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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
AUTUMN SPRING (2001) (PG-13) This dramedy from Czechoslovakia stars Vlastimil Brodsky (in his last film role before his suicide) as an irrepressible practical joker unwilling to admit to his own mortality. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

THE COOLER (R) See review.

THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966) (NR) Sergio Leone's epic is bigger than ever, with the addition of new footage culled from European sources and dubbed into English (more than 30 years later) by Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach. Restored scenes -- including an interlude at a Civil War field hospital, another gunfight, and the fabled "grotto" scene -- add depth, and the big-screen Technicolor cinematography reveals details that not even the enhanced DVD version could reproduce. At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema --Gregory Nicoll

MONA LISA SMILE (PG-13) See review.

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. At Madstone Theaters Parkside.--Curt Holman

Duly Noted
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 Meat Loaf 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.

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. Dec. 18. 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. --Felicia Feaster

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

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.

DR. SEUSS' THE CAT IN THE HAT (PG) The Cat In The Hat is a dog. Rarely has a movie about having fun provided so little of it. In the title role Mike Myers does a total rip-off of Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion, trying to be hi-Lahr-ious. The Cat drops in on the Walden kids, control freak Sally (Dakota Fanning) and rule-breaker Conrad (Spencer Breslin), and teaches them to have fun without consequences. This movie wouldn't even register on the Cat's "Phunometer."--SW

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

THE GOSPEL OF JOHN (NR) It's rare to have one of the Gospels read cover-to-cover in church and this three-hour epic shows why. Pictorial elements can't make the slow and redundant parts interesting, despite Christopher Plummer's reverent reading of all but the dialogue. A relatively PC translation was used and the Jewish producers have added disclaimers to avoid charges of anti-Semitism, but Jesus (British stage actor Henry Ian Cusick) and his people are nevertheless pale-skinned with European features. Many believers will prefer the film to Bible studies that require them to do their own visualizing.--SW

THE HAUNTED MANSION (PG) This feature-length commercial for the like-named theme park attraction presents more scares for the easily frightened than laughs for the easily amused. Eddie "I used to be funny" Murphy plays Jim, the workaholic realtor who's too busy providing for his wife and kids to give them quality time. The family spends a night in Gracey Manor, where the shtick hasn't changed since Bob Hope or Abbott and Costello did their time in haunted houses 60-plus years ago.--SW

HONEY (PG-13) "Dark Angel's" Jessica Alba plays a club dancer torn between her aspiration to shake her booty in hip-hop music videos and her loyalty to the kids in her neighborhood. While no camp landmark like Showgirls or Glitter, the film's embrace of ancient let's-put-on-a-show clichés are good for a laugh, and Alba's easy on the eyes. Honey should provide a show of unity between fans of hip-hop music and bad movies alike.--CH

IMAX THEATER: Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey (NR) This world music sampler with the emphasis on percussion was filmed on five continents by the creators of the stage musical Stomp. The Stomp cast is augmented by a dozen acts representing the sounds that have influenced them, performing for about two minutes each. For all the time, money and effort involved the result should have been better. Through Feb. 6. Roar: Lions of the Kalahari (NR) The "circle of life" plays out in the Botswana desert in an unusually focused IMAX documentary, as two male lions fight for domination over a water hole. Kudos to Tim Liversedge, a rare filmmaker with the balls to set his camera in the middle of a pride of lions. Don't always believe what the narrator tells you and juxtaposed shots appear to show. Just be amazed by what you actually see. Through Apr. 30 Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300. www.fernbank.edu.--SW

IN AMERICA (PG-13) My Left Foot director Jim Sheridan builds his partially autobiographical tale of an Irish immigrant family on sweetness and sentiment, but without sugar-coating or safety nets. Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine give emotionally complex performances as the parents dealing with the death of their youngest child, while their two daughters find their first year in New York to be thrillingly exotic. Musical choices like "Do You Believe in Magic" overemphasize the themes of miracles, but In America feels like an honest attempt to transform painful personal experience into an accessible artistic catharsis.--CH

IN MY SKIN (NR) Marina de Van (a frequent collaborator with Francois Ozon) writes, directs and stars in this film about a woman who becomes increasingly obsessed with disfigurement after she suffers a minor injury. At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema.

THE LAST SAMURAI (R) Edward Zwick's samurai epic falls short of its potential with the miscasting of Tom Cruise as boozing, battle-weary soldier hired to help put down an insurgency (led by the charismatic Ken Watanabe) in 19th century Japan. The film's last act, with its lavish battle scene, lives up to its ambitions, but Cruise never conveys the haunted gravitas of his role, and only emphasizes the overly simplistic, romanticized screenplay.--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

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (PG-13) The final chapter of director Peter Jackson's sprawling adaptation of Tolkein's trilogy feels less like a self-contained film than the crescendo of a single, nine-hour fantasy epic. By alternating between the spectacular battle scenes of a war film and the terrifying suspense of a horror movie, King's intensity builds to a nearly unbearable pitch, while its close attention to character earns its profound feelings of release and closure. Admittedly exhausting, the three films join the company of The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and other classics of imaginative cinema.--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

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

LOVE DON'T COST A THING (PG-13) This African-American remake of Can't Buy Me Love finds Nick Cannon as geeky as Patrick Dempsey was. The high school senior blows his savings and chances for a scholarship in exchange for having Paris (Christina Milian) pose as his girlfriend to propel him into the in crowd at school. Cannon was good in Drumline, where he went through college. Now he's back in high school. Draw your own analogy. The Ebonic title is far from the worst thing about this movie, which proves money can't buy you talent.--SW

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.

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

SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE (PG-13) Cast to type, Jack Nicholson plays a celebrity bachelor who only dates women under 30, but falls for the fiftysomething mother (Diane Keaton) of his latest conquest-to-be (Amanda Peet). When Jack and Diane put aside the script's opposites-attract contrivances, they're irresistibly charming. With its appreciation of older women, the film's heart is in the right place, but as the plot meanders for more than two hours, the thing that's gotta give is our patience.--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.--FF

STUCK ON YOU (PG-13) Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear's amazing teamwork raise the bar for physical comedy. Playing conjoined twins they demonstrate incredible ingenuity in unimaginable activities. As in Shallow Hal, one-time gross-out kings Bobby and Peter Farrelly try, with a light touch, to show us humanity in people we might ordinarily turn away from. There are some fiendishly funny ideas here and enough great lines and gags to rank Stuck on You with the year's funniest films, but there's also an awful lot of schmaltz to wade through.--SW

TIBET: CRY OF THE SNOW LION (NR) Directory Tom Peosay spent 10 years making this documentary about the plight of Tibet under the oppressive shadow of Beijing. It features narration and voice-overs from Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon as well as a musical contribution from R.E.M. At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema.

TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (HANDS OFF THE LOOT) (1954) (NR) Jacques Becker's 1954 French gem about the aftermath of a gold heist is of interest chiefly for: 1) Jean Gabin, pushing 50 but with women half his age throwing themselves at him (part of the film's unbridled sexism); 2) young Jeanne Moreau looking like a typical starlet of the period -- see her watch her feet in a brief dance number but make it look sexy!; and 3) casual drug use and nudity you couldn't have seen on U.S. screens at the time. At Lefont Garden Hills.--SW

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.--FF

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