It would seem that with Gamer, Surrogates and Avatar all debuting this year, Hollywood has unconsciously decided to release its cinematic meditations on user-controlled vessels in ascending order of quality and thoughtfulness. Following on the heels of the recklessly subpar Gamer, Surrogates raises the concept of a world in which humans can remotely manipulate synthetic versions of themselves – young, athletic, beautiful, strong and incapable of feeling pain – to a basic level of writing and execution. Where one can imagine that James Cameron's Avatar will considerably elevate the level of scale and character, Surrogates takes a rather mid-level, pot-boiler approach to the genre.

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Back in June the Sci-Fi Channel was scheduled to premiere an original movie entitled NYC: TORNADO TERROR. Days before its premiere a real-life tornado struck a Boy Scout camp in Iowa killing several kids. The Sci-Fi Channel pulled the film claiming they did so out of respect for the week's tragedy. Now, on the very day Hurricane Ike ransacked parts of Texas, the Sci-Fi Channel did not pull their premiere of BA'AL THE STORM GOD, in which all of mankind is threatened by a super-sized storm of supernatural proportions.

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The new remake of Fame will appeal to pre-teens who hope to go to performing arts schools, but who -- implausibly -- have never seen any other movies, or plays, or dance performances or music recitals. Moreover, they must not yet possess the ability to tell good performance from bad, nor truly inspired plot twists from hackneyed ones. Parents, on the other hand, will find that the movie sucks their will to live. It begins with the typical audition sequence, in which thousands of hopefuls show off their talents in front of grim-faced teachers. Whether or not the kids are talented makes no difference; some of the worst performers incredibly make the final cut, and even the best performers chosen aren't about to set the world on fire.

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Calling Zathura the "space version of Jumanji" wouldn't be far off. Like the 1995 film, this movie is based on a children's book by celebrated author Chris Van Allsburg in which a group of people plays an amazing board game. (Van Allsburg doesn't always write about games - he also penned The Polar Express.) In Jumanji, each turn brought a new herd of stampeding wild animals into a quiet suburban neighborhood. In Zathura, the participants are blasted into outer space and can only return to terra firma once a winner has been declared.

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Corpse Bride

Corpse Bride
Note: I suppose the official title of the movie is Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, presumably to distinguish it from William Shakepeare's Corpse Bride or Jane Austen's Corpse Bride. The wordiness seems silly so, for the purposes of this review, the film will be referred to simply as Corpse Bride.

When it comes to animation these days, it's all digital. So leave it to Tim Burton to buck the trend. Since the release of his popular collaboration with Henry Selick, The Nightmare Before Christmas, fans have been clamoring for a sequel. Although Corpse Bride doesn't precisely fill that need, it scratches the itch. Selick was not involved in the production (Mike Johnson, who previously worked on the animation teams of both The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, fills the gap), which supposedly took ten years to complete, but you would never know it. And the animation, which is stop-motion rather than computer generated, looks wonderful. The story is off the beaten path, but it's not as bizarre as Burton sometimes gets (despite indications to the contrary, there's no actual necrophilia). It is suitable for all but the youngest viewers.

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All Good Things

All Good Things
On paper, the story of Robert Durst makes for fascinating drama, even though it's missing an ending and several parts of the middle. When someone is writing a nonfiction book or making a documentary, such things have limited importance. But when it comes to a feature film, leaving an audience with an incomplete feeling is not always the best approach. Director Andrew Jarecki, best known for his documentary, Capturing the Friedmans, deserves credit for sticking as much to the facts as he reasonably can. However, by not resorting to invention, his dramatization of Durst's life and alleged crimes, All Good Things, feels unfinished.

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Spoiler warning: The movie is based on real people and events so I am less constrained about revealing certain historical facts than I might be with a fictional account.

The story told in Vincere, despite being as faithful to history as one can reasonably expect, is not widely known. This is due in large part to efforts made 80 years ago to erase these events from the official record. Recent research has uncovered many of the facts, resulting in a TV documentary, two books, and now Marco Bellocchio's partially fictionalized account. The chief fascination with Vincere is the opportunity it affords to view Italy of the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s through a different prism than one we're accustomed to, and to be provided with a new (although not altogether unexpected) perspective of Il Duce, Benito Mussolini.

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In Envy, the "Va-poo-rizer" is a liquid that, when sprayed on animal fecal matter, causes the offending substance to disappear. Would that such an invention existed to use on this motion picture… It's remarkably appropriate that Envy is about turds, because that's what the movie is.

