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Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
THE CAT'S MEOW (PG-13) Director Peter Bogdanovich makes a modest comeback with a dark comedy about the lethal consequences of a 1924 romantic triangle between Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), William Randolph Hearst (Edward Hermann) and starlet Marion Davies (Kirstin Dunst). You'd hope for a more insightful consideration of power and hypocrisy, but as a showbiz satire it features amusingly arch dialogue and a superbly cast and costumed line-up of actresses.--Curt Holman

THE ENDURANCE: SHACKLETON'S LEGENDARY ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION (G) Sir Earnest Shackleton's ill-fated 1914-1916 voyage to Antarctica is captured in an evocative documentary from the creator of Pumping Iron. Mixing Frank Hurley's on-the-scene footage of the ordeal with modern-day interviews and beautifully desolate nature photography, the film puts you in some of the most inhospitable environments imaginable. Narrated by Liam Neeson, the documentary is more often hypnotic than dull, and is guaranteed to shiver your timbers.--CH

JASON X (R) Apparently every schlock horror franchise is destined to go to space: It happened to Critters, it happened to Leprechaun and now it happens to Friday the 13th, as the hockey-masked murderer stalks young people on a 25th century spaceship.

LIFE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT (PG-13) Angelina Jolie exaggerates her look even further as a platinum-blonde TV reporter who questions her careerist ways when a homeless man (Tony Shaloub) predicts her death. Ed Burns plays the love-interest in this Meg Ryan-esque comedy.

PAULINE EN PAULETTE (PG) A mentally disabled "little girl 66 years old," Pauline (Dora van der Groen) requires the care of her unwilling younger sister Paulette (Ann Petersen) in this low-key comedy-drama from Belgium.

THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE (PG-13) Director Clare Peploe (a.k.a. Mrs. Bernardo Bertolucci) fashions a delightful tale of mistaken identities and mismatched couplings in the Age of Reason. Mira Sorvino's princess spends a lot of the film in male drag, and while she might not give Hilary Swank much of a run for her money, she invests her manly alter ego with a swagger and tenor that puts Gwyneth Paltrow to shame.--Bert Osborne

BURNT MONEY (NR) In this steamy thriller from Argentina, Leonardo Sbaraglia and Eduardo Noriega play "The Twins," a pair of notorious South American bank robbers who weren't actual brothers but carried on an erotic relationship until a sexy prostitute complicated matters. GSU's cinefest, April 19-25.--CH

CULTIVISION (NR) A "sci-farce" shot in Atlanta by writer-director Neill Calabro, CULTiVISION (collapsing stars) depicts a TV newswoman investigating the mysterious link between a religious cult and a situation comedy. April 27, 8 p.m., Cinevision Screening Room, 3300 N.E. Expressway, Building 2. 404-583-6063. Free with reservations.

IN SEARCH OF FAMINE (1980) (Not Rated) Writer-director Mrinal Sen offers a self-reflective work about a Calcutta film crew trying to make a film about poverty during the 1943 famine, and wondering if they can measure up to their subject. Indian Film Festival. April 27, 7 p.m., Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center. $5.

THE NEW EVE (1999) (NR) Karin Viard gives a highly lauded performance as a restless libertine who shocks herself by falling madly in love with a married socialist. French Film Yesterday and Today. April 26, 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center. $5.

THE PRINCE IS BACK (1999) (NR) Russian documentarian Marina Moldovskaya, who will be in attendance, offers a portrait of a modern-day prince who attempts to rebuild the crumbling family homestead near Moscow. April 24 at 7 p.m., Goethe-Institut Atlanta, Colony Square, 1197 Peachtree St., $4 for non-members.

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.

SPEAKING IN FILM(NR) Creative Loafing film critic Felicia Feaster discusses how filmmakers use the language of cinema to convey artistic, thematic and political agendas. The evening includes clips from filmmakers ranging from Stanley Kubrick and Brian DePalma to Buzz Kulik and Gaspar Noe. April 24, 9 p.m. Eyedrum Gallery, 290 Martin Luther King Blvd., Suite 8. $3 donation.

