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Nicholas Nickleby, The Pianist, The Hours, Chicago, A Guy Thing

Nicholas' adventures include finding a stalwart friend, falling in love and running into some traveling players (including the always-amusing Nathan Lane and Alan Cumming). All of which are entertaining episodes, leading up to Nicholas' climactic confrontation. Although it's rendered in period-perfect pitch and cloaked in period-perfect trappings, its dramatic punch is lacking, making this "Nicholas Nickelby" entertaining, if not especially brilliant. ***



"The Pianist" — Fugitive director Roman Polanski's wrenching Holocaust drama follows the strange destiny of Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody, in a career-defining performance), a young pianist from Warsaw who miraculously survives the Nazi invasion of his hometown. But survival is cruel: He hides in buildings while the Nazis destroy his people. The movie, a fugue of tragic human suffering and testament to the nurturing nature of art, grips your head and heart. Polanski, also a survivor of Nazi-occupied Poland, has created a near-masterpiece. From cinematographer Pawel Edelman's darkly powerful images to production designer Allan Starski's stunning recreations of a shattered Europe to Brody's subtle portrait of suffering, "The Pianist" is noteworthy art itself. *****



"The Hours" — The death of the brilliant British author Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) triggered a fatalistic ripple that spreads to two other women (Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep) in two different eras. Decades later, the two women feel the anxious and somber rhythms of Woolf's life and death. The movie, based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is deeply moving, but not merely because the stories of the three women resonate with agony, bravery and inspiration. Deftly intercutting of both place and time, the film creates a powerful mingling of mysticism and fate. Add to the mix the truly stellar performances from the entire cast and the result is haunting, disturbing and uniquely moving. *****



"Chicago" — Not since "Cabaret" has there been a big-screen musical as whipsmart and exciting as this one. The choreography, by director Rob Marshall and Cynthia Onrubia, is nothing short of inspired, and kudos to screenwriter Bill Condon who has cleverly reimagined the musical as a dreamy film noir playing out in the mind of wannabe star Roxie Hart.

While Renee 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 sensory feast. ****



"A Guy Thing" — On the eve of his wedding to Karen (Selma Blair), an obviously wrong choice for his intended spouse, Paul Morse (Jason Lee) wakes up next to a dancer (Julia Stiles) from his bachelor party. Omigod!

Did the unthinkable happen? As Lee's Paul struggles to remember and frets over possible scenarios of differing consequences, you'll find yourself yearning for a wee bit of subtlety. Despite the terrific romantic and comic potential of Lee and Stiles, for some reason scriptwriter Greg Glienna ("Meet the Parents") and director Chris Koch (the genius behind "Snow Day") incorrectly assume it's enough to rely on characters and an intriguing situation. Cleverness and wit be damned. Besides, those two elements might, like, uh, make it too difficult for the 13-to-19-year old target audience. And we couldn't have that, now could we?
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