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by Inlander Staff & r & THE BLACK DAHLIA


The excellent, based-on-fact James Ellroy novel about the grisly murder of a beautiful wannabe actress (Mia Kirshner) in late-1940s L.A. starts off as a terrific film adaptation, then gets four flat tires as it suddenly grows to overly melodramatic proportions, needlessly adding in plot elements that didn't exist in the book. Good acting from Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart as two cop partners, and from Hillary Swank as a mysterious rich gal. But Scarlett Johansson once again overacts. (ES) Rated R





BUGS


Real-life footage of bugs (mainly a praying mantis and a caterpillar) tells the story of their life in the rain forest. The IMAX screen closes in on the insects with a childlike intensity, but the directors have spiced things up with occasional effects -- such as Mantis Vision. Judi Dench, the film's narrator, brings a Shakespearean relish to discussions of what it feels like to eat your opponent's head. The music is over the top, lending the short film (20 minutes) the feel of a live cartoon. The ending is schmaltzy, but redeems the bugs (who are the stars, after all) with a treatment that transcends simplistic "circle of life" stuff. (MD) Imax, Not Rated





THE DEPARTED


Martin Scorsese returns to form in this gritty remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Mou gaan dou. Set in contemporary Boston, the story's premise is that the cops have a rat (Leonardo DiCaprio) in mobster Jack Nicholson's Irish gang, and Nicholson has one (Matt Damon) infiltrating the cops. Suspicions within both camps run rampant, and raw violence is never very far from center-screen. Solid acting from all, tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, and an eclectic rock soundtrack. (ES) Rated R





EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH


A dumb-as-nails story about a dude who likes a chick who seemingly only likes overachieving losers -- Vince (Dax Shepard), for example, who's spent a decade working hard to be the world's best register jockey -- Employee of the Month nonetheless gets you thinking at points. Is this really a dumb-as-nails romantic slacker comedym or is it a cunning parody on dumb-as-nails romantic slacker comedies? Just when you think it's dumb, it says something smart. Then, it says half a dozen dumb things. Then a smart one. And so on. The sum total spells "suck fest," but there are some nice, frustrating highs. (LB) Rated PG-13





FLYBOYS


World War I France, just before the U.S. joined in the fray, young American lads who went over to fight against the Germans for the French, mainly because they got to hit the skies in the then-newfangled things called airplanes -- that's the setting and story. The film runs about a half-hour too long, and features too many CGI shots, as well as an unnecessary romantic angle, but there's some excitement, and the ever-scowling James Franco actually smiles a couple of times. (ES) Rated PG-13





GRIDIRON GANG


All right, here's some complicated arithmetic, but see if you can follow along with me. We're going to combine some terms to see where it gets us: The Rock + prison + football + troubled minors (low self-esteem + no one to believe in them) = World Wrestling Entertainment + The Longest Yard + Bad News Bears = best sports flick ever? Hmm, we must've forgot to carry the one or something... so... Worst Sports Movie ever? That looks a little better... Rated PG-13





THE GUARDIAN


Kevin Costner plays an aging Coast Guard rescue instructor, Ashton Kutcher is his feistiest student, there is much clashing between them as training progresses (till the script, not very cleverly, gets them drinking beers together). Both guys are pretty good in the parts, but the film plops clich & eacute; upon clich & eacute; and features what could be the highest-number of slow-motion shots ever seen onscreen. (ES) Rated PG-13





THE ILLUSIONIST


A complex story simply told, it's the tale of a magician pulling rank and class to get the girl. Cleanly crafted, subtly acted and dulcetly shot, it's a film so conspicuously evocative of time and place you forget, for long stretches, it was made in a cinematic world run by overwrought CGI. (LB) Rated PG-13





Invincible


The latest in an endless series of true "inspirational" sports stories that Hollywood likes to pump out with regularity. The Philadelphia Eagles suck so bad they decide to hold open tryouts. Enter 30-year-old Vince, a schoolteacher and bartender who knows how to catch and run and save the day at every local sandlot football game with the guys. It won't surprise anyone that he tries out and survives cut after cut and ... well, there's no point in giving away an ending that everyone will know is coming well before they sit down. Sometimes formula works, but not very often. And Invincible is certainly no Friday Night Lights. (ES) Rated PG





JACKASS: NUMBER TWO


Is there any reason for even a capsule review of Jackass? Hell, you all know what you're getting into here. It starts with a running of the bulls ... in suburbia. There are stunts involving branding, fishing, bees, bicycles, snakes, genitalia, water and Bam Margera's mother. There's even a bit titled "How to Milk a Horse" (at which you will become queasy). There is vomiting. There is a great song called "All My Friends Are Dead." The film is sick, twisted -- and funny as hell. (ES) Rated R





JET LI'S FEARLESS


Wu Xia meets Orientalism in this wire fu flick about the only dude in China who can stop western forces from breaking the Chinese spirit following their trade influence on Chinese main. Presumably placed in the run-up to the Boxer rebellion (though clearly in some parallel dimension where dudes can fly), Fearless is Li taking on the forces of Western oppression one bear wrestler at a time. It's amazing that the nationalistic pride derived from kung fu bouts would be able to wrest an entire nation from its opium addiction. Three cheers for revisionist history! Rated PG-13





Little Miss Sunshine


A roadtrip in which six not-so-different family members are forced into a VW bus and made to fight out their differences en route to a state beauty pageant, Little Miss Sunshine is about the contemporary American archetypes that make much of our country such a deeply unhappy place. It's a good, but incomplete film. (LB) Rated R





OPEN SEASON


A truly vapid buddy flick about an urban (read: African-American-sounding) grizzly (Martin Lawrence, who's become rich feeding ignorant white people their own racial misperceptions) and his reluctant friendship with a white-tail deer (Ashton Kutcher). Open Season is less a film with a plot than a series of sight gags and one-liners floating down a poorly depicted, generally forgettable river. (LB) Rated PG





PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST


Cast, director and writers are back for the midsection of the raucous trilogy about Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), William Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). This time, everyone is after Sparrow, including the ghostly Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) who wants to swallow his soul. Depp overdoes it to perfection, and all is set up beautifully for next year's conclusion. (ES) Rated PG-13





SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS


A bunch of lily-livered guys with no self confidence (and no dates) try to get some by enrolling in a mysterious class run by a nasty teacher (Billy Bob Thornton) and his menacing assistant (Michael Clarke Duncan). The most promising student (Jon Heder, showing no range) has been pining away for his cute neighbor (Jacinda Barrett), and starts to make some inroads, when the teacher also decides to pursue her. Lots of comedy, some of it slapstick. (ES) Rated PG-13





TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY


Will Ferrell finally gets a script that's worthy of his comic talents. He plays the title character, a loose cannon on the NASCAR circuit who becomes a star, falls upon hard times, then must attempt a comeback. But he's up against a former partner (John C. Reilly), a smarmy French challenger (Sacha Baron Cohen), and a newly developed fear of speed. Lots of exciting racetrack scenarios and raucous humor. (ES) Rated PG-13





TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE:


THE BEGINNING


Wasn't one of the scary things about the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (not the remake -- there was nothing scary about that) that we didn't know why crazy-ass Leatherface was walking around chain-sawing people? Didn't that make it seem like it could happen here (anywhere) too? Well, the producers of TCM: the Beginning want to take all that nameless terror away from us, promising to tell the story of how homeboy became the murderer he is. Rated R





WIRED TO WIN


A kind of meditation on the mental components of physical success, the film uses an upcoming touchstone, the Tour de France, as a way to get people thinking about the way our brains work in conjunction with our bodies. (LB) Imax, Not Rated

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