"Judy Berlin" A stylish debut from former Woody Allen assistant Eric Mendelssohn. His black-and-white take on suburban angst takes it easy on suburbia and is compassionate to his screenful of characters zombieing through its streets, looking for love. (Unrated) (Full review).
"The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" Fascinating and richly textured documentary about baseball's first Jewish superstar, who bashed homers and RBIs with the best of them in the 1930s and '40s for the Detroit Tigers and wore the mantle of Jewish role model with grace and dignity. (Full review).
"Reindeer Games" Half heist thriller, half noir in which clever plot revelations and resourceful acting labor against cheeseball dialogue as Ben Affleck's recently sprung car thief is strong-armed into a casino robbery by Charlize Theron's bad-news sexpot. (R) (Full review).
"The Wonder Boys" Deliciously quirky comedy of campus upheaval, set in motion when Michael Douglas's aging wonder boy, a lit prof who's afraid to finish his second novel, meets a gifted student and new wonder boy, played by a quietly compelling Tobey Maguire as a raw talent with considerable literary skills and no social skills. (R) (Full review).
"All About My Mother" Pedro Almodovar's genuflection to the staying power and coping abilities of women. Mischievously blurring sexual lines, it's loaded with Almodovar's trademark saturated color and farcical rambunctiousness. A terrific ensemble - Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Penelope Cruz, Antonia San Juan - keeps the screwball soap opera humming. (R) (Full review).
"American Beauty" This dark yet compassionate look at a lonely and loveless family self-destructing in the suburbs crackles with incisiveness and originality. It has millennial classic written all over it. That, and brilliant performances from a cast headed by Kevin Spacey as a mockingly ironic and often hilarious dropout and Annette Bening as his desperate and disappointed wife, frantically chasing success, ready to explode because it keeps eluding her. (Full review).
"Angela's Ashes" More than an exquisitely photographed coffee-table book of Frank McCourt's scrappy, luminous memoir of growing up crushingly poor in Ireland in the 1930s and '40s - but not much more. Emily Watson is excellent in the title role of self-sacrificing mother, and Robert Carlyle projects a softness that allows us to understand why the boys loved their disappointing alcoholic father. What the film hasn't got that the book has is McCourt's voice. (R) (Full review).
"The Beach" It must have seemed a cool idea to Leonardo DiCaprio to make a neo-hippie movie with the "Trainspotting" gang. But his blissed-out backpacker seems a twit without qualities, redeeming or otherwise. He leaves everything and everybody worse off and throws to the winds any chance of dramatic credibility when he does a Marlon Brando "Apocalypse Now" parody in the jungle. "Beach Blanket Bingo" did it better than this candidate for all-time spring-break-bummer movie. (R) (Full review).
"Being John Malkovich" A refreshingly original comedy that riffs on celebrity and consumer culture and the proverbial 15 minutes of fame. John Cusack plays an impoverished puppeteer who discovers a portal into the head of John Malkovich and starts selling admission for 15-minute intervals. Malkovich goes along with it all, a good sport who enhances his own cool quotient under the direction of Spike Jonze, whose fun with the film's skewed metaphysics posits the universe as God's own pinball machine. (R) (Showtimes, review).
"The Big Tease" Sunny but slight mockumentary in which a Scots hairdresser (Chris Ferguson) throws himself at the LA styling establishment so he can make his mark in its Big Hair Olympics. Easy to take, but innocuous. The best thing in it is Frances Fisher, as a public relations live wire who's charmed out of a bad hair day and decides to help plug the newcomer into the system. (R) (Full review).
"Boiler Room" This would-be "Wall Street" update, which also genuflects to "Glengarry Glen Ross," carries you along on the rush of the collective energy of a roomful of young hotshots getting rich selling worthless stocks. Its MTV-style breathless energy subsides long before the end, but not before Giovanni Ribisi impresses as a smart go-getter and Vin Diesel gets to us as one with heart. (R) (Full review).
"Boys Don't Cry" Kimberly Peirce's strong, haunting film based on a hate crime, the rape and murder in Nebraska of transsexual Brandon Teena. The film brings us inside the characters of Hilary Swank's sweet, confused, spunky, complicated, beguiling Brandon, and the alienated young woman who shared his fantasy, Chloe Sevigny's cooly smoky Lana. Fascinating in its texture and detail, the film deepens into a surprisingly profound meditation on identity and isolation. (R) (Full review).
