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Movie Picks

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You're being impossible.
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*Cider House Rules (PG-13)

John Irving, who wrote the novel, did an excellent job of paring down his long, Dickensian work into a cogent screenplay that doesn't sacrifice its heart in the translation. The characters' quirks and charms are intact, especially those of Dr. Larch, an eccectric abortionist played by Academy Award winner Michael Caine with an overwhelming kindness and vulnerability. His scenes glow with humanity, and Tobey Maguire's low-key performance as Homer, Larch's disapproving proteg, provides an interesting counterpart. A heartwarming film. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

*Center Stage (PG-13)

Themes of loss of innocence, fierce physical training vs. fun, talent vs. determination, real life vs. art, the sexy lead male dancer vs. the earnest up-and-coming rookie are all played out with intelligence and style in Center Stage. Best of all, they are largely staged on the dance floor and enacted by a whirlwind cast of beautiful, talented young dancers, including American Ballet Theater's rising star, Ethan Stiefel. Director Nicholas Hytner's (The Madness of King George, The Crucible) staging and camera work are exemplary. We are treated to overhead shots that emphasize the patterns of the ballet; foot level shots that reveal the intricacies of the dance; long shots, short shots and swirling crane shots that embrace the beauty and difficulty of ballet with affectionate and knowledgeable vision and virtuosity. Center Stage is sensitive, well-told and visually compelling. --KCE

Chapel Hills; Tinseltown; Citadel Terrace

*Erin Brockovich (R)

Erin Brockovich succeeds quietly, thanks largely to director Steven Soderbergh's (Out of Sight) sure hand, even with a diva like Roberts in front of the camera. And the film tells a whopper of a true story. Roberts transcends Brockovich's exploitative wardrobe with a gritty performance, precise comic timing, a foul mouth and intense focus. The impeccable casting of the two lead males -- Finney as Ed, Erin's partner in justice and comic foil; and Aaron Eckhart (In The Company of Men) as the biker next door who becomes Erin's trusted babysitter and lover -- further cements the film's success. Finney enjoys some of the best moments he's seen onscreen for years, and Eckhart's natural bearing and low-key demeanor provide a strong balance to Roberts' inescapable star quality. -- KCE

Broadmoor; Silver Cinemas

Frequency (PG-13)

Director Gregory Hoblit knows how to create tension, and succeeds here with dark lighting, a cast of compelling characters and the magnetic charm of late 1960s New York summer nights. Unfortunately, Hoblit was swayed somewhere in the production process, and gradually the threads of the story he set out to tell begin to unravel as he throws in too much new stuff -- like cheap special effects in the climactic scene -- and succumbs, finally, to a completely illogical and smarmy happy, happy ending. The intent of the filmmakers and the cast is admirable, but delivery is side-stepped by overwrought sentiment. Frequency turns into mush, and the weary time traveler is left scratching his head, wondering what all the uproar was about. -- KCE

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills; Academy Station 6; Citadel Terrace

*Gladiator (R)

Russell Crowe (The Insider) acts up a righteous storm in his Roman get-up, proving once and for all that his versatility as an actor matches his prowess. Though director Ridley Scott would like you to think Gladiator is about strength, honor, duty, democracy and the danger of mob rule, in truth, it is an old-fashioned revenge drama -- and a pretty good one at that. Crowe as Maximus, beloved general of Roman troops turned slave, then gladiator, and Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus, insecure usurper to the throne, make marvelous foes. Phoenix is a sinister little chicken who begrudges Maximus the affection of his late father, and Crowe is marvelously stoic in his carefully choreographed revenge. Some characters, like Commodus' sister and nephew, thrown in to thicken the plot, serve only to slow the momentum of the film once the blood-letting games have begun. Unfortunately, Scott is so enamored of his production team's ability to show heads, hands and other body parts being severed, that the fight scenes become clamorous and redundant. -- KCE

Carmike 10; Chapel Hills; Academy Station 6; Tinseltown

*Keeping the Faith (PG-13)

Gifted young actor and now director Edward Norton comes forward with a sweet Gen-X piece in which three childhood best friends -- Brian (Norton), now a Catholic priest; Jake (Ben Stiller), now a rabbi; and Anna (Jenna Elfman) -- are reunited at the crest of real adulthood, just as they turn 30. When Anna returns to New York City, Jake and Brian hook back up with her, and both of them immediately fall hopelessly in love. The resulting complications echo classic screwball romances of the 1940s. The three young actors maintain a believable, warm rapport throughout the film, and their story is absolutely endearing. Charming supporting performances by Anne Bancroft as Jake's mom, Milos Forman as head priest and Brian's mentor, and Eli Wallach as the rabbi who guides Jake, ground the film and lend it gravity.-- KCE

Tiffany Square

*M: I-2 (Mission: Impossible 2) (PG-13)

Wanna take a ride?
  • Wanna take a ride?

