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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
HANNIBAL (R) In this highly anticipated follow up to Silence of the Lambs, our favorite cannibal (Anthony Hopkins) is back in action and stirring up the pot once again. This time around Julianne Moore takes on the coveted Jodie Foster role. Ten years have passed, but FBI agent Clarice is still haunted by her encounters with Hannibal. One of Hannibal's victims is now seeking revenge, and the only way to get to Hannibal is by using Clarice as bait.

HEAD OVER HEELS (PG-13) Freddie Prinze Jr., the Prinze never known as an artist, can't convince us he's an actor, let alone a killer, so we don't seriously suspect him for a moment when new girlfriend Monica Potter, a blonde Julia Roberts wannabe, thinks she sees him commit a murder. While the characters and situations would seem to lend themselves more to wit than lowest-common-denominator humor, this dumbing-down of the plots of Rear Window and Charade suggests those films might have been more successful if they'd included an exploding toilet scene. -- Steve Warren

SAVING SILVERMAN (PG-13) Steve Zahn and Jack Black, who were on the fast track to success, take a detour in this moronic comedy that may have seemed funny on paper. They try to keep their pal Jason Biggs from marrying controlling bitch Amanda Peet by doing the only logical thing: kidnapping her, faking her death and hooking him up with Amanda Detmer, the girl he loved in high school who is about to take her final vows as a nun. All this and Neil Diamond, too! It would have taken far better direction than Dennis Dugan (Big Daddy) provides to save Saving Silverman. -- SW

Duly Noted
AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME Jerry Springer puts his talk-show gig on hold to host a special screening of the campy spy comedy. Dress up as your favorite character and watch Austin travel back to the '60s to try to stop Dr. Evil and his pint-sized sidekick, Mini-me, from destroying the world. Benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Feb. 8 at 8 p.m., Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave.

THE AUTEUR THEORY Evan Oppenheimer's satire on independent film festivals centers on one peculiar student film festival, where a killer is taking out the directors of the terrible movies. A filmmaker (Alan Cox) decides to make a documentary about the killings but ends up falling for the main suspect (Natasha Lyonne). IMAGE Film and Video Center benefit screening, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24.

BANG BOOM BANG: A SURE THING Keek, a bankrobber, is living comfortably off the money he and Kalle stole in their last heist, while Kalle is finishing up his last two years in prison. When Kalle escapes from jail, Keek must scramble to make back the missing funds before Kalle gets to him. The film is in German with subtitles. Feb. 14 at 7 p.m., Goethe Institut Atlanta.

BIG MAMA CINEFEST FILM NIGHT Sponsored by IMAGE Film and Video Center, the screenings feature two films and 10 shorts by women filmmakers as part of Seen + Heard: The Atlanta Women's Arts Festival. Directed by Shelley Niro, Honey Moccasin is a comedy feature about Native-American investigator Honey Moccasin and the case of the drag queen clothing thief. Ellen Spiro's Roam Sweet Home is a documentary that examines the lives of aging roamers and loners who live on the road in trailers. The short films include: Ya-Nan Chou's "Split;" Suzie Silver's "A Spy: Hester Reeve Does the Doors;" Jeanne Vitale's "Schizophrenia Circa 1986;" T. Anjanette Levert's "Shake It Up, Shake It Down: AUC Students' Perspective on Freaknik;" CHING's "Faeries: Music in the Woods;" Shana Marie Woods' "Sangre y Veneno;" Allyson Mitchell's "Candy Kisses;" Melissa Levin's and Nina Levitt's "Baking with Butch;" Lela Lee's "Angry Little Asian Girl;" and "Hello Titty" by Anne Lise Breunneg, Jody Shipley and Beatrice Thomas. Feb. 9 with features at 7:30 p.m. and shorts at 10 p.m., PushPush Theater, 1123 Zonolite Road.

