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Movie review summaries

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Solid starSolid star "Brother Bear" OK, the ubiquitous talking moose (voiced by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) are funny the first time. But with its hodgepodge of pseudo-Native American myth, warmed-over paeans to brotherhood, and artisto-pretentioso panoramas, this tale of a boy-turned-bear who must Learn Lessons is a bland, processed pudding. A pudding, by the way, with six Phil Collins songs. (G) (Louise Kennedy)

Solid starSolid star 1/2 "Bugs!" If the thought of a 60-foot-tall praying mantis fills you with glee, this one's for you. Plummy narration by Dame Judi Dench adds tone to a somewhat erratic combination of stunning visuals and strained story. The stars, Papilio memnon (a butterfly) and Hierodula membranacea (a green mantis), meet cute, but it ends badly. And giant spiders in 3-D may be too much for the squeamish. (Unrated) (Louise Kennedy)

Solid starSolid starSolid star "Die Mommie Die!" In writer Charles Busch and director Mark Rucker's B-movie melodrama/farce, a washed-up pop singer (Busch) kills her controlling husband (Philip Baker Hall), whose death is avenged by her children (Natasha Lyonne, Stark Sands). This is a knowing, robustly caricatured romp in which Busch goes after Joan's Crawford histrionics and inadvertently channels Kathy Griffin, Agnes Moorehead, and Julianne Moore in "Far From Heaven." (R) (Wesley Morris)

Solid starSolid starSolid starSolid star "Elephant" The brave new Gus Van Sant picture is about a high school and the two students who eventually open fire on it. Shot in a repetitive and elliptical manner, the movie focuses not so much on those who kill as on what we do when they do -- on where we look, on how we explain them. (R) (Wesley Morris)

Solid starSolid starSolid star "Elf" In an exciting demonstration of mild restraint, Will Ferrell plays a human who's been raised in the North Pole as an elf and heads to New York to meet his workaholic biological father (James Caan). Naturally, the movie is headed for big-time family-flick healing, but director Jon Favreau doles out sentiment without a whole lot of schmaltz. (PG) (Wesley Morris)

Solid starSolid star 1/2 "The Flower of Evil" If it's not vintage Claude Chabrol, it's at least vintage mediocre Claude Chabrol. His umpteenth housebound suspicion-fest is one of his more inexplicable adventures in secrets and scandal. This one concerns a family of aristocrats in Bordeaux, and the nasty letter it receives that awakens the clan's dirty past. (R) (Wesley Morris)

Solid starSolid starSolid starSolid star "Ghosts of the Abyss" "Titanic" director James Cameron returns to the subject and location of his greatest success for a one-hour 3-D IMAX documentary dive down to the wreckage of the great ship. Using submersibles and nifty little camera-bots that scurry through the decaying staterooms and hallways, the film is breathtaking -- and a moving spectacle that salvages the Titanic as mute testimony to human ambition and disaster. (R) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid star 1/2 "Gloomy Sunday" Past that uninviting title (the name of a 1930s pop song) is a swank German melodrama that grows turgid with the approach of World War II. A Budapest restaurateur (Joachim Krol) shares his lover (Erika Marozsan) with a smoldering young pianist-composer (Stefano Dionisi), but then the Nazis spoil everything. (Unrated) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid star "The Human Stain" A disappointingly shallow gloss on a sprawling, maddening, arguably great Philip Roth novel. Anthony Hopkins plays a disgraced college professor with a big old skeleton in his closet, and Nicole Kidman is the 30ish cleaning woman with whom he embarks on an affair. Director Robert Benton jettisons Roth's authorial voice and comes up with a well-meaning but deeply confused Hollywood melodrama. (R) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid star "In the Cut" Jane Campion ("The Piano") has turned Susanna Moore's 1995 novel into a lulu of psychosexual silliness -- a heavyhanded symbolic thriller about a repressed Manhattan teacher (Meg Ryan) who gives in to her kinkiest urges with a police detective played by Mark Ruffalo. The movie's a laughable disaster, but Ryan takes a brave leap here and, whether or not you want to admit it, just about lands on the other side. (R) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid starSolid star "Intolerable Cruelty" A very funny Coen brothers comedy with George Clooney in top form as a Los Angeles divorce lawyer who falls for a professional golddigger played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. The movie has an excellent supporting cast and piquantly mocks the law. (PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

