Shrek the ThirdSHREK THE THIRD

Shrek the Third finds its computer-animated ogre undergoing something of a mid-life crisis, and based on the evidence here, so is the series itself. In contrast to the constant hyperactivity and relentlessly aggressive pop-culture references of the first two Shrek films, this latest offering is notable for its distinct lack of aggression; the film hasn't completely shucked off the qualities that made its forbears such (literal) monster hits, but on occasion, it actually takes the time to curtail its smart-alecky, type-A tendencies and just breathe. In doing so, it stands as my favorite Shrek movie to date. Unfortunately, that isn't high praise.

Vin Diesel in The PacifierTHE PACIFIER

There's a moment in the Vin Diesel family comedy The Pacifier that should have really pissed me off, but instead it made me almost unaccountably happy: About midway through the film, Diesel, playing a former Navy SEAL entrusted with the safety of five fatherless youths (you've seen the trailers, you get the idea), enters their suburban digs covered in raw sewage, the victim of a practical joke pulled by the family's oldest siblings.

Shrek 2SHREK 2

If a sequel manages to make any improvements on the original, it's usually cause for at least minor celebration, so I was pleased to see a few changes for the better in Dreamworks' computer-animated Shrek 2.

Catherine Zeta-Jones in ChicagoCHICAGO

Rob Marshall's film version of the Broadway smash Chicago is so ingeniously staged, so electric, and so welcome to so many of us - The Musical Is Back! - that you might find yourself somewhat heartbroken when you barely remember a thing about the film a day after seeing it.

Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro in Analyze ThatANALYZE THAT and EMPIRE

It's enough to make a grown movie-critic weep: You rave about Solaris, a science-fiction work that's psychologically rich, challenging, and incredibly unusual, and you read in the paper that the audience-tracking firm Cinemascore has ranked it the most universally loathed major release in 20 years. You check out the top-10 list from the National Board of Review, the first organization to hand out year-end kudos, and realize that only one of those 10 films has (as yet) made it to the Quad Cities, and that one only stayed for a week at Moline's Nova 6 Cinemas. And you eagerly look forward to a December weekend of new releases - surely some of those terrific-looking titles will finally appear? - and your only options are Analyze That and Empire.

Bonnie Wright and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter & the Chamber of SecretsHARRY POTTER & THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS

Although I didn't care for last year's Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone, I was more than willing to greet the new Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets with an open mind.

Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts in The MexicanTHE MEXICAN

We've had the evidence for years, but I think it's time we made it official: Brad Pitt is a gonzo supporting player stuck in a (rather dull) leading man's body. Recently, he portrayed the heavily-accented Irish boxer in Snatch, giving the film a jolt of pure, comedic adrenalin - his screen time was brief, but he was the most entertaining performer in the movie - and when he appeared as a supporting actor in 12 Monkeys, Thelma & Louise, and True Romance (probably his best, and easily his funniest, screen work), his performances were well-calibrated and often inspired. Pitt can display a true flair for off-kilter comedy; it's telling that his most enjoyable lead performance has come from the darkly comic cult film Fight Club, where his Tyler Durden was clearly one of Pitt's nutjob character roles gone berserk.