But movies are the reality here and I’ll just walk you through what’s showing, offering a helpful hint or two to assist you in making your choices. New this weekend is Birth, an odd little entry in the psychological thriller sweepstakes that has very few thrills and hardly any psychology. Nicole Kidman’s husband dies while jogging. They are upscale Manhattanites with a tony address. Ten years later, a sweet little boy, all angelic looking, arrives to interrupt Kidman’s elderly mom’s birthday party. Mom is played by the always-solid Lauren Bacall. The boy announces he’s the incarnation of Kidman’s dead husband. “I’m Sean,” he says, and the movie rolls out from there. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t roll out much of anything. An attempt to reason with the kid fails. A talk with his father fails. Soon Kidman, who is set to marry a new husband, ludicrously believes the child and agrees not to marry Joseph, and ends up sharing a warm bath with the tyke. (This sequence got hoots of derision at the screening at the Venice Film Festival when the movie was shown). Anyway, Birth, which is directed by Jonathan Glazer who made Sexy Beast, isn’t much of anything. It isn’t clever, scary, or witty. Everyone talks in low tones and in clipped sentences. It’s all so portentous that it becomes pretentious. The ending is a crock of Halloween hooey. Avoid this one.

I (Love) Huckabees is a misguided mess, the kind of quirky muddle that plays mostly like rejected scenes from Being John Malkovich. The plot is pointlessly goofy and hopelessly lame. Suffice it to say that an environmentalist who plants trees in parking lots wants to stop the Huckabees chain of superstores from opening a mega-store in some marshland. The guy is played by lackluster actor Jason Schwartzman who looks more simian than anything else. He experiences some odd coincidences involving an African immigrant, so, looking for an explanation, he goes to see a pair of existential psychic therapists played by Lilly Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman, neither of whom are funny for one split second. Tomlin does her usual tired old dithering ditz routine and Hoffman sleepwalks his part wearing a Moe Howard wig that only he could have thought was funny. Mark Wahlberg is around as a one-note, always-yelling, moronic firefighter, thus killing his fading career once and for all. Throw Jude Law into the mix as a Huckabees executive and Naomi Watts as a commercial model for the super chain and you end up with an offbeat blob of a tale that lacks coherence, energy, or a mind of its own. David O. Russell directs as if he’s seen every Marx Brothers movie and forgot the good parts.

As you read this week’s issue of ALT you might be able to catch a true masterpiece at the North Park Theater. The folks at the Dipson Chain told me the film will then be moving downtown to the Market Arcade for another week’s run, so catch it where and while you can. The movie is Federico Fellini’s classic La Dolce Vita from 1960; simply put, one of the greatest movies ever made. Marcello Mastroianni plays a tabloid journalist up to his eyeballs in sleaze and cheese. He’s bored with all the wild parties and is looking for some explanations for his lot in life and maybe an understanding of where he’s heading. This is a newly restored print of La Dolce Vita, and when you see sex goddess Anita Ekberg dancing in the Trevi Fountain, you’ll know why the film’s called “the sweet life.” Don’t miss this chance to see a truly great movie the way it was meant to be seen.

Director John Waters is up to his old tricks with A Dirty Shame, a sex-filled romp about a repressed housewife who gets conked on the head and turns into a sex fiend, only to be confronted by her town’s self-anointed sex police. The madcap movie is all over the place and the gags are hit and miss, but even scattershot Waters is better than no Waters at all. Starring Tracey Ullman, Selma Blair, Johnny Knoxville, and Chris Isaak.

In my Toronto Film Festival story I highly recommended The Motorcycle Diaries, a chronicle of Ernesto Che Guevara’s 1951 trip with his best friend (both in their early 20s) through South America before Guevara became the “Che” of the revolutionary banners. The movie, from Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles, has good performances from Gael Garcia Bernal as Che and Rodrigo de la Serna as his medical student pal. Guevara learns a lot about the haves and the have-nots on his journey, thus formulating his future writings and teachings. An entertaining and interesting road trip.

As also previously noted, Maria Full Of Grace is the only – you read that right – ONLY, movie of the past two decades that I viewed without once checking my watch. It’s that good. This tale of poor Colombia women who become drug mules only to be trapped in New York City is both shocking and cautionary. Brilliantly acted by Catalina Sandina Morena as the primary drug courier, the film, written and directed by Joshua Marston, is very nearly perfect. It will anger you, sadden you, and hopefully, enlighten you.

I like actors Ben Affleck and James Gandolfini, so it’s painful to watch them in the excruciatingly unfunny Surviving Christmas, which arrives too early to matter much for the Christmas season. Affleck plays a wealthy guy alone at the holidays who rents out a family with whom he can spend time at Christmas. A comedy without laughs is the worst kind of gift. Instead of hanging the stockings on the fireplace with care, somebody should have hung the director Mike Mitchell and his four screenwriters without care.

Sarah Michelle Gellar, who’s only noticeable talent is survival, is the star and heroine of The Grudge, a remake of the Japanese horror film Ju-On: The Grudge (2003) by Takashi Shimizu, who also directed this newest version, which was rushed into theaters. The movie follows some hapless Americans in Tokyo (Gellar, Jason Behr) who end up in a house in which strange things happen. There are limited shocks (except the silly jump-from-behind-a-wall kind), and there is no discernible style. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor

This week’s Short Takes column serves as a general guide to what’s playing at the movies and touches on a few new openings. I’m still in a very happy space from my three weeks in Europe, an eye-opening adventure I highly recommend to everyone, even if you can only go for a week to one country. There’s an entire world out there that is truly fascinating. This might sound weird, but others who have visited other continents and foreign countries (not Canada or Mexico) tell me it happens to them, too. I (and they) just love knowing the fact that there really are people over there and that all the things we’ve seen pictures of are fantastically real. No photograph can fully capture the power of the Leaning Tower Of Pisa, the Colosseum, The Eiffel Tower and the view of Paris from the top, the Statue Of David, the view of Venice from St. Mark’s Campanile, or the Mona Lisa.