BRAINSEX: WHY WE FALL IN LOVE In his science documentary, German-American filmmaker and psychotherapist Ben Brumfield examines why we choose our mates. Brumfield will attend the screening to discuss the film, which contains nudity and evolutionary theory. Feb. 13 at 7 p.m., Goethe Institut Atlanta.

CHARLIE'S ANGELS (PG-13) On the theory that velocity is a substitute for quality, music video director McG zips through a series of sketches that were apparently more fun to shoot than they are to watch. Angels Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu find time between costume changes and dance numbers to solve the case of kidnapped techno-mogul Sam Rockwell. As their giggling constitutes a laugh track, I was reminded more of "The Carol Burnett Show" than the original "Charlie's Angels." Bill Murray is good as Bosley, the eunuch in their harem. Feb. 9-15 at 2, 6 and 10 p.m., GSU's cinéfest. -- SW

CRUMB Screened as part of Agnes Scott College's Book Unbound exhibit, the documentary chronicles the life and works of legendary underground comic artist, Robert Crumb. The movie offers a glimpse into the warped, creative mind of the counterculture hero through interviews with his dysfunctional family and friends. Feb. 15 at 7 p.m., McCain Library, 141 E. College Ave., Decatur.

EIGHT FILMS BY RELAH ECKSTEIN Los Angeles art filmmaker Relah Eckstein explores hunger, lust and other more ambiguous states of body and mind in eight of her decidedly quirky short films screening at the Fountainhead Lounge. With a stock cast of characters (including former Go-Gos drummer Gina Schock) and her unique blend of New Wave-meets-thrift-store-meets-Alice-in-Wonderland aesthetics, Eckstein's films are little jewels of inspired, let's-put-on-a-show silliness. Feb. 10 from 7-8 p.m., Fountainhead Lounge, 485 Flat Shoals Ave. -- Felicia Feaster

GIMME SHELTER (PG) In the late 1960s, documentary icons the Maysles brothers set out to film the definitive bad boy band, the Rolling Stones, on their 1969 American tour. The directors captured not only the carnal energy of Mick Jagger performing "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Satisfaction," but the symbolic, violent end to the 1960s with the Altamont free concert. At Altamont the Stones made the disastrous mistake of hiring the Hell's Angels to police the event, a decision that led to brutal, violent clashes between the Angels and the crowd and one murder. A not-to-be-missed document of the dying light of Sixties idealism and a must-see for any fan of the Rolling Stones. Feb. 9-15 at 12, 4 and 8 p.m., GSU's cinéfest. -- FF

HAKAI Based on Shimazaki Toson's work, director Kinoshita Keisuke's film examines the Tokugawa class system and its impact on the burakumin, a class of untouchables. While the system was abolished in 1867, discrimination continued years after the Meiji Restoration. Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m., 206 White Hall, Emory.

JUDGE IN FEAR An unpopular judge is on trial for the murder of a prostitute, and attorney Jean Ables must defend him against the charges. A witness places the judge at the scene of the crime, but the judge is unwilling to give Jean information that could help his case. Director Josef Rodl's 1996 film is in German with subtitles. German Criminal Films, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m., Goethe Institut Atlanta.

LES ETOILES SECRETS MULTIMEDIA FESTIVAL The multimedia extravaganza features the works of innovative filmmakers, animators, musicians and photographers. Screenings include an experimental film by Frank Lopez and films by Kevin Patrick of PopFilms. The festival also features photography by Lytton Martin and live music. Feb. 13 at 8 p.m., Fountainhead Lounge.

NOSFERATU Based on Bram Stoker's Dracula, this 1922 silent film classic features an eerily convincing performance by actor Max Schrek. German director F.W. Murnau's version of the novel is the first and most revered adaptation. Feb. 9-10 at midnight, GSU's cinéfest.

THE RED SHOES Ballet impresario Boris Lermontov demands that his protegés devote their lives to their careers. Torn by her mentor's high expectations, a talented ballerina must choose between him and the man she loves. Films at the High, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium.

