Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
ANACONDAS: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID (NR) Remember that monster movie from a few years back with the giant snake that swallowed Jon Voight and then regurgitated him? No? Well, here's a sequel about a team of scientists in the Amazon who become snake-bait.

THE BEST TWO YEARS (PG) A group of Mormon missionaries face apathy and complications while seeking converts in the Netherlands in this film approved by the Church of Latter-day Saints.

CODE 46 (R) Michael Winterbottom, director of 24 Hour Party People, helms a sci-fi thriller in which the illicit love affair of one couple (Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton) defies the segregated society of the near-future.

DANNY DECKCHAIR (PG-13) The feel-good movie of the moment, Danny Deckchair has a sweet, Capra-esque quality in its story of an Australian (Rhys Ifans) who literally floats into a new life and becomes a national folk hero (though his picture is never shown on the telly, which really strains credibility). Lord of the Rings' Miranda Otto plays the new woman in his life -- assuming his idyll can last forever. Jeff Balsmeyer's movie can inspire you to live your dream, though it may not work out as well as Danny's. -- Steve Warren

DONNIE DARKO: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT (R) See review.

FATHER AND SON (NR) Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov (Russian Ark) denies any homoerotic intent in this beautifully photographed film about the codependency of a 40ish father and his 20ish son, but with no plot to speak of, the viewer must try to make something of the visual clues, which include a lot of male physicality and not a lot of clothing. For starters, why make the innocent opening scene look so sexual if that's not what it's about? Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. -- SW

FESTIVAL EXPRESS (R) See review.

HERO (PG-13) See review.

SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2 (PG) The brain-boosted talking toddlers of Baby Geniuses get new powers, costumes and allies to battle a nefarious media mogul, played by Jon Voight. (Hey, didn't he get regurgitated in that Anaconda movie?)

SUSPECT ZERO (NR) You could call this thriller The Silence of the Sexy Beast as two FBI investigators (Aaron Eckhart and The Matrix's Carrie-Anne Moss) trail a mystery man (Ben Kingsley) who may be murdering serial killers.Duly NotedTAXI DRIVER (1976) (R) "Are you talkin' to me?" Martin Scorsese's unnerving classic of urban alienation is talking to all of us. Robert De Niro's performance as antiheroic -- yet not unsympathetic -- psycho Travis Bickle deserves its legendary status. Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader reveal insight into the nature of violence, the political process and heroic quest stories in what could have been a grim, blinkered character study. Fri.-Sat., Aug. 27-28, midnight. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive. -- Curt Holman

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 Peachtree Cinema & Games, Norcross.

ATLANTA UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL Highlights include MOVE, a documentary on the radical 1970s political movement in Philadelphia (Fri., Aug. 27, 6 p.m., Art Farm, 835 Wylie St.; Sun., Aug. 29, 7:30 p.m., Eyedrum, 290 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive); Nothing Really Happens (Memories of Aging Strippers), a drama about three different women (Fri., Aug. 27, 8 p.m., Art Farm); "Tephrasect," a stop-motion animation experimental short (Fri., Aug. 27, 11:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 28, 3:30 p.m., Art Farm); Inflated, a mock porn flick starring blow-up dolls (Fri., Aug. 27, 10 p.m., Art Farm); Playground, a documentary about three skateboarding, breakdancing teens (Wed., Aug. 25, 9 p.m., Eyedrum; Sat., Aug. 28, 5 p.m., Art Farm); "Kaleidos," an experimental short featuring a roller coaster ride and kaleidoscopic images (Sat., Aug. 28, 11:30 p.m., Art Farm); "Somebody's Watching Me," a short about a security company employee who spies on a sexy customer (Sat., Aug. 28, 11:30 p.m., Art Farm; Mon., Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m., the Earl.) The film festival runs through Tues., Aug. 31. www.auff.org.

