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Flick picks and pans

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For a full listing of all movies and show times, see the movie listings in this A&E section.THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: C.S. Lewis fantasy takes four British children through the back of a wardrobe and into an alternative universe of fauns, witches and a wise and brave lion. The story contains magic and myth, but its mysteries are resolved not by the kinds of rabbits Tolkien pulls out of his hat in The Lord of the Rings, but by the determination and resolve of the kids. Tilda Swinton is icy and intriguing as the White Witch, Georgie Henley is plucky as the youngest heroine, James McAvoy is a most excellent and gentle faun, and all is wonderful until the end, when things get a bit apocalyptic for a series that still has six books to adapt. A promising beginning, pulling off the difficult trick of making the CGI animals seem about as real as the humans on the screen. Classified: PG. Running time: 139 minutes. Rating: Three stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).CURIOUS GEORGE: Faithful to the spirit and innocence of the famous books, with a visual look thats uncluttered and charming. George the monkey follows the Man in the Yellow Hat (Will Ferrell) back from Africa and has adventures in New York, including floating over the city hanging onto balloons. Not a family movie, because its not intended for grown-ups, but frankly and cheerfully a childrens movie, for smaller kids, who will not be baffled or think its too scary. Other voices by Drew Barrymore, Eugene Levy, Dick Van Dyke. Classified: G. Running time: 86 minutes. Rating: Three stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).THE LIBERTINE: Johnny Depp stars as the second Earl of Rochester (1647-1680), who died at 33 of venereal diseases that ate away his nose, so that he attended Parliament wearing a silver replacement. John Malkovich is Charles II, who is amused by the earls impudence, and gives him free rein, up to a point. The earl tirelessly beavers away at wretched excess, is fascinated by the actress Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton) because she can out-think him, and is tolerated up to a point by his wife (Rosamund Pike). Depp is brave as the decaying rogue and voluptuary who reaches such an alarming state that it is not a matter of liking or disliking him, but hoping not to catch something from him. Directed by Laurence Dunmore, based on the play by Stephen Jeffreys. Classified: R. Running time: 114 minutes. Rating: Three stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).

INSIDE MAN: Denzel Washington plays the New York detective handling a bank hostage situation, and begins to suspect theres something fishy about it. Clive Owen is the leader of the robbery gang, and Jodie Foster plays a woman with such great and shadowy power that the movie never does define it. Starts out great, then begins to meander, and contains one character we cant believe and another we cant understand. Director Spike Lee adds some nice little touches, but the big picture is murky. Classified: R. Running time: 128 minutes. Rating: Two stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).EIGHT BELOW: Eight sled dogs are left behind when a scientific expedition has to pull out of Antarctica ahead of a winter storm. Their master (Paul Walker) desperately wants to return for them, but is overruled by superiors, and by the fierce weather. Can the dogs survive the long winter? Convincing and sometimes breathtaking footage of the dogs and their story, intercut with a more mundane human narrative, also including Bruce Greenwood as the scientist obsessed with retrieving a meteorite from Mars and Moon Bloodgood as the expedition’s pilot. Classified: PG. Running time: 120 minutes. Rating: Three stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).FAILURE TO LAUNCH: A 35-year-old man (Matthew McConaughey) still lives at home with his parents. They dream of being empty-nesters and hire Sarah Jessica Parker, a specialist at getting grown men to move out of their parents homes. She makes them fall in love with her, gets them out of the house and dumps them. Pathological cruelty and actionable fraud? Yes, but the guy is just as bad, using his parents as a way to dump girls after he sleeps with them. Characters in this movie are bitten by a chipmunk, a dolphin, a lizard and a mockingbird. If justice were done, a shark would appear in the last reel, or better still in the first one. Classified: PG-13. Running time: 97 minutes. Rating: One star. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).

V FOR VENDETTA: In 2020, as a global virus spreads, Britain is in the grip of a fascist dictatorship. One man, V, stands up against the state. He wears the mask of Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605, and effortlessly evades the police while striking at the heart of the dictatorship. Hugo Weaving is the actor behind the mask, Natalie Portman plays a woman he rescues, abducts and converts, and key roles are played by the distinctive actors John Hurt, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, Rupert Graves and Tim Pigott-Smith. V descends like a whirlwind, using martial arts, ingenious weapons and the element of surprise, in a movie filled with ideas that are intriguing while never quite adding up to a parable. Classified: R. Running time: 130 minutes. Rating: Three stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).THE SHAGGY DOG: Tim Allen plays a prosecutor who is trying his daughters high school teacher, who torched a lab that was experimenting on animals. Allen is bitten by a 300-year-old dog from a monastery, and periodically turns into a dog himself, which makes both his professional and personal lives much more difficult. Robert Downey Jr. is the animal experimenter, and in a movie where a man becomes a dog, he nevertheless manages to play the storys weirdest character. There is an age above which this movie is unnecessary, and it may be in the low double digits. Classified: PG. Running time: 98 minutes. Rating: Two stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).SHES THE MAN: Amanda Bynes is lovable as a girl who pretends to be a boy in order to play soccer. She has to fool her new roommate (Channing Tatum) and the whole soccer team, and does a pretty good job, although she doesnt fool us. She looks like a cute tomboy with short hair who keeps forgetting to talk low and then nervously clears her throat and sounds like shes on the phone to the school office: Viola is sick today, and this is her mother speaking. But shes sunny, and the movie is good-natured and has some very funny moments. Based on Shakespeares Twelfth Night. Classified: PG-13. Running time: 105 minutes. Rating: Three stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate). STAY ALIVE: Some teens discover the video game they play is too realistic each gets murdered in precisely the manner in which his or her character dies. With Jon Foster, Samaire Armstrong, Frankie Muniz, Sophia Bush and Adam Goldberg. Directed by William Brent Bell. Classified: PG-13 for horror violence, disturbing images, language, brief sexual and drug content. (Los Angeles Times)

WHY WE FIGHT: Begins with Dwight D. Eisenhowers famous warning against a military-industrial complex, and says Ike was right: The nation is on a permanent war footing because defense contractors need the business. Why We Fight compiles archival footage and intercuts it with recent interviews, but the movie tells us nothing we havent heard before. Does it need to be a film? Yes, it quotes left and right, hawk and dove, and finds our policies lacking, but unlike such recent docs as Gunner Palace, its a rehearsal of facts and arguments that are already familiar. One segment that does work involves the disillusionment of a retired cop named Wilton Sekzer, whose son was killed on 9/11. Classified: PG-13. Running time: 98 minutes. Rating: Two stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).THE WORLDS FASTEST INDIAN: Anthony Hopkins plays Burt Munro, a codger from New Zealand who takes nitro pills for his heart condition, and has spent years tinkering with a 1920 Indian motorcycle. In 1967 he thinks the bike is ready for a trip to Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The millionaire racing teams have never seen anything like Burt and his Indian. Is that a cork in the gas tank? Directed by Roger Donaldson, and based on a true story. Did Burt set a new record in his category? Spoiler warning: The movie is not titled The Worlds Second-Fastest Indian. Classified: PG-13. Running time: 127 minutes. Rating: Three stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).


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