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.

SHARING THE STORIES FILM FESTIVAL In honor of Black History Month, the two-day film festival features eight African-American films. The screenings include A Lesson Before Dying, Boycott, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Disappearing Acts, Miss Evers' Boys, Don King: Only in America, Dancing in September and Rebound: The Legend of Earl 'The Goat' Manigault. Feb. 10-11 at Rich Auditorium.

TARGETS Peter Bogdanovich's first film takes on the charged issue of gun control in the wake of Austin sniper Charles Whitman's 1966 murder spree. A film cultist's dream, the parallel storylines concern a washed-up horror actor played by Boris Karloff, who is retiring from the business because he's afraid that his thrillers can no longer measure up to the real-life brutality of the modern world. Across town a Whitman-esque all-American boy confirms Karloff's theory by stockpiling guns and ammo before venturing out on a killing spree. A flawed, often clunky production (Bogdanovich as Karloff's director is especially weak), Targets nevertheless boasts a wonderful, wounded performance from Karloff and some truly creepy moments. Feb. 2-8 at 2, 6 and 10 p.m., GSU's cinéfest. -- FF

VANISHING POINT Part of a rash of rebels-take-to-the-open-road films that were churned out to stock drive-in screens and grindhouses of the 1970s, this cult classic follows a rebel with no particular cause on a high-speed chase from Denver to San Francisco. As the cops close in on him, Kowalski (Barry Newman) develops a following of hippies, freaks, dropouts and other malcontents who elect him as their personal Jesus in this terrifically dated paean to Us vs. Them. Feb. 2-8 at 12, 4 and 8 p.m., GSU's cinéfest. -- FF

Continuing
ALL THE PRETTY HORSES (PG-13) Two young Texans (Matt Damon and Henry Thomas) get more adventure in Mexico than they bargained for in Billy Bob Thornton's ambitious but meandering adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel. Ted Tally's script approximates the book's laconic cowboy poetry, but the film lacks the moral and geographic scope of a John Ford or Sam Peckinpah Western, despite harrowing moments of violence and smoldering scenes between Damon and Penelope Cruz. -- Curt Holman

ANTITRUST (PG-13) 1/2 Though not as memorable as Arlington Road, the last paranoid thriller in which Tim Robbins played a villain, Antitrust is a good popcorn movie that's aimed at a younger audience and should do the job for them. Robbins is a Bill Gates-like computer mogul, Ryan Phillippe the hotshot garage geek who goes to work for him but discovers his dark secrets and has to bring down his empire. It's like a chess game, only more visual. The geek-speak dialogue sounds credible without being intimidating. -- SW

BILLY ELLIOT (R) A hybrid of the miserable-English-childhood film and performing-British-nonconformist movies such as The Full Monty, Billy Elliot depicts an 11-year-old coal miner's son (Jamie Bell) who develops an improbable passion for ballet. Some of the self-conscious flourishes (like the soundtrack prominent with T-Rex) can be strange, but it's an endearingly idiosyncratic film that puts some new moves on its "feel-good" premise. -- CH

CAST AWAY (PG-13) Director Robert Zemeckis and his Forrest Gump star Tom Hanks have created another crowd-pleaser in what begins as a modern-day Robinson Crusoe story but comes out looking like a "Survivor" spin-off. Dumped in the Pacific, Chuck Noland (Hanks) spends four-plus years on an otherwise uninhabited island, developing survival skills gradually and realistically. The plot eventually gets Hollywood-ized, but it's amazing how long Zemeckis resists commercial impulses, aside from the whole movie being such a commercial for Chuck's employer, FedEx, that failing an Oscar, it has a chance to win a Clio. -- SW

