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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
CLOSER (R) See review on page 57.

AM DAVD (PG) See review on page 58.

LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE (R) See review on page 59.

Opening Wednesday
BLADE TRINITY (R) Marvel Comics' obscure half-breed vampire hunter becomes a surprisingly potent box office presence as Wesley Snipes takes on the role for the third time. Here's hoping screenwriter David Goyer can give the franchise the same kick Guillermo Del Toro gave Blade II.

Duly Noted
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 L.A., 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 the final showdowns feel like a burnished version of a made-for-cable crime thriller. Dec. 3-9. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. 404-651-3565. www.cinefest.org. -- Curt Holman

DIG! (NR) Two bands with groovy retro-sampling sounds, the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, become friends and then splinter into artistic rivals. The Dandys come from good, stable homes and the Massacre, from dysfunctional ones and drug abuse. The Dandys work hard at bohemian ambiance. The Massacre live it. The Dandys hit it big. And the Massacre, fronted by a brilliant but unstable, tragic leader, Anton Newcombe, destroy nearly every chance at a record deal in a suicidal effort not to sellout. It's hard to look away from Ondi Timoner's fascinating, painful film of the ugly forces at work in a creative pursuit often ruled by money, ego and dangerous glamour. Dec. 2. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. 404-651-3565. www.cinefest.org.--Felicia Feaster

DUTCH LIGHT (NR) Coinciding with the High Museum's exhibit Van Gogh to Mondrian this Dutch-made documentary explores the distinctive phenomenon of Dutch light that has informed the canvases of painters like Vermeer, Jan van Goyen and Philips Koninck. Though the topic will enthrall art enthusiasts, the film itself builds with the dry rigor of a JFK conspiracy video as scholars and scientists conduct experiments and build a case that the Netherlands have their own nationally unique light. The various theories for the origin or existence of the light, espoused by everyone from artists to astrophysicists, remain fascinating. Through Dutch Eyes. Dec. 4, 8 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Auditorium. 1280 Peachtree St. $5. 404-733-4570. www.high.org. -- FF

END OF THE CENTURY: THE STORY OF THE RAMONES (NR) You don't have to be a Ramones fan to appreciate this documentary, only someone interested in youthful alienation, the whims of the record industry, rock history, the underground music scene of the '70s, anti-image making or glitter rock. This depressing yet wonderfully engaging documentary covers it all via the seminal but financially overlooked group who never shake the outsider status that dogged their punk progress from Queens to indie music adoration. Dec. 2. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. 404-651-3565. www.cinefest.org. -- FF

PULP FICTION (1994) (PG) Quentin Tarantino's bracing deconstruction of film noir and French New Wave gestures spawned countless copycats, but don't hold that against his brash, brilliant movie. The hitman team of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson crosses paths with crooked boxer Bruce Willis as stories ingeniously overlap and double-back, accompanied by surf guitar and mariachi horns. Dec. 3-4, midnight. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive. -- CH

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.

Who Nose? (G) The premiere of a romantic comedy starring Neil Shuman, the author and associate producer of Doc Hollywood. Dec. 4, 7 p.m.; Dec. 5, 3 p.m. Dobbs University Center, Emory University, 605 Asbury Circle. Donation. 404-727-5050. www.whonose.com.

Continuing
AFTER THE SUNSET (R) Pierce Brosnan's diamond thief pulls off one last score and retires to the Bahamas with his partner/girlfriend (Salma Hayek), only to be trailed cat-and-mouse-style by an FBI agent (Woody Harrelson). Despite Hayek's remarkable bikini-filling skills, the film's real strength is the downright cute interaction between Brosnan and Harrelson: though played for laughs, their homoerotic chemistry drives the movie. Rush Hour director Brett Ratner tries too hard to make After the Sunset a sultry and sexy tropical thriller, and instead mixes a frothy umbrella drink of a movie that goes down smooth, but provides no real kick. -- Cary Jones

ALEXANDER (R) Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell) conquered the known world but collapses in a brooding heap in Oliver Stone's botched biopic of nearly three hours. Alexander's enlightened internationalism makes him ahead of his time, just as his unmistakable bisexuality makes him ahead of our own. But apart from Angelina Jolie and Val Kilmer's campy excesses as Alexander's parents, the film offers no colorful relationships, memorable dialogue or even coherent battle scenes. Alexander could put the entire genre of epic film in bad odor for years. -- CH

