last one be? -- this time-travel thriller is less brain tickler than migraine producer. Written and directed by engineer- turned-auteur Shane Carruth, who also stars, "Primer" is at first equally fascinating and maddening in the way it tells its tale of two engineers (Carruth and David Sullivan) and the time machine that comes between them. Sounding like it was written by David Mamet's computer-geek cousin, the movie increasingly becomes all maddening as it steadfastly resists comprehension in favor of a dense and off-putting brainiac-hipster cache that masks its ultimate emptiness. Contains some obscenity.

Also on DVD April 19: "Dynasty: The Complete First Season" and "The Errol Flynn Signature Collection."

April 12

"Bad Education" (NC-17): In this uniquely flavored tribute to film noir, Pedro Almodovar throws in cross-dressing, transsexuality, heroin addiction and ecclesiastical hypocrisy. The result is one of Almodovar's darkest films since the early days of "Law of Desire" and "Matador," and certainly one of his finest. When bearded stranger Angel (Gael Garcia Bernal) visits a filmmaker (Fele Martinez), claiming to be an old school friend (and former lover), the director enters a labyrinth of mysteries and revelations. It's a film full of stories within stories, like a set of Russian nesting dolls. Almodovar gives us his inspired melange of farce and tragedy, taboo slapstick and tender poignancy. And Bernal is a wonder, especially as his transvestite alterego, Zahara. We're also treated to the lurid trappings of soapy Hollywood melodrama (as in the films of Douglas Sirk), nods to noirish classics like "Laura" and "Fallen Angel," and a full embrace of Grand Guignol. Contains obscenity, sexual scenes, drug use and themes of sexual child abuse.

"Hotel Rwanda" (PG-13): Terry George's movie is an epic that knocks you over with its blunt, unequivocal conviction. It's about the 800,000 Tutsis who were slaughtered in 100 days in 1994 in Rwanda, when the Hutu majority tribe attacked men, women and children from the minority tribe. As the Rwandan hotelier, Paul Rusesabagina, who attempts to shield more than a thousand Tutsis and other refugees from slaughter, Don Cheadle has the performance of his career. You can't leave "Hotel Rwanda" without feeling a deep moral urgency for this character and his blighted country, even after all these years. George doesn't shirk from details of the slaughter, nor do he and co-writer Keir Pearson spare the outside world any quarter when it comes to moral responsibility. Contains widespread violence, racial epithets and obscenity.

"Ocean's Twelve" (PG-13): The Gang of Fame is back, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Matt Damon, and they're in trouble again. Seems Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) has traced Danny Ocean (Clooney) and all those others who stole from his casino in 2001's "Ocean's Eleven." He plans to kill them all unless they pay back the money (plus interest) they stole. That's a hefty $97 million. Time to steal big -- real big. Like, abroad. This isn't much of a movie, just an excuse to spend enjoyable face time with the stars. And to enjoy the Vegas-y spectacle of these celebrities lightly pretending (with winks, nudges and other Movie Star tics) to be fictional characters. Director Steven Soderbergh uses the same reality-show looseness he brought to his "K Street" television series. And he pushes the celeb in-joking throughout. Contains some obscenity.

"Suspect Zero" (PG-13): The plot may sound familiar, and it is: Disgraced FBI agent (Aaron Eckhart) teams up with colleague and former love interest (Carrie-Anne Moss) to hunt down suspected serial killer (Ben Kingsley), who for some reason is baiting his pursuers with buckets of clues. What's different (and good) about this thriller is the real sense of creepy foreboding that director E. Elias Merhige creates, with help from "Pi" composer Clint Mansell and from Kingsley, who brings an intensity and bone-deep desperation to his portrayal of a bad guy who, in a strange way, is kind of a good guy, too. Contains violence, gore, obscenity, rape and brief nudity.

"The Woodsman" (R): Walter (Kevin Bacon), a sex offender who has just served 12 years for molesting little girls, tries to live a new life in hometown Philadelphia. But the normal world is, for him, a terrifying ordeal. Director-cowriter Nicole Kassell cannily keeps us rooting for Walter. We're forced to see the life he has to lead before we even learn the details of his crimes. By the time we do find out what happened, we have developed, without intending to, a discomforting empathy. Bacon's subtle, assured performance keeps us with him every step of the way. He's certainly morally adrift, but his experiences have given him a deeper awareness of right and wrong than most "normal" people. Has he regained moral control of himself? Is the nightmare over or just lurking? "The Woodsman" doesn't ask you to condone pedophilia or the man who has committed it, but it does invite you to root for a man's good instincts to prevail over his bad ones. Contains description of pedophilia, obscenity and some violence.

Also on DVD April 12: "DiG!," "The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete First Season" and "Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law, Vol. 1."

April 5

"The Corporation" (Not rated): One of the best in what seems to be a veritable cavalcade of recent documentaries with a left-leaning political stance, "The Corporation" paints a picture of the titular institution that isn't flattering. With ample examples drawn from the business pages, the film makes the point that, if today's companies are to be considered "persons" (a legalistic notion that arose during the 19th century), then they're persons who would be considered, by medical standards, psychopathic. Citing everything from the all-too-common layoffs ("incapacity to maintain enduring relationships") to recidivist lawbreaking ("incapacity to experience guilt"), the film's portrait of the modern corporation isn't pretty, but it sounds accurate. Contains images of violence and rioting, land mine injuries, animals with birth defects and one or two spoken vulgarities.

"Elektra" (PG-13): Aided by a blind martial arts guru called the Stick (Terence Stamp) in a grudge match with a underworld syndicate known as the Hand, sultry superheroine Elektra (Jennifer Garner, or, as I like to call her, the Midriff), must protect a mysteriously accented hunk (Goran Visnjic) and his even more mysterious daughter (Kirsten Prout) from an assortment of evil ninjas possessing strange and awesome powers. The unimaginatively named Stone (Bob Sapp) appears to be made out of, um, stone, while Tattoo's (Chris Ackerman) body art comes to creepy life. For the Stuff magazine demographic, there's Typhoid (Natassia Malthe), who engages in a nearly deadly girl-on-girl kiss with our heroine. For far too much of this movie, though, the action is not nearly as photogenic as one would expect from a comic-book-based adventure. Contains martial arts violence, assassination, a sexual allusion and some obscenity.

"Sideways" (R): In Alexander ("About Schmidt") Payne's terrific comedy, Miles (Paul Giamatti) takes his old college friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a road trip through California wine country before Jack gets married. It becomes a comedy of errors, as Jack chases after a woman (Sandra Oh) who steals his heart. Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor have made the funniest, most assured film of their partnership so far. The characters are so enjoyably matched, you'd follow their endless squabblings anywhere. Add the scenic wonders of Santa Ynez, and two fiercely independent women (including Virginia Madsen) who enter both men's lives, and you've got an irresistibly potent combination. "Sideways" isn't just a road comedy, it's a great film about men and women. Contains some violence, obscenity, sexual scenes, nudity and pot smoking.

"Spanglish" (PG-13): If James L. Brooks's romantic comedy doesn't reach the high notes of his "Broadcast News," it's still a movie full of wit and wicked fun. It's about a Mexican housekeeper (Paz Vega) who accepts a position with a wealthy Los Angeles family, only to find herself in for cultural turbulence. Flor speaks no English, so her employers (Tea Leoni and Adam Sandler) are reduced to sign language and clumsy gestures. Trouble arises when Flor is gradually drawn to patriarch John (Sandler), a milquetoast angel who is the children's real emotional guardian. As the arch den mother, Leoni makes a memorably obnoxious harpy. Spanish-born Vega is assured and alert. Sandler proves his touching performance in "Punch-Drunk Love" was no fluke. And it's a joy to see Cloris Leachman given room to maneuver as the always tipsy, wise-cracking mother. Contains some obscenity and one half-clothed sexual scene.

Also on DVD April 4: "Jay-Z: Fade to Black," "The Greatest American Hero: Season Two," "The West Wing: The Complete Fourth Season" and "Word Wars."

March 29

"After the Sunset" (PG-13): The main characters in Brett Ratner's "After the Sunset" spend more time talking than planning, scheming or conspiring. And that's not a good quality in a heist movie. Pierce Brosnan stars as Max Burdett, a crafty crook who, along with partner-in-crime-and-romance Lola (Salma Hayek), has just retired to the Bahamas after several successful jewel heists. Unfortunately, FBI agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson), the lawman Max repeatedly made a fool of, has tracked them down on Paradise Island. He wants Max to know that a cruise ship, which coincidentally is exhibiting the only Napoleon diamond the pair never pinched, will soon be docking nearby. If Max plans to snatch it, Stan plans to catch him. And so the game of cat and mouse begins . . . supposedly. Mostly, Brosnan and Harrelson goof around like a pair of mismatched buddies instead of amped-up adversaries. By the time the contrived twist ending rolls around, you won't care what happens to these characters. But you may want to check airfares to Nassau ASAP. Contains sexuality, violence and profanity.

"Closer" (R): In Mike Nichols's bedroom-politics drama, lies and matters of the jealous heart send four modern lovers into a roiling tizzy over the course of a few years. It's a saucy premise, especially with the comely presence of Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman doing all that bed-hopping and partner-swapping and truth-lopping. But if "Closer" shows us the whole Sturm und Drang of modern relationships -- attraction, deception, jealousy and passion -- it doesn't show us much more. Nichols's sophisticated direction, screenwriter Patrick Marber's irony-laden dialogue and the eye-candilicious presence of our stars produce nothing more than surface warfare. Even though all four performers work themselves into an acting frenzy (with Owen and Portman coming off best), they are mere deliverers of snippy, smart-alecky rejoinders. It's unclear if we're supposed to feel engaged. Contains graphic sexual language, nudity, sexual scenes and obscenity.

"Vera Drake" (R): In postwar England, young women who find themselves in "a spot of trouble" would do well to be rich. Daughters of the leisured classes can solve such problems with a discreet visit to a doctor. But poorer girls, they can only hope for someone as gentle and safe as Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton). She's a devoted wife, mother and neighbor who seems to find time for everybody. And she is about to learn that no good deed goes unpunished, especially in the working classes. Written and directed by Mike Leigh, the British filmmaker who made "Secrets & Lies" and "Topsy-Turvy," "Vera Drake" is a carefully calibrated parable that quietly sneaks into your heart and prods it sharply. Staunton is the heart and guts of this drama. And you cannot accompany her on this journey without feeling the intense highs and lows of her oddly fated life. Contains intense thematic material.

Also on DVD March 29: "Murder She Wrote: Season One," and "Orgazmo: Unrated Special Edition."

March 22

"Being Julia" (R): In 1930s Britain, Julia Lambert (Annette Bening) is the reigning stage actress of the West End. But her life takes a sudden turn when she falls for a young American fan (Shaun Evans) with a shady agenda. When she learns the truth, Julia takes the kind of revenge only an actress can. Bening's a treat, digging into a pagoda-size heap of roles and roles-within-roles and pulling them all out, one by one, deftly. You feel the fun of the thing, as well as the appropriate heartache. She also has the smarts not to Paltrow around with an English accent but simply speak in a neutral New England/mid-Atlantic voice. Instead of being a tiresome diva, she's surprisingly affecting and fragile. And when it does come to vamping it up, her final act is a treat worth waiting for. Contains nudity, sexual situations and some obscenity.

"Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" (R): Imagine the comic strip character Cathy -- but with a British accent, potty mouth and overactive libido -- and you'll have a fair idea of what Renee Zellweger's character, based on "Bridget Jones's Diary" author Helen Fielding's fictional heroine, is like, and how quickly it grows tiresome. In this sequel to "Diary," Bridget is still obsessed with her weight and marital status, still medicates her neuroses with nicotine and alcohol, but unlike the earlier book and movie, she finally has a real boyfriend (Colin Firth, essentially playing Irving to Zellweger's Cathy) to project her insecurities on. If you like the comic strip, or the original Fielding books, you'll probably get a kick out of this. Otherwise, avoid it like the plague. Contains obscenity, drug use and sexual content.