Solid starSolid starSolid starSolid star "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" The worst thing about the first Quentin Tarantino picture in five years is that after 93 minutes of some of the most spellbinding storytelling you're likely to see this year, it ends. A woman (Uma Thurman) seeks revenge on the man (David Carradine) and the four assassins who killed her entire wedding party and left her for dead. The picture uses the entire history of screen violence to enthrall. (R) (Wesley Morris)

Solid starSolid starSolid star "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" A remarkable, demented return to form for the WB animation stable and, especially, Joe Dante. The "Gremlins" director merges the Looney Tunes universe with the pop-culture-crazy, gag-a-second style of "Airplane!" and comes up with a kiddie flick that parents may actually enjoy more. Humans Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, and Steve Martin share the screen with Bugs, Daffy, and Pepe le Pew. (PG) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid starSolid starSolid star "Lost in Translation" In Sofia Coppola's lovely film about the surreal dislocations of modern business travel, Bill Murray is a movie star suffering an insomniac midlife crisis while shooting a commercial in Tokyo, and Scarlett Johansson plays a young wife with whom he forms a support group. Coppola's eye for detail is precise and richly comic, and the two stars do their best work to date. (R) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid star 1/2 "Love Actually" Writer Richard Curtis ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill") makes his directorial debut with an overstuffed romantic comedy that reworks -- and reworks -- the best bits of his screenplays. The results are often forced, but a cast that includes Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, and Alan Rickman makes it go down nicely. Seriously, though -- Hugh Grant as the British prime minister? (R) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid starSolid star 1/2 "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" Director Peter Weir has played fast and loose enough with Patrick O'Brian's beloved naval novels to give the diehards fits, but he's also made a tremendous movie, one that reclaims the high-seas action genre from the camp pastiche of "Pirates of the Caribbean." Russell Crowe rather surprisingly disappears into the role of bluff Royal Navy captain Jack Aubrey, while Paul Bettany makes an amiable (if cleaned up) Stephen Maturin (PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid starSolid star "The Matrix Revolutions" For the third and final installment in the "Matrix" trilogy, the Wachowski brothers finally 'fess up to their messianic urges, and the result is both ridiculous and entertainingly fruity. Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) return to save Zion, and the directors return with more grad-school metaphysics and state-of-the-art special-effects action. Believers will reach for the red pill; it's still not quite enough to convert the skeptics.(R) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid starSolid star "Mystic River" Clint Eastwood's often grueling powerhouse of a movie retains the pulpy pretensions and the almost Shakespearean sense of tragedy of Dennis Lehane's bestseller. Sean Penn delivers a mannered, mesmerizing performance as a South Boston tough trying to uncover his daughter's killer, while Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins do solid, unshowy work as the detective on the case and a possible suspect. The film is at its blunt best when addressing the ways damage can cascade down the generations. (R) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid star "Pieces of April" Katie Holmes is cute as a bug but miscast as a glowering Manhattan punkette cooking Thanksgiving dinner for her estranged suburban family, while Patricia Clarkson offers the only real notes of pain and grace as her terminally ill mother. Peter Hedges's film is all digital-film rawness on the surface and sitcom glibness underneath. An audience favorite at Sundance, but it's a fake indie nevertheless. (PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid star "Radio" In the new Cuba Gooding Jr.-Ed Harris weepie, a white high school football coach befriends a mentally retarded African-American kid in a small South Carolina town in the late 1970s. After some initial student and parental resistance, a wave of platitudes and bathos washes over the place, and everybody is righteously lifted up where they belong. (R) (Wesley Morris)

