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Adaptation, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Secretary, The Wild Thornberrys Movie

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. ****

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" — This second installment of writer-director Peter Jackson's ripping good adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy is darker, edgier and more heroic-minded than the first. Once again, though, so vividly does Jackson conjure up Tolkien's Middle-earth — as well as its hobbits, humans, elves, dwarves, wizards, armies, etc. — that keeping up isn't nearly as important as sitting back and enjoying the magic and spectacle. Although I enjoyed Jackson's first crack at the trilogy, this second held me in its wide-screen thrall. "The Two Towers" follows several plotlines simultaneously: Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) continue their trek to destroy the ring and its growing evil. The human warrior Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) rallies troops for the battle of Helm's Deep but finds himself falling for a real princess (Miranda Otto), which threatens his love for the unreal Arwen (Liv Tyler). All the while, the evil Wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) seeks the power of the ring to destroy humankind. ****

"Secretary" — This self-serious little romance between highly repressed, domination-minded boss E. Edward Grey (James Spader) and his more-than-willing new secretary, Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), never quite lives up to its tease. See, it turns out Holloway is into pain, but not as a form of sexual release. She's a closet cutter who needs to bleed to prove she does have some control over her life. But before you can say "B-D-S-M," Mr. Grey has Holloway dancing to his particular tune. This is the exact point where this offbeat bit of titillation loses focus: Torn between giggling over this kinky match made in leather-heaven or exploring the vulnerability of Grey and Holloway, the movie tries to do both, and ends up doing neither. ***

"The Wild Thornberrys Movie" — This big-screen version of another popular Nickelodeon cartoon is guaranteed delight for kids 6 and older. The dialogue sparkles, the film has a witty, hand-drawn look, and the script actually tosses out oodles of cool factoids about the natural world. Best of all, though, is that smart, spunky 12-year-old Eliza Thornberry (voice of Lacey Chabert) has a great adventure. Her eccentric family is filming a wildlife documentary in Africa and doesn't know a shaman has given Eliza the power to talk to the animals. When poachers (Rupert Everett and Marisa Tomei) kidnap some cheetah cubs she's been playing with, Eliza feels responsible and sets out to save them.

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