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ON THE SCREEN

‘The following movies are playing this weekend at local theaters. The Tech suggests using <http://www.boston.com> for a complete listing of times and locations.

HHHH Excellent

HHH Good

HH Fair

H Poor

American Beauty (H1/2)

An extremely annoying movie: this deadpan black tragicomedy is a laughable failure as a work of art, being pretentious, simplistic, and self-important. Excepting a truly remarkable performance by Kevin Spacey (whose part is disappointingly small), there’s nothing to this movie beyond tortured metaphors, caricatures instead of characters, and a messy pile-up of red herrings instead of a plot. -- Vladimir Zelevinsky

Autumn Tale (HHH1/2)

Veteran French filmmaker Eric Rohmer continues his gentle, thoughtful, and detailed studies of romantic confusion in this delightful comedy about a middle-aged woman’s search for love and happiness. A vintage Rohmer film with all the sophistication, depth, and intricacy that makes his films so irresistible. Without doubt one of the best movies of the year. -- Bence Olveczky

Earth (HHHH)

Based on Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel Cracking India, this film sees the partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan through a child’s eyes. Haunting images, great soundtrack by A.R. Rahman, and unforgettable performances. It’s a romance, a tragedy, a history, and a comment on the human heart: its tenderness and the beast that hides within. This movie is not to be missed. -- Zarminae Ansari

Fight Club (HHH)

A complex screenplay, strong performances, and artistic direction make for an enjoyable filmgoing experience. The excessive violence and rhetoric at times cause the pace to drag, but the film’s subtleties will be pondered long after the movie ends. Curiously, while Fight Club is comprised of many strong components, the film as a whole feels slightly lacking. -- Rebecca Loh, VZ

An Ideal Husband (HH)

An Ideal Husband is an example of how not to direct a movie. With such superlative resources at his disposal -- star-studded cast (Jeremy Northam, Rupert Everett, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Minnie Driver), great source play, lush production design -- all that director/writer Oliver Parker manages to create is a particularly joyless, visually bland, narratively pedestrian, weird mixture of light comedy and somber drama, with these two halves desperately fighting each other. -- VZ

Outside Providence (HHH)

It’s Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in the ’70s, and the Farrelly brothers are at it again. The writers of There’s Something About Mary show a broader scope here, moving from visual comedy to funny, affecting dialogue. Recreational junkie Tim Dunphy’s run-in with a parked police car nets him a transfer to strict Cornwall Academy, where he makes a new set of goofball friends. Dunph’s old man (Alec Baldwin) stays home with Tim’s three-legged dog and his card-playing buddies, who try to be bigots but can’t really pull it off. The precarious plot leaves center stage to a clever dose of lowbrow humor, perfectly delivered by a bunch of earnest simpletons. -- Roy Rodenstein

Runaway Bride (HHH)

Sparkling chemistry between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts saves Runaway Bride from drowning in sappiness. The film tells the story of a bride who has left a string of fiancÉs at the altar and the smug journalist who writes a story about her. While the setup is riddled with enough movie clichÉs to make a person sick, Gere and Roberts shine on screen, affirming themselves as one of the more successful screen duos of the 90’s. -- TH

Run Lola Run (HHH)

Lola’s boyfriend needs $100,000 in twenty minutes, or else he’s dead. Lola’s motorbike was just stolen, so she has to run if she wants to be there on time. A minor plot detail: she doesn’t have the money. So she needs to run really fast. The result is a streamlined movie possessing an unstoppable sense of motion, and giving the visceral pleasure of seeing a tightly-wound plot unfold. -- VZ

The Sixth Sense (HHH1/2)

Cole Sear is a young boy whose special power, “the sixth sense,” enables him to perceive the ghosts which, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, walk among us every day. Bruce Willis plays the psychologist trying to help him. The strength of their performances carries the movie past its slight flaws, making The Sixth Sense one of the best movies of the summer. -- Tzu-Mainn Chen

The Straight Story (HHH1/2)

A great true story: in 1994, seventy-three year-old Alvin Straight rode a 1966 John Deere lawnmower from Laurens, Iowa, all the way to Mount Zion, Wisconsin, to see his ailing brother. Directed by David Lynch (Twin Peaks), this G-rated film is remarkable, assured, and unhurried, yet full of action (internal as well as external), amazingly beautiful to look at, frequently hilarious, and emotionally affecting to the point of being mesmerizing. -- VZ

The Thomas Crown Affair (HHH)

A cross between a star vehicle and an old-fashioned heist movie: a bored zillionaire steals priceless paintings for fun, and a dedicated insurance investigator tries to trap him, falling for him in the process. Excellent opening and ending sequences, largely expendable middle; but that Monet-Magritte-Escher inspired climax is spectacular. -- VZ

Three Kings (HHH1/2)

As one of the most creative films of the year, David O. Russell’s third film Three Kings marks his strongest directing effort to date. When American soldiers set out to find Saddam’s stolen gold bullion, they also find Iraqi citizens in need of their help. In their efforts to help, the characters are forced to question the point of America’s involvement in the Persian Gulf. The creative use of the camera makes for powerful images that help drive the film’s message home. -- Michael Frakes