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by Inlander Staff & r & & r & Akeelah and the Bee -- That Larry Fishburne -- boy, can he act. Here he plays mentor to a Crenshaw youth with a gift for stringing letters together in the way that creates language. Full of accessible tropes, it's at once an underdog story, a rags-to-riches story and a spelling bee story. And that's the most universal story of all. Rated PG





American Haunting -- In the early 1800s, John Bell died of what the state of Tennessee called "Spirits," making him the only person U.S. history to have been killed, in the eyes of a state government, by a ghost. The event, supposedly, was incredibly well documented at the time and has been revamped here, for the PG-13 tween horror set. It's scary the way we mistreat history. Rated PG-13





Art School Confidential & r & If you like alligator-clamp nipple electrocutions -- and we mean really like them -- then this is probably your flick. Based on a graphic novel and screenplay by the writer of Ghost World, it's a look at the world of academic art through the eyes of an idealistic young kid (Max Minghella). Rated R





The Da Vinci Code -- If there's one thing we like more than sadomasochistic arch-conservative albino assassins, it's sadomasochistic arch-conservative albino assassins trying to cover up Christianity's darkest secret: that Jesus and Mary Magdalene made babies together. Such a bizarre and wonderful coincidence, then, that Dan Brown would write almost that exact book and Ron Howard (breaking from his usual routine of edgeless heartstring-tuggers) would direct the screen adaptation. Rated PG-13





Friends With Money -- Four longtime pals -- played by Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack, Frances McDormand (who all live very comfortable lives) and Jennifer Aniston (who ekes by as a house cleaner) -- regularly meet to chat and complain. The well-off ones have husbands, while the broke one has as much trouble with men as with money. This is a look at strengths and weaknesses in relationships, and the powerful bond of friendship. Serious matters, often treated with nicely placed humor. (ES) Rated R





Greece: Secrets of the Past -- Continuing their long tradition of making learning fun, the folks at IMAX bring us Greece, wherein you get to "see how the island of Santorini was formed and how the island's volcanic eruption, one of the biggest explosions in Earth's history, occurred. Follow a team of archeologists piecing together the puzzles of ancient history and learn how the field of archeology has progressed. Travel to Athens and see how computer graphic imaging can restore the Parthenon to its original glory. Trace some of our modern society's customs -- democracy, medicine, athletics and theatre back to their roots in the Golden Age of Greece." Unrated





Ice Age: The Meltdown -- The mammoth, the saber-tooth and the sloth gain sidekicks and a kind of pro-unconventional family, anti-global warming message this time around, but it doesn't work. Aside from being crude, this sequel lacks a genuine antagonist or any real character development. As the movie's marketing campaign tacitly admits, the best part about Meltdown is that silly squirrel Scrat. Rated PG





Just My Luck & r & God, has it been a year already since the last Lindsay Lohan star vehicle? We barely survived without her inoffensive brand of quasi-magic-realist hucksterism. This time, she's a super-lucky prom-queen turned sorority prez turned successful business woman-type girl whose luckiness vanishes when she bumps into a decidedly unlucky dude and they magically switch places. Freakyish Fridays ensue. Rated PG-13





Mission Impossible: III -- From its failed-experiment opening sequence to its sharp dialogue, exotic locations and pure spectacle, this high-test action picture brilliantly weaves around a classic Hitchcockian MacGuffin. Tom Cruise excels like an all-star athlete in executing the bulk of the film's impressive stunts while surrounded by a stellar ensemble cast. Writer/director J.J. Abrams achieves something of a minor masterpiece with a postmodern sense of humor and hypnotic infatuation with maintaining multiple layers of emotional and physical suspense in nearly every scene. (CS) Rated PG-13





Over the Hedge -- There are so many computer-generated animals on studios' slates this year, it's almost unbelievable. Over the Hedge has a genuine chance of being the best of this breed, though that's not saying very much at all. As unspoiled Mother Earth is bulldozed to make way for suburban sprawl, woodland creatures must survive by, you know, stealing from the humans. Think of it as an anthropomorphized National Geographic special. Rated PG





Poseidon & r & The film has no idea that 9/11 happened, which is refreshing, in a way. It just wants to be Hollywood-brainless and old-fashioned about putting gorgeous people in danger and blowing stuff up real good. Who knew there was so much on a cruise ship that could explode so spectacularly? Poseidon thus harkens back to the day when we could all enjoy seeing beautiful and handsome movie stars die dramatically for our entertainment. (MJ) Rated PG-13





RV -- "We watch TV in four separate rooms and IM each other when it's time to eat," says despondent dad Robin Williams. The solution to familial fragmentation, in his mind, is a long-ass RV trip. Lessons will be learned, cars will be rolled. Rated PG





See No Evil -- Hey, a horror movie with super sweet World Wrestling Entertainment tie-ins! No wait, WWE actually made this movie. So it's synergy then. See psycho wrestler Kain play a psycho serial killer named... who cares? He's a wrestler. If you like wrestlers, you'll probably like this. He kills some kids who break into an abandoned house to, you know, drink, do drugs and have sex. Haven't we seen that movie before? Can't quite put our fingers on it. Rated R





Silent Hill -- It's based on a videogame, but it looks like it's got higher production value than your average console-to-silver-screen port. Plus, it's directed by a French dude, Christophe Gans, with at least one good horrorish film under his belt (Brotherhood of the Wolf). Though full of cutting-edge effects, this is really an age-old story: woman loses daughter, woman searches for daughter -- and instead finds the heart of all evil. Rated R.





Stick It -- "Every day I break the law ... of gravity!" says bad girl gymnast Hailey Graham, who hates those activist judges and their creative "punishments." After a little run-in with the Five-Oh, the former beam-balancer is ordered by a judge to re-enter the gymnastics academy she deserted a year earlier. Bring-It-On-demonium ensues. Rated PG-13





Take the Lead -- Here's another doctored-up Hollywood version of an "inspired by a true story" movie. In this one, Antonio Banderas, all cool and calm and smooth, gives us his take on New York ballroom instructor Pierre Dulaine, who apparently turned a bunch of troublemaking high schoolers into experts on their feet -- after they added hip-hop to the beat. Clich & eacute;-ridden and not the least bit believable. (ES) Rated PG-13





Thank You For Smoking & r & Aaron Eckhart plays a tobacco spokesman with a gift for what Plato called sophistry. He takes the talking points of Big Tobacco and turns them into air-tight arguments: "The number one killer in America is cholesterol ... and here comes Senator Finistirre who is clogging the nation's arteries with Vermont Cheddar Cheese." Directed by Ivan Reitman's son, this film is (if you haven't noticed) a satire. Rated R





United 93 -- British writer-director Paul Greengrass pulls no punches in his hypothesis of what happened aboard the terrorist-hijacked plane that went down in a field in Pennsylvania on 9/11. This is a harrowing film, played out in real time (a la 24) that takes place inside the doomed plane as well as in air-traffic control centers that were trying to make sense of what was going on. Full of heroism, anger and sadness. (ES) Rated R

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