Mission: Impossible 2 is a movie that revels in the seductiveness of masculine super action with all the bells and whistles of techno-gadgets, fast cars and explosions attached. It's more romantic than anything in a James Bond movie and boasts better Kung Fu scenes than The Matrix. Director John Woo keeps similarities to director Brian De Palma's 1996 Mission Impossible to a minimum in this very dissimilar sequel by incorporating his signature slow motion, ballet-of-bullets action sequences against the taut resolve of Tom Cruise's most ambitious action performance to date. Cruise performed his own stunts, much to the chagrin of Paramount studio execs. The film's realism of danger allows it to operate on a higher level of believability and determination. -- Cole Smithey

Tinseltown; Citadel Terrace; Carmike 10; Chapel Hills; Gold Hill Theaters

My Dog Skip (PG)

There isn't really much that holds this film together besides a rather ponderous narration that says, "Skip helped me turn from a child to a boy," or "Skip helped me turn from a boy into a man," in this screen adaptation of writer Willie Morris' famous memoir. There are some good performances by Kevin Bacon who plays Willie's dour and over-protective father and Willie himself, played by funny-faced young actor Frankie Muniz. Most compelling of all are the dogs who play Skip -- the wizards of Hollywood animal training are able to teach these dogs to do great things on command, from climbing into a toilet to running wide choreographed circles to disrupt a baseball game. By all accounts, Skip really was a remarkable animal. -- AL

Silver Cinemas

*Return to Me (PG)

Bob Rueland (David Duchovny) is madly in love with his wife, who dies suddenly in a car crash. Her heart is donated to an anonymous recipient, who turns out to be Grace Briggs (Minnie Driver). Grace works in an Irish-Italian restaurant owned by her grandfather (Carroll O'Connor). Duchovny happens to end up there one day and some miraculous force immediately attracts the two. Despite this silly premise, Return to Me really is a perfectly fine romantic comedy. Both Duchovny and Driver have a good sense of comic timing, Carroll O'Connor mostly keeps his up his Irish accent, and the actors are aided by a sometimes clever script that delivers some funny surprises and some good tear-jerking moments. Like a decent marriage in its middle years, Return to Me is mostly predictable and formulaic, and comforting in its solidity.

Silver Cinemas

*Time Code (R)

In this experimental film, director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) has created an occasionally unintelligible but nevertheless fascinating experience that really messes with conventional filmmaking and viewing. The entire movie is filmed in real time -- no cuts, no edits -- and with handheld digital cameras. Additionally,the screen is split into four quadrants, and on each quadrant a different part of four interlocking stories being improvised by the actors -- Selam Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Stellan Skarsgard, Holly Hunter and Julian Sands -- is told. There is nominally a story line, but the movie is, on every level, about making movies. Time Code successfully turns filmmaking and film watching on its head for 93 minutes, by demanding your attention in several places at once, by forcing you to choose which story to watch and which to ignore, by having the actors improvise on a theme rather than follow a full script, and by riffing on the pretentiousness of even wanting to create such a movie. -- AL

Kimball's Twin Peak

*The Virgin Suicides (R)

Twenty-seven-year-old director Sofia Coppola's screen adaptation remains absolutely true to Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, sticking with the book's dramatic structure, maintaining a voiceover narration (provided by Giovanni Ribisi) and filling each frame with the mordant and often hilarious details of adolescent life and angst in the ultra-corny 1970s. The Virgin Suicides is the story of the Lisbon sisters -- Cecilia, Lux, Bonnie, Mary and Therese -- an ethereal looking set of blondes whose quiet, secret life with their over-protective parents (Kathleen Turner and James Woods) is told from the point of view of the boys who live across the street in an upper middle-class Michigan suburb, quietly obsessing over the girls, all of whom managed to kill themselves within a year's time. Grim as it sounds, the film, like the book, is packed with enough period detail to create a fine sense of irony. Coppola's skill as a designer serves her well as a film director. A fine cast of actors, a terrific though eery musical score and delicate production quality combine to make The Virgin Suicides a successful mood piece and a well-told tale. -- KCE

Kimball's Twin Peak; Chapel Hills

Where the Heart Is (PG-13)

Director Matt Williams has a solid handle on the rough-hewn, working class sensibility of white middle America, but shows here he knows far less about structuring a movie whose story spans almost six years. Screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel treat Letts' book like a serial sit-com, lining up all the funny tales in a row, interrupting the flow of what's good in the movie -- namely, the cast. Natalie Portman is Novalee Nation, a pregnant 17-year-old who gets dumped by her boyfriend outside an Oklahoma Wal-Mart. She plays the part well but, ultimately, is miscast. Her inate coolness and sophistication make it impossible to believe her as a free-spirited, dirt poor savant who has managed to survive in spite of a compete lack of worldliness. Stockard Channing is marvelously spaced-out and eccentric as Sister Husband, a mother hen type who takes in Novalee. Ashley Judd is solid (though also too sophisticated) as Lexie Coop, a local woman with a brood of babies named after snack foods, who can't seem to find or keep a decent man. Pleasurable but irreparably harmed by its choppy structure. -- KCE

Academy Station 6; Tinseltown; Citadel Terrace; Tiffany Square


OPENING THIS WEEK

Gone in 60 Seconds (PG-13)

Nicholas Cage is a reformed car theif who must take up stealing again to save his little brother (Giovanni Ribisi). With Angelina Jolie and Robert Duvall.

Tinseltown; Carmike 10; Tiffany Square

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