Film Clips 

Capsule reviews of recently released movies

Opening Friday

ONE MISSED CALL (PG-13) The English remake of a Japanese thriller about a group of young people who start receiving voice mails from the future detailing their deaths.

Duly Noted

WISE BLOOD (1979) (R) John Huston's adaptation of the Flannery O'Connor classic novel stars Brad Dourif, Ned Beatty and Harry Dean Stanton. Tues., Jan. 15. 14th St. Playhouse, 173 14th St. 404-733-4738. www.14thstplayhouse.org.

THE THING (1982) (R) Presented by Splatter Cinema comes John Carpenter's The Thing about scientists in the Antarctic confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the form of the people it kills. Tues., Jan. 8. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-873-1939. www.plazaatlanta.com

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. Midnight, Fri. at Plaza Theatre, and Sat. at Peachtree Cinema & Games, Norcross.

Continuing

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE 3 stars (PG-13) A handful of young Americans and one Liverpudlian sing Beatles songs amid the tumult of the 1960s in this trippy musical from director Julie Taymor (Titus, Frida). The trope of naming characters after Beatles songs, such as central lovers Jude (Jim Sturgess) and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), can be ridiculously heavy-handed, but the film's gorgeous visuals, appealing musical numbers and unstated Iraq war subtext keep it from being a baby boomer wallow in nostalgia. -- Holman

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR 2: REQUIEM (R) See review.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS 3 stars (PG) This fluffy film chronicles the Chipmunks' rise to hyperpitched harmonizing fame and their narrow escape from the pitfalls of child stardom. On the human side, Jason Lee as Dave Seville looks uneasy living life in a partially CGI world, whereas David Cross, playing an exploitative record exec, basks in his screen time. Here, modernization and re-imagining turn out to be not such distasteful concepts, and even allow for a dash of satire most appreciated by fans of the earlier TV series. -- Allison C. Keene

AMERICAN GANGSTER 3 stars (R) This sprawling crime drama set in Vietnam War-era Harlem pits Denzel Washington's fastidious rising mob boss against Russell Crowe's doggedly honest narcotics cop. As usual, director Ridley Scott crafts images that mark him as an artist of color and light, but the premise's shades of gray elude him, particularly the implication that the mobster's success represents a triumph of African-American enterprise. The cast ultimately lives up to the film's sweeping social statements that emulate the gritty idealism of Serpico more than the bloody melodrama of Scarface. -- Holman

ATONEMENT 4 stars (R) An intelligent but confused adolescent girl (Saoirse Ronan) tells a lie that separates two young lovers (Keira Knightley and James McAvoy). Joe Wright crafts an insightful adaptation of Ian McEwan's acclaimed novel that begins with an intimate look at the passions and frustrations at an English country estate, and expands to include the destruction of World War II. Playing the same character at different ages, Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave offer a devastating portrayal of guilt and the inability of words to undue their power to harm. -- Holman

AUGUST RUSH (PG) A fairy-tale-esque drama about an orphaned musical prodigy who uses his talents to find his absentee parents. Kristen Sheridan (Disco Pigs) directs.

AWAKE (R) Hayden Christensen plays a man who awakens during open-heart surgery to find the anesthesia has left him aware, but paralyzed. Joby Harold directs.

BEE MOVIE 2 stars (PG) After discovering life outside the hive and meeting a human florist (Renee Zellweger), a young bee (Jerry Seinfeld) sues the human race for the honey industry's exploitative practices. The closer Bee Movie hovers to Seinfeld's appealing brand of observational humor, the bigger laughs it finds, but the script flits in so many different directions, we can't help but remember that story wasn't always the strong suit of Seinfeld's eponymous "show about nothing." -- Holman

BELLA 2 stars (PG-13) A haunted chef (Eduardo Verástegui) and a pregnant waitress (Tammy Blanchard) leave their jobs at a trendy restaurant to spend a romantic, soul-baring day in Manhattan. This heartfelt but overly sentimental film from Alejandro Gomez Monteverde celebrates food, family and New York, but the leading actors' performances are a little blank and the ending too convenient by half. Manny Perez steals the film as satisfyingly hateful restaurateur and petty tyrant.-- Holman

