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“Hooked on Hogan’s goatish hero”

Schrader (screenwriter of Taxi Driver, etc.) offers a portrait of “Hogan’s Heroes” star Bob Crane as an ordinary guy afflicted with sexual athlete’s foot. He and his buddy John get a lot of women, but they lack much fun in their compulsions. The film is a study less of a life of seduction than of the seductiveness of seduction and the seductions of celebrity. (R) SGK

“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

Bloody Sunday
“History made shockingly vivid”

This film about a 1972 assault by English paratroopers on a peaceful civil rights demonstration in Ireland is a dramatization, but has all the immediacy and kick of a documentary, with a kinetic handheld camera, chaotic soundscape, and unshowy, urgent acting. The events may be 30 years old, but the topic — the way a hair-trigger military tends to misfire when all civilians are viewed as potential terrorists — is as fresh as today’s headlines. (R) JD

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

“The stand-up comedian as traveling chameleon”

Comedian, which follows Seinfeld in his return to stand-up venues, contrasting his efforts with those of rookie comic Orny Adams, is a study in celebrity rather than in humor. It is not the often facile jokes that fill seats at stand-up clubs but rather the lure of contact with charisma. Audiences go to see someone, like Seinfeld, who has been authenticated by TV or someone, like Adams, who, they wager, will be. The film offers a few brief shots of Seinfeld’s wife and baby, and of Adams on the phone with his mother; but in Comedian, as in astrology, this sense of intimacy with the stars is illusory. (R) SGK

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Britanny Murphy and Eminem star in 8 Mile
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

“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. Really. (R) JM

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

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 and misunderstood 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 something to savor. (R) JD

Red Dragon
“Gross, dude, and thank goodness”

This re-interpretation of the first book in the Hannibal Lecter trilogy is creepy as all get-out, with icky kicks to rival its predecessors. Yet Dragon takes time for levity and subtlety. The emphasis of Hannibal’s impeccable style borders on kitsch, but is essential to the film’s character dynamics, which allows even minor characters to shine. (R) JM

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 The Others and Sixth Sense winners. (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”

Sweet 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 and ludicrous message that ambition is as unnatural an appendage to a woman as a penis. (PG-13) SGK

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Christine Boisson in The Truth About Charlie
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 cloak and dagger adventures 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, though, they may enjoy being spoon-fed. (PG) JM

The Tuxedo
“Worst-ever Jackie Chan film?”

Astoundingly, this Jackie Chan film has not a single example of Chan’s patented Buster Keaton-meets-Bruce Lee comedic action sequences — you know, the things that make his fans endure all the crappy filler that fleshes out most of his recent films. (PG-13) JD

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 now-orphaned 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: Lanette Miller
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura



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