T-SHIRT TRAVELS (NR) Beginning with shots of impoverished Africans wearing second-hand Michael Bolton and Bart Simpson T-shirts, Shantha Bloeman's documentary gradually and persuasively uses Africa's used-clothing market as a case study of how the forces of globalization and mountainous debut have bankrupted the third world. April 30, 9 p.m., The Fountainhead Lounge, 485 Flat Shoals Ave. Free.--CH

TIME OF FAVOR (NR) The best attribute of this Israeli film from first time director Joseph Cedar is its exploration of the roots of religious fundamentalism in Judaism. Essentially a romantic triangle about a soldier, a brilliant scholar and the rabbi's daughter they both love all living on the same remote yeshiva, these more conventional aspects of the drama don't discount Cedar's important message. April 28 at 5 p.m., Rich Auditorium, High Museum. Co-sponsored by the Intown Jewish Life Center. In Hebrew with English subtitles. $7, $6 for museum members.--Felicia Feaster

THE URBAN ORGANIC SHORT FILM SHOWCASE (NR) This evening of short films features Rolando Hudson's "The Life," Phillippe Roc's "Stay Tuned for More Details," Raymond Thomas' "12 Minutes" and Olufunmilayo Gittens' "Lucky." Black Cinema Club Cafe, April 29, 6 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Auditorium, 1280 Peachtree St.

THEY WON'T FORGET (1937) (NR) The 1915 Atlanta lynching of Leo Frank forms the basis of Melvyn Leroy's courtroom drama based on Ward Green's novel Death in the Deep South. Presented with the short film "Between the World and Me." Eyewitness: Lynching and Racial Violence in America. April 25, 7 p.m., William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, 1440 Spring St. Free.--CH

WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? (NR) Star-crossed lovers, one in Paris, the other in Taipei, quietly long for each other in a minimalist drama from Malaysian-born director Ming-liang Tsai. GSU's cinefest, April 26 - May 1.--CH

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.

AMADEUS (1984) (PG) A robust and gossipy blend of think-piece and costume drama, Milos Forman improves on Peter Shaeffer's award-winning play about the rivalry between the acclaimed Salieri (Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham) and the languishing Mozart (Tom Hulce), whose music makes an engaging soundtrack to the film's meditation on genius vs. mediocrity. The new director's cut features restored footage. --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 (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 TROUBLE (PG-13) Director Barry Sonnenfeld makes a dismal attempt to recreate the rat-tat-tat patter and inspired casting of Get Shorty in this insufferable adaptation of Dave Barry's novel. Depicting how a mysterious suitcase effects the lives of a dozen characters, the screwball antics are annoying rather than amusing, although Dennis Farina and Janeane Garofalo arguably come off best. --MB

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. --MB

CHANGING LANES (R) A traffic accident between an opportunistic lawyer (Ben Affleck) and a recovering alcoholic (Samuel L. Jackson) sets off a dangerous game in which both men try to one-up each other. Neither character is depicted as a hero or a villain in this rare bird of a film, a studio product that largely steers clear of black and white by adorning itself in an appealing shade of gray. --MB

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.

CRUSH (R) In this British comedy from first-timer John McKay, Andie MacDowell as a prim prep school headmistress conveys great warmth in her moving portrait of a woman whose happiness is threatened by a conformist society and jealous friends. But Crush at its heart is yet another retrograde story of complaining, miserable singletons (this time in their 40s) who deeply resent their friend MacDowell's giddy romance with a much younger man. --FF

DEATH TO SMOOCHY (R) Danny DeVito's acrimonious satire compromises its own welcome venality by inserting sentimental components where none are needed. Robin Williams' corrupt children's host is replaced by Edward Norton's purple rhino named Smoochy, whose integrity is undermined by network avarice and Williams' madness. The well-acted comedy wallows in the mire of human folly, but the final act undermines its outrageousness.--MB

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

FOR DA LUV OF MONEY (R) With one of those one-word names like "Madonna" or "Sauron," the actor Pierre plays a cash-strapped guy who becomes wildly popular when money from a robbery is stashed in his back yard. Aimed at fans of Friday, the low-budget comedy's biggest stars are ventriloquist Willie Tyler and Lester.