"The Cider House Rules" The best film yet of a John Irving novel. It's built around the surrogate father/surrogate son relationship between Michael Caine's saintly orphanage doc and Tobey Maguire's innocent, which lasts even after the boy departs to taste of the tree of knowledge (via a job on an apple farm) in the 1940s. Lasse Halstrom bolsters the rich characters with sensitive and lyrical direction. (PG-13) (Full review).
"The Cup" A quiet little film about a monastery full of exiled Tibetan student monks - they're secret soccer addicts trying to get a dish antenna so they can watch the World Cup. The film succeeds precisely because it's so not Western. Instead of going for cutesiness or preachiness, it wins you over with its gentle patience and its implied message that Buddhism is bigger than sports, rather than the reverse. (G) (Full review).
"Diamonds" It's impossible not to respond to that old battler, Kirk Douglas, playing an aging boxer recovering from a stroke and trying to repair his damaged family. But a journey of reconciliation (to Reno, of all places) is played out on a level of mawkish sentimentality that makes this outing unacceptable as Douglas's swan song. He still has a lot to offer, and deserves better. (PG-13) (Full review).
"Down to You" This romantic comedy for young audiences boasts alums from some of the most popular recent youth movies. But they can't make you care what happens to the two young lovers played by Freddie Prinze Jr. and Julia Stiles. Lots of charm, too much cute. (PG-13) (Vanessa E. Jones) (Full review).
"The End of the Affair" Exquisitely crafted but frustratingly waterlogged. It's based on Graham Greene's semiautobiographical novel about a sexy affair during World War II: Ralph Fiennes plays the novelist and Julianne Moore the woman trapped in a passionless marriage. The story really heats up when he obsesses over the reason she inexplicably breaks off the romance, but Neil Jordan's sensitive adaptation and the handsomely modulated acting never succeed in igniting it. (R) (Full review).
"Eye of the Beholder" Potentially interesting but ultimately failed psychological thriller that can't pull its ambitious - and ambitiously photographed - plot strands together. Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd star, he as an unhinged British high-tech security voyeur, she as a murderess he feels obliged to protect, whether she's his long-lost daughter (as he imagines) or not. (R) (Full review).
"Following" Christopher Nolan's ambitious film noir imagines a naive unemployed writer (Jeremy Theobold) who begins trailing ordinary people out of boredom and curiosity. Alex Haw delivers a memorable performance as the burglar who catches Theobold at his game, and begins to follow the follower. But Theobold can't keep up, and the movie can't overcome its low-budget limitations. (Unrated) (Michael Blowen) (Full review).
"Galaxy Quest" This clever, affectionate sendup of "Star Trek" writes in Trekkies, too. Menaced aliens spacejack actors whose series was canceled, believing they're real intergalactic heroes. Tim Allen as the Kirk figure, Alan Rickman as a Spock with a Klingon look, and Sigourney Weaver as a space babe deliver heads-up performances. The bad guys look like angry lobsters; the good aliens are sweetly goofy. (PG) (Full review).
"Girl, Interrupted" There's a lot of skilled, responsible work onscreen in James Mangold's attempt to film Susanna Kaysen's memoir of institutionalization. But while Winona Ryder brings all the intelligence and sentience to the central role that one could hope for, Kaysen is less compelling than she needs to be dramatically, partly because we always sense that her problems are not that acute, and that she can pull back while the others can't, especially Angelina Jolie's charismatic sociopath, a surefire Oscar nominee. (R) (Full review).
"The Green Mile" "Shawshank Redemption" writer-director Frank Darabont goes back to prison with Stephen King and scores again with an involving story about supernatural happenings shaking up the grisly routine on a Louisiana prison death row in 1935. Tom Hanks's humane guard reacts with increasing awe to Michael Clarke Duncan's saintly giant, whom Hanks just can't believe is a killer. (R) (Full review).
"Hanging Up" There's the feel of a genuine family dynamic in this comedy of desperation, in which three overloaded sisters must care for their declining father. Meg Ryan is at her ragamuffin best as the middle sister stuck with shouldering most of the work. But the film isn't what it could have been. Diane Keaton (who directed) and Lisa Kudrow are underutilized as the siblings, and Walter Matthau's dad is too one-note. (PG-13) (Full review).
