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(continued from home page)

Congratulations to Kate Winslet and husband Jim Threapleton. The young couple have just brought a new soul into the world in the form of baby girl.

Wayne's World director Penelope Spheeris is about to take the helm for the Miramax comedy Posers.

Colin Farrell is about to hit the bigtime. Farrell will not only star in Phone Booth and Tigerland for Joel Schumacher, but also Hart's War replacing Edward Norton.

Jon Voight joins his daughter Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider.

Universal wants Simon West to direct its adaptation of Caves of Steel.

Alicia Silverstone doesn't want you to drink Milk. Apparently the 'brainy' actress has an issue with the milk moustache ads that are so popular these days. She has asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into the health claims made by the industry. Silverstone believes that milk is actually bad for human beings, despite the earth's population ingesting the beverage for millenia. God bless the vegans.

Martin Landau and Allen Garfield join Jim Carrey in Frank Darabont's The Bijou.

Angelic beauty Kate Hudson will play the lead in Four Feathers for director Shekhar Kapur. Wes Bentley and Heath Ledger are among the cast.

Dimension films is looking to bring Carl Potts' comic book series Alien Legion to the big screen. J.D. Zeik will script.

It seems the Wachowski Brothers are interested in remaking Conan The Barbarian. No word on who they would cast, but as long as its not The Rock, we're cool.

And don't forget to check out this week's OSCAR-TRACK at www.cinezine.com!

(SHAKING THE) MONEY MAKERS . . .
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The following are the top 10 movies at the U.S. box office during the weekend of October 13 - October 15. Included is their estimated weekend gross.

1. ARE YOU MARRYIN' ME? ARE YOU MARRYIN' ME?
(Meet the Parents / $21.3 million)
2. WOW, WE EXPECTED THIS ONE TO BE LONG GONE BY NOW
(Remember the Titans / $13.5 million)
3. WINONA VS THE DEVIL
(Lost Souls / $8.4 million)
4. SOMETHING NEW: AN SNL MOVIE
(The Ladies Man / $5.7 million)
5. LIBERAL PROPAGANDA?
(The Contender / $5.5 million)
6. SCARY FRIGGIN' MOVIE
(The Exorcist / $5.4 million)
7. CHRISTIAN T. AND THE WOMEN
(Dr. T and the Women / $5.2 million)
8. GET LOST
(Get Carter / $2.7 million)
9. ALMOST ROCKIN'
(Almost Famous / $2.3 million)
10. DOGGIE STYLE
(Best in Show / $2.3 million)

Source: Exhibitor Relations Co. inc.
Sarcasm by The Pretender

IN U.S. THEATRES . . .
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE CONTENDER (R)
by Christian T. Escobar

Few films rise to the level of disappointment like Rod Lurie's The Contender. The ingredients were present for a truly profound and insightful film: a politically charged plot, a stellar cast, and a current social atmosphere just begging for an intense examination of our government. But, if ever a sports metaphor was applicable, it is here… they dropped the ball - big time. The Contender begins with promise and quickly sinks under the weight of a one sided boxing match between a manipulative self-righteous bruiser and the twisted vision of a political demon. The film is not meaningful and whether or not it is entertainment or political propaganda is a very good question.

President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) sits in the oval office trying to decide who should take the place of his recently deceased Vice President. His gruff Chief of Staff Kermit Newman (Sam Elliott) isn't too keen on Jack Hathaway (William Peterson), a newly anointed public hero, and neither is the President. The Democrat Evans wants a legacy and he is going to make sure he leaves a big one. His choice, Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen), is not only a woman, but also a liberal woman who the Republicans want no part of. To complete her ascension, the esteemed Senator has to go through Committee head and Republican bulldog, Sheldon Runyon (Gary Oldman). In fact, Runyon is such a bulldog he and his pals, including rookie Democrat representative Reggie Webster (Christian Slater) work hard to dig up some nasty allegations. In this day and age the only allegations that seem to matter are those of a sexual nature, so you can only imagine how a suggested orgy will play during congressional hearings. But wait just a Hollywood minute there seems to be more than meets the eye to this story and all its roots.