ALFIE (R) In 1966 Michael Caine rocketed to stardom by playing a misogynist playboy in glum working class England. Director Charles Shyer gives the remake a sunnier, bubblegum feel for more denial-prone times. A chick-flick cautionary tale about a decent-at-heart English chauffeur living in Manhattan who changes his lothario ways, this Alfie benefits immeasurably from Jude Law's comic timing and pretty-boy charm. -- FF

BEING JULIA (R) Based on Someset Maugham's novel Theatre, this stage drama stars Annette Bening as London's leading actress in the 1930s and features such supporting players as Jeremy Irons, Michael Gambon and Juliet Stevenson.

BIRTH (R) Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer gets a little spooky in this nod to Rosemary's Baby's New York gothic. Nicole Kidman plays a widow approached on the eve of her second marriage by a creepy 10-year-old kid claiming to be her dead husband. The claustrophobic tone and supernatural flourishes seem cribbed from better movies, and many viewers will have to suspend major disbelief to buy scenes like the one where Kidman bends herself in half to soulfully kiss her miniature reincarnated husband. Some may find Birth intense and spooky, but others may have a hard time suppressing a laugh at Glazer's pretentious ghost story. -- FF

BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON (R) Yo-yo dieting Renée Zellweger packs the junk back in her trunk to reprise her role as the ditzy, plumpish London diarist, torn between her dashing but reserved boyfriend (Colin Firth) and her caddish ex (Hugh Grant). As the prat-falling, foul-mouthed Bridget, Zellweger hilariously embodies modern female insecurities, but Edge of Reason recycles too many of the prior film's big moments. The unnecessary sequel to the first novel becomes an unnecessary sequel to the first movie. -- CH

CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS (PG) See review on left.

ENDURING LOVE (R) Changing Lanes director Roger Michell presents another thriller based on intense bonds formed during a traumatic incident. The fallout from a hot air balloon rescue gone bad leaves a college professor (Daniel Craig) stewing in his own guilt and resisting the unwanted attentions of fellow would-be rescuer Jed (Rhys Ifans). Playing Jed with a gentle but unsettling passivity, Ifans always manages to evoke the vibe of an ex-hippie-turned-born-again Christian. The film crosses into run-of-the-mill stalker movie territory, but to Michell's credit, the narrative stays taut and engaging, thanks to detail-oriented camerawork, artful editing and the always-welcome presence of Samantha Morton. -- CJ

FINDING NEVERLAND (PG) Director Marc Forster finds a connection between Scottish author J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) and his most famous creation, Peter Pan. Both desire to avoid the bitter realities of death and growing up by escaping to a Neverland of perpetual childhood. Depp gives a magical performance in this wonderfully bittersweet, loose adaptation of Barrie's life, which imagines how his friendship with four young boys and their widowed mother (Kate Winslet) -- and their shared experience of death -- might have inspired him to create Peter Pan. -- FF

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (PG-13) Surprisingly, Friday Night Lights entertains audiences who don't care about sports nearly as much as it delights high school football fans. In 1988, Odessa, Texas, stands behind the Permian Panthers but supports Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) only as long as they win. When star player Derek Luke suffers injuries in the opening game, things look bleak until a third-string junior moves up to replace him. The story gets melodramatic, especially through Tim McGraw's over-the-top character, but for the most part it earns its cheers and tears. -- Steve Warren

THE GRUDGE (PG-13) Takashi Shimizu realizes every director's dream of remaking a film with more money and the lessons learned on the first attempt. Based on his Japanese ghost story Ju-on, The Grudge takes place in Tokyo but almost everyone speaks English, with numerous American characters on hand. Exchange student Sarah Michelle Gellar faces ghostly entities in a house with an attitude. The original structure seems slightly dumbed down for Americans but the most memorable visuals and hokey scare tactics have been retained. -- SW

I HEART HUCKABEES (R) A "screwball sophistry" could describe this fast-talking, deep-thinking comedy from Three Kings director David O. Russell. A frustrated environmental activist (Jason Schwartzman) finds himself torn between the forces of order, represented by Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman's "existential detectives," and a nihilistic -- but sexy -- French intellectual (Isabelle Huppert). Huckabees tests your tolerance for deadpan whimsy but pays off with persistent laughs and relevant commentary on suburban sprawl and celebrity-obsessed corporate culture. -- CH

