Capsule reviews of recently released movies 

What to see, what to miss

Opening Friday

· DATE MOVIE (PG-13) Alyson Hannigan of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" stars in this rom-com parody that tweaks the likes of Meet the Fockers and practically every movie released in the past five years with "Wedding" in the title. The trailer points out that it's from "two of the six writers of Scary Movie!"

· EIGHT BELOW (PG) The Fast and the Furious' Paul Walker stars in this fact-based account of a team of eight sled dogs forced to fend for themselves in Antarctica for six months.

· FREEDOMLAND 3 stars. (R) See review.

· GAY SEX IN THE 70S 2 stars. (NR) See review.

· WHY WE FIGHT 4 stars. (NR) See review.

· THE WHITE COUNTESS 2 stars. (R) A blind former diplomat (Ralph Fiennes) forms a wary romance with a Russian countess-turned-sometime-prostitute (Natasha Richardson) in 1930s Shanghai. The last in the Merchant-Ivory line of hoity-toity films (cut short because of the death of producer Ismail Merchant), The White Countess presents a pair of intriguing characters and an exotic setting, but suffers from anemic passions and heavy-handed symbolism. -- Curt Holman

Duly Noted

· THE BLUE ANGEL (1930) (NR) In this legendary film, a prudish prep-school teacher falls for local nightclub singer Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich, in her career-defining role). Berlin: Journey of a City. Wed., Feb. 22, 7 p.m. Goethe Institut Atlanta, 1197 Peachtree St. $4. 404-892-2388.

· CAMPUS MOVIENITE (NR) This evening presents the best Georgia-made short films of the Campus MovieFest, the fifth annual competition of student filmmakers. Thurs., Feb. 16, 7:30 p.m. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. $12, $6 for students. 678-613-7370.

· HWY 5 FILM FESTIVAL (NR) The first Hwy 5 Film Festival features 10 locally produced short films from such filmmakers as Tracy Martin, Chris Tsambis, Cara Price, Matt Ruggles and Taj Turner. Fri., Feb. 17 and 24, midnight. El Cine Mireles, 3378 Canton Road. $6.25.

· LOST BOYS OF SUDAN (2003) 3 stars. (NR) Documentarians Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk follow two of the thousands of Sudanese "lost boys" made orphaned refugees by the nation's decades of civil war. As American immigrants they discover that nothing comes cheap in the land of the free, and the film reveals some fascinating, unexpected examples of culture shock. As one of the young men thrives while the other treads water, the film resembles Hoop Dreams, but finds more sociological insight than dramatic intensity. Feb. 17-23. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565. -- Holman

· EXPERIMENTAL TELEVISION CENTER SCREENING (NR) This video screening from the 35 year-old Experimental Television Center features work from more than 20 filmmakers interested in exploring contemporary electronic arts. Thurs., Feb. 16, 8 p.m. Eyedrum, 290 Martin Luther King Jr Drive, Suite 8. $5. 404-522-0655.

· EYES WIDE SHUT (1999) 2 stars. (R) Then-spouses Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman play a wealthy married couple who embark on an urban odyssey of desire and paranoia when the husband's jealousy sends him deeper into New York's kinky (but improbably sterile) sexual underworld. In Stanley Kubrick's final film, the director's trademark icy formula never quite connects to the theme of erotic obsession at the heart of the film (which received some posthumous tampering to make the risqué scenes less explicit). Thurs., Feb. 23, 8 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. Free. 404-352-4225. -- Holman

· THE POWER OF NIGHTMARES (NR) This documentary draws a parallel between the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and the burgeoning neoconservative political movement in the United States. Thurs., Feb. 23, 7 p.m. Arts Exchange, 750 Kalb St. Free. 404-624-4211.

· THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) (R) The cult classic of cult classics, the musical horror spoof follows an all-American couple (Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick) to the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), a drag-queen/mad scientist from another galaxy. It's all fun and games until Meat Loaf gets killed. Dress as your favorite character and participate in this musical on acid. Midnight Fri. at Lefont Plaza Theatre and Sat. at Peachtree Cinema & Games, Norcross.