CHOCOLAT (PG-13) 1/2 Free-spirited Juliette Binoche opens a chocolate shop in a repressed village, setting up a didactic conflict of indulgence versus denial. The French locales, food and faces are lovingly photographed (the disarming ensemble includes Judi Dench, Johnny Depp and Alfred Molina), but it cannot equal the comparably themed but richer Babette's Feast. Chocolat melts in your hands, not in your heart. -- CH

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

DOUBLE TAKE (PG-13) 1/2 This action comedy wants to keep you guessing who the good guys and bad guys are, but you're more likely to wonder why you wasted your money on this crap. Orlando Jones, a fine comic, is supposed to play straight man to the even wackier Eddie Griffin, but the script is so inconsistent it's as if different scenes had different writers and directors who didn't confer with each other. Double Take won't leave you doubled over with laughter--or even singled over. -- SW

DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR? (PG-13) 1/2 Underachievers need role models too. Jesse (Ashton Kutcher) and Chester (Seann William Scott), the latest incarnation of Bill & Ted, are stoner/slackers who save the universe while trying to remember what they did the night before. The plot-heavy comedy is as witless as it is brainless, the guys cute but not funny or believable, individually or together. Their odyssey -- with the emphasis on the "od"--surrounds our heroes with zany stereotypes, from a transsexual stripper to donut-loving cops. What Kutcher and Scott should really be asking is, "Dude, where's my agent?" -- SW

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (PG-13) The venerable role-playing phenom comes to theaters, if not quite to life, in this frequently fun and basically brainless romp about a thief trying to best a malevolent magician (Jeremy Irons) from unleashing a plague of dragons on an imaginary kingdom. High- (or Low-) lights include a bizarre Tom Baker (Dr. Who ) cameo and Marlon Wayan's turn as the hero's Stepp'n Fetchin' sidekick, probably the year's weirdest performance. -- Eddy Von Mueller

THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE (G) Besides being one of the year's funniest comedies, Disney's latest animated feature is a perfect mating of voice actors with characters: David Spade as the spoiled emperor who's turned into a llama; John Goodman as the kindly peasant who turns the other cheek to help him; Eartha Kitt as a classic Disney villain who lacks only a song; and Patrick Warburton as her dim thug. The drawing style is simpler than in most of Disney's classics, but the picture's packed with fun, action and comedy that appeals to all ages. -- SW

THE FAMILY MAN (PG-13) 1/2 A Republican plot to make poor working stiffs content with their lot so they won't begrudge the wealthy their new tax breaks, this dramedy is a virtual big-budget remake of Me Myself I, in which Rachel Griffiths was better than Nicolas Cage is here as someone visiting an alternate universe for a "glimpse" of how life would have been had they married for love 13 years ago instead of pursuing a single, career-oriented life. Tea Leoni is this version's greatest asset as the old girlfriend with whom playboy Cage gets to sample married life. -- SW

FINDING FORRESTER (PG-13) Gus Van Sant revisits Good Will Hunting territory in a tale of a brilliant but unrecognized student and athlete (newcomer Robert Brown) who bonds with a reclusive, Salingeresque novelist (Sean Connery). The pair has enjoyable moments together, but van Sant is clearly more interested in the basketball games and the Bronx setting than the film's contrived prep-school conflicts and its lip service to great literature. As yet another story of a reluctant young genius, it could be called Good Will Finding. -- CH

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

HOUSE OF MIRTH (PG) Gillian Anderson gives a luminous, unforgettable performance as the upper-crust orphan who falls from the heights of turn-of-the-century New York society into abject poverty in Terence Davies' stunning adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel of manners. More than simply a reverse fairy tale of an innocent beauty dragged into the mud, this languidly paced, intelligent film honors the complexity of Lily Bart (Anderson), while taking measure of her faults, and offers a painfully realistic portrait of the kind of human pettiness and weakness that yields horrific results. -- FF

