Before our cineplexes, and this column, become completely inundated with family-oriented holiday fare such as Treasure Planet, the latest Harry Potter, and The Santa Clause 2 (which is already in release ... how is it that holiday movies, like Christmas decorations at the mall, now routinely arrive the day after Halloween?), let's take a brief look at some of autumn's more adult works, a couple of which - unsurprisingly - have already left a theatre near you.

ZOOLANDER

Those of us who've been waiting, in film after film, for Ben Stiller to hit the comedic peaks he reached on his short-lived TV series The Ben Stiller Show might find Zoolander pretty irresistible.

Sam Neill in Jurassic Park IIIJURASSIC PARK III

Jurassic Park III could have been good. Strike that - it could have been very, very good. There are ideas, gags, and individual set-pieces in director Joe Johnston's sequel that match anything Steven Spielberg came up with in the first two installments of the Jurassic Park series, and it features one running joke involving a cell phone that is sheer perfection. The effects are impressive, the cast is fine, and the movie clocks in at 90 minutes, and who on earth wouldn't be thrilled by that?

Ving Rhames and Tyrese Gibson in Baby BoyBABY BOY

It's a small movie, but the scope of John Singleton's Baby Boy is enormous; the film is nothing less than a critique of young African-American males, a warts-and-all look at the infantilization of those who consider themselves true men. Singleton received great acclaim a decade ago for his writing/directing debut, Boyz N the Hood, and while his take on Shaft last summer was an enjoyably over-the-top romp, Baby Boy is his first work to make good on the promise he showed in 1991: The movie is superb. Where nearly every scene in Boyz N the Hood was filled with dread and the threat of violence, the images in Baby Boy are steeped in sadness and resignation, with exquisite moments of joy, fear, and strength throughout.

Morris Chestnut, D.L. Hughley, Bill Bellamy, and Shemar Moore in The BrothersTHE BROTHERS

The Brothers, the comedy-drama debut from writer-director Gary Hardwick, is a good-and-bad movie in which the good parts far surpass the bad, and that alone makes it one of the finer movies of the year.

Kevin Costner in 3000 Miles to GracelandI remember a time, not so long ago, when I actually looked forward to movie trailers. Getting the chance to see what certain performers and directors had coming up next, witnessing the artfulness of the preview itself, which has to build anticipation with three minutes of footage, experiencing that happy rush when an entire audience simultaneously reacts to a trailer with a feeling of, "I can't wait to see that" ? I ate it all up.

 

Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara in Best in ShowBEST IN SHOW

The genius of Christopher Guest lies in his belief that nothing is funnier than mediocrity. (He's the antithesis of Peter Shaffer's Salieri in Amadeus, who saw it as a tragic failure.) In his two finest cinematic efforts, This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman, the performers examined in the "mockumentary" format - Tap's hard rockers and Guffman's thespians - were delightful because of their clueless self-satisfaction; they truly thought they were creating Art, or at least really kick-ass entertainment. And the joke blossomed every time we watched them perform their shows before audiences, because it turned out that these well-meaning hacks, while by no means terrific, weren't all that bad. They might have been lacking in talent, but their enthusiasm was infectious, and it made sense that their shows were hits. (God knows I've seen worse community-theatre productions than Guffman's Red, White, & Blaine.) Guest, who co-wrote both films and served as director for Guffman, was thereby able to poke fun at his characters and have you genuinely rooting for them at the same time.

Almost FamousALMOST FAMOUS

Almost Famous, writer-director Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical hymn to the joys and heartbreaks of rock 'n' roll, is filled with extraordinarily lovely details and an uncanny fondness for the film's 1970s setting. It's engaging, gorgeously lit, and filled with goodwill. The things it's not are believable, challenging, or memorable. It has obviously been made with great love - Crowe spent years trying to turn his youthful experiences into a movie - and Crowe's attention to the minutiae of the rock scene is heady and alluring. But Almost Famous ends up as far less than the sum of its parts - a movie so intoxicated by its period that elements like character and conflict barely exist. Despite its look and the rave reviews being showered on it, the film itself feels empty.

Rene Russo, Jason Alexander, Robert De Niro, Rocky, and Bullwinkle in The Adventures of Rocky & BullwinkleTHE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY & BULLWINKLE

One of the happier surprises of last summer was the release of South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut, a marvelously written musical comedy that transcended its source material and shot off into a madcap animated universe all its own, raising the bar for all future TV-show-turned-feature-film projects. And while it would be great to report that the film version of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle approached South Park's level of cinematic exuberance, the filmmakers are facing an uphill battle: The animated series this one is based on is already such a whirligig of action, cliffhangers, and verbal and visual puns that raising the ante on it as a movie seems kinda pointless. (Clever and funny though it often is, the South Park TV series has nothing on the brilliance of the original R & B series.)

Chicken RunCHICKEN RUN

To discuss the numerous, simple joys of Chicken Run is to risk ruining what's great about the film; how beautifully it's underplayed, and how sly and gentle its considerable streak of humor is. Using Nick Park's miraculous Claymation, the film tells the story of a group of miserable, caged English chickens who are trying, in vain, to escape from their evil human captor (voiced by Miranda Richardson). Their days appear numbered until the arrival of Rocky (Mel Gibson), an American circus-escapee known for his "Flying Rooster" act. The chickens' hope is that he'll teach them to fly away to safety; Rocky's hope is that they won't discover he's a fraud.

Pages