ALIEN (R) There's virtually nothing in this "director's cut" of Scott's sci-fi/horror classic that you won't see in the DVD version, but the movie is still a scream. It's worth the price of admission just to experience the movie on the big screen, digitally restored with a brand new, six-track stereo mix. Scott's mix of science fiction and Gothic trapped-in-a-haunted-house horror story is quarter of a century old, but still scary after all these years. Stars Sigourney Weaver, Tom Kerrit, John Hurt and Ian Holm. Opens Oct. 31 at local theaters.
BEYOND BORDERS (R) Although it spews political messages like so much projectile vomit, and spans several decades and a slew of exotic locations, Angelina Jolie's latest project feels about as much like a serious epic as one of her Lara Croft: Tomb Raider romps. Jolie stars as a socialite with a social consciousness, torn between her marriage and a brash but charismatic doctor/political activist (Clive Owen). Despite a handful of powerful (albeit seriously exploitative) moments, the movie is a terribly clumsy mix of sloganeering and soap opera, clumsily comprised of three loosely connected acts, each taking place in an international trouble spot more awful than the last. Time passes, marriages dissolve (hers), deals with the devil (his) are struck and then largely forgotten, and Jolie and Owen's love appears to be the only saving grace in a world populated by very bad people with even worse teeth. The opening sequence in famine-ridden Ethiopia (complete with digitally generated starving infants) is particularly disturbing, and Jolie, who ages nary a day over the movie's 20 year span, gets a chance to wear some really cute outfits along the way. Also stars Noah Emmerich.
BROTHER BEAR (G) There's nothing particularly bad about Disney's latest animated feature, but not much really stands out either. Joaquin Phoenix provides the voice for Kenai, a brash young warrior who learns about humility and love when he's magically transformed into a bear and forced to walk a mile in the shoes — er, paws — of the very critters he's blithely killed. The lush animation is mostly of the old-fashioned 2-D variety, the obligatory, ultra-cute talking animal sidekick is on hand (a little cub called Koda), and the moral instruction offered by the movie, while well-meaning and potentially valuable, is a bit too preachy for both tykes and their parental units. It's all several notches up from straight-to-video, but there's a blandly familiar, weirdly generic feel to the story and characters (sort of Lion King meets Pochahantas' Native American mysticism). And while it's a treat to see Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas reprising their classic Mackenzie Brothers routine in the form of a pair of hop-loving Canadian moose, even that can't compensate for Phil Collins' pompous, New Agey muzak. Also features the voices of D.B. Sweeney, Jeremy Suarez and Michael Clarke. Opens Nov. 1 at local theaters.
BUGS! (PG) Overflowing with incredible microphotography, great 3-D effects and bug's-eye views galore, Bugs! is structured as a sort of day in the life of two of the critters for which it's titled. The movie personalizes its protagonists by giving them names, so we follow a benign little caterpillar named Pipilio and a not-so benign praying mantis named Hierodula as they creep along the jungles of Borneo, doing all the things that insects do. We get amazing, ultra-up-close-and-personal 3-D footage of bugs eating, mating, hunting, avoiding danger and exploring an exotic and often dangerous landscape. It's all beautifully shot, utilizing crisp, deep focus photography that really makes the 3-D effects pop. 1/2
CASA DE LOST BABYS (R) John Sayles' ambitious new film aims its sights on six U.S. women as they bide their time at a South American hotel waiting for the chance to adopt babies from a local orphanage. The film is just as talky as you'd imagine, but most of the chatter is intriguing, touching on topics as monumental and far-flung as the clashes of culture and class, the ties that bind and break women apart, and the urge for motherhood. If there's a real problem with the movie, it's that it never quite finds a central focus, and ultimately doesn't add up to much beyond its scattered insights and a handful of fascinating character sketches. Stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lili Taylor, Mary Steenburgen, Marcia Gay Harden and Daryl Hannah. 1/2
COLD CREEK MANOR (R) Director Mike Figgis puts his cerebral experimentations on the back burner with this supernatural thriller about a yuppie couple who buy a country home that turns out to be possessed. The early reviews on this one are almost universally negative. Stars Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone and Stephen Dorff. (Not Reviewed)
DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (R) One of the happiest and most unexpected surprises I caught at last year's Toronto Film Festival was this delightfully quirky thriller set within London's diverse immigrant community. In its own small, singular way, director Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things has all the makings of a cult hit. The film features some great local color, an offbeat but steadily gripping plot involving black marketers and organ-selling, a star turn by lead actor Chjwetel Ejiofor, and Amelie's Audrey Tautou as an illegal immigrant from Turkey, with a moustache. Also stars Sophie Okonedo. 1/2
DUPLEX (PG-13) The happy new owners of a seemingly ideal New York City duplex, Alex (Ben Stiller) and Nancy (Drew Barrymore), are soon at their wits' end trying to fulfill the odd requests of their upstairs rent-controlled tenant, elderly Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essell). Stiller and Barrymore make a great team when they become bent on forcing the old woman out, and the physical comedy involved — electrocution, an exploding oven — delivers the funniest moments in the film. There's not much plot, but the young couple's unfolding desperation in the face of Mrs. Connelly's refusal to die is amusing. 1/2—Emily Anderson
FREAKY FRIDAY (PG) Disney remakes its 1976 comedy about a young girl switching bodies with her mom. It might have been fun if Jodie Foster, who was 14 when she played the daughter in the original movie, returned as the mom in the remake. Instead, we get an incessantly mugging but seriously unfunny Jamie Lee Curtis doing the honors, while fresh-faced Lindsay Lohan (star of Disney's Parent Trap remake) steps into Foster's old shoes. Lohan is mildly amusing playing the post-switcheroo teen with an adult's personality, but it's often just plain embarrassing watching Curtis strut around playing "young." Also stars Mark Harmon and Chad Murray.
GOOD BOY! (PG) Kiddie comedy about a boy and his dog, who turns out to be an alien from the dog star Sirius. The movie's pretty much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get affair, which mostly means lots of precocious, talking animals wreaking havoc in the neighborhood, in between bonding with their humans. The movie has its heart firmly in the right place, and young Liam Aiken is quite good in the lead human role, but don't expect much beyond that. Production values are so-so at best, fart jokes abound, and, with one or two exceptions, the dogs featured in the film aren't exactly the cutest critters on the planet. Worst of all, the actors providing the pooches' voices, beginning with Matthew Broderick, don't provide much personality. Also stars Kevin Nealon and Molly Shannon. 1/2
HAUNTED CASTLE (PG) There's a story (albeit a lame one) somewhere in this latest giant screen 3-D featurette, but what Haunted Castle is really offering is just a stroll through a virtual reality spook house. The computer generated animation and effects are elaborate but not terribly imaginative, and the main character simply walks around gasping at things. The highlight is a gravel-throated demon who sounds like a Jersey hit man straight out of The Sopranos (and voiced by Harry Shearer). The scares are generally pretty mild, but be aware that Haunted Castle contains a few scenes involving torture and mutilation that seem to warrant a much tougher rating than the PG the film was awarded. 1/2
INTO THE DEEP (G) Into the Deep is an extremely well made 40-minute documentary on underwater creatures, but in 3-D, it becomes an absolutely breathtaking experience. Watch millions of mating, opalescent squid swarming all around your head, frisky sea lions dropping right into your lap and sharks poking their noses directly in your face. The IMAX 3-D picture is precise, utterly life-like and, frankly, so revolutionary that I could easily see these sorts of films one day replacing standard 2-D movies.
INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (PG-13) A slick divorce lawyer (George Clooney) butts heads with a sexy gold digger (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in the Coen Brothers' attempt at blending their quirky sensibilities with what sounds very much like a mainstream romantic comedy. Also stars Geoffrey Rush. (Not Reviewed)
KILL BILL — VOL. 1 (R) In Tarantino's long-anticipated new movie, the cool influences are no longer merely influences; they're the whole show. Kill Bill is a shrine to movies — a high-octane blend of mostly Japanese and Hong Kong chopsocky, with a little spaghetti western thrown in for good measure — with Uma Thurman as a pissed-off super-assassin killing everyone who's done her wrong. Gone even are the elaborately clever monologues that made Tarantino's reputation. Kill Bill might have been designed with fan boys in mind, but the bulk of this unabashedly bloody, beautifully made film should prove equally eye-popping and/or offensive to everyone. Also stars Lucy Liu, David Carradine and Vivica A. Fox.