BEOWULF 4 stars (PG-13) The Anglo-Saxon epic poem of strapping Beowulf (voiced by Ray Winstone) and his monstrous adversaries gets brought into the 21st century with director Robert Zemeckis' "performance-capture" animation techniques (a form that's still a work in progress, but has improved significantly since The Polar Express). For all the CGI monsters, including misshapen ogre Grendel, the real attraction is the revisionist screenplay, which reimagines the heroic tale into a tragedy about the corruption of power. Definitely see it in digital 3-D, which makes up for the rubbery quality of some of the human characters. -- Holman

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR 4 stars (R) In the early 1980s, a playboy congressman (Tom Hanks) resolves to fund the Afghan rebels against the Soviet invaders, and finds allies including a former Texas beauty queen (Julia Roberts) and a grumpy CIA operations guy (Philip Seymour Hoffman). If you miss "The West Wing," writer Aaron Sorkin's script will provide you with a bracing cocktail of screwball comedy and policy-wonk detail. The film's American point of view keeps it at arm's length from some of the third act drama, but its witty, wise perspective on foreign policy shows how good intentions can reap short-term triumphs and subsequent disasters. -- Holman

DAN IN REAL LIFE (PG-13) Steve Carell stars as Dan Burns, an advice columnist whose relationship expertise fails to serve him in his own life. Peter Hedges directs (Pieces of April).

THE DARJEELING LIMITED 3 stars (R) Three brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) embark on a so-called "spiritual journey" across India by train, but struggle against their petty habits and sibling rivalry. Rushmore director Wes Anderson expands his artful but precious visual style through the bustling, shifting Indian landscape, but still keeps the audience at a distance from the characters. -- Holman

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (PG-13) Julian Schnabel directs in the remarkable true story of French Elle editor-in-chief Jean-Dominique Bauby whose sudden stroke at age 43 leaves his entire body paralyzed except for his left eye.

ENCHANTED 2 stars (PG) The certifiably adorable Amy Adams is a cartoon princess Giselle who is plunged into the ugly reality of New York City and ends up with a prince. There are some great comic moments, like the swarm of roaches and pigeons that help Giselle clean up an untidy apartment a la Disney's Snow White but for the most part the film isn't smart enough to deserve the knowing, meta-Disney approach it cops. -- Feaster

FRED CLAUS 2 stars (PG) Santa's bitter older brother Fred (Vince Vaughn) reluctantly moves back to the North Pole after St. Nick (Paul Giamatti) bails him out of jail. Vaughn and Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin try to mix the caustic comedy of Bad Santa with the yuletide whimsy of The Santa Clause and inevitably fall short of either goal. Admittedly the last half hour finds some nice moments, and Giamatti's winning performance takes Santa from patient to anxious to outraged. Overall, though, it's as if Vaughn wanted to do his own version of Bill Murray's Scrooged, forgetting that nobody much liked Scrooged, either. -- Holman

THE GAME PLAN (PG) Andy Fickman (She's the Man) directs this story about superstar quarterback Joe Kingman (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) who must end his bachelor ways following the discovery of a daughter he never knew he had. Kyra Sedgwick stars as Joe's tough-talking agent.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS 2 stars (PG-13) On a parallel Earth where human souls manifest as animal companions, plucky young Lyra (terrific newcomer Dakota Blue Richards) uses a magic artifact to guide her to the frozen north and thwart conspiratorial child-snatchers, led by Nicole Kidman. About a Boy director Chris Weitz presents a well-cast, well-intentioned botch of the first book of Philip Pullman's superb fantasy series. Crafty, heroic Lyra and her appealing armored bear bodyguard (voiced by Ian McKellan) can't rescue the film from rushed plotting, fakey special effects and a confusing cosmology. -- Holman

THE GREAT DEBATERS (PG-13) Denzel Washington stars and directs in the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College in Texas. In 1935 Tolson created the school's first debate team, leading them to challenge Harvard in the national championship.

THE HEARTBREAK KID (R) The Farrelly brothers' latest film finds single and indecisive Eddie (Ben Stiller) pressured into proposing marriage to the sexy Lila after dating for one week. On their honeymoon he meets the true woman of his dreams and strives to win her over while dealing with his increasingly awful new wife.

HITMAN (NR) Gun-for-hire Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) is hired by a group to kill targets for cash. Xavier Gens directs.

