dir. Gavin Hood

Opens Fri Oct 19

Various Theaters

Much like the publishing world's bottomless capacity to churn out nonfiction tomes on the evils of the Bush administration, Hollywood foresees no saturation on the "current events" movie market. Every week another hunky star slowly explains "Iraq for Dummies" to a soundtrack of Middle Eastern vocalists chanting over pounding drums, and another director hopes to capture some Syriana magic in a bottle. This week it's Tsotsi director Gavin Hood, who brings along Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal.

There are a few plots at work here, but the core of Rendition revolves around Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), an Egyptian-born American who is kidnapped by the CIA and taken to an overseas prison, where he's tortured for information he doesn't have. Gyllenhaal is the rookie agent who doesn't have the stomach for broken bones and water torture, while Witherspoon is the sweet, pregnant wife back home who gets all Erin Brockovich when nobody is forthcoming about her husband's whereabouts. There's another plotline about a suicide bomber in training and his (super hot) star-crossed lover, but it's not even worth getting into.

As he demonstrated in Tsotsi, Hood tells stories very well: He works with great cinematographers (here it's Dion Beebe) and he keeps his action moving at a brisk pace. Unfortunately, he's addicted to happy endings where characters learn and grow in the corniest sense, and his propensity for sentimentality is topped only by cheesemaster Lasse Hallström. CHAS BOWIE

Angels in the Dust

dir. Louise Hogarth

Opens Fri Oct 19

Clinton St. Theater

A no-frills documentary on the AIDS epidemic in South Africa, Angels in the Dust isn't as bleak as one might expect. Focusing on a school and orphanage founded by Marion Cloete—who, along with her husband and two daughters, gave up an affluent life in Johannesburg to take on the mission—Angels doesn't edit all the happiness out of the lives of kids who have been affected by the disease.

The tragedy, naturally, is overt. Outrageously, the myth prevails that if you sleep with a virgin, your HIV/AIDS will be cured. This has led to the rape and infection of hundreds of young girls, and many more have been sold as prostitutes, even by their own poverty-stricken families.

Cloete's haven, where children live as happily as can be expected, given that they are nearly all HIV-positive or have had their families ravaged by the disease, may be a drop in the bucket compared to the ignorance and suffering that go on outside these walls (where the camera, and Cloete's daily work, also take us), but her relentless, tiny victories are a comfort in a vast genre of documentaries that offer plenty of horror and helplessness, but little else. MARJORIE SKINNER

Things We Lost in the Fire

dir. Susanne Bier

Opens Fri Oct 19

Various Theaters

Things We Lost in the Fire's fantasy is somewhat reprehensible, as good fantasies usually are: Audrey (Halle Berry) married the right guy, Steven (David Duchovny). A successful developer, David ensured that Audrey and her two adorable children would never have to worry about money—even after he dies (heroically). Trying to be a good widow, Audrey tracks down Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), her husband's best friend from childhood. A former lawyer, Jerry's heroin addiction has dragged him down to the lower echelons of society, although he retains his integrity and other charms.

Audrey puts Jerry up in the finished garage of her beautiful house, determined to nurse him back to health. But then he begins to too-easily fill the void of Steven's absence. When she can't sleep, she gets Jerry to climb in bed and stroke her ear just the way Steven used to, and it works. Jerry is so good with the kids that they not only bring him cookies (to help with his heroin withdrawal), but they outright suggest he marry their mom. And I mean, come on, he's Benicio.

So while this film also deals well with issues of grieving and addiction, what I enjoyed best was fantasizing I was Audrey: beautiful, financially independent, and about to take on Del Toro. MARJORIE SKINNER