Linda Cook shares her movie reviews every Tuesday on PSL.

JJJJ

JJJ 1/2

JJJ

 JK 1/2

KK

L1/2

L

ZERL

House of Flying Daggers

Million Dollar Baby


Kinsey


Closer


Sideways


Ray


Before Sunrise


Donnie Darko


Sky Captain


Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring

Coach Carter

ESPN's Ultimate X

Phantom of the Opera

The Aviator

Being Julia

Finding Neverland

The Polar Express

The Incredibles

Shaun of the Dead

Friday Night Lights

Team America: World Police

Ladder 49

Mr. 3000

Assault on Precinct 13

What the Bleep Do We Know

In Good Company

Beyond the Sea

Lemony Snickett

Spanglish

Oceans Twelve

SpongeBob Squarepants

Santa vs. the Snowman (IMAX)

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Saw

Racing Stripes

Meet the Fockers

National Treasure 

Alfie

Fat Albert

Flight of the Phoenix

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Blade: Trinity

Alexander

Seed of Chucky

After the Sunset

Birth

Celsius 41.11


I Heart Huckabees


The Grudge

Raise Your Voice

Shark Tale

The Forgotten

First Daughter

Shall We Dance?

Electra

White Noise

Darkness

Christmas with the Kranks

Taxi

Wicker Park

Are We There Yet?

Surviving Christmas

National Lampoon's Gold Diggers

 


3 stars

I’m not sure why they remade this movie. All I know is that I’m glad there’s a decent actioner for grownups amidst the January junk.

You might remember director John Carpenter for movies such as “Halloween.” His “Assault on Precinct 13” (which had “Rio Lobo” at its roots) is a violent film -- if you’ve seen it, you probably remember the slaying of a little girl who has an ice cream cone. 

Well, that ghastly scene is not included here. But the overall idea -- that of a group of criminals and cops working together to survive -- is maintained.

The setting is New Year’s Eve, when the 13th Precinct in Detroit is just hours away from shutting down for good, so inside there’s a little party going on that includes the sergeant, Jake (Ethan Hawke), Jasper (Brian Dennehy), who’s going to retire; secretary Iris (Drea de Matteo, HBO’s “The Sopranos”), and Jake’s psychiatrist (Maria Bello, “Coyote Ugly”).

Elsewhere, a drug lord named Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) is arrested after he and some other thugs engage in slayings inside and outside a church. The transport bus, which includes Bishop and three other people in custody, can’t get through the storm to its destination, so it stops at Precinct 13 to hole up for the night. Bishop and the other prisoners (John Leguizamo, Aisha Hinds and Ja Rule) are placed in cells so that, at daylight, other offices can whisk them away.

But, just at midnight, the precinct is overtaken by gunfire by a group of men who demand that Bishop be freed. Jake refuses to let the known cop killer go, and so begins a game of cat and mouse between the attackers and the little group trapped inside.

The acting is fine, and the script is well-written because the bad guys act so, well, bad. There’s no “talking villain” scene here, in which the baddies take time to explain to their victims what’s going on so the victims can be rescued in the nick of time. These criminals are executioners, and they don’t fool around.

Fishburne, in particular, exudes a calculating coolness as the soft-spoken, sinister drug lord who will stop at nothing to save his own life.

It’s tough, it’s gritty, and it’s a good adult antidote for cabin fever.

Running time: Just a little less than two hours.

Rated: R for graphic violence and gore, foul language and sexual talk.

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Maria Bello, Brian Dennehy, Gabriel Byrne, John Leguizamo, Drea de Matteo, Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins, Aisha Hinds, Matt Craven and Currie Graham.

Director: Jean-François Richet.
Screenwriter: James DeMonaco, based on the film by John Carpenter.


3 stars

Here’s a fairly simple test to determine whether you, as a thinking adult, should see “What the Bleep Do We Know?” 

Ready?

I believe that UFOs are:

A. Something other than what those nuts claim they see.

B. An interesting phenomenon that should be studied.

The idea of creating my own reality is:

A. A pretty loony idea.

B. A possibility I’d like to explore.

Channeling is:

A. Something I do with my remote control, and I want it to stay that way.

B. Something I’d like to learn more about.

Did you choose two or more Bs? If so, then this movie is for you, and you should run right out (NOT with your children or grandchildren, though) and see it. If you chose at least two As, though, you’re probably not even reading this far, so it doesn’t matter.

I’ve never seen anything quite like “What the Bleep Do We Know?” It’s part science, part spiritual, and part fiction. The three directors have interviewed professors, a channelers, scientists and health-care providers to discuss, in terms you’ll be able to comprehend, the possibilities that our own minds create for us. Among the experts cited is Ramtha, channeled through the well-known JZ Knight (hence the earlier question). 

Marlee Matlin portrays Amanda, who’s the Everyperson we all can identify with in one way or another. As the talking heads in the interviews discuss how little is known about a thought, and the physical process that creates it, we see Amanda trying to survive after her divorce. She begins to open her mind and enjoy herself as we learn more about the possibility that we create our own realities and destinies by our thoughts and beliefs.

If you’ve read this far, you probably won’t think that the movie is a bunch of baloney. Even if you do, it will certainly be a conversation starter. The eye-catching colors of animated brain cells dancing around create a fun perspective on why we want to party or sulk.

My favorite part focuses briefly on “The Hidden Messages in Water” research by Dr. Masaru Emoto. He claims that water can transmit emotions from people, and uses high-speed photography to demonstrate that thoughts have an impact on the physical appearance of ice crystals.

Whatever you may believe about your brain, yours is certain to be churning -- and loving it -- when you walk out of this experience.


Running time: Not quite two hours.

Rated: Unrated, but similar to an “R” for sexual scenes and foul language.

Directors: William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente. 

Screenwriters: William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Matthew Hoffman.

Stars: Marlee Matlin, Barry Newman, Amit Goswami, David Albert, Fred Alan Wolf and Ramtha.


0 stars

This is the meanest, most offensive fare I’ve ever seen disguised as a “family film.”

The kids behave abominably. The story line is ridiculous. The adults act like imbeciles. And I won’t even acknowledge the racial stereotypes this emphasizes.

“Are We There Yet?” is an atrocity. And that’s a shame for the capable cast.

Here’s the story line, which you’ve seen before in such movies as “Dutch:” Ice Cube stars as Nick, a guy who doesn’t like kids but falls for Suzanne, (Nia Long) the sexy mother of two really obnoxious, mean-spirited children who delight in physically assaulting their mother’s dates.

You know that Nick is going to end up with this bratty duo in his new Lincoln Navigator, and you’re right. He has to deliver them to their mom, and it’s going to be a trip of about 300 miles.

The kids don’t stop being mean to Nick…oh. I forgot to mention that Nick is mean, too. He blares his horn at a little boy who has dropped his books on his way to school in a scene that just isn’t funny.

Anyway, back to the meanness at hand. The kids pretend that Nick has kidnapped them and encourage well-meaning truck drivers to help them out. In this day of Amber Alerts, that’s far from hilarious.

I will say this: I’ll be looking for Philip Daniel Bolden, who plays Kevin, one of the two kids, in more movies. This kid is just adorable, and he out-acts practically everybody else on the screen. He’s also been a batch of icky movies, from “The Animal” to “Little Nicky,” and maybe somebody out there will grab him and put in the spotlight in the decent script that he deserves.

I can’t even tell you about the crass role that the beautiful Nichelle Nichols, the barrier-breaking actress from the original “Star Trek” series, has to endure. I can’t stand to think about it any more.

And let’s not forget the talking Satchel Paige bobble-head doll on Nick’s dash. Only Nick can hear its advice. What does this mean? It would have made a great foundation for a horror spoof: “The Man Who Hears the Bobble-Heads.”

Then there’s the sequence of Nick beating up a deer, and another horrible set-up of a pharmacist in a clown suit … well, I’ll stop. There’s no sense being mean because the movie is mean.

But you don’t have to see it, either … know what I mean?

Running time: Ninety minutes.

Rated: PG for violence.

Stars Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen, Philip Daniel Bolden, Jay Mohr, Tracy Morgan and Nichelle Nichols.

Director: Brian Levant.

Screenwriters: Steven Gary Banks, Claudia Grazioso, J. David Stem and David N. Weiss.


2 1/2 stars

I can’t think of the last time I added a half star because of an animal actor is so cute.

I guess I should say actors, actually. Because it took more than one zebra to create “Racing Stripes,” a “Babe” wanna-be that has its moments .. . and its critters.

First, let’s get to the cute part. A baby zebra is left behind as a circus troupe heads out of town. (I never did get past this set-up: Who on earth wouldn’t notice that a baby zebra was missing from a menagerie? Wouldn’t somebody come looking for him?)

But, with disbelief suspended, we trot on to the next part of the movie. A kindly Kentucky farmer, Nolan (Bruce Greenwood), is driving along in the rain when he sees the little zebra (did I mention just how cute this animal is?) He takes it into his barn, where his daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere) immediately falls in love with the hungry little newcomer. (The scene with the highest cuteness quotient has Channing feeding Stripes from a bottle. Just darling).

Then the other animals come along and introduce themselves to Stripes (voice of Frankie Muniz). They include Tucker (voice of Dustin Hoffman), a Shetland pony; a goat (voice of Whoopi Goldberg); a tough pelican (voice of Joe Pantoliano), and two flies (the voices of Steve Harvey and David Spade). 

Stripes wants to race, but the thoroughbreds make fun of him (see what I mean about the “Babe” thing?) And Channing wants to ride Stripes when he grows up. But Nolan is afraid that she’ll get hurt, and he discourages her from racing Stripes, let alone riding him.

Greenwood is a great actor, and, although the script doesn’t deserve it, he gives it his all as a man torn between his past and the future of his daughter.

The movie has many flaws, particularly the disgusting flies. They don’t really fit in with the rest of the animal cast, and their locker-room humor doesn’t belong in a movie like this. I will admit that this kind of thing makes people laugh, but how much better the jokes are when they don’t stoop to the lowest common denominator.

Instead, the movie could have focused more on clever comedy. And cuteness.

Running time: Ninety-five minutes.

Rated: PG for bathroom humor.

Length: 1:24
Stars: Bruce Greenwood, Hayden Panettiere, Wendie Malick, M. Emmet Walsh, and the voices of Frankie Muniz, Mandy Moore, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jeff Foxworthy, Joshua Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Joe Pantoliano, Steve Harvey, David Spade, Fred Dalton Thompson, Dustin Hoffman and Whoopi Goldberg.
Director: Frederik Du Chau.
Screenwriter: David Schmidt.


4 stars

If you loved “Hero” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” then you’ll also enjoy the gorgeous “House of Flying Daggers.”

Zhang Yimou directed both this one and “Hero,” and he steeps his movies in lush colors and textures that are so vibrant they’re among the stars. Whether it’s the costumes or the breathtaking landscapes, the movie is a constant feast for the eyes.

Oh, and there’s a story, too, in this film that‘s set in the year 859. The House of Flying Daggers is a kind of underground group, kind of like Robin Hood in its activities, that wants to overthrow the Tang Dynasty. The rebels, whose leader has been eliminated, are being investigated by Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who goes undercover at a brothel to find out whether dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi, who also starred in “Hero” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) is part of the underground group.

Mei is blind -- possibly a nod to the “Zatoichi” series and the remake from 2004 -- and that makes one of the action sequences all the more tantalizing. Mei is challenged to follow drumbeats in a scene that’s sheer poetry of motion in the “echo game” sequence that was among my favorite parts of the film. And, once again, the characters literally fly through the air during battles and chases as Mei proves herself to be a brave warrior as well as a dancer.

We don’t know whether Mei realizes just who Jin really is, but we watch as they begin to fall for each other. The question remains: Just where do the allegiances of Mei and Jin really lie, especially when they take off together? Jin’s partner, Leo (Andy Lau) takes off after them.

The fight scenes, which essentially are a form of ballet, are clever and focused on more interesting sequences than violence, such as a battle in the trees. The music only enhances the feel of every scene.

The actors are as marvelous to watch as the scenes that encompass them. There’s chemistry at work here in front of the camera, both in the characters’ actions and emotions.

Simply, this movie is astonishing. It has everything -- mystery, tragedy, martial arts, a love triangle, romance and action. It’s not for those who like typical action, though - it’s for those who enjoyed its predecessors and want more of the stunning visuals of which this director is capable.

Running time: Two hours.

Rated: PG-13 for violence and sexual situations.

Director: Zhang Yimou.

Stars: Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau and Song Dandan.

In Mandarin with English subtitles.


1/2 star

Oh, dear. "Elektra" is a shocking mess.

And that’s too bad. Because Jennifer Garner can be a lot of fun ("13 Going on 30") and this could have been an interesting character instead of a trip to Snoozeville.

Elektra is an assassin for hire, who leads an isolated life with a sort of broker calling her with assignments. Her next killing will bring her a $2 million fee. She’s sent to a beautiful home by a lake where she meets Abby (Kirsten Prout), the girl who lives next door with her handsome dad Mark (Goran Visnjic). Although Elektra tries to keep her distance, she is invited to Christmas Day dinner with the dad and daughter, and of course, well, sparks fly (sorry -- couldn’t help it).

Elektra seems to be a key player in the eternal war between good and evil. Now The Order of the Hand, a bunch of Asian demon warriors (I guess, I’m still not sure) is looking for The Treasure, and so is a group of good folks including Elektra’s former martial arts teacher (Terence Stamp). It was this teacher, see, who brought her back from the dead -- remember "Daredevil?" Of course you don’t, but trust me, her character dies in that show. 

These demons, or warriors, or whatever they are, seem to have powers that come and go. I kept thinking that if they’d just use their phenomenal powers, they could end this nonsense. But no, their powers come and go, and they stop during battles for silly or unknown reasons. One of them, Tattoo (Chris Ackerman) has cool tattoos from which animals spring -- kind of interesting, but not as deadly as they appear.

All this nonsense goes on forever. I think the movie is supposed to show Elektra as a woman who, as a child, was abused by a father who forced her to prove herself constantly. Instead, the whole movie, which could have been interesting character study of how Elektra came to be an assassin, is trite and boring.

I hope this trend of mediocre superheros (with the exception of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man) doesn’t continue. Because, at least on the print I saw, attached to "Elektra" is a trailer for "The Fantastic Four." After seeing "Elektra," my enthusiasm for the upcoming movie is less than fantastic.

Running time: Seventy-five hours. No, really, it’s ninety-five minutes. But it seems a lot longer.

Rated: PG-13 for violence.

Stars: Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic, Kirsten Prout, Will Yn Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Terence Stamp, Natassia Malthe, Bob Sapp and Chris Ackerman.
Director: Rob Bowman.
Screenwriter: Zak Penn.


3 1/2 stars

At first, I thought “Coach Carter” was a too preachy.

But as the movie went on, I figured that the coach probably did lecture his team quite a bit. And there was a reason for that: He wanted them to succeed outside of the basketball court.

Set in California, the movie stars Samuel L. Jackson as a no-nonsense coach who decides, for a $1,500 stipend, to spend four months coaching the Richmond Oilers, a team of kids who attend the school where he was a basketball star.

Things don’t go easily the first day. The students won’t listen to him and at first give him no respect -- that is, until he strong-arms one of the smart-mouths against a wall. He’s physically tough on the kids, and they find his other demands are even more strict. He asks the players to sign a contract that they will wear suits on game days, attend classes and sit in the front rows of those classes, and maintain a C average. As we get to know some of the players, we begin to see that their urban world is full of much harsher threats than 500 push-ups from Coach Carter.

And the coach faces some challenges, too. Because the parents aren’t used to the athletes being treated as students first. And when the coach penalizes the players, eventually going so far as to remove players from the team and even cancel games, he finds that his very life may be threatened.

Jackson, as always, is just terrific as the headstrong coach. He breathes life into the man who knows good and well that the odds are against the athletes -- the likelihood is that many will end up in jail. Jackson plays Carter as a man determined, despite the protests of school administrators and parents, to force the boys into success despite themselves.

It’s true that we’ve seen many of these themes before in student-athlete movies. That’s OK, though, because this coach handles his team in a unique way.

Besides, this is an MTV movie that sold out theaters all weekend long to teen-agers and families. Who knows -- the movie could be an inspiration, or an education, in itself. 

Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for violence, sexual situations and foul language.

Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Rob Brown, Nana Gbewonyo, Rick Gonzalez, Robert Ri'Chard, Antwon Tanner, Channing Tatum, Ashanti and Debbi Morgan.
Director: Thomas Carter
Screenplay: Mark Schwahn and John Gatins, inspired by real-life events in the life of coach Ken Carter.


1 star

Forget that noise.

“White Noise,” that is. Oh, I know, I know, the trailers make it look like a scary movie -- but not scary enough to make you forget what month it is.

I’m talking about “January junk,” the annual garbage collection time, cinematically speaking. Studios throw the trash onto the big screens during January. It’s traditional. And thus it begins with “White Noise,” a harbinger of even more crummy movies that tend to hit the screen between now and February.

The movie formerly was titled “EVP” (for Electronic Voice Phenomenon), which is a means, some say, that the dead can communicate with the living. “White noise” refers to static -- the blurry stuff on a television or the crackling you hear between stations on a radio. The folks who are experts at capturing this sort of phenomenon use special equipment to filter out the noise from the voices -- voices, they say, that come from loved ones or sometimes malevolent entities from “the other side.”

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? So it takes real skill, in a sense, to create a boring film with an incomprehensible ending out of this.

It’s not Michael Keaton’s fault. He does his level best as architect Jonathan, who has just lost his wife. He’s miserable in his loneliness and mourning, but then Raymond (Ian McNeice) and Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) show up and tell him that his wife is trying to communicate with him.

