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A Beautiful Mind
"Pity, fear, and cognitive reverie"
Dir. Ron Howard; writ. Akiva Goldsman, based on biography by Sylvia Nasar; feat. Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Vivien Cardone, Adam Goldberg, Judd Hirsch, Christopher Plummer (PG-13)

Big Trouble
"That joke isn't funny anymore."
Dir. Barry Sonnenfeld; writ. Dave Barry (novel) and Robert Ramsey (screenplay); feat. Tim Allen, Omar Epps, Dennis Farina, Ben Foster, Janeane Garofalo, Jason Lee, Rene Russo, Tom Sizemore (PG-13)
Here's compelling evidence that September 11 hysteria should never be allowed to abate. Were the U.S. of A. not currently renewing its love affair with benumbed denial, we might have been spared Big Trouble, a wearisome stab at screwball comedy that was pulled from last fall's release slate due to a few scenes that mine the alleged humor of an armed nuclear bomb being brought on board a commercial aircraft. Who decided that bomb-smuggling jokes are fair game again? And who decided that any time is the right time for this bomb? SS

Black Hawk Down
"Crash landing in confused territory"
Dir. Ridley Scott; writ. Mark Bowden, Ken Nolan; feat. Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Sam Shepard, Eric Bana, Jeremy Piven, William Fichtner, Jason Isaacs (R)

Blade II
"Goes for the jugular"
Dir. Guillermo del Toro; writ. David S. Goyer; feat. Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Leonor Varela, Luke Goss, Norman Reedus (R)

"Nickelodeon know-how"
Dir. Jonathan Frakes; writ. Rob Hedden and Andy Hedden; feat. Jesse Bradford, French Stewart, Paula Garcés, Michael Biehn, Robin Thomas, Jason Winston George, Linda Kim, Julia Sweeney, Lindze Letherman, Jeff Ricketts, Garikayi Mutambirwa (PG)

Death to Smoochy
"Duller than Barney"
Dir. Danny DeVito; writ. Adam Resnick; feat. Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Danny DeVito, Jon Stewart, Catherine Keener, Harvey Fierstein (R)

"Stark account of trusting God and Dad"
Dir. Bill Paxton; writ. Brent Hanley; feat. Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Matt O'Leary, Luke Askew, Jeremy Sumpter (R)
Had Hal Hartley not already appropriated the name, Bill Paxton's directorial debut might more aptly have been titled Trust. There is nothing frail about the intractable men who inhabit Frailty, a psychological thriller about the fealty that binds and blinds a son to his demented father. "We're God's hands," Dad (Paxton) proclaims to his two young boys, convinced, by the voice of an angel, that they have been summoned into service not to play the piano but to swing an ax. Following divine instruction, he hacks to death the demons who disguise themselves as ordinary local people. He conscripts his sons into a brutal crusade against imaginary evil.
If a viewer has trouble suspending disbelief over this stark excursion into Gothic Americana, some twists in the plot both reward and abuse our trust. Brent Hanley's brooding screenplay is less of an inquest into frailty as into zealous intolerance of human imperfections. SK

High Crimes
"Pedestrian but inoffensive"
Dir. Carl Franklin; writ. Joseph Finder (novel) and Yuri Zeltser (screenplay); feat. Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, James Caviezel, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Bruce Davidson, Tom Bower (PG-13)
Much of what happens in High Crimes is utterly stupid, and almost all of it is derivative. But Judd and Freeman bring a zip to their characters that goes far beyond what's on the scripted page, and the film has a subtle populist undercurrent that's nearly subversive when placed in the current context. Almost all of the story's twists and turns support the old-fashioned leftie belief that civilian vigilance is the sole defense against widespread military corruption. This movie simply doesn't know there's a war on, and we're all the better for it. SS

Ice Age
"Warms the heart"
Dir. Carlos Saldanha, Chris Wedge; writ. Michael J. Wilson (story), Michael Berg (screenplay); feat. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Goran Visnjic, Jack Black (PG)

