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click to enlarge Woody Allens Curse of the Jade Scorpion, opening this weekend
  • Woody Allens Curse of the Jade Scorpion, opening this weekend

American Pie 2 (R)
The first American Pie was one of the funniest, most original teen flicks of last year, but unfortunately the sequel plays to the lowest common denominator. We are dealt one scene after another of gross-out sex jokes, skits that are as predictable in their assured outcome as the first film was unpredictable. All the smart girls, with the exception of flute-playing Michelle, are assigned peripheral roles, and we don't get any of the wise girl-guy interchange that characterized American Pie 2's predecessor. -- KCE

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

*A.I. (PG-13)
A.I. is either a near masterpiece or a near failure. But thumbs up or down do not apply here, because this movie is not meant merely to entertain. It wants to prod, to provoke, to attempt to be art, and, as such, it deserves patient consideration. A.I. is plainly a film about Big Questions: What is our responsibility to the things we create? What's our responsibility to our creator(s)? Can technology provide happiness? Viewers will probably love or hate this film pretty quickly, but here's hoping they reserve opinion at least long enough for a long conversation with friends. See full review. -- Patton Dodd

Silver Cinemas

America's Sweethearts (PG-13)
America's Sweethearts, starring Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Billy Crystal, disappoints both as a screwball romantic comedy and as a satire on the obscene marketing practices of Hollywood. Clearly, the writers want to say something clever and biting about the movie junket scene in which journalists are wined, dined and basically paid by the studio to say something nice about a film. Ironically, the stars of this film have been hawking it on late night and daytime TV, making the PR campaign look nearly as schmaltzy and manipulative as the one onscreen. See full review. -- KCE

Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

Captain Corelli's Mandolin (R)
See full review, page 52.

Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

Cats and Dogs (PG)
Frenetic, silly and madly paced, this tale offers little entertainment value to either children or adults, except those who are excruciatingly bored and desperately seeking air conditioning. See full review. -- KCE

Tinseltown

*crazy/beautiful (PG-13)
Two Los Angeles high school students from opposite ends of the social spectrum fall for each other in this endearing romance/drama starring Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez. Dunst is superb as the sullen daughter of a neglectful but well-meaning father, played with startling authenticity by Bruce Davidson. The best of this year's slew of teen romances. See full review. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

*The Deep End (R)
Be glad your independently owned downtown theater has brought this quiet psychological suspense tale to town. Filmed on the shores of Lake Tahoe, The Deep End tells the story of Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton), a lonely housewife whose husband is always away on Navy business while she takes care of their three kids and his father. When a dead body washes up onshore, Margaret discovers it is her oldest son Beau's abusive male lover. And when a stranger appears at her door with information that might incriminate Beau, Margaret catapults into mother-protector mode. Swinton's performance is stellar. We watch her grow as she maneuvers outside of her protected home in the gritty real world. The stranger, Alec, is played with smoky intensity by ER's Govan Visnjic. Filmed in multiple shades of blue, The Deep End is both smart and smart looking -- a major success for the directing/writing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel in their second feature film. -- KCE

Kimball's Twin Peak

The Dish (PG-13)
The 1000-ton radio telescope in Parkes, Australia that transmitted Neil Armstrong's historic first steps on the moon, in July 1969, is the leading character in writer/director Rob Stitch's The Dish, which attempts a mix of soft comedy and feel-good drama and succeeds mildly at both. See full review. -- Cole Smithey

The Broadmoor

*Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (PG-13)
We're supposed to hate this movie. By nearly all critical accounts, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is dull and clich-ridden. But I had loads of fun watching this picture. Lara Croft is a young, single heiress who's regularly called upon to save the universe. She spends her days training for battle in her massive castle, fighting off dummy cyborgs and practicing insanely dangerous acrobatic stunts. We don't really know where she came from or why she's so militaristic. What we do know is that she kicks ass, and that's all that matters. See full review. -- Patton Dodd

Silver Cinemas

Legally Blonde (R)
This weak and predictable comedy by debut feature director Robert Luketic is a poorly lit attempt at dredging humor from a sterile and flat script. While Reese Witherspoon makes an attractive ditzy blonde with enough book smarts to overcompensate for her character's fashion victim obsessions, this film is a career misstep for a talented actress capable of creating much more complex characters. -- Cole Smithey

Cinemark 16

*Memento (R)
Directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Guy Pearce, Memento is a startling murder mystery in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock, and a bundle of promise for everything that follows from Nolan. The story: Leonard Shelby (Pearce) lost his wife in a brutal murder/rape and, with the police uninvolved, is determined to solve the crime himself. But he's severely handicapped: Due to brain damage suffered while fighting his wife's attacker, he can remember everything that happened prior to the accident, but everything since is forgotten -- over and over again. The most strategic device in the film is an inverted timeline. The story begins at the end and works backward, giving us -- and Leonard -- tiny clues to discover how the tumultuous plot pieces together. We experience Leonard's frustration; like him, we have no memory of what has come before. You have to promise to see this movie. Memento is inventive, compelling, and worth seeing twice. See full review. -- Patton Dodd

