Recently Released Videos and DVDs

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The following is a list of recently released DVDs and videos. All capsule reviews have been taken from The Washington Post's Weekend section.
Here are the dates for films "coming soon" to DVD and video; for a favorite title from the past, use our Video Finder to search our review archive. And for the scoop on DVD extras, read the latest "Bonus Points" column.

November 11

  • "Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd" (PG-13): In this prequel (or excuse to use a known franchise for secondhand glory) to the Farrelly brothers' funnier 1994 film, which starred Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, young Lloyd and Harry (Eric Christian Olsen and Derek Richardson) meet for the first time as high schoolers and act unfunny for almost an hour and a half. Apart from a handful of briefly funny moments, it's a flop. Even such gross-out scenes as the feces smearing of a bathroom (meant to pay tribute to the notorious bathroom scene in the first film) are disappointingly flat. Olsen gives as good as he's got, but he's no Jim Carrey. And Richardson, who plays the fright-wigged Harry, is even less. Contains crude, sex-related humor and sexual situations.
  • "The Housekeeper" (Not rated): French writer-director Claude Berri's enjoyable film is about Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bacri), a middle-aged recent divorce who advertises for a cleaning lady. Laura (Emilie Dequenne), the first to answer his ad, is attractive, in her twenties and slightly eccentric. Polite tension becomes fast-breaking intimacy. Berri, maker of "Jean de Florette," "Manon of the Spring," "Uranus" and "Germinal," has a canny sense of comfortable entertainment. With only two characters to carry the story, he's quite content to build their relationship with dramatic peaks and valleys and slowly introduce others to the equation, including Jacques's ex-wife, Constance (Catherine Breillat), and his contemporary, Ralph (Jacques Frantz), who collects and names chickens, paints their portraits and, later, eats them. Contains sexual situations, nudity and some obscenity.
  • "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" (PG-13): This Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle goes through the motions of the two earlier "Terminator" films, each of which was about the efforts of a time-traveling robot to go back in time to kill -- or "terminate" -- a man destined to lead a revolt against a mechanized future. This sequel, however, lacks the wit and low-tech charm of the first movie, and the humanity of the second. Like "T2," the story concerns the pursuit of Messiah-to-be John Connor (Nick Stahl, replacing Edward Furlong) by a deadly cyborg (Kristanna Loken). Schwarzenegger, who played Connor's tormentor in the first film and his protector in the second, returns as Connor's poker-faced bodyguard here, but his character has no rapport whatsoever with his now-grown charge, and the loud and silly accumulation of one chase scene after another sufffers from the lack of the father-son dynamic that made "T2" an action film with heart. Contains sci-fi/action violence, vehicular mayhem and obscenity.

    November 4

  • "Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights" (PG-13): This animated feature, an unorthodox, politically incorrect holiday movie musical (sort of) set around Hanukah, has all the essentials for Adam Sandler's kind of success: toilet humor, insult one-liners, bawdy irreverence, alcohol abuse and just about everything to make parents roll their eyes but rent the video for their kids anyway. Delinquent Davey Stone (Sandler) gets a new lease on life when he's saved from prison by Whitey (Sandler too), a small, bearded coot who runs the local youth basketball program. Predictably, nasty old Davey will bond with the old fella and yada yada. This movie does have its passing moments of charm and funniness; and the musical numbers are left-field, anarchic and occasionally amusing in a naughty way. But there's so much gross material, any gains are lost. Contains frequent crude and sexual humor, drinking and brief drug references.
  • "Finding Nemo" (G): How can anyone expect a reviewer who is the father of a young boy to be objective about a movie that tells the story of a dad's search for his abducted son? Of course I loved it. Even though the animated film from Pixar is about fish, not people, the characters are all as endearingly flawed as we humans are. When Nemo (voice of Alexander Gould), a motherless clown fish with one underdeveloped fin, is netted by a scuba-diving dentist for display in his office, his overprotective father (Albert Brooks) enlists the aid of a blue tang with short-term memory problems (Ellen DeGeneres) to track him down. How the seemingly insurmountable gap between the fish tank and the ocean is bridged -- and how the searchers elude sharks, jellyfish and other dangers -- is just a small part of the danger, fun and, yes, humanity of this charming film. Contains frightening sea creatures and emotional intensity.
  • "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde" (PG-13): Even though this sequel is an extended clutter of uneven episodes, fans of Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) will enjoy the return of the paragon princess from Bel Air whose unslaked idealism about American life is her secret weapon. The movie, directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld (director of another surprise hit, "Kissing Jessica Stein"), has an enjoyable looseness, which is important, given the movie's pedestrian outsider-wins-in-Washington story that borrows rather obviously from such classics as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "Born Yesterday." And only Elle could finagle an appearance before a joint session of Congress, in which she makes an unfortunate experience at the hair stylist a metaphor for American values. Contains discussion of animal cruelty and some sex-related humor.

    October 28

  • "Blind Spot -- Hitler's Secretary" (PG): Andre Heller and Othmar Schmiderer's documentary, in which Adolph Hitler's late secretary Traudl Junge (who died of cancer last year) spoke publicly about her monstrous boss for the first time, is both mesmerizing and disquieting. This isn't just the banality of evil, but the secretary to the banality of evil. Some of Junge's reminiscences serve to humanize Hitler, which makes for uncomfortable viewing, but what is most troubling is the question of how someone could have come so close to the heart of evil and known so little about it. Contains disturbing anecdotal material.
  • "City of Ghosts" (R): You can set your story in an exotic locale (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). You can assemble impressive talent (Gerard Depardieu, James Caan, Stellan Skarsgard, Natascha McElhone). And you can direct and star in a movie about the usual white men living dangerously while abroad. But it's not necessarily going to add up to a movie. Matt Dillon, the star and the first-time director, has brought all the elements but none of the soul to this story about con artist Jimmy (Dillon), who comes to Cambodia looking for a special mentor (Caan) and gets caught up in the usual murky conspiracy -- in this case, involving shady people in and out of Cambodian uniform. In the end, you only have Cambodia to watch. Contains violence and obscenity.
  • "The Hulk" (PG-13): Ang Lee's take on the Marvel Comics character created in 1962 by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby has a fabulous visual design, with multi-paneled shots suggesting the look of comic books. And Lee and co-scriptwriter James Schamus (the same team that created "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") invest their characters (including Jennifer Connelly as his girlfriend Betty, Nick Nolte as his oddball father and Sam Elliott as Betty's military father) with considerable sensitivity. But the CGI Hulk creations -- the monster that arises when Dr. Bruce Banner gets angry -- seem way over the top for the human drama that preceded it. He's King Kong on nuclear bananas, withstanding the mightiest of American military might. Contains sci-fi action violence, some disturbing images and brief partial nudity.
  • "Whale Rider" (PG-13): A Maori girl named Pai (a very moving Keisha Castle-Hughes) grows up with a grandfather who disapproves of her very existence. He's Koro (Rawiri Paratene), chief of the Ngati Kanoahi tribe of Whangara, who's desperately seeking a male heir. He doesn't need a girl vying for the honor. But Pai, named for Paikea, the tribe's sacred ancestor who is said to have arrived in New Zealand atop the back of a whale, has her own agenda. Written and directed by Niki Caro from a 1986 novel by Witi Ihimaera, this movie evokes its spirituality with deft strokes and wonderful humor. You can feel the power of myth in the very presence of these characters, most of them Maoris, who are the living embodiment of a life that sees past, present and future as one spiritual reference point. Contains some obscenity and a momentary drug reference.

    October 21

  • "28 Days Later" (R): In this uneven sci-fi/horror epic by Danny Boyle (director of "Trainspotting" and "The Beach"), England seems to be wiped out from a "rage virus" that turns people into rabid killers. London survivors Jim (Cillian Murphy), Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) attempt to reach a military safehouse in Manchester. But when they get there, things get even worse. The movie's creepy and truly suspenseful in some places, unintentionally comic or plain awful in others. It has all the earmarks of a cult video rental, but it's too imperfect to justify much more. However, with limited resources, director Boyle and his production crew have done extraordinary things. The scenes of a deserted, littered, eerily silent England are brilliantly evoked. And those silences are frequently interrupted by sudden, bloody attacks from nowhere. Contains strong violence and gore, obscenity and nudity.
  • "Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony" (PG-13): Lee Hirsch's documentary trills, regales and harmonizes its way through the cruel, bloody history that ultimately led to the emancipation of South Africa's indigenous people. This is about the music that took them there, the glorious choral songs and anthems. They sang with cultural pride and anger. These were songs of defiance, social protest and outright war. With admirable concision, "Amandla!" takes us through some milestones of the struggle, as we listen to the songs that arose from them. What songs, what people and what a triumph that their music won in the end. Contains images of violence and minor obscenity.
  • "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" (PG-13): Don't expect the giddy charm of the 2000 "Charlie's Angels." This time, that sense of fun is jackhammered into our skulls. The tongue that was so firmly in cheek last time has punctured through muscle and bone. The Angels (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu) are adorable, okay, and they're not just having fun -- they're having an over-the-top good time as they smile incessantly, toss their heads back in laughter, exchange high-fives and participate in a sort of extreme-sports version of a movie. There are costume changes and new high-kicks for every scene. The music is, of course, relentlessly loud, and the use of "Matrix"-style bullet-trajectory slow motion seems to have become required viewing in every action film. Obviously, you can have fun with this kind of experience. It's just that you'll be enjoying the military-industrial-complex version. Contains action violence, sensuality, sexual innuendo and obscenity.
  • "The Eye" (Unrated): In this Hong Kong-made horror movie (aka "Jian Gui") directed by Thai filmmakers Oxide and Danny Pang, a young, blind woman, Mun (Angelica Lee, aka Lee Sin Je), receives successful cornea transplants. But she realizes very quickly she's seeing things of a disturbing nature. The souls of the dead appear before her in plain form, leaving her terrified of everything. And when Mun looks in the mirror, she sees another woman. That woman, she finds out, is Ling, the original owner of the corneas. Enlisting the help of her psychotherapist, Dr. Wah (Lawrence Chou), she searches for Ling's family. They trace the family to Thailand, and Mun hears Ling's tragic story, what caused her death and the visions she saw. The Pang brothers have a gift for evoking dread and shock-tactic creepiness, as ghoulish, blurry faces hover in wait for Mun. They bring you into a surrealistically memorable ghost world of the beyond. Contains disturbing material and violence.
  • "It Runs in the Family" (PG-13): It seems like damning with faint praise to say that "It Runs in the Family" isn't as bad as it looks (and the trailers make it look pretty bad), but it's quite a bit better than even considerably lowered expectations would lead you to believe. Working from a sweet but not saccharine script by Jesse Wigutow, director Fred Schepisi's film about three generations of bickering New Yorkers (played by paterfamilias Kirk Douglas, ex-wife Diana, son Michael and grandson Cameron) grows on you despite your best efforts to resist it. That's because the unforced acting is of a generally high caliber and the plot, which contains a death or two, a career in jeopardy, accusations of marital infidelity, a serious brush with the law and a young boy's coming of age, is complex and, yes, affecting. Contains occasional obscenity, drug use and sexuality.
  • "Respiro" (PG-13): Set on the sleepy, sun-baked Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Manuele Crialese's gritty fable has wonderful atmosphere, but is slow-moving even for an open-ended movie. When the beautiful but proably manic-depressive wife of a hard-working fisherman (Valeria Golino) runs away to a cave rather than be sent to an institution, her family's life is disrupted. But the long-winded denouement, in which the whole town goes looking for her, doesn't bring the story of a family's struggle with the mental illness of a loved one full circle. It just extends it. Contains obscenity, nudity and violence.

