Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
BLUE CAR (R) Karen Moncrieff gives a sensitive nod to girl creativity and suffering in her portrait of two waifs, Meg and Lily, who are emotionally devastated by their parents' recent divorce. Meg (Agnes Moncrieff) creates poetry out of the emotional ruins, but the nurturing attentiveness of her English teacher (David Strathairn) who coaches her toward an out-of-town poetry competition soon moves from paternal to wolfish. Moncrieff has a fairly straightforward and often predictable approach to this charged material, but conveys an earnest interest in creating an unusual coming-of-age story.--Felicia Feaster

BRUCE ALMIGHTY (PG-13) Jim Carrey plays God -- literally -- as a put-upon human-interest reporter enlisted to fill in for the Supreme Being Himself (Morgan Freeman). With Liar Liar and Ace Ventura director Tom Shadyac at the helm, expect the first commandment to be "Thou shalt do anything for a laugh."

HOUSE OF FOOLS 'em (R) In this cliche-ridden Russian film from Andrei Konchalovsky, an insane asylum loaded with adorably infantalized patients on the Russian-Chechen border is caught up in the battle between the Chechen civil war's opposing forces. With its magic realist tone and some interesting assertions of a unique Russian mind-set, House of Fools is an occasionally captivating, but more often silly little film.--FF

THE IN-LAWS (PG-13) Albert Brooks and Michael Douglas step into the shoes of Alan Arkin and Peter Falk in this loose remake of 1979's genial odd-couple comedy, with Brooks' mild-mannered podiatrist reluctantly thrown together with Douglas's loose cannon CIA agent when their children get engaged.

Duly Noted
DECATUR FILM FESTIVAL (NR) Decatur's third annual film festival features three nights of screenings of local independent movies, as well as such panel discussions as "What Makes a Great Movie" and "How to Make Movies on a Micro-Budget." May 21-23, 7 p.m. Holiday Inn Select, Decatur. Free. 404-723-1939.

FILM SLAM (NR) IMAGE Film & Video Center's freewheeling evening of short films takes inspiration from "The Gong Show," as a panel of judges, egged on by the audience, will dictate whether films will run to the end or will get "gonged" in progress. Awards will be given for the best and worst efforts of the evening. IMAGE Film & Video Center, May 21 at 8 p.m., The Echo Lounge, 551 Flat Shoals Ave. $5 (free for IMAGE members). 404-352-4225.

LA GRANDE ILLUSION (1937) (NR) A true masterpiece, Jean Renoir's exquisite tale of French prisoners in a German camp in World War I echoes the aristocratic melancholy of Tolstoy and Chekhov while anticipating the P.O.W. suspense and humor of Stalag 17. Crossing the Border: French-German Films. May 21, 7 p.m. Goethe Institut Inter Nationes, 1197 Peachtree St., Colony Square. $4. 404-892-2388.--Curt Holman

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 THIN MAN (1934) (NR) Playing like a blend of Noel Coward and Dashiell Hammett (whose original novel wasn't nearly as much fun), this seamless blend of detective story and screwball comedy has been often imitated, but never with the chemistry of William Powell and Myrna Loy as married sleuths Nick and Nora Charles. Commune Classics Series, May 26 at dusk. Commune Restaurant, 1198 Howell Mill Road. Free with dinner. 404-609-5000.

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (PG-13) With a lack of anything better to fill one's empty hours, this British comedy might provide a temporary distraction from inevitable mortality. A conventional -- emphasis on light -- crowd-pleaser about an 18-year-old girl (Parminder K. Nagra) who longs to play soccer despite the objections of her conservative Indian parents, Gurinder Chadha's box office-directed global comedy is the cinematic equivalent of a Happy Meal: bland, momentarily delightful, but with a lot of empty calories.--FF

BETTER LUCK TOMORROW (R) A group of overachieving Asian-American teenagers deal with academic and extracurricular pressures by turning to petty crimes. For his directorial debut Justin Lin doesn't let his stylistic flourishes distract from the film's original character portraits, although when the would-be gang dabbles in drugs and handguns, Better Luck Tomorrow feels like its trying a little too hard to be Goodfellas in high school.--CH

CHAOS A wealthy French couple witnesses the brutal beating of a prostitute. Though Paul (Vincent Lindon) opts to lock the doors and speed away, Hélène (Catherine Frot) volunteers to nurse the victim back to health, eventually agreeing to help her combat the relentless attackers. At Madstone Theaters Parkside.

