Short subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Tuesday
ALI (PG-13) Director Michael Mann focuses on a single, tumultuous decade in the life of Muhammed Ali, from his championship bout against Sonny Liston to his refusal of the U.S. draft to "the Rumble in the Jungle." The film's first hour, placing the prizefighter's life in the context of America's racial and religious unrest, is as stinging and nimble as the boxer himself. A bulked-up Will Smith captures Ali's trash-talking and, more surprisingly, his moments of silent resolve, but neither Smith nor Mann can keep the film's last hour from losing dramatic interest, meticulously re-creating a fight whose outcome we already know. --Curt Holman

IN THE BEDROOM (R) A thoughtful, admirable, first-director effort from actor Todd Field (Eyes Wide Shut), this story of how two chilly, non-communicative Maine WASPS cope with their only son's death has a writerly attention to character, nuance and human behavior. Though Field's representation of his characters' suffering can at times feel a little meta-Bergman and precious, this timely story of grief and the search for revenge has enough application to the current social climate to make it resonate. -- Felicia Feaster

KATE & LEOPOLD 1/2 (PG-13) Meg Ryan, whose ceaseless attempts to remain the pixie queen of frothy romantic comedies are becoming embarrassing, plays Kate, an ambitious sales executive who falls for a 19th century Duke (Hugh Jackman, making another career misstep) transported to present-day New York. After an insufferable first half in which we watch Leopold predictably become perplexed by modern-day gadgets like toasters and telephones, the second half marginally picks up thanks to the pleasing presence of Breckin Meyer as Kate's good-natured brother.--Matt Brunson

THE SHIPPING NEWS 1/2 (R) Lasse Hallstrom's adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is thankfully more in the tradition of the director's low-key What's Eating Gilbert Grape than his unctuous Chocolat. Kevin Spacey stars as a haunted man with a dead wife and a small daughter on his hands who returns to his family home in Newfoundland to start afresh. Hallstrom treats the subject of myriad family dysfunctions with sensitivity, but the historical sweep and plethora of characters eventually prove unmanageable.--FF

Duly Noted
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (G) The only animated feature ever to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award -- and one of the best classic-style musicals of the past 20 years -- Disney's 1991 animated gem gets a polish to fit the scale of a really, really big IMAX screen. Opens Jan. 1, 2002. Mall of Georgia IMAX Theater, I-85 at Buford Drive, Buford.

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., and Saturday at midnight at Blackwell Star Cinema, 3378 Canton Road, Marietta.

AMELIE (R) A popular and critical hit in France, this not-to-be-missed sweet-as-pie, stylistic knockout is a dazzling live-action cartoon for grown-ups. The ultra-cute Audrey Tautou is a do-gooding sprite living in a magical Montmartre who dedicates herself to helping others. From Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the director of The City of Lost Children and Delicatessean. -- FF

A BEAUTIFUL MIND 1/2 (PG-13) In an either bold or ignorant move, director Ron Howard may have made the first action-adventure film about schizophrenia. Russell Crowe stars in this story of real life Princeton mathematician John Nash who w on the Nobel Peach Prize, but also suffered from mental illness. Howard allows emotional button- pushing to triumph over character development and insight in this earnest but flat entry in Hollywood's disability canon.--FF

BEHIND ENEMY LINES 1/2 (PG-13) One-note ubiquity Owen Wilson, a head-scratching choice for Hollywood's latest flavor of the month, plays Chris Burnett, a pilot shot down over ravaged, corpse-strewn Bosnia, which the film treats with the sensitivity of a video game. Director John Moore makes his movie debut after helming zippy commercials, so expect lots of choppy splicing of scenes filmed in the grainy style popularized by Saving Private Ryan -- but made dull by the number of hacks who have shamelessly copied it.--MB

BLACK KNIGHT (PG-13) Sort of "A South Central Homeboy in King Arthur's Court," Martin Lawrence goes medieval as a theme park employee zapped back to the 14th century. Lawrence gets mileage of okay jokes like his pseudonym "Sir Skywalker," but he'd do well to emulate Eddie Murphy and go for a quiet laugh every once in a while. Look for Atlanta actor Dikran Tulaine, who has few lines but plenty of screen time, as one of the rebels. --CH

