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AQUAMARINE (PG) It's Splash for teens when a pair of starry-eyed 13-year-olds (Joanna Levesque and Emma Roberts) make friends with a totally hot mermaid looking for the meaning of true love. Also stars Sara Paxton and Jake McDorman. Opens March 3 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY (R) Hip-hop, humor and a whole lot of socially conscious music are featured in this live concert film shot by cutting edge image-maker Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Acts include Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Big Daddy Kane, The Roots, Kanye West and a reportedly stunning reunion of The Fugees, with concert organizer Chappelle making with the funny stuff in between the music. I wasn't able to screen the film in advance, but of the dozen or so colleagues I've talked to who have seen it, not a single one has been less than enthusiastic. Also features Talib Kweli and Jill Scott. Opens March 3 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)


ANNAPOLIS (PG-13) This predictable drama chronicles the tale of a working-class kid (pretty boy Spiderman star James Franco) who just barely makes it into the United States Naval Academy. Defiant but determined, he proves himself by boxing his way to respect. There aren't too many surprises here: the comic relief is handled by the fat guy (played by Vicellous Reon Shannon), the hero gets the girl (a too-tan Jordana Brewster) and every student at the Naval Academy could moonlight as a model. Perfectly timed to inspire young bucks to trade in their baggy jeans for starched white sailor suits, this family-friendly film is Rumsfeld-approved. Justin Lin directs; also stars Tyrese Gibson and Donnie Wahlberg. 2 stars Erin Rashbaum

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (R) As nearly everyone in North America knows by now, Ang Lee's movie is the epic tale of two rough and tumble cowboys who discover, to their great amazement, that they only have eyes for each other. A delicate study in repressed emotions, Brokeback Mountain follows the star-crossed Jack and Ennis (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) over the years, through loveless marriages, failed attempts to forget one another, and covert reunions where passions are quickly reignited. If it's subtext you're after, there's subtext aplenty here; American iconography inevitably takes on interesting new shapes while the whole movie occasionally feels like a vintage Douglas Sirk melodrama-cum-social-critique, gently massaged into a realm where men and women have so little interest in one another that they can't even be bothered with the so-called war of the sexes. At root, though, Brokeback is something profound in its simplicity, a deliriously romantic and deeply elegiac tale of a love that dares not speak its name. Also stars Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway and Randy Quaid. 4.5 stars

CACHE (NR) Michael Haneke's minimalist anti-thriller, like all the director's films, plays ping-pong with our heads while confronting our most self-destructive urges and our insatiable appetite for violence. Caché details the effects upon a well-heeled Parisian couple, Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche), when they begin receiving a series of videotapes that let them know they're being watched by an unknown stalker. No demands are made, no elaborate blackmail schemes hatched, and virtually none of the traditional components of the thriller genre, psychological or otherwise, manifest themselves — leaving the increasingly beleaguered pair plenty of time to bicker between themselves about what the tapes mean, who might be sending them and what to do about it. That ambiguity and uncertainty drives everything in Caché as Georges and Anne's cultivated and well-fortified world deteriorates into chaos. Haneke makes much of the couple's well-appointed, book-lined townhouse with its imposing metal door and sturdy stone walls, but the implication is that neither brute strength nor the niceties of civilization can stave off the barbarians at the gates. The outcome may be up in the air, but the message is clear — don't bother seeking safety, because safety does not exist. As in all of Haneke's movies, the real dangers lurk within, terrors of the imagination that prove every bit as potent as the actual terrors on the ground. Haneke keeps things open-ended right up until the bitter end and beyond, allowing meticulously accumulated tensions to boil over into some nameless, endless state of existential dread. Viewers demanding resolution are advised to look elsewhere, because all the best bits in Caché (and there are many) are found between the lines. Also stars Maurice Benichou. Lester Makedonsky and Annie Girardot. 4.5 stars

EIGHT BELOW (PG-13) Human thespians play second fiddle to a pack of furry critters in Eight Below, a Disney adventure that succeeds nicely as family entertainment and maybe a touch more. Paul Walker is the nominal star here, but the bulk of the movie is devoted, happily so, to the trials and tribulations of a sled team of dogs stranded and struggling to survive in the Antarctic winter. Don't expect March of the Penguins, but you will find an unexpectedly satisfying sense of authenticity to this project, with moments that are both exciting and (yes, you knew this was coming) inspirational grounded in events that feel not so far removed from real life. There are a few false notes (including an awful CGI misfire) but the story has a nice, Jack London-esque feel, and the film's cinematography is almost as gorgeous as its husky and malamute heroes. Also stars Bruce Greenwood. 3 stars


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