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Short subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (R) This French horror/action-adventure/martial-arts/romance/period piece puts more on its plate than it can digest, but it provides a feast for movie fans. A naturalist and his Native-American sidekick investigate wolf attacks in the French countryside, encountering conniving noblemen and a tarot-reading courtesan (Malena's Monica Belucci). Convoluted, top-heavy and too long, the film still has thrilling fight scenes and piles on one voluptuous pleasure after another: Swordfights! Nudity! Monsters! Baroque decorations! --Curt Holman

CHARLOTTE GRAY (PG-13) A well-intentioned but largely ineffective romance, this vehicle for Cate Blanchett stars the ubiquitous Aussie as a principled, patriotic Scotswoman who becomes a spy in Occupied France during WWII. While Australian director Gillian Armstrong may aspire to present a feminist heroine, the film's obsession with Charlotte's romantic entanglements makes this endeavor feel conventional. --Felicia Feaster

ORANGE COUNTY (PG-13) Lawrence Kasdan's son Jake directs Tom Hanks' son Colin in a comedy about an ambitious high-schooler who panics when Stanford University rejects his application. The cast includes Jon Lithgow, Lily Tomlin and Shallow Hal's Jack Black, who fuels the comic relief for the inevitable road trip.

VA SAVOIR (PG-13) Legendary 73-year-old French director Jacques Rivette presents a romantic roundelay among a group of theater people and other Parisian sophisticates. At two-and-a-half hours, this soft-spoken comedy isn't exactly riveting, but it makes wise observations about the conflicts of the heart and features thoughtful actors, especially Jeanne Balibar as a neurotic thespian. As it progresses, the script takes increasingly melodramatic turns, until it begins to resemble a stage play. Why? As the title translates, "who knows?" --CH

Duly Noted
ANNA WUNDER In this bittersweet coming-of-age story, the 12-year-old title character struggles to care for her neglected little brother and her alcoholic mother. Introduced by director Ulla Wagner. New Films From Germany, co-sponsored by the Goethe-Institut Atlanta. Jan. 11 at 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center. $5.

GHOST WORLD 1/2 (R) Terry Zwigoff follows his documentary on cartoonist R. Crumb with a sharp feature based on Daniel Clowes' comic book serial about hip best friends (Thora Birch and Scarlet Johansson) who drift apart after high school. The film hilariously shows young people faced with the insipid mediocrity of consumer culture vs. the loneliness of personal authenticity, embodied by Steve Buscemi as a hapless record collector. The kind of film David Lynch or Woody Allen should be trying to make, Ghost World draws ideal performances from its leads while refusing to offer easy solutions to their dilemma. GSU's cinefest, Jan. 4-10. --CH

JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (R) Kevin Smith provides a light-hearted coda to his "New Jersey" trilogy of films with this low brow, cameo-heavy road movie that boasts some hilarious spoofs on classic and current films. The foul-mouthed Laurel & Hardy team of Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself) offers a few gay jokes too many, but if the film isn't as good as Pee Wee's Big Adventure, it's at least better than Beavis & Butt-Head Do America.GSU's cinefest, Jan 4-10. --CH

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL They're Knights of the Round Table. They dance whene'er they're able. They do routines and chorus scenes with footwork impecc-able. It's a busy life in Camelot. They sing from the diaphragm a lot. (This re-release boasts a whopping "24 seconds" of hitherto unseen footage.) GSU's cinefest, Jan. 11-18. --CH

A NIGHT OF SHORTS The Atlanta Screenwriters Group presents the premiere screening of four short films from its members -- "The Last Day in November", "e-date", "I Love You..." and "The Walkers" -- as well as two trailers for upcoming features. Jan. 9 at 8 p.m., The Fountainhead Lounge, 485 Flat Shoals Ave.

THE RECKLESS MOMENT Remade as The Deep End with Tilda Swinton, Max Ophul's suspense film finds Joan Bennett as a mother being blackmailed by a suave cad (James Mason), who begins to fall in love with his victim. Films at the High, The Incomparable James Mason film series, Jan. 12 at 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center. $5.

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.

Continuing
ALI (PG-13) Director Michael Mann focuses on a single, tumultuous decade in the life of Muhammad 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

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 won 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

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 scalle of a really, really big IMAX screen. Mall of Georgia IMAX Theater, I-85 at Buford Drive, Buford.

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. --Matt Brunson

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

GOSFORD PARK (R) As close to a masterpiece as this year in movies has seen, Gosford Park invests a familiar upstairs-downstairs theme of the upper and servant classes of English country life with a degree of compassion and sensitivity that proves director Robert Altman has something human lurking beneath his patented misanthropy. --FF

HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE (PG) The big screen version of J.K. Rowling's first 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 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. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. --Steve Warren

IMPOSTOR (PG-13) Based on a Philip K. Dick story of the same name, this high-tech take on The Fugitive finds Gary Sinise as a futuristic engineer accused of being an alien spy. Featuring Madeleine Stowe and Vincent D'Onofrio, the film has literally spanned a millennium, having seen its theatrical release postponed for nearly two years.

IN THE BEDROOM (R) A thoughtful, admirable, first-director effort from actor Todd Field (Eyes Wide Shut), this story of how two chilly, noncommunicative 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. --FF

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) His work as Buzz Lightyear aside, Tim Allen is the new Steve Guttenberg, a bland actor whose generic films keep getting bankrolled. Allen's disrespected corporate employee gets punched out by a co-worker, and declares that he wants a rematch, which suddenly earns him love and respect (is this a multi-million dollar corporation or an elementary school?) You know you're in trouble when you're actively waiting for Jim Belushi to make an appearance in a movie. --MB

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, the second half marginally picks up thanks to the pleasing presence of Breckin Meyer as Kate's good-natured brother. --MB

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (PG-13) Adapting the first and longest book of J.R.R. Tolkien'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) Jim Carrey makes another bid for respectability in director Frank Darabont's fantasy set in the McCarthyite 1950s. Carrey plays Pete, a blacklisted, amnesiac screenwriter mistaken for a long-lost WWII vet in a small town. The first part of the movie, dealing with Pete's involvement with the town's perpetually chipper residents will strike some viewers as inspiring and others as manipulative, while the final act, centered on Pete's stand against the House Un-American Activities Committee, whitewashes a tragic chapter in U.S. history. --MB

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.

NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE (R) The ferocity with which director Joel Gallen and his five writers deconstruct and devour the teen flick deserves some respect, as the film includes letter-perfect take-offs on everything from the John Hughes oeuvre of the 80s right up to the student-skewering hits of today. But for all its eager-beaver zeal to deliver raunchy laughs, the film provides the gross-outs but not the gags -- at least, not enough good ones to make it anything more than a quickie toss-off. --MB

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 others' work. --FF

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

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

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

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 veteran CIA operative who learns that his former protege (Brad Pitt) is due for execution in China, and uses every trick in the book to save his neck. --MB

VANILLA SKY 1/2 (R) His soundtrack selections still fascinate, but writer-director Cameron Crowe flair for dialogue fails him in this ambitious, unsatisfying remake of Spain's Open Your Eyes. Tom Cruise plays a callow magazine publisher who loses his grip on reality after a disfiguring car accident. The film's ideas about love, dreams and mass entertainment pull the plot in opposing directions, while its resolution has been used in too many sci-fi scenarios. Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz both give vivid performances, though why Cruise's role so prefers one to the other is one of the film's unanswerable questions. --CH

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 eveer will. Tommy Chong, Pauly Shore, Shaquille O'Neill and Eminem provide cameos. --CH

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