Love Actually Directed by: Richard Curtis Starring: Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Emma Thompson Rated: R 3 out of 5 stars

Love Actually not only has eight times the characters of a typical love story, but eight times the Christmas spirit! There are more warm fuzzies contained in this mostly engaging romantic comedy than you can shake a candy cane at, and if the sound of that makes you want to vomit, you may want to keep far, far away from this 129-minute bundle of joy. If your tolerance for cinematic corn syrup is high, however, you could do worse than this Magnolia-like concoction of intertwining stories and seemingly unrelated characters who turn out to have a thematic connection. This time around, that connection isn't too difficult to decipher -- Love! Love! Love! -- but the sweetly na‹ve movie is genial and amusing enough not to bore anyone. Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson and many, many others all compete for your attention.

-- Eugene Novikov

In the Cut Directed by: Jane Campion Starring: Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo Rated: R 2 out of five stars

In the Cut features Meg Ryan in a brown wig with chunky bangs -- that's different. The rest of the movie, however, can best be described by the three C's: Contrived, Convoluted and Crappy. Director Jane Campion's ambiguous intentions are at least part of what makes this film so trying to watch. She is constantly switching back and forth between semi-complex nuance and formulaic garbage. If she is still trying to work out some of the stylistic decisions, maybe next time she should just flip a quarter. As far as the plot goes (which is not very), Frannie Thorstin (Ryan) and the laughably suspect Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) seduce each other, meditatively contemplate a crime and simultaneously drive each other and the audience to violent insanity and confusion. Speaking of violence, and -- oh yeah -- graphic sex, this movie is about as jam-packed with it as Ted Bundy's bedroom during the Summer of Sam. The matter can best be summed up by the sage words of the academic decathlon moderator in Billy Madison: "Everyone in this audience is now dumber for having [seen this film]. You are awarded no points and may God have mercy on your soul." Aptly put.

-- Maggie Hennefeld

The Singing Detective Directed by: Keith Gordon Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robin Wright Penn, Mel Gibson, Katie Holmes Rated: R 3 out of 5 stars

Robert Downey, Jr., may be a hopeless addict, but that hasn't touched his unbelievable potency as an actor. His new film proves that even in a movie devoid of coherence and credibility, Downey will rivet you into understanding and believing. In this musical/film-noir remake of Dennis Potter's British mini-series The Singing Detective, Downey plays Dan Dark, a tortured writer in the throes of a revolting skin disease. Rotting with loathing for himself and women, Dark takes the audience on a bizarre journey of hallucinations, bawdy dance numbers and paranoid delusions. A nerdified Mel Gibson plays the quirky psychiatrist who helps Dark fight his physical and mental hideousness. Although the film can seem like a study on how confusing a movie can be and still make sense, its value lies in the flooring performances of its all-star cast. (Warning: Bring a gag bag if naked lepers make you heave.)

-- Kun Jia


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