Short subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
BIG TROUBLE (PG-13) Barry Sonnefeld's caper comedy based on a novel by humorist Dave Barry features a bomb and an airplane, and was consequently postponed from its fall release following Sept. 11. The cast includes Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Andy Richter, Patrick "The Tick" Warburton and Johnny "Jackass" Knoxville.

HIGH CRIMES (PG-13) It's A Few Good Men vs. one angry woman when Ashley Judd's attorney confronts a military tribunal to save her unjustly accused husband (Jim Caviezel) in this courtroom thriller co-starring Morgan Freeman.

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VAN WILDER (R) Ryan Reynolds plays the title character, a party-hearty seventh-year college student in this chaotic campus comedy. National Lampoon attempts to pass the cinematic torch by casting Tim Matheson of Animal House as Van Wilder's father.

Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (NR) A heart-broken woman takes off on a road trip with two randy teenage boys and the trio talk, laugh, bicker and have sex. How director Alfonso Cuaron turns this seemingly trite scenario into a metaphysical meditation on life, fate, death, the sublime and torturous aspects of sex, and the class divisions of modern Mexico is a thing of beauty. --Felicia FeasterDuly Noted
THE MAKING OF THE MAHATMA (1995) (NR) Director Shyam Benegal will be on hand to introduce his complex portrait of Gandhi (Rajit Kapur) in his South African years. The English-language script by South Africa's Fatima Meer shows how Gandhi evolved from being a minor, Westernized barrister into an committed human rights advocate.Indian Film Festival. April 6, 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center. $5.

THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE (R) Film noir has been good to Coen Brothers, although one hopes that their latest, an homage to James M. Cain, gets it out of their system so they can explore fresh cinematic modes. Billy Bob Thornton effectively plays a taciturn barber whose wife (Fargo's Frances McDormand) may be having an affair with her boss (James Gandolfini), spurring a disastrous blackmail scheme. With less humor than any Coen Brothers film, it takes a hypnotic, clinical look at moral decay, captured in sleek black-and-white. GSU's cinefest, April 5-11. --Curt Holman

A MATTER OF TASTE (2000) (NR) A wealthy businessman hires a handsome young waiter to be his personal food taster in this sly psychological thriller that becomes a game of obsession, control and identity in the jet set. French Film Yesterday and Today. April 5, 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center. $5.

MULHOLLAND DRIVE (R) A typical feast of Lynchian dreamwork, Mulholland Drive is also a disappointment for its deeply troubling storyline involving a naive Nancy Drew blonde (Naomi Watts) trying to help a haunted, amnesiac brunette, with silly Hollywood subplots that recall the increasingly absurdist dissolution of "Twin Peaks." GSU's cinefest, April 5-11. --FF

ROSEWOOD (R) John Singleton's under-rated if not flawless turn-of-the-century drama depicts how a white lynch mob burned a thriving African-American town to the ground. Featuring Ving Rhames, Jon Voight and Don Cheadle. Eyewitness: Lynching and Racial Violence in America. April 4, 6 p.m., 208 White Hall, 480 Kilgo St., Emory University Free. --CH

THE RULING CLASS (1972) (PG) Peter O'Toole gives his finest performance as an English nobleman who thinks he's Jesus, gets "cured" and comes to believe he's Jack the Ripper. Some static camerawork betrays the theatrical origins of this lengthy but ingenious satire on England's hidebound institutions. GSU's cinefest, Mar. 29- April 4.--CH

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) (R) The cult classic of cult classics, the musical 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 the Marietta Star Cinema, 1355 Roswell Road, Marietta.

TOUCHING THE UNCANNY (NR) Subtitled "The Sinister Spaces of Animated Horror," this event screened by Nina Martin, a film professor at Emory University, examines the chilling effects of stop-motion animated horror films, including the work of Emile Cohl and the Quay Brothers. April 5, 9 p.m. Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery, Suite 8, 290 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Free.Continuing
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.

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 (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 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. --CH

BIG FAT LIAR (PG) "Malcolm in the Middle's" Frankie Muniz plays a high schooler who plots revenge against a sleazy movie producer (Paul Giamatti) who hijacks the boy's writing assignment as a plot for a feature film. Do not expect a subtle, soft-spoken comedy of manners.

