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"Chocolat"; "Miss Congeniality"; "Quills"; "Cast Away"

Quick Flicks

!B! "Chocolat"!B! "Miss Congeniality"!B! "Quills"!B! "Cast Away"

"Chocolat" — This bittersweet comic confection may prove irresistible to discerning moviegoers starved for even the smallest taste of originality. Director Lasse Hallstrom's gentle whimsy and genuine enjoyment of his characters have us rooting for them almost instantly. Juliette Binoche is an unwed mother who blows into a small French town during Lent. Renting the town's vacant pastry shop, she earns the city fathers' ire by turning it into something more decadent — a chocolate shop. Soon her delectable treats tantalize some and scandalize others. To make things worse, she takes up with a notorious gypsy (Johnny Depp!!!) and the moral arbiters feel the need to take action. While not tasty enough to die for, "Chocolat" should satisfy anyone with a cinematic sweet tooth. "Miss Congeniality" — Sandra Bullock's abundant talents as a comedienne are put on display in this fish-out-of-water tale about an FBI agent undercover at a beauty pageant. Bullock manages to be both endearing and glamorous, but her many charms aren't enough to make this more than a comic runner-up. As perennial tomboy Gracie Hart, Bullock does her best to keep Marc Lawrence's ambivalent script bouncy and fun. The movie does have its moments — not the least of which are Michael Caine as a former pageant guru and William Shatner as a shameless Bert Parks-type emcee. But Lawrence keeps changing his message midscene and we're confused: Are pageants demeaning bimbo rituals or sweetly empowering scholarship programs? "Quills" — Philip Kaufman has been on a downward spiral since directing "Henry & June." Regrettably, his latest work continues that trend, giving us an overwrought and underwritten period piece about the infamous Marquis de Sade. Its in-your-face style — and actors — demand assessments of quality. But good, it's not. Memorable, yes; but good, no. Geoffrey Rush attacks the role of de Sade as if he were playing Oscar Wilde. Joaquin Phoenix and Michael Caine (who seems to be everywhere lately) play dueling doctors, while Kate Winslett is a buxom laundress who smuggles de Sade's writings out of the asylum. Incapable of giving a bad performance, she manages to shine through the lackluster script. The film pretends to be a brave statement about art, free expression and sexual liberation. In reality, it falls way short of those pretensions. With full-frontal, male nudity (Rush), this is not for the faint of heart. "Cast Away" — Tom Hanks and "Forrest Gump" director Robert Zemeckis reunite for this intriguing but odd mix of "Robinson Crusoe"-meets-TV-phenom "Survivor." Except, Hanks only battles himself. Playing a Fed Ex hotshot who ends up on a deserted island after his plane crashes, Hanks learns a painful, lengthy lesson about the difference between merely surviving and really living. But even an amazing performance by Hanks — for more than an hour the actor is speechless — can't make this metaphysical what-if into a gripping adventure. The movie's biggest problem is that we know from the trailer that Hanks' character survives, so there's nothing to root for. The most interesting scenes of the movie involve Hanks and Helen Hunt (playing his once-upon-a-time fiancée), but after hours on the island, Zemeckis has little time left to spend on them.

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