Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
HEROD'S LAW (R) In 1949 Mexico, a dimwitted political party functionary (award-winning Damian Alcazar) tries to bring "modernity and social justice" to a tiny village but becomes utterly corrupted himself. Director Luis Estrada infuses his savage political satire with laugh-out-loud jokes and formal style reminiscent of the Coen Brothers. But the film's anger eventually flattens its sense of humor and characterizations until it becomes like a brilliantly sketched Op-Ed cartoon, when it had the potential to be something deeper. At Madstone Theaters Parkside.--Curt Holman

JET LAG (R) A mediocre trifle of class warfare rendered as romantic comedy, Daniele Thompson's (La Buche) film stars Juliette Binoche as a tarty beautician escaping an abusive relationship and Jean Reno as a harried frozen foods executive who meet during a transit strike at the Charles De Gaulle airport. --Felicia Feaster

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (PG-13) English literature proves the unlikely source for this superhero team, including Alan Quartermain (Sean Connery), Dr. Jekyll, Captain Nemo and, as a sop to American audiences, a grown-up Tom Sawyer. Reports of on-set strife between Connery and Blade director Stephen Norrington have dogged the production, but it has terrific source material in the original Alan Moore comic book, an escapist lark with literary cred.

MORVERN CALLAR (NR) Lynne Ramsay's creepy, strangely mesmerizing follow-up to Ratcatcher centers on a working-class Scottish woman (Samantha Morton) whose life slowly transforms when her boyfriend commits suicide, leaving her in possession of his unpublished manuscript. Ramsay's trippy, art house ambience and meandering storyline can veer between a canny evocation of her characters' worldview and a shallow exercise in style, but her film and characters exert an undeniable pull. At Madstone Theaters Parkside.--FF

SWIMMING POOL (R) A standoffish English mystery writer (Charlotte Rampling) and her publisher's trampy French daughter (Ludivine Sagnier) become mismatched roomies in Francois Ozon's psychological thriller. The actresses give emotionally and physically revealing performances (Ozon seems besotted with Sagnier's lithe form) and the titular pool becomes a supple symbol of the human psyche. The thought-provoking final twist can't compensate for some routine ideas about releasing inhibitions or the film's lack of confidence with its melodramatic turns. Swimming Pool spends too much time splashing around in the shallows. --CH

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS (R) Director Alfredo de Villa offers a slice of life in one of Manhattan's Cuban neighborhoods when an aspiring comic book artist must take over the family bodega after his father is shot in a hold-up. At Madstone Theaters Parkside.

Duly Noted
HAIRSPRAY (1988) (PG) Before it was a hit Broadway musical, the toe-tapping tale of rock music and race relations was a frothy, nostalgic feature film. Starring Ricki Lake and Divine, John Waters' best film includes smaller roles by Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry and Pia Zadora. It plays on a double bill with Polyester. Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival. July 17, 8 p.m. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. $7. 404-881-2100.

HIGH AND LOW (1963) (NR) Again demonstrating his interest in Western literary traditions both highbrow and low, Japanese master Akira Kurosawa adapts Ed McBain's detective novel King's Ransom in this story of a rich businessman (Toshiro Mifune) confronting the criminal who has tried to kidnap his son. The original Japanese title translates to Heaven and Hell, which gives a sense of the murky, noirish substance of this powerful film. Kurosawa & Mifune. July 14, 8 p.m., Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Auditorium. $5. 404-733-4570.

I WILL LOVE HIM TILL THE END OF TIME A Bollywood musical directed by Sooraj R. Barjatya and starring Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor and Abhishek Bachchan. Marietta Star Cinema.

POLYESTER (1981) (R) Defiantly trashy director John Waters made his first move toward the mainstream with this soap opera-style tale of lonely, beleaguered housewife Francine Fishpaw (Divine). It plays on a double bill with Hairspray. Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival. July 17, 8 p.m. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. $7. 404-881-2100.

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.

