Javier Bardem, Benjamin Bratt, Giovanna Mezzogiorno | R

bgwhite    



ROMANTIC DRAMA

It's possible to make a good movie from a hack novel (think The Bridges of Madison County) but tougher to derive a great movie from a fabulous book. Exhibit A: Love in the Time of Cholera, a disappointingly dull film version of Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez's magnificent novel. Set in Colombia in the late 1800s and spanning 50 years, Love tells how a besotted clerk (Bardem) continues to long for a young beauty (Mezzogiorno) even after she weds a rich doctor (Bratt). Unlike in the book, on screen characters never have time to bloom as they race through the decades. Instead, all that grows is the thickness of the makeup on actors' faces as their characters age, like kids trying to look like adults in a school play.

Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black | R |

bgwhite bgwhite   



COMEDY

Respected author Margot (Kidman) writes fiction, but her relatives don't appreciate that her stories are often lifted directly from their lives. So when she arrives home for the wedding of her less successful sister (Leigh), the visit is fraught with tension. That's the setup for this bittersweet comedy about family dysfunction from writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale). The movie feels a bit ragtag, with some characters and plotlines only partially developed, but the performances are razor sharp. Kidman, in particular, vividly creates a character scary in her unerring ability to zero in on, and then dig at with a verbal knife, a person's emotional weak spot.

Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott, Justin Timberlake | R |

bgwhite    



REVIEWED BY JASON LYNCH

DRAMA

What would Thanksgiving be without a big ol' turkey? They rarely come larger than this impenetrable disaster about several Los Angelenos—all of whom share the audience's look of befuddlement—stumbling around a Fourth of July weekend as the world crumbles around them. Writer-director Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) pours on the visual effects but there's no disguising that the emperor has no clothes. Gobble, gobble.

Gifts from Your Kitchen!

THE FOOD NETWORK'S ROBIN MILLER SHARES SOME EASY-TO-MAKE RECIPES

Need a gift for a neighbor or your child's teacher? Instead of gift cards, Robin Miller, host of the Food Network's Quick Fix Meals, suggests homemade treats. "The recipient feels special when you give something that takes time and effort," she says. There are plenty of simple recipes that can be whipped up in a couple of hours, and an added bonus, says Miller: "You can do this with your kids, so they learn a thoughtful way to say thank you to the people who take care of them every day."

FOR RECIPES GO TO PEOPLE.COM/HOLIDAY

PECAN SQUARES
"These are like pecan pie in bite-size portions," says Miller. "People love them."

CHOCOLATE PRETZEL STICKS
Prepare a week in advance, freeze and then defrost the morning you give them out.

TOMATO PESTO PUFF PASTRY TWISTS
These savory treats "are a slam dunk every time," says Miller.

Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman | G |

bgwhite bgwhite   



FAMILY

Every time I am unkind in print about a kids' movie, Fred, my 7-year-old consultant on the genre, tells me, "You are a bad reviewer. You don't know what kids like." (I do too: pratfalls and fart jokes.) He has me so cowed, I'm bestowing two stars on this lackluster lump of whimsy, mostly because it's neither mean-spirited nor frightening and has few pratfalls and no farting. The plot: Mr. Magorium (Hoffman), wacky owner of a magical toy store, urges his reluctant assistant (Portman) to take over the shop. She must first learn to believe in herself—a process that drags on and on—making Magorium seem longer than its 94 minutes. Hoffman is pure ham here, wiggling his bushy eyebrows as if auditioning to be Cap'n Crunch.



"Giving something homemade shows that you care"

Autumn is my favorite season, and it has nothing to do with the foliage. As temperatures drop, the quality of movies at the multiplex rises. Here are three you should definitely catch:

MICHAEL CLAYTON The grayer he gets, the better George Clooney is. In a tense corporate thriller, he gives a terrific performance as a Manhattan lawyer beginning to question both his own life choices and the ethics of the fancy law firm where he serves as a Mr. Fix-It. The final scene is a profane delight. (R)

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL When a shy man (a brilliant Ryan Gosling) dates a life-size doll, his family (Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider, at left) play along in a warm, low-key comedy. (PG-13)

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD A haunting psychological drama tells how two brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) plan a crime that goes tragically wrong. (R)

By all accounts, Angelina Jolie is a world-class humanitarian and doting mommy to kids Maddox, 6, Pax, 3, Zahara, 2, and Shiloh, 17 months. So it's ironic that she has developed a cinematic specialty playing Mothers from Hell. In 2004's Alexander, she vamped it up as snake-loving Queen Olympias, who manipulates her son, The Great (Colin Farrell), into rubbing out her enemies. In the animated Beowulf (which didn't screen in time for review), she boasts a campy accent—and a long, lethal braid!—as a sultry swamp demon (right) intent on avenging her monster son's death. What roles should she tackle next? The wicked stepmother in Snow White (right)? Lady Macbeth? Medea? A remake of Mommie Dearest? It's good fun watching Angelina play bad—as long as she keeps the kids away from the theater.

JENNIFER JASON LEIGH...

ISN'T CRAZY (REALLY!)

She's played psychos, druggies and Dorothy Parker, but the Margot at the Wedding star, 45, is on an even keel with hubby Noah Baumbach.

NOAH DIRECTED YOU IN MARGOT. WHAT DO YOU GUYS GET FROM NETFLIX?

Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage. The six-hour version. It was fabulous.

AND SPEAKING OF ART-HOUSE CINEMA, IT'S 25 YEARS SINCE FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH!

I still get recognized from it. But I don't remember the dialogue. People come up and say something, and I won't know what the hell they are talking about.

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO PLAY NICOLE KIDMAN'S SIS?

She's a girl's girl. I love women like that, because I'm like that too. The guys can go someplace else!

HOW DO YOU GET OVER PLAYING CRAZY LADIES?

It's like the flu. Two weeks after a movie you're still affected by the virus, then it leaves your sytem.

WHICH IS GOOD, BECAUSE OTHERWISE...

I'd be a basket case!