Jonathan becomes obsessed with the idea of hearing his wife, and he buys expensive (and very time-consuming) equipment in an effort to record her words. And then he discovers that something very sinister may be going on -- something that could have involved his wife.

Keaton’s interesting to watch. He has this troubled, brooding quality that worked well in his Batman character, beautifully in his unsung-but-terrific performance in “Clean and Sober,” and even in this mess. But he can’t out-act a poorly written script that leaves viewers scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Instead of wasting your time and money, why not pour yourself a cup of coffee and visit http://aaevp.com/ where you can read all about the phenomenon. Search the internet for skeptics’ reactions to EVP.

You’ll learn something, enjoy some thought-provoking moments, and you’ll probably come to a conclusion at the end.

None of which you will do while watching this film.

Running time: One hour and 40 minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for death-related scenes, frightening images and foul language.

Stars: Michael Keaton, Chandra West, Deborah Kara Unger and Ian McNeice.
Director: Geoffrey Sax.
Screenwriter: Niall Johnson.


3 stars

A former coworker of mine used to say “The only ‘fair’ I ever heard of is where they judge sheep and cows.’” And if you’ve ever felt like that at the office, join the audience of “In Good Company” for a laugh and a sigh.

Topher Grace (“Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!”) is Carter Duryea, 26, an ad executive who’s already moved up the ladder. After a corporate takeover, he suddenly finds himself driving a Porsche, managing a department and firing several people.

Among the survivors is Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), 52, who is astonished to find himself being called the “wing man” to the new manager after selling ads for Sports America magazine for many years.

Dan is frustrated and humiliated by the idea of working for a man half his age, but at least he’s kept his job. And he needs it, with a baby on the way and two other daughters, including Alex (Scarlett Johansson, “Lost in Translation“), who’s attending college.

Carter is envious of Dan’s home life, because he seems to have everything going for him. Carter, on the other hand, has a wife who, after seven months of marriage, decides to take off. He’s left with an empty house, so he throws himself into his work, forcing his employees to come in on Sundays because he has nothing better to do.

Carter, in a desperate attempt to spend a Sunday night with someone, anyone, else, talks himself into having dinner at Dan’s house. There he gets to know Alex, and the two strike up a romance, unbeknownst to Dan.

The movie belongs to Grace. He’s jittery but lovable as the guy who’s in ‘way over his head, and knows it. He and Quaid play off each other beautifully, with Quaid shooting Grace just the right glances to let us know that he’ll go along with the younger guy, but only because he must keep his job. The wonderful Malcolm McDowell also shines in the small role of a charismatic CEO.

We know all along that Dan realizes that good relationships are the foundation of doing business, while Carter speaks in corporate-ese about “synergy.” Their characters never become bad-guy/good-guy caricatures, though, and that keeps the believability quotient high.

The show has themes about romance, drama, ageism and careers. It’s a hard-working little movie that earns its keep.


Director and screenwriter: Paul Weitz
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Clark Gregg, Philip Baker Hall and Selma Blair.

Rated: PG-13 for sexual situations and drug references.


4 stars

It doesn’t get any better than this knock-out of a film.

Just as he did with the astonishing “Unforgiven,” and “Mystic River,” Clint Eastwood has created another fantastic film in “Million Dollar Baby.” It’s simple, straightforward, moving, and unforgettable -- one of the best movies of 2004, when it saw limited release that it deservedly could contend for various awards, which it richly deserves.

Eastwood play Frankie, a long-time boxing trainer who certainly never made a million dollars. Estranged from his grown daughter, cranky Frankie lives alone in Los Angeles, where he runs a gym and, in his spare time, enjoys reading poetry. Managing his gym is his long-time friend Scrap (Morgan Freeman), who once was one of Frankie’s fighters (his character also serves as the story’s narrator).

One day, the determined Maggie (Hilary Swank, “Boys Don’t Cry”) appears on the scene, and begs Frankie to manage her. The tough Missouri woman thinks that the only way she can escape her waitressing career is to become a great boxer.

Frankie doesn’t want anything to do with managing a woman. But Scrap talks him into giving Maggie a try, and, to his surprise, she turns out to be pretty tough.

The rest of the story isn’t what you’d expect, especially if you have seen other boxing movies. The movie takes a turn that’s quite a surprise, and I want to keep it that way, so I’m not going to write spoilers here. It may be a movie about boxing, but is it a boxing movie? No way.

What I can tell you is that the show has some of the finest acting you’ll ever see. Eastwood is wonderful as the grizzled manager who thinks he has seen it all. Freeman is subtly intense as Frankie’s best and only pal. Swank is wonderful as the woman who has known nothing but defeat until she steps into a ring.

Because of the beautifully written script and dialogue, and the amazing actors, you’ll want to know what happens to these three people who all are desperate down-and-outers in different ways. You’ll like them, and you’ll like watching them strike up deep, if somewhat peculiar, friendships. They’re people who have taken tremendous physical and emotional blows, survived them, and are determined to keep on surviving. Their friendships make that a little easier on each of them.

And what does happen to them will wring your heart.

Running time: Two hours and 10 minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for violence, foul language and adult themes and scenes.

Stars: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman.

Director: Clint Eastwood.

Screenwriter: Paul Haggis, based on stories from the book Rope Burns by Jerry Boyd writing as F. X. Toole. 


4 stars


Even though he died in 1956, controversy always will be associated the name of the late sex researcher, Dr. Alfred Kinsey.

"Kinsey" examines the examiner, taking a close look at the first American researcher who studied and wrote about human sexual behavior, first in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and then in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.

The film is told in flashbacks in which we see Kinsey himself being interviewed. Liam Neeson stars as the determined Kinsey, who was an Indiana University professor. We meet Kinsey as an unmarried scientist who is engrossed in the study of wasps. But his focus changes after he and his equally naive new bride, Clara (Laura Linney) suffer through a confusing wedding night. After a kindly therapist assists them, Kinsey wonders how many other people are bewildered by sex. He wondered, in fact, exactly what people do behind closed doors, and he began to talk to people about their private lives.

He became known as the "sex doctor," and taught a course about human sexuality at the university. Some of his students were shocked at his openness about the subject matter. Others, such as Clyde (Peter Sarsgaard), were so intrigued by the course and by Kinsey himself that they became involved in conducting interviews. 

Clyde eventually becomes the lover of both Kinsey and his wife; in fact, the entire group involved with Kinsey had "open relationships." In the meantime, Kinsey became famous, and his books became best-sellers that brought him respect among some readers and made him seem monstrous to others. Neeson is wonderful as the doctor who at first finds his interviews interesting, then realizes that he wants to pursue more interviews and research -- both through his staff and on a personal level. 


If you're wondering if this movie is graphic, wonder no more. Of course it is. It realistically depicts the research films that Kinsey made, in addition to the intimate lives of Kinsey and his colleagues. This is not for the easily shocked or offended and it should go without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that it's certainly not for children.

It’s for thinking adults who may want some insight on Kinsey as a man and a researcher and the controversy that continues today.

Running time: Two hours.

Rated: R for graphic sexual situations and language, nudity and foul
language.

Stars: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O'Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt and Dylan Baker. 

Director and screenwriter: Bill Condon.


3 1/2 stars

If you think that “ESPN’s Ultimate X” is a motor oil, then you need to see this movie, dude.

The show will draw two different audiences: Those who already are fans of “Xtreme” sports and those curious about them. Both audiences will be pleased at what they see here on the giant screen.

This is a documentary about the amazing achievements and athletes at the 2001 Summer X Games in Philadelphia. The sports include BMX biking, Moto X, street luge and skateboarding. And you’ll meet X Games athletes such as Tony Hawk, Cory “Nasty” Nastazio and Travis Pastrana.

The only time I’ve seen X Games-type sports depicted is -- where else? -- in the movies, although I was familiar with the genre and a few of the names. Within minutes, the beautifully filmed production had me slack-jawed with amazement as these athletes and performers -- for that’s what they truly are -- seem to defy the laws of gravity.

Part of the allure of the movie rests on the interview scenes, in which we meet folks such as: 

Bucky Lasek, star skateboarder. He has won numerous accolades throughout the world, and there’s even a Bucky Lasek action figure.

Mat Hoffman has put his own spin, pun intended, on freestyle bike riding. His versatility, control and seeming ability to fly are astounding. Hoffman, who has broken more than 50 of his bones, offhandedly mentions that he also has undergone 14 surgeries.

Ryan Nyquist also is known as “Triple Threat,” and he’s arguably the best BMX rider around. There’s an action figure in his likeness, too, and he’s a favorite of Xtreme sports fans the world over.

Tony Hawk, for whom “wow” doesn’t seem to say enough. The skateboarder, in his 30s, is well-known for a mid-air 36-degree somersault performed 2 1/2 times. 

Of course, seeing these guys in action also is part of the movie’s appeal. They seem to hang suspended in mid-air, performing can’t-believe-your-eyes feats high above the crowd then twisting and turning to land solidly with their machines and skateboards to thunderous applause.

And then, there’s the look of the movie. The slow-motion shots aren’t done just for effect; rather, they’re meant to give us an up-close look at what the athletes really are doing. 

And it’s well worth a look.


Running time: 45 minutes.

Rated: PG for dangerous stunts and mildly foul language.

Screenwriter and director: Bruce Hendricks.

X Games stars: Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist, Bucky Ldburke,asek, T.J. Lavin, Dave Mirra, Cory “Nasty” Nastazio, Ryan Nyquist , Mat Hoffman, Travis Pastrana, Brian Deegan and Carey Hart.


2 1/2 stars

I liked “Meet the Parents,” but I didn’t think it was the hoot that lots of other people did.

I saw the jokes coming, and some of them were pretty old. Some of them were run into the ground.

And that’s how I feel about “Meet the Fockers,” a movie that does indeed have some hilarious moments but also contains some tacky humor that’s overdone.

Everybody’s back. Ben Stiller is Gaylord/Greg Focker, whose name is the focus of endless jokes -- just in case, I guess, you don’t get it the first time. Robert De Niro is Jack Byrnes, the former CIA agent who trusts no one -- especially his future son-in-law. Blythe Danner is the most “normal” of the group as Pam’s neglected mother Dina.

Teri Polo stars as Pam, Greg’s fiance who finds herself pregnant and afraid to tell her parents, who are about to meet Greg’s parents and have no idea what kind of experience they’re about to have. 

Greg’s parents, of course, are aging hippie types. His dad Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) is a retired lawyer, and his mom Roz (Barbra Streisand) is a sex therapist who never stops talking about her, uh, specialty.

The screenplay throws everything it can at the audience, possibly in hopes that something will stick. They even threw in a baby -- Pam’s nephew, who provides some interesting moments with his over-zealous grandpa.

Indeed, some of this humor does work, especially when Hoffman is on hand, proceeding to steal every scene in which he appears. He’s so full of earnest, loony affability that I just wanted to hug him right off the screen. Streisand seems to be enjoying herself and certainly gives her role the energy it deserves.

We’ve seen so much of this before: The hormonal dog who “acts out” on everything and everyone in sight, the cat-and-dog chases -- come on, these were old jokes decades ago.

The bathroom humor, and I mean that literally in some cases, is rampant throughout the film. In fact, although it’s PG-13, I’d think twice before taking a kid to see this, much of which cannot be referenced here.

If you roared at the first one, you’re going to hold your sides during this one, too. If you could take or leave the original, visit elsewhere if you want some laughs. 

Running time: Two hours.

Rated: PG-13 for foul language, sexual situations and really raunchy humor.

Stars: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner and Teri Polo. 
Director: Jay Roach.
Screenwriters: John Hamburg and Jim Herzfeld.


3 1/2 stars

Lon Chaney is nowhere to be seen in “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera,” a class act that’s more beautiful than scary.

That’s OK, though. I don’t think that fright, so much as elegance and romance, were meant to be at the heart of Webber’s musical anyway. 

Director Joel Schumacher chooses to make the majority of the movie a flashback. The show begins with a black-and-white sequence in which items from the theater are being auctioned. And then, in a mind-boggling scene in which the theater returns to its former splendor, the audience is taken back in time.

You won’t see a lot of familiar faces in this spectacle that’s based on the hit stage performance. Emmy Rossum (whom you may recognize from “Mystic River”) is gorgeous, and she has a voice to match. She is Christine, who has been trained in music by a mysterious sort of “angel” who apparently haunts the theater.

Gerard Butler is the Phantom, whose presence is a myth, according to some; and who is a powerful influence on everything that happens within the theater, according to others. The enigmatic phantom sends notes to the new owners of the theater (Ciran Hinds and Simon Callow), who don’t know how to react to his written threats.

Christine reunites with an old flame, Raoul (Patrick Wilson), the theater’s new patron, who ignites the Phantom’s wrath when he declares his love for the lovely young singer. The Phantom decides to take desperate measures far beyond sending Christine his best wishes and a single red rose -- he appears to her, with the damaged part of his face covered by a mask.

The show is not without comedy -- Minnie Driver, for example, is hilarious as the self-absorbed diva who throws spectacular tantrums.

I haven’t seen the stage play, but I was familiar with the music, which I enjoy, before I saw the movie. And I can say that this is a true musical, with much of the story and themes revealed in song. If you like Webber’s work, you’re probably going to enjoy the movie. If you don’t, well, there’s probably no point in seeing it.

Rossum shines both as an actress and a singer. And the movie itself shines, too, because of its lush look and sets that create a splendid atmosphere.

If you enjoy the sounds of “Phantom,” be prepared to spend more than the ticket price, because you’re liable to buy the soundtrack, too.

Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for violence.

Stars: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Minnie Driver and Miranda Richardson.

Director: Joel Schumacher.

Screenwriters: Joel Schumacher and Andrew Lloyd Webber.


2 stars

Although it doesn’t know quite what it wants to be “Fat Albert” certainly has its moments, erratic though they are.

A live-action rendition of the hit “Fat Albert” animated series from 1972-1984, the movie stars Kyla Pratt as Doris, a nice, quiet student who doesn’t seem to have any friends. Her foster sister Lauri (Dania Rodriquez) is popular. One afternoon she goes home to watch “Fat Albert” reruns on the TVLand channel, and she feels so sad that she sheds a tear onto the remote.

Albert actually can see her crying from inside the set, and manages to come straight into her living room as a live-action person. He brings most of the gang with him, too, and suddenly Doris is surrounded by these goofy, retro-looking guys who follow her around.

Kenan Thompson, whom you may recognize from television’s “Saturday Night Live!,” stars as the big guy who’s always on hand to help out with problems. He insists upon helping Doris out with whatever is wrong, and proceeds to encourage her in her friendships and with her track competitions.

But more problems ensue. The other kids at school think that this new troupe is pretty strange -- they don’t recognize cell phones or laptop computers. Albert develops an infatuation with Lauri, who is quite smitten with the new, gentlemanly fellow. Also, the longer the guys stray from their television origins, the more they begin to fade -- quite literally. They want to stick around and help Doris, but they’re also afraid that they’ll fade into nothingness if they don’t get back to TV Land pretty soon.

The show includes shameless product placements, including the fact that the animated “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” is available on DVD.

There isn’t enough story line to fill 90 minutes, unfortunately, and filler abounds in trite sequences common to so many bad movies: The trying-on-clothes sequence, the carnival sequence, and the musical numbers all are thrown in to flesh out the skinny plot.

Still, it’s fun to see the way that the cartoon characters are so beautifully depicted. It’s mind-boggling when you see the way the characters replicate their cartoon counterpoints. I laughed every time I saw Alphonso McAuley as Bucky, because his portrayal is just incredible. And Bill Cosby has a small but enjoyable role.

This is an average film that’s impossible to dislike because of its sweet-natured looniness.

Running time: Ninety minutes.

Rated: PG for a brief mention of nudity.

Stars: Kenan Thompson, Kyla Pratt, Shedrack Anderson III, Jermaine Williams, Keith Robinson, Alphonso McAuley, Aaron Frazier, Marques Houston, Dania Ramirez, Omari Grandberry and J. Mack Slaughter Jr.
Directed by: Joel Zwick (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”).
Screenwriters: Bill Cosby and Charles Kipps


1 star

It’s a bad sign when a horror movie is released on Christmas Day.

It’s an even worse sign when that horror movie was released in Spain two years previously. To make matters even more terrifying, the movie originally was rated “R” but now is watered down to PG-13.

And what movie is this, you may ask? Why, it’s the sluggish “Darkness,” which comes creeping for about an hour until it begins to get to its point.

Here’s the deal: Forty years ago, seven little kids went missing in a house in Spain. Only one of them ever was found, and that child was in severe shock.

Now, four decades later, a family has moved into the house. The father, Mark (Iain Glen), is becoming unhinged, and grows more and more unstable by the day. His wife Maria denies that he’s having a breakdown. She constantly reassures her daughter Regina (Anna Paquin) and son Paul (Stephan Enquist) that everything is just fine even though Paul begins to draw some ghastly pictures involving children. Also, he says that the darkness “eats his pencils,” which disappear. In the meantime, Paul sees a group of children appear to him from time to time, and Dad unearths a weird-looking picture that he insists upon putting on display.

Regina is comforted by her grandfather, who is a doctor. Still, she is certain that something awful is about to happen, and she seeks the help of a boy she has met to help her solve the riddle of the house and strange carryings-on inside it.

The movie is fraught with flaws. Its pacing is staggering in its slothfulness. Instead of focusing on the characters, the movie gives us close-ups of faucets. It’s impossible to tell what has happened at the end, despite the cliche of the Talking Villain “explaining everything” for no reason at all.

