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  • Best in Show

*Best in Show

Best in Show is a clever, funny "mockumentary" about the people who love dogs and love to show them. Like all subcultures, dog people have all kinds of rules and etiquette that seem ludicrous to those on the outside. That, of course, is what leaves them wide open for the type of parody that writer/director Christopher Guest undertakes here. By using a mock documentary style, complete with some gritty handheld camera work, (the same that Guest used to great effect in This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman), we are treated to less of a plot than a slow accretion of increasingly funny vignettes. Most of the characters are one-note-Nellies, not a lot of depth to any of them, which is why the movie had to grow on me. The comedy starts out a bit too broad, too over-the-top to be really funny. But as each of the characters plays out true to form, the real rewards come forth. -- AL

Tinseltown

*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. -- 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. -- 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. -- 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 to 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. -- AL

Silver Cinemas

Dr. T and the Women (R)

Director Robert Altman loves pastiche and large ensemble casts, and here he indulges himself to the point of distraction. But there are many lovely and satisfying moments in the film. Richard Gere is not as smarmy as usual; in fact, he's downright endearing in his role as a prominent Dallas Ob/Gyn with a deranged wife, Kate (Farrah Fawcett) and two spoiled daughters (played very capably by Tara Reid and Kate Hudson). Before Deedee's (Hudson) wedding, Kate is hospitalized for mentally regressing to a childlike state. Meanwhile, a self-assured golf pro, Bree (Helen Hunt), moves to Dallas and captures Dr. T's very needy heart. Laura Dern turns in a wonderful supporting performance as boozy Aunt Peggy, who moves in with her three kids, and the flock of overdressed, under-occupied, wealthy Dallas women who hang out in Dr. T's waiting room don't quite jell as actual people but are entertaining in their excess. Dr. T won't be listed among Altman's more memorable films, but it's not a complete disaster either. -- KCE

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 "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. -- Cole Smithey

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills

Hollow Man (R)

Filmmaker Paul Verhoeven's latest thriller is an empty, excruciating mess. Kevin Bacon stars as Dr. Sebastian Crane, a government scientist determined to become the first invisible human. Special effects aside, no other aspect of Hollow Man is entertaining or enlightening. To use the guise of invisibility the way Crane does defies the presence of brains or imagination -- his is the petty psyche of a Peeping Tom bent on menacing women. This overblown spectacle of a film rings empty, void, vacant, meaningless, superficial, delusive, ineffectual, unsatisfying -- in a word, hollow. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

Lost Souls (R)

Lost Souls follows former exorcism survivor Maya Larkin (Winona Ryder) on a cigarette-smoking, coffee-drinking, Satan-hunting bender. There are lots of oblique references toward lurking evil that Director Janusz Kaminski applies to mask the lack of action on the screen, but watching Lost Souls is boring. You might be able to have a little fun picking out all of the stolen little plot threads from other horror films, but that still won't make up for the tedium this movie will inflict. Ryder has never come close to matching her well-cast performance in the black comedy Heathers. She should give up smoking, toss the Converse All-Stars and use her limited range in supporting roles for awhile. If only Lost Souls had gone straight to video, perhaps no one would have noticed how effortlessly Ryder loses herself in bad movies. -- Cole Smithy

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

The Patriot (R)

Clunky script devices continually squeak and rattle throughout 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. -- Cole Smithey

Silver Cinemas

Pay It Forward (PG-13)

Haley Joel Osment is Trevor, a latchkey kid, weary of his mother's problems with alcohol. Eugene Simonet, a scar-faced Kevin Spacey, is Trevor's social studies teacher who gives his class a confusing and challenging extra-credit assignment: Think of an idea to change our world -- and put it into action. Trevor comes up with an ingenious solution: do a good deed, then ask that person to pay it forward to three others in need. The result is an exponential eruption of good-deed-doing across the nation. Far more compelling is Trevor's introduction of his teacher, Eugene, to his mom, Arlene. Hunt plays the hard-ridden, recovering alcoholic, single mom with grit and heart. And as Eugene lets down some of his guard, letting Arlene in, their dance of romance is sweet and endearing. But instead of ending as a love story with a social message, Pay It Forward succumbs to grandiosity, insisting on being a forced religious allegory. At the end, any power that the film possessed in its lovely characterizations and charming story is quickly released like a gush of air from a balloon. --KCE

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

The Perfect Storm (PG-13)

The Perfect Storm turns out to be something of a wash. While there are plenty of white-knuckle moments, the film's stolid attempts at inciting reverence for the famed crew of the Gloucester fishing vessel, the Andrea Gail, tend to throw a wet blanket over the compelling true-life events recounted by Sebastian Junger in his best-selling book. Director Wolfgang Petersen's clunky manner of making this obvious point feels heavy-handed and artificial. An editor could have done wonders with the film, but unfortunately we're stuck with what we've got -- a few spectacular scenes and some strong performances mish-mashed with too much forced solemnity and enough clichs to gag a whale. The Perfect Storm is well worth seeing, but it's far from perfect. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas; Broadmoor

*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. -- AL

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills; 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, it's 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. -- AL

Chapel Hills (closes Monday)

Woman on Top (R)

Ostensibly a textbook chick flick romantic comedy, the first big English-speaking vehicle for Spanish film star Penelope Cruz is problematic. Cruz is winning as Isabella, a beautiful Brazilian chef who leaves her cheating husband Tonio (Murilo Benicio), for San Francisco. Tonio tries to woo her back, but Isabella refuses to return to her formerly submissive role. This plot, mixed with some magical realism involving food, recipes and a vengeful sea goddess, has plenty of promise but fails in the delivery. Director Fina Torres pasted far too many short sequences together to resemble the passing of time, and the special effects are so amateurish they serve only to distract. A smart supporting performance by Harold Perrineau, Jr. as Monica, the drag queen who is Isabella's best friend, carries most of the film. As it is, Woman on Top is neither a good romance nor a good comedy -- it's a mediocre tease at both. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas


OPENING THIS WEEK

Bedazzled (PG-13)

See full review, page 50

Chapel Hills; Tinseltown; Carmike 10

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (R)

A group of tourists camping in the haunted woods of the Blair Witch wake up to find that they are missing five hours of their lives. As they try to piece together the night, they realize the strange occurrences aren't over.

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown

The Little Vampire (PG)

After moving to Scotland with his family, 9-year-old Tony (Jonathan Lipnicki) becomes inexplicably obsessed with vampires. When Rudolph, a little vampire boy collapses on Tony's window ledge, Tony goes on an adventure to help Rudolph and his family become human again. Family comedy.

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown

Lucky Numbers (R)

John Travolta plays a smarmy weatherman married to a greedy wife (Lisa Kudrow) who comes up with a way to scam the lottery. With Ed O'Neill, Michael Rappaport and Tim Roth.

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown

Two Family House (R)

See full review, page 50

Tinseltown

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