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• Bee Season - Richard Gere as a rough-boy sailor in An Officer and a Gentleman? OK. Richard Gere as a singing and dancing attorney in Chicago? Convincing enough. Richard Gere as a Jewish husband (of Juliette Binoche) and father exploring the mysteries of God through the flawless spelling of his daughter? Oy. Many parts of this existential drama about the ways in which a brilliant 11-year-old (Flora Cross) affects her family are sketchy, as no one of the characters is well-drawn enough for us to care about them too much. Genius was captured far better in films like Little Man Tate and Searching For Bobby Fischer.
• Brokeback Mountain - All the glorious fuss over Best Director Ang Lee's really purdy-lookin' forbidden love story about two cowboys who fall in love in the high Wyoming grasslands in 1963 may have been over-amped, but it is nonetheless a solid piece of epic storytelling. Omnipresent Jake Gyllenhaal and slump-breaker Heath Ledger are a fine couple as the forbidden lovers, with their respective wives, Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams, mis/matching them rather nicely. Annie Proulx, who wrote the short story, and Western flame-keeper Larry McMurtry, who adapted it, are a nice pair, too, her feminine sensibilities mirroring his command of the doomed duo's rough-and-tumble reality. Argentinian Motorcycle Diaries composer Gustavo Santolalla's evocative score is one of the best of 2005.
• Category 7: The End Of The World - Its cast reads like the roll call of a Hollywood unemployment line: Gina Gershon, Shannen Doherty, Randy Quaid, Robert Wagner, Swoosie Kurtz, James Brolin, Tom Skerritt. This delightfully cheesy and disastrous TV event's premise: a series of never-before-seen Category 7 storms threaten to destroy the world as we know it. It's all about as believable as The Day After Tomorrow, minus the pretense and the lame quotient of Roland Emmerich (though this punitive, run-on sentence has reasons of its own). And any movie that opens with Paris getting wrecked (and mimes getting killed) has to be worth a watch, even if it is background to cooking dinner or folding laundry. A sequel to 2004's Category 6: Day Of Destruction (with both Category 6 and 7 storms being fictional designations for very bad weather).
• The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe - Predating modern Hollywood fashion, C.S. Lewis sequelized his simply-written, magic-infused 1950 Christian allegory with a 1955 prequel, The Magician's Nephew. This follow-up told of the creation of the Earth-like world of Narnia by the original Lion King, Aslan (voiced here by Liam Neeson) and the rise of the not-very-nice White Witch, Jadis (played here with venom by a fabulous Tilda Swinton). After the seven-book Narnia cycle was complete, Lewis insisted that these first two books be flip-flopped, and in the early 1980s, U.S. publisher HarperCollins officially reordered them. Producer Walden Media and studio were wise to step so matter-of-factly into this decidedly more action-packed installment, which rivals -- and even supercedes -- Lewis chum J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy as presented by Peter Jackson.
Unlike Tolkien or J.K. Rowling in her soon-to-wrap Harry Potter series, Lewis wrote very leanly, leaving plenty of room for Shrek 2 director Andrew Adamson and his massive team of techs to imaginatively give this fantastical place a new, vivid life as they also pay such wonderful tribute to its creator. The build is so well-played, as siblings Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) transform very convincingly from scared London war evacuees to empowered, critical thinkers in command of their own destinies (the '80s favorite The Goonies captured this vibe to a lesser extent).
In almost the same way that Marc Forster did in his ode to Peter Pan that was Finding Neverland, Adamson infuses this world with wonder and possibility, as he, too, has a charming young cast that helps him immerse us so completely in the whimsy. In fact, he does it so completely that by the time he stages the climactic battle, our reaction to seeing Beaver (a beaver voiced by Ray Winstone) bedecked in armor is not tinged with disbelief and ridicule, but instead is a quick, logical, "Well, Beaver's got to protect himself, too."
Disney's 2-disc Collector's Edition contains nearly a dozen making-of featurettes, and both it and the single-disc editions (full- and widescreen) contain a commentary track by Adamson, producer Mark Johnson and, by remote, production designer Roger Ford.
• Kill The Moonlight - "I'm a driver, I'm a winner, things are gonna change, I can feel it." Fans of oddball musician Beck will be familiar with this phrase from his 1994 hit, "Loser", and now fellow rocker Steven Hanft's no-budget quickie from whence it came can finally be seen. The suitably strange 1994 film is a comedy much like Slacker (disguised as a cheap '70's car racing film), and the DVD from music mavens Plexifilm contains a Beck-heavy 19-song soundtrack CD.