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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS (R) A tough bounty hunter (Ice Cube, who also co-wrote the film) and a wisecracking bail jumper (Mike Epps) join forces to fleece some diamond thieves in this action comedy named for the P. Diddy song. Featuring Anthony Michael Hall and Lil' Bow Wow.

THE INDEPENDENT 1/2 (R) This sporadically amusing Hollywood satire stars Jerry Stiller as Morty Fineman, a Roger Corman-esque director of more than 400 exploitation films. Titles and excerpts of Fineman's fake ouvre, including Ms. Kevorkian and Kent State Nurses, are frequently funny and letter-perfect, but the film relies on the over-used faux documentary style as a narrative crutch. Janeane Garofalo plays Fineman's put-upon daughter and the likes of Ron Howard and Karen Black portray themselves. --Curt Holman

MONSOON WEDDING 1/2 (R) Beneath the initially frenzied energy and silliness of Mira Nair's film is an affectionate, moving portrait of how the imminent marriage of a New Delhi father's only daughter leads to a profound reassessment of the meaning of family, the one tradition worth holding onto in this meditation on the clash of new and old in modern India. --Felicia Feaster

THE TIME MACHINE (PG-13) Since we saw Guy Pearce going back in time in his previous film, Memento, it makes perfect sense that he jumps chronologically forward in this adaptation of H.G. Wells' landmark sci-fi novel (co-directed by the writer's own great-grandson). Co-starring Orlando Jones as an ironic computer program and Jeremy Irons, in hammy "Dungeons & Dragons" mode, as an evil Morlock.

Duly Noted
ANITA TAKES A CHANCE (NR) A woman (Rosa María Sarda) rendered jobless when the local movie house is torn down cultivates a relationship with one of the construction workers in Ventura Pons' gentle comedy. Spanish Film in the 1990s. March 8 at 8 p.m. Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center. $5.

HEIMAT (PG-13) Nearly 16 hours long, this epic 1984 film chronicles life in a fictional German village over eight decades and 11 parts. "The Americans" bring chocolate bars and silk stockings, and the town begins to arrive following the end of World War II. Goethe Institut Atlanta, Colony Square, 1197 Peachtree St., March 6 at 7 p.m., $4 for non-members.

LA CIENAGA 1/2 (R) A wonderfully rank, evocative first film from Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel, drawn from her own family history, this tale of an incestuous, feuding, violent family headed by a drunkard matriarch is a brutal indictment of middle class sloth. Though some have criticized its formless shambling, the powerful clammy ambiance Martel creates makes La Cienaga more than worthwhile. High Museum Recent Releases. March 9 at 8 p.m. Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center. $5. --FF

THE OTHERS (PG-13) Spooky events occur at an isolated mansion in 1945. Are the three mysterious new servants trying to drive single mother Nicole Kidman mad, or is the house haunted? Chilean writer-director Alejandro Amenabar heeds the lessons of The Sixth Sense, offering a moody, well-constructed supernatural thriller that can be contrived and ponderous at times, but builds to some imaginative scares and a clever twist that invites you to reassess the film at the end. GSU's cinefest, Mar. 11-14. --CH

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.

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 Delicatessen. --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 a Nobel 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

BIRTHDAY GIRL (R) Nicole Kidman follows the acclaim 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. Although there's plenty of comic potential in culture clash, film explores none of it, instead becoming an underplotted crime comedy. Kidman's earthy performance the saving grace to an utterly inconsequential work. --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

CROSSROADS (PG-13) Isn't Britney Spears adorable when she mugs for the camera in those Pepsi commercials? Don't you wish she had her own movie? Well now she does, driving from Georgia to L.A. with some teenage pals. She moans and grinds to Joan Jett's "I Love Rock and Roll" in a karaoke bar, but don't expect a camp classic a la Mariah Carey's Glitter.

