Bend It Like Beckham
Dir. Gurinder Chadha; writ. Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges; feat. Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (PG-13)
Beckham is the endearing story of culture clash - between England and India, masculine and feminine, straight and gay, immigrants and their assimilating children. While Jess rejects the cultural role assigned her, Bend It Like Beckham follows the conventions of inspirational sports movies - montage of matches, crisis in the team we are rooting for, a modicum of suspense over who wins the big game. Relentlessly cheerful, it is Rocky served up with samosas and bitters. SGK

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Dir. McG; writ. John August; feat. Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Demi Moore, Bernie Mac (PG-13)
The first installment, we can now safely say, was a fluke: The man who calls himself McG was not meant to direct motion pictures. Even Tinseltown's most likable babes can't save this incoherent T&A fest, which is heavy on the costume changes but woefully short on clever jokes - and entirely lacking when it comes to enjoyable action, despite the director's delusion that he's a goodchase-scene choreographer. JD

Finding Nemo
Dir. Andrew Stanton; writ. Andrew Stanton; feat. Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould (G)
Finding Nemo is a proud continuation of the Pixar tradition, coming alive with the perfect ratio of drama to hyperkinetic irreverence that made its predecessors such lucrative, critically lauded efforts. For every pratfall the kids will find hilarious, the script provides a dash of higher-brow humor parents can appreciate, all set against an unprecedented backdrop of color and motion that's impossible to ignore. If distributor Disney wants to recapture the lost magic of their past, they needn't look far to see how. JW

Ghosts of the Abyss
Dir. and writ. James Cameron; feat. Cameron, Bill Paxton (G)
The rotting husk of the world's most famous ship comes alive here, with one of Hollywood's most gifted spectacle-makers using 3-D cameras to document the wreckage of the Titanic. James Cameron uses generous doses of computer imagery and re-created sets to show how great masses were once elegant decks and sepulchral chambers were once luxurious staterooms -- combining science, history, and gee-whiz effects in a very satisfying way. JD

The Hulk
Dir. Ang Lee; writ. James Schamus, John Turman, Michael France; feat. Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte, Josh Lucas, Paul Kersey (PG-13)
Yes, the new CGI Hulk looks real - at least as much so as Ahnuld, Pam Anderson, and his other Hollywood peers -but the real star of this movie is the giddy way in which director Ang Lee appropriates comic-book language for cinematic purposes, splitting the screen in a hundred ways while telling a story that may be a lot darker than we expect from Marvel-ous minds, but is still pretty fun. JD

The Italian Job
Dir. F. Gary Gray; writ. Donna & Wayne Powers; feat. Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Jason Statham, Mos Def, Donald Sutherland (PG-13)
Smooth and likeable, this caper remake takes itself far less seriously than "Heist" or "The Score," which is a good thing considering the charming sidemen surrounding leading man Mark Wahlberg. The initial caper is so clever it outshines the more elaborate one that closes the story -- and both are overshadowed by the trio of Mini Coopers that sometimes seem to be the film's reason for being. JD

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde
Dir. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld; writ. Kate Kondell; feat. Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Bob Newhart, Luke Wilson, Jennifer Coolidge, Regina King, Jessica Cauffiel, Alanna Ubach (PG-13)
You can only be surprised by something once, and this sequel - for which none of the original filmmakers have returned - expects all its tired tricks to work again and again. Sadly, the spark of the first film is completely gone, and even the famously delightful Witherspoon can't bring the rote plot to life. JD

The Matrix Reloaded
Dir. and writ. Andy & Larry Wachowski; feat. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harold Perrineau Jr. (R)
In this hyper-anticipated sequel, the Wachowski brothers appear to have taken the hype to heart, insisting on making everything bigger and bolder. The action is appropriately hyperbolic, then, but so is the endless philosophical pontificating - which misses the point of the original film, in which the heavy themes were demonstrated by the plot as much as they were explicated by dialogue. JD

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Dir. Jonathan Mostow; writ. John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris; feat. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, David Andrews, Mark Famiglietti (R)
In a summer of overwhelmingly disappointing sequels, low expectations work to T3's advantage. Unashamedly over-the-top without allowing its silliness to dilute the action, the latest installment finds Ahnuld (consciously or not) doing a perfect parody of his most famous character, and matches the original Terminator with a blonde, leather-clad babe who's even less garrulous than he is. It's pure pulp, with hardly a trace of the pompousness some of the advertising materials seem to promise. JD

Together (Han ni zai yiki)
Dir. Chen Kaige; writ. Chen Kaige, Xue Xiaolu; feat. Tang Yun, Liu Peiqi, Chen Hong, Wang Zhiwen, Chen Kaige (PG)
Together overflows with feeling - between father and son; teacher and pupil; a worldly young woman, Lili (Chen Hong), and the adolescent musician who develops a crush on her. The film, which seems like chamber work after Chen Kaige's orchestral Farewell My Concubine, is a foundling fable, a coming-of-age story, and an affirmation of art and love together. Like Tchaikovsky, whose lush Violin Concerto provides a recurring theme, Chen must enjoy playing with a viewer's emotions. He does it relentlessly, and he does not strike a false note except at the end. SGK

28 Days Later
Dir. Danny Boyle; writ. Alex Garland; feat. Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Noah Huntley, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Stuart McQuarrie, Christopher Eccleson (R)
For once, a zombie movie you can sink your teeth into! With plague-devastate London as a backdrop and bleak videotape cinematography to capture it, Trainspotting director Danny Boyle gets off on the right foot. He seals the deal by giving us zombies who come at you like hellfire instead of sleepwalkers, and by working non-undead threats into the scenario. Forgive the occasional horror-film pitfalls, and go get scared. JD

Whale Rider
Dir. & writ. Niki Caro, based on a novel by Witi Ihimaera; feat. Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis (PG-13)
Filmed in spectacular coastal Whangara, on New Zealand's North Island, Whale Rider is a beguiling exercise in both ethnography and wish fulfillment. It is a South Pacific fish story that assumes respect for history and sympathy for social justice - and provides an inspiring, implausible conclusion that reduced the woman I saw it with to blubbering. SGK

X2: X-Men United
Dir. Bryan Singer; writ. Michael Dougherty, Daniel P. Harris; feat. Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Anna Paquin (PG-13)
Somehow expanding on the original in opposite directions at once, this slam-bang sequel: introduces compelling new characters and enhances minor ones while still letting Ian McKellen shine as Magneto; features more and better action scenes while also enhancing the quieter social messages introduced in the first film; stuffs the frame with insider comic references while making the comic's serpentine plotlines digestible to newcomers. Excelsior! JD

Films reviewed by:
AL: Albert Lopez
JD: John DeFore
JM: Jonathan Marcus
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
LMF: Laura Fries
JW: Joe Weiss
AP: Alejandro Pérez



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