LOST IN TRANSLATION (PG-13) Sofia Coppola's playful and elegantly deadpan film is a cinematic poem for people who don't think they like poetry. Half comedy, half something else entirely, the film is about two people, of very different ages and circumstances, who meet in a strange, faraway place and make a connection. The movie's not-so-secret weapon is Bill Murray, who plays a burned-out movie star a decade or two past his prime and reduced to hawking whiskey for Japanese television. Murray's character hooks up with another American stranger in a strange land, (Ghost World's Scarlett Johansson), and the movie follows the two jet-lagged and utterly disoriented Yanks running wild through the sensory overload of downtown Tokyo and, in their down time, back at the hotel. Coppola's eccentric little wisp of a film is a pure beauty, achieving a seemingly effortless balance of understated wit, lyricism, and off-the-wall absurdity. Also stars Giovanni Ribisi. 1/2
LOVE ACTUALLY (PG-13) From Four Weddings and a Funeral to Notting Hill, Richard Curtis' scripts have proven consistently funny, energetic, romantic, and just smart and quirky enough to compensate for stray moments of unruly sappiness. Love Actually, Curtis' first self-directed project, breaks absolutely no new ground, but it showcases most of the things the writer-director does best. Curtis interweaves nearly a dozen tales here, showing us all kinds of love, from the puppy and unrequited varieties, to office romances to power worship that might or might not be love, actually. None of it ultimately matters much, since Love Actually awards happy endings to all, urging its characters along to the fulfillment of their romantic daydreams, like lemmings to the sea. But, like those lemmings, it's hard for those of us in the audience not to get caught up in the movie's glib, carefully orchestrated enthusiasm. Ironically, the movie's weakest element is its biggest selling point — Hugh Grant, absurdly miscast as the eminently eligible Prime Minister of England (!), and a sweetly stammering, eye-fluttering parody of himself. Also stars Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Martine McCutcheon, Andrew Lincoln and Laura Linney.
MAMBO ITALIANO (R) A nice Italian boy horrifies his parents when he tells them he's gay. The story is predictable, the characters are annoying stereotypes, the performances broad or bland, and the humor strictly the stuff of sit-coms. Still, Mambo Italiano at least has the good sense not to take itself too seriously, making for a breezy but ultimately forgettable experience rather than a simply painful one. Stars Luke Kirby, Paul Sorvino and Ginette Reno. Opens Nov. 14 at local theaters. 1/2
THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS (R) The religious symbolism, mirrors-within-mirrors mysticism and Philosophy 101 navel-gazing are still here, but they take a backseat to straightforward, special effects-driven action in this somewhat formulaic but still effective wind-up to the Matrix trilogy. Revolutions begins with a series of elegant set pieces, leading to a CGI-generated machines-versus-humans battle of numbingly epic proportions (with visuals ripped from Aliens via Robocop), and concludes with Keanu Reeves' savage messiah dishing up some obligatory cosmic comeuppance. There are few surprises this time out, but the movie feels more cohesive than the last installment, and it's so well made that we can't help but get caught up in all the fireworks. Several of the more intriguing (and complicated) ideas from Matrix Reloaded are left hanging, but the over-tidy simplification actually helps us get involved with the movie on an emotional level, rather than just in a visceral or cerebral way. The Gregorian chant soundtrack, on the other hand, makes the movie seem even more pretentious than it is, and the hints of yet another sequel may leave you whimpering, "Enough." Also stars Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving and Jada Pinkett Smith. 1/2
MYSTIC RIVER (R) Clint Eastwood's latest directorial offering dives into somewhat unfamiliar waters, with mostly successful results. Mystic River is an epic tragedy about how two devastating events, a quarter-century apart, change a handful of lives in a Boston working class neighborhood. Eastwood's film is uncharacteristically filled with charged symbols and nakedly emotional Big Speeches, but the top-notch ensemble cast is good enough to pull it off and leave us wanting more. Tim Robbins is particularly effective as the damaged man-child who never quite recovered from being molested as a child, and Sean Penn burns up the screen as a man with a dead daughter and one too many secrets. Also stars Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Gay Harden. 1/2