ANIMATED

Voices by Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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If fall movies were this consistently clever, there would never be reason to hesitate before plunking down hard-earned bucks at the multiplex. The jokes and pop cultural references, both verbal and visual, whiz by at dizzying speed in a sequel that comes close to matching the 2001 cartoon hit. In its first few scenes alone, which show the big green lug (voiced by Myers) honeymooning with his bride, Princess Fiona (Diaz), there are amusing nods to The Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man, Peter Pan and even From Here to Eternity. And later on, an insult-spewing Joan Rivers pops up doing fashion commentary on the Medieval Entertainment network. All this with-it-ness, which may appeal more to adults than children, occasionally verges on overload, but why complain about too much of a good thing?

Shrek's challenge this time out is to win over Fiona's parents (John Cleese and Julie Andrews), the King and Queen of Far Far Away, and outwit an evil Fairy Godmother (Absolutely Fabulous's Jennifer Saunders) who's bent on breaking up the newlyweds. The movie's message—don't go changin' on yourself or the one you love—is recycled from the first film, but that doesn't diminish its worthiness. And Shrek 2 introduces the single best new animated character in years, Puss In Boots (Banderas), a swashbuckling kitty blissfully unaware that he boasts more meow than muscle. He deserves his own movie. Note: Sit through the end credits for a fun bonus bit. (PG)

ANIMATED

Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Alfred Molina, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Jack White

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Even if savored and lingered over in a café too cool to notice time, no cigarette or cup of joe lasts as long as it took director-writer Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) to make this fitfully engaging film. He spent 17 years, off and on, shooting these 11 black-and-white episodes. The first, starring stand-up comic Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni, originally aired on Saturday Night Live in 1986. As in the segments that follow, its characters (mostly) bear the same first names as the actors playing them and spend their time together downing coffee and inhaling tobacco while discussing life, dentists and other topics both common and obscure.

The result is hit and miss. When it works, the film is an offbeat delight. The three vignettes with the most zing feature the biggest names: Blanchett scores in dual roles as her movie star self and a ne'er-do-well cousin; Murray clowns while guzzling coffee straight from the pot; and English actors Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, as themselves, have an encounter in L.A. that distills all that's phony about Hollywood friendships. When other episodes dawdle or go nowhere, C&C becomes wake-me-when-it's-over art-house prattle. (R)

COLLECTED SHORTS

Control Room

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This fascinating documentary directed by Jehane Noujaim (Startup.com) takes an up-close look at how the Arab television news network al-Jazeera covered the buildup to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the early months of the war. It raises worthwhile questions about the biases built into the reporting by American news outlets as well as by al-Jazeera. (Not rated)

Mean Girls

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Lindsay Lohan shines in a sharp if uneven comedy about how nasty high school girls can be. Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey, who wrote the script based on a non-fiction book, costars. (PG-13)

Troy

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The battles, particularly those featuring the mighty Achilles (Brad Pitt) going mano a mano with an enemy, are bracing in an otherwise middling epic about the Trojan War.(R)

He was famous by 10, burned out at 14, married at 17 and single again at 19. Now 23, a more worldly Culkin shows sarcastic charm as a handicapped teen in Saved!, a satire set in a Christian high school, out May 28.

ON LEARNING TO USE A WHEELCHAIR It was relatively easy to whiz around. You're using muscles that you didn't know you had. It's like your arms are your legs. But you'd be surprised how difficult opening a refrigerator is.

ON LIVING HOME ALONE IN MANHATTAN I finally got a bed. I used to just have a beanbag, a TV on the floor and a giant medieval table. That's it. I live a relatively modest life. I enjoy times with my girlfriend [That '70s Show's Mila Kunis, 20] and my English bulldog Audrey. She's my gorgeous baby.

ON FRIEND MICHAEL JACKSON It's an unfortunate situation. I haven't talked to him in six or eight months. It's just a circus right now. I'm supportive from afar. I'm trying to semi-keep my distance from it.

ON SELLING HIS SEMIAUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL TO MIRAMAX BOOKS I have been writing this thing for three or four years now. When I was in London [acting onstage], I started compiling all this stuff. I showed it to a few places. And I got an offer on it. It was really kind of cool.

ON BEING A FORMER CHILD STAR I know I am a part of some weird fraternity. But I tried not to go down any of those [familiar] roads. Contrary to popular belief, I have never been to jail or rehab. Except for the fact that I married young, I kind of stayed away from those clichés. I don't think I was an unhappy kid. I just felt like I was being bogged down. When people's livelihoods are on the line, that's a lot of pressure for a 9-or 10-year-old. I got happier after I got away from it and found the joy in myself.

Fueled with croissants and bottled water, moviegoers at this year's Cannes Film Festival could see flicks from 8:30 a.m. until past midnight for 12 days straight. Here's a sampling of highlights and low points.

Remember These Titles

Two movies kept sex and violence to a minimum but still managed—deservedly—to strike a warm chord with audiences: Look at Me, a witty French comedy by director-writer-star Agnés Jaoui (The Taste of Others), and Dear Frankie, a British drama about a woman and her deaf son, which opens next month.

Too Sexy for One Gender?

Mexican actor Gael García Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También) wowed Cannes with two star turns. In Bad Education, by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, Bernal sashays about as a transvestite—wags observed that he resembled Julia Roberts. Later he turned up as a dashing young Ché Guevara (below) in The Motorcycle Diaries, a terrific film opening stateside this fall.

More Moore Director Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine) hit the publicity jackpot with Fahrenheit 9/11, his provocative documentary attacking the Bush administration. Funny, one-sided and full of a showboating Moore, it raises questions worth asking.

More Politics Sean Penn, never one to shy away from controversy, gives a sympathetic performance as Sam Bicke in the disquietingly titled The Assassination of Richard Nixon, inspired by a true story. Bicke hijacked a plane in 1974, intending to crash it into the White House.

Must Miss In the scenes-we-could-have-done-without category is one from Old Boy, a Korean drama, in which a man cuts out his own tongue.

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Sean Daly.