"Fat Albert" (PG): Fat Albert and his gang of kids are cartoons in a 1970s TV show when they decide to help a real human, Doris (Kyla Pratt), in the present day. So they squeeze themselves through the TV and turn into live-action characters. Albert (Kenan Thompson), Rudy, Mushmouth, Bill, Bucky, Old Weird Harold and Dumb Donald now have to deal with some three-dimensional issues: being human, the world of hip-hop, and falling in love. Director Joel ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding") Zwick and creator-producer Bill Cosby have not only created an intriguing concept, they come up with rewarding comedy. And it's a relief that Cosby (who appears in the movie as himself) refuses to kowtow to hip-hop's winky-winky celebration of cuss-talk, mean street swagger and promiscuity. The movie is a PG-rated high-five to innocence. Contains momentary, mild obscenity.

"Finding Neverland" (PG): As J.M. Barrie, the childlike soul who wrote "Peter Pan," Johnny Depp is a soft-spoken charm. His eccentric manner and instinctive understanding of children charm the ailing Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her children, all of whom will figure largely in the Peter Pan story. "Finding Neverland" is about how he came up with the magical play. It's also about the power of imagination in a hostile world. "Young boys should never be sent to bed," Barrie warns Sylvia at one point. "They always wake up a day older." It's a super line for the movie, an even better one for life. Contains nothing objectionable except the threat of a mother's death.

Also on DVD March 22: "Doogie Howser, M.D.: Season One," "The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries: Season One," "Stand By Me: Deluxe Edition" and "Star Wars: Clone Wars, Vol. 1."

March 15

"Alfie" (R): In this dumb remake of the 1966 British movie, Jude Law plays a eurotrashy lady-killer, living in a low-rent corner of the Big Apple, dressing in retro '60s chic. And going full tilt for the "birds." His big moral issue occurs when he finds himself in a compromising position with sultry Lonette (Nia Long), who's still involved with Alfie's good friend Marlon (Omar Epps). The updating of the Michael Caine classic into the post-feminist age doesn't work well. It feels forced and empty. You don't believe Law's act or his language for a minute. There's nothing authentic about this London lad. Even songs written for the movie by famous musical Brits Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart sound bland and counterfeit. Contains sexual situations, nudity, drug use.

"The Incredibles" (PG): This Pixar computer-animated family comedy is, well, incredible. And very funny. It's about a family of superheroes, led by big-chinned, red-suited Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson); his wife, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter); and their precocious, superhero kids. When Mr. Incredible's over-the-top heroics start causing damage and too many lawsuits, the family is forced to hide out as "normal people" under the Superhero Relocation Program. But you can't keep a superheroic family down. Brad Bird, an executive consultant for "The Simpsons," "The Critic" and "King of the Hill," who also made the rather wonderful "Iron Giant," has aced himself. The film brims over with hilarious sight gags and witticisms. Beyond the sophisticated humor, there's something for almost every conceivable viewer. Mom, Dad, daughter and son all get a major bite of the action. What could be more appealing than an entire family not only empowered but super-empowered? Contains some intense action fare.

"What the #$*! Do We Know?" (Not rated): It's hard to believe it took three directors (Mark Vicente, William Arntz and Batty Chasse) to make this mishmash of a movie about the nature of consciousness, time, matter, psychiatry, emotions and religion. I guess the trio must have divided up the work, which includes documentary-style talking-head footage by a parade of New Age experts unidentified until the end; a fictional narrative starring Marlee Matlin as a depressive photographer; and CGI animations of the human sex drive that look like Mr. Potato Head crossed with flubber. What the #$*! do they know? Not much, apparently, about making movies. Contains obscenity and sexual content.

Also on DVD March 15: "Hogan's Heroes: The First Season" and "Laura."

March 8

"Ladder 49" (PG-13): A tribute to firefighters disguised as a drama, this movie shows bravery in the visual Esperanto of Budweiser commercials and Hollywood action films, using the five-alarm star power of John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix. We meet Jack Morrison (Phoenix), who has it in mind to be a hero all along and who just can't wait to start saving people. His genial captain (Travolta) becomes his Obi-Wan Kenobi, who follows his meteoric career. Although "Ladder" tries to show firefighters as vulnerable and human, it mostly turns them into salt-of-the-earth heroes who know how to party hard and save lives. It's adulatory rather than realistic, and it doesn't engage you deeper than its heart-on-the-sleeve emotions. Contains burn injuries, overall emotional intensity and mild profanity.

"Stage Beauty" (R): This story about a male stage actor (Billy Crudup) who performs Shakespearean female roles and a female ingenue (Claire Danes) who dreams of playing a woman as a woman, is clearly meant to draw the same audiences who responded to "Shakespeare in Love." Director Richard Eyre and writer Jeffrey Hatcher (adapting his stage play "Compleat Female Stage Beauty") don't produce the brightness and luster of the 1998 "Shakespeare." This time around, the pretty faces, fine costumes, period-movie jokes and visits from a reigning monarch (in this case, a broad-as-a-barn Rupert Everett) feel imitative and secondhand. As Ned Kynaston, the talk of London with his portrayals of such well-known Shakespearean roles as Desdemona and Ophelia, Crudup is delicate, slim and graceful, but he never gets us to warm to him. Contains sexual content, some nudity and obscenity.

"Woman Thou Art Loosed" (R): This grim tale, adapted from a novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes, is about the troubled life of Michelle (Kimberly Elise), who was raped at age 12 by her mother's boyfriend, Reggie (Clifton Powell). Michelle's mother, Cassie (Loretta Devine) refuses to believe what happened because she doesn't want to lose a man; and Michelle grows up bitter and angry. Michael Schultz's movie hinges almost diagrammatically on that act of child abuse, like a made-for-TV melodrama. Despite some strong performances, particularly from Elise, and all manner of stylistic flourishes by Schultz and screenwriter Stan Foster, the movie feels stagelike and a little too self-conscious. There are good scenes and less-assured moments, rich characters and cliched ones. Ultimately, the movie's too uneven to be totally satisfying. Contains obscenity, rape and other violence.

Also on DVD March 8: "The Ring Collector's Set."

March 1

"Exorcist: The Beginning" (R): For more than an hour, Stellan Skarsgard wrestles with something foul in this prequel to the 1973 thriller, and I'm not talking about the demon, Pazuzu. The actor, who does his damnedest to bring a measure of class to the proceedings, is fighting a losing battle to keep the movie from becoming an utter heap of garbage, and while he never prevails, for a long time it's a draw. Then, precisely 80 minutes in -- I know, because I looked at my watch, which is never a good sign in a horror movie -- the garbage gets the upper hand, and the movie, set in a Kenyan architectural dig during lapsed priest Merrin's (Skarsgard) first encounter with the devil, becomes a complete, albeit very bloody, joke. The worst thing isn't the cheapness of the very cheap thrills (and yes, you will probably jump out of your skin a time or two). It's that the devil gets demoted to a bad guy on the order of Freddy Krueger, and that's far less scary than the Ultimate Evil One deserves. Contains blood, gore, violence, obscenity and sexual content.

"Flight of the Phoenix" (PG-13): This amped-up remake of the 1965 film about plane crash survivors is every bit as fun as the original, with an opening sequence making full use of special effects to put you in the middle of the terrifying storm that brings down the C-119 cargo plane at the center of this old-fashioned adventure. Other than Dennis Quaid's cocky pilot -- whose plucky passengers and crew resolve, against all odds, to rebuild the ruined plane -- the cast of "Phoenix" is largely a movie-star-free zone, with actors like Miranda Otto, Hugh Laurie and Giovanni Ribisi, not egos, filling up the screen. That is, when the screen isn't taken up by gorgeous, harrowing vistas of the Gobi desert, whose blistering expanses of sand are like another character in this thrilling ensemble drama. Contains obscenity, gunplay, a couple of grisly deaths and intense danger.

"The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" (PG): In this movie version of the TV show, SpongeBob (voice of Tom Kenny) and Patrick Star the starfish (Bill Fagerbakke) have to find the crown of King Neptune, which has been filched by the unscrupulous Sheldon J. Plankton (Mr. Lawrence). Gotta love SpongeBob, a squeezable delight for a strange coalition of fans: young children, of course; parents who get a kick out of his asides (not to mention his weirder pals, like Patrick); and college-age kids who (this is a theory) get to vicariously relive the childishness they're supposed to be too cool to enjoy anymore.) And look out for former beachside hunk David Hasselhoff, who plays a surfing dude ex machina and gives our pals a fast ride over the waves. Contains cartoon butts, fart and burp humor, an extremely mild obscenity and underwear tug-downs -- all the good stuff.

Also on DVD March 1: "Bambi: Special Platinum Edition"; "The Brady Bunch: Season One"; "Bringing Up Baby: Special Edition"; "Hoosiers: Special Edition"; and "The Philadelphia Story: Special Edition."

Feb. 22

"Around the Bend" (R): On his last legs, aging archaeologist Henry Lair (Michael Caine) summons his 30-year-old grandson, Jason (Josh Lucas), and Jason's 6-year-old son, Zach (Jonah Bobo), to honor his last wishes. He also invites Jason's estranged father, Turner (Christopher Walken), a former heroin user who hasn't been heard from in years. Henry wants the men to take his ashes on a sentimental last journey to various Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants where the old man experienced significant events. By the time they reach Albuquerque, Henry clearly hopes, his dysfunctional family will be emotionally reunited. This is clear from the beginning and, apart from predictable bickering and bitterness between Turner and Jason, we have no particular reason to assume anything surprising will happen. Contains obscenity.

"I ♥ Huckabees" (R): In David O. Russell's too-precious-for-its-own-good comedy, Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) recruits "existential" detectives Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) to help him solve the strange coincidences and troubles of his life. They uncover all kinds of things, including environmentalist Albert's tussle with a sleazy Huckabees store chain executive Brad Stand (Jude Law), who wants to build more stores. The convoluted story, which includes Huckabees spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts); Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), a firefighter who has become radicalized by the world's consumerism and dependence on oil ever since "the big September thing"; and French philosopher Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), who sees randomness where the Jaffes see connectedness, is all pie-in-the-sky conceit but not quite funny enough. Contains nudity, sex scenes and obscenity.

Also on DVD Feb. 22: "Heat: Special Edition."

Feb. 15

"Cowboys & Angels" (PG): The fact that "Cowboys & Angels" -- an odd-couple dramedy out of Ireland about the friendship between an awkward heterosexual civil servant (Michael Legge) and his gay, fashion-student roommate (Allen Leech) -- manages to avoid turning into either "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" or a sexual-conversion story earns it two big points in the plus column. Otherwise, it's a sweet but slight film whose undeniable appeal is largely due to the performances of its flat-out adorable leads. Contains obscenity, drug use, a beating and mild sensuality.

"The Motorcycle Diaries" (R): A good-hearted young Argentine from Cordoba named Ernesto (Gael Garcia Bernal) decides it is time to put aside his medical school education, get on a motorbike with his pal Alberto Granados (Rodrigo de la Serna) and hit the road. He wants to discover South America. This man will grow up to be Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a Marxist revolutionary in the Cuban revolution. But Walter Salles's movie, adapted from Guevara's memoir, "The Motorcycle Diaries," and Granados's "Traveling With Che Guevara," isn't about the politics. It's a lyrical, warmhearted road movie about two men coming of age. Bernal, the star of "Y Tu Mama Tambien," is the movie's guiding star. He beams brightly, charming men and women, rich and poor, healthy and leprous, wherever he goes. Contains obscenity. In Spanish with subtitles.

