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Barbershop
“Raises expectations for black comedies”

Unlike most black comedies, this tale presents nuanced characters instead of stereotypes to be dissected, making the film — which depicts a day in the life of a Chicago barbershop — more like black dramas such as Soul Food than the pot farce Friday. (PG-13) SM

Bowling for Columbine
“Angry, witty essay on American mania”

What's unique about the United States? Gun violence. Moore, a working-class Socrates who poses unsettling questions, ponders that problem in this cinematic essay, with a zany style that's anything but ponderous, veering from California to Canada, from Marilyn Manson to Charlton Heston. This infuriating, grievous, and hilarious film doesn't arrive at any solid answers, but is an exceptional look at U.S. exceptionalism. (R) SGK

8 Mile
“Motor mouth escapes from Motor City”

While parts of 8 Mile are funny, most of it is a sad demonstration of how needy young men mistake conflict for connection. Despite its own hunger for success, 8 Mile fails to make the novice actor Eminem seem more than a clever, self-absorbed rhymester. Like its abrasive characters, this heavily hyped film confuses greatness with aggression. (R) SGK

Femme Fatale
“Pure De Palma, pure likeable trash”

Femme Fatale isn't one of the director's best, but it's the kind of über-trash that only DePalma can deliver: There's no consistency to the characters, the plot is utterly dishonest, and it's tailor-made for sexist pigs; on the other hand, its cinematic panache is thrilling, and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is, um, hot. Fatale is a slinky, slutty shaggy dog story with a silly-ass punch line; but if you're in the mood for dumpster diving, it's a lot of fun. (R) JD

Frida
“Conventional look at an unconventional life”

Though director Julie Taymor has a gift for surprising imagery — paintings come to life here and vice-versa — Frida’s screenplay is too conventional to bring its unorthodox characters to life. Depicting a woman whose physical pain was legendary, Salma Hayek is as lithe as a dancer, with only occasional gestures thrown in to remind us she is supposed to be crippled. As her husband Diego Rivera, the charismatic Alfred Molina overshadows the actress, which is just as well — despite the movie’s name, the filmmakers don’t seem very interested in Frida’s life except as it relates to Diego. (R) JD

Ghost Ship
“Dead in the water”

Pinning the label “rip-off” to Ghost Ship won't deter horror film fans — but “bland” and “frightless” should let even spook-fest aficionados know that they can skip this one. (R) JM

The Grey Zone
“Moral ambiguity amid the Nazi genocide”

An attempt at drama without judgment, this WWII drama centers on the Sonderkommandos, inmates who assisted the Nazis in operating their horrendous machinery of death — collaborators who inhabited a “grey zone” of morality. Even more unsettling than the lurid images of mass murder scattered throughout The Grey Zone is the movie's ambiguity. Viewers who desire art that clarifies confusion have wandered into the wrong zone. (R) SGK

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
“A joyless bore”

For a film set at an academy of witchcraft, the latest entry in the Harry Potter fanbase-milking campaign is remarkably devoid of magic. Even the charm of its adult cast is squandered here, a mistake the first film didn't make. Chamber of Secrets is a big, bloated bore, full of tedious exposition and lifeless computer graphics. (PG) JD

I Spy
“Any similarity is coincidental — so what?”

It has nothing whatsoever to do with the dry wit of the TV series which bore its name, but I Spy is a pretty entertaining little summer flick, even if summer has already made its exit. Wilson and Murphy both show, if not their very best sides, then far from their worst — and Wilson's halting manner turns an iffy Cyrano de Bergerac moment involving Janssen into a real show stopper. (PG-13) JD

Jackass: The Movie
”Causes uncontrollable giggling and gagging”

Despite prominent guest appearances by mega pro-skaters, director Spike Jonze, etc., The Movie doesn't pretend to be anything more than spliced footage of raunchy, bad behavior. There's neither plot nor script; it's simply a glorified episode of the show, uncensored and out of control. The humor is in the most low-brow vein, but it's funny — bellyachingly so — if you can find humor in poo, painful pranks, and the thong-clad “Party Boy” who prances around Japan with a bowtie and a boombox. (R) WK

