The Polar Express
Dir. Zemeckis
Opens Fri Nov 12
Various Theaters

Tom Hanks dominates The Polar Express. So much so, you'll feel like you just chugged a pint of Granny's "special" eggnog: pleasantly drunk, if a little sick. Hanks provides almost all the voices in this story about a young boy traveling to the North Pole on a magic locomotive--including the young protagonist, Santa Claus, the train's conductor, and a ghostly hobo that should have Tom Waits filing litigation for theft of character.

If you can get past the ubiquitous Hanks, The Polar Express is, surprisingly, not that bad. The entire film is computer animated, and its effects run a startlingly close second to reality. At the beginning of the film, I asked myself "Why not just use real actors?" This query lingered until director Robert Zemeckis started flexing his CG muscles--Zemeckis uses his virtual camera to chase the train down roller coaster hills and through rattling emergency stops, all with a huge load of playfully animated children being served boiling cocoa. (Hopefully you'll repress the secret urge to see them scalded.)

Ultimately, that's all beside the point--simply said, this is a movie about a train going to the North Pole for Christmas, with more Tom Hanks than you can shake a Bosom Buddy at. If that's your bag, then go see this sugary, sugary sugar plum. Otherwise, I'm sure Tiny Tim needs his crutch kicked out from under him, Ebenezer. LANCE CHESS

The Manson Family
Dir. Van Bebber
Opens Fri Nov 12
Clinton St. Theater

The Manson Family, a reenactment of sorts directed by Jim Van Bebber (whose finest work is arguably the numerous music videos he directed for Skinny Puppy), begins with a promising aim: To tell the story of the infamous Manson Family through the perspective of the members themselves. Considering the over-saturation of Charles Manson and the exposure given to the case, this seemed an interesting enough enterprise, an opportunity to breathe new life into a dog-eared story.

However, apparently the filmmakers didn't bother researching any further than the widely available materials on the subject--The Manson Family regurgitates precisely the same interpretation of the family members that has been stereotyped for decades. (In fact, the characters are so vaguely sketched out and interchangeable that it's nearly impossible to follow who is supposed to be who--which isn't helped by the fact that most of the acting is truly poor.)

All of this can be forgiven if what you're in the market for is a trashy, slashy exploitation gore fest shot in the inevitable (although in Bebber's case more understandable) disorienting, music video style that seems to haunt every hip, cultish drug/violence film that's come out since Natural Born Killers. Neither here nor there, The Manson Family doesn't illuminate the people behind the family's murders, or really offer anything new--but for purely kitsch amusement, it could be your girl. MARJORIE SKINNER

Enduring Love
Dir. Michell
Opens Fri Nov 12
Fox Tower

Despite anticipating Samantha Morton's presence, I expected little from Enduring Love. Having never read the Ian McEwan novel which inspired it, but having seen director Roger Michell's previous film, Notting Hill, I was fully prepared for a patronizing British comedy.

After the near-breathtaking first 10 minutes, I sat corrected--and encouraged. Joe (Daniel Craig) and Claire (Morton), while picnicking in a field on a windy day, have their conversation interrupted by a runaway hot air balloon. Noticing its pilot futilely straining to rescue a 10-year-old inside the basket, Joe races to help ground the balloon. Shortly, other men (including passerby Jed, played by Rhys Ifans) join in the struggle, with little success. Gorgeously shot, the post-struggle events and the ensuing speechlessness of the characters make for a powerful opening.

But immediately afterward, the film starts to lose air. The potentially intriguing story of Joe's post-traumatic stress is trumped by a stalker plot involving Jed, a lonely not-quite madman who is convinced of a profound connection with Joe. Even this misstep doesn't make the film that bad--after all, Craig's taut physique is shown off often, and the acting (aside from a bored Morton) is solid. But the beauty of premise certainly doesn't last throughout--and despite the help of many well-meaning men, Enduring Love, like its errant balloon, never feels grounded. WILL GARDNER