Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2003, 12:00 am

Mini-reviews of movies in the Q-C

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Movie listings

Following are Roger Ebert's mini-reviews (unless otherwise noted) of some of the films currently playing in the Quad-Cities.

Aeon Flux (PG-13, 100 minutes). Charlize Theron plays the secret agent from Monica, sent by the rebels to assassinate a government leader. With Frances McDormand. (Not reviewed)

Bee Season (PG-13, 104 minutes). At the center of a troubled family, a 12-year-old girl finds her own identity. Flora Cross gives a wise and deep performanc as the "ordinary" one in a family with a father (Richard Gere) who is a driven intellectual, a mother (Juliette Binoche) with a strange secret life, and an older brother (Max Minghella) who is a musical prodigy. Eliza, Flora Cross's character, is overlooked until she starts winning spelling bees, but this is not a movie about spelling bees; it's about a mystical gift and her decision about how to use it. The performance by Cross is haunting in its thoughtful solemnity. Rating: ****

Chicken Little (G, 82 minutes). Chicken Little thinks the sky is falling, and it will come as no news that he seems to be wrong. But then the movie would be over, so it turns out the sky actually is falling, as his town is invaded from outer space. Good voice performances by such as Garry Marshall, Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn and Don Knotts (as Mayor Turkey Lurkey), but the story is thin, and the jokes make you smile, but not exactly laugh. Perfectly acceptable for kids up to a certain age, but without the universal appeal of the best recent animation. Rating: ** 1/2

Derailed (R, 100 minutes). Clive Owen is a Chicago commuter stuck without train fare, and Jennifer Aniston is the friendly brunette who pays for his ticket. One thing leads to another, and they're in a hotel room when a fearsome mugger (Vincent Cassel) breaks in, beats up him and rapes her. Their troubles are not over; they try to keep the truth from their spouses, but then the guy blackmails them. RZA plays the mail-room clerk who offers to strong-arm the mugger; Melissa George is Owen's trusting wife. A great setup, a good middle passage and some convincing performances, but then the plot runs off the tracks. It might work for you if you're willing to go along with it. Rating: ** 1/2

Dreamer (Horse racing drama, PG, 98 minutes). Dakota Fanning is growing up on ``the only horse farm in Lexington, Ky., without any horses.'' Her dad (Kurt Russell) and grandfather (Kris Kristofferson) are horse trainers, who warn a wealthy owner (David Morse) not to race his filly, Sonador. But he does, and she breaks a leg. Looking at his daughter's big sad eyes, Russell is unable to put the horse down, and with Fanning's determination Sonador's leg is mended, and the girl thinks the horse can race again. Based on a true story, this is an effective reworking of ``National Velvet'' material, with the added suspense of the horse's endangered leg. Powerful for kids and teenagers, and their parents may enjoy the sound performances and some irresistible racing scenes. Rating: ***

First Descent (PG-13, 110 minutes). This documentary tells the story of five snowboarders (the veterans Shawn Farmer, Terje Haakonsen and Nick Perata, and teenage superstars Hannah Teter and Shaun White) who are helicoptered to the tops of virgin Alaskan peaks and snowboard down them, sometimes at 45-degree angles. Lots of jawboning about how snowboarding ``won acceptance,'' lots of shots of the same stunts over and over, and not nearly as much information as we'd prefer about how likely it is that you could jump into thin air and drop half a mile, or land on jagged rocks, or in a chasm. Rating: * 1/2

Flightplan (PG-13, 97 minutes). How can a little girl simply disappear from an airplane at 37,000 feet? By asking this question and not cheating on the answer, "Flightplan" delivers a frightening thriller with an airtight plot. Jodie Foster stars as an American working in Germany. Her husband has died, and she and her daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), are flying back with his coffin. Then Julia disappears, and the crew's best information is that, in fact, she was never on board. Often in thrillers we think of questions the characters should ask but do not. Jodie Foster's character asks all the right questions and plays the situation with cunning, but the mystery remains: What happened to Julia? Rating: *** 1/2

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (R, 116 minutes) Surprisingly insightful, as buddy comedies go, with a good heart and a lovable hero. Steve Carell stars as Andy Stitzer, who doesn't just ride his bike to work, he signals his turns. His buddies (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen) discover he's a virgin and determine to end his drought, while meanwhile he's shyly in love with an eBay expert (Catherine Keener). Could have been a crude sex comedy, but isn't; Keener's performance is crucial in establishing the hero not as a challenge, but as an opportunity. ***