If he's not at the top of the list, then Barry Levinson is one of the contenders for the title of "Most Inconsistent Working Director." It boggles the mind that the man responsible for such wonderful cinematic fare as Tin Men, Avalon, and Wag the Dog is also on the hook for Toys, Sphere, and Envy. This movie has languished on its distributor's shelves for a long time. Now, having experienced this 99-minute endurance trial, it's not hard to understand Dreamworks' reluctance to release it. The unanswered question is how something this awful could be greenlighted in the first place.

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It's the nature of our society to put people on pedestals. Some wear the title of "hero" like a mantle; to others, it is an albatross. You need look no further than the O.J. Simpson story to see this. So what defines greatness? This question, in conjunction with the reality gap that so often exists between the media's portrayal of a public figure and their actual personality, lies at the core of Cobb, a new film from writer/director Ron Shelton, the man who brought us the baseball comedy Bull Durham.

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Kiki's Delivery Service

Kiki's Delivery Service
Veteran animator Hayao Miyazaki directs this buoyant children's adventure yarn about a young witch striking out on her own. At her mother's behest, 13-year-old Kiki sets out on a year-long apprenticeship with her black cat in tow. With a shaky command of her broom, she ends up in a charming little coastal town that looks like a cross between the French provincial and San Francisco.

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Michael Dublin is a full-time con man working the underground boxing circuit. A lonely drifter on the run from a past best forgotten, he moves from one scam to another, leaving a trail of enemies in his wake. Dublin invents his best scam yet when he meets Katherine Paker, a female fighter with the skills to take down a man twice her size. In a scheme Dublin calls fight-rigging, in reverse, the two hit the road working fights in seedy basement bars, abandoned warehouses, and backwoods county fairs. But Dublins shady past catches up with them and suddenly the stakes are higher - and more dangerous - than theyd ever imagined.

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Out Cold

Out Cold
The story covers the lives of snowboarding buddies Rick (Jason London), Luke (Zach Galifianakis), Anthony (Flex Alexander), and Pig Pen (Derek Hamilton), who are living large in their beloved hometown of Bull Mountain in Alaska. Partying hard, looking for girls, and doing just about anything to have a good time is what life on Bull Mountain is all about, but that all looks to have a quick end when town founder Papa Muntz dies, and his son Ted (Willie Garson) decides to sell the mountain to slick Colorado businessman John Majors (Lee Majors). Nobody supports his plans to turn the mountain into an "espresso-and-tofu" ski resort, and it's up to Luke, Pig Pen, Anthony, Jenny (played by A. J. Cook), Rick and the others to keep Bull Mountain yuppie-free. Once they realize John's purchase will change the town drastically, they enlist the aid of Major's beautiful, rebellious daughters, Inga (Victoria Silvstedt) and Anna (Caroline Dhavernas), to sabotage the purchase. The film also features a cameo by snowboarding professional Todd Richards as Barry the Doctor.

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The River King

The River King
In the city of Hadin, when two children find the body of the student Gus Pierce underneath the frozen water of the River King, the policeman Abel Grey is assigned for the investigation. The dean of the powerful and conservative local Haddan School where Gus studied, afraid of a possible scandal, tells the police that the outcast boy committed suicide. But Abel, after interviewing his best girlfriend, Carlin Leander, suspects that Gus was victim of a hazing of the Order of the Elect, a secret society of the Chalk House. Along his investigation, Abel, who has a trauma with the loss of his brother Frank years ago, finds corruption in his department and love with the teacher Betsy Chase. In the end, he discloses the truth about the death of Gus, and resolves his innermost issues with the ghost of Frank.

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Funny Money

Funny Money
Henry Perkins, a mild-mannered accountant, accidentally trades briefcases with another man, to find out that theres five million dollars inside. Henry tells his unsuspecting wife of their new-found fortune, but she doesnt embrace it as well as he does. Soon theyre joined by their best friends, a cop on the take, a cop on the hunt, and the dreaded Mr. Big, who has come to claim his million dollars.

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Loved Up

Loved Up
The first time Sarah tries drugs is the first time she goes out with Tim, who was a customer of hers in the Dew Drop Inn Cafe. Tom is sweet and cool and after one night, she moves in with him leaving behind her alcoholic mother and younger sister, Karen. For a while life is great and drugs are just part of the deal and most of the fun. But then things start getting complicated and shes not sure if she can handle it - theres one rave too many, a bad trip and she gets roughed up while doing a drop off for their dealer. Also, events at home mean that she cant block it out any longer her mum needs her and Karen needs her. In turn, Sarah needs Tom, but will he - or can he- be there for Sarah?

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