DRAGONFLY (PG-13) A potentially moving tale about a doctor (Kevin Costner) who believes his recently deceased wife is trying to communicate with him is torpedoed by the oblivious efforts of director Tom Shadyac (Patch Adams). Shadyac moves the film along at a torpid pace and undermines its notions of everlasting love by tossing in cheap scares more suitable to a horror yarn. --MB

40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS (R) For a guy to go celibate for 40 days doesn't strike me as all that noteworthy -- but then, I don't look like Pearl Harbor hunk Josh Harnett, who spends the film wrestling with temptation for comic eeffect. From Michael Lehmann, whose directorial career ranges from Heathers to My Giant.

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

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. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road.

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

IRIS (R) The marriage of late British novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley is shown from two points of their life together, with Kate Winslet playing the aspiring author when young and ambitious, and Judi Dench the elderly writer has she succumbs to Alzheimer's. Hugh Bonneville and Golden Globe-winner Jim Broadbent play the meek, owlish spouse, and through their eyes the film provides a rich and fittingly incomplete perspective on Murdoch herself, while rarely stooping to disease movie cliches. --CH

ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS (R) Despite their pretentious gestures, Denmark's Dogma 95 films continue to be engaging and lively. Lone Scherfig directs a shaggy romantic comedy set in a small Danish town, where the lonely denizens find unexpected companionship at a night class in Italian. If the story weren't so nimble and fast-paced it could trip over its coincidences, or get ensnared by the pain and cruelty in the shadows, but instead it stays hopeful and charming. --CH

JOHN Q (PG-13) It's tough not to side with a movie that sticks it to America's health care crisis, but this heavy-handed button-pusher doesn't give any rationale room to breathe. As a factory worker with a son who needs a heart transplant, Denzel Washington takes an emergency room hostage to get his child on the donor list. The film offers a virtual checklist of "social drama" cliches, and the notion that the U.S. public would cheer a man holding innocents captive, no matter the reason, is ludicrous and insulting. --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. 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 three hours, Fellowship's greatest achievement is it never loses sight of the human side of its fanciful story. --CH

MEAN MACHINE (R) Guy Ritchie co-produces this British remake of Burt Reynolds' The Longest Yard, with soccer bad boy-turned-actor Vinnie Jones (Snatch) playing a soccer star send to prison, who leads a ragtag group of prisoners in a match against the guards.

MONSTER'S BALL 1/2 (R) The relationship between a racist death row guard (Billy Bob Thornton) and a condemned prisoner's wife (a remarkable Halle Berry) provides the fulcrum for a stunning, unpredictable treatment of Southern race relations. Little-known director Marc Foster and screenwriters Milo Addica and Will Rokos capture the rural South while avoiding sugarcoating or stereotypes, take on challenging subjects without hysteria or contrivance, and get Oscar-worthy performances from some of the least likely of actors. --CH

QUEEN OF THE DAMNED 1/2 (R) There's probably a compelling film to be made from this chapter in Anne Rice's vampire chronicles, but this draggy and occasionally laughable take ain't it. The late singing star Aaliyah plays the title role, and it's impossible to gauge her acting abilities, as she only arrives during the final half-hour, buried under makeup and jewelry and boasting an electronically altered voice that sounds like Bela Lugosi meets Twiki the robot from the "Buck Rogers" TV series. --MB

SCOTLAND, PA. 1/2 (R) Finally an indie with a grasp of the simple joys of humor, a cast of oddball actors and a sense of irreverent, stupid fun. Director Billy Morrissette's retelling of Shakespeare's Macbeth amidst a group of '70s stoners trying to hash out a murder plot is inspired lunacy and a blessed relief from the hyper-serious and plain insipid independent films of late. --FF

THE SON'S ROOM (R) A low-key, thoughtful film about how a family copes with the death of a beloved son, Nanni Moretti's drama is the Italian In the Bedroom without the New Yorker set dressing. A winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, this meditation on grief will hopefully turn the exported Italian cinema away from its recent emphasis on sugary sex comedies and trite melodramas and toward a new, intelligent brand of filmmaking. --FF

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