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Short subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
BEFORE NIGHT FALLS (NR) *** '80s artist Julian Schnabel steps up to the filmmaking plate again after his promising 1996 Basquiat to deliver another noteworthy portrait of an idiosyncratic artist rebelling against convention. This time it's Cuban dissident writer and homosexual Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem), who was aggressively persecuted by Castro's forces after the revolution for both his work and his sexuality. This bio-picture, featuring bizarre cameos from Johnny Depp and Sean Penn, is lyrically constructed, with a surreal rhythm that manages to span decades in Arenas' often brutal, lonely life without losing a sense of the artist's perspective. -- Felicia Feaster

DOWN TO EARTH (PG-13) Lance Barton (Chris Rock) is a comedically challenged comedian determined to win a stand-up gig at the Apollo Theatre. His plans are put on hold when an overcautious angel takes Lance to Heaven before his time. Unable to return in his own body, Lance is sent back to Earth in the body of a rich, old white man. In his new form, Lance has trouble fitting in and attracting the girl of his dreams (Regina King).

RECESS: SCHOOL'S OUT (G) ** 1/2 It's Die Hard in grade school, as T.J. and his friends, AWOL from specialized summer camps, foil a plot to abolish summer vacation by creating permanent winter on Earth. As in "Disney's Recess" on TV, characters close in age to those of "South Park" are involved in situations that rapidly become surreal -- like older "Rugrats." Children should relate to the goings-on, and most of the movie, including a soundtrack of '60s hits, should be equally easy for grown-ups to take. I enjoyed it enough that I'll have to go to Critics Camp this summer for reprogramming. -- Steve Warren

SWEET NOVEMBER (PG-13) In this remake of the 1968 romantic drama, Charlize Theron stars as Sara Deever, a woman who begins and ends a new relationship in the course of a month. When November comes, she sets her sights on the new flavor of the month, Nelson Moss (Keanu Reeves). Sticking to her one-month rule, she convinces him to move in with her and the two spend every minute together. With the end of the month fast approaching, Nelson has no intention of leaving, which makes it difficult for Sara to keep her secret.

Duly Noted
BANG BOOM BANG: A SURE THING Keek, a bank robber, 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. In German with subtitles. Feb. 14 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.

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

IMAX AT FERNBANK: SOLARMAX A movie that encourages you to look directly at the sun, the IMAX film explores the 11-year cycle of the violent reversal of the sun's poles, called the solarmax. From pre-history to contemporary solar science, learn more about the vastness and power of our closest star. Feb. 16-18 at 6 p.m., Fernbank Museum of Natural History.

KIKU TO ISAMU Following the U.S. occupation of Japan at the end of WWII, numerous children were born to American fathers and Japanese mothers, and these children were treated like second-class citizens. Director Tadashi Imai's 1959 film is about two such children who are raised by their grandmother after their black father returns to America and their mother disappears. Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m., 206 White Hall, Emory.

LIVE NUDE GIRLS UNITE! ***1/2 In this endearing, surly, personal documentary about the efforts of San Francisco sex workers at the Lusty Lady peep show to unionize, filmmaker and dancer Julie Query takes viewers on a guided tour through the feisty ranks of the naked dancing racket. Query parallels the struggle of a fight-the-power group of dancers to better their working conditions with her own struggle to "come out" to her feminist mother about her secret life as a dancer. Slapdash and a little silly at times, Query's film nevertheless manages to endow its dancers and their struggle with dignity and good humor. Feb. 16-22 at 12, 1:30, 3, 4:30, 6, 7:30, 9 and 10:30 p.m., GSU's cinéfest. -- FF

'THE... MISSING BASIC' Evolution Revolution Films will screen the new short film, which is premiering in Atlanta. In the short, Gus is a man trying to find inspiration in his life while also trying to get in touch with the essence of being. Feb. 17 at 10 p.m., Cinevision.

THE POLICEWOMAN After graduating from police academy, Anne is assigned to a precinct in a small German town. Anne's passion for her job soon becomes a problem, not only for her, but for her married partner and those she's supposed to help. Andreas Dresen's 2000 film is in German with subtitles. Feb. 21 at 7 p.m., Goethe Institut Atlanta.

POLLOCK (R) In his directorial debut, Ed Harris stars as Jackson Pollock, the legendary modern artist. From feelings of self-doubt in his art to a troubled marriage, the film examines the life and works of the radical artist. The movie's cast also includes Val Kilmer, Jeffrey Tambor and John Heard. Feb. 15 at 2 p.m., Tara Cinema.

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.

SHOWER In Beijing, an elderly father and his mentally challenged son run a communal bathhouse. The oldest son is tricked into returning home, where he must decide between his new yuppie lifestyle and the family business. Chinese director Zhang Yang's 1999 film is in Mandarin with subtitles. Films at the High, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium.

SWING TIME Starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, the 1936 dance flick is about Lucky, a dancer who's unlucky in love. He teams up with dance instructor Penny, and the pair hit it off on the dance floor. The only problem is they're both too distracted by other loves to really notice each other. Films at the High, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium.

UNSHACKLED (PG-13) The locally produced true-life feature follows Harold Morris (Burgess Jenkins), a racist serving two life sentences in the Georgia State Penitentiary. When the prison is integrated, Harold is forced to share a cell with a black man (James Black). The two are recruited to enlist inmates for the jail's basketball team, and Harold must rethink his views. Feb. 20 at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts, 80 Forsyth St.

WE KNEW THEM WHEN: THE BEST OF THE ATLANTA FILM & VIDEO FESTIVAL In celebration of the upcoming festival in June, monthly retrospective screenings of works by influential filmmakers will be featured. The first series of screenings includes Spike Lee's "Joe's Bed Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads," his suspenseful student short film about murder and other goings-on in a Brooklyn neighborhood. "Amblin'" by Steven Spielberg is his student short about two young hitchhikers and their journey to California. Oscar-winning documentarian Jessica Yu's "Better Late" centers on middle-aged man thrown back into the dating game. Feb 22 at 7:30 p.m., Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24.

Continuing
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

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. -- Curt Holman

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

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

HANNIBAL (R) *** The sequel to The Silence of the Lambs substitutes a well-cast Julianne Moore for Jodie Foster, but more problematically offers director Ridley Scott's baroque gloss for Jonathan Demme's solid sobriety. The results can border on camp, especially when the eerie Anthony Hopkins bites into culinary puns, but the well-crafted cat-and-mouse scenes keep the suspense at a delicious simmer. -- CH

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. -- SW

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 23 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. -- Eddy Von Mueller

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

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

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

YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (R) **** A tender, beautifully written character study about the complicated relationship between a grown brother and sister whose lives have been marked by the deaths of their parents when they were children, this first film from Kenneth Lonergan is a closely observed, thoughtful look at family in an age of much lip service to "family values" with little attention to the subtleties of family dynamics. Laura Linney is the seemingly balanced, responsible single mother, and Mark Ruffalo is her directionless, pothead brother who comes to visit his sister in her small upstate New York town and becomes a significant influence on her 8-year-old son. -- FF

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