CHICAGO (PG-13) First-time feature director Rob Marshall reclaims the musical genre from Moulin Rouge with this sexy, robust, big-screen version of Bob Fosse's cynical stage hit. As Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones play Jazz Age murderesses vying for the attentions of superlawyer Richard Gere, showbiz and the legal system prove to be opposite sides of the same tarnished coin. The entire cast, including John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah, reveal remarkable musical showmanship, selling the hell out of the vaudeville-style numbers.--CH

CONFIDENCE (R) This con artist film boasts a hip cast -- including Paul Giamatti, Luis Guzman, Rachel Weisz and Dustin Hoffman as a bizarre mob boss -- but has more confidence than ability. Ed Burns' crabby performance as hustler Jake Vig lacks the ingratiating charisma to make him a convincing scam artist, and James Foley's fleet direction can't make up for the script's predictable moves. After so many con flicks like The Spanish Prisoner, we're catching wise to the genre's tricks.--CH

DADDY DAY CARE (PG) Fresh from his breakthrough stinkers I Spy and The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Eddie Murphy takes yet another career-killing turn, this time playing an out-of-work marketing exec who decides to open a day-care center. Soon enough he's knee-deep in cuteness and shin-kicking rug-rats. Someone stop this man before he grins again.--Tray Butler

THE DANCER UPSTAIRS (R) Actor John Malkovich's directorial debut is most enticing for what it suggests of things to come. An imperfect film that uses South America's violent past of political coups and Marxist guerrillas for thriller effect, this adaptation of Nicholas Shakespeare's novel follows a weary detective (Javier Bardem) in an unnamed South American country trying to track down a guerrilla group staging violent murders. Malkovich too often uses the location as atmospheric palette for traditional thrills and chills, but his command of a dark, dreadful ambiance shows real promise.--FF

DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) (PG) Director Terrence Malick's tale of forbidden love among Midwestern wheat farmers is one of the most sumptuously photographed films ever made. Starring Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard. At Madstone Theaters Parkside.

DOWN WITH LOVE (PG-13) Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor cha-cha through this light-as-air but thoroughly addictive send-up of '60s sex comedies. In 1962 New York, jet-set magazine writer Catcher Block (McGregor) sets out to debunk author Barbara Novak (Zellweger), whose new book has women everywhere eschewing love and acting just as sexually liberated as men. The tried-and-true romantic sparks quickly fly, and the film's ever-flowing -- and often hilarious -- riffs on Doris Day flicks like Pillow Talk make it a zany delight.--TB

DREAMCATCHER (R) Four hunting buddies run afoul of both a downed U.F.O. and Morgan Freeman as a demented military man sent to contain it. Director Lawrence Kasdan brings slick professionalism to this well-cast, increasingly berserk Stephen King adaptation with enough plot for three movies. It eventually collapses under the weird of its weird combinations of grisly violence and bathroom humor, alien invasion and boyhood nostalgia, military psychos and mentally disabled saints. Shown with "The Final Flight of Osiris" a flashy but empty CGI short set in the Matrix universe.--CH

GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS (G) In his first film since Titanic, director James Cameron takes a documentary tour -- in full 3-D IMAX splendor -- of the famed sunken ocean liner. Regal Cinemas Mall Of Georgia IMAX, 3379 Buford Drive, Buford.

THE GOOD THIEF (R) Neil Jordan's jazzy new film may be a remake of Jean-Pierre Melville's 1955 Bob Le Flambeur, but its central player, a boozy American expatriate, stirs memories of Bogart's Casablanca character -- had Rick Blaine had been a heroin addict. Nick Nolte's staggeringly good performance as a down-on-his-luck gambler who plots one last great heist is the primary reason to see this texturally rich movie, and it's easy to believe that this remarkable talent is purging his real-life demons through his film work. At United Artists Tara Cinemas.--MB

HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT (NR) Audrey Tautou takes a dark turn after her light-hearted star-making role in Amelie, playing an obsessive young art student stalking her married lover (Samuel Le Bihan). At Lefont Garden Hills Cinema.

HOLES (PG) This adaptation of Louis Sachar's children's book is good enough to be enjoyed equally by kids and their parents. Sachar himself wrote the script, which focuses on the plight of a hapless teen (Shia LaBeouf) wrongly convicted of robbery and sent to a boys' correctional facility in the middle of a desert. There, the warden (Sigourney Weaver) and her aides (Tim Blake Nelson and a hilariously over-the-top Jon Voight) order the boys to spend every day digging holes. While the ending may tie everything up a bit too tidily, there's no denying that there's real imagination at work here. --MB

IDENTITY (R) Ten strangers -- including John Cusack, Ray Liotta and Amanda Peet -- are stalked by a crazed killer in a remote motel on a dark and stormy night. Director James Mangold's bipolar thriller means to be a serious exploration how personality dictates destiny as well as a silly slasher flick on a par with the Halloween sequels. The schlock side wins out, but not before scripter Michael Cooney makes revelations that try to out-twist "The Twilight Zone" and leave heads spinning -- both figuratively and literally.--CH

IMAX Whales (NR) Follow orca, blue, humpback, right whales and dolphins through oceans around the globe in this doc narrated by Patrick Stewart. Through May 23. Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure This lavishly-photographed film recreates Sir Earnest Shackleton's disastrous 1914-16 Antarctic expedition. Opening May 24. Coral Reef Adventure (NR) Ocean explorers Howard and Michele Hall journey to some of the world's largest, most beautiful and most endangered coral reefs. Through Sept. 1. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road.

IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY (PG-13) The Douglas clan's answer to the Fondas' On Golden Pond might easily have been called On Golden Turkey, as a wretched beginning initially hints that this might be one of the year's worst films. Fortunately for all involved (especially the audience), this schizophrenic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink melodrama rights itself enough to ascend to the level of a rampaging mediocrity. Kirk and Michael Douglas head the cast as members of a family that must cope with potential affairs, underachieving offspring, flatulent relatives and other factors that prevent them from becoming as cozy a clan as the Waltons.--MB

THE JIMMY SHOW (R) Frank Whaley directs himself in a dramedy about a failed New Jersey inventor who embarks on a career in stand-up comedy. Co-starring Carla Gugino and Ethan Hawke. At Madstone Theaters Parkside.

LAUREL CANYON (R) Director Lisa Cholodenko brings a sexy warmth and affection to her emotionally jostled couple, Sam (Christian Bale) and Alex (Kate Beckinsale), conservative New Englanders recently transferred to Los Angeles and trying to save their relationship from the myriad temptations of Sam's rich hippie record producer mother (Frances McDormand) and her intoxicating, uninhibited lifestyle. This worthy follow-up to Cholodenko's impressive debut High Art creates an easygoing erotic ambiance without sacrificing the soulful complexities of her characters. At United Artists Tara Cinemas.--FF

LAWLESS HEART (R) Written and directed by British filmmaking team Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter (Boyfriends ), this drama uses a funeral as the entry point to tell three romantic stories. The sudden death of Stuart (David Coffey) forces his boyfriend, father and friend each to re-examine their lives. At Lefont Plaza Theater.

A MAN APART (R) A Traffic for the action crowd, A Man Apart takes an unblinking view of drug cartels before eventually revealing its true colors as a generic shoot-'em-up. Vin Diesel, whose magnetism apparently only blossoms when he's playing flippant anti-heroes (Pitch Black, XXX), is all chiseled nobility as a DEA agent on the trail of drug dealers, and the result is a dull performance that points out the actor's limitations. Director F. Gary Gray has proven himself to be an effective director of action flicks (The Negotiator, Set It Off), but here his talents have deserted him.--MB

THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST (PG-13) An amnesiac discovers love and friendship among Helsinki's down and out in this dry Finnish comedy that suggests that an identity might be more trouble than its worth. Director Aki Kaurismdki sets a hip, deadpan tone for his humor reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch's work, but shoots his film with the faded-Technicolor romanticism of Old Hollywood. At Lefont Plaza Theater--CH

THE MATRIX RELOADED (R) Writer-directors Andy and Larry Wachowski discover that "cool" has its limits in the first of their two sequels to The Matrix. Hacker-turned-Messiah Neo (Keanu Reeves) engages in a post-apocalyptic war between besieged humans and sentient machines, but the sequel only rarely captures the terror and wonder of the first film. Neo's fight against 100 duplicates of Hugo Weaving's aridly humorous Agent Smith lives up to the film's hype, but for every impressive money shot there's a tedious speech about causality and choice that down-shifts the narrative into Park. --CH

A MIGHTY WIND (PG-13) Three soulful Sixties folk acts gather for a reunion concert in New York City, with the attendant tensions and personal traumas in Christopher Guest's (Best in Show) latest mockumentary. The film is a study in very low-key comedy that offers a pitch-perfect rendition of folky social protest anthems, behavioral tics and dress codes, but which may be a little too under-the-cultural-radar for a large audience.--FF

THE PIANIST (R) Though less stylish and darkly humorous than typical Roman Polanski fare, this true story of Polish pianist and Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman (the Oscar-winning Adrien Brody) will be fascinating stuff for Polanski fans who will find copious allusions to the director's life and films in this somber and enlightening story.--FF

RAISING VICTOR VARGAS (R) This tender, charming first feature from director Peter Sollett set in a poor Lower East Side neighborhood, features a cast of engaging young actors led by Victor Rasuk as a self-styled barrio Don Juan who, surprisingly, catches the eye of the local beauty played by Judy Marte. Beneath a touching teenage love story is a sensitive portrait of the fear of abandonment that haunts these children's lives, and the vulnerability that still defines them, despite their teenage cool. At United Artists Tara Cinemas.--FF

THE SHAPE OF THINGS (R) Neil LaBute is back in his misanthropic In the Company of Men groove, this time with a gender twist. Attitudinal art school babe Rachel Weisz takes up with frumpy Paul Rudd and makes him over into her ideal, first with weight loss and new wardrobe, then with more disturbing alternations. LaBute makes poor Rudd into such a spazzy victim and Weisz into such a castrating viper, it's hard to see LaBute's larger point beyond stacking the deck against this vile woman and offering a strange evisceration of conceptual art, stranger still coming from an artist who has also made shock and outrage central features of his work.--FF

X2: X-MEN UNITED (PG-13) The sequel marks a step forward in the evolution of a satisfying superhero franchise by being more x-pensive, x-pansive and x-citing than the first. It's a half hour longer than X-Men, and that half hour has saggy pace and false climax problems, but the film's rival super-powered "mutants" each, in effect, provide their own money shot, especially Hugh Jackman's claw-fisted Wolverine and Alan Cumming's teleporting Nightcrawler.--CH


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