Page 4 of 4
· TAKE THE LEAD (PG-13) Antonio Banderas plays a former professional dancer who volunteers to teach dance in the New York public school system in this inspirational-teacher flick with Alfre Woodard and Ray Liotta.
· THANK YOU FOR SMOKING 4 stars (R) Aaron Eckhart of In the Company of Men plays Nick Naylor, a proudly unprincipled tobacco lobbyist who tries simultaneously to be a professional liar and a good father. Smoking takes palpable delight at the double-speak of the spin industry -- Nick claims that lobbyists like him stick up for "little guys" like loggers, sweatshop owners and land mine developers -- and features many hilarious set pieces. As Nick weighs being a good role model to his son (Cameron Bright), the film never cops out by giving him a bogus change of heart, and he takes pride in his lack of integrity. -- Holman
· TRANSAMERICA 2 stars (R) Felicity Huffman ("Desperate Housewives") deserves praise for her well-observed performance as Bree Osbourne, a pre-op male-to-female transsexual anxiously awaiting her sex change operation. A hitch is thrown in her plan when an adult son (Kevin Zegers) she didn't know she had turns up and the pair drive from New York to California, meeting various kooks along the way. For a road movie about a trannie trying to keep her true gender a secret from her male prostitute son, Transamerica is a weirdly conventional film which ends up making Bree's prissy she-male ways the butt of too many jokes. -- Feaster
· TSOTSI 2 stars (R) Winner of this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Gavin Hood's crime drama tracks the change of heart of a vicious thug (Presley Chweneyagae) after he accidentally kidnaps a baby. For the first 10 minutes, Tsotsi has the street-wise energy of City of God or early Martin Scorsese, but the redemption themes play with a disappointingly heavy hand in Hood's adaptation of the novel by playwright Athol Fugard. -- Holman
· UNITED 93 3 stars (R) Director Paul Greengrass and a cast of relative unknowns (including air traffic controllers playing themselves) re-create the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93, as well as the first response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the ground. Greengrass handles explosive material with taste and respect to create a visceral experience that places audience members in the seats alongside terrorists and hostages alike. Greengrass' approach, however, also causes the ordinary heroes to blur together, so the undeniably harrowing film has surprisingly little staying power. -- Holman
· THE WILD 1 star (G) Comparisons to Dreamworks' similar (and superior) Madagascar prove unnecessary to point out the myriad shortcomings of The Wild, which manages to be abysmal on its own terms. Apart from the impressively lifelike CGI animation, everything about this toxic toon is intolerable, especially the sidekicks who accompany Samson the lion (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) as he leaves the comforts of the New York zoo to search for his wayward son in a faraway jungle. Nigel the koala (Eddie Izzard) rates a special mention, emerging as the most loathsome animated character since Martin Short's insufferable robot in Treasure Planet. -- Brunson