Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Page 3 of 5

THE COOLER (R) Director Wayne Kramer takes a humorous premise -- a man so unlucky that a Vegas casino pays him to jinx (or "cool") more fortunate gamblers -- and inexplicably treats it as the stuff of serious drama. The film features tender, insightful bedroom scenes and substantial acting from Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin and William H. Macy in the title role, but its morality tale of honor in Vegas gambling dens never convinces. If The Cooler were a bet, you wouldn't take it.--CH

THE FOG OF WAR (PG-13) Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, emerges as commanding yet enigmatic in Errol Morris' urgent, intricate documentary. The title evokes the gray areas of military decisions as well as the contradictions in McNamara's own character. At times evasive about his legacy of Vietnamese military escalation, McNamara offers keen insights into the Cuban Missile Crisis and a harsh assessment about the firebombing of Japan. It's essential viewing, particularly when America flexes its military muscles abroad.CH

GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING (PG-13) Exquisitely photographed by cinematographer Eduardo Serra in beautiful homage to 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, this captivating film is also true to the covert personal and political issues that backstoried classical oil painting. Director Peter Webber's calm, subtle, but fascinating adaptation of Tracy Chevalier's best-selling work of historical fiction, speculates on the class and sexual issues that might have informed Vermeer's (Colin Firth) creation of one of his greatest works, "The Girl with a Pearl Earring," using a humble, virginal housemaid (Scarlett Johansson) as his muse.--FF

HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (R) Its melodramatic, grandiose conclusion is an odd match with its previous flat-line rhythm, but the grim House of Sand and Fog is greatly enhanced by Ben Kingsley's memorable performance as an Iranian immigrant who battles with a depressed woman (Jennifer Connelly) over her former house by the sea. Connelly's zombie-like, unengaging performance, as well as the film's emotionally mismatched first and second half, account for its inability to work, despite some interesting content.--FF

IMAX THEATER: 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 Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees (NR) As much about the lady as the animals she's studied for more than 40 years, this pleasant but unexciting film features more observation than information about an extended family of Tanzanian chimps and their baboon buddies. Johnny Clegg's music is a plus. Opens Feb. 7. Legend of Loch Lomond This Scottish ghost story depicts 18th century lovers separated by war but reunited in the present day. Feb. 14 only. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300.

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

JAPANESE STORY (R) When Toni Colette's outdoorsy geologist unwillingly plays tour guide for a young but formal Japanese investor (Gotaro Tsunashima), the film sets up a opposites-attract romance in the splendidly photographed outback. Director Sue Brooks and scripter Alison Tilson stay deceptively close to the formula, then take the film on a head-spinning detour to become a thoughtful drama marked by the subtle delicacies of Collette's performance.--CH

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


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  • Re: Fresh air

    • Local band Manchester Orchestra, who provided the soundtrack, probably would have appreciated a shout-out.

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