MARCH 2005

BE COOL: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Vince Vaughn, Christina Milian, James Gandolfini, Danny DeVito, Harvey Keitel, Cedric the Entertainer, Debi Mazar, Robert Pastorelli, Steven Tyler (Directed by F. Gary Gray; Written by Peter Steinfeld; MGM) There's reason for hope here, since the plot of this hardboiled comic-thriller is based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, author of "Get Shorty," Travolta's last first-rate movie. Actually, "Be Cool" is a sequel to "Get Shorty." This time, our loan shark-turned-movie-mogul hero is trying to gobble a slice of the music-industry pie. On his mission, he comes into close contact with mobsters, murderers and a gay bodyguard (The Rock) who wants in the worst way to be a songbird. To read Guy Flatley's 1976 interview with John Travolta, click here; for Guy's 1998 interview with Vince Vaughn, click here. For the Variety review of "Be Cool," click here. Now Playing

DEAR FRANKIE: Emily Mortimer, Jake McElhone, Gerard Butler, Sharon Small, Mary Riggans, Jayd Johnson, Sean Brown, Anne Marie Timoney, Cal Macaninch (Directed by Shona Auerbach; Written by Andrea Gibb; Miramax) Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) has a truly lousy husband, but she manages to dodge his abuse by constantly moving from one dismal dwelling in Glasgow to another, all the while fibbing to Frankie (Jake McElhone), her 9-year-old deaf son, about what a jolly, wonderful person his seafaring dad is. Reality creeps in, however, when a bratty schoolmate begins to suspect that there’s no such person as Frankie’s alleged pa. That’s when Lizzie hires a handsome dude (Gerard Butler) to play the part. Naturally, he wants to play husband every bit as much as he wants to play father. Now Playing

EMILE: Ian McKellen, Deborah Kara Unger, Theo Crane, Chris William Martin, Tygh Runyan, Ian Tracey, Janet Wright, Nancy Sivak, Frank Borg (Written and directed by Carl Bessai; Castle Hill Productions) When an esteemed British scientist (Ian McKellen) returns to his native Canada to receive an honorary degree, his niece (Deborah Kara Unger) offers to put him up in the house she shares with her precocious young daughter (Theo Crane). The visit proves stressful, however, mostly because of long-buried memories that persist in popping to the surface. Now Playing

GUNNER PALACE: Members of the 2-3 Field Artillery (Directed by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein; Palm Pictures) There’s already 2005 Oscar buzz for this filmed-in-Iraq documentary which strongly impressed hawks and doves alike at the Telluride and Toronto festivals. Embedded journalist Michael Tucker presents an intimate, politically non-partisan picture of the day-to-day life of U.S. soldiers billeted in a once lavish dwelling that a son of Saddam Hussein used to call home. To read Frank Rich's New York Times article about "Gunner Palace," click here. Now Playing

THE JACKET: Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daniel Craig, Brad Renfro, Kelly Lynch, Mackenzie Phillips, Steven Mackintosh (Directed by John Maybury; Written by Massy Tadjedin; Warner Independent Films) A member of the military who has been convicted of murder is serving his time in a psychiatric ward. Far from considering himself a dangerous killer, however, he’s dead certain that he is an innocent traveler in time who’s destined to meet the girl from his past he intends to make the lady of his future. For Diane Baroni’s 1998 interview with Kris Kristofferson, click here. Now Playing

THE PACIFIER: Vin Diesel, Lauren Graham, Faith Ford, Brittany Snow, Max Thieriot, Chris Potter, Carol Kane, Brad Garrett, Morgan York, Keegan Hoover, Logan Hoover, Bo Vink, Luke Vink, Tate Donovan (Directed by Adam Shankman; Written by Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant; Disney/Buena Vista) Five cuter-than-cute tykes are without a father, thanks partly to the ineptitude of Shane Wolf (Vin Diesel), the undercover agent assigned to protect a master scientist from lethal baddies. Now those very same evildoers are bent on finding the assassinated genius’s secret formula, which is presumably hidden in the house where his kids still reside. So who is chosen to keep them out of harm’s way? That’s right--the lone Wolf himself. And you thought Hollywood screenwriters were running low on imagination? Now Playing

THE BOYS & GIRL FROM COUNTY CLARE: Colm Meaney, Bernard Hill, Andrea Corr, Philip Barantini, Charlotte Bradley, Shaun Evans, Patrick Bergin (Directed by John Irvin; Written by Nicholas Adams; Overseas FilmGroup) Jimmy (Colm Meaney), a prosperous businessman in 1960’s Liverpool, returns to his native Ireland for the first time in more than 20 years to participate in a music competition. His main rival? His older--and much alienated--brother, John Joe (Bernard Hill). Further complicating matters is the fact that the pianist in John Joe’s band is Maisie (Charlotte Bradley), the girl from County Clare who was once engaged to John Joe but managed to get pregnant by Jimmy just before he cut out for Liverpool. Wonder which music man wins the competition. Now Playing

