Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn in Four ChristmasesFOUR CHRISTMASES

In the spirit of those magical pre-Thanksgiving treats Fred Claus, Deck the Halls, and Christmas with the Kranks, director Seth Gordon's Four Christmases is Hollywood's annual, star-filled affair that celebrates the joys of the holidays through wisecracks, gaudy colors, pummeling "comic" violence, and occasional projectile vomiting. It differs from its predecessors, though, in one notable regard: It doesn't suck. At least not completely.

Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey in Fool's GoldFOOL'S GOLD

At one point during Fool's Gold's opening sequence, Matthew McConaughey's fortune-hunting hero is seen slo-o-owly hopping along the ocean floor, and for the next 110 minutes, the whole movie seems to be moving at the exact same speed. I understand that director Andy Tennant's (supposed) comic adventure isn't meant to be anything more than a featherweight romantic diversion - an excuse to watch the perfectly tanned McConaughey and Kate Hudson swap barbs while being photographed against intoxicatingly pretty Key West locales - and many in the audience appear content to accept it as such. But, good God, aren't these viewers at all bothered by how mind-numbingly lethargic the pacing is?

Paul Giamatti and Vince Vaughn in Fred ClausFRED CLAUS

As crass, demeaning, insufferable holiday-themed comedies go, Fred Claus is a little bit better than The Santa Clause 3, Deck the Halls, Surviving Christmas, and Christmas with the Kranks. (This faint praise might also extend to examples released before 2004, but I've succeeded in blocking those titles from memory.) It's also a little bit worse than 80 percent of the movies I've seen this year.

Emile Hirsch in Into the WildINTO THE WILD

As a director, Sean Penn has proven more than proficient, but he hasn't exactly demonstrated a lightness of spirit; within his The Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard, and The Pledge, you can pretty much count the number of smiles generated on one hand. I love the gravity that Penn brings to his directing/writing projects, his readiness to explore anguished and vengeful depths, but his seriousness as a filmmaker has its downside, too. Penn's works have been so dour and laden with portent that, as their narratives progress, they begin to feel oppressive and one-dimensional. Like a joke now and again would kill him?

Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston in The Break-UpTHE BREAK-UP

There are a whole bunch of different movies circulating within the Vince Vaughn/Jennifer Aniston comedy The Break-Up, and every single one of them is more enjoyable than the one they're stuck in. Director Peyton Reed's film concerns the battle of wills that commences once Vaughn's Gary and Aniston's Brooke decide to split, but here are five of The Break-Up's subplots that, I'm guessing, would have made for far more entertaining feature-length viewing

Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor in The IslandTHE ISLAND

If we absolutely must endure movies by Michael Bay, we could do a lot worse - we have done a lot worse - than The Island. As usual, there isn't a plot point or turn of character here that Bay doesn't make wincingly obvious, and, apparently, there's no getting rid of either his tiresome sentimental streak or his sniggering, insulting stabs at "humor." (When Bay attempts to be serious I giggle, and when he tries to make jokes, I go numb.) But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being reasonably entertained by The Island. Bay has hold of an intriguing story idea, and even if the movie eventually turns into routine action-thriller nonsense, at least that nonsense is delivered with speed, a few memorable images, and even something resembling humanity. Like all Michael Bay movies, The Island runs a good bit over two hours. Unlike the others, I barely noticed.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. SmithMR. & MRS. SMITH

If it accomplished nothing else, Mr. & Mrs. Smith would easily nail a primal attraction for going to the movies: Getting to spend two hours staring at people who are infinitely better-looking than we are.

Uma Thurman and John Travolta in Be CoolBE COOL

Granted, I've missed a few of the year's more high-profile flicks - Are We There Yet?, White Noise, Son of the Mask, that thing with the Heffalumps - but, in general, the releases I have viewed have been so crummy as to be some kind of joke. (The Citizen Kane of the group would actually be the remake of Assault on Precinct 13, which should tell you everything you need to know about Hollywood's output in early 2005.) But, with the arrival of Be Cool, the joke is no longer funny. Be Cool is worse than Elektra. Hell, it's worse than Alone in the Dark. I literally can't remember the last time I left a screening feeling so angered by the waste of time and talent onscreen; it's the sort of smug, lazy Bad Movie that puts you in a foul mood for the rest of the day.

Chulpan Khamatova and Daniel Bruhl in Good-bye, Lenin!GOOD BYE, LENIN!

Around this time last year, while local audiences were flocking to Pirates of the Caribbean and Bad Boys II, the Brew & View presented the area debut of 2003's finest film to that point - the extraordinary Capturing the Friedmans - and, amazingly, the Rock Island venue has done it again this summer.

President George W. Bush in Fahrenheit 9/11FAHRENHEIT 9/11

I have several friends, including professed liberals, who can't stand Michael Moore, and it's not hard to see why: Even if you're on-board with Moore's politics, his glibness, bullying tactics, self-promotion, relentless simplifying, and anything-for-a-laugh gags can get in the way of his Bigger Picture, to the point where his methods overcome his message.

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