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BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (R) An often cruelly jocular agitprop documentary about an out-of-control American gun culture, Michael Moore's (Roger & Me) nightmare tour of America's covert foreign policy, Michigan Militia and NRA rallies, conspiratorial kooks and sleazy TV producers makes a good case for the hair-trigger viciousness of our eye-for-an-eye culture even as it reduces painful, profound issues to irony-laced, laughable sport. At United Artists Tara Cinemas. --FF
DIE ANOTHER DAY (PG-13) Pierce Brosnan's fourth outing as 007 isn't the best Bond film by a long shot, but it may be the fastest. Director Lee Tamahori brings a breakneck pace and a spirited willingness to show the audience some wild, new spectacle, notably a melting ice palace and chases across a frozen lake. Homages to earlier films are plentiful, while Halle Berry, as comely assassin Jinx, and Judi Dench, as Bond's spy boss, each have Academy Awards, lending a little legitimacy to the silly puns and stuntwork. --CH
8 MILE (R) Bratty rapper Eminem plays a struggling hip-hop artist loosely based on himself in this struggling-artist story from Academy Award-caliber director Curtis Hanson. Structured around a series of public rap "duels," the film plays like a Rocky or Karate Kid movie, only with profane rhymes substituting for fisticuffs. If not a versatile thespian, Eminem proves comfortable in front of the camera, and the film reveals a genuine interest in hip-hop culture and the impoverished Detroit setting. --CH
EL CRIMEN DE PADRE AMARO (R) A hunky young priest (Y Tu Mama Tambien's Gael Garcia Bernal) moves to a corrupt town and finds his morals put to the test, not the least by a teenage parishioner (Ana Claudia Talancon). With everything from highway robberies to cats that eat communion wafers, the film provides some watchable melodrama. But neither director Carlos Carrera nor his main character show much interest in spirituality, making the film a heavy-handed critique of Catholicism, but with little soul-searching of its own. At Lefont Plaza Theatre. --CH
DRUMLINE (PG-13) A brilliant but insolent drum prodigy (Nick Cannon) joins the marching band of fictitious "Atlanta A&T University" and learns that there's no I in team. Even skeptical audiences will gladly march to music and moves of the marching band's "drumline," while the script ably explores the tensions between showmanship and musical accomplishment. Only Cannon's shallow performance hits discordant notes. --CH
THE EMPEROR'S CLUB (PG-13) This prep school dramedy about a bookish teacher (Kevin Kline) and a spoiled student (Emile Hirsch) plagiarizes a little from Dead Poet's Society before developing some fresh ideas about second chances and how youthful experiences shape adult character. Subtract points for its sleepy tone and for putting contemporary slang in the mouths of students in the '70s. That's not how they did it Old School. --CH
EMPIRE (R) John Leguizamo plays an up-and-coming, South Bronx crimelord whose bid for to make a Wall Street killing leads to bloodshed. Featuring Denise Richards, Isabella Rossellini and Fat Joe.
EQUILIBRIUM (R) In the post-WW III future, feelings which cause violent conflict have been outlawed, and butt-kicking cleric John Preston (Christian Bale) is the man who enforces this law of the land. A sci-fi effort to put a topical Prozac Nation spin on a Fahrenheit 451 story line, this Matrix-style film disappoints in every case -- neither brainy science fiction nor a galvanizing action thriller. --FF
EXTREME OPS (PG-13) This feels like the longest, most expensive soft drink commercial ever made -- every five minutes, I kept expecting one of its nerdy heroes to take a break from skiing or snowboarding, whip out a Mountain Dew and down it in one gulp. Grasping that audiences may realize they could watch this sort of action (minus the ludicrous dialogue and characters, of course) for free on ESPN, the writing wizards toss a Serbian war criminal into the mix for good measure. It's all incredibly inane. --MB
FAR FROM HEAVEN (PG-13) A rhapsodic, and often surreally accurate homage to the classic 1950s melodramas made by one of the genre's greatest subversives, Douglas Sirk, this tale of homosexuality and prejudice in 1957 Connecticut stars Julianne Moore and has all the stifled passion and bone-deep malaise of a Sirk production. As he did in the neo-rock opera Velvet Goldmine, director Todd Haynes has revitalized a disparaged genre, the women's picture, and in the process made one of the most heartfelt expressions of female confinement around. --FF
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