Get Rich or Die Tryin (R). Rapper/shirtless-baseball-cap-model 50 Cent devotes himself wholeheartedly to obtaining wealth, perhaps even at the expense of his own life in the process. Or, it's about a comedy-club owner who just really, really, really wants to book impressionist Rich Little. (Not reviewed)

Good Night, and Good Luck (PG, 93 minutes) The story of how Edward R. Murrow and his colleagues, with surgical precision, removed a cancer from the body politic. They see U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy as a man who would destroy American freedoms in the name of defending them. A liar and bully, recklessly calling his opponents traitors, destroys others with lies, he is then himself destroyed by the truth. David Straithairn plays Murrow, capturing his inward silences. Director and co-writer George Clooney plays Fred Friendly, his producer at CBS News. Focuses on factual details, without silly subplots, in telling an heroic chapter in American journalism. Rating: ****

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (PG-13, 157 minutes). Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) reaches adolescence facing greater challenges than ever before. Lord Voldemort, who has lurked offscreen until now, appears in malevolent fury, played by Ralph Fiennes -- hairless, with the complexion of a slug, his nostrils snaky slits in his face. Harry is also entered in the Triwizard competition, even though technically he's too young, and has to battle dragons and enter an endless maze. An even more endless maze is teenage romance, as he faces the problem of a date for the Yule Ball. Most of the series regulars are back, including Harry's inseparable friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint). New this time is Alastor (Mad-Eye) Moody (Brendan Gleeson), professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts. Mike Newell, the first British director in the series, balances whimsy and the ominous as Harry stands poised between fun at school, teenage romance and the dark abyss. Rating: *** 1/2

The Ice Harvest (R, 88 minutes). John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton steal $2.2 million on Christmas Eve, setting in motion a plot with the complexity of "Blood Simple" crossed with Elmore Leonard. Connie Nielsen is the sexy strip-club manager, Oliver Platt is the drunken lawyer who married Cusack's ex-wife, and Randy Quaid is the mob boss. There's a nice scene where a mobster who is locked in a trunk is nevertheless optimistic enough to shout muffled death threats. Directed by Harold Ramis ("Analyze This"). Rating: ***

In the Mix (PG-13, 90 minutes). Singer/dancer Usher plays deejay Darrell, who somehow becomes the bodyguard for a local mobsterís daughter. With Chazz Palminteri and Emmanuelle Chriqui. (Not reviewed)

Just Friends (PG-13, 94 minutes). Chris (Ryan Reynolds) is a fat nerd in high school, in love with Jamie (Amy Smart), who likes him, but only as a friend. He moves to L.A., drops 150 pounds, becomes rich and handsome, and returns to town on Christmas Eve accompanied by a sexy pop idol (Anna Faris). Jamie still likes him only as a friend. To call this movie lame is to suggest it has mobility. Rating: *

Jarhead (R, 122 minutes). Tells the story of a Marine sniper named Tony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal), who with his spotter Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) are trained to fight a war in which they never fire a shot - the 1990 Gulf War. It is not about action, not about adventure, not about easy laughs, but about the fundamental changes that took place within him as the result of the experience. For the rest of his life, Swofford tells us, whether he holds it or not, his rifle will always be a part of his body. It wasn't like that when the story began. Powerful and haunting, directed by Sam Mendes ("American Beauty"), also starring Jamie Foxx. Rating: *** 1/2

The Kid and I (PG-13, 93 minutes). A kid with cerebral palsy sees his dream come true for his 17th birthday: He gets to star in an action movie just like his favorite, ``True Lies.'' Tom Arnold stars as the has-been writer-actor who is hired by a millionaire (Joe Mantegna) to write and appear in the movie with the rich man's son (Eric Gores). Arnold's screenplay avoids sentimentalizing and tear-jerking, and the movie works in a surprisingly straightforward way, as exactly what it is. In reviewing it, I deliberately chose not to find out if Gores really has cerebral palsy, or is an actor playing someone who does. You may not have that choice, but if you do, avoid finding out and experience the movie without preconceptions. Rating: ***

The Legend of Zorro (Swashbuckler, PG, 129 minutes). Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones brought style and exuberance to ``The Mask of Zorro'' (1998), but this belated sequel is more like ``Mr. and Mrs. Zorro Play the Bickersons.'' They actually end up facing divorce! Elena complains that Zorro spends too much time away from home, neglects their son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso), etc., while little Joaquin is helping Dad uncover a dastardly plot to destroy the union. Extravagant but uninvolving action, absurd villains, and it's way too long. Rating: * 1/2