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
THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST (NR) Never mind that the film is already out on DVD. Better late than never is the bottom line here, since the appearance in the Bay area of any film by the wonderful Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki is reason enough to celebrate. Kaurismaki's new movie doesn't quite rank with The Match Factory Girl, Ariel or the director's other best films, but it is an odd and delightful little gem in its own right. The comedy is understated almost to the point of flat-lining (think Jim Jarmusch on downers) and the narrative is barely a wisp — an amnesiac and a Salvation Army worker find romance among the ruins — but Man Without a Past is rich in clever, quirky details and in heart. And if you can't manage to find time to get over to Tampa Theatre, do yourself a favor and at least get yourself a copy of the DVD. Stars Markku Peltoal and Kati Outinen Kuosmanen. 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
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS (R) Intermittently effective but muddled British comedy about the romantic trials and tribulations of a small group of mildly eccentric working class stiffs. The movie applies an epic, spaghetti-western-ish feel (hence the film's Leone-like title) to supposed ironic effect in recounting the efforts of a lowly auto mechanic to keep his girlfriend from returning to her ex. The characters are mostly interestingly drawn, but the movie's mix of high drama, quirkiness and borderline soap operatics don't always work particularly well. Stars Robert Carlyle, Rhys Ifans and Shirley Henderson.
OUT OF TIME (PG-13) Carl Franklin's slick, moderately engaging thriller stars Denzel Washington as a small-town police chief racing against the clock to vindicate himself when he becomes the primary suspect in a murder investigation. The convoluted plot twists fall thick and fast, beginning with the fact that the female detective hot on Washington's trail is none other than his soon-to-be ex-wife. Everything falls into place a little too neatly, though, and most of the characters don't exactly display much depth, but the whole thing's entertaining enough, in its way, and the Florida locations are nicely photographed. Also stars Eva Mendes and Dean Cain.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (PG-13) The story here isn't much more than you'd expect from a theme park ride turned big screen blockbuster, but so what? The real reason to see Pirates of the Caribbean is Johnny Depp, who's a total gas-gas-gas as the Keith Richards-inspired rock "n' roll pirate Jack Sparrow. Geoffrey Rush is no slouch either as the scenery-chewing leader of a pack of zombie pirates straight out of an old Scooby Doo cartoon. The rest of the movie basically amounts to a skillful and modestly engaging blend of battle scenes and comedy (with just a sprinkling of romance and horror thrown in), all given a nice spit-and-polish thanks to director Gore Verbinski's usual high production values. Also stars Keira Knightley. 1/2
THE PRINCESS BLADE (R) The Princess Blade is a beautifully made but not particularly original blend of post-apocalyptic atmosphere, action and sentimentality. Former pop star Yumiko Shaku stars as an assassin who turns against her clan when she discovers they've betrayed her — a concept sounding a bit like Kill Bill, although Princess Blade handles it in a far more conventional manner, and reveals a surprisingly squishy center. Hong Kong action choreographer Donnie Yu was responsible for the graceful yet muscular sword-fighting sequences, but even that's not quite stellar enough to redeem the movie's tendency towards cliches and heartstring-tugging (beginning and ending with a love story that's pure corn). Also stars Hideaki Ito.