I AM LEGEND 4 stars (PG-13) Will Smith plays the sole human inhabitant of New York City after a genetically engineered virus wipes out most of mankind and turns the rest into blood-crazed mutants. The film offers nearly unbearable suspense scenes and stunning images of postapocalyptic Manhattan, overrun with wild animals with grass growing up through the streets. Despite some heavy-handed, ineffectual philosophizing in the last act, Smith delivers one of his best performances and I Am Legend turns out to be the best "summer movie" of 2007. ­-- Holman

IMAX THEATER The Alps Follow John Harlin III in MacGillivray Freeman's visually breathtaking documentary as he attempts to climb the same summit that proved fatal to his father 40 years ago.

I'M NOT THERE 3 stars (R) Ambitious, smart but decidedly muddled, cerebral superhipster Todd Haynes' biopicture of enigmatic, chameleonlike singer Bob Dylan features six different actors playing Dylan, including a mind-blowing turn by Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Christian Bale and a young black kid (Marcus Carl Franklin). The film melds an equally diverse array of styles and film allusions from Fellini to D.A. Pennebaker. The film is often gorgeous and clever, though it may be deep Dylan fans who enjoy Haynes' crazy-quilt film the most. -- Feaster

INTO THE WILD 4 stars (R) Emile Hirsch stars as affluent Emory University grad Chris McCandless, who died at age 24 after dropping off the grid to live on his own in the Alaskan wilderness. A surprising amount of transcendence and hopefulness infuses the normally dour Sean Penn's fourth directorial effort about McCandless' physical and interior journey based on Jon Krakauer's nonfiction account. Marked by nods to '60s and '70s cinema, Penn's film also has relevance to our own times as growing eco- and global-awareness have made more and more people take a McCandless look at the bad path "civilization" is on. -- Feaster

I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH 3 stars (NR) Still living at home with his mom, struggling actor James (Jeff Garlin) is an overgrown kid who riffs on pop culture and can't get laid. What might be annoying in an 18-year-old is both funny and poignant in a 39-year-old. Garlin, who also directs, very much pulls from the same comedy-of-the-abject highlighted in his day job, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and like that humor model, can be both annoyingly self-indulgent and perceptive, too. Sarah Silverman co-stars as a funny-creepy combination of kid's book character Junie B. Jones and an oversexed nut job. -- Feaster

JUNO 4 stars (PG-13) An insanely funny script by Diablo Cody and bone-dry comic timing provided by Ellen Page make Juno feel like the breakout indie of the year. Page is a knocked-up 16-year-old who decides to hand over her child to a couple (Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner) she thinks are desperate for a baby. Things turn out to be more complicated, and much sweeter than this attitudinal comedy initially suggests. -- Feaster

THE KITE RUNNER 3 stars (PG-13) Director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) returns to familiar themes of childhood and loss in his adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's beloved book. The story moves from 1978 Afghanistan to America and then back again to the Taliban-ruled country as it tells the story of two boyhood friends and the trauma that defines them. Solid acting and moments of acute emotional truth can't, however, distract from Forster's sublimation of his unique style and a feeling that he took the safe path in this adaptation. --Feaster

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL 5 stars (PG-13) Against all odds this Craig Gillespie film about a man Lars (Ryan Gosling) who falls in love with a sex doll is a Frank Capraesque celebration of community and compassion. Balancing a delicate line between comedy and pathos, Gillespie's deft direction of Nancy Oliver's winning script suggests the doll as a kind of transitional object that helps the grief-stricken Lars learn to relate to the world around him. --Feaster

MICHAEL CLAYTON 4 stars (R) George Clooney puts a haunted pall over his trademark charisma as the title role of this conspiracy thriller, a big law firm's "fixer" who discovers the conscience he didn't know he had. First-time director Tony Gilroy effectively evokes the paranoid films of the 1970s by creating a plausible sense of big-city dread, embodied in Tilda Swinton's superb portrayal of a female executive wracked with guilt at her monstrous decisions. The instigating plot about an agribusiness cover-up isn't very memorable, but Michael Clayton makes the most of is moral ambiguity without feeling merely vague. -- ­Holman

MR. MAGORIUM'S WONDER EMPORIUM (G) In this G-rated family film that appears to be angling to be the Willy Wonka for the new generation, Dustin Hoffman plays the owner of a magical toy store who plans to bequeath the shop to his nervous manager (Natalie Portman). Hey, "Magorium" rhymes with "Emporium!" What a coincidence.