THE BUSINESS OF STRANGERS 1/2 (R) This assured, sleek debut film from Columbia grad Patrick Stettner is far more than just a girlified retread of Neil LaBute's corporate melodrama In the Company of Men. Stockard Channing astonishes as a driven, steely post-menopausal executive who shares her grievances about work and a life sacrificed for the almighty surge of power with an underling (Julia Stiles), who goads her to take violent action. --FF

DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE 1/2 (PG-13). Schematically so similar to thrillers like Unlawful Entry that the only thing missing is the family golden retriever who saves the hero from the bad guy at the last minute. John Travolta is appealing as a divorced dad who believes his son Matt O'Leary's fears that his new stepdad (Vince Vaughn) is up to no good. But the climax is simply ludicrous, and at 88 minutes, the film feels like it was deemed by the studio to be such a lost cause, it was butchered in the editing room and dumped into the marketplace to fend for itself.-- MB

FAT GIRL (NR). Controversial director Catherine Breillat hits sensational pay dirt yet again in this disturbing but meaning-rich tale of two teenage sisters, one fat and one beautiful, and their very different experiences of sex. With one of the most shocking endings ever imagined in film history. --FF

FROM HELL (R) Menace II Society's Hughes Brothers have mixed success adapting Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's epic comic book examination of the Ripper murders. Johnny Depp and Heather Graham can't shake their movie-star glamour as an opium-addict police inspector and a streetwalker targeted for murder, but the directors provide an unnervingly memorable and feverish vision of the London slums and the savage killings as the stuff of hell itself. --CH

HEIST (R) David Mamet wrote and directed this disappointing caper yarn, the cast of which includes the Get Shorty trio of Gene Hackman, Delroy Lindo and Danny DeVito. But for a movie that's obsessed with double-crosses, triple-crosses and even a couple of right-crosses, this is as easy to patch together as a 6-piece puzzle. Even without having read the script, we know as much as the actors do about how this yarn about a seasoned thief (Hackman) pulling off One Last Job will unfold. --MB

HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE (PG). The big screen version of J.K. Rowling's first hit Harry Potter book mostly enchants. Following the title character (Daniel Radcliffe) in his first year at a Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the film has so many clever details and visual delights that they dwarf the supposed plot about sinister goings-on surrounding the titular stone. John Williams overdoes the "magical" music and Radcliffe underplays Harry's emotions, but the film has more than enough charms to make the already-planned sequels feel welcome. --CH

HOW HIGH (R) If you're a fan of rappers Redman and Method Man, or are simply nostalgic for the cinema of Cheech & Chong, you might want to sample this comedy about two stoners who get into Harvard thanks to an IQ-boosting supply of marijuana -- which quickly runs out. With Fred Willard as the chancellor.

IMAX Lost Worlds: Life in the Balance (Not Rated) Harrison Ford narrates an IMAX film exploration of the world's biological diversity, from the Poles to the Tropics, with an in-depth focus on the lush, remote plateaus of Venezuela.Through March 22. Majestic White Horses (NR) The pomp, history and legend of the famous Lipizzan horses of Austria and the Spanish Riding School of Vienna gets the really big screen treatment. Through May 23. Ocean Oasis (NR) Though indifferently structured, this portrait of the ecology of Baja California and the Sea of Cortez captures undersea life as never before and surfaces briefly to check out the desert and the mountains. With incredible cinematography, even by Imax standards, the images are so sharp you can look tiny fish in the eye and read personalities into their facial expressions.Through Jan. 1, 2002. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. -- Steve Warren

JIMMY NEUTRON: BOY GENIUS (G) An accident-prone boy inventor comes to the rescue when aliens kidnap his parents in a computer-animated, big-screen version of the Nickelodeon cartoon. Voice actors include Martin Short, Andrea Martin and Patrick Stewart.

JOE SOMEBODY (PG) An office drudge (Tim Allen) beaten up by a bullying co-worker (Patrick "The Tick" Warburton) on "Bring Your Daughter to Work Day" vows to get even and becomes an unlikely hero to his peers. Director John Pasquin also helmed the Tim Allen vehicles The Santa Clause and Jungle 2 Jungle. The presence of Jim Belushi is not promising.

