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Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (PG-13) Like its 1994 Jungle Book, Disney's version of Alexandre Dumas' novel is an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser that's refreshingly free of rapid-cut edits, a blaring modern score and Matrix-style action scenes. Jim Caviezel plays a wrongfully imprisoned sailor seeking revenge, while Memento's Guy Pearce is all snaky insouciance as his former friend. --Matt Brunson

THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE 1/2 (R) Evidence piles up for a new Renaissance in the cinematic ghost story with this unique and atmospheric tale, set in a remote orphanage for the children of rebels in the Spanish Civil War. The newest student (Fernando Tielve) gets caught up in both the search for hidden gold and a haunting from something called "the one who sighs." Director Guillermo del Toro depicts more gore and spectral special effects than the story requires, but nevertheless crafts a moody film with political allegory and memorable images. --Curt Holman

I AM SAM 1/2 (PG-13) Sean Penn drags out his trick bag of disability in this treacly tale of a saintly retarded man fighting for custody of his 7-year-old daughter with Michelle Pfeiffer (who performs like someone set her knickers on fire) as the high-powered, neurotic lawyer who helps him. Director Jessie Nelson wrote The Story of Us and Stepmom, and here her obnoxious corporate-endorsed brand of crass sentimentality makes even Hollywood lightweight Chris Columbus look like Bergman. --Felicia Feaster

KUNG POW: ENTER THE FIST (PG-13) This film's target audience won't remember What's Up, Tiger Lily? Woody Allen's kooky 1966 redub of a Japanese spy movie. Here Ace Ventura II director Steve Oedekerk takes the 1976 chop-sockey flick Savage Killers and gives it a comic spin, editing himself into the action as an improbable avenger.

LANTANA (R) The overt as well as the invisible connections between eight married Australians knit together this quiet but intriguing psychological drama, which features Anthony LaPaglia as an adulterous detective, Barbara Hershey as a grieving psychiatrist and Geoffrey Rush as her secretive husband. Halfway through, the nearly aimless story cedes to a police investigation that shifts the plot and emotional pitch into a higher gear and builds to a truthful, credible catharsis. --CH

THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (PG-13) Ever hear of the Mothman, reputedly a flying creature spotted in West Virginia and elsewhere? Its Bigfoot-esque legends inspire this supernatural thriller from the director of Arlington Road and starring Richard Gere as a spooked reporter and featuring Laura Linney, Alan Bates and Debra Messing of "Will and Grace."

A WALK TO REMEMBER (PG) Teen pop singer Mandy Moore stars in this sleepy-sounding small-town romance based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks. Featuring Peter Coyote, Daryl Hannah and Shane West as the love interest.

Duly Noted
ATLANTA JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL The second Atlanta Jewish Film Festival presents more than a dozen films reflecting the diversity of Jewish culture and issues on a global scale. Films include: In Search of Peace, Jan. 23, 7 p.m. at Phipps Plaza; Solomon and Gaenor, Jan. 24, 7 p.m. at Phipps Plaza; "Summer in Ivye" and "Blue & White in Red Square," Jan. 25, noon, venue TBD; All My Loved Ones, Jan. 26, 7 p.m., and Hanele, 9:30 p.m., at Phipps Plaza; Left Luggage at 7 p.m. and Solomon and Gaenor, 9:30 p.m. at AMC Mansell Crossing; The Komediant, Jan. 27 at 2 p.m., Eternal Road and "One Day Crossing" at 4 p.m. and Trembling Before G-d, 7 p.m. at Woodruff Arts Center. Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m., AMC Phipps Plaza. 404-949-0658.

BACK TO OHIO IN A BODY BAG This documentary from local filmmaker Jeff Buchanan and photographer Darwin Berman chronicles two friends who arrange a street fight at Atlanta's Globe Theater, detailing their relationship and preparation as a build-up to the main event.Jan. 24, 10 p.m., MJQ Concourse, 736 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-870-0575.

DIVIDED WE FALL 1/2 (PG-13) This Czechoslovakian comedy/drama about a husband and wife (played by an intensely likable pair of actors, Boleslav Polivka and Anna Siskova) hiding a Jewish fugitive in their larder during World War II tries to deal in some of the messy moral ambiguities brought out in wartime, but more often just offers a thrilling comic romp in the Life is Beautiful tradition.Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m., AMC Phipps Plaza. --FF

THE ETERNAL ROAD: AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE PAST (NR) This documentary holds a magnifying glass to a footnote of theater history, when Kurt Weill's "forgotten" Jewish-themed musical The Eternal Road offered a rebuke to Nazi Germany. Writer-director Ron Frank often seems more interested in the background of Chemnitz, a German city staging a modern revival of the musical, than the musical itself, but when the documentary stays "on message" it's filled comic and tragic anecdotes. Presented with the short film "One Day Crossing." Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m., AMC Phipps Plaza. --CH

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