· SEARCHING FOR THE WRONG-EYED JESUS 2 stars. (NR) Coming uncomfortably close to a Southern freak show, this half-documentary, half-narrative exploration of the South's stark moral divide between evil and good, sin and church visits Pentecostal churches, Louisiana prisons, gritty roadhouses and even Harry Crews in British director Andrew Douglas' faltering effort to get close to the "real" South. The raw authenticity of the places tour guide and musician Jim White takes us sit badly next to contrived, artsy music video interludes where musicians like White, Johnny Dowd and the Handsome Family croon alt-country ballads to the region. Thurs., Feb. 16. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565. -- Felicia Feaster

· TRUDELL (NR) This award-winning documentary profiles John Trudell, Native American activist and artist. D.R.E.A.M. Series. Thurs., Feb. 16, 7:30 p.m. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, 450 Auburn Ave. Free. 404-979-2863.

· 2046 (2005) 4 stars. (R) Obsessive Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai crafts a sort-of-sequel to his art-house hit In the Mood for Love. Replacing unconsummated romance with unattached intimacy, 2046 proves an equally lush but more complex study in style and mood, as Tony Leung's dissolute writer becomes involved with some of Asia's most beautiful women, most prominently Crouching Tiger's Zhang Ziyi as a heartbroken call girl. Rather than try to decode all of the director's post-modern plot twists, you'll have a more satisfying time bathing in the film's voluptuousness. Hong Kong Panorama. Sat., Feb. 18, 8 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. $5. 404-733-4570. -- Holman


· ANNAPOLIS (PG-13) James Franco plays a young man "from the wrong side of the tracks" trying to succeed in the hyper-competitive Naval Academy. With Tyrese as his tough instructor, Annapolis looks like a WB Network version of An Officer and a Gentleman.

· BALLET RUSSES 3 stars. (NR) An entertaining history of the fame and fiascoes that followed the world-renowned Ballets Russes, which originated in turn of the century Paris and introduced modern ballet to the world. Dan Gellar and Dayna Goldfine's most fascinating coup in their documentary is tracking down the principal dancers at a 2000 reunion. More attention could have been paid to what set the Ballets Russes apart in terms of technique and style, but dance and non-dance fans alike may not care when the vintage dance footage and the charismatic, endearing elderly ballerinas are on screen. -- Felicia Feaster

· BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE 2 (PG-13) Martin Lawrence reprises his role as an FBI agent with a penchant for dressing up like old ladies. This time "Big Momma" takes the job as a housekeeper/nanny to a suspected designer of deadly computer viruses.

· BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN 5 stars. (R) Ang Lee's heart-wrenching Western one-ups the male tenderness and isolation of the traditional oater by basing this film on Annie Proulx's short story of two cowboys (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) who fall in love in 1963 Wyoming. Lee's film is lovely to look at and profoundly moving, touching on both the economic and spiritual isolation of the ranch hand's life and also the more universal alienation of being a man. Ledger is superb as an archetype of male interiority, an emotionally contained man who finds his slim fragments of happiness in short, infrequent meetings with Jack, who dreams of an impossible future for their doomed love affair. -- Feaster

· CACHÉ 5 stars. (R) Devastating and creepy, this Best Director Cannes Film Festival award winner from Michael Haneke concerns a Paris family, Anne (Juliette Binoche) and Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil) and their 12-year-old son (Lester Makedonsky), who are being terrorized by an unknown person sending them disturbing videotapes and drawings. Haneke's usual critique of the European upper middle-class's blindness to the dis-ease and trauma of the world around them is enriched by intentional and coincidental allusions to French history, the country's miserable track record in Algeria, and the recent violence in the poor banlieues of Paris. -- Feaster

