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DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY It's a behind-the-scenes documentary, a music concert and a stand-up act all rolled into one. Dave Chappelle, amusingly commenting that he's mediocre at both comedy and music yet able to make a fortune nonetheless, heads to his Dayton, OH, hometown to hand out golden tickets (similar to those given out by "wee Willy Wonka," as he calls him) to attend his block party in Brooklyn. Chappelle invites everyone from young black dudes to elderly white women to attend his shindig, which turns out to be a celebration of hip-hop music: Among those taking part in the musical mirth are Kanye West, Mos Def, Erykah Badu (removing her wig at one point) and the reunited Fugees. Dave Chappelle's Block Party, not so much directed as observed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), is unique in the manner in which it salutes African-American culture and unity while at the same time exhibiting an exalted openness that makes it clear everyone's invited to take part in the merriment. The comic material is spotty -- some cracks work better than others -- but the sizzling concert performances are the primary attraction anyway. Rating: ***

Current Releases

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN The secret behind this adaptation of Annie Proulx's short story is that behind its convenient (and infuriating) designation as "the gay cowboy movie," this is as universal as any cinematic love story of recent times. Scripters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana and director Ang Lee have managed to make a movie that vibrates on two separate settings: It's a story about the love between two men, yes, but it's also a meditation on the strict societal rules that keep any two people -- regardless of gender, race, class, religion, etc. -- out of each other's arms. In detailing the relationship between Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), Brokeback Mountain is about longing and loneliness as much as it's about love -- indeed, loss and regret become tangible presences in the film. Gyllenhaal delivers a nicely modulated performance, but this is clearly Ledger's show: He's phenomenal as Ennis, and his character's anguish causes our own hearts to break on his behalf. Rating: ***1/2

EIGHT BELOW Based on a Japanese film that was itself inspired by a true story, Eight Below relates the tale of a scientific expedition in Antarctica and what happens when punishing weather forces its members to leave behind their eight sled dogs to cope with exhaustion, starvation and a particularly nasty leopard seal. The dogs are gorgeous and wonderfully expressive (no creepy Snow Dogs-style anthropomorphizing here, thank God), and as long as director Frank Marshall and debuting scripter Dave DiGilio focus on this part of the story, the movie succeeds in the grand tradition of past Disney live-action adventures. But the picture runs an unpardonable two hours (can little kids' bladders hold out that long?), and its length is felt in the countless scenes centering on the human characters back in civilization. At 95 minutes, this would have been an out-and-out winner; maybe the DVD will include a function that will allow viewers to edit out the humans and leave only the remarkable canines. Rating: ** 1/2

FIREWALL If ever there existed a compelling argument as to why Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford should not proceed with their long-marinating plan to make a fourth Indiana Jones movie, here it is in the form of Firewall. At 63, Ford is looking his age; by the time the Indy flick rolls, he'll be more at ease cracking arthritic joints than cracking that whip. Here, his upstanding character is a computer wiz who must save his wife (Virginia Madsen) and kids from a Eurotrash bandit (Paul Bettany) blackmailing him into ripping off the bank at which he works. Joe Forte's screenplay grows exceedingly ludicrous, and a wasted Madsen doesn't even warrant an Anne Archer moment to call her own. As for Ford, the twinkle of mischievousness and sprinkle of levity that he brought to his most memorable films are missing here, replaced by a cranky fatigue that's difficult to watch and impossible to enjoy. Indiana Jones 4 is a terrible idea, but might we suggest a remake of On Golden Pond as an alternate? Rating: **

FREEDOMLAND Two hard-hitting performances combine with palpable racial tensions in Freedomland, an adaptation of Richard Price's novel that itself owes a debt to the real-life Susan Smith incident. Samuel L. Jackson stars as a detective assigned to question a woman (Julianne Moore) who claims a black man stole her car while her son was sleeping in the back seat. Moore's performance is hard to take in its intensity, yet it's true to the character and her circumstances -- rarely has a film allowed so raw a demonstration of parental bereavement. Yet it's Jackson who holds our attention throughout, making an indelible impression as a lawman whose loyalties are questioned by both his friends in the projects and his acquaintances on the force. Price's bustling script and the actors provide enough drama to overcome the terrible direction by Joe Roth (Christmas With the Kranks), whose kamikaze style (swerving cameras, rapid edits, booming soundtrack) displays an inexplicable lack of confidence in his material. Rating: ***

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