VAN HELSING (PG-13) Bram Stoker's elderly vampire hunter becomes a buff, gadget-toting action figure (played by Hugh Jackman). Writer/director Stephen Sommers blows a fortune in computer effects to desecrate our memories of Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein monster. Overblown and dimwitted in every respect, Van Helsing unintentionally reaches heights of comedy and camp undreamed of by The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival. Mon., Aug. 30, 8 p.m. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. $8. 404-881-2100. www.foxtheatre.org. -- CH

Continuing
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (PG-13) "Whoever wins ... we lose." Wrong! At first Aliens and Predators alike kill off minor human characters, but eventually root for one side to prevail. There's not much plot and what there is, is crap. Predators and Aliens fight every hundred years in a pyramid buried under Antarctic ice. Sanaa Lathan leads the archaeologists who get caught in this century's pissing match. On a visual, visceral level, AVP is mildly effective, but keep your expectations low. --SW

THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: ZATOICHI (PG-13) Takeshi Kitano revives the Zatoichi franchise, legendary in the Far East, hoping it'll catch on in the West. The writer-director-editor plays Zatoichi under his acting name, Beat Takeshi, in a film that's a mess, though not entirely in a bad way. The comedy, drama, violent action and musical numbers prove fun, but don't always work together well in this outrageous import. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.--SWTHE BOURNE SUPREMACY HHH (PG-13) Two years after he thought he was out, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) gets pulled back in following a double assassination. Director Paul Greengrass abandons the documentary style of his prior film Bloody Sunday to offer the usual convoluted hokum and hop from India to Naples to Washington to Berlin to Moscow. There may be more action this time, but like the plot, it's less easy to follow. --SWBROADWAY: THE GOLDEN AGE (NR) This documentary about the Great White Way feels like the video equivalent of an autograph hound's scrapbook. The fast-paced oral history of Broadway's heyday (roughly bookended by the ending of World War II and the opening of Cats) features 100 interviewees, from Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury to theater artists to you've never heard of, and tends to value quantity over quality. The film nevertheless digs up some great backstage stories and pays due homage to forgotten stage pioneers.--CH

CATWOMAN (PG-13) A beautiful African-American woman stars as a strong, morally ambiguous comic book character? Great idea for a movie! But French director Pitof seems to have wanted to make a campy, incoherent, trend-conscious action flick to amuse drunk fans of "Sex and the City." Berry strikes an awkward pose as a mousy graphics artist brought back to life as a whip-wielding, wall-crawling split personality with feline powers. Scooping a litter box for two hours would be a more pleasant and productive use of your time.--CH

COLLATERAL (R) Tom Cruise takes a change-of-pace role as a perfectionist hitman who forces Jamie Foxx's hapless cabbie to chauffeur him around for a night of mayhem. A taut, essentially two-character piece that criss-crosses LA., Collateral resembles Training Day as another slick, tightly-written B-movie with big name actors. The film lives up to director Michael Mann's reputation for precise shots and polished editing, even if it the final showdowns feel like a burnished version of a made-for-cable crime thriller.--CH

THE CORPORATION (NR) Like a graduate seminar taught by Fight Club's David Fincher, this brainy but entertaining documentary charts the rise of the modern corporation from a one-trick pony to a national religion that has lately put dibs on Bolivian rainwater, the genetic components of life and, oh yeah, our souls. A film that should become required viewing in every American high school.--FF

EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (R) The prequel is nicely photographed and while it's slow and has only one sympathetic character, it doesn't become laughably bad until the final 15 minutes. Stellan Skarsgard plays Fr. Merrin, the Max von Sydow character, 25 years before the events in Georgetown, when he meets and beats the devil in Kenya. Renny Harlin had tubular balls to take on the project after John Frankenheimer died (probably a better career move) and Paul Schrader's version was deemed unreleasable. --SW

FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (R) Michael Moore's fiery polemic about post-9/11 politics sheds more heat than light, but deserves attention for the questions it raises about some of the major issues of modern American history. Moore levels his trademark sarcasm at George W. Bush, but spends most of the film despairing over the economic forces that send young people into military service at the time of an unjustified war with Iraq. Despite its fuzzy reasoning and incomplete arguments (Moore never acknowledges Saddam Hussein's blood-drenched human rights record, for instance), Fahrenheit 9/11 remains one of the most urgent and explosive documentaries ever made.--CH

