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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
DIE MOMMIE DIE! (NR) Charles Busch, the drag legend and writer behind Psycho Beach Party, shines in this adaptation of his stage work, a black comedy set in 1967 Hollywood. With shades of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Busch plays Angela Arden, a fading songstress whose prickly home life turns homicidal when her husband discovers her affair with a former TV star (Jason Priestley). A stellar supporting cast, including "Six Feet Under's" Frances Conroy as a back- biting maid, keep the laughs coming, even if its Serial Mom premise occasionally drags (pun intended). At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema.--Tray Butler.

EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959) (NR) This French horror classic laid the groundwork for the slasher film. The moody, elegant shocker has an esteemed plastic surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) and his lover (Alida Valli) abducting and disfiguring a succession of comely young lasses in order to transplant their faces onto that of Brasseur's disfigured daughter (Edith Scob). Though the film has a sliver of gore, most notably in a gruesome surgery scene, its nightmares are generally psychological, which has only heightened Eyes legendary status as a work of understated horror. At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema.--Felicia Feaster

Duly Noted
BLACK BOX GERMANY (2000) (NR) This award-winning documentary examines two lives linked by violent deaths: Deutsche Bank C.E.O. Alfred Herrhausen, who died in a bomb attack in 1989, and Wolfgang Grams, the suspected terrorist who was slain by mysterious gunshots four years later. Recent Films from Germany. Dec. 3, 7 p.m. Goethe Institut Inter Nationes, 1197 Peachtree St., Colony Square. $4. 404-892-2388.

BUFFALO SOLDIERS (R) Gregor Jordan's military satire stars Joaquin Phoenix as a sexy but unscrupulous black marketeer on a U.S. army base in Germany. Ed Harris hilariously channels his inner McLean Stevenson as the befuddled commander, while stoned soldiers provide destructive slapstick. The resolution backs away from some of the film's harsher implications, but its dark humor unfolds in the spirit of MASH and Three Kings. Nov. 28-Dec. 4. Cinefest, GSU Student Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565.--Curt Holman

FESTIVAL LE FILM NOIR (NR) Lefont Garden Hills cinema hosts a festival of classic French crime dramas from Dec. 4-14, opening with Elevator to the Gallows, Louis Malle's gritty 1958 thriller about a cheating wife who plots with her lover to kill her husband. Upcoming films include the heist pictures Rififi and Bob Le Flambeur (remade this year as The Good Thief), Purple Noon (René Clement's adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player. Dec. 4-14. Lefont Garden Hills Cinema, 2835 Peachtree Rd. $15 for Dec. 4 opening night. 404-495-1684. www.lefonttheaters.com.

GIGANTIC: A TALE OF TWO JOHNS (NR) A.J. Schnack directs a documentary valentine to They Might Be Giants, tracing the quirky alterna-pop band from its origins in Manhattan's post-punk performance art scene to its current presence on the Internet and hip soundtracks. The film nicely captures the almost frictionless creative dynamic between accordionist/poet John Linnell and guitarist/showman John Flansburgh. But it relies too heavily on interviewees like Sarah Vowell and its own ironic stunts, rather than letting the band's videos and songs like "Don't Let's Start" speak for themselves. Nov. 28-Dec. 4. Cinefest, GSU Student Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565.--CH

MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (1996) (G) Tim Curry plays Long John Silver in this likable, mostly-muppet version of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic that goes down easy yet leaves scarcely a ripple in your memory. Nov. 27. Cinefest, GSU Student Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565.--CH

Continuing
BAD SANTA (R) Advocate for the anti-consumerist, retro-obsessed values of the splenetic counterculture, director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) tries to apply his misanthropic perspective to mainstream Hollywood comedy. His alcoholic Santa (Billy Bob Thornton), who robs the same shopping malls where he plies his trade, is another antisocial cult figure infused with the values of Zwigoff's alternative comix imagination. But the director can certainly do better than this thin parody of the saccharine, smarmy Christmas comedy. --FF

BROTHER BEAR (G) Phil Collins is a great argument for mandatory retirement. His songs are the worst thing in this decent Disney animated effort by aging hippies to pass their values on to a new generation. The message that animals are more loving than humans (in case you missed it in Flower Child 101) is conveyed through the story of "a boy who became a man by becoming a bear."--SW

BUBBA HO-TEP (R) Bruce Campbell of the Evil Dead trilogy plays an elderly Elvis -- or perhaps just a mentally-scrambled impersonator -- who defends his seedy nursing home from a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy. Phantasm director aspires to cheesy B-movie status and succeeds by that rather modest benchmark. Despite its dirty jokes and bargain-basement production values, the film works in some weighty points about mortality and Campbell's a hoot whenever he defends himself against supernatural enemies with Elvis' patented karate moves.--CH

DR. SEUSS' THE CAT IN THE HAT (PG) Mike Meyers follows in Jim Carrey's footsteps by donning heavy make-up and a fuzzy suit to play a beloved Dr. Seuss character in this big-screen expansion of the children's book.