K-PAX (R) Offensively sanctimonious, flagrantly derivative and just plain dull, this insufferable picture casts Kevin Spacey as a mental patient who thinks he's a space alien, with Jeff Bridges as his psychiatrist (in a cardboard role that's beneath him). The first half of the film plays like Patch Adams, while the second is more like a nightmare version of an actor's theater workshop. Spacey's performance is built on nothing but putrid platitudes and affected mannerisms -- frankly, I didn't think it was possible for him to ever be this bad. -- MB

LIFE AS A HOUSE (R) A yuppie tearjerker about the healing power of good real estate. Kevin Kline stars as a father dying of cancer who wants to build his dream house before he goes, thus erasing his father's negative influence (and dilapidated wooden shack) and creating something beautiful and new to heal his damaged relationship with his rebellious, drug-addicted teenage son. Life often feels personal for Winkler, and it may strike a chord for viewers, too, but there is something too saccharine and easy in this Hollywood treatment of domestic crisis. --FF

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (PG-13) Adapting the first and longest book of J.R.R. Tolkein's trilogy, Peter Jackson offers an all-but-perfect fantasy epic that's no simple piece of story-book escapism. The titular fellowship (played by a superbly cast ensemble including Elijah Wood and Ian McKellan) contend with evil forces as journey across land of Middle-Earth to destroy a magic ring. Jackson offers a full immersion in an imaginary world, and even when some virtual environments look fake, they bristle with personality. Thrilling -- and exhausting -- at a full three hours, Fellowship's greatest achievement is that it never loses sight of the human side of its fanciful story. --CH

THE MAJESTIC (PG) Frank Darabont gets paroled from his career of Stephen King prison films (The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption) for this would-be Capra-esque heartwarmer about a blacklisted, amnesiac screenwriter (Jim Carrey playing it straight) mistaken for an MIA war hero in a sleepy little town.

THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE (R). Film noir has been good to Coen Brothers, although one hopes that their latest, an homage to the work of James M. Cain, gets it out of their system so they can explore other cinematic modes. Billy Bob Thornton effectively plays a taciturn barber whose wife (Fargo's Frances McDormand) may be having an affair with her boss (James Gandolfini), but the barber's blackmail scheme spins out of control. It may have less humor than any Coen Brothers film, but it takes a hypnotic, clinical look at moral decay, captured in sleek black-and-white. --CH

MONSTERS INC. (G). Remember the Warner Bros. cartoons in which the coyote and sheepdog would carry lunchpails and punch time clocks? Pixar's latest feat of computer animation employs a similar blue-collar incongruity, depicting the endearing monsters who scare children, and the chaos that erupts when a human kid gets loose in their world. The script isn't as solid as the Toy Story movies', but the creepy-crawlies come in wildly imaginative shapes and hues, and the climactic chase is excitingly surreal. With the voices of John Goodman, Billy Crystal and Steve Buscemi.

MULHOLLAND DRIVE (R) A typical feast of Lynchian dreamwork, Mulholland Drive is also a disappointment for its mix of a deeply troubling storyline involving a naive Nancy Drew blonde new t o Hollywood trying to help a haunted, amnesiac brunette, with silly subplots that recall the increasingly absurdist dissolution of Lynch's television show "Twin Peaks."--FF

NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE (R) "If you liked Scary Movie, who gives a shit?" asked this film's R-rated trailer, which pretty much conveys the tone and target audience of this spoof of the current glut of teen cinema, set at John Hughes High School. Reportedly it briefly had the title Ten Things I Hate About Clueless Road Trips When I Can't Hardly Wait to Be Kissed.

OCEAN'S ELEVEN 1/2 (PG-13) There are a number of ways Steven Soderbergh could have botched his replay of Lewis Milestone's tongue-in-cheek 1960 Rat Pack Heist film. But Soderbergh shows, yet again, his flexibility when it comes to tackling a new genre, and an ability to adapt the winking cool of the original to the swingers generation. Hip, funny and laid-back, the only thing missing is an explanation for why former-indie-with-a-vision Soderbergh is so hung up on recrafting old genre material and rehashing o thers' work. --FF

THE ONE (PG-13). You might say this sci-fi kung fu flick is fueled by a twin Jet engine, as martial arts master Jet Li plays both a dimension-jumping, superpowered bad guy and the good guy from "our Earth" he's trying to kill. The stunts and special effects seem gleefully derivative of The Matrix and Terminator movies, suggesting this is a would-be summer blockbuster misplaced in November.

