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  • The Exocist

*Almost Famous (R)

Director Cameron Crowe's autobiographical film turns out to be a winner. Crowe is depicted as 15-year-old William, (Patrick Fugit) a budding journalist, protg of rock critic Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman). On his first assignment for Rolling Stone, William is immediately torn between his growing friendship with the band, Stillwater, and the need to be "honest and unmerciful," as advised by Bang. Complicating matters is groupie Penny Lane, played by Kate Hudson. Smitten, William can't help but see the band through her eyes. The bulk of the film follows Stillwater, William, Penny and the rest of the entourage across America. Hoffman steals the show, as usual, in his few brief scenes. Almost Famous is well-scripted, meticulously cast, skillfully acted, and best of all it has a beating heart that explains the strange end of the classic rock era with empathy, humor and grace. See full review. -- KCE

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills

*Best in Show

See full review, pages 112-113

Tinseltown

Bless the Child (R)

Bless the Child is not a terrible flick; it's mildly entertaining. But sloppy editing, thinking and writing rob the audience of dramatic climaxes, and render many of the characters' actions inexplicable. Kim Basinger plays Maggie, a woman left with her sister's child who later proves to have spiritual powers. Maggie's sister reappears with Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell), a Satan worshiper, and the rest of the film involves Maggie's attempts to save Cody from the devil himself. The film might have been more interesting had the filmmakers made more of Jimmy Smits' role as an FBI agent specializing in occult crimes. He and Basinger are a perfect match, but little is made of their pairing. Director Chuck Russell (The Mask) either had his budget cut or lost interest in the film -- the computer effects are sloppy and amateurish. Bless the Child is God vs. Satan rehashed, largely unmemorably. See full review. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

*Bring It On (PG-13)

With one foot firmly planted in the sexed-up teen genre, Bring It On is a perky and often hilarious take on the world of competitive cheerleading. Adorable dimpled blonde Kirsten Dunst is Torrance, the head cheerleader of the Toros -- five-time national cheerleading champions whose prized routines have been ripped off from an inner-city Los Angeles squad, the fabulous Clovers. Coming up with a new routine in time for the nationals competition provides the central conflict of the movie, but the peculiar brand of adolescent sexiness native to cheerleaders dominates the film. Skillfully mixing wonderfully choreographed routines with self-deprecating humor and some sweet puppy romance, Bring It On keeps you laughing from start to finish, succeeding in part because it does not succumb to heavy-handedness in the rich girl-poor girl, white girl-black girl central conflict which is significant but not pandering. The cheering is terrific, the teen-speak dialogue relentless, the camera moves supple and graceful and the climax is satisfying. On See full review. -- KCE

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10

*Chicken Run (G)

Peter Lord and Nick Park, creators of Wallace and Gromit, have crafted a devilishly clever clay animation feature film that is as thoroughly British in its humor as it is enjoyable to watch. A band of hyperkinetic European chickens, imprisoned in a stalag-type egg farm run by a tyrannical husband and wife team, struggle to escape with the questionable aid of a cocky American Rooster named Rocky (voice by Mel Gibson). It's easy to take for granted the painstaking process of frame-at-a-time filmmaking that clay animation requires when watching the film because the filmmakers have done such a superb job of seamlessly blending flawless set and figure design with story and character. Chicken Run is every bit as ridiculous as the title suggests and carries with it a look and style that, while referencing a tradition of escape movies, surprises the audience with its ingenuity and cheeky brand of British satire. See full review. -- Cole Smithey

Silver Cinemas

*The Contender (R)

One-time film critic Rod Lurie wrote his political thriller specifically for Joan Allen (Nixon, Pleasantville) because he thinks she's "the best actress in the world." You'd be hard-pressed to argue because of Allen's pitch-perfect characterization of Democratic vice president nominee Laine Hanson. The Contender is a clarion call that challenges what is and isn't appropriate in the political process. If that sounds dry and boring, The Contender is exactly the opposite. There are more bitterly biting and cleverly funny scenes in this movie than in The Parallax View and The Manchurian Candidate put together. The Contender is a completely enticing and fun movie that audiences will be talking about for the rest of the year. This is a political movie that shows how far the genre can go in fleshing out ethics and principles while spinning suspense every step of the way. See full review. -- Cole Smithey

