Short subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
BROWN SUGAR (PG-13) This will-they-or-won't-they romance between two old friends, magazine editor (Sanaa Lathan) and record exec (Taye Diggs), promises to play like an African-American When Harry Met Sally. With Mos Def and Queen Latifah as sidekicks.

KNOCKAROUND GUYS (R) A group of young wannabe gangsters (including Vin Diesel and Seth Green) follow a bag of money through a Montana town in this joyless, predictable crime thriller. Tom Noonan provides the sole saving grace as an opportunistic sheriff, stealing the cash and the film from Barry Pepper's whiny, unsympathetic hero and John Malkovich's sadistic mobster, whose Brooklyn accent sounds like a failed "Soprano's" screen test. --Curt Holman

POKEMON FOREVER (G) Pikachu and the gang return for another animated version of the Japanese multi-media phenomenon that adults will no doubt find incomprehensible.

RULES OF ATTRACTION (R) A half-hearted romantic triangle among three college students (James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon and Ian Somerhalder) occupies the center of this cynical satire of dead souls in the Ivy League. Directer Roger Avary makes the mistake of taking Bret Easton Ellis' thin source material at face value, and the film exhausts its ideas in about five minutes. At least Sossamon and Van Der Beek give truthful (if not necessarily likable) performances, and you can enjoy the self-conscious split-screen and reversed-film effects for their own show-offy sake.--CH

THE TRANSPORTER (PG-13) Snatch's Jason Statham plays a buff, hard-boiled courier who rebels against his evil bosses upon learning that his latest "package" is a kidnapped young woman (Shu Qi). Directed by Hong Kong fight choreographer Cory Yuen.

TUCK EVERLASTING (PG) Disney's self-conscious throwback to its live-action family films like Swiss Family Robinson has everything going for it: Oscar winning actors (Sissy Spacek, Ben Kingsley, William Hurt), a weighty message and a pedigree from children's literature. Alas, this tale of a sheltered girl (Alexis Bledel) and a peculiar family of immortals only lacks a sense of fun and a rationale for keeping your attention. Good intentions, though.--CH

WHITE OLEANDER (PG-13) In her second motherhood-based film from Oprah's Book Club, Michelle Pfeiffer plays a murderous mom whose daughter (Alison Lohmann) is passed along to foster parents, including Rene Zellweger and Robin Wright Penn.

Duly Noted
ELVIRA'S HAUNTED HILLS (R) The bosomy horror hostess (note the oh-so-subtle pun in the title) will introduce the Atlanta premiere of her latest ghostly comedy, presented as a benefit for Project Open Hand. Oct. 10, 7:30 p.m., Midtown 8.

FILMS BY M.E.D.I.A. (NR) IMAGE Film & Video and Media Education Initiative Atlanta presents an evening of short films from students aged 15-19. Montage Screening Series, Oct. 10, 7 p.m. Atlanta Fulton Public Library, One Margaret Mitchell Square. Free. 404-352-4225.

MAIDS (2001) (NR) This subversive but light-hearted look at five Brazilian housekeepers grew from interviews with hundreds of "domesticas," and neither condescends nor glorifies the lives of servants. Latin American Film Festival. Oct. 11, 8 p.m. High Museum, Rich Auditorium, and Oct. 16, 8 p.m., Regal Hollywood 24. $5. 404-733-4570.

MILDRED PIERCE (1945) (NR) Despite her reputation as a camp icon, Joan Crawford gives a solid, moving performance (which won her a Best Actress Oscar) as a struggling mother with a vicious daughter (Ann Blyth). Based on a novel by Double Indemnity's James M. Cain. Communal Classics. Oct. 14, 8:30 p.m., Commune, 1198 Howell Mill Road. Free. 404-609-5000.--CH

RED INK (2000) (NR) Director Francisco Lombardi explores themes of influence and corruption in the tale of an idealistic young writer and the jaded veteran reporter (award-winner Gianfranco Brero) at a tabloid called El Clamor. Latin American Film Festival. Oct. 9, 8 p.m., Regal Hollywood 24 and Oct. 12, 8 p.m., High Museum, Rich Auditorium. $5. 404-733-4570.