RADIO (PG) Apparently pitched very much in the same territory as The Rookie, this feel-good tale combines sports, soap opera and nostalgia for the kinder, gentler ways of small-town America, circa anytime but now. The same guy who wrote The Rookie supplied the story, in fact, which is based on the actual life of a mentally challenged man whose eternal optimism inspires the local high school football team. Stars Cuba Gooding, Ed Harris and Debra Winger. (Not Reviewed)
RUNAWAY JURY (PG-13) If Runaway Jury is remembered at all, it will be as the movie where longtime screen icons Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman finally appeared on screen together for the first time. Other than that, the film is competent and reasonably entertaining fare, but a far cry from remarkable. Hackman is the movie's heavy, an all-seeing but utterly amoral analyst (polite code for jury tamperer), for hire to the highest bidder — which in the case of the high-profile trial he's currently trying to sway, happens to be the gun industry. Hackman's counterpart is Dustin Hoffman, who plays a highly principled and incorruptible (no laughing now) lawyer trying to make the gun industry pay for years of getting away with murder. Hoffman must really believe in the movie's anti-gun message or must have received a truly staggering paycheck for his performance here (possibly both), because it's hard to fathom otherwise why he took on such a bland, underwritten role. The story — a series of trial-related double and triple crosses — is engaging enough and sometimes even modestly exciting, but almost never particularly memorable. Another classic empty-calorie thriller based on a John Grisham book. Also stars John Cusack and Rachel Weisz.
THE RUNDOWN (PG-13) A mission to rescue a wacky rich kid plops a "retrieval expert" (celebrity beefcake The Rock) in the middle of a mess involving a jungle dictator (Christopher Walken), a nefarious master plan, a bunch of sex-crazed monkeys and a very hot local (Rosario Dawson). Also stars Sean William Scott. (Not Reviewed)
SCARY MOVIE 3 (PG-13) The third installment of David Zucker's popular horror-spoof franchise arrives complete with obligatory raunchy-silly nods to Hollywood's latest crop of fright flicks. Expect the jokes to take on The Ring and Signs, among others. Stars Anna Faris, Charlie Sheen and Anthony Anderson. (Not Reviewed)
THE SCHOOL OF ROCK (PG-13) Rocker Jack Black (Tenacious D), in this new Richard Linklater film, is a harmless but not terribly talented slacker who wants to rock so hard it's practically heartbreaking, and pulls off a scam that allows him to get paid for secretly teaching "Smoke on the Water" to nerdy students at an elite prep school. In lesser hands this could have been Kindergarten Cop, but Linklater makes most of it work, albeit not in a laugh-out-loud Dazed and Confused sort of way. Also stars Joan Cusack, Sarah Silverman and Mike White (Chuck & Buck), who also wrote the script.
SEABISCUIT (PG-13) Seabiscuit chronicles the over achieving stallion that captured America's fancy during the height of the Great Depression. This sentimental drama focuses on the three diverse people in Seabiscuit's life, who team up to conquer long odds. Fire-blooded jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), eccentric trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) and nice-guy owner Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) work together to take the horse all the way to the top. The film's relatable characters and attention-grabbing race scenes prove that a historical sports drama can gallop ahead of other summer blockbusters. 1/2 —Chris Berger
SECONDHAND LIONS (PG) This instant family classic stars Haley Joel Osment as young Walter, who learns how to be a man as his eccentric and wealthy uncles (Michael Caine and Robert Duvall) learn how to care for a child. Abandoned at the old men's farm by his mother (Kyra Sedgwick), Walter develops a relationship with his uncles through their endless storytelling and encourages them to buy items from door-to-door salesmen, including a yacht, a lion and a plane. Caine and Duvall give unique performances, while Osment is a bit clueless and stiff in this humorous and definitely appropriate movie the entire family can appreciate. 1/2—Emily Anderson
UNDERWORLD (R) This obsessively chic and pathetically shallow multi-zillion dollar FX epic turns out to be infinitely more boring than even the most run-of-the-mill horror cheapie. The story is simple but framed in such a gratuitously showy way as to make it nearly incoherent — it's basically Romeo and Juliet "updated" in the form of two star-crossed members of warring vampire and werewolf clans. The movie's style is omnipresent and overbearing, a mishmash of shamelessly lifted bits from The Matrix, Blade Runner and Blade. Underworld is alternately turgid, pretentious, annoying, and not nearly as entertaining as a halfway decent episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Stars Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman. —Reviewed entries by Lance Goldenberg unless otherwise noted.