ABANDON (PG-13) Abandon spends a good portion of its running time pulling the rug out from under our feet and keeping us guessing. The plot elements here are standard — a pretty grad student (Katie Holmes), a vanished ex-boyfriend who might be stalking her, and a handsome cop on the case (Benjamin Bratt) — but writer/director Stephen Gahgan continually reconfigures those elements in a variety of ways that, right up until the end, defy formula. Also stars the always-wonderful Zooey Deschanel and Charlie Hunnam, who looks like a blond version of Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison.
AUSTRALIA: LAND BEYOND TIME (PG) The film takes us Down Under to the flattest, driest continent on earth, immerses us in parched, otherworldly landscapes and introduces us to tons of incredibly odd and supremely adaptable animals
AUTO FOCUS (R) Bob Crane was an All-American guy and a typical family man who was also the star of the popular 70s sitcom Hogan's Heroes. But behind the wholesome, innocuous public persona, Crane was living a sordid, secret existence, having sex with pretty much anything that moved and recording his exploits on video. Auto Focus is an odd and lurid little movie, but not nearly as odd or as lurid as it probably should have been. Stars Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson and Maria Bello.
BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER (R) Bad guy Robert Gant (Gregg Henry) steals a prototype of Softkill, a microscopic, robotic assassin that could change the face of professional killing. Ex-agent Sever (Lucy Liu) intercepts Softkill and soon Gant and ex-FBI agent Jeremiah Ecks (Antonio Banderas) are in pursuit to get it back. Explosions galore and some impressive fight scenes somewhat salvage the movie's weak plot. Also stars Ray Park, Talisa Soto and Miguel Sandoval.
THE BANGER SISTERS (R) Susan Sarandon and Goldie Hawn star in this comedy/drama about two former rock groupies and best friends who reunite after 20 years. One has remained a wild woman; the other has turned conservative. Also stars Geoffrey Rush. (Not reviewed)
BARBERSHOP (PG-13) Ice Cube stars in this mediocre yarn about barbershop camaraderie. Cube (Calvin) is bequeathed the shop by his late father. His desperation leads to dubious means to pay past-due rent. Calvin's employees provide the bulk of amusement with their conflicting personalities. Also stars Cedric the Entertainer, Eve, Sean Patrick Thomas and Michael Ealy.
BELOW (R) The Shining on a ship, anyone? Making excellent use of a concept that sounds pretty absurd on the surface (so to speak), Below is just about as good a haunted submarine movie as you could hope to see. (It is also by no means to be confused with Ghost Ship).
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (PG-13) Michael Moore's final word (for the moment) on our culture of violence and, specifically, America's love affair with guns. Lively, often funny and sometimes devastating, the film takes a close look at a culture where a gun can be easily purchased at a bank or while getting a trim at the barbershop. Moore's argument is simplistic but effective, ultimately attributing American bloodlust to a particularly nasty brew of fear and racism fueled primarily by the government and the media. Moore doesn't bother much with details, including the fact that his own film is part of the very problem he identifies. The main difference, as Moore himself would probably agree, is that the ends justify the means. Funnily enough, that's just what the head of the NRA might tell you too.
COMEDIAN (R) TV commercial director Christian Charles follows two comedians — the very popular Jerry Seinfeld and the very unknown Orny Adams — as they navigate their way through New York City's notoriously cutthroat comedy scene. Other comics making appearances include Chris Rock, Kevin Nealon, Colin Quin, Dave Chappelle andJay Leno. (Not Reviewed)
DIE ANOTHER DAY (PG-13) It's a long way from Once Were Warriors for director Lee Tamahori, who helms this latest Bond blow-out in which 007 tracks traitors and terrorists from North Korea to Cuba to Iceland. On the plus side is Halle Berry, who shows up to exchange innuendoes and bodily fluids with the Bondster, and two fairly cool villains — one of whom is an inverted version of 007 himself (ie: a swaggering, pretty-boy adventurer). On the down side, the plot's pretty convoluted (as all the recent Bonds have been), some of the CGI effects are awfully cheesy, and the movie overstays its welcome by a good 20 minutes. Still, not even a lame cameo by Madonna (yep, she's here too) can ruin what is essentially yet another serviceable mix of sex, glamour and high-tech toys. Stars Pierce Brosnan, Rosamund Pike and Stephen Yune. Opens Nov. 22 at local theaters.