DON’T MOVE: Penelope Cruz, Sergio Castellitto, Claudia Gerini, Angela Finocchiaro, Marco Giallini, Pietro De Silva, Elena Perino (Directed by Sergio Castellitto; Written by Sergio Castellitto and Margaret Mazzantini; Unified Pictures) In a state of shock, a surgeon peers out of a hospital window while, in a nearby room, another doctor performs brain surgery on his gravely injured daughter. As he waits, the father is troubled by painful memories, especially those involving a homely peasant girl he raped and eventually took as a mistress, despite the fact that he was already married. Sergio Castellitto, who plays the tormented doctor, directed and co-wrote “Don’t Move” with Margaret Mazzantini, author of the novel upon which the film is based (in real life, Mazzantini is Mrs. Castellitto). As for Penelope Cruz, she is said to have been as de-glamorized as Charlize Theron in “Monster” and reportedly gives an Oscar-caliber performance as the peasant in distress. Now Playing

DOT THE I: Gael Garcia Bernal, Natalia Verbeke, James D’Arcy, Tom Hardy, Charlie Cox (Written and directed by Matthew Parkhill; Artisan Enertainment) At a bachelorette bash prior to her marriage to a British bore, a jaded flamenco dancer (Natalia Verbeke) participates in the quaint ritual of picking out a stranger in the crowd and giving him a big-time kiss. The kiss--with a hot-to-smooch Brazilian (Gael Garcia Bernal)--turns out to be bigger than expected, so naturally an encore is performed in the dancer’s bedroom. Does she go through with the marriage? Of course she does. Does the groom (James D’Arcy) discover the infidelity? Of course he does. Is that the end of the story? Of course not; it’s only the beginning. Now Playing

HOSTAGE: Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollack, Jonathan Tucker, Ben Foster, Jimmy Bennett, Michelle Horn, Serena Scott Thomas, Jim Coates, Rumer Willis, Jimmy “Jax” Pinchak, Marshall Allman, Hector Luis Bustamante, Kim Coates (Directed by Florent Emilio Siri; Written by Doug Richardson; Miramax) If you were being held hostage, you wouldn’t want some wimpy fed negotiating for your release, would you? Of course not. You’d want a two-fisted, kick-ass operator like Bruce Willis. Well, lean and mean as he may be, Bruce--or, rather, Jeff Talley, the LAPD negotiator he plays in this action flick based on the novel by Robert Crais--is caught drastically off-guard and, as a result, a woman and her young child lose their lives. Naturally, grief-crippled Bruce/Jeff moves to a small, low-crime burb, leaving his own family behind to fend for themselves in the City of Angels. And--we kid you not--he is soon in the middle of a more horrific hostage misfire than he could ever have imagined. Now Playing

IN MY COUNTRY: Samuel L. Jackson, Juliette Binoche, Brendan Gleeson, Menzi Ngubane, Nick Boraine, Lionel Newton, Sam Ngakane (Directed by John Boorman; Written by Ann Peacock; Sony Pictures Classics) Racist brutality reigned in South Africa during the age of apartheid, acts of barbarism later recalled with pain and rage at the Truth & Reconciliation Commission hearings. Now those atrocities, vividly described by South African journalist Antjie Krog in her acclaimed book, "Country of My Skull," have been captured on celluloid by John Boorman, the director whose portraits of cruel reality include "Point Blank," "Hell in the Pacific," "Deliverance," "Hope and Glory," "The General" and "The Tailor of Panama." Now Playing

MILLIONS: Alex Etel, Lewis McGibbon, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan, Kolade Agboke, Alun Armstrong, Enzo Cilenti, Jane hogarth, Cornelius Macarthy, Harry Kirkham, Christopher Fulford, Kathryn Pogson (Directed by Danny Boyle; Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce; Fox Searchlight) Two boys--one 9, the other 7--move to a new home on the outskirts of Liverpool with their dad after the tragic death of their mom. They try their best to be positive, productive little citizens, but sad is mainly what they are. Then, one seemingly miraculous day, they happen upon a bundle of money, an event which brings about substantial changes in their life, many of them not for the good. Sound schmaltzy? It’s probably not, since it was directed by Danny Boyle, who strongly suggested in movies ranging from “A Shallow Grave” to “Trainspotting” to “28 Days” that he does not view our planet as a place where happy endings are the rule. The advance word is that 7-year-old Alex Etel gives a phenomenal performance. Now Playing