"My Architect" (Not rated): Documentarian Nathaniel Kahn's engrossing film about his late father, acclaimed architect Louis Kahn, is an ode to reconciliation. Impeccably structured as a son's voyage of discovery toward a man who died penniless in the men's room of New York's Pennsylvania Station -- and who left almost as many families as buildings -- "My Architect" makes a case as poignant as it is fascinating, while attempting to solve the many mysteries of the elder Kahn's life. Contains no potentially offensive images, but does includes discussion of Kahn's essentially polygamous lifestyle.

"Raise Your Voice" (PG): Hilary Duff's squeaky clean vehicle is quite simply for the fan base: the young, the innocent and the commercially acquisitive. She's Teri Fletcher, a 16-year-old, church-going, musically ambitious daughter of an overprotective father (David Keith) and a gentle mom (Rita Wilson) and the sib to an impossibly wonderful brother. When a disturbing tragedy occurs, Teri's desire to attend a musical academy's summer program in Los Angeles is hampered by her traumatized feelings. And then there's Dad, who forbids her to go. A plucky lass with a powerful voice and a will to go should follow her dreams, right? What follows is part "Fame" and all Hilary all the time, as she makes friends, learns life lessons, sings and enjoys a bubblegum-ish romance with a sweet-natured fellow student (Oliver James). The movie is going to be fine for PG-ready audiences, assuming they don't have a problem with extremely predictable story turns. Contains a traumatic incident that could disturb young sensibilities.

"Saw" (R): This grotesque, uneven and kinda dumb mystery-thriller took some minor snipping to avoid an NC-17 rating. It isn't half as cool and clever as it would like you to think it is. Two men (Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell, also the scriptwriter) find themselves ankle-chained to wall pipes in opposite corners of a dilapidated bathroom. Both find tapes and other clues, concocted by the mysterious "Jigsaw Man," which lead them to the bottom line: They can free themselves by cutting through an ankle with hacksaws. The movie's ratio of nastiness to suspense writing is too high. This film's highest priority is the blood and the sawing of leg bones; as for teasing the viewer's brain, that's lower on the list. As a police detective who's involved in a subplot, Danny Glover gets a silly supporting role, especially in the movie's over-the-top (even for a flick like this) finale. Contains gruesome violence and carnage, bad acting and obscenity.

"Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War" (PG-13): Set during the Korean War, "Tae Guk Gi" follows two South Korean brothers (Won Bin and Jang Dong-gun) whose bond is tested by -- and ultimately survives -- the stress of battle. With "Saving Private Ryan"-caliber violence, it doesn't flinch from the horrors of war, but more importantly, it doesn't flinch from an honest portrayal of how combat can turn a hero into a monster and how love can turn to hate, and back again. Lavishly shot, this most expensive of all Korean films is also the highest-grossing Korean movie ever, which is more a testament to the film's big heart than to its spectacle. Contains obscenity and hyper-realistic war scenes. In Korean with subtitles.

"Taxi" (PG-13): I liked Jimmy Fallon on "Saturday Night Live." The ex-"Weekend Update" co-anchor always came across like one of those genial, smart-alecky Everydudes who live to crack up their friends in the group house next door. But the ability to make light of such celebs as Bobby Brown at a desk week after week does not a movie star make, and "Taxi" -- a buddy flick in which Fallon's bumbling New York cop teams up with Queen Latifah's speed-demon cabbie to pursue Brazilian supermodel bank robbers -- is proof of that. Even the closing-credit outtakes, in which Fallon is seen making himself and his castmates laugh, are way funnier than anything scripted in this stalled comedic vehicle. Contains violence and obscenity.

"Testosterone" (PG-13): Stubbled pretty boy and graphic novelist Dean (David Sutcliffe) is heartbroken when his lover, Pablo (Antonio Sabato Jr.), deserts him in Los Angeles. In fact, Dean is so incensed, and in need of closure, he follows the scoundrel all the way to his home town, Buenos Aires. Pablo's the scion of a powerful family headed by his dour mother (Sonia Braga). So when Dean hammers a little too often on that front door, he finds himself chased by scary cops and thugs. Enlisting help from a waitress (Celina Font) who works across the road from Pablo's, Dean begins a jilted romantic's investigation. He uncovers all manner of secrets about Pablo, which, for us, are tedious convolutions more than shattering revelations. The best thing to be said about this potboiler is that it eventually boils away. Perhaps narrative wasn't that important to director David Moreton, who co-adapted James Robert Baker's much darker novel. The movie's primary interest seems to be in following several good-looking men wherever they care to meander. Contains sexual situations and obscenity.

"The Yes Men" (R): The first two people to appear on camera in "The Yes Men" are Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, two guys you probably never heard of, but whose anti-globalization-activist-cum-performance-art antics are chronicled in this pungent little documentary by Dan Ollman, Sarah Price and Chris Smith. In short order, we learn that the two merry pranksters, as a result of a Web site set up to parody that of the World Trade Organization, have made a small sideline out of getting mistakenly invited to speak at international conferences, seminars and TV talk shows as representatives of the WTO. As bogus WTO spokesmen, Bichlbaum and Bonanno make a series of increasingly outlandish public proposals: The first has to do with vote selling, another with the advocacy of slave labor, a third calls for the recycling of human excrement into hamburgers for the Third World. But what's so funny -- and, at the same time, not so funny -- about their deadpan shtick is not the content of their "material" but their audiences' often uncritical reactions. Contains obscenity and the satirical use of excretory and phallic humor.

Also on DVD Feb. 15: "The Greatest American Hero: Season One" and "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut."

Feb. 8

"Bright Young Things" (R): Stephen Fry's engaging, energetic film, based loosely on Evelyn Waugh's 1930 "Vile Bodies," follows Adam Fenwick-Symes (Stephen Campbell Moore), an ambitious English writer who needs to make money so he can marry fiancee Nina Blount (Emily Mortimer). He gets caught up in her bratty uppercrust world, where the rich, young and restless of the 1930s dance and party as London looks on in appalled dismay. And while their champagne-sipping debauchery soaks up the society pages of Fleet Street, the world teeters at the edge of world war. The film fairly whizzes along its own zany surface. Contains drug use.

"Fade to Black" (R): "Fade to Black" may well be the best hip-hop concert film to date, far better than "Backstage," which documented Jay-Z's 1999 "Hard Knock Life" tour with DMX. Beautifully shot and brilliantly recorded by Bob Ezrin, it obviously benefits from the fact that Jay-Z is a supremely confident performer and deft lyricist with a masterfully elastic flow and perhaps the most commanding and accessible stage presence of any rap artist. He also has an instinct for finding the best beats from rap's canniest producers. And watching Jay-Z at work in "Fade to Black," it's clear this 35-year-old takes too much pleasure in his work, and has far too much ambition, to rest on a legacy of 10 albums in seven years and sales of more than 20 million. Contains pervasive swearing and sexual lyrics.

"The Notebook" (PG-13): A genial visitor (the ever-dignified James Garner) named Duke insists on reading a romantic story to an aged woman (Gena Rowlands) despite her struggles with Alzheimer's disease. What Duke reads becomes the main body of the film: a 1940s romance in Seabrook, N.C., between 17-year-old Allie and gutsy 19-year-old Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling), who courts her with the relentlessness of a catbird. The film may be one hundred percent sap, but its spirit is anything but cloying, thanks to persuasive performances, most notably from Rachel McAdams. As Allie Hamilton, whose passionate heart becomes the movie's powerful fulcrum, she almost makes you forget what you're swallowing. Contains sexual situations.

"P.S." (R): Dylan Kidd, whose sensational debut was the dark romantic comedy "Roger Dodger," proves his qualities again. The movie, adapted from the Helen Schulman novel, is remarkably assured. It's about the mystical attraction between the divorced, 39-year-old Louise Harrington (Laura Linney), director of admissions at Columbia University, and an art student named F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace), who has eerie connections with an ex-boyfriend of hers who died. It's a romance of sometimes breathtakingly intimate moments between two very interesting characters. Linney's terrific, memorably capturing the mercurial ups and downs of a divorcee, hardly daring to hope for happiness. And Grace is a force of nature. He creates a thrilling, funny and potentially alarming counterbalance. Contains sexual scenes and obscenity.

"Shark Tale" (PG): Through a comedy of errors, the jive-talking fish called Oscar (Will Smith) gets credited for the killing of a mean shark. This puts him in real hot water with the shark's father, a mafioso fish named Don Lino (Robert De Niro). Oscar's only hope is his newfound friend, Don's nicer, pacifist son Lenny (Jack Black). The movie probably won't register as anything but fun to most kids. But that vapor of mediocrity might penetrate more discerning nostrils. Many of us have grown accustomed to extremely high quality in the computer-animated genre, thanks to such great films as "Toy Story" and "Shrek." This movie just doesn't match its predecessors, and those inevitable comparisons to Pixar's "Finding Nemo" will leave "Shark Tale" foundering. Contains mild obscenity and crude humor.

Also on DVD Feb. 8: "Deadwood: The Complete First Season," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: The Complete First Season," "The Jamie Foxx Show: The Complete First Season," "Murder One: The Complete First Season," "Miami Vice: Season One," "Murphy Brown: The Complete First Season," "Night Court: The Complete First Season" and "Raging Bull: Collector's Edition."

Feb. 1

"The Grudge" (PG-13): Sure, it's scary, but this lightly Americanized remake of the Japanese ghost story "Ju-on" doesn't exactly break new ground in horror. Heck, the original on which it's based -- itself merely one of four films in a series by director Takashi Shimizu, who also made the new one -- didn't even break new ground when it was new. There are lots of "boo!" moments, to be sure, as American transfer student Sarah Michelle Gellar gets spooked by the powerfully evil spirits lurking at the site of a Tokyo murder, but there are lots of cheesy ones, too, as when several of the dead people show up to reenact their untimely demises, expressly for the edification of us stupid Western audiences, for whom everything, apparently, needs to be s-p-e-l-l-e-d o-u-t. Contains disturbing, occasionally violent imagery and mild sensuality.

"Mr. 3000" (PG-13): In "Mr. 3000," Bernie Mac never inspires you to root for him, which is a problem in a sports film. Unfortunately, you cannot chalk up Mac's status quo performance to the fact that he is being so funny that you can't take him seriously. His comedy does shine through, but not as prominently as his admirers might hope. Nine years after Stan Ross, a former baseball superstar who quit the game as soon as he tallied 3,000 hits (thus meeting the informal eligibility requirements for the Baseball Hall of Fame), his hopes of legendary status are dashed when someone discovers that he was actually three hits short of the record. Driven by his ego and desperate in his hubris-inspired desire to maintain his place in baseball history, the over-the-hill, out-of-shape Stan stages a comeback. It plays out like a nine-inning sitcom that uses an obvious formula to tell a familiar story while garnering cheap laughs. Contains profanity and sexual situations.

"Ray" (PG-13): Assuming the persona of Ray Charles as if it were always his, Jamie Foxx becomes the singer in such an evocative way, you're not sure which one's the real Ray anymore. Taylor Hackford's well-wrought, touching movie shows many significant moments of the blind singer's life, good and bad: His need for women and the comfort of heroin on the bad side; his wit, charm, courage, financial savvy and his musical talent on the other. Kerry Washington is strong as Della Bea Robinson, whom Ray marries; so is Regina King as his passionate, on-the-road lover, Margie Hendricks. But Foxx steals his own show, not exaggerated but subtle. His verbal performance is remarkable, perfectly capturing Ray's inflections and directness, yet making them his own. And he's never far away from a humorous aside. He lights up his own darkness and the movie. Contains extensive drug use and sexual situations.