The Man From Elysian Fields
“Impossible to buy”

Andy Garcia is dead in the water with this screenplay, which insists on spelling everything out for the viewer. He plays an unsuccessful novelist forced to sell his body to support his family, but you won’t believe any woman would pay to spend time with someone so boring. His pimp, on the other hand — played with sleazy elegance by Mick Jagger — lights up the screen when he’s on it. Too bad it's not his story.(R) JD

My Big Fat Greek Wedding
“Sweet Greek comedy, not Aristophanes”

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the story of how a 30-year-old spinster both defied and confirmed her tribal expectations. But it is not this ordinary story as much as the details that keep a viewer chuckling. (PG) SGK

Punch-Drunk Love
“Knockout in one round”

An ideal collaboration between a much-maligned actor and a filmmaker known for rescuing neglected talent, this is a romantic comedy for an angst-filled age, in which oppressive fear and anger are a constrictive shell around a perfectly sweet core. Anderson's camera — starry-eyed and always moving — is perfectly matched to its subjects, and the thoroughly unpredictable story is one to savor. (R) JD

Real Women Have Curves
“Banal is beautiful, almost”

Curves is an anti-movie movie, a rejection of Hollywood's anorectic aesthetics. Instead of paragons of svelte, it offers big bones and sagging flesh, more typical of its audience, perhaps, but not necessarily more “real.” Here, a stocky teenager named Ana tries to escape the banality of her East L.A. family life; the portrait may be convincing, but the film isn't honest enough in its depiction of the real world — or about its own agendas — to win our trust. (PG-13) SGK

The Ring
“Culturally cleansed”

Though the plot's relatively faithful, this remake of Japanese horror hit Ringu doesn't do the original justice. On its own, The Ring — in which a mysterious videotape is somehow killing those who view it — does deliver some suspenseful moments and gory gross-outs, but the final plot twist lacks the checkmate move that made Sixth Sense a winner. (PG-13) AO

The Santa Clause 2
“Más merry magic”

At the risk of sounding like a cliché, this truly is a holiday movie for the whole family. Mixing slapstick and verbal humor to tweak funnybones of all ages, the screenplay manages a rare balance between real-life concerns and make-believe fun. (G) LM

Sweet Home Alabama
“Romantic comedy goes South”

Home revels in stereotypes about Northern materialism and Southern comforts; there's never much doubt which side will win. It's a women's movie with the insidious, ludicrous message that ambition is as unnatural an appendage to a woman as a penis. (PG-13) SGK

The Truth About Charlie
“Multi-referential fun”

This is an old-school Demme film, a throwback to the days when life-and-death dilemmas could be treated lightly. The jaunty Demme of Something Wild is in evidence here, with a Charade remake that shouldn't be viewed soon after the original. On its own, the film is a nice ride; not as perfectly structured as some of the director's earlier road trips through Quirksville, but still an antidote to all those thrillers out there which take themselves far too seriously. (PG-13) JD

Tuck Everlasting
“Lovely tale withstands trite retelling”

After a very rocky start, the fable — concerning a spring of youth, a romance, and threats from outsiders — begins, but this romance is stripped of poetry and darkness. Once viewers realize what's happening, they may enjoy being spoon-fed. (PG) JM

White Oleander
“Acrid mother-daughter love-hate”

Oleander could be called a Dickensian portrait of coming of age, if only Dickens had lived in southern California and swapped father/son relationships for mother/daughter ones. This tale of an incarcerated mother who exerts a poisonous influence on her offspring is vividly compelling, despite losing much of its momentum toward the end. (PG-13) SGK

Films reviewed by:
AO: Amalia Ortiz
JD: John DeFore
JM: Jonathan Marcus
LM: Lynette Miller
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura

Barbershop
“Raises expectations for black comedies”

Unlike most black comedies, this tale presents nuanced characters instead of stereotypes to be dissected, making the film — which depicts a day in the life of a Chicago barbershop — more like black dramas such as Soul Food than the pot farce Friday. (PG-13) SM

Bowling for Columbine
“Angry, witty essay on American mania”

What's unique about the United States? Gun violence. Moore, a working-class Socrates who poses unsettling questions, ponders that problem in this cinematic essay, with a zany style that's anything but ponderous, veering from California to Canada, from Marilyn Manson to Charlton Heston. This infuriating, grievous, and hilarious film doesn't arrive at any solid answers, but is an exceptional look at U.S. exceptionalism. (R) SGK

8 Mile
“Motor mouth escapes from Motor City”

While parts of 8 Mile are funny, most of it is a sad demonstration of how needy young men mistake conflict for connection. Despite its own hunger for success, 8 Mile fails to make the novice actor Eminem seem more than a clever, self-absorbed rhymester. Like its abrasive characters, this heavily hyped film confuses greatness with aggression. (R) SGK

Femme Fatale
“Pure De Palma, pure likeable trash”

Femme Fatale isn't one of the director's best, but it's the kind of über-trash that only DePalma can deliver: There's no consistency to the characters, the plot is utterly dishonest, and it's tailor-made for sexist pigs; on the other hand, its cinematic panache is thrilling, and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is, um, hot. Fatale is a slinky, slutty shaggy dog story with a silly-ass punch line; but if you're in the mood for dumpster diving, it's a lot of fun. (R) JD

Frida
“Conventional look at an unconventional life”

Though director Julie Taymor has a gift for surprising imagery — paintings come to life here and vice-versa — Frida’s screenplay is too conventional to bring its unorthodox characters to life. Depicting a woman whose physical pain was legendary, Salma Hayek is as lithe as a dancer, with only occasional gestures thrown in to remind us she is supposed to be crippled. As her husband Diego Rivera, the charismatic Alfred Molina overshadows the actress, which is just as well — despite the movie’s name, the filmmakers don’t seem very interested in Frida’s life except as it relates to Diego. (R) JD

Ghost Ship
“Dead in the water”

Pinning the label “rip-off” to Ghost Ship won't deter horror film fans — but “bland” and “frightless” should let even spook-fest aficionados know that they can skip this one. (R) JM

The Grey Zone
“Moral ambiguity amid the Nazi genocide”

An attempt at drama without judgment, this WWII drama centers on the Sonderkommandos, inmates who assisted the Nazis in operating their horrendous machinery of death — collaborators who inhabited a “grey zone” of morality. Even more unsettling than the lurid images of mass murder scattered throughout The Grey Zone is the movie's ambiguity. Viewers who desire art that clarifies confusion have wandered into the wrong zone. (R) SGK

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
“A joyless bore”

For a film set at an academy of witchcraft, the latest entry in the Harry Potter fanbase-milking campaign is remarkably devoid of magic. Even the charm of its adult cast is squandered here, a mistake the first film didn't make. Chamber of Secrets is a big, bloated bore, full of tedious exposition and lifeless computer graphics. (PG) JD

I Spy
“Any similarity is coincidental — so what?”

It has nothing whatsoever to do with the dry wit of the TV series which bore its name, but I Spy is a pretty entertaining little summer flick, even if summer has already made its exit. Wilson and Murphy both show, if not their very best sides, then far from their worst — and Wilson's halting manner turns an iffy Cyrano de Bergerac moment involving Janssen into a real show stopper. (PG-13) JD

Jackass: The Movie
”Causes uncontrollable giggling and gagging”

Despite prominent guest appearances by mega pro-skaters, director Spike Jonze, etc., The Movie doesn't pretend to be anything more than spliced footage of raunchy, bad behavior. There's neither plot nor script; it's simply a glorified episode of the show, uncensored and out of control. The humor is in the most low-brow vein, but it's funny — bellyachingly so — if you can find humor in poo, painful pranks, and the thong-clad “Party Boy” who prances around Japan with a bowtie and a boombox. (R) WK