"Holy Smoke" This throwback to Jane Campion's "Sweetie" and "The Piano" begins in an exciting burst of raw, anarchic energy. It's carried by Kate Winslet's thrillingly fearless performance as an Australian looking for something more spiritual than her stifling family. But the film goes off the tracks when she's brought back from India and thrown together with a cult deprogrammer played by Harvey Keitel. It stops being about her search and her risk-taking and starts being about his shaky ego as they plunge into a mundane battle of the sexes. (R) (Full review).
"The Hurricane" This solid, earnest, sometimes foursquare film about boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and his long fight for freedom after being railroaded on a triple-murder charge is distinguished by Denzel Washington's sterling performance in the title role. Remarkably, he convinces us that Carter survived prison and prevailed by making a spiritual pilgrimage into his own interior. (R) (Full review).
"Magnolia" Paul Thomas Anderson's ambitious follow-up to "Boogie Nights" plays like "Short Cuts" with hope, as it sends a platoon of desperate Los Angelenos out into the night to face a plethora of intergenerational crises. The film sometimes gets away from him. There's a lot of sprawl and sputter. But its faults are the faults of ambition, not commercial expediency, and Anderson writes marvelously for actors. The ensemble led by Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Melora Walters, and Jason Robards keeps it simmering in the emotional clinches. (R) (Full review).
"Mansfield Park" Jane Austen's winning streak at the movies continues. This adaptation takes more liberties than usual, but emerges sparklingly and intelligently as it tells the usual Austen story of a war between love and money. Its glory is Australian actress Frances O'Connor's diamond-bright performance as discerning, steadfast Austen stand-in and poor relation Fanny Price. (PG-13) (Full review).
"A Map of the World" Sigourney Weaver has her best role in years as a Wisconsin wife and mother whose life suddenly turns nightmarish when her best friend's daughter drowns in a pond on her farm and her job as a school nurse is exploded by a charge of sexual abuse. David Straithairn as her husband and Julianne Moore as her best friend provide strong support. (R) (Full review).
"Miss Julie" One would have thought Strindberg's battle of the classes and the sexes in late-19th-century Sweden outdated. But Mike Figgis and a cast headed by Saffron Burrows and Peter Mullan invigorate it with heat and complexity. A daughter of the aristocracy and her opportunistic servant play out their combat as a claustrophobic fever dream. (R) (Full review).
"Mr. Death" Errol Morris takes on execution technology and Holocaust denial in the person of Fred Leuchter Jr., a self-taught "execution technologist" from Malden whose profitable career as a death-house fixer-upper crashed when he went to bat in court for a Canadian Holocaust denier. As with all of Morris's films, the word documentary doesn't adequately describe this one. It's as much a fascinatingly reverberant meditation on self-delusion. (PG-13) (Full review).
"Next Friday" Ice Cube's sequel to his modest and likable 1995 comedy plays like "Boyz N the Hood" Lite. So Lite, in fact, that it threatens to drift off the screen entirely. Lazy scripting, which includes excessive reliance on flatulence and excrement jokes, sinks a promising idea - the nice guy played by Ice Cube flees the 'hood when he hears a vengeful bully is coming after him, only to find that life at his uncle's house in the 'burbs is even more dangerous. (R) (Full review).
"Pitch Black" So-so Aussie sci-fi that's really an old dark-house thriller, and awfully reminiscent of "Alien." A spaceship of earthlings crash-lands on a planet filled with flying flesh-eaters that suggest giant bats with the horned heads of triceratops. Vin Diesel and Radha Mitchell are the most intrepid of a bland lot. (R) (Full review).
"Scream 3" Why didn't they quit while they were ahead? This second sequel to "Scream," utterly without inspiration or urgency, is the kind of dumb gorefest the first film goofed on with such cleverness. The return of "Scream" veterans Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox Arquette, Liev Schreiber, and the usual sliced-and-diced babes on parade do little to conceal the fact that this one is a lame flatliner. (R) (Full review).
"Snow Day" The snow seems like plastic. The movie, too. It's labored and prefab in its overextended story of preteens who try to bring about a second snow day by diverting the working stiff who runs the city's only snowplow, and of teens who chase young love through the white stuff. Nice understated performance by Chevy Chase as the loser weatherman dad of the protagonists, but there's only so much he can do. (PG) (Full review).
"Snow Falling on Cedars" Scott Hicks almost miraculously lets the landscape seem to do the work of inscribing the conflicts between dispossessed Japanese-Americans and territorial locals at the end of World War II in the Pacific Northwest. Fog and snow are artfully deployed as perception-masking stand-ins for the willfully limited vision that's the real culprit in this story of clashes that lead to death and a riveting courtroom drama, where a Japanese-American defendant seems to be on trial as much for race as for murder. (PG-13) (Full review).