IMAX THEATER: Amazing Journeys (NR) Here's the movie Imax was made for! Neither didactic nor evangelical, it appeals to all ages and images you'll never forget. The film examines migration -- of monarch butterflies, gray whales, red crabs, zebras and wildebeest, birds and humans. Director George Casey adds cinematic touches of comedy, drama and suspense to avoid a dry documentary feel in what may be the best Imax film yet. 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. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300. www.fernbank.edu. -- SW

INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS (R) Zak Penn's documentary, which might very well be a staged "mockumentary," follows German director Werner Herzog's embarks on a disastrous attempt to make a nonfiction film about the Loch Ness Monster.

THE INCREDIBLES (PG) Former costumed crime-fighter Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) and his family must pass as ordinary suburbanites until a mysterious archvillain inspires them to flex their super-muscles once more. Pixar's latest computer-animated classic fits in more with James Bond and Marvel Comics than family films like Finding Nemo, and the metaphors for conformity and mid-life crisis will strike deeper chords with parents than kids. But the spectacular derring-do in the second half will inspire all audiences to cry "Look! Up on the screen!" -- CH

KINSEY (R) Writer-director Bill Condon lays out the importance of Alfred Kinsey, whose ground-breaking -- and still controversial -- research on American sexuality emphasized facts, not disapproving morality. At times Condon oversimplifies to score easy points against repressive figures, but Kinsey uses the complexity of sex to explore how "normalcy" proves to be a slippery concept. Neeson's fascinating portrayal captures both Kinsey's scientific passions and his shaken confusion when he realizes that keeping emotions separate from sex is easier said than done. -- CH

THE MACHINIST (R) The story that almost succeeds in eclipsing screenwriter Scott Kosar's "Twilight Zone" chiller is the 60 lbs. star Christian Bale dropped to play a painfully emaciated, mentally disintegrating drill press operator in this mildly diverting yarn. A beautifully stylized, greyed-out landscape and retro details as well as Bale's engaging performance manage to keep interest up even as the plodding story derails into Stupidsville. -- FF

THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (R) The man who would grow up to be a violent revolutionary and the star of every counterculture's T-shirt, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, receives some emotional backstory in Brazilian director Walter Salles' earnest but lightweight film. Before he took up firearms, Che traveled with best friend through South America, and discovered the kind of poverty and injustice his bourgeois Argentinean upbringing denied. Bernal and the scenery are beautiful but this bio-picture lacks the fire in the belly its radical subject deserves. -- FF

NATIONAL TREASURE (PG) Nicolas Cage steals the Declaration of Independence to track down a mythic fortune based on clues hidden in American icons. Cage's performance drips with insincerity and the film uses dizzying editing, fussy CGI-effects and a portentous soundtrack to distract us from the sluggish script. National Treasure tries to piggyback on the success of The Da Vinci Code, but lacks the bestseller's gossipy enthusiasm for history. Even a crackpot theory would be better than none. -- CH

NOEL (PG) Like countless holiday movies before it, Noel tells the schmaltzy tale of strangers who end up enriching each other's lives. Susan Sarandon's middle-aged divorcée Rose struggles with loneliness as she takes care of her infirmed mother. Meanwhile, soon-to-be married Nina (Penelope Cruz) battles with her overly jealous fiancé (Paul Walker). And Artie (Alan Arkin) seems to be stalking Mike. Too many characters and too many sad stories feel as forced as the uplifting message of hope. -- Heather Kuldell

THE POLAR EXPRESS (G) On Christmas Eve, a boy losing faith in Santa Claus rides a magical train to the North Pole. The groundbreaking "performance capture" computer animation captures the expressions of live actors (including Tom Hanks in five roles) with impressive subtlety, but more often the characters look stiff and glassy-eyed. The script feels like a series of false crises, so when the train becomes a roller coaster or when Santa's elves bungee-jump to avert disaster, Express leaves an aftertaste like tainted egg nog. -- CH

RAY (PG-13) Director Taylor Hackford presents a refreshingly candid and earthy biopic of blind pianist Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx), whose womanizing and drug addiction emerge, the film suggests, from a kind of competitiveness with sighted musicians. Roof-rocking tunes like "Hit the Road, Jack" and "What'd I Say" capture the excitement of live performances, while the script and Foxx's justly-praised performance persistently look beneath Charles' cheerful, avuncular persona to find the fiercely determined artist underneath. -- CH