    October 14

  • "The Matrix: Reloaded" (R): As you may know by now, parts II and III of the Wachowski brothers' "Matrix" trilogy were conceived as a single entity, so this second installment is really only the first half of a much longer movie whose loose ends will only be tied up later this fall. Yes, it's a bit of a rip-off. Still, "The Matrix Reloaded," which continues the saga of Neo (Keanu Reeves) and his fellow rebels against the machines that would enslave the human race, has more than enough excitement, mystery and obscure spiriuality to make up for the flaw. Aiming for sensation, not sense, "Reloaded" has enough thrills, chills and spills to satisfy everyone but fuddy-duddy filmgoers who insist on a beginning, a middle and an end. Contains extreme martial arts violence, gunplay, sexuality and some crude language.
  • "Owning Mahowny" (R): Philip Seymour Hoffman shines (or rather he doesn't, which is a good thing) in the milquetoast role of Dan Mahowny, a boringly efficient Toronto bank manager with a gambling problem. Yes, it's kind of depressing, but watching Hoffman (and an ulmost unrecognizably frumpy Minnie Driver as his girlfriend) is pure pleasure. Based on a true story, the tale of Mahowny's ultimate embezzlement of millions of dollars offers up less psychoanalizing than some people perhaps would like with their addiction movies, but Hoffman's cipher-like performance keeps the film from ever getting preachy. Contains obscenity and call-girl nudity.
  • "The Safety of Objects" (R): Rose Troche's film follows four families undergoing modern-day calamity. The characters include Paul Gold (Joshua Jackson), a young man in his twenties who's comatose thanks to a car accident, and Esther (Close), his mother, who decides to enter a radio-sponsored endurance marathon to win an SUV. Troche's film recedes immediately into the middle pack of such suburban-angst movies as "Short Cuts" and "The Ice Storm." Although it has moments of charm and poignancy -- this is one of Glenn Close's best hours -- the scheme and scope of the movie are just too darned cliched: That life in the suburbs is hell on just about everyone. Contains sexual scenes, obscenity.
  • "Wrong Turn" (R): In this horror film, six travelers are lost and trapped in the woods of West Virginia, where they have to evade three grotesque, cannibalistic men. Eliza Dushku and Jeremy Sisto star.

    October 7

  • "Down With Love" (PG-13): Inspired by "Pillow Talk" and other romantic comedies of the 1960s, the Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger vehicle can't seem to decide whether it's a parody or an homage. Mind you, it certainly looks the part, down to the furniture, hair, clothes and too-too-clever references to Tang and Sanka. Yet the story of a rakish magazine writer (McGregor doing Rock Hudson) pretending to be an aw-shucks astronaut in order to seduce the author of an anti-romance bestseller (Zellweger aping Doris Day) winds up merely being the kind of movie it sets out to satirize. In other words, corn wins out over cynicism and, as in "Pillow Talk" and a hundred other movies, love conquers all. Contains sexual humor and naughty double-entendres.
  • "The Hard Word" (R): Guy Pearce plays Dale Twentyman, an Australian bank robber who, with his brothers and fellow robbers Shane (Joel Edgerton) and Mal (Damien Richardson), is in jail. But with the help of slick operator Frank Malone (Robert Taylor) and a couple of dirty cops, they are constantly sprung from prison to perform a job, then returned behind bars. Makes a perfect arrangement, until Frank, who's sleeping with Dale's wife (Rachel Griffiths), sets them up. Scott Roberts's Australian-made movie borrows liberally from Stanley Kubrick's "The Killing" and Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs." But it's hard and nasty, with characters exchanging cruel, sarcastic rejoinders and double-crosses. The Aussie flavor is entertaining at times. But there's no X factor to justify the whole exercise. Contains violence, obscenity, sexual scenes and crudity.
  • "Hollywood Homicide" (R): I know it's supposed to be a comedy because police partners Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett are wackily mismatched. Ford is the gruff veteran; Hartnett the new age ladies man. Still, there aren't many laughs in this flat-footed buddy flick from the normally assured Ron Shelton -- unless you count a sequence in which Hartnett's character, in wreckless pursuit of a suspect in a series of music-biz murders, carjacks a minivan with two children strapped in the back seat. Although there were some who laughed at this during a recent screening, most audience members stared at the screen in mute horror. Contains obscenity, gun violence and sensuality.
  • "The In-Laws" (PG-13): Albert Brooks sparkles as the uber-nebbishy father of a young woman marrying into the family of a CIA agent (Michael Douglas, doing his best to look and act like Arnold Schwarzenegger). Yes, it's a remake of a 1979 movie (itself a riff on "The Odd Couple"), but "The In-Laws" feels fresh enough, thanks to Brooks's ability to milk the put-upon shtick, which gets put to delightful use as he and Douglas engage in all manner of derring-do and don't. Although the film flags whenever the James Bond elements disappear, and when Brooks himself is off camera, for every second that Douglas's whiny co-star is complaining, it's a marriage made in comedy heaven. Contains gunplay, fistfights, some naughty words and Albert Brooks in a thong.
  • "The Italian Job" (PG-13): Based on the 1969 film of the same name, (seen in a brief glimpse in the background of one scene), this crime caper goes through familiar motions -- but oh, what fun motions they are. When one member of a team that has stolen $35 million in gold (Edward Norton) goes bad, leaving the plot's leader (Donald Sutherland) shot and the rest presumed dead, the surviving crooks band together with the dead man's daughter (Charlize Theron) to steal their booty back. Led by Mark Wahlberg and composed of a rogue's gallery of criminal "types" (Seth Green as the computer nerd, Jason Statham as the hunky getaway car driver and Mos Def as a slightly cracked explosives expert), the group devises an elaborate plan involving the use of three souped-up Mini Coopers and manipulation of the Los Angeles traffic-control mainframe. The conclusion of this revenge fantasy plays out as expected, but getting there is a gas. Contains gun violence, knuckle sandwiches, a small amount of obscenity and vaguely sexual behavior.
  • "The Man Without a Past" (PG-13): Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki's latest feature has all the hallmarks of his earlier work, which typically leaves you wondering whether to laugh or cry. Both reactions are entirely appropriate in this tale of an unnamed stranger's existential yet Chaplinesque nightmare. After the man (Markku Peltola) is beaten by thugs, he bolts from the hospital where he has been brought to recuperate, winding up in a string of strange encounters with such folks as the security guard who tries to charge rent for an abandoned freight container (Sakari Kuosmanen) and the Salvation Army volunteer (Kati Outinen) who offers him clothing, food and a date. Although little is known about our hero, don't be surprised if Kaurismaki's "Man" ends up mattering to you more than you expect. Contains some obscenity and violence.
  • "Sweet Sixteen" (R): As gritty and as sad as one would expect from British director Ken Loach, "Sweet Sixteen" tells of the downward spiral of teenaged Liam (Martin Compston), a sweet (hence the title), skinny Scottish urchin who gets involved with the wrong -- really wrong -- crowd by selling drugs and flirting with worse crimes. It's not that Liam doesn't mean well. Everything he does is for his mother (Michelle Coulter), who is herself imprisoned on a narcotics conviction and for whom Liam intends to buy a cozy trailer away from the influence of her violent, drug-dealing boyfriend. Will Liam's plans work out, leading to the happy ending that everyone so richly deserves? Did I mention that this is a Ken Loach movie? Contains drug use, violence and obscenity, including what may be a world record for instances of the F-word.
  • "Willard" (PG-13): -- In this remake of the 1971 cult classic, Crispin Glover (the world's weirdest, loopiest actor) blends so easily with rats -- the furry, pink-tailed anti-stars of this nutty flick -- it's pure camp. Glover is Willard Stiles, a milquetoast employee who becomes enchanted with rodents and soon develops a pied-piper scheme to get his revenge on nasty boss Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey). The rats are eerie, both as real animals in close-up shots or the CGI-created critters that swarm Willard's dark, dank world. But nothing will creep you out as much as the human star. He has found his home -- or rathole. Contains terror, violence to rodentsand people, obscenity and some sexual content.

