Will Ferrell in Semi-ProSEMI-PRO

In the '70s-era sports comedy Semi-Pro, Will Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, a one-hit-wonder pop star who becomes the owner of the American Basketball Association's Flint Tropics, a struggling Michigan team for which he also serves as coach, promoter, and star player. And forgive me for asking, but shouldn't any one of these five roles have been enough for Will Ferrell?

Shrek the ThirdSHREK THE THIRD

Shrek the Third finds its computer-animated ogre undergoing something of a mid-life crisis, and based on the evidence here, so is the series itself. In contrast to the constant hyperactivity and relentlessly aggressive pop-culture references of the first two Shrek films, this latest offering is notable for its distinct lack of aggression; the film hasn't completely shucked off the qualities that made its forbears such (literal) monster hits, but on occasion, it actually takes the time to curtail its smart-alecky, type-A tendencies and just breathe. In doing so, it stands as my favorite Shrek movie to date. Unfortunately, that isn't high praise.

Spider-Man 3SPIDER-MAN 3

Spider-Man 3 runs nearly 140 minutes, but it would be difficult to argue that it doesn't require that length. In Sam Raimi's third installment of the comic-book franchise, our crime-fighting web-slinger (Tobey Maguire) has not one, not two, but three über-villains to contend with: the hulking, misunderstood Sandman (Thomas Haden Church); the globular space infestation Venom (played, in human form, by Topher Grace); and former best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), son of original Spider-Man nemesis the Green Goblin, who's now eager to take on the family business.

Eddie Murphy in NorbitNORBIT

Eddie Murphy's latest latex comedy, Norbit, is an unusual mixture of abject stupidity and sheer genius. If you've seen the previews - and is there anyone left who hasn't? - you've pretty much gleaned the plot, which finds our nerdy, titular hero (Murphy) trapped in matrimonial hell with the punishing, frighteningly obese Rasputia (Murphy again), and yearning to win the heart of his one true love (Thandie Newton). From beginning to end, director Brian Robbins' movie is formulaic, repetitive, obvious, and not nearly as hysterical as it wants to be. It's also one of the few comedies of recent years to be touched with something approximating brilliance.

Anika Noni Rose, Beyonce Knowles, and Jennifer Hudson in DreamgirlsDREAMGIRLS

You may have heard that, in the middle of Bill Condon's Dreamgirls, former American Idol belter Jennifer Hudson lets loose with a power ballad that has the audience cheering and applauding at its finish. If the screening I attended is any indication, this rumor is untrue. The audience cheers and applauds the number way before Hudson's finale. And no one in their right mind could blame them.

Shrek 2SHREK 2

If a sequel manages to make any improvements on the original, it's usually cause for at least minor celebration, so I was pleased to see a few changes for the better in Dreamworks' computer-animated Shrek 2.

Tom Cruise in The Last SamuraiTHE LAST SAMURAI

Occasionally, all it takes is sharp cinematography to get critics all woozy. How else to explain the positive notices for Edward Zwick's The Last Samurai, a period epic so unexceptional and derivative it might as well have been called Dances with Wolves Meets Braveheart? (Barkeep! Oscars for all!)

Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest in A Mighty WindA MIGHTY WIND

This might sound like an overstatement, but with A Mighty Wind, writer-director Christopher Guest, aided immeasurably by regular co-scenarist Eugene Levy and his cast of brilliant improv artists, has secured his place as the most distinctive voice in American film comedy since the '70s heyday of Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. (And judging by the applause that greeted the film's finale at the screening I attended, I'm not alone in thinking this.)

Barry Pepper, Edward Norton, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in 25th Hour25TH HOUR

I wish my schedule had allowed me to catch Spike Lee's 25th Hour sooner, as I would have happily spent the last two weeks extolling its merits to everyone I saw. (It ends its run at the Quad Cities Brew & View on April 17.) The film, wherein a convicted drug dealer (Edward Norton) spends his last free day in New York tying up loose ends among family and friends, is probably Lee's most passionate, exemplary work since 1989's Do the Right Thing. Though the movie showcases Lee's trademark anger, profane humor, and uncommon vibrancy, what sets the film apart from his usual fare is its sadness; it has an aura of melancholy that keeps the director's more bombastic impulses in check. (He even pulls off a beauty of a lullaby ending, one which, in lesser lands, could have been disastrous.)

Bonnie Wright and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter & the Chamber of SecretsHARRY POTTER & THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS

Although I didn't care for last year's Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone, I was more than willing to greet the new Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets with an open mind.

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