• Christa McAuliffe: Reach For The Stars - Massachusetts native Christa McAuliffe has become quite inseparable from the image of the ghastly tendrils of smoke hanging over the Florida sky after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in January 1986, but she's also remembered as a schoolteacher who never stopped teaching. It is this second image on which first-time filmmakers Renée Sotile and Mary Jo Godges focus, going beyond blindly reverent fluff and digging into the humanity that made the loss of McAuliffe and the subsequent grounding of the Shuttle so much of a tragedy. With a warm, comforting narration by Susan Sarandon and a note-perfect song track by Carly Simon (whose tapes McAuliffe brought aboard Challenger), the film captures the spirit of exploration and discovery through McAuliffe's example, and not by just stating she was a shining star we should all try hard to emulate.
span style="font-weight: bold;">• Fun With Dick And Jane - This serviceable satire may have seemed doomed due to its oh-crap last-minute reshoots, but the remake of the minor 1977 comedy starring George Segal and Jane Fonda is actually quick and funny. Jim Carrey is his usual, versatile self, making the movie funnier than it should be as an executive v.p. whose career is destroyed when he is set up as the public face of a tanking, Enron-like corporation. When he and his wife (played beat-for-beat by Téa Leoni) are faced with losing everything they have worked for, they turn to robbery to survive. Broad satire is tough to pull off, but The 40-Year-Old Virgin writer Judd Apatow, who produced Carrey's 1996 film, The Cable Guy, plays off most every one of the hyperkinetic wonder's strengths with a tailored script. Deceased Six Feet Under dad Richard Jenkins is a hoot as an always-soused former exec, with Alec Baldwin turning on equal parts charm and smarm as the CEO who fleeced the company.
• The Greatest Game Ever Played - One of the things that Disney has gotten right lately is the Fact-Based Sports Movie. First, there was Remember The Titans (football), then The Rookie (baseball) and then Miracle (hockey). You wouldn't think that a movie about golf would be so charming and engaging (especially after 2004's torturous Bobby Jones: Stroke Of Genius), but The Mouse really has done it again. The family-friendly The Greatest Game Ever Played tells the story of Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf), a poor, lowly 20-year-old Boston caddy and amateur golfer who rises to compete in the 1913 U.S. Open. The story is simple, heartfelt and inspiring, even if it is a bit formulaic.
• I Love Your Work - Even though chameleonic Giovanni Ribisi may not be the kind of mega-star he plays in this darkly comic psych-drama, he portrays a fictional screen hero with intensity and a believable enough paranoid edge that we like him enough not to want to abandon him when he screws up big time. With Christina Ricci, Vince Vaughn, Franka Potente, Jason Lee and Joshua Jackson.
• Mortuary - Horror veteran Tobe Hooper makes a fairly good show out of this tongue-in-bloody cheek horror offering about a widowed mother of two (Denise Crosby) who moves the family into an abandoned mortuary where she takes up shop. Naturally, something's not quite right with the place, and the dead come to life (and spit up black stuff on the living) and make a gory mess of things. An edited version aired on the Sci-Fi Channel in March.
• The Scorned - Leave it to horror mavens Anchor Bay to release a movie with an all-reality stars cast ... in which many of them are dispatched with heavenly force (though no death scene will rouse an audience like Paris Hilton's in House Of Wax did). An idea whose time has come, indeed. The flick, about the vengeful half-ghost of a scorned coma patient, is put together pretty well, as are the almost too-often naked actors (who are screwing whenever they're not dying). See also the most excellent graphic artist Matt Busch's resourceful low-budget debut, Conjure.
• An Unfinished Life - There is a certain nobility to Robert Redford's turn as a cantankerous old cowboy in this, Chocolat director Lasse Hallström's latest, and if it is maniacal of us to deify him in such a way and act like we know him for having spent the last 40 years watching him, then loopy we are. Perhaps this story of forgiveness and redemption is a bit too predictable and too conveniently poetic, but the feelings it inspires are true, from the sense of loss in watching Redford harbor resentment over the loss of his son a dozen years prior, to the guilt that his returning, battered daughter-in-law feels for her involvement in that death. The film is shot beautifully too (in Canada subbing for Wyoming), and while saying so is often a way of saying something nice in lieu of trashing a film, it has so much else going for it. If Redford and equally regal co-star Morgan Freeman were to retire today, they would certainly go out on a better-than-just-good note.
• Ushpizin - Director Giddi Dar's Israeli Raising Arizona is about a childless rabbi (writer Shuli Rand) and his wife (wife Michal Bat-Sheva Rand) who play host to a shady friend from the rabbi's past during the Succoth holiday, and is some sweet, soul-warming fun. Tempered with humor and humanity, the film recalls Danny Boyle's equally family-friendly Millions, reminding us that even if God is mankind's own construct, the good that can come from being true is nonetheless valid.
• Wolf Creek - Simple and effective, Greg McLean's slow-burn horror hit from Down Under strands three totally unprepared young adults in the Outback ... of terror! Help comes in the form of a seemingly kind tow truck driver, Bazza (Andy McPhee), whose down-home torture chamber is their first inkling that something might not be right with ol' Bazza. Better than the similar French floater, High Tension, as well as empty American fare like the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Amityville Horror remakes, this one makes a very decent companion to the Spirig Brothers' zombiepalooza, Undead. It could very well be sold as an Urban Legend flick, considering its premise stems from a need to explain some of Australia's many unsolved disappearances each year. Available in theatrical (R-rated) and unrated editions.