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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

Anna and the King (HH1/2)

Chow Yun Fat is an Oscar-worthy scene-stealer with riveting screen presence as the Thai King Mongkut; the only other three-dimensional character is played by Bai Ling in a passionately sincere performance. Jodie Foster disappoints for the first time as the British governess Anna Leonowens. See the movie for the stunning visuals: gorgeous, sprawling epic sets, beautiful details, and the regal Chow Yun Fat’s performance which keeps lighting up the screen. -- Zarminae Ansari

Being John Malkovich (HHH1/2)

A film so different, so whacked-out, so original, and totally unlike anything else out there -- like Monty Python at their most deadpan hilarious. An unconventional mixture of comedy, satire, and frighteningly deep ruminations on the nature of personality. -- VZ

The Cider House Rules (HHH)

Despite the fact that the protagonists’ name is Homer, this film ends up feeling less like a Homeric epic and more like a Norman Rockwell painting: hardly great art or even art at all, but something with instantly recognizable humanity and an overall impact that can hardly be ignored. Credit this mostly to luminous acting and the screenplay’s understated emotional complexity. -- VZ

Cradle Will Rock (HHH1/2)

A rich, visually inventive, amazingly-acted, and consistently hilarious tapestry of art set in the 1930’s, weaving together characters from John Cusack’s Nelson Rockefeller to Emily Watson’s homeless street performer. A perfect opening sequence, a perfect closing shot. -- VZ

Dogma (HHH)

The latest film by Kevin Smith combines the elements of a mystery, suspenseful thriller, surreal fantasy, action movie, and black comedy to produce an engaging examination of religion. Although some may be put off by his irreverent approach, and the topics he brings up are never fully explored, a fairly novel story, excellent cast, and interesting ideas make this a movie that will covertly bring fodder for discussions on religion to the masses. -- Fred Choi

Galaxy Quest (HH1/2)

Not quite the Star Trek parody that it starts out like; more of a Star Trek rip-off, with the same stupid computer graphics, fake sets, plot holes (all of the above rather irritating), and general air of amiable nonsense (very enjoyable). It’s also neat to see a bunch of good actors having fun. Rather stupid, really; at the same time, rather cute. -- VZ

Girl, Interrupted (HH1/2)

Exploring the struggles of a teenage girl in a mental hospital, Winona Ryder manages the lows but not highs of her character effectively, creating a somewhat skewed view of the movie. However, Angelina Jolie and Brittany Murphy are excellent supporting actresses and serve to balance the movie, while the rest of the acting is lukewarm. Additionally, the dramatic details, such as the lighting, create moods and scenes that are compelling, but that do not make up for the lack of plot. -- Amy Meadows

Magnolia (HH1/2)

A sprawling incoherent mess of a movie, with a story and characters that manage to be both jaw-droppingly obvious and make no sense whatsoever. On the other hand, the annoying narrative bombast is compensated by great visual verve, and the climactic sequence is simply the most wildly creative bit of filmmaking of 1999, even though it hasnothing to do with the rest of the movie. -- 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

Sleepy Hollow (HH1/2)

Very loosely adapted from Washington Irving’s tale of the Headless Horseman, this film features huge lavish sets, wall-to-wall special effects, astounding cinematography -- and a bland, boring, mediocre screenplay. Johnny Depp is fun, playing Ichabod Crane as a mixture of action hero and frightened schoolgirl, while Christina Ricci looks lovely but is otherwise wasted. -- VZ

The Talented Mr. Ripley (HHH)

A lot to recommend: a complex plot, accomplished acting (Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett especially), and gorgeous visuals; especially impressive is the degree to which the audience gets to understand and identify with the film’s immoral protagonist. A bit too slowly-paced, though. -- 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

Toy Story 2 (HHH1/2)

An instant classic, one of the most creative and fun movies of the year, this completely computer-generated sequel about the adventures of a bunch of toys is clever, funny, complex, and, most surprisingly, deeply emotional. -- VZ

The World is Not Enough (HH1/2)

The nineteenth James Bond adventure is a rather disorienting experience: everything that is supposed to work in a 007 adventure (stunts, gadgets, babes, exotic locations) is underused, while the acting, especially from Sophie Marceau, is spectacular. -- VZ