BLACK HAWK DOWN (R) Ridley Scott directs a harrowing soldier's-eye view of 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

BLADE 2 (R) With arteries being punctured left and right and vampires disintegrating after getting blasted by silver bullets, this is as disreputable a genre film as Queen of the Damned, but a helluva lot more fun. It tops its 1998 predecessor thanks in no small part to director Guillermo Del Toro of The Devil's Backbone, although Wesley Snipes' half-human, half-vampire renegade still proves a dull superhero. --Matt Brunson

CLOCKSTOPPERS (PG) A teen and his girlfriend stumble across an invention that makes time seem to stand still, and must stop a bad guy from exploiting it. This revisit of the ideas of The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything is directed by "Star Trek's" Jonathan Frakes, who has some experience with temporal anomalies.

COLLATERAL DAMAGE (R) This Arnold Schwarzenegger action yarn about a firefighter who seeks revenge on the terrorist who killed his family was slated for release in October but yanked following 9/11. For the record, it's not a good movie, but a working-class model of the standard action flick, with little to distinguish it from the other run-of-the-mill "red meat" endeavors that periodically test our theaters' Dolby Digital sound systems. --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.

DEATH TO SMOOCHY (R) A kid's show host (Robin Williams) goes nutzoid on being replaced by a guy (Edward Norton) in a rhino suit that resembles a certain purple dinosaur. "Barney" jokes may be a little dated, but Danny DeVito's comedy, co-starring Jon Stewart and Catherine Keener, promises to be as dark as The War of the Roses.

E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL: THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY (PG) Steven Spielberg's tale of a boy and his alien is no children's movie, but a lovely evocation of the experience of childlike wonder. The anniversary re-release includes spruced-up sound and special effects, a deleted scene or two and some disquieting alterations in the name of political correctness, like the digital replacement of guns with walkie-talkies. --CH

THE FLUFFER (R) This would-be Boogie Nights takes place in the gay porn industry and touches on subjects ranging from abortion to the power of film images, but focusing on one man's comic obsession with an ostensibly straight, "gay for pay" adult film star. Featuring Debbie Harry.

40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS (R) For Josh Hartnett delivers a surprisingly adept comic turn as a web page designer who abstains from all sexual pleasures to forget about his icy girlfriend. A few modest laughs and an imaginative sex scene can be found amid the usual condom/Viagra/erection gags, but the film goes limp during the disappointing climax (no puns intended). --MB

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

HARRISON'S FLOWERS (R) Following on the heels of No Man's Land comes this hard- hitting drama that doesn't shy away from showing the atrocities committed under the tag of "ethnic cleansing." When a photojournalist (David Strathairn) is presumed dead in Yugoslavia's civilwar, his wife (Andie MacDowell) enters the fray herself. The film may not match the wallop of The Killing Fields, but writer-director Elie Chouraqui keeps things as real as possible. --MB

HART'S WAR (R) Despite top billing, Bruce Willis is a supporting character to Colin Farrell's Lt. Hart, defending an African-American officer accused of murdering a racist G.I. in a Nazi P.O.W. camp. This well-made drama has its share of high-minded themes, which are initially subtle but ultimately written across a billboard that's toppled onto the audience's heads. --MB

ICE AGE (PG) Ray Romano's sensible woolly mammoth, Denis Leary's duplicitous saber-toothed tiger and John Leguizamo's imbecilic sloth are unique enough for us to pardon the pedestrian plot of this computer-animated film that's like Disney's Dinosaur without the mountainous sentimentality. The prehistoric squirrel Scrat is such a character that you're sorry every time he leaves the screen. --MB

IMAX Majestic White Horses (Not Rated) 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. Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa (Not Rated) Everest director David Breashears' latest IMAX documentary follows an expedition through five distinct climate zones to the top of Africa's highest point. Through September 20. 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

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

KISSING JESSICA STEIN (R) The misadventures of a singleton in the city gets a gimmicky reworking in this film about a New York journalist and a Chelsea art chick who, tired of the lameoid men around, decide to date each other. Some clever writing by stars and screenwriters Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen can't dispel the sense that this is just a calculated reworking of a hackneyed suffering-single formula. --FF

