"8 Crazy Nights" With this odd twist on the usual warm-hearted animated fare, comic actor Adam Sandler proves he can talk anybody into bankrolling any project he pitches. Here, Sandler voices a bitter character named Davey who's lost the holiday spirit. He's a loner who drinks too much, is always in trouble with the law and hates Hanukkah. Actually, this loser hates every holiday. After his latest run-in with the local cops, he is handed over by a judge to an old geezer named Whitey, who coaches kids' basketball. When Davey's trailer burns down, guess who takes him in? But nothing Whitey tries seems to effect a change of Davey's heart. *
"Die Another Day" Slick, sexy fun, this latest James Bond flick works because director Lee Tamahori and co-scriptors Neal Purvis and Robert Wade stay true to the source material. Pierce Brosnan finally looks the part, and everything one loves about and expects to see in a Bond movie is there: the opening action scene; the titillating title sequence; those requisite Bond babes (most notably, Halle Berry); and, of course, the game of cat and mouse between 007 and the megalomaniac du jour. While Brosnan and Berry heat things up nicely, Tamahori adds to the enjoyment by keeping the action moving along at a "no-time-to-get-bored" clip. ****
"The Emperor's Club" At St. Benedict's Academy for Boys, classics professor William Hundert (a terrific Kevin Kline) has a contentious relationship with a sassy pupil, Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch). As Sedgewick's work begins to show signs of improvement, Hundert begins to hold out hope that the troubled teen might turn his life around. Although it unspools like any number of other tales about inspiring teachers, what makes "The Emperor's Club" refreshingly different is Kline's performance. Perfectly pitched, Kline seems quite at home among the sea of red blazers and even redder bricks. While definitely not a stand-up-and-cheer kind of movie, "The Emperor's Club" does beg to be pondered. Thanks to Kline's charming performance, such contemplation is pleasurable. ***
"Far From Heaven" In writer/director Todd Haynes's tribute to the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk, Cathy Whitaker (a stunning Julianne Moore) and her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), appear to be the picture-perfect '50s-era couple. But we quickly see how fragile their relationship is when Frank confesses to doubts about his sexual orientation. And when a confused and off-kilter Cathy reaches out for emotional support from her African-American gardener (an equally good Dennis Haysbert), well, that's when her troubles truly begin. Moore is nothing short of captivating as Cathy, giving an Oscar-worthy performance that at once is sweetly submissive and naively brazen. Though she appears at first to be too good to be true, Moore quickly earns our respect, giving us an unaffected portrait of a normal woman unwittingly caught at the forefront of the burgeoning battle for civil, sexual and women's rights. *****
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