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills

Coyote Ugly (PG-13)

John Goodman plays the father of Violet (Piper Perabo) a wannabe musician. Violet gets a gig as bartender at Coyote Ugly, where the gorgeous bartenders double as dancers. The audience might expect a buddy film -- the cinematic equivalent of a trip to a topless joint -- but there's not much to ogle at, except silly want-to-be-sexy scenes, where the girls get very close in their wet leather pants -- nothing more than highly conventional Playboy poses. The film is most interesting in its depictions of the contradictions and pitfalls of modern gender, sexuality, and the hazards for women attempting to reclaim sexual power. See full review. -- AL

Silver Cinemas

Disney's The Kid (PG)

Bruce Willis plays Russell Duritz, a very successful and sometimes mean image consultant. Two days before his 40th birthday, Russell is visited by Rusty (Spencer Breslin), the eight-year-old incarnation of himself, who is disappointed when he finds out how his life turned out. Willis does a fine job holding his own next the pudgy, lisping, and very cute Breslin. There is nothing offensive in the film, but if you take your kids be prepared to explain a lot -- The Kid is far more of an adult film than a child's. Pleasantly entertaining. See full review. -- AL

Silver Cinemas

Dr. T and the Women (R)

See full review.

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills

*The Exorcist (R)

Given the numerous and terrible episodes of head-twisting, levitating, and bile vomiting in the original Exorcist, audiences could hardly have guessed that director William Friedkin had already cut out 11 minutes of what he considered "excess" footage. Writer William Blatty was furious, believing that the movie had lost its moral center. Friedkin finally agreed to reexamine the missing scenes 25 years later and became inspired to rework much of the material back into the film. Significant is an added conversation between the two exorcists in which Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) explains to Father Karras (Jason Miller) the reason that this demon has chosen to consume the young girl. Overall, the newly restored scenes give the audience a much clearer understanding of Regan's possession and assign a stronger empathy with Father Karras as the film's protagonist. Though the supernatural incidents are resolved in the closing scenes of the movie, The Exorcist promises to haunt viewers with its classic, troubling images of evil. See full review. -- Cole Smithey

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills

*Nurse Betty (R)

Nurse Betty follows familiar Hollywood genres: there's the amnesia story, the road-trip-across-the-West story, the killers-in-pursuit-of-something-the-target-doesn't-know-she-has, as well as a host of others, all very conventional tales, here beautifully mixed up, commented upon, and reformed. Within this somewhat complicated plot, writer John C. Richards manages to weave together a terrific narrative structure that allows each genre to feed into the other. Very fine performances by both Freeman and Zellweger help fulfill the film's complex agenda. Director Neil LaBute has managed to construct a suspenseful, bittersweet fantasy out of bits and pieces of this and that. Genre has rarely looked so good. See full review. -- Al

Gold Hill Theaters

Loser (PG-13)

Paul (Jason Biggs, American Pie) and Dora (Mena Suvari, American Beauty) are impoverished NYU students trying to pass their classes, avoid evil classmates, and have a relationship with each other -- in spite of the fact that Dora is dating their English lit professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear). The paper-thin plot is as lame as its ill-fated attempts at up-to-the-minute teen humor. As the film's title suggests, its characters never aspire to anything above subsistence survival. Teen exploitation writer/director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless) loses her knack for satisfying slang comedy by taking her college-aged characters way too seriously, and not far enough out in Loser. See full review. -- Cole Smithey

Broadmoor

Lost Souls (R)

See full review.