ELF (PG) Will Ferrell plays an ill-adjusted man-child raised by Santa's helpers then sent to New York City to find his long-lost father and -- surprise! -- save Christmas in the process. Director Jon Favreau (Swingers) should end up on the naughty list for producing such pointless holiday pabulum.--TB

GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS (NR) Part All About Eve parody, part "Golden Girls" gone to hell, this witty and bitter comedy pits three wicked roommates (all women played by men) against each other in a war of the wigs. Dried-up '70s star Evie Harris (Jack Plotnick) spews contempt for newcomer Varla Jean Merman (Jeffrey Roberson), an opportunistic actress who's the daughter of Evie's late arch-nemesis. The plot sometimes falters, but the Airplane-esque slapstick and sizzling dialogue make the film an instant drag classic. At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema.--TB.

GOTHIKA (R) Halle Berry should plead temporary insanity for choosing this mentally-deficient suspense film for her first leading role after winning her Best Actress Oscar. She plays a prison psychiatrist who finds herself an inmate in her own penitentiary, but the plot's Kafka-esque possibilities are ignored for ghostly goings-on. French art-house director Mathieu Kassovitch gets drunk on own camerawork and doesn't bother to address the plot's persistent silliness, like Berry's ability to escape from her "high security" cell as easily as audiences can walk out of a thrill-free thriller.--CH

THE HAUNTED MANSION (PG) If Pirates of the Caribbean left you pining for another motion picture based on a Disney theme-park attraction, your wait is over. Eddie Murphy plays a realtor who discovers that a piece of prime real estate already has some undead occupants.

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

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

LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION (PG) Part animated cartoon and part live-action cartoon, this is the Funny Movie the Scary Movies tried to be, with a similar scattershot approach scoring far more laughs. It's got the wackiness, the violence and the pop culture (especially 1950s sci-fi) references of the Looney Tunes of old, and not even one of Steve Martin's less inspired performances and a silly plot about a diamond that turns people into monkeys can slow it down.--SW

LOVE ACTUALLY (R) Love is all around in this British Love Boat (on dry land) that makes a case for the ubiquity of pop music. In the five weeks leading up to Christmas, dozens of characters initiate, maintain or break off relationships of a romantic, sexual, familial or platonic nature. Excellent casting makes each person stand out, whether the actor is familiar (Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson) or not (Heike Makatsch, Andrew Lincoln). Richard Curtis, the witty writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, makes his directing debut with a commercial movie that gives commercial movies a good name.--SW

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (PG-13) Russell Crowe lightens up a bit to play Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), captain of the HMS Surprise as he matches wits with a bigger, faster French ship in this Napoleonic-era nautical adventure. Director Peter Weir stays faithful to the spirit of Patrick O'Brien's novel, one of a beloved series that elevates maritime procedure over swashbuckling plot. The film's impeccable approach to detail will appeal more to History Channel fans than the general movie-going audience, but it boasts exciting set-pieces and a colorful cast of character actors.--CH

THE MISSING (R) Director Ron Howard adds some Blair Witchy thrills to this Western with a story that's suspiciously similar to The Searchers. Cate Blanchett gives a fiercely effective performance as a frontier doctor who reluctantly accepts the aid of her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones) when a demonic Native American witch kidnaps her daughter. Howard's all-too-conventional filmmaking can't clarify the muddled themes about white civilization vs. Native American mysticism, but The Missing doesn't lack for good acting and a few suspenseful scenes.--CH.

SHATTERED GLASS (PG-13) A gripping journalistic thriller with a goofy title, Shattered tells the story of the 24-year-old wunderkind New Republic reporter Stephen Glass who invented half of the stories he passed off as fact.Hayden Christensen delivers a believable performance as a world-class sniveler who used his boyish charms to cover his tracks. But the real thrills come from the film's willingness to heap the blame not on just one wayward cheater, but on an entire journalistic practice which rewards flashy, salacious, gonzo reportage and worries more about image than content.--Felicia Feaster

21 GRAMS (R) Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's (Amores Perros) drama is an anguished meditation on the mess and guilt left behind when a tragedy unites three disparate strangers. A grieving drug addict (Naomi Watts), an ex-con turned Jesus freak (Benicio Del Toro) and a gravely ill man (Sean Penn) waiting for a heart transplant find their lives intersecting in a film that recalls the tapestried existential angst of Magnolia. The film features a genuinely tortured, magnetic turn by Del Toro, whose fascinating character should have had his own movie. 21 Grams is overburdened by its melodramatic meltdowns and actorly moments that spell out the traumas in far too broad gestures. There is far too much material here, and too many tangents to give the material the urgency it deserves.--FF

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