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Film Openings 

Week of January 11, 2006

Alpha Dog. (R) Nick Cassavetes, cut loose after tethering himself to the old-fashioned, ham-handed romance of The Notebook, digs his new role as New Journalist. Here, he fictionalizes (just barely) a real-life story that's still waiting for its ending: the 2000 kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz, as so masterminded by a teeny Tony Montana with the real-life moniker of Jesse James Hollywood. Young Nick (called Zack here and played by Anton Yelchin) was sacrificed as the result of his older half-brother's drug debt — a measly $1,200. Four of Hollywood's compadres were convicted for the murder; Hollywood (called Johnny Truelove here, played by Emile Hirsch) escaped to Brazil, where he was arrested in 2005. He now awaits trial. Cassavetes goes the docudrama route and gets carried away at times — lots of split-screen, in an attempt to make Alpha Dog play like some seedy '70s crime drama — but he can be forgiven his excesses, because the guy knows dramatic tension. And if nothing else, Alpha Dog's worth a look for the performance of Justin Timberlake, the moral center of a movie sorely in need of some conscience. His Frankie, covered in tats, is less a gangsta with a heart of gold than a nice guy capable of doing some very bad shit, like every last one of the rabid pups in Alpha Dog. (Robert Wilonsky) GL, OF, RON, SP, STCH

Arthur and the Invisibles. (PG-13) The wildly uneven French writer-director-producer Luc Besson has a fondness for life outside the margins of conventional society: the neon-lit labyrinths of the Paris Metro (Subway), the pristine depths of the ocean (The Big Blue). His latest finds him subterranean once again, this time in a fantastical universe where elves and fairies — so small that they're invisible to human eyes — live in harmony with nature. Adapted from his own series of children's books, this live-action/computer-animated hybrid follows 10-year-old Arthur (Freddie Highmore), who, in order to save the home he shares with his somewhat addled grandmother (Mia Farrow), must decipher his grandfather's diary. Following the clues, Arthur, now a 3-D animated figure sporting cool shades and spiked hair, enters the mythical Seven Kingdoms, where he joins forces with a sexy CGI princess (voiced by a delightfully unrecognizable Madonna) and her chubby, rubber troll of a brother (Jimmy Fallon) as they battle the evil Lord Malthazard (David Bowie) for buried treasure. Predictable and overly busy, this sci-fi adventure should nonetheless appeal to computer-game-savvy tots — especially those familiar with the source material. (Jean Oppenheimer) CGX, DP, EG, J14, MR, OF, RON, STCH, STCL, TS12

Curse of the Golden Flower. (R) Like his Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Yimou's third global-market gigaproduction makes little sense in narrative terms even after two screenings, but the sets, costumes, and cinematography are so intoxicating that it doesn't much matter. Zhang's interest in the wuxia (martial arts) film may well extend no further than the kick he gets out of constructing ostentatious palaces and then watching from behind the lens as they crumble to the ground — he's a movie director, in other words. As much as Marie Antoinette, Curse of the Golden Flower, set in the Later Tang Dynasty, circa A.D. 928, pits its cloistered melodrama against the riffraff that threatens to penetrate the royal chambers. The film's seemingly endless revelations of double- and triple-crosses fail to excite as much as the sight of black-suited, scythe-twirling assassins swinging on ropes toward the palace like Spider-Man on his web. Zhang's impressively acrobatic battle scene culminates in a torrential CGI spear storm that sets out to blockbust and does — even by, say, Two Towers standards. (Rob Nelson) CGX, DP, HP, J14, OF, RON, STCH

Primeval. A group of stupid but hard-hitting journalists set out for an exotic and desolate land in hopes of catching the world's worst serial killer. Dominic Purcell and Orlando Jones star. ARN, CGX, DP, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

Stomp the Yard. (PG-13) From the eardrum-shattering shout of "Attention!" that echoes over the opening logo through to the strobe-lit krump dancing contest that follows, the early scenes of Stomp the Yard are so loud and incoherent that they feel like punishment. After an equally incomprehensible street brawl, director Sylvain White pauses long enough to introduce his protagonist — DJ (Columbus Short), a talented young dancer incarcerated for his role in said brawl and, upon his release, shipped by his moms from South Central to Atlanta's ever-so-subtly-named Truth University (a fictional amalgam of prominent black colleges). There, DJ falls for a fine sister (Meagan Good), whose father — the dean of Truth — doesn't look kindly on his little angel socializing with an ex-felon. What's a brother to do? Why, put his fancy footwork to use in service of step-dancing competitions, a tradition at black fraternities and sororities, which, as filmed by White with an overload of slow-motion effects and high-speed shutters, are about as cinematic as a televised Riverdance concert. Newcomer Short has charisma, charm, and athleticism to burn, but it's mostly for naught in a movie that spends two tedious hours pulling out every stop in the gold-hearted-kid-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks-meets-gold-hearted-girl-who-values-true-love-above-pivilege playbook. (Scott Foundas) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

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