    September 30

  • "2 Fast 2 Furious" (PG-13): Who knew you could actually miss Vin Diesel? The star of the original "The Fast and the Furious" is missing from John Singleton's energetic but empty sequel. The movie, starring Paul Walker and Tyrese, is a brassy, gear-crunching, engine-screaming salute to traditionally male attributes: strength, speed, attitude and appreciation of female and vehicular sleekness -- although not necessarily in that order. It is about semi-naked women stroking the smooth, polished bodies of muscle. Its plot has the depth and resonance of an old "Miami Vice" television show, and Singleton is primarily concerned with the sideshow of American muscle: big arms, big cars, big noises. Contains violence, obscenity, sexual situations and dangerous driving.
  • "Bend It Like Beckham" (PG-13): Gurinder Chadha's movie is a ball-juggling charm, a multicultural Cinderella tale about a female teenager in South London who dreams of goal-scoring glory. She's Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra), a British girl of Indian descent who tries to emulate the swervy kicks of her idol, professional soccer player David Beckham. But she has to contend with a traditional family that believes a woman's place to be directly in front of the stove. If the scenario's on the hokey side, there's a deeper dimension. It's about respect for cultural pride and multiculturalism, old values and contemporary individualism, and sexual tolerance. And at the heart of it is Nagra, an engaging sweetheart with a great pair of feet. Contains obscenity, sexual situations and some underage drinking.
  • "Better Luck Tomorrow" (R): An inner circle of high school students in Orange County, Calif., want success all too easily. So they indulge in everything from academic fraud to drug dealing. Charming, conscientious student Ben (Parry Shen) tries the righteous path at first but soon becomes involved with this ring of friends. He also has a dangerous attraction to Stephanie (Karin Anna Cheung), the girlfriend of a smooth operator named Steve (John Cho). It's clear Ben's headed for trouble unless he comes to his senses. Writer-director Justin Lin's debut revels nicely in atmosphere, even if his nihilism is coldly amoral and dismissive. His moviemaking skills are obvious; and there's something deeply refreshing about a movie featuring Asian Americans in which their ethnicity doesn't really matter. But there's a corollary here: They're perfectly but disturbingly American. Contains violence, drug use, nudity, obscenity and sexual situations.
  • "Boat Trip" (R): In this coarse comedy (imagine ground glass mixed with cat litter), two horny straight guys (Cuba Gooding Jr. and Horatio Sanz) accidentally get booked on an all-gay cruise. Gay stereotyping abounds. And the sight gags include Gooding's character pretending to be gay to get closer to the ship's sole female staffer (Roselyn Sanchez), and watching her orally pleasure a banana. This leads to a development reminiscent of "There's Something About Mary." It only gets worse. If this garbage sounds like your kind of thing, sweetheart, you and this movie deserve each other. Contains obscenity, toplessness and pervasive blue humor.
  • "Dreamcatcher" (R): This horror film brims over with grossness, inconsistency and illogic. And yet, director Lawrence Kasdan and scriptwriter William Goldman's adaptation of the Stephen King novel has a rubberneck fascination. It starts off as a story about four childhood friends (Jason Lee, Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant) with mind-reading abilities, then evolves (or spirals) into a large-scale invasion of slimy, flesh-eating slugs. The gross factor is beyond description in a family newspaper and the camp factor (intentional or not, it's hard to tell) includes Morgan Freeman as a military man obsessed with killing the squishy critters, and an "Exorcist"-style possession of someone's body by an alien monster with a Brit villain accent. Contains grotesque and gross material, violence, obscenity and no road map.
  • "Nowhere in Africa" (Unrated): There are cliches aplenty in this almost languid memoir of a refugee Jewish family trying to make a life in Kenya during the Nazi era -- the pure-hearted young girl and her wise native alter-father figure, Owuor; the frustrated lawyer and his resentful socialite wife; the manipulative British official and the older wiser friend -- but Gernot Roll's spare, almost aesthetic cinematography and the unusually high quality of the acting very nearly counter them. As Jettel, the mother of the film's protagonist, Juliane Kohler has an elongated beauty that nearly equals that of the Kenyan women -- Julianne Moore by Botticelli -- and Sidede Onyulo gives the saintly Owuor a streak of secret, silent irony that rescues him from bloodless implausibility. Contains some nudity and sexually suggestive footage.

    September 23

  • "Daddy Day Care" (PG): In this easy-on-the-sensibilities family film, Eddie Murphy plays Charlie Hinton, a husband and hardworking professional who loses his job and decides to open a daycare center with out-of-work colleague Phil (Jeff Garlin). In no time, Charlie and Phil learn that the business of watching 4-year-olds is not easy. They destroy things, these little people -- especially when you pump them full of sugary foods. They also cry and scream. And as the movie tends to point out all too often, they smear their diapers, mess up bathrooms and are given to flatulence. Murphy practically assumes the easygoing manner of Mister Rogers, a character he used to wickedly lampoon on "Saturday Night Live." He has clearly opted for likability (to the point of innocuousness) over outrageous antics. But this works just fine for preteen and young teen audiences, and the parents whose lifetime job it is to serve them. Contains excessive bathroom humor and mild obscenity.
  • "The Dancer Upstairs" (R): In his debut as a director, John Malkovich has created a fascinating but ultimately lacking allegory of a movie. It's set in an unspecified Latin country, and everything operates on an archetypal level. The best thing about the film: Javier Bardem's wonderful performance as Rejas, a detective who's trying to locate a mysterious Marxist terrorist named Ezequiel, who has been directing murderous raids on the bourgeoisie of this unnamed capital. In his quest to find Ezequiel, Rejas becomes infatuated with Yolanda (Laura Morante), his daughter's dancing teacher and the person who, indeed, lives upstairs. Essentially, we're always engaged in the thought of finding out more about Rejas, thanks to Bardem's sensual presence. But the story (adapted by Nicholas Shakespeare from his 1995 novel) is a slow-burning affair that may seem exotic but mostly crawls along. Contains violence, depiction of cruelty to animals, nudity and obscenity.
  • "Holes" (PG): When young Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf) is sent to a juvenile facility, he's forced to dig holes every day under the overseeing gaze of Mr. Sir (Jon Voight) and his cohort (Tim Blake Nelson). It turns out the facility's mean warden (Sigourney Weaver) has her personal reasons for this constant excavation. Stanley doesn't know it, but this hard labor is the beginning of an epic adventure that will close the book on years of suffering for the Yelnats family. Louis Sachar's adaptation of his bestselling young readers novel entertainingly interweaves several stories from different times: the nebulous present, the Old West and 18th-century Latvia. It's a wonderful, semi-dark fairy tale. And in the Old West subplot, Patricia Arquette is a charm as a teacher-turned-vigilante. Contains some violence, obscenity and intense thematic elements.
  • "A Mighty Wind" (PG-13): Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer gently tweak the world of folk music in this mockumentary about a reunion of old folksters. The goofy triumvirate plays the Folksmen; Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara make an amusing couple as Mitch & Mickey; and John Michael Higgins leads a cheesy, Osmond-family type group called the New Main Street Singers. All the Guest troupers are here, including Fred Willard and Parker Posey, and they're all amusing. But this movie's not just funny, it's rather tender, too. You may not laugh as uproariously as you did in "Best in Show," but you'll love the characters more. They're fragile and charming, these folk singers. Contains sex-related humor.
  • "The Shape of Things" (R): Writer-director Neil LaBute, who made "In the Company of Men," has created another semi-Theater of Cruelty piece. But the movie, which was originally a LaBute play featuring the same four actors, is as effective as "Men." Adam (Paul Rudd), a museum guard, meets Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), who intends to deface a nude statue for aesthetic and moral reasons. The movie, still very playlike, amounts to a battle of wills between Adam and Evelyn. Why does Evelyn apparently become attracted to Adam and force him to trim down, agree to cosmetic surgery and become estranged from his friends Jenny (Gretchen Mol) and Phil (Frederick Weller)? Adam refuses to see the light, which sets him up for what can only be described as a LaBute ending. At best, the movie is a problematic chamber piece; at worst, a misdirected, slightly misanthropic pretension. Contains obscenity and sexual material.

    September 16

  • "Anger Management" (PG-13): This comedy is Miller time for the funny bone. It's no effort to watch, lots of fun and you get to watch Jack Nicholson razz Adam Sandler for the whole movie. Sandler's Dave Buznik, a bottled-up guy who's forced to take anger management sessions for apparent air rage. Nicholson's Dr. Buddy Rydell, the shrink assigned to assess him. But Dr. Rydell's more of a harpie, given to playing mind games. Dave has to go along with the torture or face even more sessions. Thanks to Nicholson's delightful performance, counterpointed nicely by Sandler's pained reactions, we're quite willing to let this therapy take its sweet time. Contains crude sexual content, some violence and obscenity.
  • "Confidence" (R): Edward Burns plays Jake Vig, a slick, good-looking confidence man who decides to pull his biggest scam of all: on the crime boss (Dustin Hoffman) who killed one of Jake's partners. The movie's no threat to such top-notch con-game entertainments as "The Grifters" or David Mamet's "Games." But it's very enjoyable for its deception shenanigans: You never know who's deceiving whom. Hoffman makes the movie more interesting and pushes the chess game between himself and Jake into a more compelling zone. Although Burns does a commendable job as the movie's smoothest operator, he feels like a secondhand leading man, modeled perhaps on such cover-boy characters as Richard Gere's Julian in "American Gigolo." Contains violence and obscenity.