Pride & Prejudice (PG. 127 minutes). One of the most delightful and heartwarming adaptations made from Jane Austen or anybody else. Much of the delight and most of the heart comes from Keira Knightley, who plays Elizabeth as a girl glowing in the first light of perfection. She and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) take an instant dislike to each other, a sure sign of love; Lizzie and her five sisters are all being pushed into marriage by their mother (Brenda Blethyn), although their father (Donald Sutherland) sometimes mercifully intervenes. Knightley's performance is so light and yet fierce that she makes the story almost realistic; this is not a well-mannered "Masterpiece Theater," but a film where strong-willed young people enter life with their minds at war with their hearts. Rating: ****

Rent (PG-13, 128 minutes). The legendary stage production transfers uneasily to film, perhaps because it misses interaction with a live audience. The song lyrics by Jonathan Larson have an ungainly quality, perhaps deliberate; the words often seem at right angles to the music, as if two radios have been left on at the same time. Some characters, particularly Mimi (Rosario Dawson) and Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), seem heartfelt and convincing, but others are entirely plot-driven conveniences, and there are times when the borrowed plot of Puccini's "La Boheme" is a bad fit in modern Manhattan. I felt more respect than affection, but the movie has its moments, and audiences familiar with the stage version may use their memories as sort of a commentary track. Rating: ***

Saw II (R). Everything you need to know about this movie lies in one line from the previews: ``Oh, yes, there will be blood.'' Yep. But would it be too much for them to also add a monkey playing the violin on a unicycle? And maybe a guest appearance by Charo? Thanks for nothing, Saw killer guy. * 1/2

Walk the Line (PG-13, 135 minutes). A musical biopic that shows Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) inventing himself. After a listless audition, Cash is asked by the legendary producer Sam Phillips if he has a song of his own. In a key scene, Phoenix shows Cash beginning "Folsom Prison Blues" and discovering, during the song, how to sing it and who he is. Reese Witherspoon plays June Carter, the onstage singing partner who rejected his proposals because of his problems with booze and pills. Phoenix and Witherspoon do an uncanny job of covering Cash and Carter's vocals, and the moment when John proposes onstage may not be factual, but we wouldn't want to be without it. Rating: *** 1/2

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (G, 85 minutes). Wallace and Gromit are arguably the two most delightful characters in the history of animation. To know them is to enter a universe of boundless optimism, in which two creatures who are perfectly suited to each other venture out every morning to make the world into a safer place for the gentle, the good and the funny. Wallace is an inventor, Gromit is a dog, and in their first feature (after three shorts) they run Anti-Pesto, a service devoted to humane measures for preventing rabbits from eating the entries in Lady Tottington's 517th annual Giant Vegetable Fete. Directed by Nick Park and Steve Box in stop-motion animation that fills the screen with joy and humor. A treasure. Rating: *** 1/2

The Weather Man (R, 102 minutes). David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) is a Chicago weatherman whose marriage has failed, whose children are troubled, whose father is disappointed, and whose self-esteem lies in ruins. Viewers throw fast food at him from cars. He appears to be successful, but his life is an emotional void. Perfectly aimed supporting work by Michael Caine, as a father whose compliments play like rebukes, and Hope Davis, as an ex-wife still capable of being amazed by his hopelessness. Another of Nicolas Cage's performances of worry, depression and misdirected anger. Fascinating to watch, and oddly enough, sometimes funny. Rating: *** 1/2

Yours, Mine & Ours (PG, 90 minutes). Dennis Quaid is a Coast Guard admiral with eight children; Rene Russo is a fashion designer with 10. They were in love in high school, and when they meet many years later, she a widow, he widowed, it's love at second sight. The kids, of course, hate each other, in a plot that hurries from one predictable moment to another with unseemly haste, as if trying to set a cliche speed record. Directed by Raja Gosnell, whose "Never Been Kissed" was fun, but whoops! Then came the two "Scooby-Doo" movies. Rating: * 1/2

Zathura (PG, 113 minutes). On a long, boring Saturday, two brothers (Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo) find an old board game in the basement. As they play it, their reality is altered; they encounter meteor showers, hostile robots and savage lizards as their house finds itself in orbit around Saturn. Based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg, whose work also inspired "Jumanji" (1995), but this movie is less fearsome and more fun. With Kristen Stewart as their sister, Tim Robbins as their dad, and Dax Shepard as a helpful astronaut. Directed by Jon Favreau ("Elf"). Rating: ***