"Shall We Dance?" (PG-13): No one needs a session at Arthur Murray to keep up with the moves in "Shall We Dance?" In this Hollywoodized version of the 1996 Japanese film of the same name, Richard Gere plays a repressed lawyer and family man who, captivated by the sight of a mysterious woman's face gazing out of a dance studio window, signs up for ballroom dance lessons. To his surprise (but not the audience's), he discovers the thrill of dance, all the while forming a friendship with the elusive teacher Paulina (Jennifer Lopez). Meanwhile, his wife (Susan Sarandon) hires a private investigator to find out whether an extramarital affair is what's keeping hubby away from home. While Gere brings a salt-and-pepper-haired sexiness to his role, he and Lopez fail to generate any sparks. Most of the high points come from supporting players such as Stanley Tucci, who brings his usual energy to his part as a balding lawyer and gifted dancer who dons a Fabio-esque wig whenever he hits the floor. What's most disappointing about "Shall We Dance?" isn't its predictability or cliched dialogue. It's the lack of a knock-'em-dead dance scene, clearly a violation of Rule No. 1 in the Dance Movie Handbook. We get a few lovely waltzes but nothing that razzle-dazzles. For a film that stars "Chicago's" Billy Flynn and a former "In Living Color" Fly Girl dancer, that's not only a violation, it's a sin. Contains some sexual references and brief obscenity.

"She Hate Me" (R): In Spike Lee's oddball modern fable, assuming that's what it is, Jack (Anthony Mackie) blows the whistle on his biotech company that has secured big money for a phony AIDS cure. Then he becomes a cottage industry, servicing lesbians who need donor sperm. And then he testifies before Congress about his former company. The movie also finds time to pay tribute to the black security guard who caught the Watergate burglars. And then . . . well, at this point, it's hard to know what to make of the film, except it seems, rather predictably, to be something about institutional racism. The movie seems to be some kind of satire. But like his similarly frustrating "Bamboozled," it's a satire with flow charts, footnotes and a riding crop. Lee seems to be trying to examine our own silent but deadly attitudes toward race, as if he's our spiritual and aggressive radon inspector. This is sheer agony to sit through, and not for the reasons Lee would relish. Lee's better when he discovers satire in drama, as in "Do the Right Thing" and "She's Gotta Have It," rather than the other way around. Contains sexual scenes, obscenity and violence.

"Taxi" (PG-13): I liked Jimmy Fallon on "Saturday Night Live." The ex-"Weekend Update" co-anchor always came across like one of those genial, smart-alecky Everydudes who live to crack up their friends in the group house next door. But the ability to make light of such celebs as Bobby Brown at a desk week after week does not a movie star make, and "Taxi" -- a buddy flick in which Fallon's bumbling New York cop teams up with Queen Latifah's speed-demon cabbie to pursue Brazilian supermodel bank robbers -- is proof of that. Even the closing-credit outtakes, in which Fallon is seen making himself and his castmates laugh, are way funnier than anything scripted in this stalled comedic vehicle. Contains violence and obscenity.

"Vanity Fair" (PG-13): With her strangely modern, saucily jutting jaw line and Southern-belle sweetness masking a crackling intellect, Becky Sharp is portrayed perfectly by Reese Witherspoon as the pretty, opportunistic and contradictory heroine of William Makepeace Thackeray's "Vanity Fair." In an engaging, propulsive performance as the strong-willed, social-climbing English governess who aspires to enter high society by any means, Witherspoon moves director Mira Nair's version of Thackeray's social satire forward at a good clip, making Becky's rising and falling fortunes an intensely watchable spectator sport. Contains brief partial nudity, a mild boudoir scene, scuffling and images of war dead.

Also on DVD Feb. 1: "The Bodyguard: Special Edition," "Chariots of Fire: Special Edition," "Charmed: The Complete First Season," and "Wonderfalls: The Complete Viewer Collection."

Jan. 25

"Alien vs. Predator" (PG-13): Here's what I want to know: How cold, exactly, does it have to get for saliva to freeze? I'm curious about this because, in "Alien vs. Predator," the famously drool-drenched beastie of the first half of the title is alive and wet as all get out -- despite now living 2,000 feet below the surface of Antarctica. Oh, well, that's only one little thing that doesn't add up in this update to the old monster showdown formula familiar to fans of "Godzilla vs. Mothra" and the like. Here, a team of scientists (led by Sanaa Lathan) investigating a pyramid buried beneath the South Pole -- look, I told you the premise was whack -- stumble on a bunch of H.R. Giger's "Alien" aliens, only to be caught between them and a trio of dreadlocked outer-space sport hunters made famous from the "Predator" films. I'd say that fur flies, but there's no fur here. Just buckets of spittle and nicely claustrophobic if under-lit claw-to-claw combat. Contains some bad language, sci-fi violence and goo.

"First Daughter" (PG): Those who sat through "Chasing Liberty" and hated it may suddenly gain newfound appreciation for that comedy about the romantic travails of the U.S. president's daughter. That's because this comedy about the romantic travails of the U.S. president's daughter is so much worse. And not just because it feels like a retread. As the title character, a college freshman discovering love while under the watchful eye of the Secret Service, Katie Holmes makes less than no impression. She's like a black hole at the center of the joyless, leaden affair, absorbing all light and matter -- not to mention the energy of her fellow performers, who come across as zombies at their first script read-through. Contains a relatively mild vulgarity, underage drinking and brief sexual allusions.

"Head in the Clouds" (R): The international star packaging on this movie is leadenly obvious: Put Charlize Theron in a sexy World War II-era tale with an Irishman, a Spaniard and a smattering of Germans, French and Englishmen, then watch people rent the DVD all over the globe. Not. Theron plays Gilda Besse, a free-spirited American, who becomes involved over the years (which include the Spanish Civil War and World War II) in a sort-of triangle with an Irish activist called Guy (Stuart Townsend) and Mia (Penelope Cruz), a refugee from Spain who's also an ex-dancer. But John Duigan's love-during-wartime affair is a snooze, despite all the sex and other gunplay. Contains nudity, sex scenes and violence. Some French and German with subtitles.

"Mean Creek" (R): Nothing good can come of the plot hatched by the teen protagonists of "Mean Creek," who aim to humiliate a fat, schoolyard bully (Josh Peck) who has been beating up another boy (Rory Culkin) by stripping him of his clothes during a river outing and dumping him in the water. Nothing good, that is, except a richly nuanced little film about morality and tragedy. Sure, it'll give you a sick, sour feeling in the pit of your stomach, but isn't that what we go to the movies for? It's not? Oh well, there's always "The Princess Diaries 2." Contains obscenity, violence, teen drinking, drug use and sexual content.

"Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" (Not Rated): Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's documentary about rock history's biggest heavy metal band is -- variously -- serious, funny, frustrating and touching. It finds an intriguing niche between docu-poignancy and passing camp as it takes you behind closed doors where Messrs. James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett -- Metallica's core unit -- earnestly discuss their creative differences, personality quirks and the elephant-size matter of Hetfield's sobriety. The most compelling person, by far, is Hetfield, whose attempted recovery is made almost adorable by his bespectacled earnestness and post-recovery-speak phrases. Can he live a life that includes watching his daughter perform ballet routines and jack-hammering power chords for adoring fans? Contains obscenity, momentary nudity, drug use and talk of substance abuse.

"Seducing Dr. Lewis" (Not Rated): Obliged to set up temporary practice on a remote island community to avoid punishment for a traffic offense, Montreal doctor Christopher Lewis (David Boutin) intends to get through the experience as painlessly as possible. But in this folksy comedy, the islanders have other ideas. A corporation is thinking of building a factory there, which would pump money into this ailing fishing community. But the company insists the island have a full-time resident doctor. The doctor doesn't know it, but he's the island's only hope. This movie, which has already proved its audience-charming appeal in various film festivals, is so disarming, it's hard to say anything but good things about it. Contains mild obscenity and some sexual content.

"Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" (PG): Less about the world of tomorrow than the world of yesterday, this technically innovative film (shot with live actors against an empty blue screen, with antique-looking, pulp-fiction-style details filled in later by computer animators) will be of less interest to fans of cutting-edge science fiction than to old-movie buffs. Set in the 1930s, the in-jokey story of crack reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) and mercenary flying ace Joe Sullivan (Jude Law), who are investigating a series of attacks by flying robots, is neat-o, in a film-geek kind of way. Still, first-time director Kerry Conran, who convinced Hollywood to let him make "Sky Captain" by shopping around a six-minute demo he made on his home laptop, isn't so much in love with dusty old black-and-white serials as he is with his own film, and that cold self-satisfaction shows. Contains some sci-fi/action violence.

"The Story of the Weeping Camel" (PG): A "narrative documentary" in the tradition of "Nanook of the North," "Weeping Camel" follows a family of Mongolian herders in the Gobi desert as one of their 60 camels gives birth to -- and then rejects -- its albino baby. As is customary in this culture, the nomads trek to a nearby settlement to recruit the services of a musician, who then sings and plays a traditional song meant to coax the estranged mother and child together. Yes, it's a delightful animal story, but it's so much more than that, too. It's not only a story about a way of life that will be unfamiliar to many of us, but about how love is something that transcends geographic boundaries -- and species. Contains scenes of nude bathing and a birthing camel. In Mongolian with English subtitles.

"When Will I Be Loved" (R): This foul-mouthed, foul-minded excuse for an art film should be called "A Dirty Shame," and not John Waters's sweetly smutty satire. The drama, from director James Toback, concerns a trust-fund-bratty New York painter (Neve Campbell) who turns the tables on her sleazy boyfriend (Frederick Weller) when he tries to pimp her out to a creepy, white-haired mogul (Dominic Chianese). But, in the end, it's less a tale of female empowerment than the panting, misogynistic fantasy of a dirty old man. Contains nudity, obscenity, plentiful sexual content and brief violence.

Also on DVD Jan. 25: "The Crying Game: Collector's Edition," "Homicide: Life on the Street -- The Complete Season Six," "MacGyver: The Complete First Season," "Monster: Special Edition" and "Predator 2: Special Edition."

Jan. 18

"Catwoman" (PG-13): Halle Berry isn't Catwoman so much as a feline Janet Jackson in a series of bad glamour videos. Dressed in dominatrix leather, she performs vampy catwalks along high city ledges while the fake moon looms large in the night sky. The music rocks. That cat tail swings east and west. And special effects specialist-turned-director Pitof goes crazy with fragmentary editing and slanted camera angles. As for the story, which details how meek, gentle Patience Philips (Berry) came to be Catwoman, met a sexy detective (Benjamin Bratt) and defeated a skin cream empire, it goes down (and comes back up) like a hairball. Berry is a physical treat for many sets of eyes. But her assets aren't enough to carry this hilariously bad superhero saga. Contains cartoon violence and some sensuality.

"Cellular" (PG-13): In this dumb-fun suspense flick, Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) finds herself kidnapped. In desperation she pieces together a broken phone and reaches Ryan (Chris Evans), a lughead with six-pack abs who could morally use a mission. The story may be silly, but the suspense factor is surprisingly engaging: Ryan has to perform a complex rescue operation while maintaining cell-phone contact with her flimsy phone. "Cellular" is always charged, and its adroit suspense makes you overlook the silliness. Contains violence and obscenity.