    September 9

  • "Bulletproof Monk" (PG-13): Chow Yun-Fat stars as a mysterious monk who must select a young protege (Seann William Scott) to guard the ancient Scroll of the Ultimate. Contains much stylized, mostly bloodless violence and a little mild sexual innuendo.
  • "The Core" (PG-13): Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank lend considerable thespian firepower to "The Core," an "Armageddon"-like suspense thriller about a team of "terranauts" who must burrow thousands of miles down in order to detonate a nuclear bomb that will jump-start Earth's stalled molten outer core before deadly microwaves from the sun and devastating lightning storms destroy life as we know it. Delroy Lindo, as the genius who built the giant drill bit, isn't too shabby, either, and Stanley Tucci, playing a Donald Pleasance-style nervous Nelly who nearly ruins the mission, is fun to watch. Sure, it's cheesy, but Camembert, not Velveeta. Contains brief obscenity and science-fiction intensity.
  • "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" (R): In his autobiography, Chuck Barris oversaw such hit TV shows as "The Dating Game" while also performing dangerous missions for the CIA. He claims to have killed 33 people. Scriptwriter Charlie ("Adaptation") Kaufman and debuting director George Clooney take him at his word. The movie's a darkly enjoyable roller coaster ride that takes audiences from Barris's humble beginnings as a geeky tour guide at NBC to game show maestro and apparent hit man. And it's made all the more enjoyable by Sam Rockwell, who gives Barris a subtle edginess, and Drew Barrymore, who makes a wonderfully suited co-passenger as Barris's girlfriend. Contains strong language, sexual content and violence.
  • "Dysfunktional Family" (R): Funnyman Eddie Griffin's concert documentary is standard, if mostly hilarious, fare, with jokes about dogs and cats, his sex life and racism (everyone else's, naturally, but with examples of his own bigotry occasionally cropping up). What sets it apart is the fact that the onstage bits are intercut with interviews with his real-life (and rather nutty) family, including pimp/heroin addict Uncle Bucky. Every now and then, Griffin crosses over from the funny into the offensive, but it's easy to see -- from the wincing expressions on the faces of his relatives sitting in the audience -- the pain out of which Griffin's sometimes reckless, desperate humor comes from. Contains obscenity, drug references, sexual humor and brief glimpses of pornographic video footage.
  • "The Guys" (PG): In Jim Simpson's movie, a writer named Joan (Sigourney Weaver) from New York City's Upper West Side gets the most pressing creative and moral assignment of her life. Nick (Anthony LaPaglia), a fire captain of Ladder Company 60, asks her to help him compose eulogies for eight of his men lost at Ground Zero. He needs it this week. Not only must Joan deliver moving prose, she has to dig deep for frustratingly little information. Nick is virtually inarticulate, and he can't summon up much about his fallen men. He knew some well, others hardly at all. But it's his job to pay tribute to them anyway. Joan accepts the job for at least two reasons: Nick is desperately in need of help, and it's a way for her to do something about the tragedy. The writing marathon could close the distance between her and the huge, overwhelming pall over everyone. Contains emotionally distressing material.
  • "Malibu's Most Wanted" (PG-13): Jamie Kennedy's experiment as a wannabe rapper in "Malibu's Most Wanted" doesn't entirely blow up in his face. This latest in a string of racially themed comedies manages to garner a few giggles despite its bling-bland plot. Kennedy is Bradley "B-Rad" Gluckman, a Malibu-bred, Run-DMC-loving mallrat whose playa-posing ways interfere with his father's gubernatorial run. In a crude attempt at damage control, the campaign manager (Blair Underwood) hires two actors (Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson) to take B-Rad to the ghetto and "scare the black out of him." The movie is a strange hybrid of "Bulworth," "8 Mile" and, for a brief moment, even "Dr. Doolittle." (Snoop Dogg provides the voice of a rat who urges B-Rad to keep it "riz-eal.") Some bits, like the flashback to Gluckman's "O.P.P."-themed bar mitzvah, are inspired cacklers. Others, like Kennedy's constant use of the catch phrase "Don't be hatin'," won't crack a smile. "Wanted" isn't quite the real Slim Shady of hip-hop comedies. But you might lose yourself in a few of its amusing moments. Contains sexual humor, language and violence.
  • "Russian Ark" (Unrated): The first feature-length movie ever to contain its entire story in one, uninterrupted shot (87 minutes in duration), this film pays tribute to Russia's great state museum, the Hermitage, and by extension the nation, its cultural treasures and history. With breathtakingly detailed choreography, Russian director Alexander Sokurov leads you through 33 rooms of the museum (Peter the Great's former Winter Palace) and several centuries of artistic and cultural magnificence. During this unblinking inner journey, we meet all manner of characters, both historic and modern. "Ark" is more than a showcase nod to Russian history, or an elaborate technical exercise. It's an extraordinary dramatic experience, a blissful waltz through time. Contains nothing objectionable.
  • "Stevie" (Unrated): Steve James, the filmmaker who made the brilliant basketball documentary "Hoop Dreams," was an "Advocate Big Brother" to Stephen Fielding during James's college days at Southern Illinois University. In the rural hamlet of Pomona, Ill., Fielding was born to a mother (Bernice Hagler) who beat him and a father he never knew. His mother, who married another man, gave the young boy to Verna Hagler, her neighbor and new mother-in-law. Thus, Fielding grew up next-door to the mother who once beat him and certainly didn't want him. James's initial relationship with Fielding ended when the boy was 7. It wasn't until the mid-1990s (when this movie begins) that James found him again. Fielding was by then a 24-year-old man, bearded and balding. He had, not surprisingly, committed many crimes, and harbored a virulent hatred for his birth mother. Fielding, once trusted to baby-sit a young girl, sexually molested her. During the course of the film, he faces a trial and likely imprisonment for this act. Yet, as "Stevie" so admirably makes clear, Fielding is a human being, not a monster. He's a tortured soul who committed a terrible, unforgivable act. But he has a heart, a mind and a certain sweetness when he wants. He's also deeply regretful for what he has done. Through our revulsion, we can't help but see the former child who also was a victim of irresponsible adulthood. Contains bleak material, discussion of child molestation and obscenity.
  • "View From the Top" (PG-13): Looking for something undemanding and completely innocuous, starring Gwyneth Paltrow? This is for you. Everyone else, you'd best sit this one out. She's Donna Jensen, a small-town gal who dreams of being a first-class flignt attendant. Paltrow has a sweet smile and fairy tale princess charm. But the movie's zest-free, despite Mike Myers's energetic attempts to steal the show as a cross-eyed flight instructor. Donna's rivalry with a one-dimensional schemer-hussy (Christina Applegate) and her love of adorable law student Ted (Mark Ruffalo) don't add up to the charming shaggy dog this movie wants to be. Contains some obscenity and sexual references.

    September 2

  • "The Endurance" (Unrated): It would be hard to ruin any telling of Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton's doomed attempt to cross the continent of Antarctica, especially when we have the photographs of Frank Hurley, mission photographer, serving as a visual record. Hurley's stark and stunning black-and-white pictures, and his equally dramatic film footage, form the core of documentarian George Butler's compulsively watchable new film, which tells of Shackleton's ship the Endurance and the nearly two years its crew spent trapped in frozen ice off the coast of Antarctica. Based on Caroline Alexander's book of the same name, "The Endurance" has all the drama and excitement of the most far-fetched fiction, with the added bonus that not a word is made up. Contains nothing objectionable.
  • "Identity" (R): In James Mangold's respectably wrought psychological horror flick, 11 characters find themselves caught in the same corner of Nevada, in the same rainstorm, unable to use any telephones and forced to hole up at the same motel. And somebody among them is killing everyone else, one by one. Meanwhile, two of the wet and huddled -- limousine driver Ed (John Cusack) and corrections officer Rhodes (Ray Liotta) -- run around in frantic circles, trying to catch the killer. True to retro-Agatha Christie rules, almost everyone (including Amanda Peet, Jake Busey, John Hawkes and John C. McGinley) elicits some kind of suspicion. Director Mangold and screenwriter Michael Cooney maintain a serious edge so that, no matter how ridiculous the latest death (what's that thumping in the dryer?), we're still tense and not quite ready to giggle. Contains strong violence and obscenity.
  • "A Man Apart" (R): Vin Diesel plays Sean Vetter, a DEA agent who has been tracking drug lord Meno Lucero (Geno Silva). When his wife is murdered by a mysterious druglord called El Diablo, Vetter goes on the vengeful rampage. It's junk. Of course it is. As usual, Diesel displays his biceps, high-fives other bulky guys and casually accepts the inexplicable devotion of nubile women. Ugh. Contains violence, drug use, lap dancing, semi-nudity, obscenity, sexual material and Vin Diesel.

