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Movie Picks

Films strongly recommended by our reviewers are indicated by an *. Films that do not appear here have not yet been screened by our reviewers.

A Dog of Flanders (PG)

See review, this issue.

Academy Station 6; Tinseltown; Citadel Terrace; Tiffany Square

*American Pie (R)

American Pie succeeds where most teenage sex films fail, offering some of the best developed characters in memory. TV soap star Jason Biggs is Jim, the quintessential smart guy in high school who is perpetually horny and can't get laid. Jim and his buddies vow to lose their virginity before high school's over, and the film chronicles their sexual misadventures toward that end. The girls in American Pie are too womanly, too wry, too mature and wise. Luckily, they are a secondary focus, and the filmmakers insight into the miseries of over-sexed teenage males are so right-on, so tender and funny, that the girl problem can be overlooked. -- KCE

Tiffany Square; Carmike 10

The Astronaut's Wife

See review, this issue.

Cinema 70; Academy Station 6, Kimball's Twin Peak; Tinseltown; Chapel Hills

Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me (PG-13)

The first film in what I fear is destined to be a lifelong string of serial hits was a bubbly, silly, good-natured spoof that caught moviegoers offguard with its innocent sexual innuendo and pop-art freshness. The plot of Austin Powers 2 centers around Austin's loss of his mojo at the hands of Dr. Evil, and Mike Myers himself, in the scenes where he plays Powers, seems to have little mojo workin'. Austin is pasty and sadly un-original his second time out, spouting the same tired lines over and over: "Oh behave!" "Do I make you horny?" The scenes that do work are those featuring the fiendish Dr. Evil and his evil-nik clone, Mini Me. Unfortunately, their scenes are swamped by a relentless barrage of phallic references, designed to thrill and delight teenage boys, and to supply them with a whole new penile vernacular. Look out, after awhile, they're about as funny as a herpes flare-up. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

Bowfinger (PG-13)

Steve Martin plays the ever hopeful but perennially unsuccessful director Bobby Bowfinger, looking for his big break. His only hope for success is to draw a big-name star to his film that otherwise features a handful of eccentric wannabes. The crew shoot scenes with action hero Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) in them, without Kit's knowledge. The problem with Bowfinger is that a good number of delightful moments just never add up to a congruous whole. Murphy is terrific as the neurotic, grandiose superstar and in a double-turn as Ramsey's geeky brother, Jiff. But Heather Graham, as an ambitious starlet, comes across as a stale stereotype. Crowded with too many Hollywood clichs, Bowfinger is simultaneously good-natured and cynical -- a fun romp but not fully successful as a spoof. -- KCE

Tinseltown; Academy Station 6; Carmike 10; Tiffany Square

*The Blair Witch Project (R)

Intrigued by rumors of a witch outside the Maryland town of Burkittsville, formerly Blair, three film-school students set out to make a documentary. In short order, supernatural forces begin to haunt the young crew, making eerie noises in the dark and leaving physical clues in the woods. What follows is the documentation of their descent into the depths of fear and their ultimate demise. We see what is happening at exactly the moment they see it, through the lenses of their cameras, and we hear their terror, raw and uncensored. There is real blood-curdling power in the sounds of their voices as events unfold and the threesome become more and more lost. -- KCE

Kimball's Twin Peak; Tinseltown; Tiffany Square; Academy Station 6

Brokedown Palace (PG-13)

Alice (Claire Danes) and Darlene (Kate Beckinsale) are buddies who take a quick jaunt to Thailand to celebrate their high school graduation. While in Bangkok, they meet a charming Australian who seduces Darlene and offers to fly them both to Hong Kong for two days. However, the romantic weekend plans turn into 30-year prison sentences for drug smuggling when Thai officials find Alice's backpack stuffed with heroin. The film's most egregious sloth is the use of tired stereotypes rather than real characterization. Despite these serious shortfalls, Danes and Beckinsdale do their level best acting off a flat script, the setting is moderately enticing, and the story manages to promote just enough interest to keep you from falling off your chair. -- AL

Chapel Hills

Deep Blue Sea (R)