Solid starSolid starSolid star "Runaway Jury" Good, solid popcorn. The John Grisham courthouse thriller has been turned into an enjoyably far-fetched exercise in paranoia, with John Cusack as a juror in a gun-violence case who tries to sell the verdict to the highest bidder. Director Gary Fleder wastes a crew of character actors in small bits, but gives Gene Hackman free rein to chuckle and sneer as an evil jury consultant. (PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid star "Scary Movie 3" This inferior second sequel to the Wayans brothers' pointed 2000 parody grafts the head of "The Ring" onto the body of "Signs," then adds all manner of impertinent gags that seem to have come from a popular-culture organ donor. It's a mangy, intermittently funny, but ultimately tiresome movie monster. Anna Faris, returning as the series' unflappable heroine, earns all her laughs. (PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

Solid starSolid starSolid star 1/2 "The School of Rock" An adorable rock 'n' roll update on the old "Bad News Bears" formula, this marks director Richard Linklater's most commercial movie to date, and the star vehicle that Jack Black has been waiting for. He's amusingly all over the place as a local loser who finds himself in charge of a fifth-grade classroom at a prep school and forms the kids into a band. The film gently flatters the notion of youthful rebellions future and past and, in so doing, becomes a genuine parent-kid bonding experience (PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid starSolid star "Shattered Glass" A journalist's-ethics thriller in which the victim is good reporting and the villain is passive-aggressive ambition. Hayden Christensen (of young Darth Vader fame) plays Stephen Glass, a writer for The New Republic who cooked up stories and sources. But never fear: The movie has a hero, editor Chuck Lane, whom the estimable Peter Sarsgaard plays in a delicate balance of rectitude, compassion, and exasperation. (PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

Solid starSolid star "The Singing Detective" It's been a while since Robert Downey Jr. has worked at full strength, but this clumsily staged adaptation of Dennis Potter's trailblazing BBC miniseries lets the actor and his performance down. Downey plays a pulp writer hospitalized with a debilitating skin condition who slips in and out of memory, fantasy, and leadfooted musical numbers. (R) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid starSolid star "The Station Agent" There's probably more than one person in Tom McCarthy's well-performed, wonderful comedy who finds its4-foot-6 protagonist (Peter Dinklage) weird, but there are more striking things about him than his height. For starters, he's a train geek who moves into an abandoned New Jersey depot he's inherited. What happens next is the blossoming of friendships with the resident outcasts, among them Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale. (R) (Wesley Morris)

Solid star 1/2 "Teknolust" A frumpy scientist (Tilda Swinton) creates three oversexed clones (also Tilda Swinton) who need sperm to survive. What sounds like an outrageous piece of shock cinema has been directed with didactic clumsiness by filmmaker/multimedia artist/theoretician Lynn Hershman-Leeson. Swinton mines some forced but intended humor out of the proceedings, but this is less a movie than a smug art installation. (R) (Ty Burr)

Solid starSolid star "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" In this generic remake of the 1974 cult classic, five kids hop in a van and head to Dallas for a Lynyrd Skynyrd show, only to wind up running for their lives from the house of the maniac hillbillies whose phone they use. As the eviscerations ensue, the truth grows undeniable: This is easily the most gruesome, most pointless episode of "Scooby Doo" ever. (R) (Wesley Morris)

Solid starSolid starSolid star "Tupac: Resurrection" The slain rapper and actor Tupac Shakur narrates the story of his life and ultimately his demise. This is good news for the fans, conspiracy theorists, cultural thinkers, and metaphysicians who've made him a hip-hop messiah. MTV and Shakur's mother, Afeni, produced this documentary, which consists of ancient interview footage that the director Lauren Lazin has sculpted into a strangely gripping celebrity profile. (R) (Wesley Morris)

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