SOMETHING TO CHEER ABOUT (NR) In the 1955-56 basketball season, the Crispus Attucks Tigers became the nation's first all-black high school basketball team to win a state championship. Betsy Blankenbaker's bittersweet documentary reflects on how that achievement launched athletic careers and challenged racial barriers. IMAGE Film & Video Center. July 17, 7:30 p.m. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, 450 Auburn Ave. Free. 404-352-4225.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) (G) Hollywood's quintessential family fantasy has something for everyone, including bizarrely dressed Munchkins, nightmarish flying monkeys, Judy Garland and a little dog, too. Start a new tradition by dressing in costume and singing along to the hit songs. You know you want to. Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival. July 14, 8 p.m. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. $7. 404-881-2100.

ALEX & EMMA (PG-13) Kate Hudson appears to be a rather limited actress, but between How to Lose a Guy In 10 Days and this, she seems to have found a forte in romantic comedies. She's better than the material at hand, playing a stenographer who agrees to type up an author's (Luke Wilson) latest novel as he dictates it, only to interject her opinions along the way. The easygoing rapport between Hudson and Wilson, as well as an amusing (if wafer-thin) look at the volatile nature of the writing process, helps to disguise the formula at the heart of this occasionally clever but too often contrived bit of fluff. -- 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

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 an 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

CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (NR) Andrew Jarecki's powerful documenatry about one family coping with tragedy is like a traffic accident you can't look away from. When Arnold Friedman is indicted for child molestation, his family's bourgeois life is destroyed. The film also comments on our "reality"-addicted times by showing how the Friedman sons' obsessively videotaped family squabbles, confessions and jokes as much to distance themselves from the truth as to record it. At United Artists Tara Cinemas.--FF

CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE (PG-13) The hottie supersleuths (Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and co-producer Drew Barrymore) take on a lethal "fallen Angel" (Demi Moore) in a sequel that's bigger and rowdier than the first, but also campier and emptier -- if you can imagine such a thing. Throttle makes so little sense and sets such a relentless pace for the jokes, cameos, T&A and nonsensical stunts that it qualifies more as a party as a movie. The best you can say is that Barrymoore throws a better bash than Mike Meyers' retro spy spoofs.--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

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.

DONNIE DARKO (2001) (R) Twenty six-year-old director Richard Kelly's imaginative first film may be about time travel, or it may be about madness. Centered on a forlorn teenager (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is being told by a demonic bunny rabbit that the world will end in 28 days, this combination of teen film, Shining crackup, American Beauty exegesis-on-suburbia can't get a handle on its own slippery self and nearly drowns in teen film conventions. At Madstone Theaters Parkside.--FF

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

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 save 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 kicks the habit of eating his finny fellows.--CH

FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY (PG) The 2002 American Idols run the gamut of emotions from J to K in this sanitized spring break movie, which is as innocent as a 1960s Beach Party flick but not as funny. (The "Whip-Cream Bikini Contest" displays as much skin as a convent fashion show.) Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini each come to South Florida with two standard-issue friends, one of whom keeps them apart except when they have a radio-friendly duet to sing, in a movie that's as formulaic and artificial as its stars. -- SW

THE GUYS (PG) Shortly after 9/11, Joan the journalist (Sigourney Weaver) helps Nick the firehouse captain (Anthony LaPaglia) writes a eulogy for his "guys" lost in the World Trade Center collapse. Anne Nelson's play brought catharsis to New York after debuting in December of 2001, but time hasn't been kind to the work, and the undramatic script becomes an uncinematic movie. LaPaglia adds humor and gravity to his scenes, but Weaver can't keep Joan's agonizingly sincere digressions from sounding self-absorbed. At Madstone Theaters Parkside. --CH

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

HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE (PG-13) You might think you've seen it all before in this haphazard action movie about mismatched detective partners who must overcome one hell of a contrived generation gap to save the day. In fact, you've just seen most of it before. Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett play against their wooden type, and director Ron Shelton devotes an inordinate amount of time to their extra-curricular activities: the former's a part-time real-estate broker, the latter a yoga instructor and aspiring actor. Nevertheless, the film relies on such usual suspects as crooked cops and hip-hop hoodlums, and culminates with a generic car chase.--Bert Osborne

