MR. RICE'S SECRET (NR) 1/2 Top-billed David Bowie has about three minutes of screen time as a dead man who helps terminally ill 12-year-old Bill Switzer (no Haley Joel Osment but he handles some difficult scenes extremely well) learn it's the quality, not quantity, of your life that counts. The ending confuses the message of this well-meaning mix of Stand by Me, a disease-of-the-week movie and a little magic. Only Spielberg could have really made it work, but it's better than Pay It Forward. -- Steve Warren
SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (R) A snarling, slavering, demonic Willem Dafoe delivers the ghoulish goods in this slightly stuffed but beautifully mounted historical-horror-comedy-biopic about the making of Nosferatu in 1922. John Malkovich plays a strong second fiddle as F.W. Murnau, a director so dedicated to making the ultimate vampire movie that he hires a real vampire to play the lead. -- Eddy Von Mueller
SUGAR & SPICE (PG-13) In this black comedy, a cheerleading squad decides to trade in its pompoms for pistols and take up bank robbing as an extracurricular activity. Their descent into teenage rebellion comes after the head cheerleader discovers she's pregnant with the quarterback's baby and needs money to support the child. The peppy heists bring the unruly squad more attention than they expected.
THE WEDDING PLANNER (PG-13) 1/2 Comedically challenged Jennifer Lopez plays Mary, who has been so busy planning other people's weddings she forgot to have one of her own. She's working on a big one when she meets Mr. Right (onetime Next Big Thing Matthew McConaughey), who happens to be the groom. Call me The Wedding Panner, but never spent as boring a 105 minutes as I did watching this dud, and I'm not exaggerating as much as the person who labeled this lifeless mess a "romantic comedy." -- SW
EXECUTION IN JUSTICE Witness to a shooting, Felix Spät, an attorney, helps convict Professor Kohler of the crime, which carries a 20-year sentence. Following the trial, Spät falls in love with Kohler's daughter, and against his better judgment, she convinces him to retry the case. Things go wrong, and Kohler gets off, leaving Spät to seek his revenge. The 1993 film is in German with English subtitles. German Criminal Films, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m., Goethe Institut Atlanta.
THE FOLLOWERS Three tight friends decide to pledge the same exclusive fraternity, but their friendship is put to the test when one is rejected because he is black. The two white friends want to join in spite of the racism, and the fraternity president tests their loyalty as members by having them target their African-American friend during hazing. Jan. 26-Feb. 1 at 2, 6 and 10 p.m., GSU's cinéfest.
GATES OF HELL In Lucio Fulci's 1980 film, a priest commits suicide in a New England cemetery, opening the gates of hell. A reporter teams up with a young psychic to figure out how to close the portal before the dead rise and kill the living. Jan. 26-27 at midnight, GSU's cinéfest.
KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS Ninth in line to inherit a dukedom, Louis decides to up his odds by killing off the competition. Alec Guinness plays all eight victims in this 1949 dark comedy. Films at the High, The Alec Guinness Quartet, Jan. 26 at 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium.
THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER (R) Jackie Chan does some of his best fighting, though fewer crazy stunts, in this magnificent mess from 1994 that vaults from broad comedy (Anita Mui doing "I Love Lucy Liu") to intense melodrama, shows off the comic "drunken boxing" style, and bashes the Brits of a century ago for plundering Chinese land and antiquities. It's dubbed in English so you can focus on the action. Sexagenarian director Lau Ka Leung has some fight scenes too, suggesting Chan's career doesn't have to end anytime soon. Jan. 26-Feb. 1 at 12, 4 and 8 p.m., GSU's cinéfest. -- SW
'LONG ROAD TO MAZATLAN' and 'THREE' Isaac Julien examines black and queer culture in these 1999 films, which together explore reflections on dance, sexuality and myths of America. "Mazatlan" features choreographer Javier de Frutos and focuses on myths of the American West, including the figure of the cowboy. "Three" features choreographers Bebe Miller and Ralph Lemon and centers on desire through dance and symbolically weighted images. The Contemporary's Sound and Vision Series, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m., Atlanta College of Art, Rich Auditorium.
MADADAYO Writer/director Akira Kurosawa's last film, the movie features Tatsuo Matsumura as Hyakken Uchida, a beloved professor who leaves his job to become a writer after his house is destroyed in air raids on Japan in 1943. His old students plot to move him from the hut he and his wife now inhabit to a bigger home. Jan. 19-25 at 12, 4:15 and 8:30 p.m., GSU's cinéfest.
THE NIGHT LARRY KRAMER KISSED ME The longest running one-man stage production in New York theater history, Larry Kramer has now made the jump to celluloid, with less than thrilling results. The play's writer, David Drake, performs with admirable energy and verve, a semi-autobiographical version of one man's life, ranging from his budding homosexuality as a child to his final resting place in New York City's by turns competitive/supportive gay community. There is some real insight here, but one has to trudge through so much theatrical affectation and so many superficial clichés about what constitutes being "gay" it may not be worth the effort. Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Film Festival Benefit, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m., IMAGE film & Video Center. -- FF
RASHOMON In this 1950 Akira Kurosawa movie, a woman is raped and her husband is murdered. Fortunately, four witnesses come forward to tell what they saw. Unfortunately, the witnesses give four different accounts of the events. What really happened? You decide. Jan. 19-25 at 2:30 and 6:45 p.m., GSU's cinéfest.
THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (R) The cult classic of cult classics, the 1975 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 Meatloaf gets killed. Dress as your favorite character and participate in this musical on acid. Fridays at midnight, Lefont Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce De Leon Ave.