IMAX AT FERNBANK: ADVENTURES IN WILD CALIFORNIA (NR) It's "California Dreamin'" for the new millennium as IMAX and Everest director Greg MacGillivray pack a lot of extreme sports and environmentalism into 40 unhurried minutes, including sky- and sea-surfing sequences that put Hollywood movie stunts and special effects to shame. You'll see baby otters and bald eagles being prepared by humans for life in the wild and trees that have lived for 3000 years. You'll ride a roller coaster at Disneyland, walk down the red carpet at the Academy Awards and descend 125 feet into a hollow space in an ancient sequoia. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m., 1, 3 and 5 p.m., Sun. 1, 3 and 5 p.m. and Fri. 8 and 10 p.m. BEAVERS (NR) 1/2 Two furry rodents build a dam and a family in an IMAX nature film that strains to fill 40 minutes. There's glorious photography of the wilderness of Alberta, Canada, blessedly little narration, and fascination in watching these natural-born engineers at work. Fans of Animal Planet should enjoy this giant-screen study of another of nature's wonders. Mon.-Sat. at 10 a.m., noon, 2 and 4 p.m., Sun. at noon, 2 and 4 p.m., and Fri. at 7 and 9 p.m.. Films run through March 4 at Fernbank Museum of Natural History, 767 Clifton Road. -- SW

LEFT BEHIND (PG-13) If I go to hell for this lukewarm review, the road will be paved with the fundamentalist filmmakers' good intentions. Based on a novel that projects the prophecies of Revelation onto modern times on the assumption they've begun to come true, it wastes too much time making a mystery of what every viewer knows: the millions who suddenly disappeared went to Heaven in the Rapture. In a less predictable plot line, two men try to take over the world by ending war and hunger. With the prophecies carved in stone and the wheels set in motion, resistance should be futile. -- SW

MALENA (R) Cinema Paradiso's Giuseppe Tornatore offers another nostalgic glimpse of an Italian childhood, focusing here on adolescent Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro) and his obsession with a shapely war widow (Monica Belucci) during World War II. The film treats Belucci as a sex object, but that's part of the point, as the rest of Renato's village judges her character based on her appearance. The moments of broad comedy and gorgeous photography make up for its uncharitable view toward the Italian people. -- CH

MISS CONGENIALITY (PG-13) 1/2 Despite plot holes you could sail the Titanic through, so-so comedy and borderline-pathetic action scenes, this is a star vehicle for Sandra Bullock and she carries it off triumphantly as an FBI agent whose feminine side emerges when she goes undercover as a contestant to save a beauty pageant from a mad bomber. Benjamin Bratt makes a good foil as the fellow agent she'll wind up with once they resolve their character flaws. While the script could have used a lot more polishing, director Donald Petrie salvages it by focusing on the characters and letting his actors save the day. -- SW

O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (PG-13) 1/2 George Clooney plays an escaped convict dragging his buddies across the Depression-era Deep South in search of hidden treasure and also trying to stop his wife's remarriage in this uneven but brilliantly bizarre screwball send-up of '30s folk history and Homer's ancient epic, The Odyssey. The film features a number of Coen Brothers alums, including John Goodman (standing in for the Cyclops) and John Turturro (who almost gets turned into a frog). The title comes from Sullivan's Travels, which you should also see, dammit. -- EM

102 DALMATIANS (G) 1/2 Second verse, same as the first -- with a little less energy. Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close, more subdued this time) steals another hundred or so puppies and is the catalyst for another couple of dog-lovers (Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Evans) to fall in love with each other. Gerard Depardieu does the heavy camping as Le Pelt, a coat-urier who joins fur-ces with Cruella as history repeats itself. Had I seen 102 Dalmatians before 101 I'd probably like it better, but seeing them in the correct sequence there's too much "Been there, done that" to appreciate the sequel fully. -- SW

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 8-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

