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click to enlarge American Beauty
  • American Beauty

*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. 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; Wes Bentley portrays the disturbed boy next door with a quiet gravity that intensifies every scene he graces. 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. See full review. -- AL

Tiffany Square

*Being John Malkovich (R)

Spike Jonze's bizarre adult comedy, Being John Malkovich, is a wonderfully acted, witty take on the lengths we will go for our 15 minutes of fame. John Cusack is marvelous as Craig Schwartz, a brilliant loser puppeteer who takes a filing job in a bizarre office building where he discovers a secret door. When he crawls through it, he is inexplicably drawn into the body and mind of actor John Malkovich where he remains for 15 minutes, then is spit out into a ditch off the New Jersey Turnpike. If this sounds too weird to be funny, be assured it is not. Jonze's direction, the brilliant script by first-timer Charlie Kaufman, razor sharp cinematography by Lance Acord (Buffalo '66) and the outstanding ensemble cast combine to make this an unforgettable moviegoing experience. Unexpected turns keep the audience alert and interested, and the payoff is the film's ability to sustain the central conceit. Ingenious casting helps too. Orson Bean as Dr. Lester and Mary Kay Place as his receptionist Floris provide some of the film's silliest and funniest moments. And don't worry, you'll still like John Malkovich when it's all over -- the guy has one helluva sense of humor. See full review. -- KCE

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

Silver Cinemas

*Dogma (R)

Dogma is utterly silly and pleasantly tinged with a mischievousness that's irresistible. Director Kevin Smith's script is typically verbose and vulgar, and the casting works wonderfully throughout, with stellar moments from Alan Rickman as the angel Metatron, nice low-key consistency from the disillusioned Linda Fiorentino, and a wonderful turn by Jason Lee as a demon up from Hell to assist fallen angels Loki and Bartleby (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) in their scheme to get back to heaven. A bit too long, Smith should have foregone the special effects-driven scene that unleashes the demon Golgothan (an excrement slinging monster) and stuck with the delightful cast of characters, but overall Dogma is funny, even affirming in its exploration of the foibles of faith.See full review. -- KCE

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

Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigalo (R)

See full review.

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown

End of Days (R)

End of Days is a dreary, exploitative action film in which it's devil time again. The plot has The Dark One (Gabriel Byrne) seeking out a 20-year-old virgin named, of course, Christine (Robin Tunney) who has been predestined to bear the devil a son. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays ex-cop Jericho Cane, who takes it upon himself to protect Christine both from The Man. To cash in on Y2K hysteria, screenwriter Andrew Marlowe indulges several misapprehensions about the meaning and relevance of the word "millennium." This would be minor if End of Days were even remotely entertaining. Director Peter Hyams does nothing to brighten up or energize Marlowe's dull, confusing script. The message that End of Days is supposed to carry is that faith is more powerful than guns. But it's unlikely the message will be heard over all the automatic weapons fire.See full review. -- Noel Murray

Tiffany Square; Carmike 10; Tinseltown; Academy Station 6

*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. 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. See full review. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

*The Green Mile

See full review, page 27

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown; Academy Station 6

*The Insider (R)

Russell Crowe turns in the best performance of his career as the beleaguered Jeffrey Wigand -- the corporate whistleblower who brought big tobacco to its knees -- lending his character the heavy, tangible weight of conscience and family responsibility. And as CBS producer Lowell Bergman, Al Pacino gives a fine, modulated performance. Given the opportunity to be holier-than-thou, Pacino frequently stoops to breast-beating, but here he tones down his righteousness. Christopher Plummer is perfectly cast as anchorman Mike Wallace. Mann's depiction of the journalist paints a picture of a dignified, aging celebrity caught in one of the most difficult moments of his career -- one where he makes the wrong choice, but we are led to understand his flawed reasoning. Director Michael Mann's style with the camera works well with this material -- in most of the movie's scenes, we are made aware that more is happening than just what we see in the foreground. Shots are framed off-center, creating a tension between what we can and cannot see, between what we know and don't know. See full review.-- KCE

Tiffany Square

The Omega Code (PG-13)

With Springs actor, Ziggy Wagrowski.

