*American Beauty (R)
American Beauty proves, once again, that you don't have to have a new plot to make a fresh story. Instead, a strong visual style, fabulous acting, and quirky writing can all conspire to create an erotic, humorous, captivating film. This film is all kinds of wonderful. 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 Benning 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; Wes Bentley portrays the disturbed boy next door with a quiet gravity that intensifies every scene he graces. An equally compelling pleasure is the set design and cinematography of the film. Scene after scene is framed with care to underscore the experiences of the characters themselves. First-time film director Sam Mendes has done a remarkable job of learning the vocabulary of filmmaking and using it to create a multilayered visual and psychological delight. -- Al
Tinseltown; Chapel Hills; Carmike 10
*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 oversexed teenage males are so right-on, so tender and funny, that the girl problem can be overlooked. -- KCE
*The Basket (G)
Award-winning film The Basket features Peter Coyote and Karen Allen and tells the tale of a small Northwestern town trying to make sense of World War I. An unconventional schoolteacher (Coyote) comes to town, teaching a strange new game called basketball. Some of the film's intriguing aspects are a rare, on-screen look at the early, awkward days of basketball; and the operatic soundtrack, providing a dramatic backdrop and featuring more than 70 minutes of stirring music recorded by composer and musician Don Caron with the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra. While the independent film will ultimately make its way to video, director Rich Cowan says the glowing landscapes of The Basket are made for the theater. "[Cinematographer] Danny [Heigh] shot a movie too big for the small screen. On the big screen, it's just looks and feels right." -- David Kilmer
*Bringing Out the Dead (R)
See review, this issue
Carmike 10; Chapel Hills; Tinseltown
*Crazy in Alabama (PG-13)
See review, this issue
Chapel Hills; Cinema 70; Tinseltown
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. 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
Double Jeopardy (R)
Despite an excellent cast and clever premise, Double Jeopardy is plagued with problems. In the first place, a thriller requires suspense, and in this case, all mystery has been erased by an ambitious pre-release advertising campaign that gave away the basic plot of the film. All you really need to know is that seeing the film is not nearly as intriguing as watching the trailer. Ashley Judd is tough, fierce and intelligent as the wronged mother and wife, but her grit and good looks are wasted in an otherwise predictable, formulaic script. Tommy Lee Jones as her parole officer merely tags along. Gorgeous location shots of Vancouver and New Orleans provide momentary visual distractions but add little to the drama, and sloppy sound editing detracts throughout. -- KCE
Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Citadel Terrace; Tinseltown; Gold Hill Theater
Drive Me Crazy (PG-13)
Melissa Joan Hart and blue-eyed heartthrob Adrian Grenier star in this teenage trifle. Minus the big laughs of American Pie or the sophistication of last year's Rushmore, still features some incisive writing, and the familiar girl-falls-for-oddball-boy-next-door plot contains some smart commentary on popularity and individual choices. Britney Spears sings the title song and makes a brief appearance at the end.
Chapel Hills; Tinseltown; Gold Hill Theater
*Fight Club (R)
Director David Fincher explores the currently hot psychological territory of the disaffected American male at the end of the 20th century. Edward Norton is the main character of Fight Club, turning in a performance that will likely draw comparisons to Robert DeNiro or Dustin Hoffman, placing him firmly at the top of his generation of Hollywood actors. Fincher is the perfect director for Brad Pitt -- who plays Norton's charismatic alter ego, Tyler Durden -- tapping into the smug arrogance that he does best. However, the inclusion of Helena Bonham Carter as Marla Singer, a nihilistic junkie and eventually a love interest, feels forced and incomplete. Too long by about a half-hour, the film would not have missed about half the fight scenes. But overall, Fight Club succeeds with a tight, often funny script, and compelling editing, design and cinematography throughout. This recommendation contains a strong warning, however: Fight Club is intensely, graphically violent in parts. Youthful viewers should be advised that Fight Club is an allegory, not an advertisement for random violence or dangerous behavior. -- KCE
Carmike 10; Kimball's Twin Peak; Tinseltown; Tiffany Square
*For Love of the Game (PG-13)
For Love of the Game is as good a sports movie as you could hope to see, and it's a good romantic comedy as well. Kevin Costner plays Billy Chapel, aging pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. Just prior to a game that may be his last, the love of Billy's life (aside from baseball), Jane (Kelly Preston), announces it's over between the two of them. The most charming aspect of For Love of the Game is the film's depiction of the pitcher's inner monologue while on the mound. We believe that Costner can play ball, and Billy Chapel's final game is an absolute blowout. -- KCE
The Haunting (PG-13)
Director Jan De Bont's The Haunting has little of the subtle scariness and mystery of the 1960 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
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 who is 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). 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. The buildup to the climax is far more enjoyable than the climax itself. -- KCE
Silver Cinemas; Broadmoor
*Mystery, Alaska (R)
Mystery, Alaska is a worthy addition to the sports genre. The town in question is a tiny frozen village where there's nothing to do in winter but play hockey or make love. And in Mystery, hockey isn't a sport, it is a religion. The real mystery, however, is why the R-rated Mystery, Alaska chose to include so much sex that doesn't further the story. With the fine characterization of Sheriff John Biebe's family trials and tribulations especially well acted by Russell Crowe, Mystery, Alaska could be a great PG flick. Filled with gorgeous scenery (filmed in Alberta, Canada) and even better sports photography that captures the speed and finesse of fine hockey. -- AL
Tinseltown; Chapel Hills
The Omega Code (PG-13)
With Springs actor, Ziggy Wagrowski.