    August 26

  • "Chasing Papi" (PG): Linda Mendoza's caper romance is so resoundingly bad, there may be grounds to sue for mental suffering. Ad exec and lothario Tomas Fuentes (Eduardo Verastegui) has three girlfriends on his speed dial -- none of them aware of each other. When the women learn about Tomas's three-timing, however, they battle each other for his heart before uniting against a common enemy: Tomas. Bad acting, bad scripting and confusing messages about female self-realization conspire to ruin this film. Contains countless transgressions of the creative process.
  • "From Justin to Kelly" (PG): If only the substandard film spun off of Fox's "American Idol" continued the TV show's tradition of ridding aspiring crooners from the stage one-by-one with a dose of its "you stink, find-another-career" reality. At least then there might be a reason to suffer through the movie's filler. And it's all filler, based upon the spring break love connection between title characters Justin and Kelly, who experience many a romance roadblock based on mis-cued text messages and a conniving friend. Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini, the first- and second-place winners (who are also coincidentally new-to-the-charts pop singers) of the original "American Idol," lead the cast of mediocre actors, singers and dancers. The characters often break into singing and dancing mid-sentence, although their impromptu performances don't really impact the plot, mainly because it's a lost cause to begin with. Contains mild sexual overtones.
  • "Levity" (R): Ponderous and pretentious, writer-director Ed Solomon's heavy-handed slumming into the indie-picture dark streets is not saved by the big-time presences of Billy Bob Thornton and Morgan Freeman. Thornton is Manual Jordan, a convict released from prison after serving a couple of decades who comes into potentially redemptive contact with Adele (Holly Hunter), the sister of Manual's victim who doesn't know his connection to her. As the preacher that Manual works for, Freeman plays a character who's a hack writer's oxymoron: a dope-smoking, fire-and-brimstone-preaching spirit meant to make you wonder: prince of darkness or man of the cloth? This postmodern tortured-soul allegory wants to trade on atmosphere more than plot, but even the atmosphere rings false. Thornton's hangdog grace has been seen in a few too many movies. He's become a badly shaved cliche. Contains drug use and obscenity.
  • "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (PG-13): Peter Jackson's second installment of the "Rings" trilogy doesn't just eclipse the first film. Its production design, CGI (computer-generated imagery), storytelling (with, of course, all appropriate credit to J.R.R. Tolkien) and performances form a constellation of delights. In addition to the fine cast, including Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies), there are trees that talk, rise and walk with lofty majesty; an extraordinary critter-cum-satyr of a hobbit (Andy Serkis) called Gollum; and a rousing, medieval-styled battle with a castle, siege weapons and a seemingly endless outpouring of Uruk-hais. And in the nether-center of this all, you can feel not just the power and sureness of Jackson's direction, but his boyish wonder. Contains battle carnage and some scary images.
  • "Raising Victor Vargas" (R): When a 16-year-old Dominican American called Victor (Victor Rasuk) pursues unattainable swimming pool beauty "Juicy" Judy (Judy Marte), it's an uphill task. She's heard these lines before. But then she decides to take him on as a fake boyfriend -- to ward off the other guys. Peter Sollett's movie (which he wrote and directed) goes deep into the textural surroundings. The movie is about more than Victor's romantic pursuit; it's also about the world of Lower East Side New York City. We meet some memorable characters including his chubby sister (Krystal Rodriguez) with whom he trades unthinkingly cruel insults (she's no patsy in this attitudinal cold war) and his young brother Nino (Silvestre Rasuk) who's on the verge of sexual awareness. But the show stealer is Altagracia Guzman, who plays Victor's reflexively pious grandmother. She's a quiet riot, constantly berating her older grandson for his devilish soul. Contains obscenity and sexually frank language.

    August 19

  • "All the Real Girls" (R): Writer-director David Gordon Green and co-writer/lead actor Paul Schneider's movie is a drama of deft impressions and telling human moments. A story about the offbeat love affair between Paul (Schneider), an immature man who has measured his success by the female notches on his belt, and Noel (Zooey Deschanel), an innocent soul who happens to be the kid sister of his best friend. Its simplicity and sense of mystery are its main, disarming assets. And if the story remains formless, there's such a feeling for the characters, you get a whole new set of values to savor. Contains sexual situations and obscenity.
  • "Bowling for Columbine" (R): In this stream-of-consciousness riff, documentarian-provocateur Michael Moore takes us from disturbing footage of the Columbine massacre to the attacks on the World Trade Center, stopping off at the home of NRA President Charlton Heston, James Nichols's farm (brother of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols) and several Canadian homes (to "prove" Canadians aren't paranoid). The movie raises many good points and observations. But Moore provides a rather rambling discourse of causality, which includes racism, white flight and Africanized bees, among many things. And he takes predictable aim (with not especially enlightening solutions or answers) at the NRA, the media and a right-wing conspiracy of racists, gun nuts and corporate profitmakers. Contains scenes of disturbing gun violence and some obscenity. Read the "Bowling for Columbine" DVD review.
  • "Chicago" (PG-13): Not since "Cabaret" has there been a movie musical this stirring, intelligent and exciting. The choreography, by director Rob Marshall and Cynthia Onrubia, is inspired. And screenwriter Bill Condon ingeniously reimagines the musical as a film noir set of dreams in the mind of central character, Roxie Hart. Renee Zellweger's terrific as Roxie, the starlet who'll stop at nothing to be the talk of the town. Catherine Zeta-Jones is assured and sexy as Velma Kelly, Roxie's rival performer. Richard Gere, a musician and veritable hoofer, more than completes the marquee package as oily lawyer Billy Flynn. Maybe no movie could ever hold a candle to the great musicals of the past, the ones starring Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers and Donald O'Connor. But "Chicago" sure lights the wick. Contains sexual content, obscenity and violence. Read the "Chicago" DVD review.
  • "The Good Thief" (R): As Bob, an American expatriate gambler and master thief in southern France living on his luck (or lack thereof), Nick Nolte is a washed out, lovable rogue in the tradition of Robert Mitchum. Neil Jordan, director of "Interview With the Vampire" and "The Crying Game," has taken Jean-Pierre Melville's classic 1955 movie "Bob le Flambeur" and turned it into a playful game. But in the end, what started off as playful becomes tedious. The remake reeks of postmodern intention. In the end, Nolte's presence is all we've got. Contains obscenity, sexual situations, drug content and some violence.
  • "The Kid Stays in the Picture" (R): If you've ever wondered whether all those Hollywood stories of back-stabbing, orgy-making and cocaine-snorting shenanigans were just urban legend, you'll have to check out Robert Evans's wildly amusing life in "The Kid Stays in the Picture." At the heart of this documentary is Evans's humorously self-deprecating narrative, which traces his rise from businessman to lousy actor to producer of such first-class films as "Chinatown," "Harold and Maude" and his ultimate triumphs, "The Godfather" and "The Godfather, Part II." Based on the 1994 autobiography of the same name, "Kid" is a must-see for any student of Hollywood fame and infamy. Contains obscenity, sexual images, some violence and drug content.

    August 12

  • "Amen" (Unrated): Constantin Costa-Gavras's smoothly assured melodrama may have the clumsiness of German and other European actors speaking in English, but the story is so much bigger. It's about SS officer Kurt Gerstein (Ulrich Tukur), an engineer who becomes aware that the Zyklon B pellets he developed to purify drinking water for German soldiers are being used to gas Jews and Gypsies. Kurt, a religious man, believes the German people, the Vatican and the Allies will all react with horror and outrage when he passes on the information. He finds he's wrong. Tukur's performance is a wonderful mixture of outrage and swiftly disappearing naivete. Contains intense thematic elements.
  • "Cradle 2 the Grave" (R): About the only enjoyable thing here is watching Jet Li block, kick and humiliate his opponents with one hand in his pocket and a look of casual peeve. Li's casual, phoned-in manner seems highly appropriate. Why expend anything but minimal energy on a secondhand action movie that retreads all the tired staples of the 1980s and '90s: the car stunts, the cussing, the fighting, the shooting, and did I mention the car stunts? The story, in which rapper DMX needs help getting his kidnapped daughter back and Li needs to get hold of some valuable and dangerous black diamonds, is functional, throwaway business. Contains violence, killing, gore, sexual content and obscenity.
  • "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" (Unrated): Everyone's favorite gamine, Audrey Tautou, plays the anti-"Amelie" in this clever psychological suspense thriller from Laetitia Colombani about a young art student's (Tautou) romantic obsession with a much older married man (Samuel Le Bihan). It's not the plot that makes "He Loves Me" special, but Colombani's telling of the somewhat familiar love triangle, which is presented first from her, then from his point of view in a delicious construction of interlocking, but radically different takes on the same events. Then of course there's Tautou, who's always watchable, even when -- surprise! -- she's a horrid little monster. Contains some violence and mature themes.
  • "Head of State " (PG-13): If it's incisive political satire you're seeking, look elsewhere, but this comedy about America's first black presidential candidate (produced, directed, co-written by and starring Chris Rock) is still plenty funny, thanks mostly to the natural similarities between politicians and stand-up comics. They both love microphones, and getting a visceral reaction is more important to them than a deeply reasoned response. That's why "Head of State" works. Instead of photo ops and sound bites, it's a just a bunch of wisecracks and sight gags, but voting with laughter is the American democratic system in action. Contains obscenity, brief sensuality and a few drug references.
  • "House of 1,000 Corpses" (R): From first-time director Rob Zombie comes this horror film in which four teenagers enter a house, where a former prom queen (a busty Karen Black) and her immediate family are a band of twisted, murderous individuals.
  • "The Hunted" (R): This strangely inert action-adventure drama stars Tommy Lee Jones as a Special Forces instructor who has to track down loose-cannon ex-student Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), who has lost his mind. This trudging retread of "The Fugitive" depicts the long-winded, bloody pursuit of Hallam. Two survivalists hiding and stalking each other in the Northwestern woods may sound good, but it ain't. Contains bloody violence, obscenity and a depiction of violence to animals.
  • "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" (PG): In Walt Disney's movie version of its Disney Channel TV series, Lizzie McGuire (Hilary Duff) takes a school field trip to Rome where she meets and falls for Paolo (Yani Gellman), a teenage Italian pop star, who's stunned at her apparent likeness to his estranged pop-singing partner, Isabella. Paolo needs a new partner, and he seems to be romantically interested in her, too. Would Lizzie be interested? The rest of the movie involves Lizzie's attempts to avoid the school activities so she can be Paolo's date and collaborator, and the efforts of her pal Gordo (Adam Lamberg) to cover for her (a supreme sacrifice since he loves her). It's a drama that doesn't try to be more than what it is: a romantic fantasy caper, mostly for teenage and preteen girls. Few in this group are likely to be disappointed with Duff's wholesome appeal and her obviously genuine singing voice. Contains some kissy business.
  • "Maryam" (Unrated): In 1979, revolution has broken out in Iran. Iranian students have invaded the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. And in the United States, Maryam "Mary" Armin (Mariam Parris) and her Iranian parents weather the backlash from friends, neighbors and school-mates. Things become even more intense when her radical Iranian cousin Ali (David Ackert) comes to stay. Ramin Serry's film, about the effects of the Iranian hostage crisis on a middle-class Iranian family living in New Jersey, is high on melodrama. But it's emotionally engrossing, too, thanks to strong, credible performances from the whole cast. Contains emotionally strong material and racial epithets.

