The Beat That My Heart Skipped

Unrated, 2005, 107 minutes, Wellspring. Contains obscenity, violence, sensuality and nudity. In French with subtitles.

This French drama, a remake of writer-director James Toback's 1978 "Fingers," about a man torn between thug life and his love of the piano, plays like a piece of mediocre music, gorgeously rendered. Romain Duris is excellent as Thomas Seyr, a punk who dreams of being a concert pianist like his mother, who he abandoned 10 years earlier to follow in his disreputable father's footsteps. With his ability to convey deep misanthropy, creative passion and the anguish that lies in the gap between them, Duris almost makes me care about which side of Thomas's personality will win out.

* Extra: Deleted scenes.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

The Honeymooners

PG-13, 2005, 89 minutes, Paramount Home Video. Contains crude humor and about as much comedy as "Hamlet."

This African Americanization of the classic Jackie Gleason-Art Carney TV show "The Honeymooners" was a bad idea that turned out even worse. In the Gleason and Carney roles, Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps are such hapless characters, it's a wonder the screen itself doesn't curl up in disgust. Cedric plays central character Ralph Kramden as nothing more than a tubby schemer who drives a bus and who is married, beyond logic, to Gabrielle Union (as Alice). As Ralph's sidekick Ed Norton, Epps's idea of comic grace is to walk through the movie with a fixed grin and perform pratfalls that wouldn't get a "C" grade in clown school. In memory of Gleason's oft-repeated line, "To the moon, Alice," I'd like to suggest the same lunar destination to the studio geniuses who thought up this project.

* Extra: Director's commentary.

-- Desson Thomson

Kings and Queen

Unrated, 2004, 150 minutes, Wellspring. Contains some violence, sex scenes and obscenity.

A stuffed kitchen sink of ideas, references and plot twists, this film is exciting for its very inventiveness. With one plot about single mother Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) getting her life back together and another about her good-natured ex-husband Ismael (Mathieu Amalric) trying to extricate himself from a mental asylum, this movie feels like a Gallic combination of "The Singing Detective," "King of Hearts" and "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore." But it moves to its own snaky rules and rhythms as it switches from the serious to the absurd, from tragic melodrama to stage comedy. It's a puzzle of a film, but not the kind that intimidates you with inscrutability so much as one that beckons you into its antic eccentricity.

* Extra: Cast interviews.

-- Desson Thomson

9 Songs

Unrated, 2004, 67 minutes, Tartan Films. Contains graphic sex, obscenity and drug use.

A British glaciologist named Matt (Kieran O'Brien) meets an American woman, Lisa (Margo Stilley), at a concert in London. They watch the show. Then they go to his house, and they have sex. Then, days later or something, they go to another concert, and they have more sex. And then, it's time for another concert. And more sex. Never did sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll seem more shopworn and routine. Director Michael Winterbottom seems to have no interesting reason to have made this movie. A few aerial shots of the Antarctic as Matt flies over are nothing but arty window dressing for the bed bouncing that follows.

* Extra: Concert performance only option.

-- Desson Thomson

{sstar} The Polar Express

G, 2004, 93 minutes, Warner Home Video. Contains nothing objectionable.

Chris Van Allsburg's storybook is brought to an eerie sort of life, or perhaps surreal artificiality, in this digitally animated movie. Thanks to "performance capture," movements of the live actors (including Tom Hanks in five roles) are regenerated into digital versions. It's as if the book itself became animated, started talking to you, its characters sitting up from the flat page. On Christmas eve, a young boy (voiced by Daryl Sabara) who has his doubts about Santa hears a large train bound for the North Pole outside his house. He hops aboard and joins a carriage full of children and a mysterious conductor (Hanks), all on their way to see the big, bearded guy. It's a compelling adventure with some breathtaking scenes, including one in which a girl's lost ticket flies out of the train, then takes a fluttery, serendipitous route that includes getting stuck under the wheels, swooping down an arctic ravine and even landing temporarily in a bird's nest before getting sucked back into the train.

* Extra: The many "polar faces" of Tom Hanks.

-- Desson Thomson

{sstar} War of the Worlds

PG-13, 2005, 118 minutes, UMVD/Dreamworks. Contains violence and obscenity.

As he did with "Saving Private Ryan," director Steven Spielberg bursts out of the starting gate in the first half-hour of his adaptation of H.G. Wells's 1898 science-fiction adventure about Earth under attack by aliens. Starring Tom Cruise as a divorced father trying to protect his children (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin) from annihilation by ruthless visitors from outer space, this film spends a considerable amount of time exploring the interior life of a man and the kids he seems to have just discovered he has, but not at the expense of the film's profound, sustained thrills. It's a rip-roaring popcorn flick with heart.

* Extra: An introduction from Steven Spielberg; production diaries.

-- Michael O'Sullivan