Deep Blue Sea is a curious hybrid of the mad scientist flicks of the '50s and '60s and the high-tech horrors that started back in the '70s with Jaws. Updated for savvy '90s audiences, the mad scientist is now a woman, the devoted assistant is a hunky guy, and the script keeps us guessing who will be devoured next by the 45-foot-long, brain-enhanced shark created in an undersea lab. Saffron Burrows as the mad scientist is annoyingly beautiful and composed. The audience actually roots for her to be eaten. Despite its overwhelming incredibility, Deep Blue Sea does what it sets out to do: bolts the audience out of their seats with high-pitched action and sends them home to shark nightmares. -- KCE

Chapel Hills; Tinseltown

The General's Daughter (R)

Somewhere in the heart of this overwrought film lies a cogent mystery. John Travolta, with a terrible cornpone accent, is warrant officer Paul Brenner, hired by the Army to investigate the death of gorgeous Captain Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson), found naked and dead on a creepy-looking far corner of the base. Madeline Stowe is throwaway sidekick and former lover Sarah Sunhill. Scummy, sullen army-type suspects with quick tempers come crawling out of the woodwork like fire ants to raise our level of suspicion. Strong performances can't pierce through the murky layers of swamp water that flood this film. The General's Daughter thinks it raises issues about women in the military, and pretends to offer insight into the military culture, but trashes it instead. -- KCE

Chapel Hills

The Haunting (PG-13)

Director Jan De Bont's The Haunting has little of the subtle scariness and mystery of the 1960s film version, and even less of the essence of Shirley Jackson's book, The Haunting of Hill House. What it does have, however, is one kickass haunted mansion, complete with gargoyles, a fireplace that looks like the jaws of hell, a fountain that spews blood and various other orgasmic architectural delights. Ridiculous in its brazen excess, just think of The Haunting as a two-hour gothic-mansion tour gone awry, and enjoy the view. -- KCE

Carmike 10; Tinseltown

*The Matrix (R)

Keanu Reeves is Neo, a reclusive computer hacker, nagged by the feeling he doesn't fit in, that something is wrong with the world. When Neo is united with Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), a mysterious figure considered by federal agents of the U.S. (ca. 1999) to be 'the most dangerous man alive,' he learns of the Matrix, a computer-generated dream world that disguises the lost world of the 20th century. Morpheus and his band of outcasts are among the few pure humans remaining in what is actually the year 2199, and together they are attempting to disband the Matrix and liberate the citizens of Zion, the last purely human outpost in the galaxy. The real star of The Matrix is the choreographed fighting in the style of traditional kung fu. Utilizing digital enhancement, wire-stunt work and classic martial arts, the hand-to-hand battles are riveting. Excessive gun play is the only thing that mars the film. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

Mickey Blue Eyes (R)

Falls soundly in the middle of the post-Gotti mafioso satire genre. Hugh Grant is Michael Felgate, a buttoned-up Britisher in love with Gina (Jeanne Tripplehorn). When he proposes marriage, she balks, as she fears he will be drawn into the illegal dealings of her father, mobster Frank Vitale (James Caan). The bulk of the film is composed of scenes with Caan and Grant, the father-in-law-to-be leading the unwilling son down an unfamiliar path of corruption and crime, while both attempt to protect Gina. Grant plays his usual phlegmatic, bumbling character, which, planted in this circumstance, is funnier than usual. He and Tripplehorn work well together. Caan is a natural as the good-natured, loving mobster dad. Ultimately, Mickey Blue Eyes succumbs to cartoonish stereotypes and loses its satiric edge, and the buildup to the climax is far more enjoyable than the climax itself. -- KCE

Tinseltown; Academy Station 6; Chapel Hills; Carmike 10

Notting Hill (PG-13)

Julia Roberts plays, basically, herself -- the most beautiful star in the world, who racks up $15 million a picture, but can't succeed in love. She stumbles upon Hugh Grant as the owner of a shabby travel bookstore in London, a guy also unlucky in love, honest, working class and disheveled. The best bits and the most clever lines in the film revolve around Grant's pack of offbeat friends (shades of Four Weddings and a Funeral), and the weakest ones, alas, are when Grant and Roberts get intimate. It's like watching Ken kiss Barbie. Notting Hill does not break Roberts out of the mold she has recently created for herself, and turns out to be an empty ode to a poor, beautiful, little rich girl -- a photographic tribute to Roberts' generous mouth. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

