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Short subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
BIRTHDAY GIRL (R) Nicole Kidman follows the glowing praise for her work in Moulin Rouge and The Others by playing a Russian mail-order bride who arrives at the doorstep of an English bank clerk (Ben Chaplin of The Truth About Cats and Dogs in this romantic dramedy.

A RUMOR OF ANGELS (PG-13) Shameless, unconvincing schmaltz that torpedoes an otherwise worthy theme of honoring the memory of the dead. A grieving, whining 12-year-old (Trevor Morgan) learns Important Life Lessons through the friendship of a crusty Maine widow (Vanessa Redgrave). At first energetically bitchy, Redgrave gets betrayed by a script that turns her into a fuzzy, nurturing caregiver. With grating dialogue and a striking absence of craftsmanship, the movie makes death seem like not such a bad alternative. --Curt Holman

SLACKERS (R) Three college con artists get blackmailed by a geek (Rushmore's Jason Schwartzman) trying to score with women. Schwartzman and Jason Segel of "Freaks & Geeks" may generate good will, but the lazy, derivative title is not a promising sign.

Duly Noted
BUTTERFLY (NR) Jose Luis Cuerda directs this beautiful, devastating film based on stories by Manuel Rivas. The events leading up to the Spanish Civil War are seen through the eyes of a young boy living in a (temporarily) idyllic down in the 1930s. Films at the High, "Spanish Films in the '90s." Feb. 1 at 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center. $5.

FRENCH CAN CAN (NR) If you saw Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge you might want to check out this 1955 depiction of the creation of the famous dance from director Jean Renoir (son of the painter). Presented in coordination with the exhibit A Passion For Renoir: Five Great Paintings from the Clark Art Institute. Films at the High, "Close-Up: Jean Renoir." Feb. 2 at 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center. $5. --CH

THE NASTY GIRL (PG-13) Lena Stoltze plays a young, small-town woman whose essay "My Hometown in the Third Reich" unexpectedly opens a can of worms in this stylish dark comedy by Michael Verhoeven. Goethe-Institut Atlanta, 1197 Peachtree St., Jan. 30 at 7 p.m., $4 for non-members.

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.

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 us watching 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. GSU's cinefest, Feb. 1-7. --Matt Brunson

TUVALU (NR) Viet Helmer's black-and-white, dialogue-free debut film imitates the silent comedies of Chaplin and Keaton in its depiction of a French swimming pool manager keeping his head above water in a crumbling metropolis. Fans of Terry Gilliam and Amelie's Jean-Pierre Jeunet may want to take a look. GSU's cinefest, Jan. 25-31.

WAKING LIFE (PG-13) Richard Linklater's meditation on the meaning of life and the nature of dreams figuratively retraces the structure of his film debut Slacker, randomly following a gabby bunch of characters. Then it literally retraces it, putting painterly animation over the images already filmed. Waking Life alternates between hauntingly surreal moments and trippy but at times tedious lectures on everything from reincarnation to quantum mechanics. GSU's cinefest, Feb. 1-7. --CH

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 "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 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. --CH

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. --Felicia Feaster

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

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 HAWK DOWN (R) Ridley Scott directs a harrowing soldier's-eye view for the disastrous mission in Somalia that cost the lives of 19 U.S. troops. With a huge cast and non-stop battle scenes, characterization is nearly absent, and we scarcely get to know the soldiers played by the likes of Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor and Tom Sizemore. But in the global environment following Sept. 11, the film gets credit for showing in frightening detail what could be a worst-case scenario of the War on Terrorism. --CH

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 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 on top of another: Swordfights! Nudity! Monsters! Baroque decorations! --CH

THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (PG-13) Like their 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. --MB

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 an 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. --CH

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.

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. --FF

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 cartoon from Nickelodeon. 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

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 detectice, 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 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. --CH

THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (PG-13) The actual West Virginia "Mothman" sightings inspire a logy supernatural thriller that never rises above the level of a mood piece. Richard Gere plays a widower obsessed with an enigmatic entity with wings and the ability to predict the future, while Laura Linney is badly miscast as a small town police officer. The film's atmospheric light effects and crackerjack climax can't compensate for the vagueness of its script, and Gere never generates much empathy for his character's personal problems. --CH

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 to 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) 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

ORANGE COUNTY (PG-13) Lawrence Kasdan's son Jake directs Tom Hanks's son Colin in this a largely tepid tale that wavers uncomfortably between being a crude teen flick and a sharp-edged comedy of errors. Rejected from Stanford by a bureaucratic mistake, Hanks' bright teen visits the campus with his girlfriend Schuyler Fisk and stoned brother Jack Black. The comedy's flashes of innovation aren't enough to counter the plot's trivial pursuit or the been-there-done-that bodily function gags. --MB

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

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

SNOW DOGS 1/2 (PG) Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr., mugging as shamelessly as Jerry Lewis in his heyday, lets out screech after screech and takes pratfall after pratfall in a dorky Disney comedy about a Miami dentist who inherits an Alaskan dogsled team. Seeing the canines wink and talk is more creepy than cute, as if they'd be more at home in an Omen sequel.

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

VANILLA SKY (R) His pop soundtrack choices 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. --CH

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

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