8 Mile -- There's a reason that Eminem is so popular on the hip-hop scene: He's good at what he does. And he's also quite good, it turns out, at acting, here playing a slightly less edgy version of himself in director Curtis Hanson's (L.A. Confidential) formulaic story of young men and women trying to their make dreams come true in ratty Detroit. Rapping bookends the film, and there's some in between, but most of this is a people story, not a music one. (ES) Rated: R
About Schmidt -- Everything is getting strange for Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson). He retires, his estranged daughter announces her wedding, and his wife dies. Wanting to start all over, he takes the wheel of a motor home, convinces himself that the impending marriage is a bad idea and, in dark comic manner, decides to stop it.
Analyze That -- Directed by Harold Ramis. The sweetest laughs in Analyze That, the sequel to Ramis' super-successful 1999 Billy Crystal-Robert DeNiro vehicle, come out of pure hostility. That, and the pure crystal comedic timing of Lisa Kudrow. (RP) Rated: R
Catch Me If You Can -- Spielberg lightens up considerably from recent films in this comedy (with a serious undertone about broken families) inspired by the real-life adventures of teenage con man extraordinaire Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio). Chased for years by a no-nonsense FBI man (Tom Hanks), his life probably wasn't as carefree as the film presents it. But this is one good romp, with terrific support from Christopher Walken and Nathalie Baye as his parents. The opening credits are very cool. (ES) Rated PG-13
Chicago -- Everyone's calling it this year's Moulin Rouge, except instead of one femme fatale/dance hall girl, there are two. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Velma Kelley, who gains instant notoreity (and time in jail) for shooting her philandering husband. Renee Zellweger is an up-and-coming starlet who, secretly hoping for similar fame, tries a similar tactic on her abusive boyfriend. Richard Gere is the celebrity-chasing lawyer who tries to represent them both. Rated: PG-13
Die Another Day -- The James Bond pictures always seem from another time, or more properly, of no time at all, divorced from the era of the Ian Fleming novels and from the other movies of any given year. What's freshest about this installment is that Pierce Brosnan is given the chance to draw on the darker side of his personality, and the game voluptuousness of Halle Berry as his partner in smirk, Jinx. (RP) Rated: PG-13
Drumline -- A young hip-hop drummer from Harlem gets the chance to attend an Atlanta university on a marching band scholarship. He quickly becomes a star -- if you can indeed become a "star" in marching band -- but his success is marred by the jealousy of a senior who finds out he fudged his records and threatens to turn him in to the well-liked band director (Orlando Jones). Directed by Charles Stone III, famous for directing all those "Whassup!" commercials. (No kidding.) Rated: PG-13
Frida -- For all director Julie Taymor's (Titus) visual splendor, the life story of painter Frida Kahlo still falls flat due to an overdone performance by Salma Hayek. Alfred Molina is splendid as her complex husband Diego Rivera, but everyone else involved seems to have forgotten that they were making a movie in addition to telling the facts of Kahlo's life, and so the film lurches from overdone moments to unfocused visual and verbal rambles. (Marty Demarest) Rated: R
Gangs of New York -- Martin Scorsese and innumerable conspirators have struggled for almost three decades to produce Gangs of New York, and yet it is a terrible movie. A hellish horror of failed ambition, it should freeze the blood of any artist who has held too long to a primal obsession and fears that a life's work will be shown up as a Promethean folly. Leonardo DiCaprio is a puffy cipher as a young man with vengeance on his mind; Daniel Day-Lewis offers epic hamming as the villain. (RP) Rated: R
Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets -- Director Chris Columbus returns, and he has loosened up, keeping in more of the second book's dark edge. So amid the terrific visual effects and the story of Harry and pals searching out a possibly deadly secret at school, there's a solid sense of menace and some truly frightening stuff (kids over 8 should be fine). A great comic performance from Kenneth Branagh helps out. (ES) Rated PG
The Hot Chick -- Do we really need another Rob Schneider movie? Apparently the people in Hollywood who make these decisions have decided that we do, and thus, we have The Hot Chick. A popular-but-bitchy high school student wakes up one morning to discover that she's been turned into a 30-year-old man (Schneider). You can bet that in addition to all sorts of slumber party and locker room hijinks, our heroine/hero learns a thing or two about "being beautiful on the inside." Rated: PG-13