Runaway Bride (PG-13)

Garry Marshall's heavily hyped re-joining of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Roberts plays Maggie Carpenter, everybody's favorite fix-it girl who runs the hardware store in charming and old-fashioned Hale, Md. Maggie's a peach but she's got a problem: She can't commit (sound familiar?). Already she's left three guys at the altar and is engaged to number four. USA Today columnist Ike Graham (Gere) hears about her and writes an acidic piece on the nature of women with Maggie as the centerpiece. She retaliates with a nasty letter, and eventually he ends up in Hale, trying to figure out what makes her tick. The rest of the film is merely a set-up for the eventual coupling of Mr. Drop Dead Gorgeous and Ms. Drop Dead Gorgeous, though a star turn by Joan Cusack as Maggie's best friend makes you wish Ike would sweep her away and dump Maggie. -- KCE

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Citadel Terrace; Tinseltown

Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (PG)

Little kids will no doubt love it, but adults hoping to relive the spiritual uplift that was the Star Wars experience of their youth will inevitably be disappointed with The Phantom Menace. There is not one memorable moment involving a human character in this whole epic adventure. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor as Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi knight, and his apprentice Obi-Won Kenobi are numbingly cool from the start of the film. Young Jake Lloyd, who stars as Aniken Skywalker, a slave boy with obvious Jedi traits who will grow up eventually to become Darth Vader, is way too little to know so much, and he's a calculating little cuss to boot. The entire film, unlike its predecessors, is devoid of enthusiasm for the cause and completely lacking in dramatic tension. The big computer animated battles are terrific, but you might as well be watching Antz or A Bugs Life. -- KCE

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills

*Sixth Sense (PG-13)

Sixth Sense is a fluid, compelling and genuinely scary ghost story starring Bruce Willis as Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist. Willis' character leads a charmed life with his wife (Olivia Williams) and his fulfilling, successful career until the night he gets plugged by a dissatisfied former patient. We next see Crowe, shaken and changed, outside the house of Cole Sear, a little boy with anxious tendencies and, apparently, deep psychological problems. Turns out Cole can see the dead, and those with unfinished business often show up in his bedroom at night. The most startling moments of the film all revolve around the appearance of those ghosts. Haley Joel Osment, the child actor who plays Cole, is tortured, convincing and winning. Willis doesn't make a false move. The film delivers a wonderful punch at the end with an unexpected plot twist. A sure audience pleaser, Sixth Sense is solid, smart, subtle, atmospheric moviemaking. -- KCE

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown; Gold Hill Theater; Tinseltown

Teaching Mrs. Tingle (PG-13)

A nasty little movie about two students and the teacher who threatens to expel them. Because she won't listen to reason, they have to kidnap her. Helen Mirren plays the teacher who spends much of this movie tied to a bed: a constant reminder of the fine actress's stoic martyrdom to commercial movie-making. Michael McKean and Molly Ringwald perform nobly in their supporting roles, but are probably suing their agents for this fiasco. A teacher kidnapped in her own house, sadomasochistic sex, threats with a medieval crossbow, mano a mano catfights -- all elements that might make a decent thriller -- unfortunately add up to be profoundly boring in this disappointing film. -- AL

Tinseltown; Citadel Terrace; Tiffany Square

The Thomas Crown Affair (R)

Poor tycoon Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) is bored with mergers and acquisitions, golf, gliding, catamaran sailing and those endless, fuddy-duddy fund-raisers. To spice up his life, he sets up a heist at a New York art museum to steal a prized 100 million dollar Monet. He meets his match when insurance investigator/ art expert Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) realizes he's the thief and will go to any lengths to prove it. Flirtatious banter, sexual foreplay and plenty of nude romping between Catherine and Thomas comprise much of the rest of this intriguing but uneven film. Brosnan comes across as a prissy stuffed shirt. The Thomas Crown Affair is good to look at, and entertains mildly through a glossy veneer. Worth seeing, however, is Russo's full-out performance, packed with lusty charm. -- KCE

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown; Academy Station 6

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