I think that atrocious editing could have had a hand in this mess, and for that reason I must give it at least one star. There’s an interesting plot twist that could have been developed better, and made more clear, here, and it’s possible that this actually occurred in the R-rated version in Spain.

I’ll never know, though. I’m not going to sit through this again in any version to find out. And unless you want to get lost in this murky junk, you won’t want to sit through it at all.


Running time: Ninety-five minutes.
Rated: PG-13 for adult situations, violence, foul language and frightening scenes.

Director: Jaume Balaguero.
Cast: Anna Paquin, Lena Olin, Iain Glen, Stephan Enquist, Giancarlo Giannini, Fele Martinez and Fermi Reixach.

Screenwriters: Jaume Balaguero and Fernando de Felipe.


3 stars

Kevin Spacey almost nails it.

He has the moves of Bobby Darin.

He has a wonderful voice like Bobby Darin.

And as a director ... well, two out of three isn’t bad.

“Beyond the Sea,” a musical biography of the late Darin, pretty much is owned by Spacey. 

When Spacey takes the stage as Darin, that’s when the movie really shines. He becomes the late singer, with all of his moves and his smooth charm. 

And Spacey has a great voice, too, which is perfect for singing Darin’s repertoire, from “Mack the Knife” to “Beyond the Sea.” 

The movie is told in flashback. In fact, it reminded me of “De-Lovely,” the Cole Porter biopic from earlier this year, because it jumps back and forth in time.

We see the young Bobby when he has rheumatic fever. Later, he and his mother become determined that the young man will survive to some day become a star.

You’ll also watch as Bobby romances Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) in a marriage that was anything but stable. 

Mostly, it’s fun to watch Spacey take the stage, whether that’s literally at the Copacabana or at the heart of a “West Side Story”-type dance number. Spacey always has been a class act, a guy who seems at ease in a well-tailored suits with a cocktail in his hand. There’s an exuberance to Spacey’s delivery, most likely because Spacey earnestly has wanted to create a tribute to a performer he truly admired. While it’s true that Spacey is a little older than Darin was at the time of his death, I think that Spacey’s effervescence and youthful good looks more than make up for the age difference.

William Ullrich, who plays Bobby as a child, is terrific because he’s a natural. But the scenes in which he converses with the adult Bobby often seem forced and out of synch -- sometimes, they’re completely unnecessary, and interrupt the narrative with their confusing transitions in time and place. I wish that someone -- maybe a veteran director had given Spacey a hand with the direction. If he’d had a little guidance, I think this would have been a great film.

It’s not. But it is good. If you’re already a fan of Darin, or Spacey, or both, this will sing to you.

Running time: Just shy of two hours.

Rated: PG-13 (Profanity, sexual situations)
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn, John Goodman, Gretta Scacchi, Caroline Aaron and William Ullrich.
Director: Kevin Spacey.
Screenwriter: Lewis Colick.

Consultant: Dodd Darin, Bobby’s son.


3 stars

Although it’s dark and brooding, “Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events” still maintains its grotesque sense of humor.

Older kids who already love the books will enjoy the movie, which is a blend of several books in the best-selling series.

Jude Law plays “author” Lemony Snicket -- sort of. We mostly see his hands working away at a typewriter, or see him in silhouette while we listen to him narrate the film. The movie starts with another film entirely, a happy little show about a cute little elf. The film stops a minute or two into the “other movie” so that we can hear Lemony tell us that this isn’t the sort of tale we’re going to see in this theater. We’re going to see a movie that’s much more bleak, about a series of unfortunate events, and bad things that happen to good people. We’re invited by the narrator, in fact, to leave if that’s not the sort of show we want to see.

But of course everyone stays, and the next couple of hours are completely entertaining. It’s a fantasy, not unlike the “Harry Potter” films, but it stands on its own because it takes us to its own strange universe that’s a world apart from Harry’s.

The story centers on the three Baudelaire orphans, whose parents have perished in a mysterious fire. Violet (Emily Browning) is 14, and quite an inventor. Klaus (Liam Aiken) remembers everything from the volumes of books he has read. Baby Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) loves to bite things.

The trio arrives at the spooky old home of their nearest relative, Count Olaf, played in a wonderfully sinister manner by Jim Carrey. Olaf is a cruel taskmaster who forces the children into slavery while plotting a way to kill them and get his mitts on the fortune that their parents left them.

The children do escape from Olaf, but they end up back in his evil clutches again after they are taken to a paranoid aunt (Meryl Streep) and an uncle who is an adventurer (Billy Connolly). Olaf assumes the identities of a sea captain and a scientist in order to gain guardianship of the children.

Smart, strangely funny and always quirky, this is a great tale for older kids and adults who won’t mind some sad sequences mixed in with comedy and action.

Running time: One hour and 50 minutes.

Rated: PG for frightening situations, brief violence and situations involving death.

Stars: Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, Kara & Shelby Hoffman, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spal and Catherine O'Hara.
Director: Brad Silberling.
Screenwriter: Robert Gordon, based on The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window by Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket.


3 stars

Adam Sandler fans beware: There’s not a trace of Happy Gilmore anywhere in this movie.

After “Punch-Drunk Love,” and even in “50 First Dates,” it seems that Sandler is taking a turn toward more serious roles.

Here Sandler is a renowned chef, John Clasky, who is married to a mess. Deborah (Téa Leoni) is a completely self-absorbed evil-incarnate type who probably does not realize she hurts everyone with whom she comes in contact. 

Deb is particularly frantic now that she has lost her job to downsizing. As a stay-at-home mom, she’s hyper and neurotic to the nth degree. She decides that she needs some help, and that’s how Flor (Paz Vega) arrives on the scene. Flor, who speaks no English, is a beautiful, quiet woman who needs work to survive on her own with her daughter Cristine (Shelbie Bruce). Flor is more or less forced to go on vacation with her employers to help look after the family’s two kids. The grandmother (Cloris Leachman) goes along, too.

Adam plays one of those saintly types who restrains himself from blowing up even though he’s married to a shrew. Don’t deny it, folks -- when you see how difficult life with Deb is, and how calm John remains, you’re bound to think of at least one couple you know.

It’s a small wonder that gentle Flor and John are bound to each other, although the chasm that exists between them consists of more than a culture clash.

Leoni' is wonderful as the aggravating wreck who becomes enchanted with another woman’s project as a sort of “volunteer project.” The struggle between Flor and Deb never up, and it’s just as intense as the problem between Deb and John.

The movie has its flaws, certainly, and one of them is the occasional disappearance of the couple’s two children. Where are they, exactly, while all these struggles occur under their roof? Do they talk to each other about what’s going on? It’s possible that they were included in the screenplay, then edited out. If that’s so, it’s a shame, because their reactions would have added extra dimensions to all the characters.

“Spanglish” certainly doesn’t resolve itself the way you’d imagine that it could. But it does give the viewer a kind of closure, affirming these interesting characters we have come to know.

Running Length: A little more than two hours.

Rated: PG-13 for sexual situations and foul language.

Stars: Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Sarah Steele, Shelbie Bruce and Ian Hyland.
Director and screenwriter: James L. Brooks.


2 stars

Sometimes, remakes seem to be made for no reason at all.

Take “Flight of the Phoenix,” for example, a remake of a 1965 movie that starred great actors such as Jimmy Stewart, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy and Peter Finch. It’s a good action/suspense yarn, so why not just leave it alone and allow people to see it on television and via rental and purchase?

But no. Someone took it into his or her head that an update was necessary. And here it is, lost in the atmosphere of Christmas offerings and Oscar-worthy films that are released just before the end of the year so they can contend for award nominations.

Dennis Quaid stars as Frank Towns, a pilot who has been dispatched by an oil company to bring back its employees from Mongolia. The mostly tough-as-nails crew includes designer and resident oddball Elliot (Giovanni Ribisi) and Miranda Otto as an oil engineer.

Frank has to fly the plane and, as he does, he runs into a horrible sandstorm that begins to snap off pieces of the plane, which crashes in the Gobi Desert. The accident is not without its fatalities, leaving the rest of the survivors to try to decide what to do as a group (shades of television’s “Lost,” huh?) They wonder if help will come and, if it doesn’t, how long they can survive on what rations the plane is carrying.

Elliot, after some quiet, intense moments, suggests that they use parts from the plane to build a new one that will take them to safety.

Actually, this is a sort of zombie movie without the zombies. The community forms a microcosm of the world at large. You have your fatalist, your spiritualist, your do-er who wants to do something just to keep people busy and from fighting amongst themselves.

While it’s true that the movie shows some arguing and some intense antagonism between some of the characters, nothing very surprising occurs. The only part of the show that really surprised me is the amount of speechifyin’ dialogue. Maybe it was the desert heat, but these characters sure do run off at the head in monologues about dreams and belief. At one point, in an attempt to show harmony, I suppose, the characters work together while they enjoy some music on the radio. They look more like a group of friends on a Caribbean vacation than survivors fighting for their lives.

If you want to see this, just wait a few weeks. It’ll be flying off toward the video shelves in no time.
Running Length: Just a few minutes shy of two hours.

Rated: PG-13 for violence and foul language.

Stars: Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto, Tony Curran, Jacob Vargas and Hugh Laurie.
Director: John Moore.
Screenwriter: Scott Frank and Edward Burns, based on Lukas Heller’s 1965 screenplay.


2 stars

Lately, I’ve complained that “gross” does not equal funny.

Well, “weird” does not equal “entertaining.” Just at what happens to Bill Murray and the rest of this capable ensemble in “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” a sort of mockumentary.

Some of the cast from the thoroughly engaging “The Royal Tenenbaums” is back -- in fact, it almost appears that director/writer Wes Anderson has made the same movie, only underwater this time.

Murray is Steve Zissou, a Jacques Cousteau type who has discovered that he’s not as popular as he used to be, and he can’t find as much funding for his explorations as he once had. His latest documentary includes the death of his beloved friend Esteban (Seymour Cassell), who is eaten by some kind of spotted shark that Zissou can’t readily identify.

Zissou sets out to kill the shark “for revenge,” he tells his surprised listeners at a screening of his documentary.

Along comes a young man named Ned (Owen Wilson), who claims he could be Steve’s son. Along with his money to fund the trip, he goes along on the next voyage. Steve’s wife (Anjelica Huston) seems to react calmly to every situation -- she’s having an affair with one of Zissou’s competitors (Jeff Goldblum). 

Steve’s long-time assistant Klaus (Willem Dafoe) is jealous of Ned. So is Steve, who, like Ned, becomes smitten with a pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett).

Sometimes, the movie is sort of amusing. But other times, the “comedy” falls flat. Is it supposed to be funny when Goldblum hits a three-legged dog? Is it supposed to be funny when Zissou grooves to the radio in his headset? It isn’t. Sometimes, the actors simply stare at each other, and I couldn’t help wondering if they were thinking “Is this supposed to be funny?” too. Most of the funny stuff you’ve already seen in the trailers.

Oddly, the film is partly animated. If the seahorse and other brightly colored creatures had been in, say, “Finding Nemo,” I would have found them appealing. But they don’t fit in here -- they just look weird.

And that’s pretty much what this show is: Weird. But not necessarily funny.

Running time: About two hours.

Rated:R for foul language, sexual situations, nudity, drug abuse and violence.

Stars: Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe and Bud Cort.

Director: Wes Anderson.

Screenwriters: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach.

P.S. Movie buffs who enjoy cult films should note that Bud Cort, of “Harold & Maude” renown, stars as the “bond stooge.”


3 1/2 stars

“The Aviator” soars as on of the year’s best films.

A study of the eccentric Howard Hughes as a young man, the movie is a terrific character study that’s a sympathetic look at the troubled businessman. As he did in “Gangs of New York,” Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio as someone who seems at odds with the rest of the world.

The show portrays Hughes during about 20 years in his life, beginning with his filming of “Hell’s Angels,” a movie that was shot as a silent film. After Hughes sees a “talkie,” he is convinced that this is the way of the future, and he painstakingly, and at great expense, prepares the film for release as a sound picture.

You’ll Hughes the adventurer when he finally flies the “Spruce Goose,” the monstrous aircraft with the capability of holding 700 people; nearly perishes during the test of a spy plane; and becomes the primary stockholder of TWA. 

We also meet some of Hughes’ legendary loves. We see the most of Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, whose every move and inflection Blanchett captures perfectly.

You’ll also see other familiar performers here. Jude Law has a brief appearance as Errol Flynn; Alan Alda as Hughes’ nemesis Senator Ralph Owen Brewster from Maine; and Alec Baldwin as Juan Trippe, the president of Pan-Am; 

While it’s true that DiCaprio does not look much like Hughes, I think that he managed to capture his mannerisms and emotions so that we see how just being around Hughes must have affected those around him. At one point, the paranoid millionaire wonders why a janitor seems to be staring at him. “Fire him,” Hughes commands a friend, who looks at Hughes with both horror and sadness. Also, we see Hughes as he struggles with the mental problem that led him to become a recluse, and a possible explanation, via flashback, about how he may have developed his obsession with germs. DiCaprio is especially terrific in a scene in which he will speak only through a closed door -- yes, he can talk business, but he can’t bring himself to leave the room into which he has retreated.

Although Hughes certainly had a dark side that got the better of him in later years, we also see Hughes as a fun-loving playboy and daredevil.

Those who enjoy well-made biographies will want to take off with this one.

Running time: Not quite three hours.

Rated: PG-13 for foul language, sexual situations and nudity.

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, John C. Reilly, Kate Beckinsale, Adam Scott, Alec Baldwin, Ian Holm and Alan Alda.
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenwriter: John Logan.


3 stars

This time, the odds are a dozen to one. But “Ocean’s Twelve” still is a good bet for a fun heist flick.

They’re all back, now that they’ve robbed a Vegas vault that supposedly was invulnerable to thieves. They split up the $160 million and now... they’re back at it again.

Danny Ocean (George Clooney), now re-married to Tess (Julia Roberts), the former curator of the Bellagio Art Gallery, is about to celebrate his second third anniversary (you read that correctly). But then he discovers that the casino boss (Andy Garcia) that his troupe robbed would like his money back. Soon -- as in, two weeks.

They all get together and decide there’s no way they can pull off another caper in the United States -- they’re hot property here, and they haven’t been very subtle in spending their newly (and ill-gained) wealth. So they travel to Europe where they concoct several schemes to get the money back .

Hot on their heels is a Europol agent, Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is the former lover of Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), who is shown beating a hasty retreat when he thinks that his girlfriend is about to figure out details of his “career.” Also following them -- or leading them, actually -- is the Night Fox, an expert thief who wants to prove that he’s the finest in the world by reaching the heist location before Ocean’s group can get there.

The cat-and-mouse twists, the elaborate planning and the nervy coolness of the characters are fun indeed. But the most enjoyable part of the movie is terrific cameo appearance by Bruce Willis (as himself) and a ruse involving Tess, who “looks like” Julia Roberts. 

Zeta-Jones is gorgeous, as always, and lends a sassy intelligence to her character, who still has feelings for Rusty even though, from her professional perspective, she recognizes him as a “bad guy.” Clooney carries on the sophisticated cool he demonstrated in the first film.

There’s a very enjoyable moment involving the method in which the thieves enter an eccentric collector’s home. And the moment after that is even more enjoyable, when Isabel realizes she’s the one who planted the idea in Rusty’s head.

It’s fast and funny. And I can think of a dozen more reasons why you’ll enjoy this movie.

Running time: Two hours and 10 minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for foul language and violence.

Stars: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, Shaobo Qin, Eddie Jemison, Bernie Mac and Vincent Cassel.
Director: Steven Soderbergh.
Screenwriter: George Nolfi.


2 stars

Well, Blade held up beautifully twice. But now the story is turning, well, bloodless.

In an over attempt to bring in - dare I say this? - fresh blood to the series, “Blade: Trinity” stoops to bad jokes and silly situations so that it can include younger characters and, I assume, attract younger viewers.

Wesley Snipes is as cool as ever as daywalker Blade, who must constantly medicate himself to keep from transforming into a vampire. He’s a vampire hunter, along with his long-time friend Whistler (Kris Krisofferson). Snipes is as cool and merciless as ever as he hunts down his prey, which dissolve into sparks when he takes them out. Whistler worries that Blade is becoming careless, and that one day he’ll be left alone, with no one to help him in his quest to rid the world of vampires.

But no. Blade inherits a band of young vampire hunters, including Hannibal (Ryan Reynolds (“National Lampoon’s Van Wilder”), one of the most annoying wiseacre sidekicks to hit the screen; and Whistler’s daughter Abigail (Jessica Biel), television‘s “7th Heaven” and the recent “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake). Turns out that they’ll have to team up to fight Dracula himself (Dominic Purcell), now called Drake, who has been brought back to life by Danica (Parker Posey) and her minions.

When the characters aren’t talking themselves silly, they’re engagine in gory, violent fights.

The movie is a blatant reach for a demographic. It’s another one of those movies that I can see being hatched in some board room: “We need more younger viewers,” I can hear some executive saying. “Let’s see some more 20-somethings there. Oh, and let’s have Blade interact with a baby -- that’ll endear him to the female audience

What Parker Posey, who is among the ensemble players in the likes of “A Mighty Wind,” is doing here is anybody’s guess. She’s a wonderful actress who, most likely, previously had not been asked to talk through a mouthful of fake vampire teeth. She had a tough time doing it, apparently -- either that, or her faux choppers don’t fit very well. Her dialogue sounds ghastly, but not because of the writing.

Some of the action sequences are pretty interesting to watch, and Snipes looks cool in every scene. 

But the "Blade" franchise is cooling off. May the next installment heat up with krisoinsight and plot.

Running time: One hour and 45 minutes.