RUBIN & ED Crispin Glover stars as Rubin, a loner who keeps his recently deceased cat/best friend in the fridge. He hooks up with fellow loser Ed, and the pair set out on a road trip to find the perfect burial plot for the dead pet. Must be 18 years or older to attend. Free admission and $1 Pabst Blue Ribbon offered. Monday Night Movies, Jan. 29 at 8 p.m., Echo Lounge, 551 Flat Shoals Ave.
THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT Set in the Napoleonic era, the film follows a captain who finds a strange book. Similar to The Arabian Nights, the captain begins to live the magical adventures depicted in the book. Wojciech Has' 1965 film is in Polish with subtitles. Films at the High, Jan. 27 at 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium.
SPERLING AND THE BURNING ARM Detective Sperling witnesses the beating of a Berlin restaurant owner by a group of men demanding protection money. Sperling mounts an investigation into the attack and discovers that the group is part of the Albanian mob. But before he can act on the information, the restaurant owner takes the situation into his own hands. The 1998 film is in German with English subtitles. German Criminal Films, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m., Goethe Institut Atlanta.
TWISTER The 1988 film centers on an eccentric family living on a farm in Kansas. A storm is brewing and the wacky family members are all trapped together on the farm. The cast includes Crispin Glover, Dylan McDermott and Harry Dean Stanton. Must be 18 years or older to attend. Free admission and $1 Pabst Blue Ribbon offered. Monday Night Movies, Jan. 29 at 10 p.m., Echo Lounge, 551 Flat Shoals Ave.
THE AMATI GIRLS (PG) 1/2 Mercedes Ruehl, Sean Young, Dinah Manoff and Lily Knight play the daughters of recently widowed Cloris Leachman in Anne DeSalvo's dripping-with-sincerity drama that portrays Italian-American family life without reference to the Mafia. Ruehl's marriage is much like her mother's; Young is ready to divorce a workaholic; and Manoff's afraid of commitment. When developmentally challenged Knight decides she wants "a real boyfriend," most of the family is opposed. Cinematically proficient but not innovative, The Amati Girls probably helped DeSalvo get major family issues off her chest. -- SW
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (PG-13) An enchanting tale set in early 19th-century China, Ang Lee's (Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm) atmospheric Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon rekindles the Hong Kong flame of gravity-defying martial arts action and tender sentiment. Lee invests the usual astounding acrobatics with his characters' pangs of regret, love and loss as two martial arts masters, (Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh) teach a spoiled young aristocrat (Zhang Ziyi) about the moral responsibilities of the Giang Hu martial arts way in this subversive, beautifully realized coming-of-age story. -- FF
THE GIFT (R) Where do I go to return The Gift? Cate Blanchett plays a small town medium who gets embroiled in violence and sleazy behavior in a script, co-written by Billy Bob Thornton, that plays like "Peyton Place" with ESP. Director Sam Raimi injects a few shocks, but the film proves too over-the-top to be taken seriously, and with too many classy performers (including Keanu Reeves and Hilary Swank) for camp value. -- CH
THE PLEDGE (R) Less than the sum of its parts, which include odd, beautifully photographed locations and small appearances by big actors, this serious version of Fargo, adapted from a Friedrich Durrenmatt novel, was directed somberly by Sean Penn as an American art film. Jack Nicholson plays Jerry Black, a Reno police detective whose retirement party is interrupted by the rape/murder of an eight-year-old girl. Jerry obsessively structures his life around solving this and related crimes, with ironic results. The Euro-pacing rules out mainstream audiences; others may be mildly disappointed, but Pledge is no lemon. -- SW
SAVE THE LAST DANCE (PG-13) 1/2 A teen film with a little more on its mind than most, this MTV production manages to address some hot-button topics, like interracial dating, while offering an appealing cast of actors as high school students who get down nightly at an after-hours hip-hop club. Julia Stiles is a tragedy-paralyzed ballerina whose mother's death sends her to live with her slacker dad in inner-city Chicago. The tragedy puts her dreams of Juilliard on hold until she hooks up with Sean Patrick Thomas, a Georgetown-bound boy from the hood who helps her put the bounce back in her step with after school hip-hop lessons in this harmless, at times even thoughtful, teen romance. -- FF
SNATCH (R) As in his debut film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie doesn't construct plots so much as geometry exercises, setting groups of heavily-armed cockney hoodlums and hitmen in motion and seeing how often they collide. Nominally concerned with fixed boxing matches and the scramble for a stolen diamond, Snatch offers more of the same, with better jokes, a broader canvas and Brad Pitt stealing the show as a gypsy boxer whose accent is hilariously impenetrable. -- CH
STATE AND MAIN (R) 1/2 Such enjoyable actors as Alec Baldwin, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sarah Jessica Parker put what bite they can into David Mamet's limp showbiz satire. In depicting the havoc wreaked by a film crew on a Vermont village, Mamet means to pay tribute to small-town Americana, but his town comes across as phony as a theme park attraction, and wife Rebecca Pidgeon is over her head as the story's romantic lead. -- CH
TRAFFIC (R) 1/2 A well-crafted, engrossing story of the drug war as it touches characters from Tijuana to Washington, D.C., from cops and politicians to teenagers and suburban wives, Steven Soderbergh's drama moves along at a ferocious clip. Even with its large cast of newcomers and Hollywood old-guarders, this psychological action film affirms Soderbergh's talent for making good, populist dramas that exceed the usual Hollywood standards. -- FF
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