Page 4 of 5
IN THE BEDROOM (R) A thoughtful, admirable, first-director effort from actor Todd Field (Eyes Wide Shut), this story of how two chilly, noncommunicative Maine WASPS cope with their only son's death has a writerly attention to character, nuance and human behavior. Though Field's representation of his characters' suffering can at times feel a little meta-Bergman and precious, this timely story of grief and the search for revenge has enough application to the current social climate to make it resonate. -- FF
JOHN Q (PG-13) It's tough not to side with a movie that sticks it to America's health care crisis, but this heavy-handed button-pusher doesn't give any rationale room to breathe. As a factory worker with a son who needs a heart transplant, Denzel Washington takes an emergency room hostage to get his child on the donor list. The film offers a virtual checklist of "social drama" clichés, and the notion that the U.S. public would cheer a man holding innocents captive, no matter the reason, is ludicrous and insulting.--MB
KISSING JESSICA STEIN (R) The misadventures of a singleton in the city gets a gimmicky reworking in this film about a New York journalist and a Chelsea art chick who, tired of the lameoid men around, decide to date each other. Some clever writing by stars and screenwriters Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen can't dispel the sense that this is just a calculated reworking of a hackneyed suffering-single formula.--FF
LAST ORDERS (R) Graham Swift's Booker Prize-winning novel provides a drab, borderline-banal story but also proves a showcase for British actors, including Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren and Michael Caine as a charming butcher whose death both unites and divides the friends and family who survive him. Writer-director Fred Schepisi crafts a too-familiar flashback conceit, but his ensemble turns a potentially dreary subject into a touching meditation on death, duty and friendship. --CH
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (PG-13) Adapting the first and longest book of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy, Peter Jackson offers an all-but-perfect fantasy epic that's no simple piece of story-book escapism. Jackson offers a full immersion in an imaginary world, and even when some virtual environments look fake, they bristle with personality. Thrilling -- and exhausting -- at a full three hours, Fellowship's greatest achievement is that it never loses sight of the human side of its fanciful story. --CH
METROPOLIS (PG-13) Remember the Japanese cartoon "Astro Boy?" Its creator, animator Osamu Tezuka, first made his reputation 50 years ago with an epic comic book Metropolis, which has a similar retro-futurism. Metropolis now gets a lavish animated treatment from a creative team that includes the scripter of the landmark anime Akira.
MONSOON WEDDING (R) Beneath the initially frenzied energy and silliness of Mira Nair's film is an affectionate, moving portrait of how the imminent marriage of a New Delhi father's only daughter leads to a profound reassessment of the meaning of family, the one tradition worth holding onto in this meditation on the clash of new and old in modern India. --FF
MONSTER'S BALL (R) The relationship between a racist death row guard (Billy Bob Thornton) and a condemned prisoner's wife (a remarkable Halle Berry) provides the fulcrum for a stunning, unpredictable treatment of Southern race relations. Little-known director Marc Foster and screenwriters Milo Addica and Will Rokos capture the rural South while avoiding sugarcoating or stereotypes, take on challenging subjects without hysteria or contrivance, and get Oscar-worthy performances from some of the least likely of actors. --CH
MURDER BY NUMBERS (R) This fitfully entertaining thriller casts Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling as two privileged high school seniors who elect to pull off the perfect murder. As long as the film places them front and center, it avoids the standard "cop flick" trappings. Much of the running time is frittered away on scenes involving the troubled detective on the case, shakily played by top-billed star (and executive producer) Sandra Bullock.--MB
NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VAN WILDER (R) Ryan Reynolds plays the title character, a party-hearty seventh-year college student in this chaotic campus comedy. National Lampoon attempts to pass the cinematic torch by casting Tim Matheson of Animal House as Van Wilder's father.
NEW BEST FRIEND (R) This crime drama features a college student from a poor background tries to be accepted by the rich-and-beautiful clique, with lethal consequences. Featuring Mia Kirschner, Dominique Swain and Taye Diggs.
THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN (PG) An teenaged Idaho farm boy (Christopher Gorham) becomes a Mormon missionary in the South Seas in this lush film based on a true story.