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October 26, 2000

"Center Stage" (2000). Egos and calluses on parade in a Sturm und Drang-filled drama of young ballet hopefuls in training and in love. It's a quintessential backstage movie cocktail, about four parts hooey to one part reality, chased by a big swig of high-stepping razzle-dazzle. Come for the dancing. With Peter Gallagher, Donna Murphy and Ethan Stiefel. Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Columbia: no list price; DVD: $24.95; (CC); PG-13 for language and some sensuality.

"The Idiots" (2000). It's not easy to get involved with a group of 11 people who've banded together to pretend to be retarded to shake people out of their complacency. The enterprise may be dubious, to say the least, but its impact on its participants is powerful and touching. Difficult, spiky and ultimately stunning but best appreciated by Lars von Trier admirers. Bodil Jorgensen stars. USA: no list price; (CC); R for strong sexuality and nudity, and for language.

"The Patriot" (2000). An epic look at America's war for independence that is more serious and skillful than might be expected from the team that gave the world "Independence Day." But the benefits of star Mel Gibson's charisma aside, its attempt to blend a broad canvas with an intimate family story is not completely successful. Columbia: no list price; DVD: $27.96; (CC); R, for strong war violence.

"Up at the Villa" (2000). Neither fine actors like Kristin Scott Thomas and Sean Penn nor a beautiful 1930s period look can make this Philip Haas version of a Somerset Maugham novella about wartime love and betrayal dramatically convincing. USA: no list price; DVD: $24.95; (CC); PG-13 for thematic elements.

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What's Hot

* Last week's Top 5 VHS rentals:

1. "Rules of Engagement" (2000). This passable, moderately diverting courtroom-combat drama--directed by the veteran William Friedkin and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson and an impressive Guy Pearce--is a passable, moderately diverting entertainment that raises all kinds of thought-provoking questions it's not really interested in answering.R for scenes of war violence and for language.

2. "U-571" (2000) A throwback to decades-old World War II submarine dramas, this ripping yarn of the attempt to steal a crucial code machine from a German sub gets high marks for tension and excitement, though it's undernourished in terms of dialogue and character development. Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Jon Bon Jovi, Jake Weber and Erik Palladino star. PG-13 for war violence.

3. "Pitch Black" (2000). This routine sci-fi horror action-adventure, filmed in the Queensland, Australia, outback is at least fast and energetic. Its biggest plus is its imposing and compelling star, Vin Diesel, who plays a dangerous prisoner among a group of people stranded in a distant, forbidding planet. R for sci-fi violence and gore, and for language.

4. "Shanghai Noon" (2000). Jackie Chan, as an Imperial Guard out to ransom a kidnapped princess (Lucy Liu) in the Old West, and Owen Wilson as a rowdy train robber who becomes his sidekick, make for a terrific team in this hilarious and zesty comedy western. (1:48) PG-13 for action violence, some drug humor, language and sensuality.

5. "Final Destination" (2000). Swift and scary thriller of the supernatural, starring Devon Sawa as a high school student who has a sudden premonition that the jetliner that's about to take him and 39 classmates to a Paris field trip will explode on takeoff. R for violence and terror, and for language.

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* Last week's Top 5 DVD rentals:

1. "Rules of Engagement"

2. "Shanghai Noon"

3. "Final Destination"

4. "Mission to Mars" (2000). A notably lifeless film about the possibilities of life on Mars. The clunky, unconvincing and just plain bad dialogue leaves this movie as cold and distant as the Red Planet itself. Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins and Don Cheadle star. PG for sci-fi violence and mild language.

5. "Any Given Sunday" (special edition director's cut) (1999). Oliver Stone-directed soap opera about pro football that makes a few head fakes in the direction of an iconoclastic examination of the sport but comes out squarely for teamwork. Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, Al Pacino and Cameron Diaz star. R for strong language and some nudity/sexuality.

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* Last week's Top 5 VHS sellers:

1. "The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea." Made-for-video sequel.

2. "Scooby Doo & the Alien Invaders"

3. "Blue's Big Musical Movie"

4. "Sleepy Hollow" (1999). An exquisitely mounted (if ghoulish) retelling of the Washington Irving short story (with Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane and Christina Ricci as Katrina Van Tassel) created to the exact specifications of bizarre-meister Tim Burton. How pleased others will be depends on their tolerance for the grotesque. R for graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality.

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