Movie Picks 

click to enlarge "Cider House Rules"
  • "Cider House Rules"

Films strongly recommended by our reviewers are indicated by an *. Films that do not appear here have not yet been screened by our reviewers.

Anna and the King (PG-13)

Unlike the 1956 Rogers & Hammerstein musical, this retelling of Anna Leonowen's (Jodie Foster) story is rather serious in its treatment of the relationships between Asia and the British during the age of British expansion. Jodie Foster's work is subtle and well informed. Acting opposite Chow Yun-Fat (playing King Mongkut) must have been a great pleasure, for the man is not only easy on the eyes but has a wonderful command of facial expression that underscores the trials of an intelligent, regal ruler struggling to keep his country out of the hands of foreign domination. Go to be captivated by the kind of spectacle that Hollywood alone can create, the organizational and visual feats of lush scenery, beautiful costuming, and good special effects, and you won't be disappointed. -- AL

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown

*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. -- AL

Tiffany Square

*Anywhere But Here (PG-13)

This mother-daughter buddy film, based on the Mona Simpson novel, feels like a series of withdrawn comments. Because of that, and in spite of two terrific performances by the leads, Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman, Anywhere But Here ultimately feels slight and dishonest. Portman is sublime -- complex and multidimensional. Her performance is grave, weighted and flawless. Sarandon gives it the old college try, pulling off some touching scenes, but in general, her character is less satisfying than Portman's. As written by Alvin Sargent (Julia, The Sterile Cuckoo), Adele fluctuates between wackiness and lovability, mania and depression, but her character never gels as the complex, deeply troubled woman we suspect she is.

See it for Portman's performance. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas; Broadmoor

Bringing Out the Dead (R)

Unfortunately, for all its visual genius, Martin Scorsese's latest collaboration with screenwriter Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Last Temptation of Christ) is frequently repetitive and feels far longer than it actually is. Nicolas Cage plays Frank -- a burned-out paramedic who is haunted by the lives he has lost -- with his usual smouldering despair and rage. He's very good, but how many times now have we seen him do the furrowed brow thing? It's distracting to watch him in this role, because we know exactly how he'll play each scene, even before we've seen it in its entirety. The film succeeds best when Scorsese cuts loose with the camera, and we are allowed to escape the repetition of the inside-the-ambulance scenes. Mainly, it just feels like Martin Scorsese is using his trademark tricks, many of which are truly beautiful to behold, to tell a story that fails to rouse the viewer. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigalo (R)

Why anyone would want to make this into a movie is a mystery. "Lighten up," the proponents of this film have said. "It's only comedy." Yes, well, comedy is funny, little boy, and Deuce Bigalow ain't. -- AL

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. Director Peter Hyams does nothing to brighten up or energize screenwriter Andrew 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. -- Noel Murray

Tiffany Square; Carmike 10; Tinseltown

*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 Pitt 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. Youthful viewers should be advised that Fight Club is an allegory, not an advertisement for random violence or dangerous behavior. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

*The Green Mile (R)

At three hours and ten minutes long, this is one marathon of a movie, and unnecessarily so. The charming story is fairly straightforward and tightly plotted, and a relatively small ensemble of characters fill most of the scenes. The story, based on Stephen King's 1996 serial novel, is oddly compelling: A death row prison guard in the mid-1930's deep south, Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is delivered a 7-foot tall, black, simple-minded inmate with an amazing ability (Michael Clarke Duncan), convicted for murder. Duncan's characterization, though spare, is powerful. And Hanks, as Edgecomb, is his usual measured, affable self -- the soul of fairness. The villains are suitably evil, especially Doug Hutchison as deputy guard Percy Wetmore. The Green Mile is a worthy exploration of good and evil, human suffering, the cold inevitability of death and the redeeming power of love. But because the strength lies in the simple nature of the story, the earthy vernacular and the colorful characters, the director's tired dramatic approach feels like little more than excessive padding. -- KCE

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown

*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. Christopher Plummer is perfectly cast as anchorman Mike Wallace. Director Michael 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. Mann's style with the camera works well with this material -- in most 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. -- KCE

Tiffany Square

*Man on the Moon (R)

