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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE (R) The lavishly stylish, big-screen spin-off of Japan's animated sci-fi series depicts bounty-hunting anti-heroes with names like Jet Black who contend with terrorists who release a deadly virus.

FINDING NEMO (G) Pixar's latest computer-animated catch follows a meek, single-dad clown fish (Albert Brooks) as he journeys from the Great Barrier Reef to an aquarium in a Sydney dentist's office to rescue his son. The film's episodic format plays to Pixar's imaginative strengths, while the clever, air-tight script doesn't rely too heavily on "fish out of water" puns. Scene-stealing voice actors include Willem Dafoe as a scarred angel fish planning a great aquarium escape and Barry "Dame Edna" Humphries as a shark called Bruce trying to kick the habit of eating his finny fellows. --Curt Holman

THE ITALIAN JOB (PG-13) Director F. Gary Gray takes Michael Caine's 1969 heist picture of the same name and transplants it to Los Angeles, where Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron use a spectacular traffic jam to try and steal back a fortune held by their duplicitous partner Edward Norton.

MAN ON THE TRAIN (R) The ending of Patrice Leconte's film has a flowery, New Age finish that betrays some of what has come before, but Man is an otherwise rich, meaty little movie about two aging men from entirely different walks of life who bond over their shared despair about how radically the world has changed, and how little they seem to fit in it. Leconte and screenwriter Claude Klotz's mordant humor sweetens the deal with a clever commentary on what we have come to expect of cinema. --Felicia Feaster

SPELLBOUND (G) Director Jeffrey Blitz and his team followed eight students as they crammed for competition in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. What results is a curiously engaging and tension-filled peek into a rarely documented subculture. With a cast of oddball characters reminiscent of Best in Show or A Mighty Wind, the documentary manages to transform what should be snooze-inducing subject matter into a fascinating fable of the American Dream. --Tray Butler

SWEET SIXTEEN (R) Director Ken Loach takes a scruffy, heavily improvised foray into the grim life of working-class Scottish teenagers, with Martin Compston playing a young man who tries to find a better life while waiting for his mother to be released from prison for dealing drugs.

WRONG TURN (R) Eliza Dushku -- known to "Buffy" fans as Faith the Vampire Slayer -- stars in this thriller about six teens beset by cannibals in the West Virginia woods.

Duly Noted
THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH (PG) The Fox Theatre presents the world premiere of a film adaptation based on novel A Flower Blooms on Charlotte Street, written, produced and directed by Atlanta sisters Amy and Kristen McGary. This tale of a 9-year-old girl who movies from rural Mississippi to refined North Carolina in 1898 stars Keith Carradine, Mare Winningham and Skyler Day in the title role, as well as such local actors as Tom Key and Janice Akers. (And it's not to be confused with Eddie Murphy's sci-fi flop The Adventures of Pluto Nash.) Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival. June 1, 7 p.m. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. $10. 404-881-2100.

DESTROY ALL MOVIES: CARNICOGENIC CINEMA (NR) The monthly program of obscure underground films concludes with "Bargain Basement Secret Agent," devoted to the fifth-rate Bond wannabes of the 1960s, including The Incredible Paris Incident, a feast of plunging necklines and '60s la-la music. May 30, 9 p.m. Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, 535 Means St. $5. 404-688-1970.

DOWNSTREAM FILM FESTIVAL (NR) The film festival presents the third of its series of student-made films and video shorts. May 28, 8 p.m. 290 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Suite 8. $5. 404-522-0655.

I OFTEN THINK OF PIROSCHKA (1955) (NR) A German student spends his summer holidays with a Hungarian family and falls in love with a village girl called Piroschka, played by Switzerland's Lisolette Pulver, who became a beloved star of the 1950s. After the War, Before the Wall: German Cinema 1945 - 1960. May 28, 7 p.m. Goethe Institut Inter Nationes, 1197 Peachtree St., Colony Square. $4. 404-892-2388.

JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957) (NR) Elvis Presley stars as a misunderstood young man who learns to play guitar in slammer and becomes a raw but surly rock star. This black-and-white musical may be Elvis' best film (he even choreographed the moves for the title song), but lacks the kitschy, colorful corniness of lesser flicks like Viva Las Vegas. Screen on the Green. June 3, Free. June 3. through July 1. Sunset. Piedmont Park, ball fields nearest entrance of Piedmont Ave. and 14th St. 877-262-5866. --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. Midnight Fri. at Lefont Plaza Theatre and Sat. at Marietta Star Cinema.

