THE AVIATOR 3stars. Martin Scorsese’s sleek epic biography of airman/businessman/madman Howard Hughes, by turns soaring and sluggish. Leonardo DiCaprio gets under the skin of the increasingly eccentric entrepreneur, and Cate Blanchett has a terrific turn as Katharine Hepburn. 2 hrs. 49 PG-13 (sexual candor, profanity) – Carrie Rickey

BE COOL 1 1/2 stars. John Travolta returns as Chili Palmer in this anything-but-cool sequel to 1995’s “Get Shorty,” with the music biz subbing for Hollywood, and lame in-jokes replacing the wit and swagger of its predecessor. With Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Cedric the Entertainer, and cameos from music and nonmusic folks. 1 hr. 59 PG-13 (profanity, inanity, violence) – Steven Rea

BEAUTY SHOP 3 stars. Sisterhood, not hair care, is at the heart of this distaff spinoff of the Barbershop hits, with Queen Latifah starring as a single mom and stellar stylist. More cross-cultural, and less raucous, than its predominantly black, predominantly male forerunners, the likeable comedy celebrates “outrageous women” doing their thing, and doing their “dos. 1 hr. 45 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) – Steven Rea

BORN INTO BROTHELS 3 1/2 stars. The Oscar-nominated documentary follows a Western photographer as she befriends a group of children living in Calcutta’s red-light district. This beautiful-looking film provides a glimpse into a taboo subculture, and shows how the energy and innocence of children can be found – and fostered – in even the bleakest spots on earth. 1 hr. 25 No MPAA rating (adult themes, profanity, poverty and squalor) – Steven Rea

BRIDE AND PREJUDICE 2 1/2 stars. Gurinder Chadha”s Spice-Girls-Go-Bollywood update of the similarly titled Jane Austen classic stars the beauteous Aishwarya Rai as a spirited Indian woman who catches the eye of American hotelier Martin Henderson. 1 hr. 51 PG-13 (sexual candor) – Carrie Rickey

CONSTANTINE 2 1/2 stars. Keanu Reeves stars as an exorcist sleuth who has been to hell and back again in this entertaining adaptation of the comic book series Hellblazer. A great cast – led by Rachel Weisz and Tilda Swinton – and beautiful photography give this pulpy mix of hardboiled detective business and supernatural thrills a classy sheen. 2 hrs. R (violence, language, demonic stuff) – Steven Rea

CURSED 1 1/2 stars. Christina Ricci stars in a flea-bitten modern werewolf fable that’s scary for all the wrong reasons. This monster movie is a real shaggy dog. 1 hr. 36 PG-13 (violence, sexual references, nudity, language) – David Hiltbrand

DEAR FRANKIE 3 stars. A small Scottish drama about a single mother and her young, deaf son, whom she “protects” with a big, messy lie. When the truth is threatened to be revealed, a stranger is enlisted to pose as the boy’s father. Corny but effective stuff. 1 hr. 42 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) – Steven Rea

DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN 3 stars. This let go, let God, and let ‘er rip! film written by and featuring gospel playwright Tyler Perry stars Kimberly Elise as an abandoned wife who finds the balance between the salty humor of her grandmother and the sweet faith of her mother. 1 hr. 56 PG-13 (brief drugs, sexual crudity) – Carrie Rickey

DOWNFALL 2 1/2 stars. Bruno Ganz stars as Adolf Hitler in this fascinating but increasingly tedious reenactment of the final days, and paranoid rantings, of the Nazi leader. As Der Fuhrer’s inner circle assembles in a Berlin bunker, the Red Army approaches, and accusations, cultlike sacrifice, and furtive looks for an exit ensue. A 2005 foreign-language Oscar nominee. 2 hrs. 28 R (violence, nudity, profanity, adult themes) – Steven Rea

GUESS WHO 3 stars. Suggested by “Guess Who”s Coming to Dinner,” but more like a cross between “Father of the Bride” and “Meet the Fockers,” this romantic comedy is about a fiance (Ashton Kutcher), who is white, and his future father-in-law (Bernie Mac), who is black. Race divides them, love unites them. 1 hr. 43 PG-13 (sexually themed humor) – Carrie Rickey

