Movie Picks 

click to enlarge Almost Famous
  • Almost Famous

*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 Bang (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. William falls in love with her and can't help but see the band through her eyes. The bulk of the film follows Stillwater, William, Penny and the rest of the groupies 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; Kimball's Twin Peak; Chapel Hills

Autumn in New York (PG-13)

Richard Gere plays a womanizing, aging restaurateur who falls for Winona Ryder, a youthful artiste dying from a heart ailment. Much is made of his age and her youth -- he gives her a few last laughs; she opens up his heart. Gere is an appealing leading man and Ryder does the best she can with a silly role that involves being quixotic. The production values are quite appealing, but in some ways the very prettiness of the film is its most annoying feature. The last I checked, love, eating, sex, and dying were all quite messy endeavors, but Autumn in New York makes them appear like orderly activities. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with a tidy little film, but it manages to take most of the interest out of what otherwise would be compelling subject matter. See full review.-- AL

Gold Hill Theaters

*The Basket (PG)

Peter Coyote plays a teacher with unconventional methods who comes to a small Pacific Northwest town in the midst of World War I. Though the townspeople are tired and suspicious, when he teaches them a strange new game called basketball, they react with enthusiasm and hope. Beautifully filmed, gentle and respectful treatment of difficult issues in a simpler time. -- KCE

Chapel Hills

*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 squad from Los Angeles, 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.See full review. -- KCE

Chapel Hills; Tinseltown; Carmike 10

The Cell (R)

The Cell explores the dark territory inside the mind of serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio) as psychologist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) risks her sanity by interacting with the killer's subconscious to attempt to locate his last victim in time to rescue her. Creepy dreamscapes and funky color schemes give a nod to suspense thrillers likeThe Silence of the Lambs, but The Cell's extravagant imagery doesn't hold a candle to David Fincher's Seven for terror, dread, and suspense. As a horror or suspense film, The Cell falls short by pulling its punches in refusing to live up to the creepy and volatile standards it lays out. -- Cole Smithey

Carmike 10; Tinseltown

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

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills

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

Chapel Hills; Silver CInemas

*The Exorcist (R)

See full review.Tinseltown; Chapel Hills

*Gladiator (R)

Russell Crowe (The Insider) acts up a righteous storm in his Roman get-up, proving once and for all that his versatility as an actor matches his prowess. Though director Ridley Scott would like you to think Gladiator is about strength, honor, duty, democracy and the danger of mob rule, in truth, it is an old-fashioned revenge drama -- and a pretty good one at that. Crowe as Maximus, beloved general of Roman troops turned slave, then gladiator, and Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus, insecure usurper to the throne, make marvelous foes. Unfortunately, Scott is so enamored of his production team's ability to show heads, hands and other body parts being severed, that the fight scenes become clamorous and redundant. See full review.-- KCE

Silver Cinemas

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.See full review. -- Cole Smithey

Silver Cinemas

*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


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

Remember the Titans (PG)

See full review.Tinseltown; Chapel Hills; Carmike 10

Saving Grace (R)

Another refreshingly politically incorrect British comedy, Saving Grace stars Brenda Blethyn as an upper-crust villager whose late husband has left her in debt. Groundskeeper Matthew (Craig Ferguson), turns Grace on to the idea of growing marijuana in order to pay her bills. Blethyn grounds her character with her depiction of the sorrow of a loveless marriage, but the film destabilizes slightly when Grace ventures to London to find a dealer. The actors succeed in making their characters seem like real people, especially Valerie Edmond who plays Nicky, Matthew's pregnant girlfriend. Gentle, and whimsical, in spite of its subject matter, not an earthshaker, but certainly a worthy comedy. See full review.--KCE

Kimball's Twin Peak

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; Tinseltown

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

Tinseltown; Carmike 10; Chapel Hills

The Watcher (R)

Debut feature director Joe Charbanic (music video director for Keanu Reeves' band Dogstar) dilutes any hope for captivating cinematic entertainment in The Watcher by beating the chase scene, an otherwise innocent cinematic device, until there is nothing left. It doesn't help matters that Keanu Reeves, as David Allen Griffin, insists on crystallizing his worst-actor-in-Hollywood title by playing a serial killer about as menacing as a sleeper sofa. No stars for this lame attempt at stylish suspense and psychological voyeurism. See full review.-- Cole Smithey

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown

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

Woman on Top (R)

While ostensibly a straightforward textbook chick flick romantic comedy, the first big English-speaking vehicle for Spanish film star Penelope Cruz is problematic. Cruz is absolutely winning as Isabella, a beautiful Brazilian chef who leaves her husband Tonio (Murilo Benicio), for San Francisco when she discovers he has been cheating. Tonio tries to woo her back with love songs, 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. Had Torres paid as much attention to the other production aspects of the film, including doctoring the weak script, Woman On Top might have succeeded. As it is, it's neither a good romance nor a good comedy -- it's a mediocre tease at both. See full review. See full review.-- KCE

*X-Men (PG-13)

The summer's biggest blockbuster turns out to be a spirited, stylish allegory more along the lines of its mighty predecessor The Matrix. Audience members are swept up almost immediately into a blessed state of suspended disbelief from which we are allowed to dwell on the spectacle before us, not on the probability of the plot. This happens incredibly swiftly with sharply defined scenes and cogent dialogue. A few subplots -- mutants Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) hankers for Dr. Grey (Famke Janssen) who is currently Cyclops' (James Marsden) main squeeze; Rogue (Anna Paquin), meanwhile, is smitten with her saviour and hero, Wolverine -- add some needed humor and heart to the mix. The diction and grave humanity of Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen lend more to the film than a year's worth of special effects. And Australian newcomer Jackman is fabulous -- a steely, Clint Eastwood look-alike who moves with feral grace and a healthy dose of skepticism throughout. See full review.-- KCE

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills


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