Brotherhood of the Wolf (R) Imagine a vintage '60s Hammer horror flick starring Peter Cushing, albeit a buffed-up, ass-kicking Cushing trading moves with Bruce Lee (or even Jet Li), and with production credits shared by Merchant-Ivory and John Woo. That's The Brotherhood of the Wolf, a big-budget French import constructed from elements that will appeal to art film buffs and popcorn movie fans alike, although for completely different reasons. Taking as its source a famous French legend, Brotherhood takes place circa 1765 in rural area in France being terrorized by what is said to be a monstrous, wolf-like creature. Hot on the beast's trail are the naturalist Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan, sporting a tres unfortunate David Lee Roth coiffure) and his Iroquois blood brother Mani (Mark Dacascos of Crying Freeman fame) — both of whom just happen to be world-class kung-fu experts. The fighters all move like dancers (thanks in no small part to the efforts of veteran martial arts choreographer Philip Kwok), and the camera takes it all in from an assortment of oddly stylish angles and artful, stop-and-start motion techniques equal parts Guy Ritchie, John Woo and The Matrix. Some of the special effects are a bit cheesy and the movie's overall shape ultimately feels a bit ungainly, but Brotherhood is generally very entertaining as it cruises along juggling genres, genetically engineering arthouse, kitsch and popcorn sensibilities. Also stars Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci and Jeremie Renier.
Charlotte Gray (PG-13) Cate Blanchett stars as a Scottish woman searching for her missing lover while on a secret mission in German-occupied France during World War II. Also stars John Benfield and Ron Cook.
The Count of Monte Cristo (PG-13) Director Kevin Reynold's big screen adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic plays even more like a Cliffs Notes version than we might have imagined, although that doesn't necessarily make the film unwatchable. The movie looks good, the action scenes are fairly well choreographed and some of the performances are worth a look. Jim Caviezel, in the title role, starts off typically wispy and whiny and grows believably more confident as the story unfolds, while Guy Pearce makes one of the most memorable screen villains since Tim Roth in Rob Roy or Gary Oldman in almost anything (he's as malevolently regal as Brian Jones in his dark prime). Also stars Michael Winnicot, effectively demonstrating that he might well have been the best choice to play DeSade in Quills.
Gosford Park (PG-13) Just a few years shy of his eighth decade of life, Robert Altman has ventured into virgin territory once more in Gosford Park, although the results lack the fire and sheer imagination of Altman's best works. Gosford Park is Altman's spin on one of those English dramas where a bunch of well-heeled types congregate at someone's swanky country estate for the weekend and, eventually, someone gets murdered. The characters are intriguing, the ensemble cast wonderful, but it all peters out in the last act. Gosford Park is rarely less than entertaining, but the film frequently seems a touch too rigid in a way that's at odds with this unique filmmaker's real strengths. Stars Emily Watson, Ryan Phillippe and Helen Mirren.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (PG) A wizard, a true star. Living up to the hype in almost every way, Chris Columbus' big screen adaptation of the first Harry Potter book is a rousing blend of fantasy, mystery, action and pure charm that puts the film in a league with modern adventure classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark or the original Star Wars trilogy.
Heist (R) David Mamet is back with a crowd he clearly loves — con artists and crooks — but don't expect the metaphysical mind games of The Spanish Prisoner or House of Games this time around. Heist is about as close to a no-frills action movie as Mamet's likely to come, with a number of set pieces revolving around finely tuned robberies, and a relative minimum of angst or stylized chat (although it does contain its share of prime Mametspeak).
How High (R) Rappers Redman and Method Man smoke weed that has the effect of making them so smart they can get into Harvard. When their stash runs out, they're left to fend for themselves in the elite halls of higher education.
I Am Sam (PG-13) Sean Penn gives Dustin Hoffman a run for his money, offering up a respectable Rain Man routine in the otherwise unremarkable I Am Sam. Penn plays a lovable, mentally challenged adult who struggles with being a single father to a 7-year old girl who's smarter than he is. The movie alternates between father-daughter moments of teeth-tingling sweetness and overblown scenes in which Sam becomes traumatized by new situations, switching gears midway through to focus on a troubled yuppie lawyer (Michele Pfeiffer) who takes on Sam's case when his daughter's taken away. The movie's intentions seem to start out from a halfway respectable place, but the film soon winds up tripping all over itself in a rush to push our buttons. Weirder yet, in a bizarre effort to give the movie the veneer of toughness or artistic credibility, the film is shot with a jumpy, handheld camera that's all over the place (possibly in an over-obvious attempt to mirror Sam's own perpetually disoriented state). The mock cinema verite aesthetic couldn't be more out of place with the blatant emotional manipulation and generally syrupy tone of the movie. Also stars Dianne Wiest and Dakota Fanning.