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. Midnight Fri. at Lefont Plaza Theatre and Sat. at Marietta Star Cinema.

THE SHOP (1997) (NR) The third and final part of this quiet, poetic, award-winning trilogy adapted from Erwin Strittmatter's bestselling 1992 novel depicts further episodes in the lives of the Matt family, who run an East German bakery near the Polish border. Sept. 25, 7 p.m., Goethe-Institut Atlanta, Colony Square, 1197 Peachtree St. $4 for non-members. 404-892-2388.

YOUNG URBAN MEDIAMAKERS SHORT FILM SCREENINGS The Atlanta Urban Mediamakers Association has partnered with the West End Performing Arts Center to screen short films made by high school students through the IMAGE Film & Video Center this year. Oct. 16, 7 p.m. West End Performing Arts Center, 945 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. 404-287-7758.

APOLLO 13: THE IMAX EXPERIENCE (1995) (PG) Far and away Ron Howard's finest film, this gripping account of a disastrous moon mission features meticulous details and comfortably commanding acting (from Tom Hanks, Ed Harris and a host of others). Now thrown up on IMAX screens across the country, the film serves as a sincere tribute to the space program and an account of grace under pressure not unworthy of John Ford. Regal Cinemas Mall Of Georgia IMAX, 3379 Buford Drive, Buford.--CH

AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER (PG-13) Having exhausted whatever satirical possibilities they had left in their first unnecessary sequel, Mike Myers and director Jay Roach simply making fun of themselves in this third rehash about the groovy secret agent. An inspired opening sequence is as hilarious as anything you've seen in a very long time, but from there it all goes right into the toilet -- literally. Beyonce Knowles' sexual potential as Foxxy Cleopatra is wasted in favor of estranged father-son hooey with Michaael Caine.--Bert Osborne

BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER (R) Yet another motion picture that owes its allegiance to the video game market, this is an absolute failure on even its most basic level as an action movie. Ineptly directed by a Thai filmmaker who bills himself as Kaos, this is the 90-minute equivalent of having one's head trapped between two clanging cymbals Chuck Jones-style. It contains wall-to-wall explosions, gun battles and car chases, yet couldn't possibly be duller. As two former agents who square off until they learn they have a common foe, Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu mumble their lines to the point of unintelligibility. -- Matt Brunson

THE BANGER SISTERS (R) Goldie Hawn is an ex-Sixties groupie, Susan Sarandon her fellow "banger sister" who has remade herself into a prim Phoenix wife and mother. When the two reunite, Hawn imparts some valuable lessons about "being true to yourself" which help Sarandon cast off the chains of suburban conformity. If trite messages about "freedom" and "individuality" coming from a prototypically brain-dead Hollywood film where the words "hand job" are used to garner laughs are your cup of tea -- drink up. All others have been warned. --Felicia Feaster

BARBERSHOP (PG-13) Ice Cube goes for a day-in-the-life-of-the-'hood vibe comparable to his trilogy of Friday films, but this modest comedy centered around a Chicago hair-cuttery feels trimmed of laughs. The labored slapstick with two accident-prone ATM thieves and the squabbles between the barbers are about as thin as a comb-over. As the oldest and most outspoken barber, Cedric the Entertainer makes a lonely effort to give the film some old-school personality.--CH

BLOOD WORK (R) For a good while, Blood Work looks like Clint Eastwood's best picture in years, with the star-director-producer playing a former FBI agent who, after getting a heart transplant, seeks to solve the murder of the person whose ticker he received. Watching an undying screen icon like Eastwood acknowledge his own mortality adds a resonance to this picture, but heading into the final turn, the movie turns preposterous, culminating in a routine climax that goes on forever.--MB

BLUE CRUSH (PG-13) Director John Stockwell (crazy/beautiful) weaves what could have been lightweight teen fodder into gold yet again in this tremendously entertaining film about three surfer girlfriends whose ostensible goal is to have Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) win the Pipe Masters surf competition. But the film manages to squeeze in enough of a message about the class divide on Oahu, female friendship and heroism to make this a tale of girl adventurism and independence for the ages.--FF