· CAPOTE 5 stars. (R) Shrugging off the limitations of the usual biopic story arc, Bennett Miller's absorbing, thought-provoking, extremely well-crafted first fiction film (he directed the documentary The Cruise) focuses on a small but significant portion of Truman Capote's life during the researching of his groundbreaking work of true crime nonfiction In Cold Blood, and the unhealthy mutual dependency that develops between the writer and one of the killers (Clifton Collins Jr.) of a Kansas farm family. -- Feaster

· THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE 2 stars. (PG) Four plucky English youngsters step through an enchanted wardrobe and take sides in a magical kingdom's war between good and evil. Initially charming, the lavish adaptation of the C.S. Lewis book struggles to balance the source material's blend of English whimsy, epic violence and Christian allegory (complete with a cameo appearance from Father Christmas). Despite plenty of elaborately memorable images, Narnia feels more sterile than spiritual. -- Holman

· CURIOUS GEORGE 3 stars. (G) Lately, some family films come loaded with bathroom jokes and action-scene intensity to rope in older audiences as well as the tots. Curious George is not one of those films. This tame adaptation of H.A. Rey's classic series of children's books follows a mischievous chimp from the jungle to the big city, where he wreaks havoc with -- and finally redeems -- a nerdy Man With the Yellow Hat (Will Ferrell). Kids should enjoy George's monkey shines while adults can admire the gentle pastel colors, Jack Johnson's mellow soundtrack songs or just nap for about 90 minutes. -- Holman

· END OF THE SPEAR (PG-13) After Ecuadoran tribesmen kill five young missionaries in 1956, a young man (Louie Leonardo) sees his tribe change its violent attitudes.

· FIREWALL 2 stars. (PG-13) Harrison Ford plays a bank security exec blackmailed by high-tech thieves (led by Paul Bettany) to implement an electronic heist after his family is taken hostage. Director Richard Loncraine shows a little interest in dramatizing the insidiousness of "cutting-edge" communications technology, and the best scenes show Ford trying to get help when under constant surveillance. But it's hard to buy Ford as a computer expert, and the weirdly drawn-out storyline devolves into standard-issue action film fight scenes and fiery car wrecks. -- Holman

· GARÇON STUPIDE 3 stars. (NR) Swiss director Lionel Baier's portrait of alienation and loneliness follows Loïc (Pierre Chatagny), a gay Bulle factory worker, on his after-work pursuits, cruising the streets of big city Lausanne for pickups or meeting men on the Internet for anonymous sex. Baier initially distracts from Loïc's angst with his explicit keyhole views of his uncensored bedroom activities. But when he settles down and focuses on Loïc's desire for connection in an alienated world, his film profits immeasurably. -- Feaster

· GLORY ROAD (PG) Hollywood's efficiency at cranking out fact-based, Hoosiers-esque sports films can be a wonder to behold. In 1966, a coach (Josh Lucas) at Texas Western leads the first all-black starting line-up for a college team to the NCAA basketball championship.

· GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK 5 stars. (PG) In the early 1950s, Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) used his CBS show "See It Now" to take on U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy's "witch hunt" tactics. Every creative decision pays off in George Clooney's second film, a black-and-white homage to the "greatest generation" of broadcast journalists, whose courage in the face of enormous pressures makes the Bush administration press corps look timid by comparison. The film succeeds enormously well at getting you under the skin of Murrow's reporters and anticipating the increasing influence of entertainment on broadcast news. See it now. -- Holman

· A GOOD WOMAN (PG) This adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play of the same name features Helen Hunt as a seductress who attracts the husband of a younger woman (the ubiquitous Scarlett Johansson).

· IMAX THEATER Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets (NR): This exploration of one of America's greatest natural wonders retraces the canyon's history, from Native Americans to modern-day white water rafters. Wild Safari: A South African Adventure (NR): This 5,000-mile journey from the lush grasslands of the Southern Cape to the desert expanse of the Kalahari tracks elephants, Cape buffaloes, rhinos, leopards and lions. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300.