NATIONAL TREASURE 2: BOOK OF SECRETS (PG) In the sequel to National Treasure, treasure-hunter Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) follows clues in a mystery involving John Wilkes Booth and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Jon Turteltaub directs.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN 4 stars (R) The Coen brothers make a rousing return to form in this Texas crime drama that strips away their trademark irony for brilliant, suspenseful set pieces. Josh Brolin's Vietnam vet, Tommy Lee Jones' aging sheriff and Javier Bardem's ruthless hitman engage in a three-way chase on either side of the Rio Grande. Don't let the anticlimactic ending sour you on the superb filmmaking. ­-- Holman

THE PERFECT HOLIDAY 1 star (PG) An aspiring songwriter (Morris Chestnut) uses his job as a department store Santa Claus to court a divorcee (Gabrielle Union). Despite the charms of Chestnut and Union, The Perfect Holiday, written and directed by Lance Rivera, bestows the gift of contrived plotting, flavorless jokes and holiday whimsy forced down your throat. To call it a lump of coal in your stocking insults the heat-generating usefulness of real lumps of coal. ­-- Holman

P.S. I LOVE YOU (PG-13) When Holly Kennedy's (Hilary Swank) husband dies from an illness, she is left grief-stricken. She discovers her late husband has planned out 10 monthly messages to guide her through recovery, which help her slowly transition to a new life. Directed by Richard LaGravenese.

THE RED BALLOON/WHITE MANE (NR) The classic French short film The Red Balloon is the charming story of a boy befriended by an expressive red balloon, which proceeds to follow him around throughout his day. The film is co-featured with White Mane, the story of a boy's love for a wild horse that only he can tame.

RUSH HOUR 3 1 star (PG-13) After an attempted assassination of the Chinese ambassador, the LAPD'S Chris Tucker and Chinese cop Jackie Chan bicker all the way to Paris. Fast-talking Tucker and fast-moving Chan make such a natural comic team that it's a shame three-time director Brett Ratner never built them a vehicle with witty jokes or racial insight. All three films are pretty crummy, interrupting the loud comedy and louder action with some still decent stunt work from Chan (now 53 years old), but even the funny outtakes during the closing credits seem calculated. -- Holman

SAW IV (R) In the follow-up to Saw III, Jigsaw and his apprentice Amanda are dead. Detectives must sift through Jigsaw's latest grisly remains to piece together the puzzle. Darren Lynn Bousman directs.

STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING (PG-13) Frank Langella stars as Leonard Shiller, a once-famous New York writer who is both shaken and emboldened when a beautiful grad student invades his isolation for her thesis about his novels. Andrew Wagner directs.

SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET 5 stars (R) A wrongfully accused barber (Johnny Depp) returns to Victorian London to wreak bloody vengeance on an evil judge (Alan Rickman). And it's a musical! In adapting Stephen Sondheim's Broadway classic, director Tim Burton casts movie stars whose lack of musical experience doesn't interfere with the show's skin-crawling intimacy and grand passions. Sweeney Todd proves lushly operatic, grotesquely violent and at times darkly funny, with one number suggesting a cannibalistic version of "Food, Glorious Food" from Oliver! -- Holman

THIS CHRISTMAS 3 stars (PG-13) Preston A. Whitmore writes and directs this dramedy about the holiday reunion of an extended African-American family, which includes an indebted musician (Idris Elba) and an abused wife (Regina King). The plotting's a bit familiar and the first act relies almost entirely on exposition, but the likable cast -- particularly Elba, King and Delroy Lindo -- help make This Christmas low-key but pleasing holiday fare. -- Holman

TYLER PERRY'S WHY DID I GET MARRIED? (PG-13) Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman) brings his theatrical production to the big screen where he stars alongside Janet Jackson and Jill Scott. The film explores the difficulties of modern relationships through the stories of eight married college friends.

WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (R) John C. Reilly stars in Jake Kasdan's film about the tumultuous life of fictional singer Dewey Cox.

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

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