Mystic River means that, like Ol’ Man River, Clint Eastwood just keeps on rollin’ along. The seventy-three-year old Mr. Eastwood directed this superb adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel about long-time male friendships getting in the way of a police investigation into the death of a man’s oldest daughter; a death that may involve one of the pals. Beautifully photographed and wonderfully told – the screenplay is complex in a good way, and gloriously alert. The well-acted movie features Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney, and Marcia Gay Harden. The film is gripping and satisfying.

Sylvia is a plodding, uninteresting bio-pic about ill-fated poet Sylvia Plath, who Woody Allen spoofed in one of his movies by commenting something to the effect that her untimely demise inspired school girls. The problem with the film is that it gets bogged down in that same biographical trap that doomed Frida. It’s mostly about her relationship with fellow writer and beastly husband Ted Hughes, who, by the movie’s accounting, was a nasty, nasty man. Watching actors battle each other on screen in marital hell eventually wearies the moviegoer. You want to know more about her poetry and less about her hubby’s domineering and emotional tirades. As Plath, Gwyneth Paltrow mostly mopes around and that doesn’t help the goings-on at all.

In Beyond Borders, everyone huffs and puffs, but no houses get blown down. What happens mostly is that the actors all sweat more. This is the sweatiest movie in years. Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen are two unique people whose lives are drawn together as they give up their lush days as socialite and doctor-with-a-good-practice and spend their nights providing humanitarian aid to the woeful citizens of war-torn countries. Ava Gardner and Richard Burton would have played these characters to the hilt. Jolie and Owen play them with an eye towards the make-up artist. The movie wears its politics on its sleeve, which is okay if the movie took off. It doesn’t. Call it an admirable mediocrity.

Casa De Los Babys is another political adventure from director John Sayles. This time it’s the politics of adoption. Markedly different women head for an unnamed South American country and bond with each other while waiting to adopt unwanted children. The movie is about the value of children and the rightness of removing them from their homeland. A terrific ensemble cast includes Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen, Lili Taylor, Susan Lynch, and Rita Moreno. Sayles lays on the sociology, but that’s okay. He’s got ideas and he knows how to express them.

Veronica Guerin tells the true story of the death of an Irish reporter at the hands of criminal elements. The murder of writer Veronica Guerin by mobsters helped change laws in Ireland. Cate Blanchett never dirties down for the role. Her make-up is flawless throughout. The movie is shallow and superficial. It never digs into the passion that Guerin displayed in real life. We know she wants to investigate the bad guys and get them tossed into jail, but we never know why she’s so determined.

The Runaway Jury is yet another John Grisham novel brought to the big screen, and I think it’s time for Grisham to take a break from writing his legal thrillers. The good ideas are no longer there. In the book, the trial was about big tobacco. In the movie, it’s about a gun manufacturer’s responsibility for how his products are used. Provide your own reasons for that alteration. The overheated film is well-made and fast-paced, but so what. It’s too slick and showy. It never breathes. It’s law as go-go dancer. It requires you to suspend disbelief, as in the notion that John Cusack’s scam artist will be able to get on just the right jury to carry out his extortion plot, a plot that has other angles as well. The vaunted scene between Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman, who’ve never acted together before this, is an argument in a vacuum. It’s there for show and nothing else. The movie is also all show.

Radio is a true story about a mentally-retarded black man who became the mascot-water boy-equipment manager-cheerleader for a southern high school football squad. The team adopts the guy (called Radio) as their own, but racists in town want otherwise. The movie is a calculating mess; it wants you to weep. It’s also proof positive that in Hollywood, retarded people are to be seen as pets and little more. As for Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s performance as Radio, well, I thought he had exhausted his manic, over-the-top abilities, but I was wrong. He is even more annoying here than he has been in his other manic, over-the-top roles.

Wonderland is another true story. This one’s about four grisly murders in 1981 on Wonderland Avenue, a street just off Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon. Snared in the situation was legendary porn star John C. Holmes, he of the big tree trunk between his legs. The movie expertly captures the look and feel of the period, but it bogs down when it concentrates on Holmes relationship with his estranged wife, rather than the murders and the ripe old drug connections to them. The B-list, cast never rises above the material. Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott, Carrie Fisher, Eric Bogosian, Josh Lucas, Tim Blake Nelson, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Christina Applegate, Janeane Garofalo, M.C. Gainey, Franky G, Faizon Love, and Tim Levine are featured.

Intolerable Cruelty is the Coen Brothers attempt to do Howard Hawks. Everyone speaks rat-a-tat-tat, but this ribald, and occasionally very funny comedy, about love, marriage, and divorce, is less than the sum of its parts. George Clooney, Billy Bob Thornton, and Catherine Zeta-Jones are into the spirit of the movie, but the material defeats them. Although lesser Coen Brothers is still better than most efforts, I’ll still settle for Hawks’ His Girl Friday.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a complete remake of the classic 1970s fright thriller. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the movie and Leatherface pulled his victim’s body into the room with him and slid the steel door shut. I jumped. As it stands, there was no reason to remake the original. I didn’t jump. I yawned. The newcomer is blue ribbon prize winning celluloid garbage. Amazingly, audience members going to the preview screening had their bodies searched with electronic wands handled by studio hacks looking for digital recording equipment. Yeah, sure, like anybody would want a copy of this drivel. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor

I’m curious. If somebody showed you the following list of ten movies, and you knew some vague things about them – ideas filtered into your subconscious by newspapers, television, magazines, and radio, which one, or ones, would you go see?

The choices are: Mystic River, Casa De Los Babys, Sylvia, The Runaway Jury, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Intolerable Cruelty, Beyond Borders, Radio, Veronica Guerin, and Wonderland.

The stereotype would be that ALT readers, a politically-active, arts conscious group, would head for Sylvia, Beyond Borders, Casa De Los Babys, and Veronica Guerin first. Then they’d follow that up by seeing Wonderland, Intolerable Cruelty, The Runaway Jury, and Mystic River. Left behind would be Radio and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Stereotypes might be right. Stereotypes might be wrong. But how are your instincts? Having recently seen all ten movies, on one occasion three films in one day, here’s your guide, and chances are, that regarding the bottom of the barrel, your instincts could be right.