The Contender aspires to be a film of dire importance but it is merely a dark cynical view of our government. The you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours method of lawmaking comes under fire. The secret deals and secret alliances cannot hide from the camera's eye. At its core The Contender fails to provide exactly what it criticizes its characters for not having: basic fairness. Lurie paints his villain with such slick and vile colors that what develops is not a moral and philosophical war, but a finely designed puppet show with the heroes pre-ordained with saintly halos and the villains installed permanently in the shadows with devil horns. If you haven't caught the gist, perhaps this will help: The Democrats are viewed as hard-fighting victims and the Republicans are clearly portrayed as devious, manipulative and out and out fiendish. Even those who simply do business with the Republicans fall susceptible to the filmmaker's broad strokes. The film is a victim of the same hypocrisy that it seeks to expose. There is no denying that the issues and philosophy are important and deserving of assessment. But this film allows its bias to cloud its vision.

Rarely is a film so blessed with such a tremendous cast. Joan Allen will get her Oscar nod and rightfully so. She is a powerful actress and her body of work is exemplary. The supreme Gary Oldman is at his feistiest. Oldman, a Republican, has recently come out against the released version of the film. He feels it is anti-Republican and he is right. Yet I'm not sure how another version could have been a fairer representation. Jeff Bridges plays the President with an assuredness he doesn't always display. He is one of the more underrated actors out there. The ever-starchy Sam Elliot comes out of nowhere to deliver a calculated turn. Christian Slater, William Peterson, Philip Baker Hall, Saul Rubinek, and others provide outstanding supporting performances.

I will admit to being an American voter frustrated with our current political system. The partisan war of words and philosophies is something I have grown tired of hearing. I was hoping that The Contender would tackle one of the more thickheaded flaws of the system, that of the subversion of human decency in the name of ethics and values. While the film does just that, it doesn't do it honestly or fairly. It can be at times an effective piece of entertainment, thanks in large part to the acting talent involved. But it can only be seen as entertainment, if not propaganda with an agenda. The film can't be taken seriously when it distorts key issues and key platforms just to form a figure of perfection or imperfection. The film has no problem dangling Hollywood conventions involving abortion, orchestrated situations, and infidelity to warp the audience's perception of its hero. The film brings up all the problems that plague our fine Capitol, but has no interest in truly addressing them. It is more interested in grandstanding on the backs of the Republican Party. The Contender gets my vote for the year's biggest disappointment.

BEST IN SHOW (PG-13)
by Christian T. Escobar

By now most are familiar with the term 'Mockumentary'. It is a genre that has a standard (This Is Spinal Tap) and now, a figurehead. Writer-director-actor Christopher Guest not only co-wrote and starred in Spinal Tap; he was also the driving force behind the 1996 film Waiting For Guffman. Guest has become a chameleon in front of the camera and a sly magician behind it. His newest film is the latest in what may becoming a trend for him, a spoof in the guise of a true-life documentary. Best In Show may find its subject - dog shows - easy pickin's, but what shines through, like Tap and Guffman, is a small admiration for the subject matter. While it is played for laughs and not insight, the dogs sure look like winner compared to their owners.

Cookie (Catherine O' Hara) and Gerry Fleck (Eugene Levy) and their Terrier will go to Philadelphia in their van. Harlan Pepper (Christopher Guest) and his bloodhound will take the Motorhome. Meg (Parker Posey) and Hamilton Swan (Michael Hitchcock) will take their feisty beast in a cage. Scott Dolan (John Michael Higgins) and his significant other, Stefan Vanderhoof (Michael McKean) will traipse their way from Tribeca. What's in Philly, you ask? Why the Annual Mayflower Dog Show! K-9s from around the U.S. will compete for the blue ribbon. All the dogs and their owners are looking to topple the reigning champion poodle owned by glitzy Sheri Ann Ward Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge) and trained by the aggressive Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch). When the curtains go up, the dogs come out and the judges begin to cut the group down until one pooch remains victorious.

Guest and co-writer Levy have a gift when it comes to exploiting stereotypes. Their favorites are backwater creatures, but they have no fear at going urban or going gay. Best In Show isn't quite the laugh-a-minute-instant-classic that Guffman was, but it is so crisp and surgical that the picture flies by at astronomical speed. It is not a long picture to begin with, but Guest wastes no time, sensing that any parody can overextend itself and its welcome. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment is not having to poke fun at the animals at all. In fact, I can't recall a single joke aimed directly at the dogs. It is those owners and their quirks that provide all the bite.