· IMAGINE ME & YOU 2 stars. (R) Piper Perabo plays a London newlywed who can't stop thinking about the hip florist (Lena Headey) she met briefly on her wedding day. Despite the Sapphic twist, writer/director Ol Parker seldom strays from the Hugh Grant-style rom-com playbook, so the film's thin comic-relief characters and contrived situations always feel superficial. Match Point's Matthew Goode makes the strongest impression as the spurned nice-guy husband. -- Holman

· KING KONG 3 stars. (PG-13) The heart of Peter Jackson's lavish, slavish remake lies not in the giant ape's improbable love for a screaming starlet (Naomi Watts), but the Oscar-winning filmmaker's almost blind adoration of the original, also set in 1930s New York (and Skull Island). Jackson's version contains sights that truly astonish while feeling overly faithful to a story we know all too well. Still, despite labored comedy and some spotty special effects, the Beauty and the Beast story at the core can win over the most savage detractor. -- Holman

· LAST HOLIDAY (PG-13) Diagnosed with a terminal illness, a conservative woman (Queen Latifah) discovers love and other pleasures when she spends her life's savings on a fancy vacation in this feel-good comedy. Gérard Depardieu plays a hotel chef, and brainy-artsy filmmaker Wayne Wang directs.

· MANDERLAY (NR) In the second film of Danish director Lars von Trier's American-bashing trilogy, Bryce Dallas Howard of The Village takes over Nicole Kidman's role from Dogville as an enigmatic beauty who encounters Antebellum-style racial inequity on a plantation called Manderlay. Lauren Bacall, Danny Glover and Willem Dafoe also star.

· THE MATADOR 4 stars. (R) In this rollicking opposites-attract buddy thriller, Pierce Brosnan plays a smarmy, sexist, ice cold professional assassin who meets a geeky, failed American businessman (Greg Kinnear) in Mexico City. The two form an unlikely bond in Richard Shepard's skillfully plotted action comedy that beneath its Tarantino-meets-Bond cool has a core of integrity and insight into the working man's grind that lifts it above the ranks of most hipster crime story diversions. -- Feaster

· MATCH POINT 4 stars. (R) As Jonathan Rhys-Meyers' calculating tennis pro ingratiates himself into a wealthy British family while pursuing a doomed affair with a self-destructive American actress (Scarlett Johansson, in her finest role to date), Match Point achieves an icily compelling tone comparable to The Talented Mr. Ripley that proves far more effective than the stodgy airlessness of Woody Allen's usual "heavy" pictures. In plot and theme, it plays like Crimes and Misdemeanors, only without the comedic misdemeanors. -- Holman

· MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS 2 stars. (R) This British period piece depicts a rich widow (Judi Dench) who revolutionizes London theater by producing nude revues before and during World War II. Despite its polished sheen and the comfy comedic interplay of Dench and Bob Hoskins, Mrs. Henderson offers a skin-deep appraisal of its subject, avoiding any meaty debate of sexuality and freedom of expression. Instead it goes for doomed wartime romances and plucky, Oscar-worthy speeches that prove genuinely shameless. -- Holman

· MUNICH 4 stars. (R) In the aftermath of the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Munich Olympics, the Israeli government sends a cadre of assassins led by Eric Bana to Europe to kill the Palestinian organizers of the terrorist attack. Though Bana has a hard time drawing us emotionally into his moral dilemma about killing, with a script co-written by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner ("Angels in America"), Munich has much to say about how governments often use individuals to do their dirty work, and how it is the foot soldiers, not the intellige. -- Feaster

· NANNY MCPHEE 3 stars. (PG) Nanny McPhee finds director Kirk Jones and scripter/star Emma Thompson similarly employing menacing situations, questionable comic material and oversized, often grotesque characters in an unorthodox attempt to arrive at a sentimental conclusion. Thompson, delivering a sharp performance under pounds of facial latex, plays the title character, a snaggletoothed, wart-sprouting nursemaid who mysteriously shows up to help a widower (Colin Firth) contend with his seven monstrous children. Nanny McPhee should play well with the small fry, though adults may be more bothered by the clumsy shifts in tone. -- Brunson