"The Cookout" (PG-13): "Cookout's" slender excuse for a plot involves the supposed hijinks that ensue when the NBA's No. 1 college draft pick, Todd Anderson (Storm P), throws a barbecue to celebrate his success and all sorts of colorful characters show up. And by colorful characters, I mean such broad racial and sexual stereotypes as the 'Bama cousin, the poofy chef, the skanky 'ho, the thug, the sexually voracious white woman married to a black man, etc. Not only is this comedy not funny, but it has so many amateurish continuity problems -- dusk one minute, bright sunshine the next -- that it makes "Plan 9 From Outer Space" look like it was made by Steven Spielberg. Contains sexual, excretory and drug humor.

"The Forgotten" (PG-13): Julianne Moore plays Telly Paretta, whose 8-year-old son is suddenly missing, after embarking on a flight. But her psychiatrist (Gary Sinise) and even her husband (Anthony Edwards) insist no such son ever existed. Sound the "Twilight Zone" theme and the death knell for the movie. The scenario, which consists mostly of Telly running away from men in dark suits, gets worse and worse. It has its share of visceral surprises, slightly predictable and dumb when all is said and done. And best forgotten. Contains some violence and scary effects.

"Friday Night Lights" (PG-13): Based on the acclaimed nonfiction book by H.G. Bissinger about a small, west Texas town's affection for its winning-against-the-odds high school football team, director Peter Berg's warts-and-all examination of the Permian Panthers isn't conventional in any way. For one thing, its grainy, washed-out look and shaky-camera style make football fandom feel more like an addiction than a glorious obsession. For another, the plot, which follows the 1988 season under stoic coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), has an unexpected trajectory, especially considering that, at least initially, the story seems to conform to the it-all-comes-down-to-one-game formula. In other words, it's more sociology than hagiography. Even if you don't generally like sports movies, you might like this one. That's because its subject isn't really the game of football, but the game of life. Contains obscenity, sexual content, underage drinking, emotionally abusive parenting, often brutal gridiron action and occasional bouts of Texan talk so twangy you may wish there were subtitles.

"Rosenstrasse" (PG-13): Based on fact, Margarethe von Trotta's World War II-era flashback drama, about a group of Aryan German women who quietly but insistently fought their husbands' detention by the Nazis, is told in layered, time-skipping fashion, not because it's fashionable, but because it works. The story, you see, is as much about the heroism of the women, embodied by Lena (radiant Katja Riemann), as it is about the legacy of their actions, good and bad. That legacy reverberates across oceans and generations, touching the life of the young New York woman (Maria Shrader) who travels back to Berlin to learn about this fascinating footnote to recent history. Contains ugly anti-Semitism and the ever-present threat of violence.

Also on DVD Jan. 18: "Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season Three," "Kung Fu: The Complete Second Season" and "Kagemusha: Criterion Collection."

Jan. 11

"Paparazzi" (PG-13): Vigilante justice for the famous! That seems to be the rallying cry for this bizarre rabble rouser, in which we are asked to get behind the rich and famous in the face of our common enemy: those dirty tabloid photographers. An action movie star Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) has had it with obnoxious celebrity photographers. But when he takes a swing at psychotic snapper Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore), his problems only get worse. Rex and his band of fellow sleazes make it their business to harass Bo, even indirectly causing the actor to have a serious car accident, which leaves his wife injured and their young son in a coma. Now, the gloves are off and Bo takes his methodical, murderous revenge. Investigating detective Burton (Dennis Farina), who's convinced Bo's behind these revenge killings, is torn between arresting Bo and letting him perform what this movie clearly considers to be a public service. The fact that Mel Gibson produced this, and appears in a joke cameo as another angry celebrity, seems to indicate just whose real-life frustrations are being aired here. Contains intense violence, sexual content and obscenity.

"Silver City" (R): Writer-director John Sayles's quasi-political satire about evil political machinations in the state of Colorado is meant to be deceptively lighthearted and rich in moral dimension. It's none of the above. A goofy right-wing gubernatorial candidate (Chris Cooper), whose name is Richard "Dickie" Pilager, is oblivious to the special interests in his power circle. It takes an investigator (Danny Huston), ostensibly hired to help root out some of Dickie's enemies, to expose them all. The film, whose oversized cast includes Maria Bello, Kris Kristofferson, Tim Roth and Billy Zane, tries unsuccessfully to make a wry gumshoe noir out of an overarching, cross-sectional political diagram. It's a painfully forced affair with unamusing shtick from Cooper as the cloddish Dickie; Richard Dreyfuss as Dickie's neurotic, calculating right-hand man; and Darryl Hannah as Dickie's drug-addled, eccentric nympho sister. Contains obscenity and drug content.

"The Village" (PG-13): M. Night Shyamalan's mystery-thriller is about a fear-prone village that believes dangerous creatures lurk in the surrounding woods. When villager Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) suffers a fatal stabbing and needs outside medicine, his blind fiancee Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) decides to venture into that scary beyond. It's an intriguing premise until we see the silly Twilight Zone punchline. The movie has its suspense-filled moments. But for the most part, the film's a bewildering disappointment, given the talents of Shyamalan, who gave us "The Sixth Sense." Even a great storyteller like M. Night, it seems, can lead himself into the woods. Contains overall intensity and violence.

Also on DVD Jan. 11: "Monk: Season Two" and "Some Like It Hot: Special Edition."

Jan. 4

"Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" (PG-13): In this often crude but frequently hilarious twenty-something stoner comedy, Harold (John Cho), a Korean American investment banker, and his roommate-pal Kumar (Kal Penn), an Indian American med school student, develop a serious case of the munchies. They must eat the buy-'em-by-the-bag cheeseburgers of White Castle. Their trip becomes a Holy Grail mission on the Jersey Turnpike, full of unexpected mysteries, including encounters with scary animals, racist cops and a phantom redneck with oozy boils on his face. There's a lot of toilet humor but, as long as you're in the bathroom, you might as well be funny. Director Danny ("Dude, Where's My Car?") Leiner has made a peppy, satisfying comedy. Contains obscenity, nudity, drug use and crude humor.

"Little Black Book" (PG-13): This comedy is not well scripted enough or well acted enough to do much of anything, save make anyone watching really hate Brittany Murphy for being so annoying and so incredibly unlikely as a cute twenty-something Diane Sawyer wannabe. It's not even fully acted, since Murphy's character, Stacy Holt, basically narrates half of the movie. And when she's not stringing together cliches about life and love in her narration or trying to act like a girlfriend who is investigating past relationships of her boyfriend, Derek (Ron Livingston), she steps her annoyance level up a notch by singing multiple renditions of Carly Simon songs. Contains sexual content and language and a fairly graphic scene involving a gynecological exam.

"Riding Giants" (PG-13): The "giants" referred to in the title of surfer and professional skateboarder-turned-filmmaker Stacy Peralta's loving documentary history of big-wave surfing are not just the awesome breaks of Hawaii's Waimea Bay, Northern California's Maverick's and Tahiti's Teapuhoo ("cho-pu," to the cognoscenti). They're also the men who rode them. Correction: Make that ride them. Balancing his film between thrilling surf footage and talking-head interviews with such big men of the sport as Greg "The Bull" Noll (who today looks pretty much like any beefy, graying retiree in an aloha shirt and wire-frame glasses), Peralta takes us all the way from surfing's recreational Polynesian origins to such state-of-the-art practitioners as Laird Hamilton, who is to surfing what Tiger Woods is to golf. Contains obscenity, footage of dangerous surf and discussion of surfers who have died in rough water.

"Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2" (PG): It's hard to imagine that the people who saw the execrable first "Baby Geniuses" were such gluttons for punishment that they would want a second helping, but, then again, as H.L. Mencken said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." This one, revolving around a fugitive Nazi (Jon Voight) bent on world domination and an ageless, Fonzie-like superhero trapped in the body of a seven-year-old (played by brothers Gerry, Leo and Myles Fitzgerald), is even dumber than the original, with an improvised-sounding script and acting so bad that to call it wooden is insulting to marionettes. If there's a "Superbabies 3," I'm quitting my job and opening a bed-and-breakfast in Siberia. Contains a joke or two about diapers and gas, and lame martial-arts violence.

"Troy" (R): The only way to enjoy Wolfgang Petersen's nearly three-hour version of Homer's "Iliad" is as a Brad Pitt vehicle. Not that there's anything wrong with that. There's plenty of Pitt's muscle-bound Achilles to go around in this battle-rich epic. Just don't expect too much literal fidelity to the source material. For one thing, the gods are notably absent in this very human tale of love and revenge. Sure, there are no Olympians here, but the movie's godlike star probably comes the closest. Contains battlefield violence, extremely chaste nudity and some sexual content.

Also on DVD Jan. 4: "CSI: Miami -- The Complete Second Season" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Two-Disc Collector's Edition."

Dec. 28

"Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (PG-13): This Will Ferrell comedy is wonderfully silly all the time. Its premise has irresistible mileage: Ferrell as a '70s telegenic newsman-stud named Ron Burgundy, a clueless womanizer who hobnobs with a trio of moronic colleagues, sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), news reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). Ron's world gets a rough shakedown when he falls in love with the talented Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), who possesses actual journalistic skills, as opposed to the ability to read from a teleprompter. Written by Ferrell and director Andy McKay (a former "Saturday Night Live" writer), "Anchorman" rests on the likable funniness of Ferrell and his bag of unexpected tricks. Contains cartoonish violence to an animal, some obscenity, sexual situations, banter and an entire rendition of "Afternoon Delight."

"Benji: Off the Leash!" (PG): There are two canine stars in "Benji: Off the Leash!" -- one soulful, the other scrappy -- and it's not spelled out until the end who will wear the crowning collar tag "Benji." Though violence is rarely shown, it is suffused throughout the movie with convincing menace in the person of Terrence Hatchett (Chris Kendrick), a mean, mean, mean man running a Mississippi puppy mill. His sensitive son, Colby (Nick Whitaker), rescues a pup that Hatchett kicks and declares worthless, concealing the orphan, whom he calls Puppy, in an elaborate hidden fort. Heavy scenes of implied domestic and animal abuse are jarringly intercut with the lighthearted shtick of two Keystone Kops-like animal control agents dogged by a frisky stray they call Lizard Tongue, since he's always panting. When Puppy ventures out of the fort and meets up with Lizard Tongue, the two are a force to be reckoned with in sleepy Cuddaho County, barking truth to power and plotting to rescue Puppy's sick, painfully over-bred mother from the evil Hatchett. The overall unevenness of tone is the movie's biggest flaw, but the slo-mo scenes of doggie derring-do are quite funny, and the message about how to treat both humans and animals evergreen. Contains violence, mostly implied but some onscreen; theme of domestic abuse.

"Garden State" (R): New Jersey native Zach Braff wrote, directed and stars in this smart, funny story about a TV actor named Andrew (Braff), who returns to his Jersey home town. Everyone from his high school days, it seems, lives in the Twlight Zone, including Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), a gravedigger who helps himself to jewelry in coffins. But then Andrew runs into Samantha (Natalie Portman), an eccentric free spirit who rejuvenates his sleeping spirit. This edgy quasi-comedy is amazingly assured for a directorial debut, even if it is a little uneven. Portman is immediately enchanting and irritating at the same time. But in concert with the morose Andrew, her Sam comes out as colorful relief. Contains obscenity, sexual scenes, and drug and alcohol use.

"Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" (PG-13): I didn't see the first film, but I can only hope that the 1995 "Ghost in the Shell" wasn't as pretentious as this sequel to Japanese anime director Mamoru Oshii's cult classic. With dialogue that alternates betweens such Confucianisms as "No matter how far a jackass travels, it won't come back a horse" and exclamatory technobabble like "Rebuild the logic firewall!," this stylish but stupid detective cartoon concerns a cop (voice of Akio Ohtsuka) with the soul of a human trapped inside a cyborg body who is investigating the murder of a man by his "gynoid" sex robot. It's awful talky for a sci-fi thriller, yet it doesn't even have the decency to obey its own advice, as dispensed by one character who wryly notes that, "When dialogue fails, it's time for violence." Contains violence (but not nearly enough) and some obscenity. In Japanese with subtitles.