Guest dons red hair and a macho mid western accent for Harlan and it is deadpan absolute. He probably doesn't get enough credit as an actor (comedians never do), but he is a talented showman. Eugene Levy is at his self-deprecating best as the mellow and content husband. Catherine O'Hara is tart as the reformed trailer park floozy whose one night stands and ex-boyfriends are lurking behind every corner. Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock spend the entire film verbally boxing with one another and it is great. Adorned with braces and an attitude, Posey steals the moment with a scene involving a lost doggie toy. Michael McKean is the comically straight gay man in the relationship with John Michael Higgins' flamboyant showstopper. Jennifer Coolidge and her Tammy-Faye makeup job are mildly amusing. Look for cameos from Larry Miller, Ed Begely Jr., and especially Fred Willard as the show commentator with the most bizarre questions that we all want to see asked.

Best In Show is a fine example of how the parody can still work. You don't need to blatantly rip off other films (Ala, Scary Movie and such) to take shots at the simple and absurd. What is fascinating is that despite all the jokes and barbs, the film never seems disrespectful. I'm sure dog trainers might take offense at the wacky representation they receive via the characters, but to me that seems more like Guest's way of celebrating the type of person that it takes to be involved in the dog pageant industry. I will say that the humor is not for everyone and some of the lines were so sly they sailed right over the head of the general audience. But Best In Show still confirms that the genre is alive and it certainly proves Guest's ability for raising the riff-raff to the sublime. This time he does it doggie-style.

LOST SOULS (R)
by Jody Boyns

My interest was piqued during the opening credits of Lost Souls when the cinematographer put a neat twist on the cast and crew names by transposing them with numbers therefore giving John Hurt a much more exotic looking moniker than normal. My hopes were quickly dashed when I saw the edgeless Meg Ryan listed as co-producer. Incredulously, the credits were the high spot of the movie.

Winona Ryder stars as Maya Larkin, a seminary school teacher and card carrying member of the exorcised club. She's called on to assist Father Lareaux (John Hurt) during another church sponsored exorcism (wouldn't you think she'd rather be anywhere but near another exorcism?). This time, the possessed one is a serial killer (John Diehl) who is constantly writing numbers. Ooh, that's terrifying stuff. During said exorcism, Diehl mumbles something about the impending appearance of Satan in the form of a man. Get this - we're told this not shown it. For that matter, none of the exorcism is shown. The after effects are alluded to and as you might imagine, that ratchets the suspense up to an almost unbearable level. Ryder's Maya takes the message to heart and plays cryptoquote with the eerie numbers and deciphers the name Peter Kelson. Honestly, Diehl had enough pages to fill a Stephen King novel yet all she got out of it was a name. How about an address? As fortuitous as this might seem, Maya sees serial killer expert and author Peter Kelson (Ben Chaplin) on television and decides to waltz into his office after hours and debate him on the merits of good versus evil. Here's the catch - Maya has until the next afternoon to stop the beast from entering the world. Whoa, a time lock. That ought to add some interest.

It's no surprise that this film has been in the can for almost a year now (although I can think of another can it should end up in) and it's particularly sad that the marketing campaign tried to ride the coat tails of the recently re-released Exorcist by calling it the 21st century Exorcist. Ugh. The semi-bleached film process, seen in the similarly themed Stigmata and more recently in last week's Get Carter, seems passé and director Janusz Kaminski wastes talented actors Alfre Woodard, Elias Koteas and Hurt in what amount to cameo roles. Worse yet, the movie isn't scary in the least bit. I did jump on more than one occasion but that was due, in large part, to Dolby trickery. The theaters jack the sound up to such a level that if someone clears their throat you're jolted out of your seat. Almost totally devoid of anything new (save for the backwards X-E-S translating to the Greek numbers 600, 60 & 6), this tired tale does share one thing in common with the Exorcist - running time. Oh yeah, they just added a few extra minutes to the Exorcist. Now I guess there's absolutely no reason to see Lost Souls now.