The Lion King -- The ultra smash Disney hit from 1994 now gets the IMAX treatment, making it bigger, but not necessarily better. The story, typical of Disney, runs from happy to terribly sad to happy again. The lion cub Simba witnesses the terrifying death of his father, then is convinced by an evil uncle to run away from home without taking the throne that's rightfully his. (ES) Rated G
Maid in Manhattan -- While Wayne Wang doesn't do for Lopez what Steven Soderbergh did in Out of Sight, the Hong Kong-born director still brings an unlikely combination of romance and working class-verisimilitude to what could have been just another Pretty Woman wannabe. Lopez is a chambermaid at a ritzy New York hotel and a series of contrivances lead her into romance with dryly patrician politician Ralph Fiennes. Lopez is charming; Fiennes is surprisingly at ease on romantic comedy turf, and the entire film twinkles. (RP) Rated: PG-13
My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- This is the slobbo American version of Four Weddings and a Funeral, getting no marks for subtlety but laughs from those of us who can laugh at the idea of an obnoxious ethnic family getting into the marital spirit. (RP) RATED: PG
Santa Clause 2 -- Eight years after the original Santa Clause, Tim Allen finally reads the fine print on his contract and realizes he either needs to find a Mrs. Claus or he's out of a job. While he's out conducting auditions, his stand-in is wreaking havoc back at the North Pole. Rated: G
Star Trek: Nemesis -- Yet another reason to long for the good old days of Kirk, Spock and Bones, as well as the early days of the Next Generation. This film just never takes off, with a muddled story about Captain Picard having been cloned, and his younger clone coming to get him and his ship and Earth. There are some good action sequences, but with the exception of always-dependable Patrick Stewart, the cast seems uninspired. The force fields go down, the ship is attacked, a main character dies (totally illogical for the story). This one goes where it's gone before. (ES) Rated PG-13
Treasure Planet -- The team that brought you The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Hercules now animates the buried-treasure-hunt classic by Robert Louis Stevenson, fusing the worlds of spacers and swashbucklers. There's some commentary on fathers and sons, but it's kept light, and much joy in how the animators have filtered the world of pirates through a Star Trek mentality. Rated: PG (Michael Bowen)
The Two Towers -- This magnificent sequel to last year's magnificent original welcomes back most of the same characters (including a new, improved version of Gandalf), and features many new ones, with the CGI creation of the hideous, piteous and chilling Gollum standing out. This one is darker and more violent than the first, with a more intense and epic approach to the battle scenes. As Frodo and his pals continue on their mission, the perils multiply and the characters get more complicated. This is everything fans were waiting for, with one more coming a year from now. (ES) Rated PG-13
Two Weeks Notice -- Hugh Grant plays the sort of charming, shallow cad he's become so adept at, this time as a billionaire who happily lets his lawyer (Sandra Bullock) handle all the troublesome little details, legal or otherwise. Tired of picking his suits up from the cleaner and tripping over his toys, she gives him two weeks notice, hires her own replacement and waits for the little light bulb of true love to pop up over his head. Rated: PG-13
The Wild Thornberrys Movie -- The animated Nickelodeon TV hit makes a good, if not great, transition to the big screen with a tale of young Eliza (magically able to converse with animals) having a ball with her adventuresome parents in Africa. But things go wrong and she's shipped off to a London boarding school, before things go right and she returns to an adventure of her own. Lots of funny scenes, and a good deal of tense ones, with a strong environmentalist message. (ES) Rated PG
& lt;i & Capsule reviews are written by Ed Symkus (ES) and Ray Pride (RP), unless otherwise noted. & lt;/i &
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The new one is smart and funny and action-packed, and it’s bigger and better and sleeker. And Downey does it again, this time ramping up Stark’s arrogant wisecracking, telling anyone who’ll listen (mostly women) that, via the creation of his powerful Iron Man suit, he’s brought years of uninterrupted peace to the world.