RECENT REVIEWS 

The Holy Land
Dir. & writ. Eitan Gorlin; feat. Oren Rehany, Tchelet Semel, Sual Stein, Albert Illuz, Aryeh Moskona (NR)
In his first feature film, writer-director Eitan Gorlin, an Orthodox American Jew who lost his faith while living in Israel, explores the struggle within the soul of a 20-year-old Jew who is torn between the strict piety in which he has grown up, and the temptations of the flesh. The Holy Land tells an ancient story about savoring and souring on the forbidden fruit. It does not presume to provide an inside view of the Orthodox Jewish community, only of one sheepish schlemiel who goes astray. SGK

Intolerable Cruelty
Dir. Joel Coen; writ. Joel & Ethan Coen, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone; feat. George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Edward Herrmann, Paul Adelstein, Billy Bob Thornton (PG-13)
Clooney's Miles Massey is the big shark in divorce-attorney waters, a Dapper Dan able to sell the most ludicrous settlements. In the course of raking Mrs. Rexroth (Zeta-Jones) through the coals in court, he falls for her hard and proceeds to make a fool of himself. While film history suggests that the Coens will eventually make a bad movie or two, it won't be this year: Cruelty hits the nail on the head. JD

Kill Bill
Dir. & writ. Quentin Tarantino; feat. Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, David Carradine (R)
The movie follows a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassin Squad who was left for dead by treacherous colleagues, and makes it her mission to eliminate each of them. It's a movie soaked in blood, picked up and wrung out, then tossed back again into the carnage; and while it is not simply one long fight, it will hold little appeal for moviegoers who can't thrill to decapitations and epic duels. The director relishes the beautifully choreographed action and the bits of style - the long, high whine of an unsheathed sword, the geyser of blood produced by a de-limbed torso - that make cinematic violence a visual feast. JD

Lost in Translation
Dir. & writ. Sofia Coppola; feat. Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Akiko Takeshita (R)
Bill Murray plays a movie star who has come to Tokyo to make a quick $2 million for endorsing a whiskey. Scarlett Johansson plays the wife of a self-absorbed commercial photographer who goes with him on a business trip and spends her days alone while he works. The two are staying in the same hotel; neither is sleeping well, and during their insomniac strolls, they cross paths enough times that they strike up a friendship. Both individuals are wrestling with their lives in ways that make them hungry for meaningful interaction. They are stranded in a country whose language and pop culture are baffling, but that's just a signpost for the alientation they suffer among those who supposedly speak their language. JD

The Magdalene Sisters Dir. & writ. Peter Mullan; feat. Geraldine McEwan, Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy, Eileen Walsh (R)
The Hibernian branch of zealots called itself the Sisters of Mercy, and imposed its rigid brand of piety through a gulag of Catholic workhouses for wayward girls. The Magdalene Sisters dramatizes the real-life cases of four teenagers who were incarcerated and brutalized in one of these Christian establishments. It is essentially a women's prison drama set in a hellish institution where sadism and misogyny masquerade as rectitude, exposing another shameful chapter in the history of outrages committed in the tarnished name of religious purity. SGK

Matchstick Men
Dir. Ridley Scott; writ. Nicholas Griffin, Ted Griffin, based on a novel by Eric Garcia; feat. Nicholas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce McGill (PG-13)
Attempting to reestablish contact with his former wife, Roy is told that though she has no wish to see him, the teenage daughter he never met does. A finicky bachelor, he becomes host to a boisterous stranger who disrupts his existence. Chamber work for flamboyant director Ridley Scott, the film offers stings within schemes within scams. But the brightest fire in Matchstick Men illuminates a dysfunctional life humanized by the ancient fictions of fatherhood. SGK

Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Dir. & writ. Robert Rodriguez; feat. Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes, Danny Trejo, Enrique Iglesias, Marco Leonardi, Cheech Marin, Rubén Blades, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Armendáriz Jr. (R)
Robert Rodriguez falls short of delivering on the promise of an epic film. Even his trademark cinematic flourishes seem reined in. Depp's Agent Sands dominates - pushing even the iconic Mariachi to the sides. As appealing as parts of the film are to a sense of cultural pride, it ultimately leaves viewers wondering whether it is entertainment as empowerment - or exploitation. AP