Rated: R for violence, foul language and sexual situations.

Stars: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ryan Reynolds, Jessica Biel, Parker Posey, Cascy Beddow, Natasha Lyonne, Dominic Purcell and Callum Keith Rennie.
Director and screenwriter: David S. Goyer.


4 stars

This isn’t your mom’s Julia Roberts movie.

By that, I mean it isn’t romantic, starry-eyed, or for anyone who hasn’t the stomach for graphic sexual dialogue and characters who are complete louses. There’s nothing cutesy in this drama about four people whose lives intersect, and who, although they constantly discuss love, don’t know how to maintain an honest, faithful relationship.

This is from Mike Nichols, who also directed “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in the 1960s and “Carnal Knowledge” in the early 1970s. “Closer” also examines sexual relationships, mostly through dialogue, of four cosmopolitan, sophisticated people.

The film opens with Natalie Portman as Alice, an American walking down a London street where she locks eyes with Dan (Jude Law) who is walking toward her in a crowd. While Alice crosses the street, she looks the wrong way -- she is, after all, in London -- and a taxi hits her. She opens her eyes to see Dan bending over her, and she says, “Hello, stranger.” And their relationship begins.

Dan is an obituary writer for a newspaper. Alice is, or was, a stripper -- now she’s waiting tables. Alice and Dan end up living together and, in fact, Dan writes a book that’s based on Alice.

Anna (Julia Roberts) takes his photo for the book, and Dan instantly falls for her. Anna is in the process of a divorce, and is reluctant to become involved with a man who already has a girlfriend. Alice arrives at the studio after hearing some of the conversation, and tells Anna that she knows what’s going on. Although Anna tries to reassure her, Alice tells Dan she’s waiting for him to leave her.

In the meantime, because of internet mistaken identity, Anna meets Larry (Clive Owen), a doctor. And then the four lives, and all the deceit they can bring to each other, begin to weave in and out in a destructive fashion.

The most manipulative, and the coldest, character is Larry, who is brutal when he verbally lashes out with venom that causes lasting damage. None of the characters are lovable, and none are “good” in the sense that they are victims. Each one gets what’s coming to him or her.

This isn’t a feel-good date movie. It’s grownup entertainment that’s as tough, talky and smart as its characters.

Running time: Just a little less than two hours.

Rated: R for graphic discussions of sex, sexual scenes and some violence.

Stars: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.

Director: Mike Nichols.

Screenwriter: Patrick Marber, based on his play.

P.S. You’ll hear a haunting song at the beginning of this movie. In one of those rare “everything’s-right-with-the-world” moments, I discovered it was on a CD I coincidentally purchased a few days ago. The tune, for reasons unknown to me, is called “The Blower’s Daughter.” It’s by Damien Rice on his CD “O,” which is fantastic.


1/2 star

First “Surviving Christmas and now “Christmas With the Kranks.” Come ON, Santa: Have we been that bad?

I don’t know who to blame for this mess, Chris Columbus or John Grisham. Grisham wrote the novel. Columbus (director of two of the Harry Potter movies and -- get this -- among the three screenwriters listed and the director of the upcoming “Rent” -- based his screenplay on it. 

Poor Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis star as Luther and Nora Krank, whose daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) takes off for the Peace Corps, leaving the couple, well, home alone for the holidays. Luther has a bright idea: Why not just skip Christmas, all together, and take off on a Caribbean cruise? They’ll save money, he points out to Nora, who eventually is convinced that it’s not a bad idea.

This means, of course, that the Kranks’ yearly Christmas Eve party isn’t going to happen. Their neighbors and friends begin to whine, especially when the Kranks don’t buy a Christmas tree from the local scout troop and then announce that they won’t be joining in their neighborhood decorating display. Things get so bad that the an article about the Kranks’ skipping Christmas even appears in the local paper.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that an incident occurs that’s the catalyst for a quick mind-change and turnaround by the Kranks. 

Really, this isn’t funny. Some attempts at physical comedy are made -- sorry attempts, sometimes twice (yep, once Allen steps on the neighbor’s cat, odds are he’s going to do it again in case you didn’t laugh the first time). All of them are lame and predictable as can be. In one scene, some carolers bother the Kranks, who try to ignore them. Soon, we see Nora sitting by a window. “Now they’re going to move around to the window,” a lady a few seats down from me successfully predicted aloud. It wasn’t as though she spoiled it for anybody, because we ALL knew they were going to move around to the window.

Deep within this mindless story is some sort of “1984”-type theme about conforming and giving in to the majority. But I don’t want to think about that, and I really don’t think the screenwriter was thinking about that, either.

Grisham? Columbus? You call it, Santa ... somebody deserves a lump of coal.

Running time: Ninety-five minutes.

Rated: PG for adult themes.

Stars: Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Aykroyd, Julie Gonzalo and M. Emmet Walsh.

Director: Joe Roth.

Screenwriter: Chris Columbus, based on the book by John Grisham.


2 stars

This movie is darned near as long as the wars that Alexander the Great fought.

“Alexander” is an overly long, muddled film that’s easily the worst from Oliver Stone. And I like Oliver Stone, for directing such movies as the undersung “Heaven & Earth,” as well as “The Doors,” “Nixon” and “JFK.” 

Stone waited a long time to make a movie about Alexander the Great, and I think it’s obvious that he truly cares about this historic, mythic character. Stone probably just couldn’t see clearly how the film would turn out because he was so focused on this tribute to Alexander (Colin Farrell). Anthony Hopkins portrays Ptolemy, who narrates throughout this lengthy picture.

Alexander is the child of Queen Olympias (Angelina Jolie) and Philip of Macedonia (Val Kilmer). Alexander seems to have a love/hate thing going with both his parents (and they hate each other, by the way). Despite their differences, both mother and father are impressed when young the boy tames a wild stallion.

Alexander eventually becomes king of Macedonia when he is only 20, and he sets out to vanquish the entire world, sort of like a villain in a superhero movie but with fewer powers. Always, he has at his side the handsome Hephaistion (Jared Leto), his best friend since they were boys and evidently Alexander’s lover for many years. Alexander does take a wife, Roxane (Rosario Dawson), but she never gives him the heir he wants.

It’s true that the movie contains some great battle scenes, especially those set in India where Alexander’s troops are met with elephants.

But all the way through this film, I kept thinking that I would much rather be watching “Troy” again. It told the tale of a mythic hero far move clearly, and convincingly. It kept me interested without looking at my watch and muttering, “Who are they talking about? When is this supposed to have happened? Is this another flashback?”

The acting certainly is commendable, although the characters’ motives don’t always make sense simply because they’re not always explained very well to the viewer.

Epics of this length need strong, cohesive story lines -- “Braveheart,” for example, or “Titanic” -- to keep the audience thinking, feeling and, above all, entertained.

“Alexander” just isn’t worth the time it takes to conquer it.

Running time: Just a few minutes shy of three hours.

Rated: R for violence and sexual situations.

Stars: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Hopkins and Christopher Plummer.

Director: Oliver Stone.

Screenwriters: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle and Laeta Kalogridis.


4 stars

We're a couple of misfits.

We're a couple of misfits.

What's the matter with misfits? That's where we fit in.

No, this isn’t a review of the classic “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” But it is a review of a delightful adults-only movie about two misfits, and it‘s a song that would fit beautifully with its soundtrack selection.

“Sideways,” one of the best films of the year, doesn’t have much of a plot. But it doesn’t need one, because it’s a slice-of-life look at two characters whose sheer quirkiness brings them in and out of scrapes that are always maddening and enjoyable simultaneously.

The show is based on writing by Alexander Payne, who wrote the also-wonderful “Election” and “About Schmidt.” It’s part road-trip, part buddy film, and all-the-way entertaining.

Miles (Paul Giamatti, “American Splendor” and “Private Parts”) is an English teacher who is an expert on wine. Jack (Thomas Hayden Church, “George of the Jungle” and “Tombstone”) is a womanizer who is about to get married. The long-time friends take off to enjoy several great wineries that Miles knows about. At least, that’s what Miles plans.

Jack, on the other hand, plans to make this his last wild week before the wedding, and plans on finding a woman somewhere along the way for Miles, too, who remains miserable after a divorce.

Jack does meet Stephanie (Sandra Oh, “Under the Tuscan Sun”), and the sparks fly almost immediately. Miles ends up talking to her friend, Maya (Virginia Madsen, “The Rainmaker”),who is quite the wine aficionado herself. Both men end up lying to both women. Miles, who may enjoy wine but is a sorry drunk when he’s had too much, really isn’t about to have his novel published. And for all the sweet things Jack coos to Stephanie, he still plans on getting married to someone else in a few days.

Still, you can’t help liking both of these guys, especially Miles, who seems to have a tad more going for him on the ethics measurement.

The acting is just perfect. There’s not a sour note anywhere. And, even though some of the sequences are outrageous, they’re entirely plausible considering the characters involved here.

You’ve known people like Miles and Jack, and you’ve become exasperated with them. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t enjoy a couple of hours with them over a bottle of wine.

Running time: Two hours.

Rated: R for foul language, sexual situations and nudity.

Stars: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh.
Director: Alexander Payne.
Screenwriters: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett.


3 stars

It’s outrageous.

It’s manic.

It’s ... all wet. But in a good way.

“The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie” is weird, colorful, and oddly suitable for family viewing. I mean, hey, it’s squeaky clean, because most of it’s underwater.

Fans of the show will recognize Bikini Bottom, where SpongeBob works at Krusty Krab. He longs to become the manager of Krusty Krab II, and has his heart set on celebrating after the big announcement.

Alas, SpongeBob’s promotion is not to be. The owner turns over the reins of his new establishment, instead, to Squidward. Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke), however, sees the injustice here, and stands by SpongeBob to reassure him.

In the meantime, cranky Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) is plotting against Mr. Krabs because his own restaurant, the crummy Chum Bucket, isn’t nearly as popular as the Krusty Krab. Plankton is so jealous that he’d like to steal the most popular recipe from the place. But he’s plotting other thefts, too.

When the irascible, powerful King Neptune discovers that his crown has been stolen, he blames restaurant owner Mr. Krabs -- in fact, Mr. Krabs’ life is at stake. So SpongeBob and Patrick Star, who are tired of being called “babies” and “kids,” set off on a dangerous trek to Shell City to get the crown back from Plankton, the real perpetrator of the crime.

The movie is a nifty combination of road trip, coming-of-age flick and quirky humor. Most of the time, it’s animated, but several live-action scenes include a band of pirates right at the beginning who storm into a theater to see the very movie we’re watching.

It’s also hilarious. Wait until you see what happens when a sponge absorbs too many ice cream treats. Wait until you see how David Hasselhoff (yep, from “Baywatch”) appears to help SpongeBob and Patrick. Wait until you see how starry-eyed Patrick reacts to King Neptune’s bright, cute daughter (Scarlett Johansson).
It’s fast-paced, just plain strange, and always light-hearted. And it’s just plain fun to watch, too, because of the rainbow of colors, memorable characters both live-action and animated, and circumstances so insane that they create their own kind of logic.

I’m sure all the kids who watch SpongeBob on television will want to see this. And I’ll bet the film leads more than one adult to dive in, too. 

Running time: Ninety minutes.

Rated: PG for mildly crude humor.

Director: Stephen Hillenburg, Sherm Cohen and Mark Osborne.

Voice stars: Tom Kenny, Clancy Brown, Alec Baldwin, Rodger Bumpass, Bill Fagerbakke, Carolyn Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson.

Screenwriters: Stephen Hillenburg, Derek Drymon, Tim Hill, Kent Osborne, Aaron Springer and Paul Tibbett.


2 1/2 stars

Looking for Indiana Jones? He’s not here -- try the rental shelf.

“National Treasure,” whose magnificent trailers are much more entertaining than the movie itself, is a decent television movie, and a just-above-average feature film. A sort of watered-down “Da Vinci Code,” 

Nicolas Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, whose family history is steeped with mystery and intrigue. For generations, they’ve tried to unlock a secret that involves “Charlotte” and several other clues. And Ben is determined to unravel the mystery, once and for all, with the help of his assistants Riley (Justin Bartha).

The mystery goes clear back to the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, and a vast treasure that is hidden somewhere.

Ben’s father (Jon Voight) is a scoffer, and tells Ben that he’s wasting his time -- indeed, his very life -- tracking down the clues. But Ben does indeed find “Charlotte.” It’s a ship, frozen in the Arctic, and this leads him to the Declaration of Independence which, just in case you haven’t seen any of the years’-worth of advertisements, may contain a treasure map on its underside.

Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), at the National Archives, thinks that Ben is entertaining but probably insane, and she steers him away from the document and any talk of it being stolen. That is, right before Ben’s nemesis (Sean Bean) arrives to steal the document in an attempt to get his own mitts on the treasure.

There are chases galore, some on foot and some via vehicle, that are the foundation for most of the film. 

And now, I must admit that I can’t be completely unbiased in this review. I’m a sucker for conspiracy theories -- I love the urban legends that have sprung up around our cash, for example -- and my late dad and grandfather were Masons.

To say that this movie is clever, or even intelligent, would be ridiculous. It’s fun, though, in a dopey sort of way. And it’s enjoyable to see these marvelous performers, including Cage, Voight, Harvey Keitel and Christopher Plummer, in this show that’s essentially an elongated chase sequence.

This is what I call a “safe” movie. It’s kind of fun, hopelessly illogical, and something you can see with your kids. It’s harmless enough. And who knows -- it might even encourage some youngster to research our nation’s history. 

And that would worth a bundle. 

Running time: Two hours and 10 minutes.

Rated: PG for violence.

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel and Christopher Plummer.
Director: Jon Turteltaub.

Screenwriters: Cormac Wibberley and Marianne Wibberley.


3 1/2 stars

In a role about an actress who stops acting only when she sleeps -- and maybe not even then -- Annette Bening glows. Is it, 
perhaps, an Oscar nod reflected in her sparkling eyes?

“Being Julia” certainly isn’t the most original film to ever hit the screen. It closely resembles “All About Eve.” Even so, 
Bening’s luminous performance makes it a terrifically enjoyable show.
She’s Julia Lambert (the “Margo Channing” character performed by Bette Davis in “All ABout Eve”), who, at 45, doesn’t seem to 
have much joy in her life. She feels as though she’s waiting, she says, for something to happen. She and her husband Michael 
(Jeremy Irons) are the toast of the 1938 London theater world. 

They have an, um, “understanding,” and apparently both are allowed a certain, shall we say, freedom within the marriage. 
Julia’s dramatics never cease, and they usually get her what she wants. Even when her own son accuses of her performing every 
moment -- “I’m not even sure you exist,” he tells her at one point -- she never ceases to be a talented, manipulative 
actress, trying the patience of her husband and everyone else around her with her whims.

And then Julia she meets a starry-eyed young fan named Tom (Shaun Evans). He fawns over the actress who, intrigued by the 
adoration, begins an affair with him. Suddenly, her performances are fantastic -- and her husband, who keeps a close eye on 
Julia’s box office proceeds, notices this. And Julia, even though she may be tempestuous, isn’t stupid -- she begins to plot 
a brilliant move that will bring the focus of power, and the audience, on her alone.

Julia has a coach throughout the movie in scenes that reminded me a bit of the fantasy element of “De-Lovely” earlier this 
year. Her long-absent coach appears to her now and then to encourage her off-screen performances, advising her to be more 
subdued at some moments. 

Bening always has been a wonderful actress. But here she has a chance to literally shine. And the entire cast is enjoyable as 
well. Irons, in particular, is great as the somewhat stiff, somewhat beleaguered husband who handles his wife deftly -- or so 
he thinks.

You’ll be enchanted by Julia. And you’ll be enchanted by Bening as well.

Rated: R for sexual situations.

Running time: 100 minutes.

Stars: Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons, Bruce Greenwood, Miriam Margolyes, Juliet Stevenson, Shaun Evans, Lucy Punch and Maury 
Chaykin.

Director: Istvan Szabo.
Screenwriter: Ronald Harwood, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham.


3 stars


Odds are that your family will enjoy “Santa vs. the Snowman,” an oddball animated Christmas tale in IMAX.

The movie was created by Steve Oedekerk, whose projects include “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” “Bruce Almighty” and “The Nutty Professor.” It’s colorful, bright and fast-paced enough to keep most kids and their parents or grandparents entertained.

The “star” is a snowman who doesn’t talk. There’s no one else around for conversation. So all the snowman can do is play tunes on his little flute. But one night, there’s a strange light in the sky that surprises the snowman so much that his drops his flute, which breaks into little pieces. When the snowman sees a glow some distance away, he decides to investigate just what made him drop his beloved musical instrument.

It just so happens that it’s the day before Christmas, and that the glow is coming from Santa’s village. The snowman looks inside a workshop window to see the elves and Santa celebrating.

With all the fuss going on inside, the snowman sees a new flute sitting near a window. He takes the flute, and, in doing so, sets off a security alarm. The snowman hurries away, only to be pursued by elves on “jetski”-type vehicles. The snowman falls over a cliff, and the elves retrieve the flute.

The snowman goes home, thinking about how much everyone seems to love Santa. He wants to be Santa, and fantasizes about what it would be like for everyone to love him in his new role of Santa.

The snowman sets out to learn all he can about Santa and his life. Finally, he decides he’ll create a snowman army to help him take over. But Santa has all kinds of security measures at his disposal too, and a struggle for power escalates into an all-out war.

Along the way, there’s quirky humor -- for example, some of the “war machines” look a lot like they’ve been lifted from “Star Wars” movies. Kids and grownups alike will love the comical appearance of all the characters (I couldn’t get enough of seeing the wiggling reindeer ears).