ROBOTS: The voices of Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Mel Brooks, Dianne Wiest, Jim Broadbent, Stanley Tucci, Paul Giamatti, Greg Kinnear, Robin Williams (Directed by Chris Wedge; Co-directed by Carlos Saldanha; Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; Fox) Rodney (the voice of Ewan McGregor) is an imaginative, attractive robot with tons of personality and a head-full of dreams that just won’t stop. One dream is to go to the nearest teeming metropolis and join forces with high powered inventor Big Weld (the voice of Mel Brooks); the other dream is to get as close as robotly possible to a glamour-puss named Cappy (the voice of Halle Berry). Now Playing

THE UPSIDE OF ANGER: Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, Mike Binder, Tom Harper, Dane Christensen (Written and directed by Mike Binder; New Line) A husband runs off with another woman, and his wife and four daughters need help in coping without a husband and father in the house. Comfort comes in the form of an old friend of the family, an over-the-hill baseball player. Kevin Costner, Hollywood’s man for all sports, plays the good-deeder, and Joan Allen, Hollywood’s favorite pillar of strength, is the fan with whom he finally hits a homer. Now Playing

ICE PRINCESS: Michelle Trachtenberg, Joan Cusack, Kim Cattrall, Hayden Panettiere, Trevor Blumas, Tom Barnett, Michelle Kwan, Juliana Cannarozzo, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Kirsten Olson (Directed by Tim Fywell; Written by Hadley Davis; Disney) All Casey (Michelle Trachtenberg) really wants to do is figure-skate her way to fame, but her mom (Joan Cusack) dreams a different dream. She envisions her daughter gliding a straight-and-narrow trail to an Ivy League degree. So will the kid end up cramming for her finals at Harvard or competing on the US National circuit against super prodigy Gen (Hayden Panettiere), whose icily aggressive mother (Kim Cattrall) is a former champ with a severely slushed reputation? Now Playing

MELINDA AND MELINDA: Radha Mitchell, Will Ferrell, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Sevigny, Josh Brolin, Wallace Shawn, Gene Saks, Brooke Smith, Vinessa Shaw, Andy Borowitz, David Aaron Baker (Written and directed by Woody Allen; Fox Searchlight) Remember, around the time of “Interiors,” how shocked we were to realize that Woody Allen was bent on making deadly serious—even tragic—movies? We got used to the idea, thanks to heavy stuff like “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Shadows and Fog” and “Husbands and Wives,” but lately Woody has stuck to comedy. Until now—sort of. In "Melinda and Melinda,” he manages to have it both ways. How so? Two writers, played by Wallace Shawn and Gene Saks, tell the tale of lovely but troubled Melinda (Radha Mitchell). One tells it as a comedy, with Ferrell as Mitchell’s leading man; the other tells it as pure drama, with Chiwetel Ejiofor, the magnetic star of “Dirty Pretty Things,” as the male lead. Let us hope Woody makes us laugh until we cry. To read Guy Flatley's 1978 interview with The Woodman, click here, and for Guy's 2000 interview with Amanda Peet, click here. To read Variety's review of "Melinda and Melinda," click here. Now Playing

THE RING 2: Naomi Watts, Simon Baker, David Dorfman, Emily VanCamp, Sissy Spacek, Elizabeth Perkins, Meagen Fay, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Gary Cole (Directed by Hideo Nakata; Written by Ehren Kruger; DreamWorks) You come across an unlabeled disk, play the weird thing on your VCR, and when it’s over the phone rings and someone on the other end tells you how many days you have left before meeting your maker. But you already know about all of this if you saw investigative reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) try to make sense of her niece’s grotesque demise in the first installment of a spin-off of the popular Japanese “Ring” cycle. Now Rachel and her notably vulnerable son (David Dorfman) are back, and they just can’t seem to keep their hands off the VCR. Now Playing

STEAMBOY: The voices of Alfred Molina, Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart (Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo; Written by Sadayuki Murai; Sony Pictures) Rei, one of the most promising young men of science in 19th-century England, receives a mysterious present from his grandfather Roid, a resident of the United States. It’s a new-fangled invention called The Steam Ball, and the thing Rei doesn’t know is that it contains a secret component that could spell doom for mankind. Another thing Rei doesn’t know: the sinister Ohara Foundation has plans to swipe The Steam Ball out from under him. Now Playing

MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS: Sandra Bullock, Regina King, Enrique Murciano, William Shatner, Ernie Hudson, Diedrich Bader, Heather Burns, Treat Williams (Directed by John Pasquin; Written by Marc Lawrence; Warner Bros.) Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock), perhaps the FBI’s most triumphantly clueless agent, has become a high-profile celeb, thanks to her success in torpedoing spoilsports who planned to blow up the Miss United States Pageant. Now the former winner of the pageant--plus the event’s exuberant emcee--have been kidnapped deep in the plastic-and-tinsel heart of Las Vegas. And do you know what? There are FBI cynics who feel that fame has gone to Gracie Hart’s airhead and that she’s shed the smarts that served her--and the pageant participants--so well in the first “Miss Congeniality” flick. Well, we’ll just see about that. Now Playing

