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THE ARISTOCRATS This documentary revolves around a hoary joke that features the same set-up and punchline ("The Aristocrats!"), yet the middle of the gag is an open invitation for comedians to get as nasty as they wanna be in the retelling. This movie finds 96 such comics weighing in on the joke, either telling it in whole, in part, or simply commenting on its legacy. In its best moments, the film examines the very art of profanity and its ability to shock, surprise and even move us. The showstopper arrives when Gilbert Gottfried, attending a roast held right after the calamity of 9/11, launches into a grotesque version, in effect shaking the walking dead in attendance right out of their stupor. It's oddly stirring, and in its best moments so is this movie, as it smashes through the hypocrisy and Puritanism choking this nation to strike blows for free speech, artistic expression and -- yes -- profane profundity. Rating: ***

THE BROTHERS GRIMM Terry Gilliam, the former Monty Python member whose peculiar brand of genius doesn't always translate comfortably to his motion picture endeavors, has concocted an overstuffed boondoggle that's miles removed from the mind-bending highs of Brazil or Twelve Monkeys. Wrestling with a muddled screenplay by Ehren Kruger (The Ring Two), Gilliam has created a noisy and nonsensical eyesore that quickly morphs from a movie into an endurance test. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are cast adrift as the title characters, con artists whose ability to fool the local yokels of Germany with their fabricated yarns gets put to the test once they encounter genuine monsters. A bright idea threatens to surface every now and then, but it's quickly bludgeoned to death by the rest of this fractured fairy tale. Rating: *

THE CONSTANT GARDENER Based on John Le Carre's novel, this gripping film from director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) stars Ralph Fiennes as a mild-mannered British diplomat living in Kenya with his activist wife (Rachel Weisz); after she's murdered, he perseveres to discover the reasons behind her death. With its unblinking examinations of the soulnessness of corporations and the grotesque manner in which the western world continues to ignore the plight of impoverished African nations (an angle it shares with Hotel Rwanda and The Interpreter), The Constant Gardener reverberates with a torn-from-the-headlines urgency. Yet what's most startling about the movie is the gale force of its love story, featuring characters so vividly brought to life (both Fiennes and Weisz are terrific) that you leave the theater with a lump in the throat to accompany the fire in the belly. Rating: *** 1/2

THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE No more frightening than a Chihuahua with a bad disposition, this stilted horror yarn casts newcomer Jennifer Carpenter as the title character, who heads off to college and promptly becomes possessed by demonic forces. The family priest (Tom Wilkinson) is summoned to perform an exorcism, but after the girl dies in his care, he finds himself being defended against involuntary manslaughter charges by an agnostic lawyer (Laura Linney). Tedious rather than tense and sabotaged by its full range of one-dimensional characterizations, the movie alternates between Dolby-enhanced possession scenes that could benefit from some projectile vomiting (or at least a spinning head) and droning courtroom sequences that wouldn't pass muster on the weakest episode of Matlock. To hell with it. Rating: * 1/2

THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN The summer's most unexpected surprise, The 40-Year-Old Virgin mixes honest sentiment and raunchy humor in a manner that's more satisfying than in just about any comparable modern comedy, including Wedding Crashers -- in fact, not since There's Something About Mary has a movie combined these disparate elements so seamlessly. Steve Carell plays Andy, a man-child who sports an impressive collection of comic books and action figures, rides a bicycle to work every day, and never has even come close to knowing the joys of a relationship, let alone the attendant carnal pleasures. His co-workers (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen) make it their mission in life to hook Andy up; he eventually bumps into a few prospects, the most promising being a single mom (excellent Catherine Keener). Carell and director Judd Apatow (who collaborated on the script) take their time developing all the principal players but never shirk on the laughs. Rating: *** 1/2

JUNEBUG Director Phil Morrison and screenwriter Angus MacLachlan shot Junebug around their hometown of Winston-Salem, meaning that what we're getting here is an authenticity far removed from the surface antics of such hick flicks as the recent Dukes of Hazzard. Embeth Davidtz plays Madeleine, a Chicago art dealer who marries a charming guy named George (Alessandro Nivola). She heads to North Carolina to meet with a rural artist she hopes to represent, and she and George decide to use the trip as an opportunity for them to spend some time with his family in Pfafftown, NC. The cast is uniformly fine, though the standout is Amy Adams, who earned a special jury prize at Sundance for her disarming turn. As George's sister-in-law, a pregnant chatterbox who absorbs attention and affection like a sponge, she's a live wire of emotions, allowing her character to embody hope and heartbreak all in one spirited package. Rating: ***

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