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Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (PG-13) Adapting the first and longest book of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy, Peter Jackson offers an all-but-perfect fantasy epic that's no simple piece of story-book escapism. Jackson offers a full immersion in an imaginary world, and even when some virtual environments look fake, they bristle with personality. Thrilling -- and exhausting -- at a full three hours, Fellowship's greatest achievement is that it never loses sight of the human side of its fanciful story. --CH

MONSOON WEDDING (R) Beneath the initially frenzied energy and silliness of Mira Nair's film is an affectionate, moving portrait of how the imminent marriage of a New Delhi father's only daughter leads to a profound reassessment of the meaning of family, the one tradition worth holding onto in this meditation on the clash of new and old in modern India. --FF

MONSTER'S BALL (R) The relationship between a racist death row guard (Billy Bob Thornton) and a condemned prisoner's wife (a remarkable Halle Berry) provides the fulcrum for a stunning, unpredictable treatment of Southern race relations. Little-known director Marc Foster and screenwriters Milo Addica and Will Rokos capture the rural South while avoiding sugarcoating or stereotypes, take on challenging subjects without hysteria or contrivance, and get Oscar-worthy performances from some of the least likely of actors. --Curt Holman

QUEEN OF THE DAMNED (R) There's probably a compelling film to be made from this chapter in Anne Rice's vampire chronicles, but this draggy andoccasionally laughable take ain't it. The late singing star Aaliyah plays the title role, and it's impossible to gauge her acting abilities, as she only arrives during the final half-hour, buried under makeup and jewelry and boasting an electronically altered voice that sounds like Bela Lugosi meets Twiki the robot from the "Buck Rogers" TV series.--MB

RESIDENT EVIL (R) This screen adaptation of a popular video game tries to beef up its pinball-simple narrative by borrowing liberally from The Andromeda Strain, Aliens and George Romero's Dead trilogy. After an excrutiatingly dull opening half-hour, our heroes (lead by Milla Jovovich) get attacked by shuffling zombies, fleshless Dobermans, and a laughable mutant billed as "The Licker."--MB

RETURN TO NEVER LAND (G) Despite its brand name recognition, the 1953 Peter Pan hardly ranks alongside Disney's finest efforts, but it's still miles ahead of this poorly realized follow-up that finds Wendy's daughter Jane helping Peter and the Lost Boys battle persistent Captain Hook. Dull characters, unmemorable songs and flat animation sink this one.--MB

ROLLERBALL (PG-13) Norman Jewison's mediocre 1975 film about a deadly futuristic sport gets a remake that's infinitely worse. Loud, garish, and directed within an inch of its life by John McTiernan, this violent film, now set in the present day, plays like an incoherent, badly staged taping of one of those inane TV sports events like the XFL.--MB

SHOWTIME (PG-13) This entry in Hollywood's ceaseless string of "buddy-cop comedies" has enough fun to make it a passable timekiller. De Niro plays humorless detective forced to co-star in a reality-TV series with a star-struck cop (Eddie Murphy). There's nothing new under the sun, apart from hearing William Shatner, as himself, refer to De Niro's character as "the worst actor I've ever seen."--MB

SNOW DOGS (PG) Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr., mugging as shamelessly as Jerry Lewis in his heyday, lets out screech after screech and takes pratfall after pratfall in a dorky Disney comedy about a Miami dentist who inherits an Alaskan dogsled team. Seeing the canines wink and talk is more creepy than cute, as if they'd be more at home in an Omen movie.

SORORITY BOYS (R) Rocket Man's Harland Williams, "Smallville's" Michael Rosenbaum and "7th Heaven's" Barry Watson are fraternity boys who cross-dress to pledge a sorority in this low-I.Q. cross-dressing college comedy. I seem to recall Matthew Modine doing the same thing in 1983's Private School for Girls.

THE TIME MACHINE (PG-13) H.G. Wells' great-grandson Simon and scripter John Logan take some successful liberties with this new adaptation of the immortal time-travel tale. But rather than captures our imaginations, the picture curtails its own creativity, culminating in a yawner of a showdown between Guy Pearce's scientist-cum-adventurer and a campy Jeremy Irons, leader of the vicious Morlocks.--MB

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