CITY BY THE SEA (PG-13) Coincidences and emotional baggage are piled on to predictably numbing effect in director Michael Caton-Jones' workmanlike tale of crime, urban decay and familial dysfunction. Robert De Niro stars as a Manhattan cop who moved away from the now-deteriorating community of Long Beach when his marriage went bad. Many years later, De Niro's character is emotionally distant to his current girlfriend (Frances McDormand) while investigating a murder in which the primary suspect is his estranged, junkie son (James Franco) . --Lance Goldenberg

THE COUNTRY BEARS (G) Disney turns its Country Bear Jamboree ride into a live-action oddity, in which a talking bear cub (voiced by Haley Joel Osment), raised by humans, rediscovers his ursine roots upon meeting the title musicians, here depicted as a roots-rock band a la Lynyrd Skynyrd. Don Henley and John Hiatt provide singing voices, while Elton John and Willie Nelson appear as themselves.

CRAZY AS HELL (R) If "ER" actor-turned-director Eriq La Salle had spent as much time researching the dynamics of a mental hospital and psychiatric protocol as he and the irritating Michael Beach do chewing the scenery, this might have resembled something closer to entertainment. As it is, not even a twist-ending (inspired by Adrian Lyne's Angel Heart) can explain this dull and pretentious thriller about an unorthodox psychiatrist (Beach) with a charismatic patient (La Salle) who claims to be Satan.--FF

8 WOMEN (R) A deliciously campy paean to the glitzy Hollywood melodramas and musicals of the past, French director Francois Ozon's whodunit features a cast of elite French actresses (including Emmanuelle Beart, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert) stranded in a remote country house and trying to figure out who killed the only man on the premises.--FF

THE FOUR FEATHERS (PG-13) A.E.W. Mason's century-old novel has never been far removed from the minds of moviemakers, having been filmed on seven separate occasions. This 21st century model is a satisfactory (if shaky) heir to the throne, a visually robust retelling that reinstates a dash of the epic to the big screen. Heath Ledger is solid as the 19th century British officer who must redeem himself after being branded a coward, but Kate Hudson, displaying all the luminance of a 20-watt bulb after 999 hours of service, is miscast as the woman he loves.--MB

IGBY GOES DOWN (R) That's all well and good for Igby, but how about the rest of us? Kieran Culkin of The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys plays a teen who flees his eccentric parents (Susan Sarandon and Bill Pullman) to find love and other new experiences in New York. The cast of this bitter comedy includes Jeff Goldblum, Clare Danes and Ryan Phillipe.

IMAX Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West (NR) Jeff Bridges narrates this sweeping documentary that traces the famed explorers' 8,000-mile trek across America. Through March 14. Cirque du Soleil (NR) See dizzying acrobatics in the IMAX film of the renowned French circus. Fridays through Nov. 29. Australia: Land Beyond Time (NR) Check out the kangaroos, koalas and other denizens of Down Under in this travelogue of the world's biggest island. Through Oct. 31. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road.

JONAH: A VEGGIETALES MOVIE (G) Who says Hollywood has no new ideas? Here we have an animated, musical interpretation of the Bible story, with Jonah portrayed by a talking asparagus -- no doubt to be swallowed by a vegetarian whale. It's the first feature film from a popular Christian video series for kids.

THE LAST KISS (R) This huge hit in Italy tracks the Peter Pan mishaps of a group of thirtysomething male friends as they try to recapture their fancy-free youth, abandoning babies and devoted girlfriends in the process. The film initially promises some misanthropic, screwball hybrid of Neil LaBute and American Pie, but director Gabriele Muccino soon reveals he has more adult, and thoughtful, matters on his mind in this analysis of a selfish, can't-see-the-good-in-front-of-their-eyes generation of men. At Lefont Plaza Theatre.--FF

THE MASTER OF DISGUISE (PG) Test your Dana Carvey tolerance in this comedy from the former cast member of "Saturday Night Live." Here plays a nebbishy quick change artist whose retinue includes old ladies, George W. Bush and a guy who looks like a turtle. Surely one of his alter egos must be funny. Right?