What literally gives an extra dimension to this little film is the 3-D effect provided by the special goggles that are distributed at the theater. The 3-D effects are wonderful, with Santa appearing to point right at the viewer, and of you’re liable to duck as objects seem to fall toward you.

It’s good clean family fun that’s a great kickoff to the holiday season.

Running time: 45 minutes.

Director and screenwriter: John A. Davis. 

Rated: G, suitable for all audiences.

Voice stars: Jonathan Winters, Ben Stein and Victoria Jackson.


3 stars

First, I must say that “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” isn’t really a very good screenplay.

It’s full of holes, doesn’t always transition very well, and goes overboard in many scenes. 

But Renee Zellweger is so hilarious, so winning, and so darned FUNNY that the movie is enjoyable, too, even with all its flaws.

The movie takes up where its predecessor ended. Bridget (Zellweger) officially is the girlfriend of Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), and still works as a broadcast journalist who’s dispatched to perform astounding stunts, including skydiving. 

Bridget is jealous of Mark’s coworker (Jacinda Barrett), and suspects that he may be carrying on with this slender, intelligent woman who seems to be a little too friendly. That means, naturally, that Bridget must sneak around to see whether he is sneaking around. 

Mark and Bridget seem to bicker constantly, mostly because Bridget seems to lack confidence when she’s in settings with his peers. They argue after an important dinner, they argue on the way to a family get-together, and eventually they break up.

Bridget is devastated, but soon after has other problems on her mind when she is assigned to travel to Thailand in the company of her former lover, Daniel (Hugh Grant). Of course trouble brews right from the start.

Some of the scenes fall flat, although saying much about them would remove some of the surprise elements from the story. Others, like a scene near the very end of the movie, seem to be thrown in regardless of logic. This probably is the result of too many screenwriters, a problem that often results in choppy films -- and this is one of them.

Let’s concentrate, instead, on the strong scenes, one of which involves the aforementioned dinner. There is Bridget, in her ghastly too-tight yellow dress, saying all the wrong things to publicly humiliate both herself and her boyfriend. There is Bridget, trying to ski but succeeding only in an unplanned trip into town. There is Bridget, in a prison in Thailand, leading the other women inmates in a Madonna song.

The slapstick here may not be intellectual or even very original. But Zellweger handles every scene like the pro she is, and her timing and knack for physical comedy can’t be denied -- she’s as outrageous and appealing as Lucille Ball.

You’ll enjoy her so much, in fact, that you’ll probably begin waiting for the third installment. I know I am.

Running time: 108 minutes.

Rated: R for foul language and sexual situations.

Stars: Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Gemma Jones, Jim Broadbent, Jacinda Barrett and Sally Phillips.

Director: Beeban Kidron.

Screenwriters: Andrew Davies, Helen Fielding, Richard Curtis and Adam Brooks, based on Fielding’s novel.


2 stars

Gore and dark humor combine in “Seed of Chucky,” which plants more laughs than terror in its audience.

The star of this one is unquestionably Jennifer Tilly, who has been lending her voice to the Tiffany doll who is the “Bride of Chucky.” Tilly plays a sleazy actress who is so desperate for work that she’ll do anything -- and I mean anything -- to get the part of the Virgin Mary in a movie being developed by rapper Redman.

Unbeknownst to killer doll Chucky (voiced once again by Brad Dourif) and his bride, they’ve had a child, a kind of fanged, Goth version of those wide-eyed moppets from the ’60s. Glen, or Glenda (a nod to cult director Ed Wood) isn’t sure who he really is, because he’d like to know the identities of his parents. 

When he/she sees the dolls being interviewed on television, he/she begins to search for them. But he’s more bewildered than ever when he finds them and brings them back to life, because it seems his dad is a psychotic killer who enjoys the act of murder and his mom is, well, trying to quit.

The show doesn’t really belong to the dolls this time around. It’s owned by Tilly, who is terrific as the fading star who plays herself, an actress who‘s been cast in what seems to be an awful horror flick. She’s tired of Julia Roberts getting all the good movies, and it’s fun to hear her whine and manipulate the men around her to get her own way.

In the meantime, before she can land this plum role, she’s cast alongside two dolls in a horror movie, and this disgusts her. She doesn’t realize until it’s too late that the dolls are far more real than she ever imagined. And how they want to utilize her ... well, I can’t go into it here. But it involves several gross-out scenes.

Speaking of gross-out, cult movie director John Waters joins the frenzy as a determined (but doomed, of course) celebrity photographer. The movie certainly has its moments for movie fans, with nods to obscure films and other horror movies, such as “Psycho.”

This is much weaker than the original “Child’s Play” with a story that doesn’t begin to make logical sense. Still, judging from Chucky’s distinct cackle at the end, that won’t stop Chucky and his family from being planted on the big screen at least one more time.

Running time: Ninety minutes.
Rated: R for really graphic gore and violence, disturbing scenes, sexual situations and foul language.

Stars: Jennifer Tilly, Brad Dourif, Billy Boyd, Redman, Hannah Spearritt, John Waters and Steve Lawton.

Director and screenwriter: Don Mancini.


2 stars

Pretty sunsets, pretty people, and some pretty silly shenanigans are what you’ll see in “After the Sunset.“ It’s an average caper flick that’s mostly for show.

Max (Pierce Brosnan) and Lola (Salma Hayek) are jewel thieves who have gone into retirement after an especially embarrassing diamond heist -- embarrassing, that is, to FBI agent Stan (Woody Harrelson) who was assigned to protect the diamond from just these two. The diamond, locked in a briefcase, is stolen literally from under Stan’s nose while Max controls the car in which Stan is a passenger with a remote, then gases the agent to swipe the diamond (shades of 007!).

As Stan gains consciousness, the couple is heading toward the Caribbean, where they live in so much luxury that Max complains of having too much lobster.

Max also is getting itchy feet -- not to leave Lola, but to go another “job.” She, on the other hand, wants him to settle down, because she’s done with stealing, once and for all. 

But wouldn’t you know it. Here comes Stan, who seems to have become partners with a local officer, Sophie (Noamie Harris). Stan informs Max that a huge diamond, under plenty of security, is arrived on a ship that will dock for a few days. He figures that Max will go after the diamond, and, when he does, Stan will be waiting around.

A local hoodlum (Don Cheadle), who wants to become Max’s new best friend, also figures that the expert thief won’t be able to let the diamond float away.

Not much unfolds that isn’t predictable. We know right away that Stan and Max will end up being friends, and of course they do. They even go fishing together in a scene that works pretty well and offers a few laughs.

It’s kind of a watered-down “The Thomas Crown Affair” without the art museum angle. 

Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t a terrible movie by any means. If all you want is good looks, then both Bosnan and Hayek have them in abundance. Both actors are appealing, and their onscreen chemistry sizzles against the gorgeous tropical scenes..

This is the sort of thing that might warm up you up for a bit. But it doesn’t generate enough originality to be a hot contender, say, at Oscar time.

Running time: Ninety-five minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for foul language, sexual situations and violence.

Director: Brett Ratner.

Screenwriters: Paul Zbyszewski and Craig Rosenberg.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, Don Cheadle, Naomie Harris, Rachael Harris and Jeff Garlin.


3 1/2 stars

Johnny Depp brings more magic to the screen in “Finding Neverland,” a gentle, fictionalized look at the playwright J. M. Barrie, the author of “Peter Pan.”

The show is set in the early 1900s, when Barrie is disappointed by the reaction to his latest play. His frustrated producer (Dustin Hoffman) asks for another work. Barrie’s wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell) wants Barrie to write another play that will help her in her social-climbing efforts.

About this time, Barrie, accompanied by his dog, goes to the park, and makes the acquaintance of four brothers and their mother, Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies (Kate Winslet). Barrie begins to weave tales for the boys, all the while encouraging them to use their imagination. He becomes fast friends with the entire family -- well, with everyone except for Sylvia’s mother (Julie Christie), who has no use for Barrie because she can’t quite understand the unorthodox friendship.

As Barrie entertains the children with games of make-believe, he also begins to put together a play that involves children -- in particular, a boy who refuses to grow up.

The acting is wonderful. In some instances, it’s astonishing. Depp, as always, is thoroughly engaging as the child-like, innocent writer. But stealing every scene he’s in is Freddie Highmore, who portrays Peter, one of the Llewelyn-Davies brood. He’s so natural, so thoroughly convincing, that it’s worth seeing the movie for his performance alone.

Of course, that’s not all the film has going for it. The look of the every-day scenes blends beautifully with the fantasy scenes. Especially engaging are the scenes in the theater, where we see how special effects were created at the turn of the century.

Oh, how I wish the movie had told us more about Barrie. Why didn’t he enjoy the company of his wife -- and why was he attracted to her in the first place? 

The movie is not completely accurate in its historical accounts of Barrie’s friendship with Sylvia and the boys -- her husband was Arthur, and they had five sons. But I think it captures the friendship between Barrie and the boys beautifully. 

Above all, it emphasizes the importance of creativity, using one’s imagination and honing one’s sense of play. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you have to grow up completely.

Rated: PG for adult situations.
Running time: 100 minutes.
Director: Marc Forster
Screenwriter: David Magee, based on the play "The Man Who Was Peter Pan" by Allan Knee.

Stars: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman, Freddie Highmore and Joe Prospero.


3 1/2 stars

“The Polar Express” will shine its light for decades to come.

With animation that’s breathtaking at times, the movie truly is for all ages and for all audiences, especially those who haven’t seen a movie for ages.

Although what you’re seeing isn’t real, the actors behind the animation do exist. To create the animation, the performers wore dozens of little “buttons” that were translated into computerized images -- complete with movements and the emotions on their faces -- for an almost-but-not-quite-real look that’s just dazzling when it’s set against the computer-generated backgrounds.

Tom Hanks provides the movements for the Hero Boy, living in what looks to be a 1950s-era middle-class home. The boy isn’t sure about this Santa Claus thing. It’s Christmas Eve, but he is beginning to doubt the existence of Santa, and longs to stay up late enough to hear the sleigh bells approaching.

He closes his eyes and tries to sleep, but is awakened by a chugging sound and a bright light. When he walks outdoors he discovers that a train called the Polar Express is sitting outside his house. A conductor (also Tom Hanks) asks him whether he’s getting on board, telling the boy that he has a schedule to keep -- after all, it’s Christmas Eve, and they have to get to the North Pole to see Santa before he takes off on his annual journey.

The Hero Boy does indeed board the train, and discovers there are many other children aboard as well, all dressed in their nightgowns and pajamas. On the “wrong side of the tracks,” a Lonely Boy walks toward the train, which pulls away from him, then decides to try to ride at the last minute. The Hero Boy and a Hero Girl (Nona Gaye), a leader among the children, help out the Lonely Boy, who says that Christmas never has meant much to him. “I guess that Santa’s busy, ’cause he’s never come around,” the boy sings in the instant holiday classic “When Christmas Comes to Town.”

Yes, there are songs, and dance numbers. My favorite sequence is “Hot Chocolate,” performed by Hanks the conductor and gravity-defying dancing waiters. Roller-coaster-esque thrills on the out-of-control train will delight everyone.

The soundtrack is sure to be a best-seller, because it carries the tender spirit and message of the movie. That is, all except for one selection: Steve Tyler’s “Rockin’ on Top of the World,” a great tune, to be sure, but woefully incongruous with the likes of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and Josh Groban’s “Believe.” For a moment, during the movie, an elfin Tyler and this number detract from the old-timey feel of the rest of the show.

But the picture reverts back to its gentle, nostalgic atmosphere right away, right through the finale that’s so true to the book.

You’ll might hear sleigh bells on your way home.

Running time: Ninety-five minutes.

Rated: G, suitable for all audiences.

Stars: Tom Hanks, Michael Jeter, Eddie Deezen, Nona M. Gaye, Peter Scolari and Charles Fleischer.

Screenwriter: Robert Zemeckis and William Broyles Jr., based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg.


2 1/2 stars

It seems that Michael Caine is passing the acting baton, however indirectly, to Jude Law.

And perhaps “Alfie” was re-made only to cement that.

Law‘s “Alfie” is a different kind of playboy than Caine’s ‘60s version. He may be less of a sociopath, but he’s still a rogue, and still completely unaware that his constant womanizing could hurt anyone.

The contemporary Alfie, a limo driver, lives in Manhattan, and seems to meet beautiful women at every turn. There’s Julie (Marisa Tomei), who has a little boy and who really has fallen for Alfie. But Alfie is smart enough to realize that, when the woman seems ready to move to the next level in a relationship, it’s time for him to back away. 

He’s also, um, “dating” a married woman, Dorie (Jane Krakowski). And now that his best friend Marlon (Omar Epps) has just broken off with his girlfriend Lonette (Nia Long), Alfie suddenly develops eyes for her, too -- he’s a cad who seems to feel entitled to every beautiful woman he meets.

And there’s the older woman (Susan Sarandon, in a role previously played by Shelly Winters), who, much as Alfie keeps a string of lovers, keeps Alfie within her stream of “boyfriends.”

At one point, it seems that one wild and beautiful woman, Nikki (Sienna Miller), may be able to keep up with Alfie’s and maintain -- surpassing, even -- his gusto for parties and imbibing.

At first, it’s funny to see Alfie manipulating the woman to his own selfish ends. The best moments are when Alfie turns directly to the audience, just as Caine did, to share his philosophy of relationships and life in general. Law is utterly charming and genuine in these moments.

But his womanizing becomes tiring after a while, and it’s too easy to predict the outcome of some of the plot threads. And there’s an older man who acts as a kind of voice of conscience for Alfie, making Alfie’s rogue a little more gentle but still not very likeable.

There’s really no need for this remake, other than to affirm Law’s presence on the big screen -- as if that needed doing for a man who’s been in who-can-count-how-many films just within the past year alone. 

Rated: R for foul language, drug abuse and sexual situations.

Running time: Just shy of two hours.

Stars: Jude Law, Marisa Tomei, Omar Epps, Nia Long, Jane Krakowski, Sienna Miller and Susan Sarandon.

Director: Charles Shyer.

Screenwriters: Eleaine Pope and Charles Shyer, based on the Bill Naughton play.


3 1/2 stars

I’ve always been terrible at math problems.

But I think this one’s easy.

What would call the performance of a movie that made more than $70 million at the box office within three days? It’s ... incredible.

“The Incredibles” is the first Disney/Pixar film that’s aimed not children, who are bound to enjoy it, but instead at the adult audience that is taking their kids to the movies with them. “Finding Nemo” targeted the small fry with gorgeous animation, adorable characters and an intelligent plot and dialogue that kept all ages interested.

This will too, except that its aim is just a little different. Because, although the kids will enjoy them, it’s the parents who will be able to relate to the aging superheroes.

“Mr. Incredible” Bob Parr (voice of Craig T. Nelson) was an admired superhero back in the day when he was saving cats and catching crooks, all in one fell swoop. The movie opens with an “archival interview” of Bob, who talks about saving the world, over and over again.

Bob marries Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and they have three children, two of whom have superpowers. Violet (Sarah Vowell) can create force fields, and her brother Dash (Spencer Fox) can run faster than the eye can follow.

But after people began filing lawsuits against superheroes for the damage they inflicted during their rescues, the superheroes were forced to live regular, middle-class lives in the “Superhero Relocation Program.” Now Bob works for an insurance company and Elastigirl is a homemaker.

Some nights, Bob sneaks out with former superhero Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and gives police officers a little help at crime scenes. Bob misses the old days, and is frustrated that he cannot be the person he was destined to be -- that is, until a mysterious woman comes along who offers him wealth, not to mention a chance to don his “Incredible” costume again.

The animation, not surprisingly, is superb. The backgrounds are fascinating -- those are live fish in a scene with an aquarium, for example -- and complete a well-rounded film. The action scenes, which will tickle the kids, are reminiscent of the “Spy Kids” movies, with family members working together against evil forces.

It’s a great and memorable romp will leave your family feeling super.

Running time: Not quite two hours.

Rated: PG for dangerous situations.

Vocal stars: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, Wallace Shawn, Spencer Fox, Lou Romano, Sarah Vowell and Elizabeth Peña. 
Director and screenwriter: Brad Bird.


3 1/2 stars

Combine classic adult horror with quirky British comedy and up rises “Shaun of the Dead,” a funny take on classic zombie flicks that’s also a clever social commentary.

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is an average guy who leads a none-too-exciting existence. His roommate and ne’er-do-well best friend is Ed (Nick Frost), who does little except sit around all day playing video games.

In fact, Ed is the source of much tension, because everyone else keeps telling Shaun how Ed doesn’t pull his own weight. 

Shaun’s girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) is getting fed up with spending every “night out” at the Winchester pub hanging out with Shaun, Ed and their friends. She wants more out of life, and tells Shaun she wants to go out to dinner -- just the two of them.

As Shaun gets through each day’s routine -- stumbling out of bed to work at a job he couldn’t care any less about, we see that those around him are either dozing or shuffling about numbly. But, as days go by, we also begin to see that more and more ambulances are scattered around in each scene, and newscasts, which Sean and Ed ignore, are beginning to refer to some terrible phenomenon.

Ed and Shaun, who finally gets dumped by Liz, are oblivious to the growing flesh-eating zombie menace. In fact, when a zombie appears in their back yard, they think it’s a drunken woman and they try to help her. It’s then that Shaun realizes he may be able to win back Liz by saving her life, and the lives of his other friends and family, if he can formulate a plan to lead them to safety.

The performers all are engaging in this send-up of romantic comedies and zombie films. It’s true enough that there’s lots of gore, but not until the characters, their relationships and their daily lives are well established, Fans of the movie “Love, Actually” will recognize Bill Nighy, who played the aging pop star, as Shaun’s step-dad.

