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Also opening: 'Amelia,' 'Saw VI,' ‘Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant,' 'Alexander: Hero of Heroes' and 'Starfire: The Magic the Music'

No actor has won three Academy Awards for lead performances. Hilary Swank seems determined to change that with Amelia (PG). It's hard to imagine a role with as much immediate appeal to Oscar voters as Amelia Earhart.

First, it's a true story and academy voters always dig that. Earhart is an aviation legend, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and a pioneer of gender equality. That would be enough to deserve a movie, but Earhart's mysterious disappearance in 1937 during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe is icing on the cake.

The fact that Amelia is a historical drama is another plus. Period costumes and set designs are like catnip to Oscar voters. They also prefer best actress winners playing inspiring, real-life women (Erin Brockovich, The Queen, Walk the Line and La Vie en Rose in this decade alone).

Swank's wins for Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby could work against her, if voters don't think she deserves to vault past Katharine Hepburn, Jodie Foster and other dual winners. But voters also like making history, so it could help.

All they need now is a performance deserving it.

Amelia wasn't screened in time for Weekend. A review can be found at entertainment.tampabay.com and Friday on Etc, Page 2B.

Oscar voters will find nothing to influence their ballots in a pair of horror flicks opening Friday. Saw VI (R) is purely for devoted gorehounds while Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (PG-13) is for younger ones in training.

Saw VI continues the torture-porn saga of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), who keeps coming up with sickening death traps for disreputable victims, even though he supposedly died a couple of movies ago. (Please, fans, don't set me straight if I'm wrong; I really don't care.)

And, yes, there's a Saw VII planned for a 2010 release.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, above, is based on a series of kid-lit books, so there may be sequels coming here, too. John C. Reilly (Chicago, Step Brothers) continues compiling a diverse resume with the role of Larten Crepsley, a vampire hosting a traveling freak show. Chris Massoglia plays Darren Shan, a curious teenager joining the troupe to become a vampire.

Neither was screened by a Times critic for review.

There are certainly better ways to support families of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan than enduring two of the most inept movies in memory. Writer-director-producer Mark St. George has his heart in the right place and his creative instincts all wrong.

St. George represents America's Fallen Heroes Fund, a California nonprofit organization with a goal of collecting $40 million for surviving families. One way is booking two movies St. George made in select theaters, with ticket revenues going to the fund.

Channelside Cinemas in Tampa begins a weeklong run of the double feature Friday. Save yourself the pain of Alexander: Hero of Heroes and Starfire: The Magic, the Music and visit the fund's Web site (americasfallenheroesfund.com) if you're compelled to donate.

For the record: Alexander: Hero of Heroes stars former pro wrestler Hawk Younkins in the title role, displaying a lack of talent that might be amusing if it weren't delivered so earnestly. He and more capable actors perform on a bare stage with black backdrop negating the drama. The only breaks from that dull motif are montages of still photographs from battle scenes, possibly cribbed from other sword-and-sandal epics.

Starfire: The Magic, the Music is an aimless collection of 1960s rock classics set to familiar archive news footage and clips from concert movies such as Woodstock and Monterey Pop. It might work as background music for household chores but not as a theater experience. Good cause; bad, bad movies.

Also opening: 'Amelia,' 'Saw VI,' ‘Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant,' 'Alexander: Hero of Heroes' and 'Starfire: The Magic the Music' 10/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 5:30am]

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