Capsule reviews of recently released movies 

Catch a Fire, Conversations With God, Saw III

Opening Friday

AMERICAN HARDCORE *** (R) See review.

CATCH A FIRE *** (PG-13) In South Africa circa 1980, a black factory foreman (Derek Luke) finds himself framed by circumstantial evidence for an act of sabotage, motivating him to become an actual freedom fighter. Despite some heavy-handed narrative touches by director Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games), Catch a Fire looks past the superficial, apartheid-sure-was-bad themes of films such as Cry Freedom to find intriguing post-9/11 resonances. South Africa's War on Terror turns a flawed but decent man into an enemy of the state, troubling the conscience of a privileged white interrogator (Tim Robbins). -- Curt Holman

CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD (PG) Henry Czerny plays author Neale Donald Walsch in this adaptation of Walsch's books about New Age spirituality directed by Stephen Simon.

DEATH OF A PRESIDENT ** (NR) See review.

THE QUEEN **** (PG-13) See review.

RUNNING WITH SCISSORS ** (R) See review.

SAW III (R) Like watching the leaves turn color and fall, the release of a new Saw film in late October has become an annual autumn tradition. In the third installment, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) introduces an apprentice to his dismembering mind games.

Duly Noted

ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES! (1978) (NR) Cinfest celebrates Halloween with this return engagement of the horror spoof about vegetables that eat human beings, rather than the other way around. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). Oct. 26-Nov. 2. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. 404-651-3565. www2.gsu.edu/~wwwcft/.

AZUMI (2003) (NR) A female master samurai raises 10 orphans and trains them to assassinate a pair of troublesome warlords. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). Thurs., Oct. 26. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. 404-651-3565. www2.gsu.edu/~wwwcft/.

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. Dress as your favorite character and participate in this musical. Midnight Fri. at Lefont Plaza Theatre and Sat. at Peachtree Cinema & Games, Norcross.

ROLLING FAMILY (2005) (NR) In this bittersweet road movie from Argentina, an 84 year-old family matriarch insists her extended family accompany her to a wedding 1,000 kilometers from their home in Buenos Aires. $7. Sat., Oct. 28. 8 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.

SKY WITHOUT STARS (1955) A West German border official and an East German factory girl fall in love shortly after World War II and face the possibility of separation due to Cold War tensions. $4. Wed., Nov. 1. 7 p.m. Goethe-Institut Atlanta, 1197 Peachtree Road. 404-892-2388. info@atlanta.goethe.org.

THEREFORE I LIVE: HOME MOVIES, PERSONAL CINEMA AND THE AVANT-GARDE (NR) The final part of this five-part series on avant-garde cinema focuses on Alan Berliner's The Family Album, a montage of home movies recorded from the 1920s through the 1940s. $5. Mon., Oct. 30. 8 p.m. Eyedrum, 290 Martin Luther King Drive, Suite 8. 404-522-0655. www.eyedrum.org.

TWO SONS OF FRANCISCO (2005) (NR) This musical biopic, Brazil's highest-grossing film in 25 years, tracks the rags-to-riches rise of Brazilian singing duo Zeze di Camargo and Luciano. $7. Fri., Oct. 27. 8 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.

Continuing

ALEX RIDER: OPERATION STORMBREAKER ** (PG) When hunky English schoolboy Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) discovers that his deceased uncle (Ewan McGregor) was a spy, the agency recruits the intrepid teen to uncover the sinister plot of a shady computer mogul (Mickey Rourke, bizarrely costumed and wearing eyeliner). Anthony Horowitz's popular young Alex Rider books play it relatively straight, but the film can't seem to decide whether to be a breezy adventure or an all-out spoof, succeeding at neither. Nevertheless, Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry and Robbie Coltrane all provide appealing small roles. -- Curt Holman

BOYNTON BEACH CLUB (NR) Dyan Cannon, Joseph Bologna, Sally Kellerman, Brenda Vaccaro and Len Cairou play residents of an "Active Adult" community in Florida who each discovers love and dating in their rapidly approaching sunset years.

