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SHARK TALE (PG) A too-obvious message movie about keepin' it real and accepting "different" children, this computer-animated undersea comedy has its share of laughs but is no Shrek or Finding Nemo. It lands all the fish puns Nemo threw back, some in the name of product placement. (Kelpy Kreme Doughnuts, anyone?). Amid such fine voice actors as Will Smith, Renée Zellweger and Jack Black, Martin Scorsese, of all people, turns out to be the breakout talent. -- SW
SAW (R) Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannel (who wrote the screenplay) play two men who awaken chained in a basement with a dead body in this psychological drama from first-time director James Wan.
SHALL WE DANCE (PG-13) Only subtlety is lost in the translation of the 1997 Japanese film about a contented married man (Richard Gere) who becomes happy when he takes ballroom dancing lessons from Jennifer Lopez. This remake, directed by Englishman Peter Chelsom, seems so thoroughly American it's surprising how little was actually changed. The lack of communication between Gere and wife Susan Sarandon doesn't ring true, while Audrey Wells' screenplay manages to be both deeper and more frivolous than the original. We'll show the Japanese they can't beat us at either end of the emotional spectrum! -- SW
SIDEWAYS (R) A failed novelist (Paul Giamatti) takes his oldest friend, a has-been actor (Thomas Haden Church) for a pre-wedding trip through California wine country in the latest examination of American mediocrity from About Schmidt director Alexander Payne. The film expounds a surprisingly sincere belief in wine as a metaphor for life, and for a while unfolds as a mellow, impeccably acted idyll (with terrific supporting turns from Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh). Payne eventually sheds his merciless insights on his self-absorbed male characters, but like a fine wine, his harsh sensibilities have mellowed with age. -- CH
THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE (PG) See review on page 82.
TARNATION (NR) An absolutely harrowing trip through one man's dark life, Tarnation is both a full-length autobiography and a one-man film revolution composed of Super-8 footage, family photographs and audio snippets created for a miniscule budget on common iMovie software. Director Jonathan Caouette documents the various tragedies, from shock treatment to rape, that befell his mother, and also his own floundering in a comparable miasma of abuse and neglect. Though his film, in gazing so obsessively on his own troubled past, can drift into histrionics, and his own mentally ill, ravaged mother can often seem another piece of evidence in his film catalogue, Caouette's film remains a remarkable achievement, both in execution and spirit, for showing one person's resolute refusal to let life crush him. -- FF
TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (R) "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone jerk the chain of every possible viewer in this overblown action flick and political satire entirely populated by wooden-headed marionettes. A globe-trotting, flag-waving U.S. antiterrorist team provides an outrageous parody of American intervensionism, while outspoken left-wingers like Alec Baldwin receive equally savage treatment. Parker and Stone achieve their funniest jokes with dead-on lampoons of Hollywood shoot-em-ups, but Team America also serves as the ideal joke to defuse the bitterness of the current political climate. -- CH
WHAT THE #$! DO WE KNOW? (NR) This head-scratching hybrid of philosophical documentary and narrative feature proves to be about everything and nothing. As a framing device follows a divorced photographer (Marlee Matlin) on her daily routine, intercut with talking-head interviews with physicists and other heavy thinkers about quantum science, human perception and positive thinking. Grating, silly animation accompanies the persuasive section about how people can get addicted to negative emotions, while much of the film's deep thoughts embody New Age spirituality at its most squishy. -- CH
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