Cold Mountain (R) Anthony Minghella. Opens Thursday, December 25, at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.
House of Sand and Fog (R) Vadim Perelman. First-time writer-director Vadim Perelman brings to vivid, aching life Andre Dubus III's best-seller about an unhinged alcoholic (Jennifer Connelly) and an aristocratic former army colonel from Iran (Ben Kingsley) who fight a tragic battle of wills over a rundown bungalow just inland from the Northern California coast. The book has its adherents, including Oprah Winfrey (whose endorsement catapulted it onto the charts in 1999), and the fine performances in the movie version do not disappoint. This clash between native entitlement and immigrant yearning gives us a startlingly ambiguous, thoroughly heart-wrenching look at the American dream. With Ron Eldard as the unstable cop who sets the crisis in motion, and Iranian star Shohreh Aghdashloo as the colonel's wife. Opens Friday, December 26, at the Hi-Pointe. (Bill Gallo)
One From the Heart (R) Francis Ford Coppola. For reasons best known to himself, Francis Ford Coppola has engineered a reissue of his strange 1982 romantic comedy, which was quickly pulled from release back then and is likely now to be a curiosity that inspires a new round of head-scratching. Set in Las Vegas, it features Frederic Forest and Teri Garr as a bickering couple who take up with other partners (Nastassja Kinski and Raul Julia, respectively) before returning to each other's yearning arms. Drifty and plotless, this self-conscious experiment features a couple of chaotically staged production numbers, songs by Tom Waits and, in what doesn't quite amount to a saving grace, some beautifully stylized Vegas sets by the great production designer Dean Tavoularis. Strictly for completists who simply must see every frame ever shot by the director of the Godfather trilogy, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now. Opens Friday, December 26, at the Tivoli. (Bill Gallo)
Paycheck (PG-13) John Woo. Opens Thursday, December 25, at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.
Peter Pan (PG) P.J. Hogan. "All children, except one, grow up." So begins J.M. Barrie's classic children's fable about the boy who defiantly refuses to grow up and the girl who is torn between remaining a child with him or accepting the inevitable passage into adulthood. Australian director/co-screenwriter P.J. Hogan turned to the original source material (Barrie wrote both a play and a novel of the story), which is far darker than the child-friendly version that is always done on stage and was done in the animated version. Children who attend the film will be oblivious to the dark undercurrents and see only the grand adventure. Adults will find far meatier material to sink their teeth into. Sadly, the special effects -- especially Peter flying around -- are unconvincing, although children will no doubt respond to them. Tinkerbell is equally disappointing. The film provides solid entertainment for kids but lacks any real sense of wonder and magic. Opens Thursday, December 25, at multiple locations. (Jean Oppenheimer)
21 Grams (R) Alejandro González Iñárritu. Three strangers suffer: Cristina (Naomi Watts), because she has been left without a family; Jack (Benicio Del Toro), because he's an ex-con who has devoted his life to Christ, only to believe his savior has betrayed him; Paul (Sean Penn), because he has become a burden to his wife, who wants to have his child before he dies, but does not want him. They are bound by the moment when Jack, heading home to a birthday party, drives over Cristina's family in a crosswalk. Cristina at first refuses to press charges, but over time she boils to a rage and wants nothing more than to kill the man who killed her family. For this task, out of film noir, she enlists her new lover -- Paul, possessor of her husband's heart. The story isn't told in linear fashion; it feels as though it's been assembled at random, perhaps because the writer and director realized their movie played too sentimental and overwrought to lay it out from end to end. Opens Friday, December 26, at the Tivoli. (Robert Wilonsky)