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Adaptation, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Catch me if you can, Chicago

Scriptor Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze (the dynamic duo behind "Being John Malkovich") have created a movie that's chock-full of stories within stories, plot twists about plot twists, and metaphors using metaphors as, well, metaphors. Granted, this makes the movie a hard sell for America's mainstream moviegoing population. But so what? Heck, let them watch "The Hot Chick" twice. Nicolas Cage plays a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman, who's suffering writer's block adapting the Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) best seller, "The Orchid Thief," which riffs on one of the world's most treasured flowers and profiles John Laroche (Chris Cooper), a professional orchid hunter. All the performances are top-end, but especially Cage's hangdog Charlie and his juvenile twin, Donald. But Cooper is the scene-stealer as Laroche, a toothless genius. For those who like movies that make you think — catching "Adaptation" is a no-brainer. ****

— Maribeth Brewster

"Rabbit-Proof Fence" — Phillip Noyce, Australian-born Hollywood director of big-budget affairs such as "Patriot Games," "Clear and Present Danger" and "The Saint" (he's also responsible for the new Graham Greene adaptation "The Quiet American") turns his camera's eye toward home to film a true story of survival in the 1930s Australian Outback. It was common practice for the government to extract half-castes, Aborigine children born to a white parent, from the bush and relocate them to orphanages. Three young girls caught in this predicament attempt an escape and follow the rabbit-proof fence that ran the length of Australia back to their home. An embarrassment to government officials like A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), the girls must be captured, and Noyce's film occasionally thrills during the battle of wits that takes place between them and their pursuers as the girls flee across the hot desert. But the film, attempting to be as big as the continent it traverses, loses sight of the details that make such historical pictures meaningful. Instead of showing us why the Outback was so heavenly and the orphanage so hellish, "Rabbit-Proof Fence" glosses over both and concentrates on the chase scenes, proving that you can take the director out of Hollywood, but not Hollywood out of the director. ***

— Wayne Melton

"Catch Me If You Can" — Rivaling "Auto Focus" in its colorful depiction of the early '60s, this new Steven Spielberg piece is a romp. Tom Hanks, as FBI Agent Carl Hanratty, nuances his plainspeaking Gump into a gumshoe, a deadpan detective on the trail of a notorious "paper hanger," a real-life teenage confidence man named Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) who's been racking up millions in expertly forged checks and flying around the country in the guise of a airline pilot. Doing it all for his father (Christopher Walken), DiCaprio is in his element as a dapper, silver-tongued youth dashing around the country changing suits and professions like a chameleon changes colors, and fooling his senior but inept pursuer at every turn. Audiences may roll their eyes at the hurried and tidy ending, but for this movie the destination is in the journey. **** — W.M.

"Chicago" — Once again the entertainment industry has played it safe and done some recycling to appeal to audiences' attraction to the familiar. But it's easy to see why they'd be tempted with "Chicago": the play is sexy and gritty, and the jerky, angular Bob Fosse dancing wreaks of attitude. The movie on the other hand, is of course a movie so it's a bit glossier than the sultry play and the Fosse moves are toned down. But the song-and-dance bits are cleverly placed as dream sequences rather than in real time (like in "Moulin Rouge") and the gaudy vaudeville-style costumes and makeup give it a garish edge.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger star as two murderers who vie for the media's attention while they're behind bars. Zellweger is likable as aspiring performer Roxie Hart but her singing and dancing isn't stage-strong, but of course it doesn't need to be for the movie. Zeta-Jones on the other hand is powerful as the husky-voiced seasoned performer Velma Kelley. Richard Gere is oddly-cast as their greasy lawyer. Though his first song and accompanying striptease are so stiff they're almost laughable, he quickly regains his composure and works as the egotistical lawyer, Billy Flynn. In one of the most memorable scenes in the movie, he and Roxie perform a song during a press conference in which Flynn is portrayed as the puppeteer talking for both Roxie and the reporters. The play is better, but if you can't get to Broadway, this "Chicago" is worth seeing. ****

— Carrie Nieman

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