MEN IN BLACK II (PG-13) Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones return as attitudinal alien-busting secret agents in this mind-bogglingly, jaw-droppingly egregious sequel to their somewhat diverting 1997 cash cow. A negligible "plot" gives them something to squawk about amid the usual barrage of computer-generated effects, but the movie exists most appreciably to serve the greed of its responsible parties. The best to said of the monumental mess is that it's all over in a (suspiciously) brief 88 minutes. --BO

MOONLIGHT MILE (PG-13) It's hard to imagine anyone stealing a movie not only from rising star Jake Gyllenhaal but also from Oscar-winners Susan Sarandon, Dustin Hoffman and Holly Hunter, yet newcomer Ellen Pompeo pulls off the feat with aplomb. She's the main reasons to see this highly likable if somewhat calculated melodrama about a young man (Gyllenhaal) who, after the senseless slaying of his fiancee, moves into the home of her parents (Sarandon and Hoffman, each making returns to form) yet soon finds himself falling for a local bar owner (Pompeo).--MB

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING (PG) While not as accomplished as Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding,- this is nevertheless a gratifying romantic comedy that gently tweaks stereotypes even as its characters wallow in them. Adapted by Nia Vardalos from her own one-woman show, the film centers on the plight of a 30-year-old lonelyheart (Vardalos) who risks the wrath of her family when she falls for a non-Greek (John Corbett). --MB

ONE HOUR PHOTO (R) Former music video director wunderkind Mark Romanek upends the usual serial killer thriller plot with a disturbing investigation into the ennui of modern life as seen through the eyes of an anonymous megastore photo developer (Robin Williams) who nurtures an unhealthy obsession with the deliriously happy photos he develops for one all-American family.--FF

RED DRAGON (R) The second film adaptation of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon feels less like a remake of Michael Mann's menacingly sterile Manhunter than a stylistic imitation of Jonathan Demme's impeccable Silence of the Lambs. Director Brett Ratner offers an overlong but adequately suspenseful B-movie with an A-list cast that boasts remarkable work from Ralph Fiennes as a tormented killer and Emily Watson as his sightless paramour. Anthony Hopkins still zestfully chews scenery and hapless co-stars alike as Hannibal Lecter, but hopefully his third outing marks his retirement from the role.--CH

ROAD TO PERDITION (R) Tom Hanks takes up the tommy-gun as a murderous mob enforcer who must battle his own organization (led by Paul Newman) to protect his innocent son (Tyler Hoechlin). Hanks' internal conflicts come into increasingly sharp focus as the film goes on, while Jude Law's gleeful hit-man gives the film the right measure of berserk spontaneity. A precisely composed yet deeply felt tale of fathers and sons, Sam Mendes' follow-up to American Beauty comes on like gangbusters.--CH

SCOOBY-DOO (PG) After a messy break-up, the reunited Mystery Inc. gang is summoned to Spooky Island resort and amusement park to figure out why its clientele keeps turning into zombies. Matthew Lillard (Shaggy) upstages his cast-mates and interacts nicely with the CGI-animated title canine. Unfortunately, in bringing the psychedelic Saturday morning cartoon to life, director Raja Gosnell (Home Alone 3) can't decide between full-fledged camp or slapstick kiddie fare.--TB

SECRETARY (R) An entirely unexpected, bitterly comic film about the kinky courtship between a shady lawyer and his acquiescent stenographer, this oddly affecting love story features wonderful, subtle performances by Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader as the pervy duo. Drawn from a Mary Gaitskill short story, the film retains that writer's interest in investigating power relationships -- like the dominant/submissive conventions of the secretary/boss -- while adding in some fresh subtext of its own.--FF

SIGNS (PG-13) Ominous crop circles presage otherworldly events that befall a widowed man of the cloth (Mel Gibson) and his grieving family. Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan lays on the faith-based symbolism with a heavy hand, and his characters never seem as stilted or strange as when they're meant to be "normal." But his powers with Hitchcock-esque suspense are undiminished as he uses misdirection and half-glimpsed threats to build tension to nearly unbearable levels.--CH