LAST ORDERS (R) Graham Swift's Booker Prize-winning novel provides a drab, borderline-banal story but also proves a showcase for British actors, including Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren and Michael Caine as a charming butcher whose death both unites and divides the friends and family who survive him. Writer-director Fred Schipisi crafts a too-familiar flashback conceit, but he's blessed by his ensemble, which turns a potentially dreary subject into a touching meditation on death, duty and friendship. --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. 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

MONSOON WEDDING (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. --FF

MONSTER'S BALL (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

NO MAN'S LAND (R) Treading a familiar path, this allegorical war film about two soldiers, one Serb and one Bosnian, trapped in a trench during the Bosnian war offers the not atypical observation that war is absurd. Made by a Bosnian filmmaker who, to his credit, has actually seen such violence firsthand, this dark story works even better when it moves out of the trench to examine the frustration and anger of the war's observers, the UN forces and journalists who are at a loss to stop the killing. --FF

PANIC ROOM (R) Pop stylist and zeitgeist-surfer David Fincher goes gimpy in his latest dull, unimaginative pseudo-thriller about a recent divorcee (Jodie Foster) and her teenage daughter (Kristen Stewart) who wage a psychological battle with a trio of criminals (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam) who have invaded their Manhattan mansion looking for a $3 million treasure. --FF

QUEEN OF THE DAMNED (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

RESIDENT EVIL (R) This screen adaptation of a popular video game tries to beef up its pinball-simple narrative by borrowing liberally from The Andromeda Strain, Aliens and George Romero's Dead trilogy. After an excrutiatingly dull opening half-hour, our heroes (lead by Milla Jovovich) get attacked by shuffling zombies, fleshless Dobermans, and a laughable mutant billed as "The Licker." --MB

RETURN TO NEVER LAND (G) Despite its brand name recognition, the 1953 Peter Pan hardly ranks alongside Disney's finest efforts, but it's still miles ahead of this poorly realized follow-up that finds Wendy's daughter Jane helping Peter and the Lost Boys battle persistent Captain Hook. Dull characters, unmemorable songs and flat animation sink this one. --MB

THE ROOKIE (G) This overly familiar formula film won't move anyone who's already seen their share of follow-your-dream flicks. What little juice this gets comes courtesy of its actors, especially Dennis Quaid as a high school baseball coach who takes one last shot at his dream of pitching in the major leagues. The leisurely direction, 129-minute running time and cliched script provide little sense of joy. --MB

SHOWTIME (PG-13) This entry in Hollywood's ceaseless string of "buddy-cop comedies" has enough fun to make it a passable timekiller. De Niro plays humorless detective forced to co-star in a reality-TV series with a star-struck cop (Eddie Murphy). There's nothing new under the sun, apart from hearing William Shatner, as himself, refer to De Niro's character as "the worst actor I've ever seen." --MB

SNOW DOGS (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 movie.

SORORITY BOYS (R) Rocket Man's Harland Williams, "Smallville's" Michael Rosenbaum and "7th Heaven's" Barry Watson are fraternity boys who cross-dress to pledge a sorority in this low-I.Q. college comedy. I seem to recall Matthew Modine doing the same thing in 1983's Private School for Girls.

THE TIME MACHINE (PG-13) H.G. Wells' great-grandson Simon and scripter John Logan take some successful liberties with this new adaptation of the immortal time-travel tale. But rather than captures our imaginations, the picture curtails its own creativity, culminating in a yawner of a showdown between Guy Pearce's scientist-cum-adventurer and a campy Jeremy Irons, leader of the vicious Morlocks. --MB

WE WERE SOLDIERS (R) Like Black Hawk Down, this account of the 1965 battle in the Ia Drang Valley, when 400 Americans found themselves surrounded by 2,000 soldiers, centers on the inspiring mettle demonstrated by U.S. soldiers under fire. The combat scenes are extremely intense, and while some of the dialogue may clank, the sentiments don't, and a no-nonsense cast (led by Mel Gibson) offers the necessary conviction. --MB

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