GARDEN STATE (R) Zach Braff of the NBC sitcom "Scrubs" writes, directs and stars in this droll, amiable dramedy that loses some of its considerable charm as it goes along. Braff plays a emotionally detached, aspring actor in Los Angeles who gets a new lease on life over an eccentric homecoming in New Jersey. Braff injects some droll sight gags (reminiscent of "Scrubs'" own sense of humor) into his often sharp script, but the last act relies on symbols and epiphanies that feel derivative from the films of more seasoned directors.--CH

HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE (R) I'm not stoned: this half-baked comedy from the director of Dude, Where's My Car contains a seed of serious racial-political subtext. Two friends -- an uptight Korean-American (Jon Cho) and an insolent, Indian-American (Hal Penn) -- smoke pot one fateful Friday night and embark on an epic quest across New Jersey for White Castle sliders. The jokes range from hilariously gross to tediously gross, but as the two heroes face living stereotypes of their own ethnicities as well as the taunts of racist white guys, the film reveals an idea or two about what it means to be a minority in America.--CH

A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD (R) With his entire family dead by the time he's a teenager, Bobby (Colin Farrell) spends his life trying to find a place to call home. As a grown-up he creates a blissful with two iconoclastic refugees from New York's East Village (Robin Wright Penn, Dallas Roberts) who form their "funny family" on a farmhouse in upstate New York. Farrell's moving performance and first-time director Michael Mayer's heartfelt, if at times superficial, adaptation of Michael Cunningham's novel capture the sense of magnitude and emotional nourishment in ordinary life and relationships. The film rises above its awkward early scenes of Bobby's youth, which feature cheesy Sixties set dressing and young actors less able to convey Cunningham's weighty ideas.--FF

I, ROBOT (PG-13) Flash-forward 30 years into the future, when keeping up with the Joneses means having an android as a personal assistant. A technophobic Chicago cop (Will Smith) thinks a city overrun with robots might pose a threat to humanity. Director Alex Proyas' CGI-saturated contribution to the robots-run-amok genre features a sleek, superficial production design that begs for a seamy underbelly. Though driven by spectacle, I, Robot balances deliciously overblown action sequences with intriguing plot twists and even a bit of futuristic philosophy.--Cary Jones

IMAX THEATER: Forces of Nature (NR) Volcanoes and tornadoes and earthquakes, oh my! Not to mention the scientists who study them to improve their forecasting ability in hopes of saving lives. It's like watching the best of the Weather Channel on a giant screen -- without getting your local forecast. NASCAR: The Imax Experience (PG) Stock car racing seems a perfect subject for 3-D Imax but this survey course -- "NASCAR 101" -- doesn't begin to realize the potential. Fans have seen it all before and if non-fans had any interest, they'd be fans. The film includes surprisingly little racing footage, and cuts away too quickly from the shots that put you in the action. In addition to the wall-to-wall advertising that is NASCAR, the film's sponsor gets a blatant plug in the narration. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300. www.fernbank.edu.--SW

INTIMATE STRANGERS (R) In a distinctly Hitchcockian vein, French director Patrice Leconte (Man on the Train) puts a deft, thoughtful spin on thriller conventions in his story of a beautiful, troubled woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) who confesses her myriad sexual frustrations to the repressed, romantically unfulfilled tax lawyer (Fabrice Luchini) she mistakes for her psychoanalyst.--Felicia Feaster

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (R) A strung-out Gulf War veteran (Denzel Washington) suspects that the decorated soldier-turned-politician (Liev Schreiber) from his old command may be under the control of sinister puppet masters. Director Jonathan Demme doesn't so much remake John Frankenheimer's suspenseful Cold War satire as reprogram it for the War on Terror, and delivers a fearsome political thriller in its own right. Meryl Streep grabs with gusto the Angela Lansbury role as the most ruthless Mom since Medea.--CH

MARIA FULL OF GRACE (R) A clear-eyed, almost documentarian account of a 17-year-old Colombian (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who decides to smuggle a bellyful of heroin into the United States as a mule. First-time NYU-schooled filmmaker Joshua Marston avoids sensationalism in his remarkably sober and engrossing story of Moreno's white-knuckle progress from Colombia to Jamaica Hills, Queens.--FF

METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER (NR) The -beating heavy metal persona gets a kinder, gentler treatment in this fascinating documentary from Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofksy (Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost). Metallica, the world's most successful metal band, struggles to cut a new record, hire a new bassist, spend time with their families, get sober, resolve childhood traumas, stop fighting and prove, as notes vocalist/recovering alcoholic James Hetfield, "you can make aggressive music without negative energy." A subversive peek into how bickering rockers resolve to find some male identity beneath the rock star posturing.--FF

NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (PG) In Jared Hess' debut film, Jon Heder superbly plays the teenage anti-hero, a petulant curly-haired beanpole equally annoyed by life at home and high school. As long as Napoleon Dynamite restricts itself to the title character's geeky misadventures, the film finds laughs that are plentiful if not exactly deep. But Hess gives Napoleon's older relatives, like his chat room-obsessed brother (Aaron Ruell), ridiculous traits merely to mock them, and frequently cribs from the filmmaking styles of Todd Solondz and Wes Anderson.--CH

OPEN WATER (R) Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis play an overscheduled couple whose scuba trip takes a terrifying turn when the tour boat abandons them in the middle of the ocean. Director Chris Kentis makes the couple's flight feel unnervingly plausible, especially when the digital video camera films live sharks within feet of the actors. Like a masterful short story, Open Water sustains a mood of sheer dread and captures both the fear and stoic resignation in the face of mortality.--CH

SHE HATE ME (R) A whistle-blowing black executive (Anthony Mackie) becomes a $10,000-a-night stud for glam lesbians looking to get pregnant. Spike Lee so desperately tries to provoke his audience that he torches his own credibility, narrative sense and character insight. The film's gender politics look like sex fantasies better kept private, while the subplot of Enron-esque corporate corruption features dialogue and acting suitable to a financial-themed porn flick (titled something like Ball Street).--CH

THUNDERBIRDS (PG) On spring break from prep school, Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) must save the world -- including his father (Bill Paxton) and four older brothers, who run their own international rescue operation. Wasn't this the plot of the first Spy Kids? An action-adventure for kids too young to sneak into R-rated movies, Thunderbirds adapts the 1960s British cult TV series. The movie's fast-paced silliness lacks nostalgic appeal for older fans but could win a new generation of followers.--SW

THE VILLAGE (PG-13) The citizens of an isolated 19th century community maintain an uneasy truce with the mysterious inhabitants of the surrounding woods, until the young generation (including Joaquin Phoenix and a spirited Bryce Dallas Howard) start testing the rules. The Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan undermines the film's old-fashioned frights by turning it into an unlikely parable of public terror and homeland security. Yet the dialogue and performances prove so stilted that we can't take Shyamalan's big themes seriously, so The Village will satisfy exactly no one.--CH

WE DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (R) An uneven film adapted from two Andre Dubus stories, Live is harrowing some moments, pretentious emotional scab-picking at others; an ensemble piece about two couples grappling with adultery that can often feel like scruffy, aging Gen Xers playacting at Bergman-style adult angst. Laura Dern delivers an exceptional performance, and some of the film's insights into the myriad ways married couples psychologically torture each other ring true, but the film often feels like an inadequate translation of fiction writing's texture and subtlety to film.--FF

WITHOUT A PADDLE (PG-13) Three 30-year-old boys (Seth Green, Matthew Lillard, Dax Shepard) postpone maturity by searching for the money D.B. Cooper supposedly carried when he disappeared. The best thing you can say about this comedy is that represents a step up for the director of Little Nicky. Deliverance references abound, including an appearance by Burt Reynolds as a mountain man. Alternating between being not quite serious and not quite funny -- but trying harder to be funny -- Without a Paddle could be a decent movie when it grows up.--SW

ZHOU YU'S TRAIN (PG-13) A man, a woman, another man and ... a train. The first human-meets-machine romantic quadrangle is a maddeningly obtuse story of an artist (Gong Li) torn between her love for a veterinarian (Honglei Sun) and a poet (Tony Leung Ka Fai). Traveling by train to visit the men, Li has ample time to gaze dreamily out the window, or run in slow motion through train stations. Much time and energy wasted on those frou-frou expressions of romantic ennui derail this endless romance early on.--FF

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

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