Runaway Jury
Dir. Gary Fleder; writ. Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland, Matthew Chapman, based on a novel by John Grisham; feat. John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz (PG-13)
The film focuses on a civil proceeding in which the widow of a stockbroker murdered by a psychopath charges Vicksburg Firearms with culpable liability. "Trials are too important to be left to juries," says Rankin Fitch (Hackman), a veteran specialist in jury management, who demands $30 million to guarantee Vicksburg immunity from legal judgment. Runaway Jury runs away from the intricacies of Second Amendment law and corporate responsibility toward a layered thriller. SGK School of Rock
Dir. Richard Linklater; writ. Mike White; feat. Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Joey Gaydos, Maryam Hassan, Kevin Clark, Rebecca Brown, Robert Tsai, Miranda Cosgrove (PG-13)
Dumped by his bandmates and way behind on the rent, would-be rawk star Dewey Finn stumbles into a temporary gig as the substitute teacher for a class of fifth-grade overachievers. After discovering that his class harbors a few talented musicians, he plans to use them to win a battle of the bands contest for $20,000. But first he must teach them how to rock. JD

Seabiscuit
Writ. & dir. Gary Ross, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand; feat. Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens, William H. Macy (PG-13)
If only for its spectacular sequences of man-on-horse in motion, Seabiscuit is a splendid addition to the cinema of sports. But with the judicious use of stills and the voiceover of historian David McCullough, it also provides the snapshot of an era, the late 1930s, when Depression America was more than a little banged up, and the little colt that could gave hope to millions who could not. Seabiscuit is a horse's tale about underdogs, and from starting gate to finish line it is a timely and tonic reminder that once upon a time in America, neither wealth nor birth counted as much as spunk. SGK

Secondhand Lions
Dir. & writ. Tim McCanlies; feat. Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment, Kyra Sedgwick, Emmanuelle Vaugier (PG)
Grown-up Walter will never forget the summer of his 14th year, spent with his great uncles Garth and Hub, two mangy old coots who taught a fatherless youngster how to roar. It's hard to believe in Secondhand Lions as something more than a menagerie of quirks and other sweet but tired creatures. SGK

Thirteen
Dir. Catherine Hardwicke; writ. Hardwicke & Nikki Reed; feat. Evan Rachel Wood, Reed, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Sisto, Brady Corbet, Deborah Kara Unger (R)
Co-writer Nikki Reed, now a 15-year-old honors student, drew on her own tumultuous experiences to depict four explosive months in the lives of a couple of seventh graders driven wild by the end of childhood. It is a disturbing peek at how very difficult it is for girls to grow up in contemporary America without growing feral. Coming of age never seemed like such a kick - in the face. SGK

28 Days Later
Dir. Danny Boyle; writ. Alex Garland; feat. Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Noah Huntley, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Stuart McQuarrie, Christopher Eccleson (R)
For once, a zombie movie you can sink your teeth into! With plague-devastate London as a backdrop and bleak videotape cinematography to capture it, Trainspotting director Danny Boyle gets off on the right foot. He seals the deal by giving us zombies who come at you like hellfire instead of sleepwalkers, and by working non-undead threats into the scenario. Forgive the occasional horror-film pitfalls, and go get scared. JD

Underworld
Dir. Len Wiseman; writ. Kevin Grevioux, et al.; feat. Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly (R)
The unimaginative decaying urban set could be a war-torn communist block city, and Beckinsale's lovely visage does not compensate for the disappointing realization that every last one of her action scenes is a paler version of Trinity's escapades; except for one move ripped straight from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. EW

Films reviewed by:
GB: Gregg Barrios
JD: John DeFore
LMF: Laura Fries
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
AL: Albert Lopez
JM: Jonathan Marcus
AP: Alejandro Pérez
RP: Rich Perin
JW: Joe Weiss
EW: Elaine Wolff


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