"Intimate Strangers" (R): William Faber (Fabrice Luchini), a shy, primly dressed tax consultant, becomes infatuated with a troubled woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) who mistakes him for a psychiatrist. Soon enough, Faber has "sessions" with this new "client," and hears in detail about her sexually troubled personal life. Of course he falls in love with her. This is a French movie, after all. It's roundly entertaining, a well-done chamber piece between two fascinating characters. Luchini shows why he has been a lasting staple of modern French cinema. He has a glistening stare that tells you about vulnerability, pent-up desires and a frazzled intelligence. And Bonnaire justifies William's intensity with effortless grace. No one has smoked a cigarette like that in recent memory. Contains frank sexual conversation and sexual situations.

"Open Water" (R): Tearing themselves away from the never-ending demands of yuppie life, Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) book a scuba-diving vacation on a Caribbean island. They find themselves alone in a shark-infested sea. Treading water. This digitally shot low-budget indie is clearly filmmaker Chris Kentis's Blair Fish Project. It has its spooky moments, but mostly our ingrained fear of sharks is the movie's real emotional engine. The two actors (who spent 120 hours filming this in real, shark-infested waters in the Caribbean), the story, and the lurching, empty sea that becomes our lasting image are just the collective ignition key. The dialogue is often very stilted and their relationship is rather banal. In the end, Kentis's efforts to build our affection for Susan and Daniel are less successful than the fearful situation in which he dunks them. Contains nudity, obscenity and emotional intensity.

"Resident Evil: Apocalypse" (R): Less a sequel to 2002's $100 million-grossing "prequel" to the wildly popular video game than a next game level, "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" returns everyone's favorite biochemical warrior Alice (buff Milla Jovovich) to Raccoon City to battle persistent-though-undead corpses and the evil Umbrella Corps. This time, a biogenetically enhanced Alice gets help from two popular "Resident Evil 2" and "3" characters -- tough-cop-who-looks- like-a-hooker Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and S.T.A.R.S. leader Carlos Oliveira (Oded Fehr) -- and confronts the hulking, over-armed genetic freak Nemesis, as well as nasty Lickers and those funky Dobermans from Hell. Plot and narrative? Minimal. Confrontations? Endless. Surprises? None. If only something could reanimate the dead brain cells of scripter Paul W.S. Anderson, who leaves the directing to first-time helmer Alexander Witt. Contains nonstop violence, obscenity and nudity.

"Wicker Park" (PG-13): The story of a young man (Josh Hartnett) who thinks he has rediscovered his long-lost love (Diane Kruger), only to find himself the victim of a creepy stalker (Rose Byrne), "Wicker Park" wouldn't exist if its characters -- and I'm talking about the sane ones -- simply behaved as you or I do. From balky cell phones to nonexistent answering machines to best friends who don't deliver messages in a timely fashion, the film is a litany of miscommunication. The film lets us in on the twist halfway through the tale, at which point "Wicker Park" becomes a soggy love triangle. Contains obscenity and sensuality.

"Wimbledon" (PG-13): Set during the famed tennis tournament known as Wimbledon that takes place annually at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, "Wimbledon" is really two movies in one. The first, and lesser of the two, is a trite love story about a rising American hotshot player (Kirsten Dunst) and the has-been Brit athlete (Paul Bettany) who falls for her (and, not incidentally, re-ignites his career, thanks to their apparently hot sex). The second film, which is the more interesting of the two, concerns the psychological game all world-class athletes must play. This takes place mostly inside the head of Bettany's character, Peter, whose film "Wimbledon" really is. It is far more engaging than that foreground romance, and director Richard Loncraine makes Peter's sweaty self-doubt and surge of confidence feel, at times, viscerally, visibly real. Contains obscenity, sexual content and a couple of smacks to the face.

Also on DVD Dec. 28: "Sex and the City: Season Six, Part 2" and "King of the Hill: The Complete Third Season."

Dec. 21

"De-Lovely" (PG-13): An aged Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) and a friendly stranger called Gabe (Jonathan Pryce) look at Cole's personal and artistic life, as if it were a stage play. It would take a powerful movie to transcend this stagy conceit, and "De-Lovely" isn't that movie. The story-within-the-story focuses on Cole's relationship with his wife, Linda Porter (Ashley Judd), who championed his music and ignored (as much as she could) the songwriter's homosexual persuasions. But despite a subject of immense potential, the film's inert and uninvolving. The flashback scenes, which cover 40 years of Porter's life, never rise above the canned poignancy of a bio-film. Porter's songs, interpreted by a wide variety of singers from Natalie Cole to Elvis Costello, are the movie's only good thing. Contains post-coital canoodling and sexual references.

"King Arthur" (PG-13): This revisionist version of the Arthurian legend, which traces the origins of the well-known saga of knights and derring-do to the 5th century is a bracing tonic to all that "Camelot"-style, Holy Grail hoo-ha that many of us grew up with. In the film by director Antoine Fuqua (written by David "Gladiator" Franzoni and produced by Jerry "Pirates of the Caribbean" Bruckheimer), Arthur (Clive Owen) is the half-Roman, half-British commander of a troop of reluctant foreign conscripts guarding the Roman territory south of Hadrian's Wall against incursions by Picts and Saxons. Guinevere (Keira Knightley) is a ferocious Pict warrior, while the only sorcery that her father, Merlin (Stephen Dillane), knows is the magic of guerrilla warfare. The story may owe as much to the "Lord of the Rings" cycle as to history, but the whole thing still feels like a breath of fresh air blowing the dust off a very old tale. Contains intense but generally gore-free battle scenes, some bawdy talk and sensuality.

"The Manchurian Candidate" (R): Director Jonathan Demme and screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris clearly pored over John Frankenheimer's original 1962 cold war thriller and retrofitted everything. Now it's a post-Gulf War Halliburton-dunit, a movie about corporate evil, mind control and political maneuvering. It's an intriguing transmogrification which, ultimately, becomes too torturously labored to believe. But the performers are a hoot: Denzel Washington as the heroic Maj. Bennett Marco; Liev Schreiber as the disturbingly chilly loose cannon, Raymond Shaw, and Meryl Streep (reprising the role made legendary by Angela Lansbury) as a disconcerting ambition machine who'll stop at nothing to reach the White House. With characters like these squaring off, and a climactic finale set on the main stage of a political convention, you can't help thinking: Bring it on. Contains violence and obscenity.

"Napoleon Dynamite" (PG): In Jared Hess's deadpan-funny indie comedy, Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is a scrawny nerd from Preston, Idaho, whose eyes are lost behind the semi-opaque haze of his glasses and who packs some wicked comments for his tormentors. As he weathers his oppressive worlds at home and school, he seems to exist in a live-action version of Mike Judge's TV cartoons ("Beavis and Butt-head," "King of the Hill") or Todd Solondz's suburban geek epic "Welcome to the Dollhouse." Jon Gries is hilariously out-there as Napoleon's incredibly narcissistic Uncle Rico. So is Aaron Ruell as his reclusive, thirty-something brother, Kip. And as Napoleon's withdrawn friend Pedro, Efren Ramirez is almost too odd to chuckle at. You ain't seen nothing, by the way, till you've seen Napoleon attack that tether ball. Contains some sexual innuendo.

"Shaun of the Dead" (R): In the affectionately playful tradition of such comedies as "From Dusk Till Dawn" and "Bubba Ho-tep," "Shaun of the Dead" arrives as perhaps the first bona fide "rom zom com," or romantic zombie comedy. The film's co-writer Simon Pegg stars as the title character, a 29-year-old arrested adolescent who is being dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood. His girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), wants him to spend less time drinking at the local pub and playing video games with his roommate, Ed (Nick Frost); his stepfather, Philip (the sublime Bill Nighy), wants him to be more devoted to his indulgent mother (Penelope Wilton); and Shaun's job managing an insolent sales staff at an appliance store is going nowhere. Shaun is dying a slow death, which is why it takes him a little while to realize that his friends and neighbors are doing things such as eating live flesh. "Shaun of the Dead" zips along with cheeky humor, some of which may be lost on American viewers but most of which translates with hilarious ease. If a genuine sense of peril is missing from the proceedings -- let's just say "Shaun's" zombies could use a week or two of training with the quicker specimens in "28 Days Later" -- the comedy unfolds with enough alacrity and verbal flair to make up for it. Contains zombie violence, gore and profanity.

"Thunderbirds" (PG): This abomination of a movie (imagine a bad "Spy Kids" episode full of master-race dudes in silly space uniforms, all high-fiving each other) is a woeful attempt to introduce American audiences to the classic British TV show, a charming series that featured puppets. Both the movie and series are about a family called the Tracys who live on a remote fortress island, which is the base for their International Rescue team. The five sons all fly supercrafts outfitted for various types of emergencies in different terrains, from outer space to underwater. This live-action version doesn't come close to the original spirit. Instead, this movie uses a cringe-worthy story about a new, younger Tracy, who goes to school in the United States, and dreams of joining his cool brothers on their F.A.B. missions. He gets his wish when the Hood (Ben Kingsley) decides to take over the island. Let this be an opportunity, however, for you to check out the original "Thunderbirds" and rent some of those original shows, now on DVD. Contains nothing objectionable apart from the whole movie.

"Two Brothers" (PG): In French director Jean-Jacques Annaud's story, two real tigers are separated when young and taken into captivity, only to face each other years later as adult tigers who are goaded into fighting each other. Of course, they "recognize" each other. The tigers are adorable and fuzzy. And the film's sentiments -- the immorality of stealing or hunting rare species, such as the tiger -- are spot-on. But the story, which features an apparently lobotomized Guy Pearce as an opportunistic explorer and hunter who learns the errors of his ways, is deeply dull. For fans of wild beauty only. Contains implied, off-screen violence.

Also on DVD Dec. 21: "The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season."