ANGER MANAGEMENT (PG-13) After delivering subtle performances in The Pledge and About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson reverts to his familiar "wild and crazy guy" persona for this comedy about an unorthodox therapist whose methods unnerve his latest patient, a meek businessman (Adam Sandler) railroaded into the good doctor's anger management program. Some of the situations seem overly familiar or needlessly protracted, but the movie zips by on the strength of some big laughs, sharply cast supporting roles (notably John Turturro and an unbilled Heather Graham) and the two well-matched stars at its core. --Matt Brunson

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

BLUE CAR (R) Karen Moncrieff gives a sensitive nod to girl creativity and suffering in her portrait of two waifs, Meg and Lily, 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. --FF

BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE (PG-13) An ex-convict (Queen Latifah), insisting she was framed, forces a whiter-than-white attorney (Steve Martin) to try to clear her name. The story is utter nonsense, but what makes the film work are the terrific comic performances driving it: Martin hasn't been this engaging in years; Queen Latifah is sexy, spirited and smart; and Eugene Levy, as a nerd who finds his inner funk, continues to prove that he's one of the best second bananas in modern movie comedy. --MB

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). Carrey's omnipotence makes for some memorably surreal sight gags, but the real miracle is how the film avoids the serious questions about free will and suffering built into its premise. Instead, it becomes a unexpectedly indulgent metaphor for Carrey's own difficulties at being taken seriously as an actor, as he plays a guy who can do anything but make people love him. --CH

BULLETPROOF MONK (PG-13) Hong Kong action star Chow Yun-Fat plays the titular monk, who fights evil while training an unlikely successor (beetle-browed Seann William Scott of the American Pie movies).

CHAOS A wealthy French couple witnesses the brutal beating of a prostitute. Though Paul (Vincent Lindon) opts to lock the doors and speed away, Helene (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. Area theaters and the Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival. June 2, 7 p.m. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. $7. 404-881-2100. --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. --TB

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) Renee 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

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.

HEAD OF STATE (PG-13) If there was ever a time when we could use a raucous political satire to shake things up, this is clearly that time. Unfortunately, Head of State clearly isn't that movie. Rather than grab the political bull by the horns (think Bulworth or Bowling for Columbine), Chris Rock is content to make a comedy that could easily play on network TV as a pilot for a proposed sit-com. (My Big Fat Freak Election, anyone?) Still, for a movie that traffics in timidity rather than temerity, this offers a handful of inspired gags, as well as charismatic roles for Rock and Bernie Mac as siblings who run for the Oval Office. --MB

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

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

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 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.

THE IN-LAWS (PG-13) While no classic, The In-Laws includes a clever premise, a witty script and two beautifully matched lead actors. But enough about the 1979 version. The new In-Laws is a sorry excuse for a movie, with Albert Brooks playing a meek podiatrist caught up in the misadventures of his daughter's future father-in-law (Michael Douglas), a reckless CIA agent. This deadening action-comedy hybrid is neither exciting nor funny, and it further suffers from an embarrassing turn by David Suchet as a homosexual arms dealer who spends an exorbitant amount of screen time trying to get Brooks out of his pants. -- 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.

THE LIZZIE MCGUIRE MOVIE (PG) The appeal of the top-rated kids' show Lizzie McGuire can be traced to teen star Hilary Duff, who plays squeaky clean Lizzie as part Lucille Ball, part Britney Spears (minus the sleaze factor) and part Julie Andrews. We now get the inevitable big-screen spin-off, yet while the movie (which finds Lizzie roaming around Rome) should prove to be manna for the show's fan base of kids ages 6-14, there's not much here to excite their parents. Rating for its target audience: four stars. Rating for the rest of us: substantially lower. --MB

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 Kaurismaki 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

PHONE BOOTH (R) Following a co-starring role in The Recruit and a supporting turn in Daredevil, for his third film of 2003 Colin Farrell finds himself top-billed in this efficient drama about a New York publicist who gets pinned in a phone booth by a sniper (Kiefer Sutherland). With a crisp running time of 80 minutes, this taut psychological thriller (directed for maximum impact by Joel Schumacher) knows exactly when to clear the line. --MB

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

POKEMON HEROES (G) The children's game/toy/card/television/merchandising phenom still hasn't given up the ghost, as demonstrated by the fifth and latest big-screen spin-off adventure.

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 who 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

WHAT A GIRL WANTS (PG) Colin Firth gets a Hugh Grant-style role as an Englishman who meets the teenage American daughter (Amanda Bynes) he never knew he had. The title comes from a Christina Aguilera song.

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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