"Watching a noble mind o'erthrown"
Dir. Richard Eyre; writ. Richard Eyre and Charles Wood, from memoirs by John Bayley; feat. Kate Winslet, Hugh Bonneville, Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Penelope Wilton, Samuel West, Timothy West (R)

Italian for Beginners
"Not for Dogma 95 beginners"
Dir. and writ. Lone Scherfig; feat. Anders W. Berthelsen, Anette Støvelbaek, Peter Gantzler, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, Lars Kaalund, Karen-Lise Mynster. (R)

John Q.
"Tense drama about medical insurance"
Dir. Nick Cassavetes; writ. James Kearns; feat. Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche, Eddie Griffin, Kimberly Elise, Shawn Hatosy, Ray Liotta, Daniel E. Smith (PG-13)

Kissing Jessica Stein
"Charming twist on an old story"
Dir. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld; writ. Heather Juergensen, Jennifer Westfeldt; feat. Westfeldt, Juergensen, Tovah Feldshuh, Esther Wurmfeld, Scott Cohen, Ben Weber, Brian Stepanek, Jackie Hoffman (R)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Dir. Peter Jackson; writ. J.R.R. Tolkien, Frances Walsh; feat. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies (PG-13)

Monsoon Wedding
"A little song, dance, and sex"
Dir. Mira Nair; writ. Sabrina Dhawan; feat. Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Shefali Shetty, Vijay Raaz, Tilotama Shome, Vasundhara Das (R)

Monster's Ball
"Stunning execution"
Dir. Marc Foster; writ. Milo Addica, Will Rokos; feat. Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Dante Beze, Coronji Calhoun (R)

National Lampoon's Van Wilder
"Gag me with a dog semen-stuffed pastry"
Dir. Walt Becker; writ. Brent Goldberg and David T. Wagner; feat. Ryan Reynolds, Tara Reid, Kal Penn, Tim Matheson, Kim Smith, Daniel Cosgrove, Tom Everett Scott (R)
Ryan Reynolds (formerly of ABC's Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place) stars as Van, a rich kid and rowdy party animal who's in his seventh year as an undergrad. Cut off financially by his disgusted dad (Matheson), Van brainstorms a new career as a party organizer (seems that geeks will pay him to throw righteous, well-attended soirées for them) to subsidize his education. Meanwhile, the fetching priss Gwen (American Pie's Tara Reid) is assigned by the school paper to tail the campus legend and blow the lid off the whole Van Wilder phenomenon. It's all pointless and predictable, with a bunch of particularly nauseating gags thrown in. Given that one stunt has Van stuffing his dog's semen into pastries he sends to a rival frat house, I'm using "gag" as both noun and verb. AS

Panic Room
"Perfect claustrophobic thriller"
Dir. David Fincher; writ. David Koepp; feat. Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam, Ann Magnuson, Ian Buchanan (R)

Resident Evil
"For adolescent couch slugs"
Dir. Paul W.S. Anderson; writ. Anderson; feat. Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy, Pasquale Aleardi, Stephen Billington, Anna Bolt, Liz May Brice, Jaymes Butler (R)

We Were Soldiers
"A good war movie for people who want to see a good war movie."
Dir./writ. Randall Wallace, from the book We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway; feat. Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Sam Elliott, Greg Kinnear, Chris Klein, Keri Russell, and Barry Pepper. (R)

Y Tu Mamá También
"Heaven's Mouth has sharp teeth"
Dir. Alfonso Cuarón; writ. Carlos; feat. Maribel Verdú, Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Juan Carlos Remolina Suarez, Andres Almeida Garcia Morales, Silverio Palacios Montes (no MPAA rating)

Films reviewed by:
AS: Anita Schmaltz
JD: John DeFore
SK: Steven G. Kellman
SS: Steve Schneider
XG: Xelena González

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