Dec. 14

"Collateral" (R): Tom Cruise is Vincent, a slick contract killer who forces cabdriver Max (Jamie Foxx) to keep the motor running while he knocks off his targets. Both men, it turns out, are equally matched. Director Michael Mann, the riverboat captain of narrative flow, has a knack for making one moment lap into the next. The suspense in "Collateral" turns on desperation, character and situation, as opposed to firepower, muscle and engine torque. Cruise is wonderfully bad. And Foxx is entirely believable as the reserved, silent dreamer, who realizes he's not going to take this anymore. In Steve Beattie's adroit screenplay, Vincent is going to be his worst nightmare and, in a way, his greatest blessing. Contains violence and obscenity.
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"The Door in the Floor" (R): Based on the first section of John Irving's novel "A Widow for One Year," this highfalutin drama about East Hamptons angst, lost children and "Summer of '42" sexual fantasy, splashes around in shallow tidal pools of cliche and familiarity. But it's almost worth it to watch Jeff Bridges as Ted Cole, a children's book writer and illustrator whose marriage to Marion (Kim Basinger) has gone to hell. Lately, Ted's been dabbling with the emotionally suggestible Mrs. Vaughn (a bravely naked Mimi Rogers) for nude poses and passionate quickies. His troubles are exacerbated when aspiring writer Eddie O'Hare (Jon Foster) offers himself to Ted as a gushingly eager intern and becomes attracted to Marion. Now two men find themselves caught in hot water, and at odds with each other. Contains obscenity, sexual content and graphic images.
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"I, Robot" (PG-13): This Will Smith sci-fi fantasy, based in part on Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot" collection of short stories, intercuts live action and computer-generated imagery with breathtaking seamlessness. It's about a detective (Smith), who has to investigate the possibility that society's latest line of friendly robots, created by the benevolent Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), could be contemplating a violent revolution. With the slow-moving help of Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), a psychologist with an expertise in robots (or something), Spooner begins to uncover, well, what detectives always do in these films. The movie is a fabulous mental escape: playful rather than dark and foreboding. The effects are wonderful, Smith's highly likable, and Alex ("The Crow") Proyas's direction is punchy. Contains computer digital violence and maybe a mild flash of nudity.
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"The Princess Diaries 2" (G): Luckily, "Princess Diaries 2" doesn't promote the stereotype still prevalent in popular culture that a princess (read: woman) is weak or somehow broken without a male counterpart. Though it banks its plot on the quest of its main character, Mia (Anne Hathaway), to find a man within 30 days or risk giving up her throne, the film focuses on Mia's reluctance to do so and her grandmother's challenging of an old law that states princesses must be married before becoming queen. Sometimes charming, sometimes a tad too silly and all the time predictable, the film gives you what you'd expect and doesn't take many chances besides allowing for the possibility that a princess might be okay without a husband. But even giving a belated nod to women's lib might just be a sneaky way to open doors for movie No. 3. Contains kissing and mild sensuality.
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"We Don't Live Here Anymore" (R): Grounded by the remarkable ensemble acting of Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts and Peter Krause as married couples who cheat on each other with each other, "We Don't Live Here Anymore" feels less like a movie than the experience of being a fly on the wall during some very awkward conversations. If you like that sort of thing -- and I do -- you'll have a field day. In addition to the performances, the script (adapted by Larry Gross from a pair of stories by Andre Dubus) and direction (by John Curran) underscore the reality that making marriages work can be, well, work, and unpleasant work at that. Those looking for escapism would do well to consider the fact that "We Don't Live Here Anymore" will make you feel like you've moved in, if only for a short while, with the sad and sometimes bilious people who reside there. Contains obscenity, talk of sex and scenes involving sex and nudity.
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Also on DVD Dec. 14: "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King -- Platinum Series Extended Edition," "Mary Poppins: Collector's Edition" and "Top Gun: Collector's Edition."

Dec. 7

"Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid" (PG-13): With a cast of attractive nobodies and a flat-out preposterous plot, "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid" still manages to one-up its predecessor, 1997's unintentionally campy "Anaconda." That's because "Anacondas" embraces its identity. It knows it's nothing more than an instantly forgettable thriller, so it figures it may as well have some fun before making the quick trip to DVD. Morris Chestnut plays one member of a scientific group that heads to Borneo in search of an extremely rare orchid that blooms for just one week. If retrieved and brought back to the United States, the orchid could be used to create the pharmaceutical equivalent of the fountain of youth. But before our scientists can feel the flower's power, they'll have to confront massive, human-consuming anacondas. That's how you know this movie is scarier than the original. This time, the title's plural. Once this movie's momentum gets going, watching it is like experiencing a schlocky monster movie, "Lord of the Flies" and Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey" video all at once. But unlike the J. Lo version, this film uses more convincing special effects, doesn't take itself too seriously and provides much-needed comic relief in the form of Eugene Byrd, who plays the perpetually freaked-out Cole. Contains action violence, scary images and some language.
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"The Bourne Supremacy" (PG-13): Matt Damon, reprising his role as Jason Bourne, is outwardly chilly and ruthless but passionately engaged. He has one simple mission. It needs no memorandums, no briefings, no contact with spy handlers. The former CIA assassin has to keep one step away from an assailant, and possibly more. It's great to see an action movie that takes the dirty business seriously: ruthless agents with questionable allegiance, contract killers who can't be stopped, shady doublespeak in Langley backrooms and such evocative post-Cold War locales as Berlin and Moscow. If Bourne seems like a cold being, that's because he's an instrument of survival. In this movie, you're a candidate to be toe-tagged if you don't pay attention. Contains obscenity and violence.
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"Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" (PG-13): Ben Stiller's wickedly funny as the wonderfully repulsive White Goodman, the '70s-coiffed, spandex-attired owner of an exclusive fitness center called Globo Gym. (He suggests the lovechild of Eric Roberts in "Star 80.") Vince Vaughn is also funny as Peter La Fleur, the lackadaisical owner of Average Joe's, a gym for the lumpy, tubby, meek and generally anti-Adonis crowd. When they field opposing teams to compete in a dodgeball contest for $50,000, the movie turns into a spirited spoof on every misfit-team caper from "The Longest Yard" to "The Mighty Ducks." The movie's full of down-and-dirty (but funny) gags and one-liners, and memorable scenes, especially between laid-back Peter and almost psychotically intense White, who refuses to let his complete incompetence with vocabulary or the English language interfere with his self-adoration or misfired sarcasm. Contains obscenity and lewd, crude humor.
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"Maria Full of Grace" (R): As the title character, Catalina Sandino Moreno is a Colombian Mona Lisa, a delicate, 17-year-old soul who agrees to become a drug "mule." This means ingesting multiple capsules of rubber-sealed heroin and smuggling the stash into the United States. Writer-director Joshua Marston has made a powerful modern allegory that holds us tightly in its grip. This is a cold-fever ordeal, not only for Maria but us, as pressures worsen. We can almost feel the cold, clammy skin. We hear the heavy breathing of fear. It's a white-knuckle drama, and many of its climactic scenes will rip holes through your heart. But it's a stunner of a film. And if there's anyone to help us go through this white-knuckle trip, it's Maria. Contains overall intensity, obscenity and bloodshed. In Spanish and English with subtitles.
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Also on DVD Dec. 7: "Carnivale: The First Season," "George Stevens Centennial Classics," "M," "The Ultimate Matrix Collection" and "Wild at Heart: Special Edition."

Nov. 30

"Hero" (PG-13): Zhang Yimou, the Chinese filmmaker who gave us such classics as "Red Sorghum" and "Ju Dou," has created a breathtaking, 3rd century B.C. epic about almost supernatural martial artists who walk on water, hang in the air, and slice and dice their opponent into a thousand slivers with breathtaking elegance. This wuxia (martial arts) film, in which an unnamed warrior (Jet Li) remembers (or misremembers, that's the intriguing mystery), his battles with the likes of Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Sky (Donnie Yen) is a graceful, stunning dream. Siu-Tung Ching's choreography is amazing. You're so caught up in these ancient times, you're loath to return to present-day normalcy. Contains stylized martial arts violence and a scene of sensuality.
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"Spider-Man 2" (PG-13): This follow-up film to "Spider-Man" is as fine a repeat experience as our foolish, creativity-challenged tradition of sequelizing allows. You can't ask for more than that. The movie, directed with precision and an appreciation for (relatively) rich character texture by Sam Raimi, remembers all the fine elements of the original film (and the comic book story), including wonderfully choreographed, skyscraper-hanging fights, and that achy-breaky relationship between Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). It also reprises the charmingly hokey affection between Peter and his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and introduces a memorable villain: Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a scientist who is fused with the evil he has wrought, a man caught and forever connected to four metallic pincered arms. The film's touching, fun and alert. Contains comic book violence.
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Also on DVD Nov. 30: "Northern Exposure: The Second Season," "The Billy Madison/Happy Gilmore Collection."

Nov. 23

"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (PG): It's not just the child actors who look all grown up in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." The filmmaking does, too. Alfonso Cuaron -- director of the Oscar-nominated "A Little Princess" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien" -- has made a grim, atmospheric movie that is so much more sophisticated than its predecessors, both visually and in terms of storytelling, that it's hard to believe the source material is the same. The movie is not perfect, or even close, but it delivers on the promise of J.K. Rowling's novels to a far greater extent. At the start of his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry learns that Sirius Black, the wizard whose betrayal of his parents resulted in their deaths, has escaped from Azkaban, the wizarding equivalent of a maximum-security penitentiary -- and he's coming after Harry. Aside from Cuaron's complete disavowal of cuddliness, the most notable difference in "Azkaban" is the burgeoning maturity of the film's three lead actors. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) look older, old enough for there to be -- ewww -- sexual tension between Ron and Hermione. "Azkaban" excels at capturing -- and elaborating on -- the details that make the books such a delight. While Rowling introduced the hippogriff -- half griffin, half horse -- it's Cuaron who answers the question, "What do hippogriff droppings look like?" Contains fisticuffs, an implied beheading and a sad sack werewolf.
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"Sleepover" (PG): "Sleepover" lives up to the Hollywood cliche of the out-crowd winning against the in-crowd, and does it without some of the more lewd elements that show up in teen flicks these days. Geared toward tweens, the movie follows four graduating eighth-graders who want to improve their social status before their freshman year. Julie (Alexa Vega of "Spy Kids" fame) has three friends over for a birthday sleepover on the last day of junior high school. When one of the popular-girls-in-training unexpectedly shows up at Julie's sleepover and challenges the girls to a scavenger hunt against her crew to play for the coveted lunch table at their future high school, they accept the dare. They break parental rules and sneak out of the house to complete the tasks. Moviegoers can take what they want from it, whether that be a sense of empowerment, that girls get more attention when they dress a certain way or just that there's a cute new hunk to chat about on message boards. Contains kissing and a tame nightclub scene.

"The Terminal" (PG): Foreign visitor Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) lands in New York's JFK airport, only to find himself stateless, since his (fictional) country of Krakozhia is undergoing a military coup. The airport supervisor (Stanley Tucci) informs Victor he must accordingly wait for maybe weeks in the terminal. So begins a physically claustrophobic yet highly entertaining caper set in a mini-universe of Starbucks, Borders, escalators and pushcarts. Viktor joins a funny community that includes food-services grunt (Diego Luna), a friendly customs officer (Zoe Saldana), an eccentric Indian floor cleaner (Kumar Pallana), and romantically needy flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who's forever coming and going. The movie's delicately funny and inventive, thanks to writers Andrew ("The Truman Show") Niccol, Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson (who wrote "Catch Me if You Can"), and Steven Spielberg, who knows how to make a great story out of relatively little. Contains mild sexual content.
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Also on DVD Nov. 23: The first three seasons of "Seinfeld" and the 2004 World Series.

Nov. 16

"The Chronicles of Riddick" (PG-13): In this convoluted follow-up to "Pitch Black," Vin Diesel reprises his role as the space adventurer Richard P. Riddick. Five years after the events of the first film, Riddick -- a big, strapping dude with ice-blue eyes for night vision and a vocal cadence that suggests Elmer Fudd on steroids -- finds himself captured by Lord Marshal (Colm Feore) and his nasty army of Necromongers. Stuck in a hard-core underground prison on the volcanic planet of Crematoria, he reencounters Kyra (Alexa Davalos), a woman he has some history with; and gets a little help from Aereon (Dame Judi Dench), an ambassador of the Elemental race, who's able to transform herself, float in the air and move through objects. The muddy story essentially revolves around the star's cool-guy poses and one-liners. For Diesel fans only, at best. Contains sci-fi violence, noise and some obscenity.
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"Elf" (PG): As a human mistakenly raised by Santa's elves, Will Ferrell is about the only reason to see this movie; that, and a rare opportunity to see a PG-rated family film. When Buddy (Ferrell) learns of his human origins, he makes the journey to Manhattan in search of his birth father (James Caan), an insensitive children's book publisher who's out of touch with wife Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and son Michael (Daniel Tay). Ferrell's wild-eyed goofiness, his seemingly impenetrable naivete and the fact that he's a 6-foot-plus man in a green costume give the movie a moderate share of funny moments. But it's way, way short of hilarious. Contains mild rude humor and language.