HOUSE OF FOOLS (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. At Marietta Star Cinema--FF

THE HULK (PG-13) The big screen can scarcely contain Marvel Comics' emerald anti-hero with anger management issues, rendered as a muscle-bound force of nature thanks to computer effects. Alas, Ang Lee's film adaptation fails on nearly every other level, collapsing under flabby scripting and weakling performances from Jennifer Connelly and Eric Bana as the Hulk's emotionally inert alter ego Bruce Banner. The Hulk's desert battles with tanks, helicopters and jet fighters truly astonish, but it's a sad comment when a film's best scenes involve no actors, just CGI software and military hardware.--CH

IMAX IMAX Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (NR) The greatest survival story of the 20th century lends itself to Imax treatment. Kevin Spacey narrates Sir Ernest Shackleton's attempt to cross Antarctica by dogsled without his usual sarcasm but without overselling it either. The visuals combine Frank Hurley's original photographs and film footage, which retain amazing clarity, with recreations of the original expedition. Coral Reef Adventure (NR) A Fijian, concerned that a local reef is dying, hooks up with underwater filmmakers Howard and Michele Hall, who diagnose a combination of ocean warming, overfishing and residue from upriver logging. Enjoy the kick-ass photography and CSN songs, but tune out Liam Neeson's narration that tries to hang ecological baggage on a narrative too flimsy to support it. 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 ITALIAN JOB (PG-13) The 1969 version of The Italian Job is a minor cult classic, which isn't the same as a particularly good movie. Still, it beats this new version, which retained the title but not much else. Instead of the offbeat casting of Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill, we now get the Hollywood-glam teaming of Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton and Charlize Theron, set adrift in a by-the-numbers heist flick. Beyond some good supporting performances, the remake lacks flavor and feels bereft of the attention to atmosphere and character of Neil Jordan's recent and superior The Good Thief.--MB

L'AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE (R) This utterly charming, hip and modern story follows French graduate student Xavier (Romain Duris) on his chaotic journey from his Parisian home to the warm and sexy embrace of Barcelona. Cedric Klapisch continues to mine the hipster humanism he delivered so beautifully in 1997's When the Cat's Away. Despite its sweet, entertaining timbre, Klapisch's coming-of-age story perfectly conveys the bewitching effects of a change of locale and has profound insights about the need to hold onto one's identity in this frantic world.--FF

LEGALLY BLONDE 2: RED, WHITE AND BLONDE (PG-13) What kind of shoes go with the Beltway? Reese Witherspoon reprises her ingenious comic creation Elle Woods, a ditzy but detail-oriented fashion slave who goes to Washington as an unlikely animal rights activist. Neither Legally Blonde film really lives up to Witherspoon's acting, and the sequel trots out more canine costumes for laughs and inspirational clichés for cheap sentiment. At least Bob Newhart and Mary Lynn Rajskub provide amusing comic foils.--CH

LILYA 4-EVER (R) Swedish director Lukas Moodysson (Together) dedicates his third film to "the millions of children around the world exploited by the sex trade," and his earnestness to open his audience's eyes is clear. Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) is a 16-year-old Russian girl who, lacking family or support of any kind, falls into the grip of an international prostitution ring. She endures unrelenting degradation, and the unceasing catalogue of horrors often give Moodysson's film an overwrought quality despite flashes of real emotion. Akinshina reminds us of the tragic, childlike vulnerability at the heart of such escalating outrages. At Lefont Plaza Theatre.--FF

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

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE LEGEND OF THE BLACK PEARL (PG-13) Disney attempts to resurrect the genre of swashbuckling adventure films (and extend the brand of its theme park ride) with this brainless but fun sea opera. Johnny Depp mostly annoys as an out-of-luck pirate who seeks revenge against the crew who betrayed him. But the sailors are now cursed and show up as skeletons in moonlight, a macabre twist on the old pirate folklore. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley come into play as star-crossed lovers who tangle with the zombies. Aarrrh!--TB

