Focus. Neal Slavin. Adapted from Arthur Miller's little-known 1945 novel of the same title, Focus looks at what happens to a society when basically decent people do not stand up in the face of prejudice and ignorance. In perhaps his finest performance, William H. Macy portrays Lawrence Newman, an unassuming milquetoast who still lives with his mother and goes to great lengths to avoid calling attention to himself and tries to blend in, which, in 1940s Brooklyn, means denigrating Jews and actively trying to keep them out of the neighborhood. In his capacity as personnel manager at a midsize corporation, he refuses to employ Gertrude Hart (Laura Dern), who is said to look Jewish. "I was born Episcopalian," she tells him, "but you are what you look like." Lawrence learns the truth of that observation when he buys eyeglasses that give him a Jewish appearance, and suddenly he is out of a job and unable to get another one. The harassment grows worse when Lawrence and Gertrude marry. One of the movie's strengths is that it's very consciously structured in a way that keeps Lawrence and Gertrude's religious and ethnic identity tantalizingly unclear. Yes, the movie is obvious at times, banging you over the head with its message, and the use of shadows on a wall can seem overly broad. But these are small complaints when compared to the film's many strengths. And it couldn't be more timely. Opens Nov. 16 at the Plaza Frontenac. (JO)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Chris Columbus. Opens Nov. 16 at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.
Novocaine. David Atkins. Opens Nov. 16 at the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed this issue.
The Wash. D.J. Pooh. It's apparently not a remake of the similarly named, similarly set Car Wash, though from the outside it seems likely that the idea this comedy was "borrowed" from it. The film stars rap stars Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg and features appearances by Shaquille O'Neal and, ahem, Pauly Shore. Opens Nov. 16 at multiple locations. NR