"I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" (R): The title of this deliciously dark, psychological thriller from director Mike Hodges ("Croupier") suggests both denial and acceptance. On the one hand, the words might be taken as the motto of its brooding antihero, Will Graham (Clive Owen), a former gangster who comes out of retirement to doggedly get to the bottom of, and punish those responsible for, the death of his younger brother (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) -- even though Will discovers, in the course of his investigation, that the kid died by suicide. On the other hand, "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" could be read as a sigh of resignation, if not outright yearning, for the slumber afforded by the grave, which, in a way, offers more relief from torment than the cold satisfactions of revenge do. Contains obscenity, violence and drug use.

"The Saddest Music in the World" (Not rated): Playing like a celluloid dream directed by, say, David Lynch and starring the Marx Brothers, Guy Maddin's story of a legless beer baron (Isabella Rossellini) offering a cash prize for the discovery of the world's saddest music boasts wall-to-wall weirdness, which should surprise no one familiar with the Canadian filmmaker's "Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary." Sure, there's a narrative, but it's so stylized, arcane and satirical, it's going to take the most committed of art-house audiences to follow it. As with certain vivid dreams, you're left with memorable images, but not completely able to account for what you just experienced. Contains bizarre themes, some obscenity and some violence.

Also on DVD Nov. 16: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Seventh Season," "The Andy Griffith Show: Season One," "Fanny And Alexander: The Criterion Collection," "The Hebrew Hammer," "The Office Special" and "Short Cuts: The Criterion Collection."

Nov. 9

"Before Sunset" (R): I can't say that I was losing any sleep wondering whatever happened to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), the lovers whose one-night stand in Vienna formed the subject of Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise." Still, even I felt ripped off by the 1995 film's sequel, which reveals that the pair, reunited in Paris, still care for each other. What it does not quite reveal is what Jesse, who is now married with a kid, and Celine, who is seriously involved with a photojournalist, intend to do about it. Those more charitable than I might say this cliffhanger ends with a note of deliciously ambiguous romantic tension. I say it's coitus interruptus, and I say the heck with it. Contains obscenity and sex talk.
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"The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" (R): Ninjas come at this unassuming, gray-haired, blind masseur with everything: sticks, knives, swords, flying kicks, edge-of-the-hand chops. But Zatoichi leaves them in felled, blood-spouting piles. As the legendary blind hero of Kan Shimozawa's novels, Takeshi Kitano (also the writer-director) takes up where all those western gunslingers left off. The violence is cartoonish rather than realistic. Kitano has an impish sense of humor and surprise, alternating scenes of Zen calm with outbursts of fighting. And let's not forget the "Riverdance"-style stick-and-dance ensemble number. While Kitano the performer fights with his seemingly endless array of enemies, Kitano the filmmaker makes sure that everything is beautiful, from the wonderful colors and passing tableaux to the intricate fighting choreography. Contains intense violence and some sexual content.
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"The Clearing" (R): This thriller, by longtime-producer-turned-director Pieter Jan Brugge, does a workmanlike job of creating menace. But it gradually loses its way. Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) has built himself a small American empire: a fine home in a wealthy Pittsburgh suburb with his wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren). But a stranger (Willem Dafoe), who has been stalking him, kidnaps Wayne and turns his life upside down. Eileen must endure emotional upheaval and cooperate with an FBI agent (Matt Craven) who uncovers inconvenient revelations about Wayne. Redford's performance is strong and assured. He projects the right balance of confidence and moral malaise. But neither he nor the filmmakers justify our initial investment in the movie. We find ourselves looking for the wrong sort of clearing: a way out. Contains some obscenity.
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"The Stepford Wives" (PG-13): In this over-the-top remake of the 1975 film (a better, more ominous version), TV producer Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) is fired and takes a break in the genteel Connecticut suburb of Stepford. But she soon learns she's in the land of Betty Crocker gone insane, where rich, geeky husbands have turned their wives into psychotically enthusiastic homemakers and sex-on-demand nymphos. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick (who wrote both "Addams Family" movies and "In & Out") goes for jokes by the bagful. But he and director Frank Oz come up hackneyed when it comes to making fun of WASP snobbery, mass consumption and male insecurity. "The Stepford Wives" provides funny but mutely safe giggles about former frat boys and nerds who have turned their wives into robots. It's only Rudnick's humor that helps you get through any of it. Contains sexual content and some obscenity.
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Also on DVD Nov. 9: "Friends: The Complete Eighth Season," "Gone With the Wind: Collector's Edition," "The L Word: The Complete First Season," "MASH: Season Seven" and "The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection."

Nov. 5

"Shrek 2" (PG): Set in the Hollywood-like kingdom of Far Far Away, "Shrek 2" pokes fun at a host of movies and television conventions, along with the very idea of fairy tales. Hoping to get started on the "happy ever after" part of their marriage, Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) and new bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz) take a trip from Shrek's home in the swamp to meet her parents (John Cleese and Julie Andrews), who are none too pleased to see their daughter wedded to an ogre. Daddy hires a hit man (Antonio Banderas as a hilarious Puss in Boots), even as Shrek sets out to remake himself in an image more pleasing to his wife. The jokes come rapid-fire (so fast you'll have to see it twice or wait for the DVD to catch them all), and the resolution of the complications is heartwarming. Contains some edgy humor, mild jokes about body fluids and gasses, vaguely sexual references along the lines of "a roll in the hay" and slapstick violence.
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Nov. 2

"Around the World in 80 Days" (PG): Jackie Chan continues to strain himself to the point of bursting major blood vessels to be rubbery fun. It's cringe-inducing to watch. In this zestless remake of the 1956 movie, he's Lau Xing, a Chinese villager along for the ride, caught up in a globe-traveling stunt. Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), a 19th-century inventor, bets the imperious Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), head of the Royal Academy of Science, that he can traverse the globe in 80 days; and Lau (whom Phileas dubs Passepartout), who is trying to smuggle a jade Buddha home to his Chinese village, joins him. Coogan, one of England's funniest comedians, is made into an unconvincing leading man. And in the worst cameo of anyone's career, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Prince Hapi, a royal Turkish womanizer, who temporarily interrupts Phileas's journey. Contains action violence, some crude humor and mild obscenity.
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"Facing Windows" (Not rated): In Ferzan Ozpetek's Italian-language film, Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and her husband, Filippo (Filippo Nigro), are obliged to house an old man (the late Massimo Girotti) who has lost his memory. Meanwhile, Giovanna, who's unhappy in her marriage, is attracted to a handsome neighbor (Raoul Bova) who lives across the road. Gradually Giovanna gains an appreciation for the old man, who has quite a story to tell about the Holocaust, if he can only remember. It's a diverting movie, but not for one minute do you think you're watching actual, real people. Just actors, lit up, beautiful and performing away. And of course, being attractive. The best way to appreciate the movie is to get lost in the surface. Contains nudity, some obscenity, some disturbing themes and sexual situations.
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"Festival Express" (R): Lost for 35 years, "Festival Express" finally arrives in theaters and joins "Woodstock" and "Gimme Shelter" as a classic documentary about late '60s and early '70s rock festivals. This long-forgotten 1970 tour was Woodstock-on-wheels, as a private train carried the Grateful Dead, the Band, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, the Flying Burrito Brothers and others on a five-day jaunt through Canada, three whistle-stop concerts amplified by a round-the-clock jam session/party aboard the train. Film crews recorded it all, but when the tour lost a bundle after "free music" agitators protested the $14 ticket, the raw film disappeared until some music archivists found 60 hours of beautifully shot but unedited 16mm footage and 90 hours of unmixed audio in Canada's National Archives. Bob Smeaton ("The Beatles Anthology") reenvisions the event, adding some contemporary interviews with surviving musicians, promoters, journalists and fans, but the heart of the film is in the official and spontaneous performances, all brought to crystalline clarity by engineer and remix master Eddie Kramer. The Band and the Dead are in peak form, but the revelation is Janis Joplin, whose ferocious, full-throated, rhythm-and-mostly-blues renderings of "Tell Mama" and "Cry Baby" may well be her most powerful filmed performances (less than three months later, she was dead of a drug overdose). The jams are also great fun -- Jerry Garcia, who clearly loved the all-music-all-the-time focus of this short, strange trip, would call the Festival Express "the best time I ever had in rock 'n' roll." Contains adult language.

"A Home at the End of the World" (R): People come and go through Bobby and Jonathan's lives: family members, neighbors, short-term lovers and one newborn. But Bobby (Colin Farrell) and Jonathan (Dallas Roberts) -- friends, onetime lovers and virtually brothers -- are rarely apart. They're family in the oddest way. Director Michael Mayer and scriptwriter Michael ("The Hours") Cunningham don't have the screen time to explore the main and subsidiary characters in Cunningham's novel. But they do well with the episodes, particularly in the first half. Farrell exudes a tremulous, shy quality. Roberts is memorable too as the complex Jonathan. But Robin Wright Penn coruscates as the life-affirmative Clare, whose determination to make sense of her relationships with Bobby and Jonathan is the movie's secret ingredient. Contains drug use, sexual scenes and obscenity.
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Also Out on DVD Nov. 2: "Dazed and Confused: Flashback Edition," "Daredevil: Director's Cut," "Dr. Strangelove: 40th Anniversary Special Edition," "Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Two" and "The West Wing: The Complete Third Season."

Oct. 26

"Control Room" (Not rated): The cultural and religious fault lines between Western and Eastern news coverage of the Iraq invasion are made all too clear in Jehane Noujaim's enlightening, if structurally wandering documentary. The Egyptian American filmmaker attended news briefings by Centcom (the abbreviation for the American military's U.S. Central Command), witnessed candid conversations between foreign journalists and Centcom press officer Lt. Josh Rushing, and spent virtually unlimited time in the al-Jazeera newsroom. She also conducted many interviews with, and followed around, al-Jazeera journalists. The documentary covers the main highlights of the war's media coverage, including al-Jazeera's highly controversial decision to show footage of captured American troops, and the eventual fall of Baghdad. It shows a resistance to truth on both sides of the ideological news divide. Many members of the American media may have been embedded prisoners of the Pentagon's propaganda machine, but al-Jazeera has its own agenda, too, using hyperbole and slanted coverage to show the U.S. forces in as poor a light as possible. Contains disturbing carnage of soldiers and civilians, including children.

"Dawn of the Dead" (R): This excellent re-imagining of the 1978 horror classic wastes no time cutting to the chase -- literally. Within minutes, it's us vs. them, with them being hordes upon hordes of cannibalistic zombies and us being a small band of tasty survivors holed up in a shopping mall. Led by the wonderful Sarah Polley, the group of walking MREs (meals ready to eat) must also contend with lots of catty infighting among themselves, which always livens up a good survivor saga. As any aficionado of the genre knows, though, the real payoff in any zombie flick is its mix of edgy humor and raw terror, which this film combines to beautiful, operatic effect. Contains obscenity, sensuality, pervasive violence and, to put it mildly, lots and lots of blood.
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"White Chicks" (PG-13): In this banshee-howlingly awful caper, tiresomely drawn from a few dozen other bad cross-dressing films of the forgettable past, Marlon and Shawn Wayans (the untalented end of the family) are two disgraced FBI agents. Determined to show they have the right stuff, they volunteer to pose as doubles for two white, pampered heiresses, Brittany and Tiffany (Maitland Ward and Anne Dudek), who are in danger of being kidnapped. Cue the latex breasts, the blond wigs and both Wayans speaking in "knee-slapping" mall-princess falsetto. Laugh? I thought I'd never start. Contains crude and sexual humor, obscenity and drug use.
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Also Out on DVD Oct. 26: "21 Jump Street: First Season," "Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes Collection," "Mulan: Special Edition" and "The O.C.: The First Complete Season."

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