You’re bound to put yourself in the place of Shaun, who plays the beleaguered Everyman here. One night, you’re at the local tavern, and the next thing you know your neighbors all are flesh-eating zombies. Would you be brave enough to try to lead your loved ones to safety? 

Running time: Ninety-five minutes.

Rated R for violence, gore and foul language.

Stars: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy.
Director: Edgar Wright.
Screenwriters: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.


2 stars

“Birth” never springs to life because its characters never do.

A thought-provoking premise could have been an intelligent film if only the characters had acted as though they have any sense.

Nicole Kidman stars as Anna, who is widowed when her husband, Sean, suddenly expires during a run in Central Park. Years later, Ann finally announces that she is getting remarried. Her fiance, Joseph (Danny Huston, “21 Grams”) gives a little speech at their engagement party, telling everyone how he persisted in pursuing her until she agreed to marry him.

Into this sophisticated gathering walks a young stranger. Cameron Bright (“Godsend”) plays the 10-year-old kid named Sean who claims to be the reincarnation of Anna’s late husband.

The boy is ushered away, and Joseph has “a talk” with the boy’s father. But Anna can’t stop thinking that the child really might be her former spouse -- there’s a great scene in which Anna and Joseph attend a theatrical performance. Without dialogue, Kidman lets us see how Anna’s mind is reeling and considering whether her husband has come back to her.

Anna lives with her mother (Lauren Bacall) in a beautiful Manhattan home, where, apparently, they have so little to do and so much money that their days consist of having lunch at fine restaurants and enjoying lavish dinners at home.

The movie begins to break down after the family’s initial reaction to Sean. Wouldn’t you think they’d be full of questions -- really direct questions, such as “When did you first know you were the reincarnation of Sean?” and “How did you find your way to this apartment?” and “Can you describe Sean’s death for us?” Instead, they ask oddly hazy questions and spend lots of time staring at the boy and at each other. The controversial scene in the film is one in which Anna is taking a bath only to have the boy join her. It’s not a scene that involves sex at all -- I think it’s meant to portray how natural the boy feels around Anna. 

The ending is so ambiguous that it leaves the audience feeling cheated -- a few people groaned in disappointment in the audience in which I saw the film.

It left me with more questions -- questions that the characters should have asked, and answered, to breathe reality into the screenplay.

Running time: 100 minutes.

Rated: R for sexual and other adult themes.

Director: Jonathan Glazer.

Stars: Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Lauren Bacall, Danny Huston, Alison Elliott, Arliss Howard, Ted Levine and Anne Heche.

Screenwriters: Jonathan Glazer, Mila Addica and Jean-Claude Carriere.


3 stars

“Saw” is one of those adults-only flicks that leaves its audience saying “Eewww” in appreciation.
If you enjoyed the likes of “Seven” and “Dr. Giggles” some years back, you’ll appreciate this gorefest that’s more of a whodunit than a stalk ‘n’ slash.

The two main characters are Adam (Leigh Whannell, who also is the screenwriter) and Lawrence (Cary Elwes). They awake to find themselves chained to pipes in a filthy bathroom. They’re not the only ones in the room, though. There’s also a bloody body not far away from either of them.

They also have access to a few items such as individualized audio tapes, a tape recorder, a gun, a cell phone that only receives calls and cigarettes. Through these articles, they must piece together clues and figure out a plan, because they have only a limited amount of time to try to save themselves.

Lawrence is a doctor -- a surgeon, in fact. And he has been a suspect in a series of slayings, although he claims that he most certainly is not the “jigsaw killer.” The person responsible for the grotesque deaths is not actually a hands-on murderer. It’s someone who literally traps his victims to determine whether they will kill each other, or themselves, in their attempts to stay alive.

The show moves back and forth in time to reveal detectives (one of them is played by Danny Glover) who are working on the case and pieces of the history of both Lawrence and Adam. That helps us keep guessing at several things: The identity of the villain, the origins of the tormenter’s motivations, and just how in the heck Adam and Lawrence ended up in this sorry situation.

Screenwriter Whannell -- who isn’t a bad actor, either -- certainly weaves a good thriller, and embellishes it with just the right amount of ghastliness to make this truly terrifying.

I can’t emphasize enough just how unsettling this is. It’s not for kids, and it’s not for people who think they may be too squeamish for this kind of movie. If you think this isn’t for you, then it isn’t, pure and simple.

Its Halloween-time release was just perfect. From now on, though, the box office numbers for “Saw” are bound to drop until it goes to video shelves. From there, most likely, “Saw” will be seen every Halloween. 

Running time: Ninety minutes.

Rated: R for violence, gore and foul language.

Stars: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Michael Emerson, Monica Potter and Makenzie Vega.
Director: James Wan.
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell.


4 stars

“Ray” never misses a beat.

In a film that’s sure to be remembered during the Academy Awards voting, Jamie Foxx shines as Ray Charles in a biopic that’s lengthy but never feels overly long because every moment is so crucial to screenplay.

The story moves back and forth through time to relate the history of Ray Charles Robinson, who grew up in Albany, Georgia. His mother was a hard-working, earnest woman who wanted her two sons to have the education that she never had.

But tragedies struck Ray’s young life early. At the age of 7, he went blind from glaucoma. Never did his mother cut her son any slack. Instead, she taught him to be tough, to fend for himself and to stand on his own two feet.

She sent him to a school for the blind. When Ray Robinson still was a teen-ager, he began to make his living playing piano and singing, and eventually cut his first single in 1949. Early on, the lonely musician discovered drugs, and eventually heroin became a part of his life. He changes his name to Ray Charles so that he won’t be confused with Sugar Ray Robinson.

In the 1950s, Charles signed to Atlantic Records, and soon after that he began to blend gospel and blues to create his own sound.

Charles never is painted as a perfect person. He’s depicted here, warts and all, as a womanizer who cheated on his wife and lied about using drugs while simultaneously changing the face of music, and even society, with his brilliance and determination.

Foxx simply becomes Ray Charles. At times, I forgot I was watching Foxx and slipped into thinking I was seeing the real thing. Charles’ actual tunes, which add to the picture’s energy, are part of a fantastic sure-to-be-a-bestseller soundtrack.

The details of furniture, club scenes, and the hardscrabble life in a touring band are perfectly pitched. There’s not a bad acting moment anywhere here, although it’s Foxx who owns the screen.

“Soul is a way of life. But it is always the hard way,” said Charles, who earned 12 Grammy Awards and recorded more than 75 albums.

His life and music are worthy of this fantastic movie. And this fantastic movie is well worth your time.

Running time: 2 1/2 hours.

Rated: PG-13 for drug abuse and sexual situations and talk.

Stars: Jaime Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, Clifton Powell, Harry J. Lennis, Bokeem Woodbine, Aunjanue Ellis, Sharon Warren, C.J. Sanders, Curtis Armstrong, Richard Schiff and Larenz Tate.
Director: Taylor Hackford.
Screenwriter: James L. White.


2 stars

Michael Moore’s editorial film “Fahrenheit 9/11” caused people to react -- whether with anger or joy -- because the film was put together in a brilliant fashion, with clever, well-paced humor and drama.

“Celsius 41.11: The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die” bites back at Moore’s film, taking Moore to task on a variety of issues. But there’s not much here except for talking heads and lots of footage. It’s certainly true that the film has some great points to make -- but the overall delivery is so dry, even for a documentary, that it’s boring to sit through even at a scant 80 minutes in length.

The conservative Citizens United (http://www.citizensunited.org) funded this movie whose executive producer is David Bossie. He was one of the investigators of the Whitewater case, and is the author of the book The Many Faces Of John Kerry. 

The film accuses the media of calling the 2000 election results in Florida before the polls had closed, and points out that the Panhandle area contains two time zones. In regard to the Patriot Act, the movie focuses on the Democrats who supported investigative measures involving terrorists.

Most of the film features several commentators discussing their views on Kerry or Bush, and sometimes sharing their personal memories. Former senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee (you’ve probably seen him on the television series “Law & Order”) is among those who defends President Bush, along with author, film critic and radio show host Michael Medved, who attended Yale at the same time Kerry was a student there.

I would have liked to have seen more about some of the allegations. I found it particularly interesting that Medved had formed an opinion about Kerry early on. Medved claims that Kerry also sought the spotlight and political office, and points out that he was known as “JFK” (John Forbes Kerry) in his student days because of his political activities. Clearly, Medved wasn’t impressed with Kerry when they were students and remains unimpressed with Kerry today.

I went to a 5 p.m.-ish show of “Celsius” on Friday, and I was surprised to see only 11 other people in the theater -- a marked contrast to the lines for “Fahrenheit” during its first days of release. But, despite the lack of numbers, the audience was no less enthusiastic: They all applauded at the end of the movie.

Running time: Eighty minutes.

Rated: R for foul language and scenes of violence and death.

Director: Kevin Knoblock.

Screenwriters: Lionel Chetwynd and Ted L. Steinberg.


2 stars

Weird does not necessarily equal funny.

That’s why “I Heart Huckabees” doesn’t always work -- although, about half the time, it does.

The main character is Albert (Jason Schwartzman), who is an environmental activist who seems to spend most of his life making people angry. At one point, Albert realizes that he keeps seeing this tall African man in various places, and he wonders what this means: Is it a coincidence, or some kind of sign?

He enlists the help of two “existential detectives” Vivan and Bernard (Lilly Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman). They follow Albert’s every move in order to determine various patterns in his life and help him to see the universe as a whole.

Their polar opposite -- well, sort of -- is Caterine (Isabelle Huppert), who has written a book about the meaningless of life. She tries to entice Albert with her philosophy.

In the meantime, firefighter Tommy (Mark Wahlberg) befriends Albert while they both search for the truth.

Advertising executive Brad (Jude Law) is Albert’s nemesis who seems to charm everyone around him ... except for Albert, who disagrees with Brad about how the department store Huckabee‘s should use an area of land. Brad’s girlfriend is Dawn (Naomi Watts), who also gets caught up in the philosophizing and truth search.

This is a couple of grades below Russell’s darned-near-perfect “Flirting With Disaster,” which, in a similar fashion, was fully of quirky characters. But its meaning and the characters’ motives always made sense despite their oddball ways. 

Here, the characters appear to be doing goofy things simply to point out to the audience how strange they are -- or, sometimes, for cheap laughs, such as an ages-old lawn sprinkler joke.

What Russell seems to do here, in his effort to take a swipe at folks who think they have all the answers, is throw a bunch of situations at the audience in the hope that some of them truly are funny -- as, indeed, some of them are. And there’s a bizarre appearance, and many mentions of, Shania Twain.

Russell’s effort at existential comedy, so to speak, is OK, but it falls short of the likes of the wonderful “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Adaptation.”

How you rate this one will depend on your personal philosophy of humor.

Running time: One hour and 45 minutes.

Rated: R for foul language and sexual situations.

Stars: Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Jude Law, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin and Isabelle Huppert.
Director: David O. Russell.
Screenpwriters: David O. Russell and Jeff Baena.


0 stars

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: Poor Ben Affleck has become the new kiss of death for movies.

I’m seeing a pattern here. From the mediocre, such as “Pearl Harbor” and “Reindeer Games,” to the just plain awful “Gigli” and “Jersey Girl,” it’s plain that 
Affleck needs something along the lines of “Bounce” to snap back from a run of not-so-memorable movies.

Because now here’s “Surviving Christmas,” an uneven, unfunny mess that’s pretty much a bad sitcom elongated to an hour and a half.

Believe it or not, it took four people to write this atrocity that was released even before Halloween -- obviously, Dreamworks knew that what they had on their hands was, well, a pre-holiday turkey.

Within the first five minutes, we see an older lady making gingerbread cookies that have frowns instead of smiles, then sticking her head in the oven. Um, I guess that’s a not-so-subtle way to point out that some folks get depressed at Christmas?

Then we see Affleck as Drew, who is an advertising executive who obviously is doing well in his job.

Drew buys his girlfriend tickets to Fiji for Christmas. But she wants to be home with her family, and walks out on him. Now he’s all alone, and he begins to call friends who don’t seem to want him around for the holidays, either. He ends up going back to the house where he grew up and offering strangers $250,000 to let him stick around for the holidays.

That’s after Tom, the dad (James Gandolfini), whacks him with a shovel.

I know, none of this makes any sense. Something tells me that one of the writers watched 

“Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” a few too many times, because essentially this is the same premise. Drew asks the Valco family, consisting of Tom, mom Christine (Catherine O’Hara) and son Brian (Josh Zuckerman) to pretend to be festive for a few days while Drew enjoys time with his “family.” Guess what: The family has a pretty daughter (Christina Applegate), too.

You pretty much know what happens from here on in if you’ve seen any movies at all. The jokes are stale, overdone, and, because there’s no reason for any of this to happen, there’s no character development whatsoever. It’s boring and silly.

Here’s hoping that Affleck’s next movie, maybe one with just one screenwriter, prevents this from being his career Armageddon.

Running time: Ninety minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for foul language, sexual situations and violence.

Stars: Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, Catherine O'Hara, Josh Zuckerman, Bill Macy and Jennifer Morrison.
Director: Mike Mitchell.
Screenplay: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont, Jeffrey Ventimilia and Joshua Sternin.


2 stars

Want to see something REALLY scary? Then take in Ben Affleck’s performance in “Surviving Christmas.” 

Otherwise, you’ll have to settle for some decent shudders and not much story in “The Grudge.”

The set-up is riveting, and some director Takashi Shimizu, who directed the original Japanese film upon which this is based, really knows how to startle an audience. Yes, he uses a “Where’d that cat come from?” moment that horror fans will recognize as a cliche. But he plays off it beautifully to scare us even more later in the film.

Part of the unsettling atmosphere of the movie is that it focuses mostly on English-speaking characters who have, one way or another, come to Japan to live. Most of them are just a little off-kilter simply because of their surroundings, and that adds to the tension.

Right away, we see a man throw himself off the balcony of his apartment. 

Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a student who has come to Japan with her boyfriend, is among them. She’s a volunteer at a care center that dispatches help to the homebound.

Karen goes in place of a caregiver who, well, won’t be coming back from her last visit. 

Karen makes some frightening discoveries, and alerts law enforcement officials about what she finds. But of course it isn’t long before Karen is back in the spooky place, along with many other people who visit the home because, well, hey, if they didn’t, we couldn’t be scared again, now, could we?

There’s really not a lot of plot, although, if you go, there’s not a lot of time to figure this out because you’ll probably be cowering in your seat, knowing full well that you’re going to be startled again soon.

I saw it Saturday night in good-sized audience, and more than one person let out screams throughout the movie. The scares are fairly cheap, but Shimizu really has a knack for using the camera to frighten viewers out of their seats.

Let’s face it. This was released around Halloween time because it’s a PG-13 movie that will attract older kids, the dating crowd and “Buffy” fans. 

But at least it’s not the typical R-rated stalk ‘n’ slash junk that usually comes along in late October. 

It doesn’t always make good sense. But it does make for some good scares.

Running time: One hour and 35 minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for gore and violence.

Stars: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Clea DuVall, William Mapother, KaDee Strickland, Bill Pullman and Grace Zabriskie. 
Director: Takashi Shimizu.
Screenplay: Stephen Susco, based on “Ju-On: The Grudge” by Takashi Shimizu.


The Bluebox Productions guys have been hard at work. And now you can see their latest project, bigger than life, at the Putnam/IMAX Theatre.

“Her Summer“ includes two stories that overlap. One is a murder mystery based on a true story. The other simply is the story of two guys whose friendship unfolds in their dialogue as they hang out together.

Davenport Police Officer Ethan Crowe (Justin Marxen) is part of an investigation, and is on hand when he finds that two of his brothers have been murdered. Ethan remains on the crime scene all night long -- and then vanishes.

Two years later, the investigation heats up again. Greg (Shane Simmons) is the son of one of the officers working the case. Greg and his friend Mark (Travis Shepherd) sift through a box of evidence, transcripts and other evidence in the case while they imagine what might have happened.

Filmmakers Scott Beck, who produces, and Bryan Woods, who writes, directs and produces, continue to show off their expertise in camera angles, close ups, and atmosphere. They managed some neat scenes here, including a scene, shot from above, of the opening of a shed and some interesting transition titles and clues.

Especially dynamic is the performance by Shepherd, who seems to have a knack for appearing natural in front of the camera. The most realistic scenes are those of the two friends simply having conversations about girls, college, and their everyday lives. It would be nice to see a Bluebox feature with Shepherd and Jim Siokos, who starred in the Bluebox production “University Heights,” in major roles together (Siokos has a smaller role in “Her Summer.”)

Beck is a student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and Woods is a student at Scott Community College in Bettendorf. They have been making films together for the past seven years, and have won several awards, including four from the Iowa Motion Picture Association.

If you want to see their professionally done website, and see some of their short films, check out http://www.blueboxlimited.com.

What: "Her Summer" premiere of the fourth Bluebox feature.

When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23.

Where: The Putnam/IMAX Theatre, 1717 W. 12th St., Davenport.

How much: $7.75 at the door. Doors open about 8 p.m.

Information: The Putnam/IMAX, (563) 324-1933 or Scott Beck, (563) 370-1806.

Running time: Ninety minutes.

Rated: Similar to an R for foul language and adult content..

Stars: Travis Shepherd, Shane Simmons, Justin Marxen, Jim Siokos, Casey Campbell, Christy Sullivan, Ian Klink, Bruce Heppner-Elgin, Ned and Jackie Shepherd, Ryan Olson, Steve Strickland and Bryan Woods.

Screenwriter and director: Bryan Woods.


