Actor Bill Paxton makes his directorial debut with this genuinely creepy Southern Gothic thriller about a widowed dad who believes God is directing him to kill "demons" on earth. Told in lengthy flashbacks, we watch these gruesome killings register on the faces of his terrified young sons. By not forcing us to watch, the effect is all the more disturbing. Flash forward to the present, where the arrival of an FBI agent (Powers Boothe) who believes the infamous "God's Hands" crimes were committed by one of the sons. Casting himself against type, Paxton is pretty darn scary as the murderous father. Equally impressive is Matthew McConaughey as a grown-up son with a compelling secret to reveal for a most satisfying climax. Though definitely low-budget, "Frailty" is still quite a Gothic grabber.
"Kissing Jessica Stein"
Who would have guessed that the first truly great-date movie of the new millennium would turn out to be about two women? Charming and unpredictable, "Kissing Jessica Stein" features terrific performances as it tugs at the heart. Jennifer Westfeldt plays Jessica, whose experience with men has been nothing short of disastrous. At the end of her dating rope, she decides her romantic happiness might just lie within her own gender pool. Intrigued by a woman-seeking-woman personals ad, Jessica meets Helen (Heather Juergensen), who's also exploring her same-sex options. Director Charles Herman-Wurfeld makes comic hay with the couple's lack of experience and Jessica's turmoil over whether to tell mama (a riotous Tovah Feldshuh) about her alternative lifestyle. Kissing the boys goodbye has never been funnier, and most women will find it irresistible. On the other hand, only the most confident men, secure in their masculinity, will find humor in seeing their gender so easily replaced.
"Italian For Beginners"
This 12th certified Dogme 95 film and the first directed by a woman clearly adheres to the Danish collective's rules. But surprise, surprise, it's a charming romance. Writer-director Lone Scherfig's sweetly sincere comedy focuses on six lonely souls and their individual pursuits of happiness. She clearly has a soft spot for her characters, even though she manipulates them through a roundelay of mixed up funerals, bad haircuts and bumbling attempts at intimacy. The humor is wistful and contagious, guaranteed to make you smile. (In Danish and Italian, with English subtitles)