This strange and ultimately affecting movie is the rather perfunctorily told tale of comic Andy Kaufman's short, brilliant career and short, bizarre life. In the hands of director Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The People vs. Larry Flynt) Kaufman is treated as a rare genius who was misunderstood. It is fitting that Kaufman be played by Jim Carrey, the great gagster of his generation. Carrey's depiction is physically uncanny -- he perfectly captures Kaufman's googly eyes and frumpy posture, and mimics precisely many of Kaufman's best-known skits. But the writing and direction of Man on the Moon is pedestrian. Except for a lame attempt at a fake-out in the opening sequence, the story is told as straight screen biography. Backstage scenes are provided to offer us insight into Kaufman's motivation, but they feel like props for the narrative more than glimpses into the man. See it for Carrey's terrific impersonation, and for the moments on screen when, even if just for a brief moment, you can feel Kaufman's inexplicable spirit leaking through. -- KCE

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

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 highly unlikely. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

*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. 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. This Sleepy Hollow will, no doubt, prove to be a Halloween video classic. -- KCE

Carmike 10; Chapel Hills; 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

Silver Cinemas

*The Talented Mr. Ripley (R)

Anthony Minghella meticulously recreates the feel of the 1950s jazz era in Italy where everyone loves anything American. Matt Damon delivers a fine, nuanced performance that grows on the viewer. As Tom Ripley, a deeply disturbed young man who longs to be someone other than himself, Damon moves from fumbling geek to smooth expatriate with boyish intensity and dark charm. Brit Jude Law is a revelation as Dickie Greenleaf, object of Ripley's lustful admiration, a rich American kid who spends his days soaking up the sun and his nights in smoky jazz clubs. Glowing cinematography, a rich musical soundtrack, well-rounded characters, a literate narrative and nail-biting suspense are combined by Minghella to produce one of the richest, old-fashioned (in the best sense of the word), films out of Hollywood this year. -- KCE

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Citadel Terrace

*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. 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 hoping George Bush gets a chance to see it. -- KCE

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 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

*Tumbleweeds (PG-13)

A sturdy, though somewhat predictable little independent film with a heart of gold, namely the one beating in the generous breast of British stage actress Janet McTeer who prevails as the heroine of Tumbleweeds. Long-legged, brash and ballsy, McTeer perfectly captures the character of a young woman who continues to flee relationships which are ill-founded and fall apart at the slightest provocation. As her smart-mouthed daughter, young actress Kimberly Brown is the perfect acting partner. These two, together, provide a belly full of good laughs. -- KCE

*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. Robert Carlyle does a brilliant turn as the ruthless terrorist Renard. 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. -- Cole Smithey

Carmike 10; Chapel Hills; Tinseltown


Cider House Rules (PG-13)

Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) was raised by his orphanage's doctor (Michael Caine), who taught him everything about medicine and a little about right and wrong, but didn't give him rules to live by. When Homer enters the real world and has to make decisions about life and love, he realizes that he cannot escape his past. Based on the novel by John Irving, who also wrote the screenplay.

Chapel Hills; Tinseltown

Magnolia (R)

The lives of Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, Julianne Moore and Philip Seymore Hoffman are interwoven during one day in the San Fernando Valley in this mysterious looking film by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights), accompanied by the songs of Aimee Mann.

Chapel Hills; Tinseltown

Microcosmos (not rated)

Nature film revealing the world close-up, as insects see it.

East Library, 5550 N. Union Blvd. Wed., Jan 12. 7 p.m.

Princess Mononoke (PG-13)

Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson and Jada Pinkett provide the voices for this Japanese animated film focused on environmental issues, portrayed as a battle between the Princess and a mining village.

Tiffany Square

Snow Falling on Cedars (PG-13)

Ethan Hawke stars in this series of linked stories of the effects of forced internment on Japanese Americans in the U.S. during World War II. Based on David Guterson's novel; directed by Scott Hicks (Shine).

Kimball's Twin Peak; Carmike 10; Tinseltown; Tiffany Square

Texas Across the River (not rated)

1966 comedy starring Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Rosemary Forsyth, Alain Delon and Andrew Prine as cowboys trying to smuggle arms through dangerous territory.

Fine Arts Center Theatre, 30 W. Dale St. Tues., Jan. 11. 7:30 p.m.


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