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Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2003 02:20 pm

Movie reviews

Cold Mountain

Love is hope Ñ and on Cold Mountain, it's worth the sacrifice

Anthony Minghella's adaptation of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain initially labors under the weight of the high expectations that have dogged this production since its inception. But much like the heroine at its center, shy Southern Belle Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman), who finds her footing after facing a profound tragedy, the film eventually rights itself and becomes a powerful testament to the ideal of love and an indictment of war.

The film opens with a key Civil War battle at Petersburg, Va. -- a horrific sequence in which thousands of milling bodies engage in hand-to-hand combat. Flashbacks take us to the meeting of the reserved Ada and Inman (Jude Law). The pointless carnage Inman witnesses as a Confederate soldier and the hope of a life with Ada convince him to desert.

As Inman struggles to return to his home on Cold Mountain, Ada faces her own trial, attempting to single-handedly run the family farm after the unexpected death of her father (Donald Sutherland). She's helped by Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger), a rough-hewn woman who comes to live with her and teaches her not only how to farm but how to deal with undesirables as well.

Given their brief courtship, some may question how Inman and Ada could sustain the depth of feeling they have for each other. Yet, as their sacrifices mount, it becomes clear that they're motivated by one of the most basic components of love -- the mere possibility of happiness. In suffering, their needs become simple: To love, to build a life and family, to live in peace. These seem like modest goals, but ones worth fighting for. In that, Cold Mountain reiterates a universal truth, and a message of hope.

Cold Mountain benefits from strong casting, although it's difficult at first to accept Kidman as a shy young woman. But as Ada grows in confidence, Kidman's portrayal becomes more convincing and ultimately quite moving. Law gives a powerful performance, showing the weariness of a man lost in a world of violence he doesn't understand. While Law is reserved, Zellweger pulls out all the stops as Ruby, a scene-stealing role in which the actress gets to revel in the character's big heart and lack of charm.

Stick to your dreams Ð and you won't get Stuck

If you've ever doubted the expression, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," check out Stuck on You, a tale of conjoined twins Bo and Walt Tenor (Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear). Though joined together at their mid-sections, these siblings own a successful eatery that guarantees every order will be filled in three minutes and are the all-star goalie for the local adult hockey league. Things seem to be going swimmingly, but Walt longs to go to Hollywood to expand his acting career. Dissatisfied with his one-man shows at the local playhouse, he persuades Bo, who's prone to anxiety attacks, to head to Tinsel Town to give stardom a shot. It comes to a surprise to everyone, except the optimistic brothers, when Walt lands a role in a TV series with Academy-Award winner, Cher.

Though the Farrelly brothers first caught the public's attention with their brand of gross-out humor in Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary, what was initially overlooked was their sympathetic portrayal of those in our society who were often the object of scorn and ridicule. Similarly, there's no marginalizing the Tenors and, obviously, the message here is that if a pair of conjoined twins can achieve their dreams through hard work and determination, then anyone can.

The Farrellys do this with their trademark sense of humor, consisting of equal parts sweetness and crudity. Though Stuck proves to be a bit too long, there's no mistaking its heart is in the right place.

What other critics are saying...

Bad Santa [R] Two cons, dressed as Santa and his elf, work the holidays at malls. They're not doing it to spread holiday cheer. "The foulest holiday movie I've ever seen -- and the funniest." (Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune) ShowPlace West

The Cat in the Hat [PG] The popular Dr. Seuss tale comes to life in a film starring Mike Myers. "Comes scarily close to being the most unendurable Hollywood creation of the last dozen years." (Michael Atkinson, Village Voice)ShowPlace West

Cheaper by the Dozen [PG] The Baker family moves from a small Illinois town to the big city after dad gets his coaching dream job. Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt star in this remake. "Martin and Hunt, reliable pros though they are, don't stand a chance against the forces arrayed against them: the bald cliches, unspeakable dialogue, and cheap sentimentality of the script . . ." (Jim Lane, Sacramento News & Review) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Elf [PG] A giant elf (Will Ferrell) wreaks havoc on an elf community so he's sent away to find he true identity. "Wan Christmas concoction." (Ed Park, Village Voice) Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Haunted Mansion [PG] A ghost teaches a workaholic the importance of family during a visit to a haunted house."I know I'll take some sort of perverse pleasure in watching Eddie Murphy terrorized by dark spirits." (Joshua Tyler, Film Hobbit) ShowPlace West

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [PG-13] Final part of trilogy, as hobbits Frodo and Sam journey to Mount Doom in Mordor. "As a model for how to bring substance, authenticity and insight to the biggest of adventure yarns, this trilogy will not soon, if ever, find its equal." (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Mona Lisa Smile [PG-13] Julia Roberts portrays a free-spirited arts professor at a women-only college in the early 1950s. "Sadly, the predictability factor of Mona is simply off the charts -- you can almost recite the dialogue before it rolls off the students' well-developed palates, and the course it follows is a well-rutted road." (John Anderson, Newsday) Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Paycheck [PG-13] Jennings (Ben Affleck) has part of his memory erased and must struggle to find out what he's been up to for the past two years. "Forgoes originality in favor of stock thriller trappings." (Jeanne Aufmuth, Palo Alto Weekly) Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Peter Pan [PG] Peter Pan takes the Darling family children to Never Never Land where there's a war happening with Captain Hook. "For the first time in ages, a film makes one grateful for special effects: Indeed, it feels as if this is the very story such innovations were invented to enhance. You do, you do, you DO believe in fairies!" (John Patterson, L.A. Weekly) Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Something's Gotta Give [PG-13] Fifty-something Erica Barry (Diane Keaton) plays reluctant host to her daughter's 60-something boyfriend, Harry (Jack Nicholson), and sparks fly. "Something's Gotta Give can be formulaic, but watching the incandescent Nicholson and Keaton, all loose and funny and sharing jokes about reading glasses, is a rare treat." (Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Stuck on You [PG-13]The relationship between co-joined twins Bob (Matt Damon) and Walt (Greg Kinnear) gets tested when Walt convinces them to move to LA. "There's a daft sweetness and inclusiveness at work that sustains the . . . movie long after the notion of attached brothers boxing or quarterbacking or manning a burger joint's kitchen fails to stir the chuckle meter." (Michael Atkinson, The Village Voice) Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East


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