OUT COLD (PG-13) No one I recognize is in the commercials, but supposedly Lee "The Six Million Dollar Man" Majors is on hand for this slovenly teen comedy about snowboarding and other "extreme" pastimes.

THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS 1/2 (R). Director Wes Anderson maintains the idiosyncratic brilliance of Rushmore with a pixilated portrait of an ingenious but dysfunctional family. The likable cast centers around Gene Hackman's rascally paterfamilias, but it's more a film about its textures -- nearly subliminal sight gags, wall-to-wall pop tunes from the '60s and '70s, fictional locales in an idealized Manhattan -- that subtly and overtly suggest the experience of reading a novel, especially the kind John Irving likes to write. --CH

SERENDIPITY 1/2 (PG-13) Two New Yorkers (John Cusack and Pearl Harbor's Kate Beckinsale meet cute and leave their future up to fate. Several years later they're on the verge of marrying others, but they each decide to take one last crack at finding the love that got away. It's a shame the picture's very premise seems forced, because the performances are engaging (Eugene Levy steals it as a terse salesman) and the dialogue extremely sharp. -- MB

SHALLOW HAL (PG-13) A nerd (Jack Black) only interested in physical beauty is "de-hypnotized" to perceive a 300-lb woman as a svelte beauty (Gwyneth Paltrow in a convincing fat suit). Most of the fat jokes in the Farrelly Brothers' winning romantic comedy have been crammed into the trailer, allowing the rest of the movie to make its case as a sympathetic tale about getting past surface appearances. Black's performance is a delight, retaining his character's goofball persona while also showing us the blossoming adult underneath, but Paltrow's empathic contribution is also key.-- MB

SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK 1/2 (R) Ed Burns' stab at grown-up filmmaking is Jiffy Pop cinema: just add heat to an assortment of tried and true conventions, most of them cribbed from the self-derivative Woody Allen. Burns uses a faux-documentary form to chart the romantic ups and downs of a variety of Manhattanites who make you care less about their bedroom antics. If you're that desperate for pretentious sex play, just rent Husbands and Wives again. --FF

SPY GAME (R) If you enjoyed Tony Scott's sleek but smart efforts Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State, then this one's a good bet as well, mixing hard-hitting thrills with a decidedly less-than-benevolent look at U.S. government agencies. Robert Redford makes the most of his best role in years as a verteran CIA operative who learns that his former protegee (Brad Pitt) is due for execution in China, and uses every trick in the book to save his neck.-- MB

TRAINING DAY 1/2 (R ) As a rookie cop, normally wooden Ethan Hawke raises himself out of a career-long slumber to keep pace with the extraordinary Denzel Washington as a corrupt narcotics officer. The work by both actors keeps uswatching even after the movie surrounding them falls apart, and what started out as tantalizingly clouded eventually comes into dreary black and white focus, turning the film into a fairly routine (not to mention contrived) police shoot-'em-up.-- MB

VANILLA SKY 1/2 (R) The most shocking thing about Cameron Crowe's risky remake of Alejanro Amenabar's Open Your Eyes is how faithfully it remains to the whiplash viewing experience of the original. Tom Cruise shrewdly mixes both facets of his narcissistic career as a pretty boy whose perfect life turns into a living hell after his face gets mangled, while Cameron Diaz, as his fatal attraction, slinks through the proceedings like a feral feline.-- MB

THE WASH 1/2 (R). If you're not already a fan of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, you'll probably find their comedic effort a wash out. Friday scripter DJ Pooh wrote and directed this nearly plotless look at the tension between two friends when they both take jobs at the same scruffy L.A. car wash. A few laughs lurk in the margins -- Pooh giving himself the funniest role as a dimwitted kidnapper -- but the cast has a much better time than the audience ever will. Tommy Chong, Pauly Shore, Shaquille O'Neill and Eminem provide cameos. --CH


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