GUNNER PALACE 3 stars. A you-are-there documentary shot in Iraq in 2003 and early 2004, when the 2/3 Field Artillery – dubbed the “Gunners” – were based in the bombed-out mansion that belonged to Saddam Hussein’s son. Neither “pro” nor “anti” war, it’s a clear-eyed portrait of young American soldiers carrying out their mission on the Baghdad streets, committed to being there – and hoping to get out alive. 1 hr. 26 PG-13 (profanity, violence, adult themes) – Steven Rea

HITCH 3 stars. Just what the date doctor ordered. This irresistible comedy stars Will Smith as the dating strategist in need of his own playbook when around the heart-stopping Eva Mendes. Hilarious Kevin James is Smith”s star pupil, and supermodel Amber Valleta is the babe he loves. Directed by Andy Tennant. 1 hr. 54 PG-13 (mild profanity, sexual references) – Carrie Rickey

HOSTAGE 1 star. With a home invasion, attempted rape, and a cop killing in its early scenes, this sadistic Bruce Willis action flick well may be the first movie to be cited for child abuse and audience abuse. 1 hr. 46 R (extreme graphic violence, sexual violence, profanity, drugs) – Carrie Rickey

HOTEL RWANDA 3 1/2 stars. Don Cheadle is superb as the real-life hotelier who saved more than 1,200 countrymen during the massacre of nearly a million Rwandans in 1994. 2 hrs. 01 PG-13 (violence, disturbing images, profanity) – Carrie Rickey

THE JACKET 2 stars. As amnesia/time-travel/avenging angel films go, “The Jacket” makes little sense and much ado. Bizarro, yes; but never boring. Starring Adrien Brody as a Gulf War vet and Keira Knightley. 1 hr. 43 R (violence, brief nudity and sex, profanity) – Carrie Rickey

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU 3 1/2 stars. A fanciful seafaring yarn about a famous oceanographer (Bill Murray) and his hapless crew, searching for a killer shark. Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston and Willem Dafoe are a few of the actors playing oddballs in this elaborate, eccentric pic from the director of “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.” 1 hr. 58 R (nudity, profanity, violence, adult themes) – Steven Rea

MALEVOLENCE 1 star. A hapless band of bank robbers chooses the wrong hideout – the isolated lair of a stab-happy serial killer – in this cheap-looking, slow-moving horror travesty. 1 hr. 30 R (violence, brutality, profanity, sexual references) – David Hiltbrand

MASCULINE FEMININE 3 stars. Paris, 1966: Earnest theorists in raincoats, ye-ye singers in go-go boots – characters director Jean-Luc Godard pungently describes as “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola.” With Jean-Pierre Leaud and Chantal Goya. 1 hr. 43 No MPAA rating (sexual candor) – Carrie Rickey

MELINDA AND MELINDA 3 1/2 stars. A handsome cast and a ravishing star (Radha Mitchell) make this overly theatrical investigation into the nature of comedy and tragedy (and the human condition) more than watchable, but less than satisfying. From writer-director Woody Allen, with all the issues (and one-liners) we’ve come to expect. 1 hr. 40 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) – Steven Rea

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 3 1/2 stars. Michael Radford”s condensed version of Shakespeare”s most morally challenging play is crisp and lucid. It boasts remarkable performances by Al Pacino as the ferocious Shylock, who has been so grievously wronged that his revenge must be right, and Lynn Collins as a formidable Portia who hypocritically entreats Shylock to show mercy even though she shows him none. 2 hrs. 18 R (nudity) – Carrie Rickey

MILLION DOLLAR BABY 4 stars. Clint Eastwood directs, and stars with Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman, in this heartbreakingly great movie about a diner waitress determined to be a prizefighter. The time-honored conventions of the boxing movie are served up with absolute finesse, but then the pic goes deep into themes that strike at the core of human experience. 2 hrs. 12 PG-13 (violence, language, adult themes) – Steven Rea

MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS 3 1/2 stars. Deliriously funny and instantly forgettable sequel to the one where Sandra Bullock goes undercover as a pageant contestant and uncovers a criminal conspiracy. Once again, she makes the world safe for the pageant, this time accompanied by the resourceful Regina King. 1 hr. 55 PG-13 (sex-related humor) – Carrie Rickey

OFF THE MAP 3 stars. Joan Allen, Sam Elliott and newcomer Valentina de Angelis star as a family living off the land, and “off the map,” in the New Mexico desert of 1974. When a stranger comes a-callin’, everything changes in this small, graceful coming-of-age tale. 1 hr. 51 PG-13 (nudity, language, adult themes) – Steven Rea

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 1 1/2 stars. This white elephant of a movie that lumbers from dripping catacomb to dropping chandelier was adapted by Joel Schumacher from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway blockbuster. The dewdrop in this moldering enterprise is Emmy Rossum as Christine, Beauty to the Phantom”s Beast. 2 hrs. 23 PG-13 (violence, threat of sexual violence) – Carrie Rickey

THE RING TWO 3 stars. In this horror sequel, Naomi Watts is once again trying to protect her child from the evil spirit at the bottom of the well. Deft direction by Hideo Nakata who created the Japanese original. 1 hr. 51 PG-13 (violence, disturbing images, scary themes, profanity) – David Hiltbrand

SIDEWAYS 4 stars. Alexander Payne”s exhilarating, edgy and wryly comic buddy film about 40ish guys, a depressed intellectual and an affable lightweight, who embark on a bachelor debauch to the California wine country before the latter’s marriage. With Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. 2 hrs.04 R (sexual candor, profanity, brief drugs) – Carrie Rickey

STEAMBOY 3 stars. The long-borning followup from anime god and “Akira” creator Katsuhiro Otomo is set in Victorian England, where a boy inventor’s revolutionary gizmo is sought after by opposing forces of techies and thugs. A rollicking action yarn with cinematic scope and a message of scientific responsibility. 2 hrs. 06 PG-13 (violence) – Steven Rea

TRAVELLERS & MAGICIANS 4 stars. The Tibetan monk and filmmaker of “The Cup” returns with a wise, whimsical allegory about a restless young man longing for the promise of riches and success in the west. His journey out of Bhutan doesn’t get him very far- or does it? Visually stunning and full of small revelations. 1 hr. 48 No MPAA rating (adult themes, profanity) – Steven Rea

UP AND DOWN 3 1/2 stars. Czech filmmaker Jan Hrebejk offers a bruising, dark comedy populated by pickpockets, smugglers, skinhead soccer hooligans and a misguided abductor of infants in this wry take on the social upheaval hitting Eastern Europe. 1 hr. 48 No MPAA rating (profanity, violence, adult themes) – Steven Rea

THE UPSIDE OF ANGER 2 1/2 stars. Joan Allen and Kevin Costner are magnificent in this melodramatic comedy about a suburban mother whose husband has presumably walked out on her and her four daughters. Preposterous but riveting. 1 hr. 56 R (profanity, sexual situations, drugs) – Carrie Rickey

VERA DRAKE 3 1/2 stars. Heartbreaking drama set in 1950 London that stars Imelda Staunton as the title character, a bottomless kettle of benevolence. What Vera calls “helping women out,” the authorities call abortion. Directed by Mike Leigh. 2 hrs. 05 R (sexual candor and abortion candor) – Carrie Rickey

WALK ON WATER 3 1/2 stars. A compelling thriller from Israel that manages to incorporate a seemingly impossible bundle of disparate elements, in a story about a macho Massad agent on the trail of a Nazi war criminal, befriending the old man’s liberal, likeable German grandchildren in an effort to hunt him down. 1 hr. 44 No MPAA rating (violence, profanity, adult themes) – Steven Rea



RATINGS:

4 stars: Excellent; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Fair; 1 star: Poor


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