3 1/2 stars

Sometimes, life just isn’t fair. And “Friday Night Lights” takes that right onto the field.

Based on the best-seller Friday Night Lights; A Town, a Team, and a Dream, this isn’t a feel-good film. Instead, it’s about a 1988 season of high school football in Odessa, Texas -- a story that really happened.

The Odessa-Permian Panthers are the only game in town, so to speak, when it comes to entertainment. Everybody goes to the game because football is just about the most important event that occurs in this west Texas town. 

James “Boobie” Miles (Derek Luke) is the star player, with Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) as quarterback and Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) and Chris Comer (Lee Thompson Young) as running backs. Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) is the coach, who seems to have all eyes on him as the team makes its way to possibly being a contender in the state championship.

The movie isn’t so much about a plot as it is an unfolding. We meet the characters behind the players, including Mike’s ailing mother, Don’s abusive drunk of a father (Tim McGraw) and the desperation of most of the players who want to win at any cost, because winning could mean a ticket out of town.

The look of the movie resembles “8 Mile.” Director Peter Berg decided on a grainy texture that enhances the grittiness of the town and the players. The camera gets so close to the actors that you literally can see the pore in their faces, and, because of that, it feels much more like a documentary.

I’ve seen Luke before (“Antwone Fisher”) and Black (“Sling Blade” and “Crazy in Alabama”) before, but I’m betting that they’re not familiar to most viewers who take in this movie. The fact that Thornton is the most recognizable star here also lends to the story’s authenticity, because we don’t have many preconceived notions about these actors.

It might make you look at football players and their fans in a different light -- and then again, it might not. But it certainly will give you an in-your-face perspective on a certain team in Texas a couple of decades ago.

Running time: Two hours.

Rated: PG-13 for violence, foul language and sexual situations.

Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund, Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez, Lee Jackson, Lee Thompson Young and Tim McGraw.
Director: Peter Berg
Screenplay: David Aaron Cohen and Peter Berg, based on the book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by Buzz Bissinger.


2 stars

“Raise Your Voice” is nothing to shout about. But it’s nothing to shout down, either -- it’s an average offering that provides a starring role for its cute-as-can-be star.

Hilary Duff is Terri Fletcher, a high-school student who wants to attend a prestigious summer music school in Los Angeles . Her brother, Paul (Jason Ritter) does all he can to encourage her. In fact, he tells her she needs to get away from their over-protective father. But her overbearing dad (David Keith) won’t allow his daughter to leave home, despite the pleas of his wife (Rita Wilson) or Terri’s Aunt Nina (Rebecca De Mornay). 

After a catastrophe befalls the family, Terri gives up on a career in music all together. But her aunt decides that she can pretend to stay with Nina while actually attending the school.

Terri finds Los Angeles a none-too-friendly place. Her jacket is stolen almost the minute she arrives, and the first girl she meets at the school is almost hostile. She also feels intimidated by the talent of the students and the instructors at the school, even though she discovers that one of her teachers (John Corbett) seems to be a pretty nice guy.

Now I’m not saying this is a highly original film. It isn’t. You can see the love interest, Jay (Oliver James), the moment you spot him, and you also know that last year’s class star, Robin (Lauren C. Mayhew) is going to make all kinds of trouble.

But it’s unnecessary to trash a movie with such good intentions. There are a couple of moments you don’t see in these sorts of films. First, when Terri feels low, she seeks solace in, of all places....a church, a refreshing scene indeed. And there’s a truly tender between Duff and Wilson that’s quite compelling.

Also, I think that Duff is popular among the adolescent and teen set partly because she looks like a real girl. She isn’t super-model skinny or sleazy - she seems genuine and down-to-earth.

The movie will appeal to her fans mostly. But that’s OK, because it isn’t terrible and could encourage the girls who see it in their own aspirations.

As for Ms. Duff, I’m sure she’ll return to the big screen soon in a character that’s a little more grown up and in a script that’s a little more mature.


Running time: 100 minutes.

Rated: PG for adult themes.

Stars: Hilary Duff, Oliver James, Rebecca De Mornay, Rita Wilson, Dana Davis, David Keith, Jason Ritter, John Corbett, Lauren C. Mayhew and Johnny K. Lewis.

Director: Sean McNamara.

Screenwriter: Sam Schreiber, based on a story by Mitch Rotter.


3 1/2 stars

!!!DO NOT TAKE YOUR CHILDREN TO THIS MOVIE!!!

So often, I see adults taking children to movies that are simply inappropriate for the kids.

Sometimes, I see children quaking in fear during ultra-violent scenes, or staring in bewilderment at graphic sex scenes. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing this.

As a result of this phenomenon, I’ve figured out one thing: Some people don’t pay much attention to ratings.
So, throughout this review, you’ll see this occasionally:

!!!DO NOT TAKE YOUR CHILDREN TO THIS MOVIE!!!

Thanks for allowing me to let off some steam. Now the movie I’m afraid people erroneously will consider a family film is “Team America: World Police,” and it’s the most outrageous, bizarre, hilarious movie to hit the screen since “Southpark: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.” 

Trey Parker and Matt Stone once again have created a no-holds-barred movie that lambastes both conservatives and liberals in a foul-mouthed, Hollywood-bashing, action/comedy with marionettes as its stars.

Yes, marionettes, the same kind of creations we oldsters saw in “Thunderbirds” and “Fireball XL5.” And gosh, these marionettes do it all. They swear, they kill each other, they throw up (boy, do they) and they, um, they ... 

!!!DO NOT TAKE YOUR CHILDREN TO THIS MOVIE!!!

Ahem. Where was I? Oh, yes, Parker and Stone have gathered batch of action-flick cliches and turned them inside-out. The starring marionette, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Tom Cruise, is a Broadway actor who’s the star of “Lease: The Musical.” He’s approached by the leader of Team America, a bunch of tough-as-nails heroes and heroines who seem to travel the world blowing up historical monuments and people, all in the name of world peace. They want Gary to use his acting skills to infiltrate some terrorists and find out what they’re plotting.

Some of the lines really have been used in prior films. And some of the scenes, such as the “Star Wars” cantina scene, will be familiar to just about everybody while other moments, such as music from “Kill Bill,” will be recognizable to movie buffs. By the way,

!!!DO NOT TAKE YOUR CHILDREN TO THIS MOVIE!!!

The songs are hilarious, although, in regard to the most entertaining one, I simply can’t print the words here. One tune is all about how you use a montage to show someone in training, getting better little by little, until, to achieve a great finale, you fade out. And the montage does just that.

This is off-the-wall humor at its most daring. It’s not for everybody. If you enjoyed the “Southpark” flick, you’ll probably enjoy this. Oh, and did I mention...

!!!DO NOT TAKE YOUR CHILDREN TO THIS MOVIE!!!

Rated: R for everything under the sun. I mean everything. But with marionettes.

Screenwriters: Pam Brady, Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Director: Trey Parker. 

Voice stars: Dian Bachar, Phil Hendrie, Josiah D. Lee, Paul Louis, David Michie, Kristen Miller, Trey Parker, Elle Russ, Stanley G. Sawicki and Matt Stone.


1/2 star

Queen Latifah deserves a better vehicle than “Taxi,” one of the lamest attempts at a buddy film to hit the big screen since “Without a Paddle.”

Queen Latifah is a wonderful performer -- remember her in the marvelous “Chicago?” She can sing, she looks great, and she has that sassy attitude that comes across so well on camera. Then why, oh why, would she select this awful movie that features her as the star?

Here she plays Belle, a bicycle messenger who’s a speed demon on two wheels. 

She wants to drive a taxi, however, and it’s her last day on the job as a messenger. She now is ready to take off in a customized cab with all kinds of special devices -- this taxi does everything but fly.

Elsewhere there’s Washburn (Jimmy Fallon), a cop who can’t drive and who keeps having accidents. His lieutenant and former sweetheart (Jennifer Esposito) takes away Washburn’s badge and takes him off a recently bungled bank-robbery case, too. But Washburn is determined to make it to the scene of the next robbery, so he rides in Belle’s cab to the next felony scene. Wouldn’t you know it, Washburn is the first to arrive at the bank, and he and Belle see the whole thing.

Later on, the police confiscate Belle’s cab as evidence. She wants her cab back, and Washburn wants to continue to investigate the case. So of course they’re forced to team up to help each other out.

And if you think it’s terrible that Queen Latifah is in this junk, seeing Ann-Margret as Washburn’s drunken mother is even more saddening. I kept wondering if these two worthy ladies owed somebody a favor and thus felt obligated to appear in this movie that consists of low-brow attempts at humor, car chases that finally become boring, and, as eye candy for the guys, I guess, four leggy model-types as the bank robbers. And they’re driving a red BMW, no less.

The same jokes are repeated over and over, and nothing is surprising except the out takes during the movie’s credits -- a couple of them are indeed worth a laugh or two.

But oh, the horror of seeing class acts such as Ann-Margret and Queen Latifah in this show that’s only going to make you carsick.

Running time: Ninety-five minutes.

Stars: Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon, Henry Simmons, Jennifer Esposito and Giselle Bundchen.

Rated: PG-13 for foul language, sexual and crude humor and violence.

Screenwriter: Luc Besson, Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon and Jim Kouf.

Director: Tim Story.


3 1/2 stars

Here’s a drama that’s extraordinary because it’s, well, ordinary.

“Ladder 49” is about everyday people you might pass on the street. These are folks who squabble with their spouses, wonder if they’ve made the right career choices, get married and have kids.

Most of all, these are firefighters. And this is a wonderful tribute to them all.

There’s little in the way of plot here, regardless of what you might think after seeing the trailers. Mostly, it’s the story of a young Baltimore firefighter named Jack (Joaquin Phoenix), and his transformation from a rookie into a full-fledged firefighter.

The tale is told in flashback. Jack is among the crew at the scene of a burning warehouse, where people are trapped several stories up. During an explosion, Jack falls several stories, and lies trapped in rubble and surrounded by fire. As he lies injured and waiting for help, he remembers his first days on the job, and the years that ensued.

We meet Jack on his first day as a rookie. He’s obviously nervous and anxious to meet Chief Mike Kennedy (John Travolta). When he’s sent to the chief’s office, he discovers Mike, apparently drunk and missing his pants. It turns out that this is just one of the unnerving scenarios in which Jack will find himself as a rookie, as a butt of jokes and as the target of a bully (Robert Patrick).

We see him grocery-shopping with another firefighter who decides to hit on a couple of pretty women. One of them, Linda (Jacinda Barrett), takes an interest in Jack. It’s interesting to watch her as she becomes part of the brotherhood of firefighters and as they accept her into their ranks even before she becomes Jack’s bride. These scenes of the firefighters as they live, work, argue, mourn their fallen colleagues and support each other are especially compelling and believable.

These are wonderful roles for the players involved, including Morris Chestnut and Travolta, who lets Phoenix take the lead here. 

Someone involved in this movie understands how real-life everyday people live. Houses are messy with the debris of kids, busy schedules and family clutter. Parties aren’t catered events but instead are relaxed gatherings that just happen.

And someone understands firefighters, from their motives to their families and their courage.

Running time: Just shy of two hours.

Rated: PG-13 for violence, profanity and sexual situations.

Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Jacinda Barrett, Morris Chestnut, Kevin Daniels, Robert Patrick, Balthazar Getty and Billy Burke.
Director: Jay Russell.
Screenwriter: Lewis Colick.


2 stars

The only thing that stays afloat in “Shark Tale” are the vivid visuals. Because this movie has only a murky idea of the identity of its audience.

I know this sounds odd, especially when it’s applied to an animated feature, but the whole movie feels artificial, as if the filmmakers were trying to so hard to recreate the voice actors in animated form that they forgot about the importance of having a story with depth (pun intended).

This mostly is an urban story about the mob. Oscar (Will Smith) works at the whale wash, but is unhappy with his lot in life. He can‘t seem to figure out that his coworker Angie (Renee Zellweger) thinks he‘s wonderful just the way he is

Elsewhere, near the wreck of the Titanic, Don Lino (Robert De Niro) runs that part of the ocean. One of his sons, Frankie (Michael Imperioli) is tough and ruthless. But his other son, Lenny (Jack Black) is unassuming and, to his father‘s horror, a vegetarian

When a mishap occurs with one of the sharks, Oscar takes credit for it, and convinces everyone around him that he‘s “Oscar the Shark Slayer.” Lenny, of course, knows the real story. He won’t tell anyone, though, if Oscar will hide him away from Lenny’s angry father.

Oscar becomes an overnight celebrity. His picture is everywhere, and he’s even interviewed by Katie Current (Katie Couric). He even has a new would-be romantic interest in the lovely Lola (Angelina Jolie).

This is a show for grownups disguised as entertainment for kids. Little kids -- even older kids, for that matter -- aren’t going to get the in-jokes, or notice that the fish look like various celebrities and anchors.

In one moment that I thought was appalling, a soon-to-be-eaten shrimp pleads for its life, relating a tale of the death of family members and talking about a baby shrimp that has lost its arms and legs. Is that supposed to be funny? It’s not -- it’s a ghastly story in the midst of this animated romp, and I’m not sure what it’s doing here.

The film contains some funny moments, to be sure. And all ages will enjoy the look of the fish.

But if I want intelligent, well-written underwater animated fun, I’ll go find Nemo again.

Running time: Ninety minutes.

Directors: Bob Bergeron, Vicky Jenson and Rob Letterman.

Screenwriters: Rob Letterman, Damian Shannon, Mark Swift and Michael J. Wilson.

Rated PG for violence, threatening situations, and that ghastly dialogue from the shrimp.

Vocal stars: Will Smith, Jack Black, Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Ziggy Marley, Doug E. Doug and Katie Couric.


4 stars

Here’s an unusual sequel to an equally unusual film from nine years.

“Before Sunrise” was the story of a couple, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) who meet in Vienna and walk through the city. They’re young, they’re truly in the process of finding themselves, and they’re completely smitten with each other.

At the end of the film, they promise to meet again, just six months later, in Vienna.

Now it’s nine years later. Jesse (played once again by Hawke) is an author. His popular book, in fact, is based on his meeting with Celine.

Now Jesse is in Paris, which is one leg of his book tour, and Celine comes to see him after his lecture. Jesse has to catch a plane, but both he and Celine want to catch up with each other, so they go for a walk that becomes longer and longer.

Of course, the actors have changed. And so have their characters. Jesse now has a child. Celine remains single after a series of unhappy relationships.

Both continue to hearken back to their interlude which, it turns out, has affected the rest of their lives. Although only one of them showed up at the appointed reunion time in Vienna, each is profoundly interested in what the other has been doing all these years.

The movie has little in the way of plot. We become eavesdroppers of a sort as Jesse and Celine reveal the most intimate details of their lives to each other in the way that we often have frank talks with strangers. The director chose long, uninterrupted takes throughout the movie, and that lends to the realism.

These are characters in which an audience can believe. Their first awkwardness upon seeing each other again, which eventually leads to their candid talk about their loves, their careers, their passions and their beliefs, is realistic in its every second. Maybe that’s because the actors put together the screenplay -- after all, they breathed life into the characters crated earlier, and possibly only they can understand how this relationship would evolve.

We wonder, as they do, how their lives would have been different had both of them made that appointment in Vienna. And we find out as the conversation continues.

It will leave you wondering if we’ll see Jesse and Celine again in nine years. I hope so.

Director: Richard Linklater.

Screenwriters: Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.

Running time: Eighty minutes.

Rated: R for foul language and sexual conversation.

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Vernon Dobtcheff, Louise Lemoine Torres, Rodolphe Pauly, Marianne Plasteig, Diabolo and Albert Delpy.


1 1/2 stars

It doesn’t exactly dance so much as it hops around on the screen.

“Shall We Dance?” is oafish compared to the original Japanese movie form a few years back. It tries too hard to please its middle-aged audience, and, in doing so, stumbles all over itself.

Richard Gere is John, a wealthy, bored, attorney who lives a seemingly happy life with his kids and Beverly (Susan Sarandon), his wife of many years. Beverly is a busy person, and so is John -- occasionally, the busy family of four gets together. But even during John’s birthday dinner, his daughter takes a phone call. Everybody seems to be rushing in different directions.

John doesn't seem so busy as he does bored. He takes the train home every night, and keeps seeing a lovely woman (Jennifer Lopez) staring out of the window of a dance instruction studio. At last, one night, he makes the big leap, and signs up for dance lessons. The instructor is a classy lady who swigs from a flask, another regular is so in-your-face it’s amazing someone doesn’t slug her, and John’s fellow dance learners are as awkward as he is.

I’m not sure what the character played by Stanley Tucci is supposed to be. He’s this executive type who’s ... I don’t know ... afraid he seems gay? Or that people might think he's gay? I have no idea. He wears this awful wig and grotesque clothing when he dances as a sort of disguise, I guess. The character is beneath Tucci and the movie itself.

The characters all do dopey things that don’t make sense. John is afraid to tell his wife that he’s learning to dance -- apparently because he has a crush on the Lopez character -- and Tucci’s character doesn’t want his coworkers to know that he can dance. Then there’s a scene in which John coincidentally runs into his grown son and doesn’t go to class until ... well, it makes no sense.

Even “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” had more going for it than this. The film does have its moments though. Women viewers will remember a scene in which a tuxedoed Gere, carrying a single red rose, takes an escalator up to his surprised wife. That’s class. But that’s mostly what this picture lacks.

Running time: Ninety-five minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for sexual situations and foul language.

Stars: Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Bobby Cannavale, Stanley Tucci, Len Cariou, Richard Jenkins, Nick Cannon, Mya and Lisa Anne Walter.

