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How much one enjoys Closer fully depends on how charitable one feels toward the four characters at the center of Mike Nichols’ lacerating new film. These men and women, originally created by scripter Patrick Marber for his stage play of the same name, are alternately petty, vicious, narcissistic, perverse, illogical and frustrating. Viewers not interested in shifting through the rubble of these people’s immorality in an effort to locate some common truths will have no use for this picture, surely the most divisive film about modern relations since Eyes Wide Shut. Others willing to dig deeper will be rewarded not only with some choice dialogue and a quartet of finely etched portrayals but also with a heady buzz that will remain long after the movie’s over. Set in London, the movie centers on two British males and two American females — all strangers when the story opens. Dan (Jude Law) is a caddish obituary writer who falls for sweet-natured stripper Alice (Natalie Portman); Anna (Julia Roberts) is a moody photographer who ends up attached to dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen, nailing the film’s most complex role). With time jumps that will catch the daydreaming viewer off guard, the film tracks relationships, as Dan chases Anna, Larry sniffs around Alice, and all four characters take the notion of “brutal honesty” to such an extreme that their words suddenly qualify as deadly weapons. Many will criticize the film because the characters’ motivations don’t always make sense and their actions aren’t often in their own best interest. And that differs from real life exactly how?


Blade II was that rare sequel that managed to trump the original, but the franchise ascension ends there. Blade: Trinity is easily the least of three, an overlong action yarn that has nothing fresh to say on the subject of vampires nor on the curious holding pattern of Wesley Snipes’ career. Snipes again plays the taciturn Blade, the half-man, half-vampire whose mission is to wipe out all bloodsuckers with the aid of his mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). Instead of Whistler’s mother, it’s his daughter (Jessica Biel) who joins the fray, assisted by the wisecracking Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds, the poor man’s Jason Lee) and a motley assortment of vampire hunters. This time, their target is the most famous sucker of all: Dracula (dull Dominic Purcell), recently resurrected to help his demonic descendants take over the world. Or something like that.


Alexander isn’t just one of the worst movies of the year - it’s the worst film ever made by Oliver Stone, an immensely talented filmmaker who, three Oscar wins notwithstanding, has never received enough credit for a strong filmography. But he’s gone terribly astray with Alexander. Colin Farrell gets trampled under the weight of Stone’s expectations in tackling the role of Alexander, the warrior king whose claim to fame was conquering most of the known world by the time he was Ashton Kutcher’s present age. Farrell’s a lightweight in this movie - imagine if Lawrence of Arabia had been cast with Tab Hunter instead of Peter O’Toole and you get the idea. Anthony Hopkins provides the doddering exposition - lots and lots and lots of exposition - as Alexander pal Ptolemy, who, 40 years later, relates their adventures with all the enthusiasm of a theater employee removing bubble gum from under the armrests. As Alexander’s parents, Angelina Jolie (sporting an accent that suggests she’s channeling Bela Lugosi) and Val Kilmer get to bellow and howl and gnash their teeth, to little avail. The homoerotic content (Alexander was bisexual), which had been receiving more gossip-rag ink than any other aspect of the film, is conveyed through an endless series of demure looks between the male players; this skirting around the issue may make the movie more palatable to a nation that’s passing anti-gay measures with Aryan expediency, but it also adds a campy quality that’s furthered enhanced by laughable dialogue.


There’s a certain crazy appeal to the central thrust of National Treasure, which suggests that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and other Founding Fathers did such an exemplary job of hiding a sizable bounty that the only way to find it is to unscramble the clues that have been hidden on the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell and other mainstays of American History 101. Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford have been searching for a screenplay worthy of providing the backbone for an Indiana Jones 4, and in the proper hands, this might have been the one. Instead, the resumes of National Treasure’s director (Jon Turteltaub) and five writers are littered with the likes of Bad Boys II, Snow Dogs and Disney’s The Kid, so instead of another Raiders of the Lost Ark, we get to watch plunderers of a lost art. This finds Nicolas Cage (as the do-gooder who seeks to protect the treasure from greedy foreigners) again turning his back on his talents to sleepwalk through yet another undemanding part. The only treasure connected with this film is the gargantuan paycheck the actor received for his somnambular contribution.