Random Hearts (R)
Harrison Ford looks weary and worn out in this leaden-paced romantic thriller -- and the poor guy looks like he's going to throw up when he's required to smile. Director Sydney Pollack obviously wants to say something significant about infidelity and deception, but gets lost along the way, throwing in a bad cop sub-plot and too many touchy-feely scenes between Ford and Kristen Scott-Thomas. Thomas is good as an ice princess who doesn't know how to mourn, but her pairing with Ford feels unlikely. -- KCE
Chapel Hills; Citadel Terrace; Tinseltown
Runaway Bride (PG-13)
Garry Marshall's heavily hyped re-joining of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Most 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 Roberts' best friend makes you wish Ike would sweep her away and dump Julia. -- KCE
*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
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. 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. 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
Although Stigmata has been marketed as a '90s version of The Exorcist, it isn't nearly as thrilling. The overwrought camera work that uses 10 different angles to show Frankie, the stigmata sufferer, just lying in bed is more conducive to nausea than fear. Patricia Arquette (Frankie) does some passable acting, but her character must go from bland to tormented in 15 seconds so often that there is little room for subtlety. The film masquerades as a religious protest film cloaked in an MTV soundtrack, but the Vatican is a pretty tired target. Stigmata adds little to 10 centuries of religious dissent -- except maybe a little bit more blood. -- AL
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 fundraisers. To spice up his life, he sets up a heist at a New York art museum to steal a prized one-hundred 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. Worth seeing, however, is Russo's full-out performance, packed with lusty charm. -- KCE
*Three Kings (R)
Bold, adventurous and in-your-face. Director-writer David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey) has penned a tight, provocative script that combines some of the best elements of a good war film with heavy doses of contemporary social commentary. George Clooney plays Special Forces Captain Archie Gates, cynical, worn-out and two weeks from retirement. Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube play reservists with dead-end jobs back home, called up for the Gulf War. And Spike Jonze is Private Conrad Vig, an overgrown juvenile delinquent from Texas who alternates between a sort of lovable stupidity and delirious combat lust. Dwelling on the crass, commerciality of the Gulf War and the narrow perception at home of the damage wrought to Iraqi citizens by our carpet bombing and premature pullout there, Three Kings disturbed me all over again, and comforted me in an odd way. I couldn't help hope George Bush gets a chance to see it. -- KCE
Chapel Hills; Cinema 70; Academy Station 6; Tinseltown
Breakfast of Champions (R)
Directed by Alan Rudolph, this adaptation of the Kurt Vonnegut novel stars Bruce Willis, Albert Finney, Nick Nolte, Barbara Hershey and Glenne Headly. Say welcome back to Kilgore Trout.
House on Haunted Hill (not yet rated)
The owner of a haunted mansion offers $1,000,000 to five people, if they can stay the night, and stay alive. Remake of the Vincent Price classic with Lisa Loeb.
Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown; Academy Station 6
Music of the Heart (PG)
Meryl Streep stars as an East Harlem violin teacher in an inner-city school fighting the school board to keep her funding. With Angela Bassett, Aidan Quinn and Gloria Estefan. Based on the award-winning documentary.
Carmike 10; Tinseltown; Tiffany Square
Samson and Delilah (not rated)
Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr star in the Biblical love story.
Fine Arts Center, 634-5583. Tues. Nov. 2, 7 p.m.
Romance (Not Yet Rated)
French film about a young woman in search of intimacy and erotic connection after her lover tells her he no longer desires her. Recommended for mature viewers.
Kimball's Twin Peak