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View from the Top, Piglet's Big Movie, The Pianist, Chicago, Willard

Patrician Paltrow attempts to make us believe she's a girl from the wrong side of the trailer park who's desperate to jettison her eager discount-store sales job and tacky family. Her inspiration proves to be the autobiography of a glamorous veteran flight attendant (played a tad over-the-top by Candice Bergen). Starting small, Paltrow joins a rinky-dink commuter airline, befriends Applegate and Preston, falls for nice escapee from law school Mark Ruffalo, and cheerleads her gal-pals into taking a shot at the flight-attendant big time. Needless to say, our Gwyneth gets what she wants, but not without hitting some personal and professional turbulence before learning what's really important for a girl. (Or at least what stereotypically is purported to be what girls want and need. Uh-huh.) ***



"Piglet's Big Movie" — From tots up through early elementary school, kiddos (and a few of us aging, diehard "Pooh" fans) will delight in this amiable bit of Disney animation. When Piglet helps Pooh, Tigger, Rabbit and Eeyore trick the bees out of their hive to get the honey, the Hundred Acre Wood gang doesn't recognize his contribution. So he wanders off, declaring, "I may be small, but in the biggest, helpfulest way." When Piglet's pals can't find him, they use his scrapbook of happy memories to figure out where he might be, recalling the "House at Pooh Corner" stories that go with each drawing. Combining vintage storybook colors, old-fashioned, mostly hand-drawn animation and a sweet message of good things coming in small packages, "Piglet's Big Movie" makes for a charming movie-going experience for youngsters and the parents tagging along. An added bonus for both — several Carly Simon songs on the soundtrack. ****



"The Pianist" — Fugitive filmmaker and newest Academy Award best-director recipient Roman Polanski's wrenching Holocaust drama follows the strange destiny of Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody, in a career-defining, and newly minted Oscar-winning performance), a young pianist from Warsaw who miraculously survives the Nazi invasion of his hometown. But survival is cruel: He becomes a human mole, hiding in dark corners, vacant buildings, dank alcoves — always away from his true love, the piano. A fugue of tragic human suffering and the nurturing nature of art, Polanski's "The Pianist" is a near-masterpiece. *****



"Chicago" — Not since "Cabaret" has there been a big-screen musical as whip-smart and exciting as this one. The choreography, by director Rob Marshall and Cynthia Onrubia, is nothing short of inspired. But the kudos to screenwriter Bill Condon who has cleverly re-imagined the musical as a dreamy film noir playing out in the mind of wannabe star Roxie Hart. While Renée Zellweger's terrific as the determined Roxie, Catherine Zeta-Jones is coolly assured and sexy as Velma Kelly, Roxie's rival performer. Richard Gere rounds out this deadly trio as the slick shyster Billy Flynn. Full of love, lust, intrigue and sultry song-and-dance numbers, "Chicago" is a sensual feast and bona-fide, multiple Oscar-winner. ****



"Willard" — This droll, brilliantly realized horror film has "cult-classic" written all over it. Here, writer-director Glen Morgan ingeniously remakes both the 1971 "Willard" and its 1972 sequel, "Ben," in lurid, Kafkaesque style. The perfectly cast Crispin Glover plays the milquetoast protagonist, living in a rundown manse with his near-desiccated mother (Jackie Burroughs). Faced with a huge rat invasion in the basement, Willard can't kill the rodents because he identifies with them. Soon he's trained them to swarm and "tear up" things on his command. Hmmm, what better way to get even with his abusive boss (R. Lee Ermey)? But Willard has his own power-struggle going with the biggest rat, Ben, a struggle we know cannot and will not end well. Plus fans of the originals will get a kick out of Morgan's humorous nod to the kitschy source material.
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