SEED OF CHUCKY (R) In the fifth film of the Child's Play franchise, psycho doll Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif) and his murderous bride Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) are brought back to life by their long-lost, equally plastic son (Billy Boyd), who puzzles over his parents' homicidal ways. Tilly proves a great sport by playing herself as a grasping has-been in a film that finds consistent laughs about Hollywood, the recovery movement and modern parenting. If you can get past the gore -- and with glimpses of steaming entrails, that's a pretty big "if" -- you'll find Seed a silly, sloppy, yet surprisingly funny piece of no-budget drive-in schlock. -- CH

SHARK TALE (PG) A too-obvious message movie about keepin' it real and accepting "different" children, this computer-animated undersea comedy has its share of laughs but is no Shrek or Finding Nemo. It lands all the fish puns Nemo threw back, some in the name of product placement. (Kelpy Kreme Doughnuts, anyone?). Amid such fine voice actors as Will Smith, Renee Zellweger and Jack Black, Martin Scorsese, of all people, turns out to be the breakout talent. -- SW

SAW (R) Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannel (who wrote the screenplay) play two men who awaken chained in a basement with a dead body in this psychological drama from first-time director James Wan.

SHALL WE DANCE (PG-13) Only subtlety is lost in the translation of the 1997 Japanese film about a contented married man (Richard Gere) who becomes happy when he takes ballroom dancing lessons from Jennifer Lopez. This remake, directed by Englishman Peter Chelsom, seems so thoroughly American it's surprising how little was actually changed. The lack of communication between Gere and wife Susan Sarandon doesn't ring true, while Audrey Wells' screenplay manages to be both deeper and more frivolous than the original. We'll show the Japanese they can't beat us at either end of the emotional spectrum! -- SW

SIDEWAYS (R) A failed novelist (Paul Giamatti) takes his oldest friend, a has-been actor (Thomas Haden Church) for a pre-wedding trip through California wine country in the latest examination of American mediocrity from About Schmidt director Alexander Payne. The film expounds a surprisingly sincere belief in wine as a metaphor for life, and for a while unfolds as a mellow, impeccably acted idyll (with terrific supporting turns from Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh). Payne eventually sheds his merciless insights on his self-absorbed male characters, but like a fine wine, his harsh sensibilities have mellowed with age. -- CH

THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE (PG) When Plankton frames Mr. Krabs for stealing King Neptune's crown, his fry cook SpongeBob SquarePants boldly volunteers to retrieve the crown from dangerous Shell City to save his life. The film feels just like a super-long, but still-funny version of the Nickelodeon show with enough pop culture jokes to please adults and more than enough nonsense to amuse kids. After all, the main character is a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea. -- HK

TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (R) "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone jerk the chain of every possible viewer in this overblown action flick and political satire entirely populated by wooden-headed marionettes. A globe-trotting, flag-waving U.S. antiterrorist team provides an outrageous parody of American intervensionism, while outspoken left-wingers like Alec Baldwin receive equally savage treatment. Parker and Stone achieve their funniest jokes with dead-on lampoons of Hollywood shoot-em-ups, but Team America also serves as the ideal joke to defuse the bitterness of the current political climate. -- CH

WHAT THE #$! DO WE KNOW? (NR) This head-scratching hybrid of philosophical documentary and narrative feature proves to be about everything and nothing. As a framing device follows a divorced photographer (Marlee Matlin) on her daily routine, intercut with talking-head interviews with physicists and other heavy thinkers about quantum science, human perception and positive thinking. Grating, silly animation accompanies the persuasive section about how people can get addicted to negative emotions, while much of the film's deep thoughts embody New Age spirituality at its most squishy. -- CH

ZELARY (R) Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia offers a beautiful young nurse (Geislerova) few places to hide when she is exposed as a member of the resistance. A tiny, rural village appears to be the answer, complete with a husband-by-necessity (Gyorgy Cserhalmi) and idiosyncratic townsfolk. Director Ondrej Trojan shows us the seamy side of bucolic splendor--although there's much lounging about in the sunshine, everyone hits the vodka hard, leading unpleasantness. Though often predictable, the film benefits from the two leads' understated performances and the gorgeous photography of the Czech countryside. -- CJ

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