SNIPES (R) In a year of blaxploitation tributes like Undercover Brother, this hip-hop crime story taps into the street-level spirit of the 1970s Afro-American genre. A hanger of handbills (Sam Jones III) gets involved in an unlikely but fairly exciting murder plot, which features Nelly as a hot-tempered rapper and "Oz's" Dean Winters as a sadistic record exec.--CH

SPIDER-MAN (PG-13) The long-awaited adaptation of the Marvel comic book works because director Sam Raimi and scripter David Koepp turn their movie into a successful tightrope act between soap opera and spectacle, retaining the personal elements that made the comic book so popular while also providing special effects that thankfully never overwhelm the story.--MB

SPIRITED AWAY (PG) When her parents are turned into pigs, a Japanese girl enters the realm of spirits and deities to save them and herself. An Alice in Wonderland for the 21st century, this animated treasure finds director Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke) at the height of his powers, offering mature characterizations, sharp conflicts without violence and one of the strangest, least predictable coming-of-age stories you've ever set eyes on.--CH

SPY KIDS 2: THE ISLAND OF LOST DREAMS (PG) This hurry-up sequel bursts at the seams with even more gadgetry and more eccentric characters than the original, but rather than building on the sense of wonder and fun, this overstuffing only slows the picture down. The title team (again played by Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) is still appealing, though, and some of the special effects pay satisfying homage to the fantasy flicks of the great FX innovator Ray Harryhausen.--MB

STUART LITTLE 2 (PG) The similarities to E.B. White's original, classic children's book are becoming increasingly remote. The title character, a talking mouse (voiced by Michael Fox) adopted by a human couple (Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie), pitches woo with a parakeet (voiced by Melanie Griffith) and matches wits with a hawk.

THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (PG-13) A well-crafted throwback to the thrillers of Cold War era, this Tom Clancy adaptation brings back our fears of potential nuclear conflict. At first Ben Affleck seems over his head as CIA analyst Jack Ryan (a role played by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford), but he ingratiates himself while trying to unravel a terrorist conspiracy against America. The transcontinental plotting can be murky, but the third act features spectacular disasters and the chilling sensation of events spinning out of control.--CH

SWEET HOME ALABAMA (PG-13) You get a more accurate depiction of the South in that movie about the Country Bears than this lazy, laugh-deficient romantic comedy. Reese Witherspoon plays a hotshot designer engaged to the son of New York's mayor, who she must get a divorce from the laid-back husband (Josh Lucas) she abandoned in her sleepy Alabama home town. Witherspoon's controlled performance gives a few grace notes to a predictable parade of both Southern and wedding movie cliches.--CH

TRAPPED (R) Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend play yuppies drawn into one of those deadly games of cat and mouse when a pair of vicious kidnappers (Kevin Bacon and Courtney Love) abduct their daughter (I Am Sam Oscar nominee Dakota Fanning).

THE TUXEDO (PG-13) The best special effect in a Jackie Chan movie is always Chan himself, which makes the affable performer's latest American vehicle an especially ill-fitting and ill-conceived affair. Chan plays a bumbling, insecure chauffeur who dons a top-of-the-line government issue suit that turns him into a superspy of sorts. Dressed to thrill, he teams up with a rookie agent (Jennifer Love Hewitt, enjoyably awful) to stop a power-mad bottled-water magnate (dull Ritchie Coster). It's always a rush to witness Chan kick and chop his way across the screen, but the film forces him to play second fiddle to the dull effects that allow the suit to come to life.--MB

XXX (PG-13) Vin Diesel -- the Dolph Lundgren of the new millennium - plays an extreme-sports jock and reluctant secret agent in this stunt-driven, pllot-deprived action movie from the hack who "wrote" Airheads and The Jerky Boys. There are lots of super-duper spy gadgets and pyrotechnic displays, some nice European scenery and one moderately exciting sequence involving an avalanche. Otherwise, there's more character development and insightful commentary on ESPN's coverage of the X Games.--BO


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