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Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
FRIDA (R) Tony Award-winning director Julie Taymor brings a slightly off-kilter sensibility to this strong bio-picture of the tempestuous life and times of Mexican painter and feminist icon Frida Kahlo. Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina as the love of her life, Diego Rivera, are convincing and human as the terminally at-odds husband and wife whose fascinating involvement with the art and radical politics of the '30s and '40s makes them long overdue for such a film treatment.--Felicia Feaster

I-SPY (PG-13) Mindless entertainment, with the emphasis on mindless -- unless you happen to find particularly entertaining the idea of yet another buddy/action comedy in which mismatched partners must overcome cultural differences (and death-defying stunt sequences) to save the world. This in-name-only "remake" of the '60s secret-agent TV series features a disarmingly agreeable turn by Owen Wilson as the flustered straight man, but Eddie Murphy really ought give his obnoxious smart-ass routine a rest.--Bert Osborne

THE MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS (R) Andy Garcia is a cash-strapped novelist who reluctantly takes a gig with a male escort service to support his wife (Julianne Margulies) and kid. He soon becomes the boytoy for the wife of a revered Pulitzer Prize-winning author (James Coburn) who's got troubles of his own. Director George Hickenlooper strives for a gravity that Philip Jayson Lasker's script just can't support. The best bits involve Mick Jagger as Luther Fox, owner of the escort service, whose dry wit and deadpan delivery initially hold old out promise of something more to come but ultimately prove to be a waste of effort in this dreary drama. -- Suzanne Van Atten

THE SANTA CLAUSE 2 (G) In the modestly entertaining original, Tim Allen played a hapless Joe who became a better dad by taking the role of St. Nick. The sequel, at one point known as The Mrs. Clause, finds Allen's portly Kris Kringle tasked to find a wife in modern-day America.

THE WEIGHT OF WATER (R) Kathryn Bigelow's psychological thriller flits back and forth between the tensions developing between four travelers on a sailboat docked off the New England coast, and a vicious, unsolved murder of two young women that occurred at the same site in 1873. The story set in the past featuring the compelling Sarah Polley as a Norwegian immigrant is far more interesting and only serves to highlight the dreck of the present-day story featuring an absurd performance by Sean Penn as a groupie-hounded Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and a deeply uncharismatic Catherine McCormack as his wife.--FF

Duly Noted
EXODUS (1961) (NR) Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint star in Otto Preminger's epic film about the struggles to found in the state of Israel. Sponsored by Atlanta YAD: The Jewish Young Adult Agency. Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. Regal Cinemas Lenox Square. $25-$50. 404-727-2084.

GOODBYE DEAR LOVE (2000) (NR) Ruth Behar offers a documentary drawn from her own family history about the community of Sephardic Jews in Havana and their search for identity. Co-sponsored by the Intown Jewish Life Center and the American Jewish Committee. Latin American Film Festival. Nov. 3 at 2 and 4 p.m. High Museum, Rich Auditorium. $5. 404-733-4570.

JIM BROWN: ALL-AMERICAN (2002) Director Spike Lee and athlete-turned-movie-star Jim Brown will attend and answer questions at the Woodruff Arts Center's special screening of Lee's new documentary, which examines the triumphs and tribulations of Brown's life, as well as the importance of his image as a strong African-American role model. Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. High Museum, Rich Auditorium. $20-$25. 404-733-4570.

LIEBELEI (1932) (NR) An incomparably beautiful film by famed filmmaker Max Ophuls, adapted from a work by Viennese decadent Arthur Schnitzler, this exquisitely melancholy film concerns a love affair between a soldier and an innocent young girl that is destroyed by the perverse codes of "honor" among military men and the cruel pretense of civility in Hapsburg Vienna. Oct. 30 at 7 p.m., Goethe-Institut Atlanta, Colony Square, 1197 Peachtree St. $4 for non-members. 404-892-2388.