THE LADIES MAN (R)
by Paul Sposito

Leon Phelps (Tim Meadows) is in trouble. Fined again and again by the FCC, he's finally thrown out on his ass following a heated comment he made on his late-night radio talk show, The Ladies Man. Even though it's on extremely early in the morning and the topics are clearly and unabashedly sexual in nature, the station manager (Eugene Levy) has had enough. And so Leon and his producer, Julia (Karyn Parsons), hit the streets of Chicago, looking for another job. But of course, they get turned down again and again by stations across the city, especially after they hear Leon's explicit demo tape. But it really goes wrong for Leon when they don't hear it and give him an on-air try-out, such as when he insults a nun on the local Christian radio station. Down on his luck and left with no other options, Leon decides to "just have sex and wait for a random lucky opportunity." And that random opportunity comes in the form of a letter from one of his many past female conquests, who promises Leon a share of her money and a fruitful life if he'll come to her. The only problem: the letter's signed, 'Sweet Thing', Leon's favorite pet name for all women. So his journey is to set off through the city searching for his Sugar Mama.

The Ladies Man - the Saturday Night Live skit - was one of the best recurring characters SNL had in recent years (just check out the episode with Cameron Diaz for the very best of the sketch), and it's expected that a movie would come out of it. So compared to most SNL skit films, The Ladies Man is pretty damned decent. Tim Meadows is wonderful in the character he created, and his supporting cast (sprinkled with current cast members) do their jobs just fine. There are some funny moments and amusing lines, with a storyline that takes the sketch beyond the confines of the SNL studios.

My only problem with the film has to do with one of the subplots, which involves a group of men scorned by their wives and by Leon. Led by a Greco-Roman wrestling closet homosexual (Will Ferrell), the Victims of the Smiling Ass (named after the smiley face tattoo on Leon's right cheek) are tracking our hero down to cut off a vital part of his anatomy. It's so ridiculous that you have to wonder just what everyone involved were thinking. Without it, The Ladies Man is up there with the likes of Wayne's World as one of the best SNL spin-offs.

The blame rests on the shoulders of Meadows, who co-wrote the script. But he also carries the entire film on those shoulders, as well. He engorges himself into his character so much and so well that it's easy to confuse the actor from the persona. Leon Phelps isn't a deeply complex character, but he intrigued me for an hour and a half, and that suits me just fine. Now, where's that spin-off movie about those boring NPR girls?

BILLY ELLIOT (PG-13)
by Rich Cline

More shining lights of the British stage make a remarkable big screen debut: Billy Elliot is a superbly sure-handed film about a pre-teen boy trying to plot his way in life against the odds. Sounds like yet another slice of coming-of-age angst, and yet director Stephen Daldry and writer Lee Hall avoid cliches at every turn to create a marvellously winning film full of memorable characters.

It's 1984, and 11-year-old Billy (newcomer Jamie Bell) lives in northeast England, stricken by a long-running miners' strike that's destroying village life, setting friends and family against each other. His recently widowed dad and hot-head brother (Gary Lewis and Jamie Draven), both striking miners struggling with their self-confidence, encourage Billy to follow the family tradition of boxing. But he's much more intrigued by the ballet lessons taught by Mrs Wilkinson (Julie Walters). Soon, he abandons gloves for dancing shoes. But he doesn't dare let his dad and brother find out!

The excellent script gets well beneath the surface to examine the characters feelings, motivations and most importantly the way they all make decisions that fly in the face of logic ... yet are fundamentally right. And the three central performances lift the film beautifully. Lewis (Orphans) gives another tough, introspective turn as the single dad so blinded by family and job pressures that he can't see a glimmer of hope in an unexpected place. Walters is, of course, fantastic as a woman who spots Billy's talent then matter-of-factly refuses to give up on him even when it looks pretty hopeless. And Bell is an out-and-out winner, combining Billy's edgy temper with cheeky humour and an utter joy of dancing. He's a natural-born actor, reminiscent of Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun, and he's a fantastic young dancer as well--combining power and grace, ferocity and elation. Meanwhile, Daldrey gives the film a distinctive look, focussing closely on the characters and the setting to give it an almost fairy tale feel. The period details are natural and never cloying, and the grim realities of the miners' strike are never played up. It's merely something the village has accepted as part of everyday life. A wonderful film.

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