THE BALLAD OF JACK & ROSE: Daniel Day-Lewis, Catherine Keener, Camilla Belle, Beau Bridges, Paul Dano, Ryan McDonald, Jena Malone, Jason Lee, Anna Mae Clinton, Susanna Thompson (Written and directed by Rebecca Miller; IFC Films) So what does a director have to do to nail down Daniel Day-Lewis for a movie? Marry him, I guess. That’s what Rebecca Miller, daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and director of such highly regarded indies as “Angela” and “Personal Velocity: Three Portraits,” did. And now she’s guiding her stupendously talented spouse through his paces in her drama about an intense environmentalist who’s encountering thorny problems. What problems? The loveliness of his remote island home is being threatened by an insensitive land developer (Beau Bridges) who’s intent on building a housing tract practically on his doorstep. Plus his teenage daughter (Camilla Belle) is getting something akin to island fever and longs for male companionship unlike that offered by her father. How does the idealistic nature-lover cope with all this unnatural stress? He invites his girlfriend (Catherine Keener) and her two kids to come join the fun household. Why do I sense there’s trouble ahead? Now Playing

D.E.B.S.: Sara Foster, Jordana Brewster, Devon Aoki, Jill Ritchie, Meagan Good, Michael Clarke Duncan, Holland Taylor, Geff Stults, Jimmi Simpson, Jessica Cauffiel (Directed by Angela Robinson; Screen Gems/Sony) Screenwriter/director Angela Robinson's story centers on four bright, sexy students who take an intelligence exam that in fact measures their potential for chicanery and violence. If they score high, they get to join a paramilitary group and do lots of spying, maiming and killing. Bring ’em on! To read Diane Baroni's 2004 interview with Sara Foster, click here. Now Playing

GUESS WHO: Bernie Mac, Ashton Kutcher, Zoe Saldana, Jessica Cauffiel, Judith Scott, Sherri Shepherd, RonReaco Lee, Jill Wagner, Kellee Stewart (Directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan; Written by David Ronn, Jay Scherick, Peter Tolan; Sony/Columbia Pictures) In 1967, many in the audience of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” gasped when Sidney Poitier kissed Katharine Houghton, the young woman who was taking him home to meet her parents, played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. True, the kiss was brief, and glimpsed only in the rear-view mirror of a taxi. Still, sixties moviegoers were not accustomed to seeing a black man snuggle with a white woman. That, as they say, was then and this is now. So the shock, if there is one, is sure to be minimal when Ashton Kutcher gives Zoe Saldana a peck in the remake of the Stanley Kramer comedy-drama. One obvious change has been made, however--this time, it’s the man who is white, which means that Bernie Mac, as the bride-to-be’s cranky, conflicted but lovable father, will be inviting comparisons with Spencer Tracy. We think Bernie is more than up to the challenge. Now Playing

NINA'S TRAGEDIES: Aviv Elkabets, Ayelet July Zurer, Anat Waxman (Written and directed by Savi Gabizon; Wellspring) Adolescence is rarely a breeze, and it’s definitely a complicated time for Nadav, an Israeli teenager whose flighty mother has decided he should leave home. How come? It’s not because of bad behavior on Nadav’s part--it’s just that his uncle has been killed in a terrorist and his mom thinks he would make a comforting companion for the grieving widow. Which suits Nadav fine, since he considers his aunt one hot babe. But she sorely disappoints him by flipping for an oddball photographer. This comedy-drama won 11 Israeli Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. Now Playing

BEAUTY SHOP: Queen Latifah, Djimon Hounsou, Kevin Bacon, Alicia Silverstone, Mena Suvari, Andie MacDowell, Alfre Woodard, Bryce Wilson, Lil JJ, Della Reese, Garrett Morris (Directed by Bille Woodruff; Written by Kate Lanier and Norman Vance Jr.; MGM) Hairstylist hottie Gina Norris (Queen Latifah) splits from Chicago, where we last saw her in “Barbershop 2,” and before long she's attracting hordes to a swell salon in Atlanta. Alas, swell turns sour for Gina when her slimy boss (Kevin Bacon) refuses to give her the credit she deserves. So does Gina retreat to the Windy City? No way. She has a better idea--she talks the adorable shampoo girl (Alicia Silverstone) into saying bye-bye to Bacon and soon the two are running the best little hair-house in Atlanta. Opens 3/30