    August 5

  • "Agent Cody Banks" (PG): In MGM's dreadful attempt to kid-ify the James Bond school of moviemaking (James Bond is an MGM franchise), young Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz of TV's "Malcolm in the Middle") is a longtime undercover agent for the CIA. Secretly trained as a junior 007 (along with other CIA brats), the girl-shy teenager is assigned to become romantically involved with a girl. She's Natalie Connors (Hilary Duff), whose scientist father is involved in a scheme to wreak world havoc with an army of nanobots. The movie is bland and unimaginative. And in the weirdest adult-child relationship in years, Cody works with the modelish, bionically built Ronica Miles (Angie Harmon) as his handler. She's part dominatrix mom and part pinup fantasy -- heavy stuff for a PG-rated movie. Contains action violence, mild obscenity and inappropriate sensual content.
  • "Bringing Down the House" (PG-13): This lowest common denominator comedy is exactly what it looks like: Steve Martin's white spazziness pitted against Queen Latifah's soul-sister omnipotence. Martin is the king of nerdy tics and facial contortions, and Latifah makes it her business to be the Queen of any moment she elbows her way into. It's clear the point of this movie is enjoying loose laughter without too much scrutiny. But the sitcom shtick wears thin after a while. The movie goes into a frenzy of black and white jokes, gags and situations. There's an inevitable law of diminishing returns at work here. Soon enough, the racial angle becomes the tiresome basis of almost every joke; the movie resorts to sillier and cheaper ploys to keep going. Contains risque racial humor, sexual situations and obscenity.
  • "What a Girl Wants" (PG): This is for girls and women who make quiet moaning sounds at the thought of being born into an aristocratic and rich family -- preferably a British one. American teenager Daphne (Amanda Bynes) decides it's time to find her estranged father, Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), an English lord who, in his salad (and motorbike-riding) days, fell in love with and married Daphne's American mom, Libby (Kelly Preston). But on the British side of things, the scheming Alastair Payne (Jonathan Pryce) has no intention of letting father and daughter get together. The movie's for princess-movie fans only. It's uninspired and insipid all the way. Contains princess fantasy propaganda.

    July 29

  • "Daredevil" (PG-13): When people describe "Daredevil," the film based on the blind Marvel Comics character who fights crime by utilizing his four other heightened senses, as "dark," chances are they're not just referring to the moral ambiguity of a self-doubting superhero lawyer (Ben Affleck) who enacts vigilante justice with a lethal, multipurpose cane. They may also be talking about the action sequences, most of which seem to take place in the dark and/or rain, making it rather hard to see whose rear is getting kicked. While the premise is good, and a psychologically tormented hero is always a nice touch, the physical stunts are often lost in on-screen murk, except for the one fight that takes place in broad daylight between our hero and, of all people, his lady love (Jennifer Garner). Contains violent combat and sensuality.
  • "Piglet's Big Movie" (G): After being ignored once too often by Winnie the Pooh and the other denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood, Piglet runs off in a sulk, leading his pals to organize a search party in this genial animated spinoff of the classic A.A. Milne books. Although the pink-striped porker remains missing for most of the film, his friends regale themselves with flashbacks illustrating Piglet's oft-overlooked feats of heroism and bravery, set to charming new songs by Carly Simon. While not nearly as endearing as the Sebastian Cabot-narrated adaptations of the 1960s and 1970s, "Piglet's Big Movie" is a benign addition to the Pooh film canon. Contains nothing offensive.
  • "The Quiet American" (PG-13): In this adaptation of the Graham Greene novel, Michael Caine is Thomas Fowler, a British journalist caught in colonial Indochina in the 1950s. It's a strange world, where communists, French, Americans and a tyrannical leader named General The (Quang Hai) are vying for power. The main story, though, is about Fowler's attempts to stop his young girlfriend Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen) from falling for Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), a bumbling American aid worker given to baseball caps and goofy sincerity. Caine's imperial world weariness gives the movie a vital potency. Without the actor, "The Quiet American" would be a respectable foreign-hellhole drama, something along the lines of "The Year of Living Dangerously." But thanks to his subtly nuanced performance, there's a deeper dimension to everything. He's snappily ironic at times, sometimes amazingly delicate, always engaging. Contains wartime violence, gruesome injuries, some obscenity and sexual situations.
  • "Solaris" (R): Steven Soderbergh's remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 film (of the same name) exudes the impressive authority of a "2001," with similarly slow and meticulous pacing, and credible, futuristic production design. But the movie, starring George Clooney, never rises above its surface texture. Clooney is moderately effective as Chris Kelvin, a doctor grieving his dead wife (Natascha McElhone), who's sent to investigate strange doings on a space station near the planet Solaris. After finding one dead crewman (Ulrich Tukur) and two strangely behaved survivors (Jeremy Davies and Viola Davis), Kelvin becomes affected by the weird atmosphere. When he sees his dead wife, the movie enters the metaphysical realm. But even by the art film standards it apes, "Solaris" lacks conviction. Contains nudity, sexual situations and some violence.
  • "Spider" (R): Watching flashbacks that present the childhood memories of an obviously deranged man (Ralph Fiennes as the twitching, mumbling title character in David Cronenberg's masterful psychological thriller) gives new meaning to the term "unreliable narrator." Dennis "Spider" Cleg's version of his youth should be taken with more than a grain of salt, especially since his version of his current life, replete with the occasional hallucination, is not exactly to be trusted. But that's how Cronenberg keeps us on the edges of our seats -- by parceling out the "facts" of Spider's life (such as they are) in small and highly subjective doses. When we finally do figure out exactly how messed up our hero is, it doesn't come as so much of a shock as a sneaking, sickening suspicion fulfilled. Contains partial nudity, a sexual encounter and violence.
  • "Till Human Voices Wake Us" (R): There are few things worse than a mediocre movie that apes profundity, in this case with extended references to T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." The movie is about Sam Franks (Guy Pearce), who believes the odd, alluring Ruby (Helena Bonham Carter) may just be the spirit of a girl he knew and loved, who drowned. This is the movie's great punch line, but it comes far too early in the picture and we are stuck twiddling our thumbs as we wait for the inevitable. Unfortunately, there's nothing beyond this "discovery" to sustain the story. Contains sexual material.
  • "XX/XY" (R): Writer-director Austin Chick's disappointing debut opens with a lurid three-way sexual encounter between main characters Coles (Mark Ruffalo), Thea (Kathleen Robertson) and Sam (Maya Stange), and the rest of it purports to explore the incident's reverberations. Anyone who's ever sat through a Neil LaBute film knows you can make a movie in which all the characters are unsympathetic, but this trio is uninteresting, to boot. With one exception: the Coles character is a failed filmmaker, and he comes alive when he complains about the difficulty of making movies or meets a disgruntled filmgoer who wants his money back. It's the only part of the movie that rings true -- or rings at all. Contains drug and alcohol abuse, graphic sex and karaoke performances of the Human League's "Don't You Want Me."

