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Movie Picks

Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus in Gladiator
  • Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus in Gladiator

*American Beauty (R)

Strong visual style, fabulous acting, and quirky writing all conspire to create an erotic, humorous, captivating film. Kevin Spacey is given a funny, dry script by screenwriter Alan Ball and uses it confidently, moving between bumbling idiot, threatening asshole and tender father with ease. Annette Bening perfectly captures the manic acquisitiveness and just-below-the-surface despair of professional-class America with a physical, comedic presence that most actresses would never dare attempt. And Wes Bentley portrays the disturbed boy next door with a quiet gravity that intensifies every scene he graces. -- AL

Silver Cinemas; Broadmoor

*Center Stage (PG-13)

See full review.

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown

*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 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

Tiffany Square

*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 to a compelling 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

Chapel Hills; Citadel Terrace

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; Carmike 10; Academy Station 6

The Green Mile (R)

At three hours and ten minutes long, this is one marathon of a movie, and unnecessarily so. The story, based on Stephen King's 1996 serial novel, is oddly compelling: A death row prison guard in the mid-1930's deep South, Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is delivered a 7-foot tall, black, simple-minded but apparently clairvoyant inmate (Michael Clarke Duncan), convicted of murder. Duncan's characterization, though spare, is powerful. And Hanks, as Edgecomb, is his usual measured, affable self -- the soul of fairness. The Green Mile is a worthy exploration of good and evil, human suffering, the cold inevitability of death and the redeeming power of love. But because the strength lies in the simple nature of the story, the earthy vernacular and the colorful characters, the director's tired overly-dramatic approach feels like little more than excessive padding.-- KCE

Silver Cinemas

*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

Hanging Up (R)

Despite a weak script, Meg Ryan and her co-stars Diane Keaton and Lisa Kudrow do their level best to portray three sisters whose father Lou (Walter Matthau) is succumbing to illness and senility. The film has a strange, mechanical feel to it, as if the writers were just learning screen craft from a textbook. Occasionally the movie has some moving moments, but those moments are few and far between, and silliness is allowed to prevail over a film of real potential. This is the underlying flaw of Hanging Up -- real characterization is replaced by a series of facile, surface traits, and real issues are swapped for a fluffy, feel-good gloss. -- AL

Silver Cinemas; Broadmoor

Held Up (PG-13)

See full review.

Tiffany Square

I Dreamed of Africa (PG-13)

I Dreamed of Africa is based on the 1995 memoir of Kuki Gallmann (Kim Basinger), a wealthy young Italian woman who marries an adventurer (Vincent Perez) and goes, with him and her 7-year old son, to live on a decrepit ranch in Kenya. Despite exciting battles with wild animals, gorgeous scenery and a good soundtrack, the film moves incredibly slowly. Writer Paula Milne didn't seem to know how to get the characters in and out of a scene. The dialogue is expository and awkward because there is no conflict at the heart of I Dreamed of Africa. The creators could have taken liberties with Kuki Gallmann's life and made a real story out of it, but they chose mostly to stick to the biographical facts. This explains the episodic nature of I Dreamed of Africa -- it is a set of independent events, some of them terribly interesting in their own right, but none of them inexorably leading to a climax. -- AL

Tiffany Square; 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

Tinseltown; Tiffany Square; Citadel Terrace

*Love & Basketball (PG-13)

First time writer/director Gina Prince-Bythwood has created a delightful film that mixes young love with good old fashioned sports rivalry. Love and Basketball is a lovely falling-in-love-with-the-boy-next-door movie, energized by a great dose of Title IX. Sanaa Lathan's Monica is tough and driven and far from perfect, but her obvious passion for basketball, and her attraction to Quincy (Omar Epps) are very compelling. There were numerous small moments in the film that were absolute treasures, not least of which was the first really erotic scene I can remember in a Hollywood film where the teenage participants used a condom. If you're not afraid of some explicitly sexual situations, I'd definitely recommend taking your daughter, or your son, to this one. It is a wonderful love story, but also a great view of the complex relationships between men and women who want the same thing. -- AL


*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.

Chapel Hills

*Toy Story 2 (G)

Toy Story 2 manages to construct even wilder gags, and to stretch even further the idea of the secret life of toys than the first, but it also leaves an even more bittersweet aftertaste. At its most heart-wrenching, this chipper cartoon is also a parent's stricken fantasy of being outgrown by their children. The mix of silliness, affection and piercing nostalgia -- and yes, artistry -- keeps kids and adults engaged simultaneously. -- Jim Ridley

Silver Cinemas

28 Days (PG-13)

Pretty, feisty Sandra Bullock is Gwen, a New York party girl and writer (one of those who is fabulously successful despite the rare appearance of any work in her life), whose drinking and drugging lifestyle eventually lead her to a court-enforced stay in a rehab center. Once there, Gwen falls in with an eccentric cast of inmates who spend the bulk of the movie intoning the tenets of addiction treatment programs while looking like the cast of Friends. This kind of dark comedy is hard to pull off, and director Betty Thomas' interpretation of Susannah Grant's script is merely functional -- it gets the point across, but loses any memorable characterizations in its predictability. Eminently watchable, but strangely lightweight. -- KCE

Chapel Hills; Tinseltown

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 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. The story contains domestic violence, including a sexual assault on a child, and plenty of other adult subject matter, so viewers should think twice before taking their young children along. -- KCE

Academy Station 6; Chapel Hills; Tinseltown


The Big Kahuna (R)

Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and Peter Facinelli play three midwestern salesmen at a convention, all trying to land the same big client and secure their places in the firm, and in life.


Dinosaur (PG)

Aladar, a 3-ton iguanadon, is raised by lemurs before being reunited with his own kind, only to have to run for the safety of their nesting ground as meteors, rockslides and drought ravage the landscape. Featuring the voices of Alfre Woodard, Julianna Margulies, Joan Plowright, D.B. Sweeney and Kiefer Sutherland.

Chapel Hills; Citadel Terrace; Gold Hill Theaters

Shanghai Noon (PG-13)

Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson try to save a kidnapped Chinese princess in the Old West.

Tinseltown sneak preview, Sat. May 20, 8 p.m.

Small Time Crooks (PG)

Woody Allen, Michael Rapaport, Tracey Ullman, Hugh Grant and Jon Lovitz star in the story of an ex-con dishwasher and his manicurist wife who dream of becoming rich through a New York City bank robbery.

Tinseltown; Tiffany Square

The Virgin Suicides (R)

Sofia Coppola directs the film version of Jeffrey Eugenides' acclaimed novel about five beautiful sisters whose parents' strict rules cause hidden family turmoil in 1970s suburbia. With James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst and Jonathan Tucker.

Kimball's Twin Peak

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