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

FRAILTY (R) Bill Paxton (Apollo 13, A Simple Plan) stars and directs in this unusual thriller about a small-town Texas father who believes he's been called by God to kill demons. Featuring elements of Southern gothic, Bible allegory and even black comedy, the script builds to some clever twists but still feels drawn-out, as if it could be cut to fit a one-hour "X-Files" slot without suffering.--CH

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 civil war, 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

HIGH CRIMES (PG-13) It's a high crime indeed that the once-exciting Ashley Judd now delivers the same spunky-woman-in-peril job in studio-sanctioned programmers like this. It's a shame that Morgan Freeman isn't finding more roles better suited to his awesome abilities. And it's a shame that, in the age of mind-benders like Memento, we're still force-fed reheated pulp more adept at creating massive plotholes than any semblance of suspense. --MB

HUMAN NATURE (R) Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) returns with this half-baked comedy about an abnormally hirsute woman (Patricia Arquette) whose relationship with a repressed behaviorist (Tim Robbins) takes a radical spin once they come into contact with a wild man (a game Rhys Ifans) who's been raised since infancy by apes. It has its inspired moments, but when it's bad -- which is most of the time -- it's intolerable. --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

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" clichés, 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 Schepisi crafts a too-familiar flashback conceit, but his ensemble 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

METROPOLIS (PG-13) Remember the Japanese cartoon "Astro Boy?" Its creator, animator Osamu Tezuka, first made his reputation 50 years ago with an epic comic book Metropolis, which has a similar retro-futurism. Metropolis now gets a lavish animated treatment from a creative team that includes the scripter of the landmark anime Akira.

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

MURDER BY NUMBERS (R) This fitfully entertaining thriller casts Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling as two privileged high school seniors who elect to pull off the perfect murder. As long as the film places them front and center, it avoids the standard "cop flick" trappings. Much of the running time is frittered away on scenes involving the troubled detective on the case, shakily played by top-billed star (and executive producer) Sandra Bullock.--MB

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.

NEW BEST FRIEND (R) This crime drama features a college student from a poor background tries to be accepted by the rich-and-beautiful clique, with lethal consequences. Featuring Mia Kirschner, Dominique Swain and Taye Diggs.

THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN (PG) An teenaged Idaho farm boy (Christopher Gorham) becomes a Mormon missionary in the South Seas in this lush film based on a true story.

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. --Felicia Feaster

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 excruciatingly 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

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 clichéd script provide little sense of joy.--MB

THE SCORPION KING (PG-13) In the ripe-cheese tradition of those grade-Z sword-and-sorcery epics that play on late-night cable, we now get this prequel to The Mummy Returns which casts The Rock as a monolith of a leading man whose undeniable screen presence constantly wages war against his wooden line delivery. Thanks to its awareness of its own limitations, this is watchable enough, but you'll be satisfied after an hour.--MB

SON OF THE BRIDE (R) In this Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee, a workaholic Argentinian restaurateur (Ricardo Darin) reassesses his life when his father plans to remarry his Alzheimer's-sticken mother. The script overplays its "movie moments," as when Darin holds roses in the rain to win back a loved one, but mostly the film strikes the right balance of humor and sentiment. --CH

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. cross-dressing college comedy. I seem to recall Matthew Modine doing the same thing in 1983's Private School for Girls.

THE SWEETEST THING (R) Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair clearly are all gifted comediennes, and all three deserve to have their efforts showcased in a movie much better than this one. Ostensibly about a romantic comedy, the film lathers on a series of gross-out gags so ineptly staged, they produce apathy rather than laughs or even disgust.--MB

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

Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (NR) A heartbroken 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. --FF

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