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CL's capsule reviews are rated on a four-star rating system.

NEW RELEASES

BLOOD WORK Viewing the latest Clint Eastwood picture is akin to watching a jogger who makes the mistake of sprinting out in front at the start of a marathon, only to run out of steam somewhere along the way and limp across the finish line. For a good while, Blood Work looks as if it might be Eastwood's best picture in years, with the star-director-producer playing an FBI agent who suffers a heart attack while pursuing a serial killer known as "The Code Killer." Settling into retirement, he ends up with someone else's heart inside him, but he's forced back into action when he learns that his new heart belongs to someone who was murdered. Watching an undying screen icon like Eastwood acknowledge his own frailty and mortality adds a special resonance to this picture ("Are you taking your pills daily?" asks his doctor, played by Anjelica Huston. "Yeah," he growls back, "all 36 of them"), and Eastwood's own engaging performance makes the most of the sharp dialogue to be found in Brian Helgeland's script (based on Michael Connelly's novel). But heading into the final turn, the movie turns preposterous, wasting not only a solid supporting turn by Jeff Daniels (as Eastwood's boozy neighbor) but also serving up a routine climax that goes on forever. 1/2

SPY KIDS 2: THE ISLAND OF LOST DREAMS Until Shrek came along and conquered all, 2001's biggest commercial and critical success in the family film sector was Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids, which owed more to Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss (not to mention the 007 canon) than the standard live-action Disney flicks. Spy Kids 2 is a spirited attempt to recapture the first film's offbeat appeal, but this time the results, while still enjoyable, are decidedly less satisfying. Practically the entire original cast returns for this outing (albeit some in glorified cameos), which finds the members of the Cortez family -- parents Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino) and kids Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) -- investigating the mysterious occurrences revolving around an island inhabited by a meek scientist (Steve Buscemi) and his mutated creations. If anything, Spy Kids 2 is bursting at the seams with even more gadgetry and more eccentric characters than its predecessor, but rather than building on the sense of wonder and fun, this overstuffing only slows the picture down; for example, did we really need to add the siblings' secret agent grandparents (Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor) to the mix, especially since they're given so little to do? The kids and their parents are still appealing, though, and some of the special effects (such as those animated skeletons) pay satisfying homage to the fantasy flicks of the great FX innovator Ray Harryhausen. 1/2

CURRENT RELEASES

AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER Whereas the difference in quality between, say, Jaws and Jaws: The Revenge, or Psycho and Psycho III, can only be measured in light years, the three films in Mike Myers' Austin Powers series have been remarkably consistent, each one alternately soaring and sinking for the same reasons. In relating the groovy adventures of the 60s-era secret agent who finds himself transplanted in today's modern society, star-creator Myers and director Jay Roach will feature a great gag and then repeat it until it's run completely into the ground; this modus operandi alternates with the pair likewise taking a terrible gag (usually scatological in nature) and milking it for what little it's worth and then some. If we must compare, this third entry is better than the first but not as sharp as the second, with the high points consisting of a terrific opening sequence featuring several surprising cameos (including a few Oscar winners), the addition of Michael Caine as Austin's spy daddy, and an expanded role for Verne Troyer, again stealing all the scenes as the diminutive Mini-Me. Myers, as usual, has plenty of opportunities to mug it up, playing not only Austin but also his arch-nemesis Dr. Evil, returning villain Fat Bastard and a new criminal mastermind known as Goldmember (the least funny of the lot). How much you enjoy this will depend on your acceptance of the film's ratio of hit-to-miss nyuks. 1/2

EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS Superb sound effects have enhanced many a sci-fi flick or war epic, but has a motion picture actually ever been ruined due to an ill-advised aural decision? Eight Legged Freaks certainly makes the case for such a claim. There's never been a truly great "spider" movie (1955's Tarantula probably comes closest, though even that pales next to many of the era's more accomplished sci-fi outings), and it's fun to imagine what a filmmaker like Paul Verhoeven could have done with this subject matter and an R rating. But as befits its title, this PG-13-rated piffle is ultimately as threatening as that Snuggle Fabric Softener bear, and except for an isolated scene here and there, even arachnophobes shouldn't have a hard time sleeping after sitting through this thing. In depicting its tale of a small town overrun by overgrown spiders (mutation courtesy of a radioactive spill), the movie features all jokes all the time, a ploy that worked well in Abbott and Costello's monster mashes but one that often falls flat here. As far as the actual spiders go, the special effects are decent enough, and just the sight of these creepy-crawlies bouncing all over the screen might have been enough to elicit a shiver or two were it not for those infernal sound effects. Rather than stalking in silence, these arachnids continuously make non-threatening yelps and chirps that bring to mind the Star Wars saga's Jawas and Ewoks as well as those Gremlins chatterboxes. It may be true that children should be seen and not heard, but it's safe to say that this idiom also applies to cinematic super-spiders.

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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