RESPIRO (PG-13) Like something out of Tennessee Williams transferred to a remote Italian island, this steamy, creepy drama concerns the clammy, sexually intense, violence-laced way of life there. The darkness brewing beneath sun and sea is illustrated in how a mentally ill wife and mother, Grazia (Valeria Golino) is treated by her husband and the community. Only her fierce, macho little sons seem willing to rescue the ethereal, damaged Grazia from her husband's plans to send her packing to a hospital in Milan.--FF

SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS (PG) Despite its frequent reliance on computer graphics, this hails from the "old school" of hand-drawn animation, and like most recent efforts in that vein (Spirited Away the obvious exception), it proves to be one dull affair. The limp storyline about a plucky bad-boy hero (voiced by Brad Pitt) who tirelessly banters with a spunky lady love (Catherine Zeta-Jones) while battling a wicked goddess (Michelle Pfeiffer) elicits only yawns. Nifty sequences pay tribute to such fantasists as Ray Harryhausen and Jules Verne, but for the most part, this is rough sailing, even without the obligatory Bryan Adams tune. -- MB

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 peak 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 a snooze-inducing subject matter into a fascinating fable of the American Dream.--TB

TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (R) By the standards of demolition derbies and Roadrunner cartoons, the third and dumbest film in the Terminator series makes a true spectacle of itself. U-571 director Jonathan Mostow has one or two fresh ideas, but can't replicate the efficiency, dread and B-movie grandeur James Cameron brought to the prior chapters about time-tripping androids. With Arnold Schwarzenegger's catch-phrase line-readings sounding more mechanical than ever, we're more intrigued by Kristanna Lokken's multifunctional Terminatrix, who comes across like a combination of a Swiss army knife and Isla, She-Wolf of the SS. --CH

THE TRIP (NR) A "radical homosexual" activist (Tommy Ballenger) and a supposedly straight Nixon Republican (Alan Oakley) meet in 1973 and fall into a love affair that spans two decades of the gay civil rights struggle. Featuring Alexis Arquette, Jill St. John and Julie Brown. At Lefont Plaza Theatre.

28 DAYS LATER (R) Trainspotting director Danny Boyle helms a stylish piece of schlock as a handful of normal humans contend with an epidemic that has turned England's populace into raging berserkers. The last act's detour into Lord of the Flies territory dilutes some of the film's finely-drawn tension, but it still proves a smart throwback to the end-of-the-world flicks of the 1970s.--CH

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (PG-13) Never rising above the level of mediocrity, the 2001 sleeper smash The Fast and the Furious had two things going for it: the magnetic presence of Vin Diesel and plenty of spectacular car races, car chases and car crashes. But with Diesel committing himself to other projects, this sequel's appeal is immediately cut in half -- and it's reduced even more by the fact that the car sequences don't match the visceral impact of the first film's auto focus. Toss in a limp plot about money-laundering in Miami, the depressing presence of director John Singleton and dull performances by Paul Walker, Tyrese and Eva Mendes, and what's left is ready for the scrap heap. -- MB

THE WHALE RIDER (PG-13) A community of New Zealand's Maori Indians await the arrival of their next spiritual leader but are disappointed when a girl Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is born instead. Niki Caro's film is a heartwarming family drama with profound things to say about the diminished importance of little girls in male-dominated societies. This moving film is led by an absolutely heartwrenching performance by Keisha Castle-Hughes as the defiant, soulful young girl determined to prove her mettle. At United Artists Tara Cinemas.--FF

WINGED MIGRATION In 1996, the French actor/producer/director Jacques Perrin made Microcosmos, a thrilling, humorous, bug's-eye view documentary about insects. Now he's turned his attention to birds. Five filmmaking teams, using gliders, hot air balloons, helicopters and remote-controlled cameras, spent three years following a variety of species on their migratory flights. This feature-length "moment of Zen" has sparse factual content but thrilling cinematography. At Lefont Garden Hills Cinema. --Suzanne Van Atten

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 blade-fisted Wolverine and Alan Cumming's teleporting Nightcrawler.--CH


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