Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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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

BIG FISH (PG-13) On his deathbed, a colorful Southerner (Albert Finney) tells his fanciful life story to his skeptical son (Billy Crudup) in Tim Burton's latest tribute to the imagination. With Ewan McGregor radiantly playing Finney's younger self, the tall tales that dominate the film are comic, magical and appropriately "Southern." Only the present-day scenes with the humorless son drag on the film's otherwise delightful pageant of witches, giants and misguided poets. --Curt Holman

CALENDAR GIRLS (PG-13) A real event inspired this inevitable distaff version of The Full Monty, when middle-aged members of a Yorkshire women's club posed nude (tastefully) for a calendar to raise money for charity. A contrived story has been built around the incident with formulaic obstacles and no overriding concept beyond making a commercial movie. Helen Mirren and Julie Walters ensure it won't be a total loss. With a little tit, a little titillation and nothing to offend anyone, it's the feel-good movie of -- well, at least the 108 minutes it takes to unfold. --Steve Warren

CHASING LIBERTY (PG-13) It Happened One Night begat Roman Holiday, which begat this tale of a pampered princess busting loose and falling in love. As the daughter of President Mark Harmon, Mandy Moore starts her Roman holiday in Prague, aided by cute Matthew Goode, an undercover Secret Service agent who keeps her safe while giving her the illusion of freedom. The scenery kicks the plot's ass at every turn, although senior agents Jeremy Piven and Annabella Sciorra fall in love more entertainingly than their younger co-stars. --SW

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (PG) The idea of two people bringing 12 more into the world seems more irresponsible now than it did in 1950, when the original Cheaper By the Dozen was made. (The two films have only the title in common.) Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt and their brood nevertheless offer 99 fun minutes, as long as you stop thinking about our finite resources and focus on slapstick, puke, dog-in-crotch jokes and the love underneath it all. --SW

COLD MOUNTAIN (R) The English Patient's writer-director Anthony Minghella loses his way trying to bring Charles Frazier's civil war odyssey to life. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman never strike sparks as would-be-lovers separated by the war between the states, and Minghella stoops to crude means to manipulate his audience, rather than find a consistent tone. On the plus side, the film features a truly Homeric opening battle, a wrenching, well-crafted episode with Natalie Portman and a broad but amusing Renee Zellweger angling for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. --CH

THE COMPANY (PG-13) Robert Altman's frustratingly diffuse portrait of the labor and egos behind the seemingly effortless work of Chicago's Joffrey Ballet feels like the director working at half-power. Neve Campbell (who has a dance background) is the young corps ballerina, whose stage mother pushes her daughter to break out of the rank-and-file. Altman does manage to capture the nitty-gritty details of a career in dance, which includes waiting, frustration, injury and sacrifice. But his portrait feels incomplete and random, like a commercial for what could have been an interesting film. --FF


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