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ALL THE REAL GIRLS (2003). Writer-director David Gordon Green, an NC School of the Arts grad, followed 2000's George Washington with another movie shot entirely in rural North Carolina. This sophomore effort is so laidback -- so in tune with the naturally sleepy rhythms of everyday existence -- that it feels unlike any love story I've seen in quite some time, with a simplicity and directness that truly touch the heart. Twenty-two-year-old Paul (Paul Schneider) has spent his entire life wooing women and then dumping them, but with virginal 18-year-old Noel (Zooey Deschanel), he feels a special connection, one that makes him want to do right by her. Yet ultimately it isn't Paul who takes a misstep, and soon the pair are working hard to salvage their tainted romance. Green has a strong love for -- and deep understanding of -- his small-town characters: When they say something that shows they're not exactly the brightest bulbs in the box, it's a way of acknowledging their limitations, not a way of getting a cheap laugh at the expense of ignorant Southern yahoos. I won't reveal how it all turns out, but I will say that Paul's statement after he's been damaged -- "If anybody smiles at me ever again, I'm gonna freak out" -- will bring a rueful smile to the lips of anyone who has ever loved and lost, even if only temporarily. DVD features include audio commentary by Green and his cast, deleted scenes and a making-of feature. Movie: 1/2 / Extras: 1/2

HOLES (2003). Disney's adaptation of Louis Sachar's award-winning children's book is good enough to be enjoyed equally by kids and their parents. Sachar himself wrote the script, which focuses on the plight of hapless teen Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf of the Disney Channel's Even Stevens), who's wrongly convicted of robbery and sent to a boys' correctional facility in the middle of a desert. There, he and the other guys are subjected to the demands of the warden (Sigourney Weaver) and her two sidekicks (Tim Blake Nelson and a hilariously over-the-top Jon Voight), who suspiciously order the boys to spend every day digging holes. Sachar and director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) have crafted a fresh comedy-drama that nicely weaves the present-day story together with related flashbacks set in the Old West (Patricia Arquette stars in this section of the film); while the ending may tie everything up a bit too tidily, there's no denying that there's real imagination at work here. DVD features include commentary by Davis, Sachar, LaBeouf and others, six deleted scenes, a making-of special and a gag reel. Movie: / Extras:

ONCE WERE WARRIORS (1995). Upon its original release in its New Zealand homeland, this exceptional drama quickly surpassed local favorite The Piano and international blockbuster Jurassic Park to become that country's all-time top moneymaker. It's easy to see why it touched such a nerve: Based on Alan Duff's novel, the film relates the story of a proud but poor Maori family struggling to make it in an urban New Zealand city. Jake (Temuera Morrison, Jango Fett in the latest Star Wars flick) is the father, a working-class stiff whose heavy drinking and uncontrollable temper inevitably lead to violence; Beth (Rena Owen) is the mother, a strong-willed yet abused woman who does her best to protect her children from the harsh realities of their lifestyle. Under the direction of Lee Tamahori (the Die Another Day helmer, here making his debut), what could have been standard TV-movie fodder is instead one of the most emotionally involving motion pictures of recent times, with Owen delivering a standout performance as a woman who's never knocked off her feet for too long. DVD features include commentary by Tamahori, a behind-the-scenes special and a tattoo gallery. Movie: / Extras: 1/2
-- Matt Brunson

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