Silver Cinemas

*The Others (PG-13)
Atmospheric storytelling, rich lighting, a superb set and a strong ensemble cast combine to make Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar's The Others a successful, though not particularly terrifying, psychological thriller. Nicole Kidman in a Grace Kelly pageboy hair-do is all nerves and raw edges as Grace, a woman left with her two young children on the foggy Isle of Jersey when her husband goes off to war. The children suffer from a rare, severe allergy to light, which means the curtains must be drawn whenever they are in the room, and Amenabar sets up the flickering candlelight motif skillfully. Several scenes set the audience screaming and jumping in their seats, accomplished with little other than carefully choreographed motion and sound. The quiet tension of The Others is a relief now that most directors feel they need to blow the audience out of their seats with special effects overkill. See full review. -- KCE

Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

Planet of the Apes (PG-13)
Due mainly to a script that doesn't even bother to go through the motions of telling a story, any semblance of the original film's ham-fisted barbs about slavery, racism and class consciousness are lost like so many syllables evaporating from Charlton Heston's soiled mouth. Some hesitant praise is due to make-up designer Rick Baker for creating a convincing collection of monkey masks that gives the actors something to hide behind while speaking cardboard dialogue. See full review. -- Cole Smithey

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

The Princess Diaries (G)
Teen star Anne Hathaway plays Mia, a San Francisco teenager who considers herself to be "invisible," an awkward ugly duckling with bad glasses and too much hair. When Mia's grandmother, the Queen of Genovia (played by Julie Andrews) appears one day, announcing that Mia is heir to the throne of the tiny principality of Genovia, Mia is reluctant to assume her responsibilities, largely because she thinks she doesn't look good enough. So the transformation begins -- a complete hair, posture and elocution makeover. The problem with this lame entry into princess mythology is its false attempts to be social-minded. After Mia is scoured and scraped, coiffed and creamed into the mirror image of a Revlon ad, we are asked to believe that the real reason she wants to be a princess if to "affect change." False sentiment piles up in the last 30 minutes of the film like too many spoonfuls of sugar. See full review. -- KCE

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

*Rush Hour 2 (PG-13)
Rush Hour 2 is a movie sequel that comes with a preemptive seal of approval by virtue of Jackie Chan's dedication to pushing his martial arts skills to the limits of acrobatic extremes. Add to this Chan's proven screen chemistry with the infectious high-pitched comic improv abilities of Chris Tucker (Money Talks), and what follows is a stream of highly enjoyable, physically demanding set pieces punctuated by constant comic riffing. See full review. -- Cole Smithey

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

Shrek (PG)
As animation, Shrek is nearly as remarkable as its predecessors, and bodes well for where the form is going visually. But Shrek suggests that digital animation features could be going the way of the action adventure movie -- great looking and profitable, but brainless. Strangely, Shrek gained the affection of a sizeable and growing audience. The theater I was in was filled with laughter, and folks applauded at the end. What they're so excited about, and why they're telling their friends, is a mystery to me. See full review. -- Patton Dodd

Chapel Hills

*Songcatcher (PG-13)
Janet McTeer stars as Dr. Lily Penleric, a haughty and overbearing music scholar who leaves her university community after she is repeatedly denied a promotion. She sets off for the wilds of Appalachia where her sister Elna (Jane Adams) runs a settlement school for the widely flung, deeply impoverished local children. Realizing immediately that this community is rich with musical heritage, harboring a treasury of Scot-Irish ballads handed down from generation to generation, Lily sets off to remote enclaves on the mountain, asking locals if she can collect their songs. The film boasts a rich cast of characters and competing subplots don't muddy the waters, thanks to writer/director Maggie Greenwald's impeccably clean, spare script. McTeer's character is tiresome at first but grows on you, and Jane Adams' supporting performance is as fresh as a mountain stream. See full review.

Silver Cinemas

*Swordfish (R)
This action heist movie makes cyberspace and theft look glamorous. Uber bad guy Gabriel Shear (John Travolta) convinces good guy superhacker Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) to help him steal billions of dollars in illegal government funds (code-named "Swordfish") to finance a ruthless anti-terrorism unit. Bullets fly, explosions rock and unexpected objects take flight as cops and politicians crumble beneath intense action. Good pacing and intriguing characters drive an overflowing testosterone blitz to an above-average level of fun. See full review. -- Cole Smithey

Silver Cinemas

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