CARS (G) As animated opuses go, this one doesn't quite scale the heights of the Toy Story movies, Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles or Nemo, but — and of course you knew this was coming — even the least of Pixar's efforts is better than 99 percent of the competition. The story here — of an ambitious, self-centered racecar who learns to slow down and smell the diesel — hits all the right emotional notes, but feels a bit scattered and long-winded in the telling, and there are lengthy stretches where not much of anything seems to be happening. The animation is up to Pixar's exalted standards and then some, but the film's style doesn't leap out at you like the company's other efforts, and the anthropomorphic autos, while readymade for marketing tie-ins, seem a touch or two less endearing and enduring than what we've come to expect from the guys who gave us Toy Story. Pound for pound, there's still some solid family entertainment to be had in Cars, but the movie's nearly two-hour running time may have you checking your watch more than once. Features the voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy and Cheech Marin. Opens June 9 at local theaters. 3 stars

KEEPING UP WITH THE STEINS (PG-13) A film that's unlikely to win over even the older, Jewish audience that is its obvious target demographic, Keeping Up With the Steins is a barely palatable mix of sitcom humor and ethnic kitsch. Jeremy Piven and Jamie Gertz star as a couple whose lives are thrown into predictable chaos when Piven's estranged father (Garry Marshall) shows up for his grandson's big bar mitzvah. Some of the film's satiric nudges have potential in a vaguely mean-spirited, early Philip Roth-ish sort of way (cruise ships and Dodger Stadium are among the spots rented out for the ultra-ostentatious bar mitzvahs on display here), but the movie's maudlin tendencies get the best of it early on, and most of what we see here is as bland as it is unfunny. Also stars Daryl Hannah, Daryl Sabara and Richard Benjamin. Opens June 9 in Sarasota. 2 stars

THE PROPOSITION (R) Musician/screenwriter Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat team up for this brutal but strangely poetic tale of frontier justice in old Australia, a place every bit as dangerous and unruly as American's own Wild West of yore. A film about very bad men and authority's largely unsuccessful efforts to tame them, The Proposition sets brother against brother in a tale of mutated honor, informed by bloodshed, buzzing flies, parched landscapes and bad behavior. It's all set to a combination of authentic period music, outer-space drones and blasts of white noise, with a cumulative effect not unlike the cinematic equivalent of one of those old murder ballads as interpreted by Cave's Bad Seeds. The cast is more than solid (particularly a skeletal, virtually unrecognizable Guy Pearce and a never-better Danny Huston) and, despite some shocking visuals that might give Rob Zombie pause, there are some distinctly un-Cave-like moments of tenderness here too. Also stars Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Emily Watson. Opens June 9 at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. Call theater to confirm. 4 stars


ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (R) Terry Zwigoff's second project with graphic novelist Daniel Clowes doesn't have quite the effortless swing of their first collaboration, Ghost World, nor the epic, car-crash poetry of Crumb, but there's still considerable, loopy fun to be had here. If you consider Zwigoff's movies so far as hit singles (a process culminating with Bad Santa), then you might think of Art School Confidential as a noble B-side. Our hapless hero here is Jerome (Max Minghella), a sweet but insecure college sophomore who's just trying to get laid or find true love (whichever comes first), all while navigating the bizarre corridors of art school and doing whatever it takes to become the greatest artist of the century. Zwigoff does a wonderful job spoofing the whole art school experience, and the movie's first half is a mostly hilarious collection of observations and vignettes, but the film eventually loses its focus. Things tip over the edge in ways both unexpected and unpleasant during the movie's last act, as Art School Confidential's satire transforms into a less than convincing thriller-cum-love story. It's all still well worth a look, but we feel Zwigoff straining at some sort of significance toward the end that blows the movie's cool. Also stars John Malkovich, Sophia Myles, Jim Broadbent and Matt Keeslar. 3.5 stars

THE ARYAN COUPLE (PG-13) As far as I'm aware there's no rule or law that says all Holocaust movies must be terrible, but that does seem all too often to be the case — and, you guessed it, here's yet another one. Director John Daly pulls out all the stops, unleashing a mother lode of narrative clichés and nonstop violin strings for this turgid, melodramatic tale of plucky German Jews nobly suffering and struggling to stay alive as World War II pings and pongs about everyone's ears. The film is so transparently manipulative and much of what happens is so easily predicted that even the movie's occasional moments of genuine power wind up feeling far less effective than they should be. Martin Landau diverts our attention for a while, showing up in a typically solid performance as a Jewish businessman trying to save his family from the Nazi death camps, but just about everything else here is very tough going indeed. Also stars Judy Parfitt, Danny Webb, Steven MacKintosh and Jake Wood. 2 stars

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