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills; Carmike 10

*Meet the Parents (PG-13)

Within the framework of what, on the surface, looks like a typical family comedy lurks a biting satire on the empty material satisfactions of WASP existence in America. Ben Stiller is the unfortunately named Gaylord "Greg" Focker, a Jewish male nurse who immediately unravels when he has to meet the parents of his girlfriend Pam (Teri Polo) -- a blonde with an Oyster Bay pedigree. Robert DeNiro gives a pitch perfect performance as Daddy dearest for whom no suitor of his precious Pammy will ever measure up. Uproarious scenes of physical comic chaos meld with an interesting perspective on the untruths we tell to make ourselves look better in this ultimately sweet and very funny film. Owen Wilson turns in a killer appearance as Pam's too perfect, but all alone, ex fianc Kevin. Stiller and DeNiro spar with graceful comic ease, and ultra-suburbia has rarely been drawn more convincingly. -- KCE

Kimball's Twin Peak; Tinseltown; Chapel Hills; Carmike 10

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

Director John Woo keeps similarities to director Brian De Palma's 1996 Mission Impossible to a minimum 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 high level of believability and determination. -- Cole Smithey

Silver Cinemas

The Patriot (R)

Clunky script devices continually squeak and rattle throughout the The Patriot. This is a Mel Gibson movie, and screenwriter Robert Rodat bows reverently to his leading character -- Gibson perfectly walks a tightrope over any dramatic context with artless skill. The Patriot is an uncomfortably smooth ride over mixed terrain of emotional posturing, flashy action sequences and cultural misrepresentation. See full review. -- Cole Smithey

Chapel Hills; Silver Cinemas

Pay it Forward (PG-13)

See full review.

Tinseltown; Kimball's Twin Peak; Chapel Hills; Carmike 10

*Remember the Titans (PG)

Remember the Titans glorifies youth, manhood and the pursuit of football as the best avenue for social justice. The field of justice is, in this case, an Alexandria, Va., high school ordered to desegregate in 1971. To emphasize the desegregation order, the school board hires a black man, Coach Boone (Denzel Washington) to coach their successful Titans football team. As usual, Washington manages to hit just the right note throughout the film that helps redeem a fairly cheeseball script and bring out its nobility. Other notable performances include the white team captain Bertier (Ryan Hurst) and Big Ju (Wood Harris) who becomes Bertier's best friend. As with the best military movies, this buddy relationship becomes the emotional center of the film. It helps if you're willing to believe that the struggle against racism is best fought by men on the model of a war. Whether the male/war model contributes to lasting change is questionable. But war makes for good un-nuanced drama, and Remember the Titans takes full advantage of that. See full review.-- AL

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills; Carmike 10

Scary Movie (R)

Scary Movie, a ripoff of teen slasher flicks Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, may win the overall competition for grossest gross-out jokes of any film ever. The brothers Wayans seem to have a concept here but they set up every joke so tediously and assiduously that by the time the punchline appears the joke is dead already. Given a big budget, the Wayans seem to wander, aggrandize, overcompensate and falter. The competent cast play imperiled teenagers adequately, and some of their lines are genuinely funny, but to watch Scary Movie is, basically, to suffer through an extended doo-doo riff with accents of snot, pee-pee and semen. -- KCE

Carmike 10

Space Cowboys (PG-13)

A macho adventure about four Air Force men grounded by a commander (James Cromwell) during the heyday of NASA. Forty years later, when a Russian communications satellite goes kaflooey, head man Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood) is called out of retirement to fix a problem so obsolete that only senior citizens can solve it. Corvin demands that his buddies "Hawk" (Tommy Lee Jones), "Tank" (James Garner), and Jerry (Donald Sutherland) get to tag along. The glacial pacing of the first third is almost compensated by the last, but the technical mumbo-jumbo almost kills that. Overall, an acceptable Hollywood movie, with some cool special effects. The only big revelation is that the male fantasy of drinking-swearing-fighting-and-getting-all-the-babes only gets more ridiculous with old age. See full review. -- AL

Chapel Hills

What Lies Beneath (PG-13)

Dr. Norman (Harrison Ford) and Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) are a well-to-do married couple living alone in their lakeside home. Bored, beautiful Claire becomes a lightning rod for a ghost from Norman's not-so-distant adulterous past. Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) kills What Lies Beneath's fleeting moments of excitement by piling up so many false starts of plot and faux shocks of terror that by the time the story finally gets around to making sense with some nitty gritty horror scenes, the audience has become numb to the suspense. See full review. -- Cole Smithey

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills

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