The Man From Elysian Fields
“Impossible to buy”

Andy Garcia is dead in the water with this screenplay, which insists on spelling everything out for the viewer. He plays an unsuccessful novelist forced to sell his body to support his family, but you won’t believe any woman would pay to spend time with someone so boring. His pimp, on the other hand — played with sleazy elegance by Mick Jagger — lights up the screen when he’s on it. Too bad it's not his story.(R) JD

My Big Fat Greek Wedding
“Sweet Greek comedy, not Aristophanes”

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the story of how a 30-year-old spinster both defied and confirmed her tribal expectations. But it is not this ordinary story as much as the details that keep a viewer chuckling. (PG) SGK

Punch-Drunk Love
“Knockout in one round”

An ideal collaboration between a much-maligned actor and a filmmaker known for rescuing neglected talent, this is a romantic comedy for an angst-filled age, in which oppressive fear and anger are a constrictive shell around a perfectly sweet core. Anderson's camera — starry-eyed and always moving — is perfectly matched to its subjects, and the thoroughly unpredictable story is one to savor. (R) JD

Real Women Have Curves
“Banal is beautiful, almost”

Curves is an anti-movie movie, a rejection of Hollywood's anorectic aesthetics. Instead of paragons of svelte, it offers big bones and sagging flesh, more typical of its audience, perhaps, but not necessarily more “real.” Here, a stocky teenager named Ana tries to escape the banality of her East L.A. family life; the portrait may be convincing, but the film isn't honest enough in its depiction of the real world — or about its own agendas — to win our trust. (PG-13) SGK

The Ring
“Culturally cleansed”

Though the plot's relatively faithful, this remake of Japanese horror hit Ringu doesn't do the original justice. On its own, The Ring — in which a mysterious videotape is somehow killing those who view it — does deliver some suspenseful moments and gory gross-outs, but the final plot twist lacks the checkmate move that made Sixth Sense a winner. (PG-13) AO

The Santa Clause 2
“Más merry magic”

At the risk of sounding like a cliché, this truly is a holiday movie for the whole family. Mixing slapstick and verbal humor to tweak funnybones of all ages, the screenplay manages a rare balance between real-life concerns and make-believe fun. (G) LM

Sweet Home Alabama
“Romantic comedy goes South”

Home revels in stereotypes about Northern materialism and Southern comforts; there's never much doubt which side will win. It's a women's movie with the insidious, ludicrous message that ambition is as unnatural an appendage to a woman as a penis. (PG-13) SGK

The Truth About Charlie
“Multi-referential fun”

This is an old-school Demme film, a throwback to the days when life-and-death dilemmas could be treated lightly. The jaunty Demme of Something Wild is in evidence here, with a Charade remake that shouldn't be viewed soon after the original. On its own, the film is a nice ride; not as perfectly structured as some of the director's earlier road trips through Quirksville, but still an antidote to all those thrillers out there which take themselves far too seriously. (PG-13) JD

Tuck Everlasting
“Lovely tale withstands trite retelling”

After a very rocky start, the fable — concerning a spring of youth, a romance, and threats from outsiders — begins, but this romance is stripped of poetry and darkness. Once viewers realize what's happening, they may enjoy being spoon-fed. (PG) JM

White Oleander
“Acrid mother-daughter love-hate”

Oleander could be called a Dickensian portrait of coming of age, if only Dickens had lived in southern California and swapped father/son relationships for mother/daughter ones. This tale of an incarcerated mother who exerts a poisonous influence on her offspring is vividly compelling, despite losing much of its momentum toward the end. (PG-13) SGK

Films reviewed by:
AO: Amalia Ortiz
JD: John DeFore
JM: Jonathan Marcus
LM: Lynette Miller
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura


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