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GANGS OF NEW YORK (R) Though Martin Scorsese's historical epic has a more conventional plot line than his more morally ambiguous, violence-soaked films, Gangs of New York is no small feat. A vortex of crime and corruption based on the real life mire of 1800s Manhattan street gangs, Gangs is a smarter than average epic, though far short of Scorsese's best work. Its greatest saving grace is a brilliantly charismatic, psychopath leader of the Native gang, Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) whose often justified guttersnipe rage far outshines the milquetoast heroism of his Irish gang rival played by Leonardo DiCaprio.--FF
GODS AND GENERALS (PG-13) Ted Turner Pictures offers a would-be epic of the first two years of the Civil War that feels like it was shot in real time. Gettysburg writer-director Ronald Maxwell does a fine job at battlefield reenactment, especially for the extended sequence of Fredericksburg, but has no clue how to make such figures as Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang) into intriguing characters. The film's tedium is easier to forgive, though, than its whitewashing of the institution of slavery, which here merely seems like a bad career choice.--CH
HEAD OF STATE (PG-13) If there was ever a time when we could use a raucous political satire to shake things up, this is clearly that time. Unfortunately, Head of State clearly isn't that movie. Rather than grab the political bull by the horns (think Bulworth or Bowling for Columbine), Chris Rock is content to make a comedy that could easily play on network TV as a pilot for a proposed sit-com. (My Big Fat Freak Election, anyone?) Still, for a movie that traffics in timidity rather than temerity, this offers a handful of inspired gags, as well as charismatic roles for Rock and Bernie Mac as siblings who run for the Oval Office. -- MB
HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS (PG-13) Kate Hudson's magazine columnist puts her ideas about feminine dating mistakes to the test with Matthew McConaughey, who believes he can win any woman in 10 days. Though predictable to a fault, the romantic comedy wrings a certain charm out of the formula and takes a couple of well-placed stabs at the genre in the process.--TB
THE HOURS (PG-13) Stephen Daldry's splendidly literate film uses Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway to unite three women, cutting between the day Woolf (Nicole Kidman) is writing it, a 1950s housewife (Julianne Moore) is reading it, and a 2002 book editor (Meryl Streep) is somehow living it. The film's increasing reliance on theatrical monologues means the pay-off doesn't equal the brilliant set-up, but its nevertheless a lush, rich film experience, with Kidman donning a prosthetic nose and being more liberated as an actress than she's ever been.--CH
THE HUNTED (PG-13) A U.S. trained assassin (Benicio Del Toro) starts giving hunters a lethal taste of their own medicine until his old mentor (Tommy Lee Jones) tracks him down. Supposedly a trip-wire killing machine, del Toro instead seems bored and skeptical, as if he can't believe this is the best he could do after his Oscar for Traffic. Jones gives an unexpectedly vulnerable performance, but his presence and the unimpressive stunts only make us pine for The Fugitive. "Be vewy quiet. I'm hunting Dew Towo."--CH
IMAX Whales (NR) Follow orca, blue, humpback, right whales and dolphins through oceans around the globe in this doc narrated by Patrick Stewart. Through May 23. Coral Reef Adventure (NR) Ocean explorers Howard and Michele Hall journey to some of the world's largest, most beautiful and most endangered coral reefs. Through Sept. 1. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. www.fernbank.edu.
IRREVERSIBLE (NR) Gaspar Noe's technically accomplished exercise in brutality is like watching a one-hour snuff film with a final third of "normal" behavior. A la Memento, we see the major scenes in reverse order, including a nine-minute rape of a beautiful woman (Monica Bellucci) that may be the ugliest such sequence ever shot. Noe's cheap misanthropy proves a weak justification for such unsparingly repellent material, which ultimately rests on such thin ideas as "Revenge is self-defeating" and "Hindsight is 20-20."At Lefont Plaza Theatre.--CH
THE JUNGLE BOOK 2 (G) Disney continues to make unnecessary sequels to its classic cartoon features, with Mowgli (Haley Joel Osment) returning for another rumble in the jungle. John Goodman is a natural choice to replace Phil Harris as the laid-back Baloo, but what's next? Sleeping Beauty Hits the Snooze Button?
THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE (R) A reporter (Kate Winslet) races the clock to learn whether a condemned "death penalty abolitionist" (Kevin Spacey) was framed for murder. The preposterous sleuthing provides a weak vehicle for the film's anti-capital punishment boilerplate. The flashbacks about how the Spacey character's life was ruined by false accusations and politically correctness play better, but the actor still hasn't rediscovered the icy charisma that drove his work before his American Beauty Oscar.--CH