    July 22

  • "Ararat" (R): Atom Egoyan's movie, attempting to bring the white-hot issue of the 1915 Armenian genocide to light, has extinguished it with too much purpose. Too many subplots and a few too many layers of intellectual remove clog the air. Some of those subplots include the life of Arshile Gorky (Simon Abkarian), an Armenian painter who escaped the Turkish horrors, ultimately to paint "The Artist and His Mother," a national treasure of a canvas for his people; a film-within-a-film as a director (Charles Aznavour) attempts to make an epic movie of the massacre at the hands of the Turks; and the spiritual searchings of Raffi (David Alpay), an 18-year-old Armenian Canadian trying to come to grips with his family and ethnic history. Unfortunately, the movie appeals to the brain but not the heart. Contains violence, sexual content, nudity and obscenity.
  • "Final Destination 2" (R): Kimberley (A.J. Cook) has a premonition of a horrifying chain-reaction freeway crash just as she's about to leave the entrance ramp. She saves the day with a stalled SUV. But Death comes back to claim the people she saved, just as it did in the original "Final" movie. Everyone bands together in an effort to cheat Death, which nonetheless comes up with ingenious, intricately staged methods of execution. Some deaths are a bit mundane, tending to provoke titters and discomforted laughs, but the others achieve their intended, scary effect. Contains strong violence, gruesome accidents, language, drug content and brief nudity.
  • "The Life of David Gale" (R): Philosophy professor and convicted murderer David Gale (Kevin Spacey) begs investigative reporter Elizabeth "Bitsey" Bloom (Kate Winslet) to write about his claim of innocence. Turns out he's an activist for a nonprofit group that lobbies heavily against the death penalty. The victim is Constance (Laura Linney), David's fellow activist. What goes on here? It takes Spacey's considerable talent to make his scenes even the slightest bit believable. But he can't save us from the rest of the movie, an anti-death penalty screed disguised as a thriller. It doesn't matter what your politics are -- this is too heavy-handed for any point of view. Contains graphic sexuality, nudity, violence and obscenity.
  • "Nicholas Nickleby" (R): Set in 19th-century England and based on the Charles Dickens novel, the film follows the episodic course of title character Nicholas (Charlie Hunnam) and his family, who are penniless and forced to depend on the goodwill of wealthy uncle Ralph (Christopher Plummer). Ralph promptly dispatches Nicholas to teach at a boarding school run by cruel, one-eyed Wackford Squeers (Jim Broadbent). Nicholas's adventures include an episode with some traveling players (including an amusing Nathan Lane and Alan Cumming) and a climactic confrontation with his uncle. In terms of dramatic punch, this has a modest made-for-TV feel. It's diverting but not especially brilliant. Contains emotionally distressing cruelty toward women and children, some violence and a childbirth scene.
  • "Read My Lips" (R): There's nothing cute, thank God, about the way hearing impaired frump Carla (Emmanuelle Devos) and loutish, greasy-haired ex-con Paul (Vincent Cassel) meet. She's a lonely, brittle office clerk and he's her surly new assistant. He's planning a robbery and she, as it turns out, can read lips, a skill that will come in handy in his surveillance. In French filmmaker Jacques Audiard's smart, hard-headed romantic thriller, what begins as a marriage of convenience -- Paul keeps Carla company and Carla keeps Paul in business -- turns ever so slowly and believably into a genuine relationship between two damaged people whose trust is galvanized during the brilliantly filmed heist climax. Contains obscenity, brutality, a vulgar gesture, brief flashes of skin and moments of sensuality. In French with subtitles.
  • "Spun" (R): What drugs do I need to be on to find "Spun" -- a crystal meth comedy -- funny? And why weren't they handing them out at the door? Feeling like a wan imitation of "Go," but substituting flash for that 1999 film's real wit, "Spun" tracks a few days in the uneventful life of Ross (Jason Schwartzman), a crystal meth freak whose friends and dealers, played by John Leguizamo, Mena Suvari, Patrick Fugit, Brittany Murphy and (gasp!) Mickey Rourke, compete to see who can go nowhere fastest. The movie is unrated, but it should be NC-35 for "no one over 35 admitted without the company of a 17-year-old" -- to tell him why he should care about any of this. Contains constant obscenity, fairly graphic sex scenes, frank sex talk, pervasive drug use, scenes of physical violence and, oh yes, nudity -- including a scene of John Leguizamo wearing nothing but a sock (and not on his foot).

    July 15

  • "Gods and Generals" (PG-13): -- Ronald F. Maxwell's nearly four-hour epic based on the Civil War battles of First Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, a prequel to his fairly well-received 1993 film "Gettysburg," is meticulously accurate in period detail, a quality that is insufficient to save the bloated, mawkish beast from itself. Characterized by the kind of arched-eyebrow and clenched-jaw acting one finds on soap operas, "G&G" is less a movie -- complete with character development and real drama -- than an expensive reenactment of battles in which everyone already knows the results. Contains extensive but largely bloodless battlefield violence.
  • "Laurel Canyon" (R): -- As they prepare to settle in Los Angeles, psychiatric resident Sam (Christian Bale) and his fiancee, Alex (Kate Beckinsale), make the mistake of spending time with Sam's hippified mother, Jane (Frances McDormand). A dope-smoking record producer, she's working on an album with Ian (Alessandro Nivola), a British rocker who also likes marijuana, as well as three-way sexual shenanigans. Thanks to the loose, comfortable performances, the movie is more appealing than it has any business being. It's McDormand's picture. As Jane, she lives her role so comfortably, so fully, she'll make you remember her character long after the movie has faded from memory. Contains drug use, mature sexual themes, obscenity and nudity.
  • "May" (R): -- In Lucky McKee's intriguingly flawed horror film, a young woman named May (Angela Bettis) has a lazy eye, no social grace and still has an imaginary friend from childhood, a sinister doll encased in a glass box. May is a strange one, who becomes infatuated with Adam (Jeremy Sisto), admiring his perfect hands. It doesn't take long to realize that May's job as a veterinarian's surgical assistant, her general weirdness, her ability to sew and her fetishism for people's specific body parts (Adam's hands, a young lady's long legs, a girlfriend's neck) is going to result in some gruesome home-based sewing and surgery. McKee has a gift for arresting images, and for showing the sweet side of weird people and the weird side of supposedly normal people. But he needs better stories. Contains nudity, sexual situations and gross carnage.
  • "Pinocchio" (G): -- Robert Benigni in pink shoes, stockings, a pink pair of jammies and a hat made out of bread acting like he's 6! That's the whole movie. There's almost nothing else. Sure, there's a wan attempt to re-create the plot of the classic Carlo Collodi story about Geppetto's puppet and his inability to mature, which wreaks havoc on himself and his dad. For his troubles he gets turned into a donkey, then gets eaten by a whale, inside which his poor father already languishes. But the movie never begins to create the illusion of a world beyond an Italian sound stage and a number of unrecognizable Italian character actors in extremely third-rate makeup as the Fox and the Cat and the Blue Fairy (Nicoletta Braschi). One of the most ludicrous things is Jiminy Cricket, who is envisioned here as a short fat bald guy in spats with two aerials sticking out of his head. Is he from Mars? Contains nothing objectionable.
  • "Shanghai Knights" (PG-13): -- This insipid sequel to "Shanghai Noon" brings back Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson as, respectively, Chon Wang and Roy O'Bannon. The odd couple heads to England in the late 1890s, where Chon's sister, Lin (Fann Wong), is hunting for their father's killer. All three get caught up in a ridiculous plot in which the dastardly Rathbone (Aiden Gillen) plans to deep-six the royals for his own power-driven ends. Wilson has his surfer-dude moments of humor, but he's doing his best with creatively dead material. Chan, whose age seems to have made him less willing to go stunt-crazy, performs tamer showcase fighting sequences that are more slapstick than stirring. But there is one nice piece of choreography, a fight scene that's an inspired parody of the umbrella-twirling song and dance number in "Singin' in the Rain." It's too bad his imagination and delicacy were wasted in this movie. Contains cartoonish violence and sexual shenanigans.

    July 8

  • "Basic" (R): -- What seems to be a routine investigation into the disappearance of an elite Special Forces team in the Panama jungle turns into a twisteroo mystery with a "Rashomon" edge. At the center is Tom Hardy (John Travolta), a DEA agent and former Ranger who is summoned to the Fort Clayton Army base to investigate the matter. Director John McTiernan's mystery-thriller unfolds like all too many military investigation movies (including "The General's Daughter," which also starred Travolta). And even though its agenda is deeper than that, and Travolta makes his scenes vigorous and entertaining, the surface remains average. Contains violence and obscenity.
  • "Phone Booth" (R): -- Take away several minutes of opening and closing credits, and Joel Schumacher's sniper-themed thriller boils down to little more than an hour of stomach-churning suspense. Briskly directed, tautly written by Larry Cohen and masterfully acted by Colin Farrell, playing a sleazy PR guy trapped in Manhattan's last working phone booth by an unseen psychopath (Kiefer Sutherland) with a high-powered rifle, "Phone Booth" doesn't have a dull moment in it. It's theatrical, yes -- the location feels like a stage set -- but it's wildly, extravagantly cinematic, too, thanks to Farrell's gutsy performance and Schumacher's relentless squeezing of the muscles that keep people in their seats. Contains obscenity, emotional intensity and brief gun violence.

    July 1

  • "Das Experiment" (NR): -- German director Oliver Hirschbiegel's movie is about a government-sponsored research experiment in which volunteers are paid to play roles in a model prison. One group gets the guard uniforms. The other is thrown behind bars. The 20 participants -- ranging from an opportunistic undercover journalist (German heartthrob Moritz Bleibtreu) to an Elvis Presley impersonator -- become more emotionally invested in their roles. And a battle of wills emerges between Tarek (Bleibtreu) and Eckert (Timo Dierkes), a quietly sinister control freak. But nobody feels particularly authentic, playing roles or not. Which doesn't make the almost inevitable bloodshed work very well. In the end, it looks as if this experiment proves one thing: People forced to play guards and prisoners tend to end up imitating bad prison movies. In German with subtitles. Contains violence, nudity and obscenity.
  • "Gangs of New York" (R): -- In Martin Scorsese's brilliantly realized vision of a Civil War-era Lower Manhattan populated by murderers, whores and thieves, Daniel Day Lewis stands out as Bill "the Butcher" Cutting, a villain so villainous he makes "LOTR's" Saruman look like Ghandi. Squaring off against the mustachioed meat-cutter is Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo di Caprio), the now-grown son of a man once killed by Bill in a turf war between Bill's gang of native-born Americans and a rabble of reviled Irish immigrants. The tale of a son's revenge deferred is as old as Greek mythology, but Scorsese's vision brings it to dizzying life in a blur of fact and fiction, blood, sweat and tears. Contains obscenity, nudity, implied sexuality and intense and pervasive violence.
  • "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" (PG-13): -- It's not as lame as it sounds, but this film about a magazine columnist (Kate Hudson) who tries to sabotage a relationship with a guy (Matthew McConaughey) just so she can write about it isn't as clever as it could be, either. The wacky misunderstandings are straight out of the romantic comedy rule book, and the targets of some of the jokes (Kathie Lee Gifford and Celine Dion, to name a couple of the supposedly "girlie" things that drive men insane) are, let's face it, sitting ducks. Still, the stars have a nice, unforced chemistry and even I, professional curmudgeon, have to admit I lost track of how many times I laughed. Contains sexual humor and situations, a single punch in the eye and repeated use of a vulgarity for excrement.
  • "The Real Cancun" (R): -- Apparently, America's thirst for real-life naughty words and real-life naughty bits hasn't yet been sated by the "Girls Gone Wild" series. Sensing an opportunity to capitalize on this perceived hunger, or perhaps seeking to show that boys also go wild, Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, producers of MTV's "The Real World," bring us documentation of one week in the lives of 16 strangers on spring break who are forced to live in a swank hotel (the horror!) and have their lives taped while they do things mother definitely wouldn't approve of. Just like "The Real World," the cast members were chosen not for their "realness," but seemingly because they could fill certain roles that heighten the drama. Alan, the nerd, steals the show with his unabashed dorkiness; the others don't give us much of anything new. The movie offers little that you haven't seen before on MTV's spring break coverage, with the exception of one uncensored wet T-shirt contest and a slew of unbleeped words. At the end of the film, like the end of most long vacations, it felt good to be going home.

