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Notes from the back row

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What’s better than movies with hot chicks in them? Cheaper movies with hot chicks in them. That’s right, the venerable Village 8 is bringing back locals-only pricing, so bring in your local ID and get a deal. Bring your girlfriend too, and treat her to The Other Boleyn Girl , a new costume drama opening this week .

Sounds like a chick flick, and it is, but it stars Scarlett Johansson, voted Playboy Magazine’s “Sexiest Celebrity of 2007” as Mary Boleyn. The better-known Anne Boleyn is played by Natalie Portman, voted PETA’s “Sexiest Vegetarian” in 2002.

All this sex appeal is a good thing but overall the movie is a bit of a bust. Anne and Mary are common girls thrust into the luxurious courts of royalty as they both attempt to woo King Henry VIII, who’s just split from the Catholic church while his country crumbles around him. Anne’s a bit of a conniving social ladder climber while Mary holds genuine affection for old Henry. The girls compete and tussle – cue the sexual intrigue and tension, add some betrayal — and in the end sisterly love wins again.

While both actresses are hot, talented, and have decent chemisty with each other and Eric Bana (playing the king) the plot is a bit convoluted and the picture doesn’t have a whole lot to say. It’s a good-vs.-evil morality tale that flirts with the idea that our society’s current obsession with celebrity is not so different from the old days of fiefdoms and royalty that we now make boring chick-flicks about. Actually this would be better longer and more fleshed out, like a good TV mini-series.

Sticking with the royalty theme, Will Ferrell, the king of contemporary comedy, is back again and lampooning another professional sport – basketball this time. Semi Pro stars Ferrell as a one-hit-wonder singer/songwriter turned owner/coach/promoter/star player of The Tropics – a renegade team of rag tags, dope smokers and misfits. The Tropics play in a minor league that’s about to be assimilated into the NBA, but only the top four teams get to stay alive for next season and Will’s boys really suck. Ferrell, who spends more time practicing wacky halftime shows than shooting hoops, hires burned-out pro Monix (Woody Harrelson) to save the team and underdog comedy ensues.

Unfortunately, the movie is no slam-dunk. Ferrell successfully revisits the one role he’s been milking for a while now — the big dumb guy, both sensitive and arrogant, who runs around a lot and flaps his arms — but Woody double-dribbles his way through the picture and the cliché underdog story doesn’t mesh that well with Ferrell’s trademark lunacy and craziness. Still, it’s a curse-filled, R-rated comedy (written by the guy who wrote Old School) , glorifying the funked-up afro days of the 1970s so it’s not all bad. Despite the directionless romantic subplot, Semi Pro will keep Will Ferrell fans amused. And if you live here, it’s cheaper fun than it was seven days ago.

The DVD of the week is The Darjeeling Limited , the latest Wes Anderson flick about three brothers who lug their emotional baggage across India on an epic train ride to visit their mother. Awesomely, Darjeeling is precluded by Hotel Chevalier – a short film featuring Natalie Portman totally nude so we can all see what the PETA people got so excited about. Both movies together are pure Wes Anderson — oddball, clever, meticulous. It’s no Royal Tennenbaums but it’s still pretty kick-ass.

The other DVD of the week is Beowulf , a skookum computer-animated affair that reminds us that while Scarlett and Natalie are both hot, Angelina Jolie, even playing a cartoon monster, is still the best thing going.

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