THE DEPARTED **** (R) In this exciting, almost insanely intricate crime thriller set in Boston, Leonardo Dicaprio plays an undercover cop trying to ingratiate himself with an Irish mobster (Jack Nicholson), who has a mole in the police force passing as a high-level cop (Matt Damon). Nicholson oversells his naughty-Jack shtick and Vera Farmiga fails to engage our interest in the psychiatrist attracted to both undercover ops in this remake of the superb Hong Kong flick Infernal Affairs. But in his best film since Goodfellas, director Martin Scorsese makes an invigorating return to form that doesn't let the grand thematic gestures spoil the guilty pleasures of suspense scenes, rock soundtracks and profane repartee. -- Holman

EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH (PG-13) Dane Cook, who's sort of a frat-house messiah among stand-up comedians, carries a feature film as a drudge at a shopping warehouse who vies with a co-worker (Dax Shepard) over a beautiful new hire (Jessica Simpson).

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS *** (R) Director Clint Eastwood reveals the history behind one of the 20th century's most famous images: the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima. The film suffers from a convoluted flashback structure and spells out its themes about heroism with an unnecessarily heavy hand at the end. However, the battle scenes, reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, convey the staggering scale of a world war, and the centerpiece story about the "Iwo Jima Marines" and their role in a 1945 bond drive explores some unexpectedly skeptical and complex ideas about selling war to a weary U.S. public. -- Holman

FLICKA ** (PG) Alison Lohman plays Katy, a strong-willed 16-year-old who locates a soulmate in a wild mustang wandering the acres on her family's Wyoming spread. It's refreshing to see an American family on screen that doesn't wallow in dysfunction, but Flicka's emphasis on the humans short-changes the mustang, and there simply aren't enough scenes illustrating the burgeoning bond between Katy and Flicka. The heavy-handed approach to the dramatic plot devices also doesn't help. In moments of despair, you can always count on director Michael Mayer adding some heavy rainstorms to externalize the characters' inner anguish. -- Matt Brunson

GRIDIRON GANG (PG-13) Wrestler The Rock plays a juvenile detention counselor who uses football (not wrestling?) to inspire his charges to seek a better life.

THE GRUDGE 2 (PG-13) Sarah Michelle Gellar returns in this sequel to the remake of the Japanese ghost story about a vengeful spirit haunting young people in Tokyo.

THE GUARDIAN ** (PG-13) In this pale imitation of An Officer and a Gentleman, Kevin Costner plays Louis Gossett Jr., the Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer instructor whose tough-love approach to training works wonders for the young recruits; Ashton Kutcher is Richard Gere, a narcissistic pretty-boy student more interested in making a name for himself and romancing the local cutie than in actually saving lives. For a long while, The Guardian wears its clichés pretty well, but because this is a Kevin Costner film -- and because Costner spends more time playing mythic, larger-than-life Christ figures instead of ordinary mortals -- we sense this can only end one way, and the filmmakers pummel us with a shameless ending. -- Brunson

A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS (R) Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Chazz Palminteri and Eric Roberts star in writer/director Dito Montiel's coming-of-age drama about young toughs growing up in Astoria, N.Y., in the 1980s.

HEADING SOUTH **** (R) Astoundingly creepy and sad in the manner of Tennessee Williams' best sex-and-sun work (The Night of the Iguana, Suddenly, Last Summer), this disturbing French drama concerns well-heeled white women who travel to Haiti in the '70s to bed taut, compliant Port-au-Prince boys and men. Though queen bee (Charlotte Rampling) claims she is above affection and only in it for the sex, events tell otherwise when she wrangles for a prize specimen of male beauty (Menothy Cesar) with a troubled Savannah belle (a skin-crawling performance by Karen Young). Director Laurent Cantet manages to offer cruel commentary on these carnivorous sex tourists (and Western colonialism in general) who find their thrills in a horror-plagued land, then hightail it back home to safety, while also showing the distinct loneliness and anguish of these women growing older and finding their romantic dreams unfulfilled. -- Felicia Feaster

THE ILLUSIONIST **** (PG-13) In this arresting drama set in early 20th century Vienna, Edward Norton plays a Houdini-style magician obsessed with the fiancé (Jessica Biel) of the sadistic crown prince (Rufus Sewell). Some of the period-piece details prove a little unsteady, but overall writer-director Neil Burger spins a clever, compelling yarn that appreciates the power of stage magic to both seize your attention and confound your expectations. -- Holman

IMAX THEATER Deep Sea (NR) Get an up-close-and-personal look at sea turtles, giant octopi and other strange and colorful marine life in this visit to the ocean floor. Greece: Secrets of the Past (NR) This documentary explores the archeological secrets of ancient Greece and features the Parthenon in its original glory as well as the volcanic eruption that buried the island of Santorini. Dolphins (NR): Pierce Brosnan narrates this slick look at dolphins and the bathing-suited scientists who study them. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300. www.fernbank.edu.