· THE NEW WORLD 2 stars. (PG-13) Stunning 14-year-old Q'Orianka Kilcher plays the Indian maiden who captivates British explorer Captain John Smith and proves as visually intoxicating to Malick as the unspoiled Eden of 17th-century Virginia before the Jamestown settlers muck things up. But exquisite beauty can only get you so far. Terrence Malick returns to a familiar theme of Eden ruined by human intervention but his often maddeningly precious vision is bogged down by molasses pacing and a belief that exposition is inconsequential next to the supremacy of an unspoiled girl and nature. -- Feaster

· THE PINK PANTHER 2 stars. (PG) "Not as bad as you thought" is not the same as "good." Director Shawn Levy and co-screenwriter Steve Martin revisit the bumbling '60s police Inspector Jacques Clouseau personified by Peter Sellers. Martin is entrusted with finding the killer of a well-known French soccer coach, and the usual pratfalls and run-ins with sexy ladies like Beyoncé Knowles ensue. Martin's goofiness is strained and derivative, far from Sellers in his better days, and the usual question with a Hollywood overhaul of a campy classic remains: Why? -- Feaster

· SOMETHING NEW 2 stars. (PG-13) Following in the footsteps of films like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Jungle Fever, Something New seeks to explore the complexities of interracial love. Unfortunately, this predictable tale of a black professional female (Sanaa Lathan) falling for a white landscaper (Simon Baker) is filled with a host of one-demensional characters and only provides a surface-level view of race and romance in America. -- Carlton Hargro

· SYRIANA 4 stars. (R) Brutally intelligent and often profoundly difficult to follow, Academy Award-winning screenwriter (Traffic) Stephen Gaghan's second directing effort replaces Traffic's drug war with the contemporary battle for oil. This engrossing, closely observed thriller concerns the interconnected lives of people touched by the international oil trade, including a CIA operative in the Middle East (George Clooney), a Geneva-based American energy analyst (Matt Damon), and a rising D.C. lawyer (Jeffrey Wright) who all have something to gain or lose from events in the oil-rich Middle East. -- Feaster

· TRANSAMERICA 2 stars. (R) Felicity Huffman ("Desperate Housewives") deserves praise for her well-observed performance as Bree Osbourne, a pre-op male-to-female transsexual anxiously awaiting her sex change operation. A hitch is thrown in her plan when an adult son (Kevin Zegers) she didn't know she had turns up and the pair drive from New York to California, meeting various kooks along the way. For a road movie about a trannie trying to keep her -- Feaster

· UNDERWORLD EVOLUTION (R) The sequel to Underworld features Kate Beckinsale reprising her role as a gun-toting, leather-clad blood-drinker caught it a centuries-old grudge match between vampires and werewolves.

· WALK THE LINE 3 stars. (PG-13) This biopic of legendary but troubled country music star Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) focuses on his decades-long relationship with singer and muse June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). The cast impressively sings their own songs, and the early rockabilly tours (with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis) convey the excitement of rock's early days. -- Holman

· WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (PG-13) Increasingly ominous phone calls terrorize a baby sitter in this remake of the 1979 thriller (inspired by a famous urban legend).

· THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN 2 stars. (PG-13) Middle-of-nowhere New Zealander Burt Munro (a feisty Anthony Hopkins) aspires to set a land-speed record on his antique, jerry-rigged motorcycle in this heavily clichéd biopic. Once Munro reaches the competition at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, the film finds some sharp conflicts: Burt's relentless, follow-your-dream platitudes begin to sound genuinely suicidal. Up until that point, though, Indian putters along with its tame portrait of a small-town eccentric, followed by a drowsy "What a country!" American road trip. -- Holman


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