Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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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


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