INFAMOUS ** (R) Director and writer Douglas McGrath's bio-picture of Truman Capote unfortunately comes on the heels of last year's elegant, intelligent Capote, which tackled the same moment in the writer's life when he traveled to Kansas to write about the violent death of the Clutter family by a pair of drifters. British actor Toby Jones, who bears a striking resemblance to Capote, unfortunately plays the writer first as a flouncing camp curiosity before he attempts to show Capote's more fragile side. And McGrath also seems distanced from the emotional heart of his character and his outsider nature. His film feels like a lightweight, comedic, exaggerated version of Capote's life that only serves to illustrate Capote's relative generosity to its people, time and place. -- Feaster

JACKASS NUMBER TWO (R) Johnny Knoxville and his self-destructive buddies re-up for more mortifying pranks and kamikaze stunts.

JESUS CAMP *** (PG-13) Though filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady are from the overstate-the-obvious school of movie-making, their documentary on the creepy efforts of evangelical Christianity to make children into their religious foot soldiers in the culture wars sends a compelling message. The filmmakers document the efforts by Pentecostal Children's Minister Becky Fischer and complicit parents to indoctrinate children in an evangelical political agenda. The children are adorable, earnest and fervent, and you feel sad for how both Fischer and the filmmakers use them to fulfill their individual agendas. -- Feaster

JET LI'S FEARLESS (PG-13) Billed as the final martial arts film from the high-flying Jet Li, this chop-sockey historical epic promises spectacular period details and gravity-defying fight scenes.

KEEPING MUM *** (R) The darkish British comedy Keeping Mum is cinema as cozy as an afghan or a nice cuppa tea -- something comforting but not exactly life-sustaining. Cut-glass highbrow beauty Kristin Scott Thomas slums through the yuks as the sexually frustrated wife of a village minister (Rowan Atkinson), but her attempt at an affair with an oily American golf pro (Patrick Swayze) is violently frowned upon by her new housekeeper (Maggie Smith), a dear old Mary Poppins-type with a homicidal secret. -- Feaster

THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND *** (R) Based on Giles Foden's novel, this thriller imagines 1970s Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (Forrest Whitaker) appointing a naive Scottish doctor as his personal doctor. As their relationship develops, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) also becomes Amin's political confidante, witnessing his growing paranoia and murderous reign firsthand. The film begins as a rousing study of Amin's charismatic, outsize personality amid a black power and folk music-infected Africa. But it soon descends into a kind of Halloween--goes--African, an absurd white man's nightmare as Garrigan finds himself trapped in the baroque horrors of Amin's Uganda. Though there is implausibility galore and a disturbing use of Africa as the source of both the white world's fantasies and fear, Whitaker rises above the often exploitive material to deliver a performance of astounding humanity and appeal that gets you into the dark, divided heart of the dictator. -- Feaster

LITTLE CHILDREN **** (R) One of the rare films that improves on a novel, Todd Field's film adaptation of Tom Perrotta's (Election) snarky social comedy has real tenderness for and insight into its characters despite their myriad problems ranging from selfishness and porn-addiction to antisocial sexual urges. Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson are the married parents of young children who meet on the playground and soon tumble into bed in a leafy Massachusetts suburb where adultery is just a way of momentarily escaping deeper anxieties. -- Feaster

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE ** (R) When a bubbly 7-year-old (Abigail Breslin) aspires to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, her quirky relatives (including Greg Kinnear as a failed motivational speaker and Steve Carell as a suicidal Proust scholar) take a road trip across country. Not since National Lampoon's Vacation has such a Whitman's Sampler of freaks crammed into a car, and this feather-light film only serves to prove the increasing mainstreaming of independent film. -- Feaster

MAN OF THE YEAR (PG-13) Writer-director Barry Levinson imagines what would happen if an outspoken and compassionate comedian (Robin Williams) became president of the United States. It's a decent premise for a piercing satire, but Levinson's approach is so timid that it makes last spring's soggy American Dreamz look as incendiary as a Michael Moore documentary by comparison. Williams delivers the same lazy performance we almost always get, with the actor groveling for laughs via his patented physical shtick and repertoire of stale jokes that were already passé around the time Roman emperors began chucking Christian standup comics to the lions. -- Brunson