"Stuart Little" Serviceable rather than magical, this retelling of E.B. White's classic story of a spunky mouse who refuses to think small has warm performances, the most up-to-date computer-generated mouse Hollywood can buy, and a scene-stealing Noo Yawk voice from Nathan Lane as the Little family's resentful cat. But it never charms us out of an awareness that we're watching a manufactured object. (PG) (Full review).
"The Talented Mr. Ripley" Anthony Minghella's slick, twisty, top-of-the-line crime thriller has seductively sensual textures and richly faceted performances. Foremost among them is Matt Damon's, as a scheming social climber with a homosexual crush on Jude Law's rich contemporary in Italy in the late '50s, when la vita was dolce. Gwyneth Paltrow's betrayed fiancee, Cate Blanchett's rich girl craving social entree, and Philip Seymour Hoffman's moneyed sadist add to the malignant glitter of this dark entertainment, which knows the anatomy of corruption. (R) (Full review).
"The Tigger Movie" The least endearing of all the "Winnie the Pooh" characters gets his own animated kid-friendly feature. The familiar bundle of unchecked impulse sets off on a search for his kin. There's no arguing with the underlying message of "home is where the heart is," but more than half the film is spent in rushed sketches and bewilderingly brief scenes accompanied by rote songs. (G) (Joan Anderman) (Full review).
"Titus" A brilliant film of a mediocre play. There's too much stage blood and fustian in Shakespeare's gorefest striving for tragedy, and not enough depth or complexity of character. Julie Taymor brings it to striking life, though, filling the stage with visuals that mesh the play's classic Roman imagery with modern fascist architecture, projecting a cruel metaphysical world. Anthony Hopkins is an accomplished title-roleist, especially when he slips into the Hannibal Lecter mode in the play's most famous scene. Jessica Lange is a tigress as the fierce queen of the Goths, and Harry Lennix excels in the only really complex and interesting role - that of her black lover, Aaron. (R) (Full review).
"Topsy-Turvy" Mike Leigh's take on Gilbert and Sullivan succeeds, but only up to a point, as he takes their contentious relationship through a slump that ends with "The Mikado." Jim Broadbent is a sturdy, melancholy, pessimistic but persevering Gilbert; Allan Corduner is an appealingly hedonistic Sullivan, and the backstage bustle of the Victorian theater world raises the wattage. But something's missing. Perhaps Leigh's working method - his actors discover their characters in long improvisational preliminaries, so that they own them - just didn't work as well with characters borrowed from history. There are enjoyable things here, but it doesn't have the verve and vigor, the inner life, of Leigh's contemporary films. (R) (Full review).
"Toy Story 2" Everything you could want in a sequel. This revisiting of the landmark 1995 computer-animated hit reunites nice-guy cowboy Woody (voice: Tom Hanks) and gung-ho space hero Buzz (voice: Tim Allen). It goes more places and does more things, thanks to enhanced computer capability, as Buzz and the toys from Andy's room try to rescue Woody. Stolen because he's a valuable collectible, Woody's conflicted when he meets up with his puppet pals from his old TV show. (G) (Full review).
"The Whole Nine Yards" A comedy of hitmen that overrides genre cliches. The script revels in its devious ability to stay a step ahead of us as it rides the interplay between Bruce Willis's laid-back minimalism (he's the contract killer) and Matthew Perry's farcical terror (he's the next-door neighbor, a dentist in suburban Montreal). (R) (Full review).
All reviews are by Jay Carr unless otherwise credited. Carr's entire archive of movie reviews may be retrieved from Boston.com, the Globe's on-line service on the Internet's World Wide Web. Use the key words "movie reviews." Globe critics rate films: poor, fair, good,
Friday at theaters to be announced.
Friday at Harvard Square, Cambridge.
Friday at Kendall Square, Cambridge.
The Closer You Get
Friday at Harvard Square, Cambridge, and the suburbs.
Friday at Copley Place, Boston, and the suburbs.
Friday at Harvard Film Archive, Cambridge.
Music of the Heart
Friday to be released, theaters to be announced.
My Dog Skip
Friday at Copley Place, Boston, and the suburbs.
The Next Best Thing
Friday at the Nickelodeon, Boston, and the suburbs.
What Planet Are You From?
Friday at Copley Place, Boston, and the suburbs.
(Theaters are subject to change.)