POSTHUMOUS MEMORIES (2000) (NR) Reginaldo Farias and Sonia Braga star in Andre Klotzel's fanciful comedy of a deceased, sardonic man who reflects on his life as a 19th-century dandy. Latin American Film Festival. Nov. 2 at 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.

12 HOURS (2000) (NR) Director Raul Marchand Sanchez's dark comedy follows criss-crossing lives in San Juan, with characters including three divorcees, a teenage girl and a transvestite lounge singer. Latin American Film Festival. Oct. 30, 8 p.m. Regal Hollywood 24. $5. 404-733-4570.

WELLFAIR The monthly festival of film, art and music includes Ted Jackson's mockumentary "Manchild Unmasked" and eight other short films, including efforts from such Atlanta natives as Eamon Glennon, Andrew Treglia, Oliver Smith and Ly Bolia. Oct. 29 at 9 p.m. MJQ, 736 Ponce de Leon Place. Free. 404-870-0575.

WHERE HAS ETERNITY GONE? (NR) Barney Snow's quirky documentary catches up with Gerald and Linda Polley of Fargo, N.D., who believe themselves to be the voices of John Lennon on Earth and use their "gift" to defeat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. IMAGE Film & Video Festival, Oct. 29, 8 p.m., The Echo Lounge, 551 Flat Shoals Ave. $5. 404-352-4225.

ABANDON (PG-13) Steve Gaghan, Oscar-winning director of Traffic, tries his hand at directing with this college thriller about a student (Katie Holmes) torn between her feelings for her mystery-man boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam) and an older detective (Benjamin Bratt).

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

AUTO FOCUS (R) Returning to his interest in loners governed by unreasonable obsessions, Paul Schrader's campy bio-picture Auto Focus is a very believable translation of how addiction replaces real life with an unquenchable need. Here the addiction is sex and the junkie is "Hogan's Heroes" TV star Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear), turned onto the joys of making amateur porn by techie buddy John Carpenter (the brilliantly sleazy Willem Dafoe) in this fascinating, at times penetrating, but just as often superficial and dismissive peek at a uniquely twisted life.--FF

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. --FF

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

BELOW (R) Bruce Greenwood commands an American submarine in World War II that may be haunted in this thriller written by Requiem for a Dream's Darren Aronofsky and directed by David Twohy of The Arrival and Pitch Black.

BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (R) An often cruelly jocular agitprop documentary about an out-of-control American gun culture, Michael Moore's (Roger & Me) nightmare tour of America's covert foreign policy, Michigan Militia and NRA rallies, conspiratorial kooks and sleazy TV producers makes a good case for the hair-trigger viciousness of our eye-for-an-eye culture even as it reduces painful, profound issues to irony-laced, laughable sport.--FF

BROWN SUGAR (PG-13) This predictable romantic comedy centers on two lifelong best friends, a music business executive (Taye Diggs) and a music magazine editor (Sanaa Lathan), who spend the entire movie fighting the fact that they're meant for each other. The film's whole point is that these two are forever linked through their love of hip-hop, but aside from the obligatory music biz cameos and lots of lip service from the leading characters, hip-hop rarely comes alive as its own fire-breathing entity, meaning that the pair might as well be joined by a mutual love of pro wrestling, Alan Rudolph flicks or Pokemon trading cards. -- MB

COMEDIAN (R) This backstage documentary follows Jerry Seinfeld as he rejects retiring as a zillionaire TV star to return to the stand-up comedy circuit, painstakingly crafting an all-new routine of his trademark observational comedy.

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

FORMULA 51 (R) This nutty action flick -- known as The 51st State in its U.K. release -- stars Samuel L. Jackson as a golf-loving, kilt-wearing drug designer who comes up with a super-narcotic that makes Ecstasy seem like Altoids. Meat Loaf, Rhys Ifans and The Full Monty's Robert Carlisle are party to the ensuing hijinks.