MARIE ANTOINETTE *** (PG-13) Eighteenth-century Versailles meets high school in Sofia Coppola's confectionary, girly-girl take on France's most famous teenage queen. Kirsten Dunst is pearly perfection as the Austrian babe traded to the French as the wife to future King of France XVI (Jason Schwartzman), who prefers his hunting dude pals to making babies with Marie A. Coppola has never failed to let her cool girl flag fly, and her injection of Eighties Pop tunes and California attitude into the 18th century royal court is often a gas. But it's not enough to cover for Marie A's distinct lack of an inner life (gazing wistfully out of windows doesn't count), or some compelling take on this famous female rebel. -- Feaster

THE MARINE (PG-13) WWE wrestler John Cena makes his film debut as John Triton (which, frankly, makes a better wrestler name), a Marine who returns from the Iraq War only to see more combat stateside when his wife his kidnapped by an evil gang.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) **** (PG) The skeletal lord of Halloween gets a serious case of Christmas spirit and decides to replace Santa Claus, with chaotic results, in this stop-motion animated musical produced by Tim Burton. With more big laughs and fewer downbeat Danny Elfman songs, it could be a genuine classic. As is, it offers such visual delights that nearly every frame qualifies as a work of art. Re-released in a 3-D IMAX version. -- Holman

ONE NIGHT WITH THE KING (PG) This retelling of the biblical story of Esther, who rises from slavery to become advisor to a king, includes supporting performances from Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif and John Rhys-Davies.

OPEN SEASON (PG) A sheltered grizzly bear (voiced by Martin Lawrence) and a gabby mule deer (Ashton Kutcher) become unlikely allies in the wilderness. The presence of former Replacements singer-songwriter Paul Westerberg providing the film's music helps set it apart from this year's herd of mammal-based computer-animated films (The Wild, Over the Hedge, Barnyard, etc.).

THE PRESTIGE **** (PG-13) Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play rival Victorian-era stage magicians in an enchanting, intricate period piece. Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins) raises the suspense and emotional stakes of Christopher Priest's seemingly unfilmable novel, which features fascinating behind-the-scenes details of an illusionist's craft as well as the eternal tension between showmanship and technical perfectionism. The Prestige provides plenty of razzle-dazzle and clever construction that will reward a second viewing, even if the ambiguous ending prompts arguments about how they did it. -- Holman

SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS ** (PG-13) The 40-Year-Old Virgin minus the ongoing wit or sensitivity, this nerd-boy comedy stars a likable Jon Heder (Napolean Dynamite) as a parking cop prone to anxiety attacks and all-around twinkie behavior who gets in touch with his inner Butch by enrolling in a Learning Annex class taught by Alpha Male Billy Bob Thornton. -- Feaster

THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP ** An aspiring artist (Gael García Bernal) finds his attraction to his next-door-neighbor (Charlotte Gainsbourg) complicated by his increasing difficulty in distinguishing his dreams from reality. French director Michel Gondry revisits similar themes from his Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind but the wild, surreal visuals never hold together as elegantly as in the previous film. Sleep nevertheless offers many lovely, memorable sequences, many involving stop-motion animation, that convey the messy, bric-a-brac of dreams and the circular nature of our obsessions. -- Holman

SHORTBUS ** (NR) Beware directors who say they're going to make the definitive sex movie. With just one (albeit an exceptional one) film under his belt, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, John Cameron Mitchell feels it's time to tackle porno-quality sex married to an actual art-house story. The explicit sex is frank all right -- much of it placed front and center in the film's introduction -- but is tied to a shallow story about sexy New Yorkers who are having a hard time in bed. Sex therapist Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) is unable to achieve orgasm and former hustler James (Paul Dawson) is unable to deeply connect to the man he loves. Mitchell suggests post-Sept. 11 angst is to blame, but cardboard characters and dialogue out of a 1960s encounter session may be the real problem. -- Feaster

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING So how did Leatherface get such, uh, a leathery face? Find out in this prequel to the Chainsaw franchise of sequels and remakes, featuring Full Metal Jacket's R. Lee Ermey as evil sheriff father.

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    • Local band Manchester Orchestra, who provided the soundtrack, probably would have appreciated a shout-out.

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