    June 24

  • "Cowboy Bebop: The Movie" (R): -- In this movie version of a well-established Japanese animated television series, the usual cast of animated characters figure in the story: Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, Edward Wong and Ein the Data Dog. These are the Bebop bounty hunters, and this time they're after a mysterious adversary who has blown up a tanker in the middle of a major Martian city, causing biohazardous fumes to kill people by the hundreds. After a while, as in all too many Japanese animation films, the plot becomes convoluted and mentally wearying. But the atmospherics are wonderfully dark and film-noirish, if overly violent. Contains cartoon violence.
  • "Dark Blue" (R): -- Kurt Russell gives a stirring performance as a corrupt, third-generation cop in Ron Shelton's bleak look at the dysfunctional culture of coverups and secrecy that, at least in this film's overwhelmingly pessimistic view, pervade the Los Angeles Police Department. Superficially the story of the investigation of a quadruple homicide by a cynical Special Investigations Squad officer (Russell) and his idealistic rookie partner (Scott Sweetman), "Dark Blue" is also a zeitgeist film, set against the mood of cautious mistrust that bubbled over into open rage during the riots immediately after the verdict in the first Rodney King police brutality trial. "Dark Blue" is a compelling but dispiriting film with a lose-lose ending that serves as warning that each of us is the only salvation from the hell we have created. Contains violence, obscenity, sex talk, a strip-club scene and raw, racist language.
  • "The Hours" (PG-13): -- The death of the haunted, brilliant British author Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) starts a fatalistic ripple. Decades later, two women (Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep) will feel the sad, anxious rhythms of Woolf's life and death. The movie, based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is deeply moving, but not merely for three stories of agony, bravery and inspiration. With its deft intercutting of place and time, the film creates a powerful sense of mysticism and fate. And the performances are top-notch. You don't just love the movie for its structure but for the haunted people in it, making each other miserable, but forcing each other to face who they are. Contains mature thematic elements, some disturbing images and some obscenity.
  • "Intacto" (R): -- Is luck chance, a random gift or burden beyond our control? Or is it a skill that can be acquired, a commodity that can be banked, stolen or gambled away? Such metaphysical musings are at the heart of "Intacto," the mesmerizing art-noirish thriller by Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo in which a shadowy underground society engages in bizarre tests of fate and fortune that can best be described as extreme gambling. Looming over all is Sam, the God of Chance (Max Von Sydow), a concentration camp survivor who has parlayed both guilt and joyless good fortune into an isolated gambling casino where challengers engage in a virulent form of Russian roulette. A former protege, now exiled, finds his instrument of revenge in a bank-robbing fugitive who is the sole survivor of a plane crash; they're chased by a detective who is herself sole survivor of a car crash that kills her family. After bizarre trials and rituals, the players meet up for a final confrontation that is appropriately convoluted and complex. Contains strong language, mild violence and brief nudity.
  • "Kangaroo Jack" (PG): -- In this a front-end collision of a family comedy, two goofy pals -- Charlie (Jerry O'Connell) and Louis (Anthony Anderson) -- are sent to Australia to give a mysterious package to a hitman. But the package, containing $50,000, is lost when a kangaroo makes off with Louis's jacket, which contains the money. There are two distinctive features to the movie: the mind-numbingly banal plot as one chases another who chases another, and all the offensive material. The film, produced by Jerry "Mr. Subtle" Bruckheimer, includes camels with flatulence (yes, camels in Australia), jokes about testicles shrinking and sexually provocative material that's completely inappropriate for a PG-rated movie. Avoid this like the plague. Contains obscenity, crude humor, violence and salacious sexual material.
  • "Punch-Drunk Love" (R): -- Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, who made the inspired "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia," makes another gem. It's a movie of extraordinary subtlety, power and even hokey romanticism. And Adam Sandler proves he can act in grown-up films. Barry Egan (Sandler) is a loner with emotional problems. He had a traumatic past with taunting sisters. And he's just plain odd. But his soul is unequivocally pure. When he meets fellow-oddbird Lena (Emily Watson), it's obvious he's met his soul-mate. But he has to get rid of his demons, and a gang of bad guys who are targeting his bank account. Is Barry ready for romantic prime time? Thanks to Anderson's assured picture, a symphony of cinematic textures, that disarmingly simple question becomes incredibly compelling. Contains sexual situations, violence and obscenity.

    June 17

  • "Deliver Us From Eva" (R): -- This hip-hop version of "The Taming of the Shrew" is about the super-nasty Eva (Gabrielle Union), who lords over her three sisters (Essence Atkins, Robinne Lee and Meagan Good) and their men (Mel Jackson, Dartanyan Edmonds and Duane Martin). When the guys recruit ladies man Ray (LL Cool J) to seduce Eva and keep her out of everyone's life, the plan backfires. They fall in love. Of course. Writer-director Gary ("The Brothers") Hardwick clearly wants to make this more than another romantic comedy, but that desire evaporates in the face of loopy storytelling (including a nutty kidnapping plot), one-dimensional archetypes, too much predictability and not enough humor. Contains obscene language and sexual situations.
  • "Heaven" (R): -- German director Tom Tykwer, working from a script from the late Krzysztof Kieslowski and his longtime collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz (who made "Blue," "White" and "Red," as well as "The Decalogue") has made a poetic, touching film about the partnership between Philippa (Cate Blanchett), an Englishwoman who kills a group of civilians with a planted bomb, and Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi), a young policeman and translator who falls in love with her. Tykwer drapes the latter part of the film in abstraction. It's an extremely dramatic turnaround. Up until that point, we've been watching an action movie -- or close to -- full of hidden bombs, ticking clocks, a prison escape and two fugitives from justice. The effect is unusual, unexpected and strangely refreshing. Contains a scene of sexuality and emotionally disturbing material at the beginning.
  • "Just Married" (PG-13): -- This romantic comedy, starring Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy, is impressively awful. Kutcher is Tom Leezak, a twentysomething kid with a radio DJ job who marries Sarah McNerney (Murphy), much to the chagrin of her hoity-toity WASP family. The movie is about their disastrous honeymoon in Europe, which includes being stuck with a ridiculously small rental car, blowing the electrical system in their hotel and having a supreme battle in Venice over Tom's rival for Sarah's heart, an arrogant jock (Christian Kane) with family connections. Groan. Contains sexual content, some crude humor and a brief drug reference.
  • "Me Without You" (R): -- Playing a woman who ages from a teenager to a thirtysomething mom, Michelle Williams shines in this British drama about friendship and selfhood. As Holly, the quiet, bookish best friend of popular party gal Marina (Anna Friel), Williams shows some real acting chops, evolving from habitual second fiddle to a strong, confident woman who realizes that the only way she's ever going to come into her own is by cutting loose her oldest -- but most leech-like -- chum. Filmmaker Sandra Goldbacher, who has said that the film is partly autobiographical, beautifully captures the imbalance of Holly and Marina's relationship. What's more, the film's subtle but effective use of period music and costume perfectly evoke the late '70s through the present. Contains obscenity, drug use, sexuality and partial nudity.
  • "Narc" (R): -- In this cop drama, Ray Liotta is one scary proposition as Lt. Henry Oak, a Detroit cop bent on avenging the death of a partner. Jason Patric plays Nick Tellis, an undercover narcotics cop assigned to be his new partner. Writer-director Joe Carnahan sows a well-sustained allegory-cum-cop drama. But there isn't a stylistic, thematic or story detail that hasn't already been drummed and redrummed into our moviegoing and televiewing subconsciousness. What "Narc" does is put it all together in a well-stuffed body bag of intensity. But you have to like relentless intensity. Contains disturbing violence, drug contentand pervasive obscenity.
  • "Tully" (R): -- The silent, majestic Nebraska farmland is the powerful backdrop in director/co-writer Hilary Birmingham's rich, assured debut. Adapted by Birmingham and Matt Drake from Tom McNeal's short story, this modestly budgeted but richly visual film watches the emotional forces at work in a farming family. The patriarch (Bob Burrus) and his two sons Tully (Anson Mount) and Earl (Glenn Fitzgerald) need to accept the past, move on with their lives and learn to love more fully and openly. Tully (Mount), in particular, has some demons to settle before he can fully love Ella (Julianne Nicholson), a smart local girl who's obviously right for him. The movie's unhurried and affecting, gentle but forceful. Contains minor violence, some sexual content.

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