It’s not entirely accurate to state that Annette Bening is the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show in Being Julia, but let’s just say that without her presence, the curtain would fall a lot faster on this adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel Theatre. Bening is awfully fun to watch as she whirlwinds her way through this backstage yarn about an aging actress in 1938 London. Julia Lambert (Bening) is an unqualified success in front of an audience, but the rigors of her profession and her own insecurities about growing older suggest that a nervous breakdown is just around the corner. Her manager-husband (Jeremy Irons), her best friend (Bruce Greenwood), her loyal dresser (Juliet Stevenson) and even the spirit of her former mentor (Michael Gambon) all try to be understanding, but Julia’s lust for life only becomes awakened once she engages in an affair with a young fan named Tom Fennell (Shaun Evans). But is this American kid really in love with her, or is he only using her to help further the career of the aspiring actress (Lucy Punch) who’s sharing his bed behind Julia’s back?


Based on John Grisham’s book Skipping Christmas, this stars Jamie Lee Curtis (who deserves better) and Tim Allen (who doesn’t) as a suburban couple who elect to bypass Christmas altogether and use the money to treat themselves to a 10-day Caribbean vacation over the holiday season. It’s a decision that draws instant revulsion from friends and neighbors, as everyone unites to make the couple’s lives miserable in an attempt to force them to renounce their decision. Simply on a comedic level, the movie would earn one star for failing to deliver a single, solitary laugh (the slapstick sequences are especially painful to endure), but dig a little deeper and what you’ll find is a repugnant yarn whose idea of morality wouldn’t be out of place at the Nuremberg rallies. The Kranks aren’t allowed to think or act for themselves lest they upset their upper-middle-class burg’s status quo, and the intrusive, overbearing, conformist neighbors are ultimately depicted as heroes for “converting” the pair to their narrow-minded way of thinking.


Almost one year after being treated to a delightful live-action version of Peter Pan, we now get a fanciful tale that seeks to explain how playwright J.M. Barrie initially came up with the idea for this children’s classic. What ends up on the screen is as much fiction as fact, but it’s the sort of inspirational saga that will make audiences wish this was the way it really happened. A gentle Johnny Depp is just right as Barrie, who, as the story begins, is unhappy with both his work and with his marriage to a beauty (Radha Mitchell) who doesn’t share his passions. He eventually finds inspiration through a widow (Kate Winslet) and her four sons, but these newly formed friendships are hampered by interference from the widow’s stern mother (Julie Christie) as well as his own neglected wife. Director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) and scripter David Magee have made a film that’s bursting with warmth and wit, and the sequence in which an ailing Winslet gets drawn into an impromptu staging of Peter Pan should moisten the eyes of every ticketholder in the auditorium.


Bridget Jones is back, wobbly bits and all. Unfortunately, this follow-up to the delightful 2001 comedy Bridget Jones’s Diary is the laziest sort of sequel, lifting episodes wholesale from the first film before spinning off in directions that don’t even begin to make sense. Therefore, even though the movie opens where the original ended, with single Brit Bridget (Renee Zellweger) at last finding true love with dashing lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the screenwriters hastily create a series of unlikely conflicts between the couple simply so they can rehash the same scenario where Bridget finds her attention divided between Darcy and womanizer Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). Only this time, Bridget’s antics are often annoying, Darcy’s sultry smolder has been reduced to ashes, and a venal action on Cleaver’s part renders the character despicable.


As a celebration of the beauty of Salma Hayek, After the Sunset surely ranks as a four-star affair, lovingly photographing this earthbound Aphrodite as she sashays around the film’s tropical setting in any number of bikinis and low-cut gowns. Oglers of Pierce Brosnan should also find this a thumbs-up affair: While the retiring James Bond has apparently made the switch from martinis to milkshakes, he’s still dashing enough to provide the necessary yang to Hayek’s sensual yin. But beyond the eye candy, there’s little else that’s memorable about this disposable tissue of a movie.