At the movies

Director Clint Eastwood and actress Hilary Swank star in "Million Dollar Baby," opening Friday.

Warner Bros.
Published: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 12:16 a.m.


(PG-13) Martin Scorsese's best work in some time turns out to be a fast-paced, entertaining movie built around a fine performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, as the legendary Howard Hughes. Beginning with Hughes' arrival in Hollywood and continuing through the '40s, the movie virtually brims with incident and glamor, as well as a variety of strong supporting performances. Keep an eye on Cate Blanchett - not that you'll have much choice. She bristles as Katharine Hepburn. "The Aviator" may not be the year's most resonant picture, but Scorsese seems to realize that Hughes' life was fabulously interesting, and wisely follows suit.
  • CLOSER (R) Mike Nichols returns to old turf (gender warfare) in this sometimes scalding look at four predatory singles living in London. The men (Clive Owen and Jude Law) find themselves in a kind of twisted competition for the affections of the women (Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman). In adapting Patrick Marber's 1997 play, Nichols doesn't approach the kind of epic malice that launched his career in 1966 with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Yet, he conveys a tough and clear-eyed view of the way a group of strangers can become so familiar they're apt to rip one another apart. Owens gives the stand-out performance as an increasingly malicious dermatologist.
  • COACH CARTER (PG-13) Samuel L. Jackson is as sharp as ever in a mildly formulaic high-school sports movie that's not too damaged by our familiarity with the genre. We've dribbled down this court before, but "Coach Carter" has two things going for it: Jackson's bristling performance and a twist that helps move the focus off the court. Carter shuts down his school's winning basketball program when student-athletes fail to maintain agreed-upon grade averages. Based on a true story.
  • HOTEL RWANDA (PG-13) Don Cheadle gives a remarkably convincing performance as hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, a man who turned the upscale Mille des Collines Hotel in Kigali into a refuge for Tutsis during the 1994 slaughter in Rwanda. Cheadle anchors a story so powerful it can't help but speak directly to the heart and the conscience.
  • KINSEY (R) An intriguing portrait of the life of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, rendered in a towering performance by Liam Neeson. Kinsey committed himself to gathering data on sexual behavior, and the movie shows how this fit into America of the 1950s. A fine supporting cast includes Laura Linney as Kinsey's wife and Peter Saarsgard as one of his associates. This is adults-only stuff, but the movie succeeds as both a character study and a look at a society that didn't quite know what to make of Kinsey, maybe still doesn't.
    (PG) A big-screen adaptation of three Daniel Handler stories about a narrator (Jude Law) who spins adventures for three siblings (Liam Allen, Emily Browning and Kara and Shelby Hoffman, twins who alternate playing the toddler in the group) whose parents perish in a fire. Visually impressive, "Lemony Snicket" showcases Jim Carrey in a variety of roles and features supporting performances from Billy Connolly and Meryl Streep. There's nasty humor and peril here, but kids familiar with Handler's very successful books shouldn't be taken by surprise.
  • THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (R) Director Wes Anderson ("The Royal Tenenbaums") focuses on an aging oceanographer (Bill Murray) who makes deep-sea documentaries. Anderson, who has a distinctive approach to movies, turns out a vastly disappointing comedy, an uneasy blend of characters and events, artifice and realism. Usually critics love to celebrate idiosyncrasy, but in Anderson's case it may be time to wonder whether there's anything else to applaud. With Owen Wilson as a young man who may be the son Murray's Zissou didn't know he had.
  • NATIONAL TREASURE (PG) Producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Armageddon" and "Pearl Harbor") goes easy on the explosives in a story that toys with American history in order to build a treasure-hunting adventure. Nicolas Cage portrays a treasure hunter who believes there's a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. He wants to steal the Declaration to protect it from thieves. The movie falls short as either a window into American history or a crackling good adventure. Besides, Cage has had much better outings.
  • OCEAN'S TWLEVE (PG-13) Director Steven Soderbergh offers an abundantly plotted sequel to his 2001 hit, "Ocean's Eleven." The new movie is far from the best heist movie you've ever seen, but it boasts one of the smoothest casts in years. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts return to headline a movie that's as much about celebrity banter as anything else. But Soderbergh displays an appropriate and admirable lack of seriousness, and he makes sure that the locations (Amsterdam, Rome and Lake Como) are suitably glamorous. Catherine Zeta-Jones joins the ensemble as a cop on the trail of Ocean's gang.
  • PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (PG-13) Director Joel Schumacher does his best to capture the showy melodrama of Andrew Lloyd Webber's much-acclaimed musical, an adaptation of Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel. The beauty in this big-screen version is real, and Emmy Rossum gives a showcase performance as Christine, the young singer who has been trained by The Phantom (Gerard Butler), a haunting presence at Paris' Opera Populaire. With Patrick Wilson as the nobleman and opera patron who battles The Phantom for Christine's fragile heart. Butler creates menace but has a somewhat raspy voice. Still, Webber's lushly romantic score and some lovely moments carry the day.
  • SIDEWAYS (R) Director Alexander Payne ("Election" and "About Schmidt") has made a touching and funny comedy about a downtrodden wine connoisseur (Paul Giamatti) who takes a trip through California's wine country with a pal (Thomas Haden Church) who's about to be married. Giamatti portrays a character whose life has turned into a perpetual bad day, and Church scores big as his insensitive buddy, an actor who enjoyed a brief moment of success on TV. Payne transcends the conventions of road and buddy movies by rooting his down-to-earth comedy in nourishing soil. Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen illuminate the roles of women the men meet on their journey, and the movie becomes an entirely captivating meditation on how moments that get away easily can turn into wasted lives.
  • WHITE NOISE (PG-13) Michael Keaton stars in a low-tension drama about an architect who thinks his dead wife may be trying to communicate with him through a variety of electronic devices. If "White Noise" is any indication, the dead are no more interesting than the living, although neither group fares especially well in a nonsensically written thriller.
  • THE WOODSMAN (R) Kevin Bacon's performance as a pedophile trying to reconstitute his life after a 12-year jail sentence anchors this spare little movie. Bacon approaches the role with an underlying sense of longing: Bacon's Walter says he wants nothing more than to live a normal life - and Bacon makes that believable because of an underlying tension about whether normalcy is possible for Walter. Kyra Sedgwick (as a woman Bacon's character meets on his new job) and Mos Def (as the detective who keeps tabs on him) add fine support, but director Nicole Kassell doesn't quite convince us that Walter's life has been fully and honestly observed.
    Scripps Howard News Service
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