Tiffany Square

click to enlarge Being John Malkovich
  • Being John Malkovich

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

Silver Cinemas

*Sixth Sense (PG-13)

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; Tinseltown; Citadel Terrace

*Sleepy Hollow (R)

In Director Tim Burton's hands, the tiny Hudson river valley town of Sleepy Hollow becomes a mythical place where gnarled trees silhouetted against a foggy background speak volumes. Johnny Depp brings a humorous finickiness to the character of Ichabod Crane. He is prissy, prim and immaculate, and he doesn't take well to the sight of gore. But Crane's transformation to action hero is palatable too -- Depp moves from prude to swashbuckler with real movie star grace and charisma. Crane's love interest, Katrina Van Tassel, is played with understated charm by Christina Ricci. And the horseman himself -- massive and shrouded in black -- proves to be a striking central focus of the film, despite his missing head. Burton revels in special effect, and his wild creation, the tree of the dead, is a memorable cinematic marvel. Burton's Sleepy Hollow will, no doubt, prove to be a Halloween video classic. See full review. -- KCE

Carmike 10; Chapel Hills; Citadel Terrace; Tinseltown

Story of Us (R)

Don't bother to thank Rob Reiner for the insipid and smug The Story of Us. The film asks us to endure the incessant bitching of Bruce Willis as bratty husband Ben, and Michelle Pfeiffer is his uptight even-brattier wife Katie, then to accept their superficial making-up scene at the end, and accents it all with borderline offensive scenes featuring their rich, self-absorbed friends (Reiner, a shrill Rita Wilson, Paul Reiser) who love to co-titillate with tits and ass references. Willis provides a sullen, wooden narrative voiceover and Pfeiffer does some of her best pouting and sniveling since her last tear fest, The Deep End of the Ocean. Reiner shoots for realism and reaches the lowest common denominator -- choosing to emphasize those embarrassing moments anyone who has been married can relate to, but would just as soon forget.

See full review.Silver Cinemas

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. In Toy Story 2, Woody discovers that he was once part of a matched set with a wonder horse, a cowgirl named Jessie (voiced ideally by Joan Cusack), and a grizzled prospector sidekick. When the reunited set goes up for sale, Woody is faced with a toy's version of an existential crisis -- either be enshrined behind glass for eternity in a museum display, or enjoy what few years he has left with owner Andy before the boy outgrows him. As hilarious as the slapstick rescue efforts of Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Mr. Potatohead (Don Rickles), and Woody's old pals are, it's the former scenes that give Toy Story 2 it's poignancy. The movie itself backs off from some of its more painful themes, and it stretches out its delirious airport climax a bit too long. But its mix of silliness, affection, and piercing nostalgia -- and yes, artistry -- keeps kids and adults engaged simultaneously. -- Jim Ridley

Tinseltown; Gold Hill Theater, Chapel Hills, Citadel Terrace

*The World is Not Enough (R)

Pierce Brosnan can do no wrong. He gleams with all the requisite savoir-faire and charisma that James Bond demands. Brosnan's third installment as Her Majesty's top secret agent 007 lives up to the lofty expectations set down by Sean Connery with an indispensable steely nerve. Judi Dench returns to nourish the series as Bond's strident boss "M," while Desmond Llewelyn returns for the 19th time as Bond's meticulous gadget guru "Q." Robert Carlyle does a brilliant turn as the ruthless terrorist Renard. The film keeps the stakes for the James Bond franchise high by paying closer attention to character development and interaction than recent films in the series. M proves herself to not be a perfect judge of character, and the beautiful Princess Elektra (Sophie Marceau) gives the plot some artful double-crossing. Michael Apted, best known for his fantastic 7 Up documentary film series and Coal Miner's Daughter, more than hits his directorial marks.The World Is Not Enough is, pound for explosion, a great return on your entertainment dollar. See full review. -- Cole Smithey

Kimball's Twin Peak; Carmike 10; Chapel Hills; Tinseltown; Academy Station 6


OPENING THIS WEEK

Anna and the King (PG-13)

Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat star in a dramatic, non-musical retelling of the classic story The King and I.

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown

Bicentennial Man (PG)

Robin Williams is an android servant whose family sees him in a new light after he begins to experience emotions.

Tinseltown; Academy Station 6; Tifanny Square

Stuart Little (PG)

The Littles (Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie) adopt a son, who happens to be a mouse named Stuart (voice of Michael J. Fox).

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Citadel Terrace; Tinseltown; Academy Station 6; Gold Hill Theaters

Man on the Moon (R)

Jim Carrey as the great, bizarre comedian Andy Kaufman.

Kimball's Twin Peak (beginning Dec. 21)

White Christmas (not rated)

A classic musical featuring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen and the famous holiday song in a Vermont lodge where it is almost always a White Christmas.

Fine Arts Center Theater, 30 W. Dale St. Tues., Dec. 21

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