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

GHOST SHIP (R) Gabriel Byrne and Julianna Margulies play salvage officers aboard a haunted vessel. It's from Steve Beck, director of Thir13een Ghosts, but doesn't have a "clever" title like that one.

HEAVEN Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer gives a kick to late Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski's script about an English bomber (Cate Blanchett) who goes on the run in Italy with a police translator (Giovanni Ribisi).

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 Nov. 29. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road.

JACKASS: THE MOVIE (R) See grown men flip golf carts on themselves, fire bottle rockets from their rectums, snort wasabi like its cocaine and terrorize innocent bystanders in the unjustifiable, often sickening, yet at times exhilarating big-screen version of the MTV series. One hates to encourage self-destructive frontman Johnny Knoxville and his kamikaze skatepunks to hurt themselves, but their idiotic exploits provide the longest, loudest laughs at the cineplex this year.--CH

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.

JUST A KISS (R) Equipped with a fairly grubby and mean-spirited sensibility supplied by screenwriter Patrick Breen, actor Fisher Stevens tries his hand at directing, juicing up a tired tale of bed-hopping and quip-trading Manhattanites with some half-cocked bargain basement looking animation effects used to no particular end. How this dog managed to attract actors like Marisa Tomei, Kyra Sedgwick and Taye Diggs, beyond theirpossible friendship with Breen and Stevens, is a mystery second only to why Stevens felt compelled to make this abysmal film in the first place. --FF

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 "Sopranos" screen test.--CH

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

PAID IN FULL (R) Wood Harris and Mekhi Phifer play impoverished young men who rise to the top of Harlem's crack cocaine trade during the 1980s in this crime drama based on true events.

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.

PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (R) This disappointing Paul Thomas Anderson follow-up to the ambitious Magnolia features Adam Sandler in typical idiot-boy mode as a sadsack Los Angeles small businessman who gets himself into trouble with some Provo, Utah, thugs and finds that only his love for an angelic woman (Emily Watson) can save him. The French went ga-ga for Sandler and Anderson's riff on Jerry Lewis' bumbling half-wits, honoring the latter with a Best Director prize at Cannes, but beyond that meta-cinematic conceit, there's not a whole lot to hold onto in this thin, tired film.--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

THE RING (PG-13) Mulholland Drive's Naomi Watts plays a Seattle reporter investigating an urban legend about a videotape that kills its viewers -- which may be no myth. This American remake of the superb Japanese thriller Ring can be both more self-consciously arty and more expensively gory than the restrained original. Director Gore Verbinski nevertheless finds some honest, atypical scares, generating paranoia of communications technology with the spookiest staticky TV set since Poltergeist.--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

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

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

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.

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

TIME CHANGER (PG) A 19th century Bible scholar is transported from the 1890s to the 1990s and tries to adapt his religious faith to modern life. This Christian-themed and -financed film features Gavin MacLeod, Hal Linden and Paul Rodriguez.

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.

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 TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE (PG-13) Daft remake of deft 1963 comedy-caper Charade puts Thandie Newton in Audrey Hepburn's place as a woman pursued all over Paris by bad guys convinced that her murdered hubby gave her their missing loot. Mark Wahlberg sleepwalks through it as a suitor who might know more than he admits about the money and the murder.--Eddy Von Mueller

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

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

WAKING UP IN RENO (R) Billy Bob Thornton, Patrick Swayze, Charlize Theron and Miranda Richardson play a pair of cracker couples who play musical beds en route to a monster truck rally in this long-delayed comedy.

WHITE OLEANDER (PG-13) If the screen version of Janet Fitch's bestselling novel were an Olympic event, it'd be hard to tell which of the movie's four actresses would win the gold. This powerfully performed drama stars Michelle Pfeiffer as an artist whose cold-blooded murder of her philandering boyfriend lands her in prison and places her 15-year-old daughter (Alison Lohman) in a troubled foster care system. Lohman handles the picture's largest role with the discipline it requires, while Renee Zellweger and Robin Wright-Penn score as foster moms of different temperaments.-- 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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