New Releases

CHICKEN LITTLE (G) Disney's latest computer animated feature offers an increasingly familiar scenario: plenty of great stuff to look at, but not much by way of memorable characters or even a stick-to-your-ribs story. Even at well under 90 minutes, the movie feels a bit padded, with a first half-hour largely composed of amusing but basically gratuitous scenes of frenzied hyperactivity, with visual puns filling the edges of every frame. By the time Chicken Little finally shifts into its main narrative — the titular chicken and his misfit pals (a big, presumably gay, pig and an ugly duckling) get wind of what appears to be an alien invasion, but no one believes them — it feels like the movie's already over. The life lesson messages here and the Nemo-esque father-son dynamic feel recycled, and the obligatory pop culture references (including nods to E.T., War of the Worlds and, yes, even The Wizard of Oz), though often cleverly visualized, aren't enough to make up for the fundamental sketchiness of the story. It's all quite cute in a way that will appeal to very young viewers, and gorgeously rendered in a way that will appeal to animation geeks, but nothing you'll probably remember a year or two from now. Featuring the voices of Zach Braff, Garry Marshall, Joan Cusack and Steve Zahn. Opens Nov 4 at local theaters. ** 1/2


2046 (R) The film is sort of a (very) loose sequel to Wong Kar-wai's masterful In the Mood for Love, with Tony Leung returning as Chow, whose unspoken and unconsummated, but no less grand, romance with a married woman was the bittersweet focus of that movie. The film takes place in the years following In the Mood for Love, with our once-wounded-in-love hero now an emotionally distant womanizer who we see crossing paths with a series of beautiful and mysterious women moving in and out of the hotel room across from his. We eventually come to see that the film's title refers not just to the room inhabited by Chow's various girlfriends, but also to the very curious sci-fi novel he's writing (and that we see visualized and paralleled throughout the film), which posits a place populated by androids with "delayed emotional reactions" and where all memories come to roost. Also stars Zhang Ziyi, Faye Wong, Gong Li and Maggie Cheung. ****

ASYLUM (R) It's Wuthering Heights in a loony bin when the repressed young wife of an asylum administrator becomes obsessed with a hunky, brooding inmate. Director David Mackenzie is back on the passion-adultery-murder turf familiar from his dank and gritty Young Adam, although the treatment here becomes so broad and absurdly overheated that the movie sometimes feels like one of those Harlequin novels. The film transforms into something twistier and far more interesting in its last act, complete with a fabulously bizarre and complex finale that's well worth waiting for, but the bulk of Asylum isn't nearly as strange, erotic or as symbolically rich as it seems to want to be. Stars Natasha Richardson, Ian McKellen and Marton Csokas. ***

BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS (NR) During the latter stages if China's "Cultural Revolution," two precocious teens are shipped off to a mountainous region for Maoist re-education, only to charm and entrance the villagers around them. While on a visit to a larger city, the pair meet and fall for the daughter of a renowned tailor. When the boys stumble upon a suitcase full of banned books, they spend hours reading them to the girl in a secret meeting place. (Not Reviewed)

CAPOTE (R) Anyone who has read In Cold Blood or seen the 1967 movie version will be basically familiar with the raw material here — a pair of drifters reveal themselves to a reporter while awaiting execution for the senseless slaughter of a Kansas family — but Capote yanks the focus away from the killers and puts it squarely on the writer and his process. That writer is Truman Capote, portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in a performance that gives us traces of all the Capotes that we think we know — the narcissistic dandy, the sensitive artist, the twee fop with the whiney baby voice, the literary powerhouse — and fuses them all into a character too complex and human to be pigeonholed by any of those descriptions. Capote is not a bio-pic in the conventional sense but, rather, an evocative and richly nuanced character study, sometimes dreamy, sometimes disturbing, and with a rigorously constricted focus that concentrates on how In Cold Blood came to be written and what it did to the man who wrote. The film works on many levels, but it may be most invaluable for its insights into how artists (a term that certainly includes writers, as well as filmmakers) frequently exploit their subjects and sacrifice what some might call their souls just to get their art made. Also stars Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr and Chris Cooper. **** 1/2

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