Director: Peter Chelsom.
Screenwriter: Audrey Wells


2 stars

It will be. And soon.

“The Forgotten” is like “The Twilight Zone” without Rod Serling, like “The X-Files” without Chris Carter. It’s an idea looking for a story to flesh itself out.

At first, I really thought this was going somewhere. You have Julianne Moore as Telly, a woman who, at one time, happily lived with her husband and son. 

Now she’s in therapy with a psychiatrist, Dr. Jack Munce (Gary Sinise, who has been in a plethora of bad to middlin’ movies in recent years and who certainly deserves better), who is helping her cope with the death of her son, Sam (Christopher Kovaleski). Telly’s husband Jim (Anthony Edwards, television‘s “E.R.”) seems to be a patient, caring man who wants to help his wife through her grieving process.

Now, suddenly, it seems as though Sam never existed. Photos show up with only Jim and Telly in them. People Telly knows don’t know who she’s talking about when she mentions Sam. And her doctor and husband tell her that the whole idea of Sam was a delusion.

Telly feels as though she’s losing her mind on one hand, but, on the other, remembers and grieves for her son. She approaches the parent of a former playmate of Sam’s to see what he thinks.

Ash (Dominic West, “Mona Lisa Smile”) doesn’t remember ever meeting Telly, and says that he never had a daughter. But Telly thinks that she can prove otherwise, and suddenly the two of them are running a race against time to prove that their children really did exist ... and they’re pursuing what clues they can find to discover what really happened to their kids.

The acting is decent all the way around, especially where Moore is concerned. But when the plot line becomes ridiculous -- even for this kind of movie -- you’ll realize you’ve been had.

The plot begins to fall apart about 20 minutes into the movie. But what does happen is that, for those who get a kick out of getting the daylights scared out of them, the film does indeed contain a few worthwhile scares. I literally rose out of my seat at one point, purely from fright, and it takes a lot to scare me. 

But a few good scares do not an excellent movie make. I miss you, Rod. I miss you, Chris.

Running time: Ninety minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for violence, foul language and adult themes.

Stars: Julianne Moore, Anthony Edwards, Linus Roache, Gary Sinise, Dominic West, Alfre Woodard and Christopher Kovaleski. 
Director: Joseph Ruben.
Screenwriter: Gerald Di Pego.


2 stars

Let‘s see...well, I guess it‘s better than the first time, with Mandy Moore.

"First Daughter" is a replay of a “Chasing Liberty,“ all about the daughter of the President of the United States who never gets to follow her heart or have any freedom.

That movie opened earlier this year. Now here’s a movie starring Katie Holmes all about ... you guessed it ... about the daughter of the President of the United States who never gets to follow her heart or have any freedom.

I must admit that the movie had my attention at first. I loved the way Holmes portrayed the put-upon First Daughter, Samantha, as a class act, understanding of what her behavior means to her dad’s career. Sam always has lived her life in the public eye, and she takes most of it in stride (although the jokes that Jay Leno and Joan Rivers make about her bad wardrobe are getting old). 

Dad (Michael Keaton) is running for re-election. But Sam won’t be part of the campaign this time -- instead, she’s off to college, with the Secret Service in tow, hoping that she can lead somewhat of a normal life.

But, of course, that’s impossible. Her roommate, Mia (Amerie) is jealous the very second she meets Sam. Mia is used to being the center of attention, and now bands and fraternity brothers alike are playing “Hail to the Chief” everywhere that Sam goes.

And, of course, even when she’s at a party, Sam is having her picture taken and plastered everywhere, much to her father’s dismay.

There are some idiotic scenes. Among them is a sequence involving Holmes in a wig, hat, and boots -- where this came from, I’m not sure. There’s a romance, and there’s not much surprising or inspiring there. 

This movie’s idea of a wild party is pretty tame, especially considering this is supposed to be Sam’s first taste of freedom. This is a throwback to a 1950s-type movie mentality in many, many ways.

It’s nice to see Keaton -- where have you been, Michael? -- and Holmes always has a sweet presence in front of the camera. Their relationship is the most believable in the story, which certainly is not a candidate for an Academy Award.

Running time: 105 minutes.

Director: Forest Whitaker.

Rated: PG for sexual situations and alcohol-related events.

Stars: Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas, Amerie, Michael Keaton, Margaret Colin, Lela Rochon Fuqua, Michael Milhoan and Hollis Hill.

Screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Kate Kondell and Jerry O'Connell.


4 stars

This is the kind of movie that can create friendships.

I had just met Anne, my coworker, a few months back. One day, she asked, “You wouldn’t happen to have seen ‘Donnie Darko,’ would you?”

Of course I had. One of my favorite movies. One of hers, too, it turns out. Instant friendship.

This is one of THOSE movies: A cult movie among cult movies that brings its aficionados together. It’s strange, enigmatic and unsettling. And now “Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut” gives you about 20 minutes more of the same than the original did in a time travel/parallel universe/science fiction type of mystery.

The setting is 1988. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Donnie Darko, a young guy who’s more than a little disturbed...and disturbing. He talks to this, uh, being called Frank, who’s a sort of huge rabbit (the nod to “Harvey,“ my favorite movie of all time, has not gone unnoticed) with a hideous face/mask. Frank sort of tells Donnie what to do. In the meantime, Donnie, who is on medication, is seeing a therapist because he has all sorts of problems ... maybe.

A plane engine crashes into Donnie’s house when he’s not around. But this isn’t the only strange occurrence in the life of Donnie, who doesn’t lead a normal sort of life anyway. He does have a girlfriend of sorts in Gretchen (Jena Malone), the new girl in school. Their teacher is Ms. Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore).

And there’s Frank, the rabbit, who is a sort of instructor in himself, giving Donnie the power to see the timelines of people and events and warning him of an apocalyptic event. The other characters include a strange old woman who wrote a book, The Philosophy of Time Travel, and Patrick Swayze as a motivational con-man type.

There are no easy answers to the questions posed in “Donnie Darko.” Will you be able to figure out the riddle of time travel and what Donnie experiences? Maybe; maybe not. 

In the director’s cut, we see pages from the time travel book and an extra conversation between Donnie and his father. And, oddly, the soundtrack has changed somewhat.

You won’t have any trouble finding more information about this film on the Internet, because fans have been discussing and analyzing it for three years on websites and bulletin boards. 

Investigate to your heart’s content. Or just see the movie, and join Anne and me, and the rest of us, who have been wondering just what really happens in “Donnie Darko.”
Running time: 140 minutes.

Rated: R for foul language, violence and drug abuse.

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Daveigh Chase, Patrick Swayze, Katharine Ross and Noah Wyle.

Screenwriter and director: Richard Kelly.


4 stars

It’s that lost horizon somewhere over the rainbow. And the force is with it.

"Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” captures the feel of classic films and the theme of myths as ancient as humankind. The Art-Deco look, the writing, and the retro atmosphere create a lush environment for viewers -- and yes, that means families -- who will enjoy this “Indiana Jones”-type tale.

Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Polly Perkins, a newspaper reporter (I know, I know. Small wonder that I like her, but trust me, you’ll like her too) who wants to get the scoop regardless of the danger involved. The setting is the late 1930s. Polly is tracking down a mystery that involves the mysterious deaths of several scientists and happens to be on hand when Manhattan is invaded by monstrous mechanical men (they look a lot like the animated, friendlier “Iron Giant,” in fact). The determined Polly remains underfoot in an effort to snap some photos as the robots make their way through the city, and she is rescued by Sky Captain, whose real name is Joe Sullivan (Jude Law). Sky Captain, it seems, fights evil doers the world over, and obviously has had some kind of romance, or near-romance, with Polly in prior years.

Joe agrees to let Polly come along for the ride -- and the scoop -- while the two of them hash out the questions of the robots’ origin and who dispatched them. They have little to go on except for the name of Dr. Totenkopf, a scientist whose name seems to strike terror into the hearts of those who knew him and knew about his experiments.

Giovanni Ribisi stars as Joe’s sidekick Dex Dearborn (what a terrific name) and Angelina Jolie is pilot Franky Cook, another friend of Joe’s.

Then there’s the look of the film. “Wow,” is about all I can come up with to describe the soft, velvety feel of each frame that’s steeped in sepia for its yesteryear, pulp-comics visuals. 

for years to bring forth on his Macintosh a six-minute film illustrating his vision for "Sky Captain." This is computer-generated imagery at its best, using a blue screen as the background for the actors (OK...I almost gave the movie 3 1/2 stars because of CGI monster that I don’t think fits the quality of the rest of the film. But hey, the critter was onscreen for only a few seconds, and I just couldn’t do it).

And then there’s Sir Laurence Olivier, who has been dead since 1989. Just wait until you see how he’s “resurrected” here.

As for the mythic element, the movie continually references such standards as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Lost Horizon” and “Star Wars,” all the better to establish a timeless, classic atmosphere.

Whether it’s Flash Gordon or Indiana Jones that you remember from your childhood, you’ll want to be part of this adventure, too.

Running time: 110 minutes.

Stars: Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Gambon, Ling Bai and Omid Djalili

Rated: PG for scary situations.

Director and screenwriter: Kerry Conran.


3 1/2 stars

Bernie Mac really scores with this one.

Long-time comic Mac has had some small roles in some decent movies, such as “Head of State“ and “Ocean‘s 11,” not to mention a starring role in Spike Lee‘s “The Original Kings of Comedy.”

Now he proves he can carry a movie on his own in “Mr. 3000,” the story of a baseball player who goes to bat for himself ... again.

The movie has a terrific beginning. It depicts Mac’s character, Stan Ross, as a long-time player for the Milwaukee Brewers. Stan’s not a nice guy, but he’s a heckuva player -- we see that in the realistic sports commercial featuring Stan at the beginning of the movie.

Stan retires after his 3,000th hit, mouthing off to the sports reporters, his team, and just about everybody with whom he comes in contact. He goes so far as to grab the ball out of the hand of a little kid, further antagonizing everybody around him.

Still, he proceeds to open a successful shopping mall that features “Mr. 3000” stores including a sports bar, a car dealership and a pet store. During Stan Ross Day at the stadium, the organizers can’t get many people to show up to speak about Stan’s good points -- that’s because there aren’t many people willing to lie. About the only person on hand to encourage him is his best friend “Boca” (Michael Rispoli).

Nine years later, Stan is being considered for the Baseball Hall of Fame. According to his stats, though, he hasn’t hit 3,000. His total really is 2,997 because of a mistake in a discontinued game.

Oops. Now what’s Mr. 3000 going to do at the age of 47? Well, come out of retirement, get back in shape, and rack up three more hits. Or so he thinks.

Fans begin to stream into the stadium during a year that has been anything but outstanding for the Brewers. Stan basks in the attention, and does his best to adjust to workouts that have changed quite a bit over the years. Also, he has to face the jeers of his teammates who call him “grandpa” and “old school.”

He continues to brag about his batting prowess, then finds that reality is quite different when he steps up to the plate. And everybody’s watching, especially ESPN, which dispatches reporter Maureen Simmons (Angela Bassett) for some one-on-one interviews with Stan. Maureen and Stan had a romantic relationship over the years, and she isn’t sure that Stan can follow through on his boasts.

Mac is fine as the older player who still has a lot of growing up to do. Bassett is delightful as the reporter who has trouble believing Stan has changed.

This is the kind of movie that’s worthy of Mac’s talent. And of your time.

Running time: 104 minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for sexual situations and foul language.

Stars: Bernie Mac, Angela Bassett, Brian J. White, Paul Sorvino, Stuart Scott, Greg Bond and Chris Noth.

Director: Charles Stone III.

Screenwriters: Eric Champnella, Keith Mitchell and Howard Gould.


0 stars

Please, Louise, next time: Less sleaze.

Louise Lasser, in case you’re not old enough to recall, has an intriguing resume. She was married to Woody Allen in the late 1960s, appeared in some of his earlier films, and then went on to become a cult figure in the hilarious soap opera “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.”

And now here this able performer is in “National Lampoon’s Gold Diggers,” one of the most awful movies of the year, if not the decade.

Leonard (Chris Owen, “American Pie”) and Calvin (Will Friedle, television’s “Boy Meets World”) are two ne’er-do-wells who want to get their hands on some money the easy way. They attempt to rob two sisters, Doris (Lasser) and Betty (Renee Taylor, television’s “The Nanny.”

After the sisters begin to face their money problems, they realize that they could get their would-be assailants out of stir, marry them, then bump them off for the insurance money. Likewise, Leonard and Calvin decide that they can marry these much-older women, who probably won’t be around much longer, and inherit their money.

The humor is so old that it’s creaky, with set-ups from scads of other movies and gross-out moments thinly disguised as comedy. The word “tasteless” does not even begin to describe the depths to which this movie sinks -- in fact, I refuse to give examples of it here.

I remember when the name “National Lampoon” meant something well-written, edgy and hilarious. Now it means crude, cheap and sleazy. 

People are beginning to figure this out, because, when I saw the movie on its opening night, only two other people were in the theater with me. Thank goodness only a handful of Quad-Citians saw this show over the weekend.

This is a brief review because it deserves to be -- I gave the extra verbiage to the wonderful “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.”

Please, Louise -- find another agent.

Running time: Ninety minutes.
Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, sexual situations and drug abuse.
Stars: Will Friedle, Chris Owen, Louise Lasser and Renee Taylor.

Screenwriter and director: Gary Preisler.


4 stars

It’s just beautiful.

“Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring” is a quiet, contemplative movie containing universal truths about the passing of time, and the seasons in particular, the cycles of life and redemption.

The movie uses very little dialogue because, well, it doesn‘t need much. Each change of “season” actually is a shift forward in time of about 10 years. The focus of the story is a Buddhist monk (Oh Young-Soo), who lives in isolation with his student (Kim Jong-ho). The boy, still a youngster, is learning the ways of Buddhism and, during the “spring” section, learns about cruelty and selfishness.

In “Summer,” the boy now is a teenager (Seo Jae-kyeong) who befriends a girl (Ha Yeo-jin) who has come to the monastery to be healed. The teacher says that the girl is sick “in spirit,” and notices the glances that are exchanged between the two young people. Lust, he warns the younger man, can lead to disaster. But the younger man pays no heed to the teacher’s advice.

After a parting of the ways between the younger and older man, the younger man (now played by Kim Young-min) returns. He now is full of anger, and still has a lot to learn from his teacher, from whom he once again is separated.

And yet, during the “winter” segment, the apprentice returns again to the monastery. This time, he is played by Kim Ki-duk, the marvelously talented screenwriter and director of this fine film. And the seasons continues to shift while patterns repeat themselves.

The movie was shot at a national park in South Korea, and it truly is a wonder to behold. The acting is subtle, but the characters are fully developed, with fully developed motives and personalities. This is a film that takes its times, letting the viewer drink in the splendor of the scenery and the solitude and serenity of the monks’ existence. It touches on the meaning of our actions, and what we can do to redeem ourselves.

If you must have action or lots of talk in your movies, you will be disappointed in this. This is for those who want to enjoy some contemplative solitude, just as the characters do, and take in the beauty of this thought-provoking film.

In Korean with English subtitles.

Running time: One hour and 45 minutes.

Rated: I don't think it's been rated by the MPAA, but it's comparable to an "R" for sexuality and nudity.

Cast: Oh Young-Soo, Kim Jong-ho, Seo Jae-kyeong, Kim Young-min, Kim Ki-duk and Ha Yeo-jin.
Director and screenwriter: Kim Ki-duk.


1 star

I’m betting you’ve tried to “coincidence” yourself out of a Situation.

You know what I mean by a Situation. You’ve gotten caught at something. It was just a coincidence that you happened to be standing on that chair looking for a towel in the closet the day before Christmas -- you didn‘t have any idea those packages were on the top shelf.

Coincidence, I learned at an early age, doesn’t usually provide a valid explanation for a Situation. Evidently, the screenwriters for “Wicker Park” have not realized this yet, because coincidence piles up on contrivance in this film until it becomes first ridiculous, then laughable, as the screenplay becomes a Situation.

Josh Hartnett plays Matthew, a likeable guy who getting this big promotion: He’s being sent to China for a few days to represent the firm run by his soon-to-be-father-in-law.

Yes, he’s engaged to a beautiful girl, but he can’t get his mind off another woman who apparently disappeared right after he declared his love for her. When he sees this mysterious woman, Lisa (Diane Kruger) he decides to skip China and begin to hunt for her.

Coincidentally, he runs into a friend, Luke (Matthew Lillard), who is anxious to hear all about this mystery woman. Coincidentally, Luke is dating a woman named Alex (Rose Byrne) who is an enigma, too.

I have never seen “L’Appartement,” the French film on which this was based. But I’m guessing that it isn’t nearly as confusing, and I’m betting that the characters don’t keep missing each other because they’re too moronic to leave messages for each other on, say, cell and work phones.

What really bothered me was Matthew’s job, or quasi-career. How I wish I could have a job in which I could tell people, “Well, I might not go to that meeting,” or “I might go to that meeting next week. Maybe.” I’ll bet that a lot of people wish they had jobs like that, because I don’t know anyone who does out of movies.

Lillard really is the only believable character here because he doesn’t act like an idiot. He does, however, act bewildered by all that’s unfolding around him -- he seems to feel pretty much like the audience does.

Or, hey, maybe it’s just a coincidence.

Rated: PG-13 for sexual situations and foul language.

Running time: Just less than two hours.


Stars: Josh Hartnett, Rose Byrne, Diane Kruger, Matthew Lillard, Jessica Pare, Stefanie Buxton and Gillian Ferrabee.

Director: Paul McGuigan.

Screenwriters: Gilles Mimouni and Brandon Boyce, based on a French film from the 1990s.