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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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BEYOND BORDERS (R) With a title that sounds like a Barnes & Noble commercial, this failed attempt to revive the old-style romantic epic is equally unsuccessful as an infomercial for refugee aid organizations, since it shows ways in which these charities are compromised. Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen are torn between their love for each other and their love of helping refugees (she has a husband too, but he hardly figures into the equation) over 11 years of danger-filled meetings in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Chechnya. If not for the grim reality of the backdrops, Beyond Borders would be laughable.--SW

THE HUMAN STAIN (R) The adaptation of Philip Roth's novel casts Anthony Hopkins as a Jewish professor whose use of a racial epithet sends him on a personal tailspin. But rather than explore the book's themes about political correctness and racial self-loathing, Robert Benton's icily formal film emphasizes the professor's May-December affair with an uncouth janitor (Nicole Kidman masquerading as white trash). Wentworth Miller's flashbacks as the young Hopkins touch on the complex ethnic implications of a film that otherwise ducks controversy at every turn.--CH

IN THE CUT (R) An English professor (Meg Ryan) put off by the emotional messiness of sex grows attracted to a cocky, sleazy homicide detective (Mark Ruffalo) investigating the grisly murders of women. Jane Campion's adaptation of Susannah Moore's book gets points for its bedroom frankness, and loses them for its thudding themes that sex, men and marriage are all bad. The film proves rather effective as a unsettling, paranoia-inducing mood piece, but Ryan works so hard against her lightweight image that she never makes pleasure seem very pleasurable.--CH

INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (PG-13) A darker than average date movie involving a white-hot divorce lawyer (George Clooney), a gold-digging vixen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and their tangled up relationship, mixed parts revenge and romance. The Coen Brothers (Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?) keep the dialogue fast and furious, and make some fascinating Julius Caesar allusions along the way, but falter when they back off from the black humor.--Tray Butler

KILL BILL VOLUME 1 (R) Quentin Tarantino's geek side returns with a vengeance in the first half of his loving yet overblown salute to kung fu movies and other cult revenge flicks. A blonde assassin (Uma Thurman) tracks down the former colleagues who betrayed her, and while Tarantino strives for the grandiosity of Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, he undercuts himself with ironic jokes closer to McG's Charlie's Angels. It's up to Uma to carry the film -- and she does, conveying a toughness oddly comparable to Lee Marvin. Volume 2 is due in February.--CH

LOST IN TRANSLATION (R) Director Sofia Coppola's (The Virgin Suicides) much-anticipated second film brings together Bill Murray and indie flick ingénue Scarlett Johansson as accidental tourists in Tokyo. Both insomniacs at crisis points in their marriages, the two start a unique friendship that takes through from karaoke clubs to titty bars in a soft-focus search for connection and meaning. Coppola strings together enough tiny brilliant moments to overcome the film's nearly absent plot and produces a sophomore effort almost as sparkling as her first.--TB

MAMBO ITALIANO (R) Paul Sorvino and Ginette Reno anchor a stereotypical Italian-Canadian family in a gay rewrite of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Their 27-year-old son Angelo (Luke Kirby) moves out and sets up housekeeping with Nino (Peter Miller), a cop who's not as ready to be out as Angelo is. This formulaic feel-good movie relies too heavily on stereotypes, but has more going for it than that. All pasta sauces use the same ingredients but some cooks combine them better than others. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.--SW

MYSTIC RIVER (R) A continuation of the fixations with masculine strength, vengeance and the violent extremes that have defined Clint Eastwood's directorial and acting career. Sean Penn, a vast improvement on Eastwood's typically wooden action heroes, is a grieving father determined to punish whoever murdered his 19-year-old daughter. Eastwood's emotionally fraught film is hardly the masterpiece it's been made out to be, often weighed down by a ponderous, conventional police investigation plot and a tendency to spell out his aims in canned dialogue and elementary exposition. But as a sustained treatment of male grief and insight into Eastwood's auteurist fixations, Mystic River is undeniably fascinating.--FF

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