PROOF OF LIFE (R) 1/2 Knowing about Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe's off-screen romance adds fuel to the tepid fire onscreen in Taylor Hackford's Casablanca-style action-romance that doesn't have enough of either. Instead of Bogie's mystique, Crowe might as well wear a neon "hero" sign as the hostage negotiator who falls in love with Ryan while trying to free her husband (David Morse, taking acting honors) from banana-republic rebels. The script is needlessly complex in some areas while totally neglecting others, but the movie looks good and moves fast so you may not notice. -- SW

RUGRATS IN PARIS: THE MOVIE (G) 1/2 A child's first lesson in international awareness (through largely stereotypical French and Japanese characters), the sequel has celebrity voices and references to R-rated movies for baby-sitters. Coco La Bouche (Susan Sarandon), a milder, French-accented Cruella De Vil, brings the gang over so Stu Pickles can do Reptar repair at EuroReptarland. Coco needs to marry for a promotion and widowed Chas Finster wants a new mommy for Chuckie, so Coco goes to work. Adult issues are seen mostly from the children's point of view, and there's still plenty of time for jokes about the Rugrats' real concern: body functions. -- 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

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. -- EVM

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

SUGAR & SPICE (PG-13) Here's the stupid cheerleader movie we expected Bring It On to be before it proved to be a sleeper. It's partly about Jack (James Marsden) and Diane (Marley Shelton) and partly about Diane and her fellow cheerleaders. Jack gets Diane pregnant, and their families throw them out, so the girls rob a bank to help them finance life on their own. Major characters disappear for long stretches, making it seem more episodic and less cohesive than it is, but it doesn't deserve such serious analysis. The script is short on humor, with little sugar and even less spice. -- SW

THIRTEEN DAYS (PG-13) Kevin Costner plays a fly-on-the-wall presidential assistant and confidante in a richly-detailed docu-drama about the Cuban missile crisis. There's no shortage of Kennedy nostalgia, but Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp superbly render JFK and RFK (respectively) as flesh-and-blood men under enormous pressure. Though we know the ending, there are exciting U-2 spy missions and confrontations during the naval blockade, as if the United States and the Soviets are playing "Battleship" with real battleships. -- 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

UNBREAKABLE (PG-13) When a stadium security guard (Bruce Willis) emerges unscathed from a train wreck, an enigmatic dealer in comic book art (Samuel L. Jackson) suspects him of having extranormal abilities. With the same star, style and Philadelphia setting as The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan's follow-up provides comparable suspense and craftsmanship, even as the idiosyncratic plot teeters at the brink of comic book camp. -- CH

VALENTINE (R) This old-school slice-and-dice flick follows the formula of stupid young people getting killed one at a time, apparently by someone with an old score to settle. The characters are unlikable, the details inconsistent, some murders unmotivated, and the ending, which involves a twist for its own sake, makes no sense at all. Marley Shelton, Denise Richards, Jessica Capshaw and Jessica Cauffiel play prime targets, David Boreanaz one of about a dozen suspects. Perhaps someone thought the Scream generation was ready for a new wave of bad slasher movies. I hope they were wrong. -- SW

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

WES CRAVEN PRESENTS: DRACULA 2000 (R) Patrick Lussier's direction is ho-hum but Joel Soisson's D2K screenplay has some new twists that justify dragging us through the story again. It links the old Count with

the New Testament as original vampire slayer Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer), preserved by injections of Dracula's blood, tries to protect his daughter (Justine Waddell), from Dracula (Gerard Butler) in present-day New Orleans. Some sets are really tacky but there's fun in the Matrix-inspired fights, especially one involving the vampire version of Charlie's Angels. -- SW

WHAT WOMEN WANT (PG-13) Don't expect much more than a light social comedy on the level of Richard Brooks' The Muse and you won't be disappointed by the throwaway charms of this Hollywood lark about a chauvinistic ladies man (Mel Gibson) who is electrocuted in the bathtub and wakes up able to hear women's innermost thoughts. Director Nancy Meyers knows how to pander to a mainstream audience, and her predictable but often funny film has enough insight into the communication barriers between men and women to sustain interest in a rather thin plot. -- FF

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