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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday

DUST TO GLORY (PG) See review.

THE INTERPRETER (PG-13) See review.

KING'S RANSOM (PG-13) Plus-sized comedian Anthony Anderson stars in this comedy about an arrogant businessman who engineers his own kidnapping to keep his soon-to-be ex-wife from cashing in on their divorce. In the tradition of Ruthless People, things don't go according to plan.

KUNG FU HUSTLE (R) See review.

A LOT LIKE LOVE (PG-13) It's When Ashton Met Amanda in this serendipitous romantic comedy about two young hotties (Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet) who meet on an airplane, declare themselves incompatible, then keep running into each other over the next seven years. I wonder if those crazy kids will finally get together?

16 YEARS OF ALCOHOL (R) See review.

WINTER SOLSTICE (R) See review.

Duly Noted

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) (R) "Horrorshow" means "good" in the slang of Stanley Kubrick's fascinating futuristic satire of crime and punishment. Malcolm McDowell playfully portrays Alex, a disturbingly likable sociopath "cured" of his violent tendencies by treatments that may be worse than the disease. Replete with glorious classical music, sadistic behavior and Kubrick's trademark themes of dehumanization, A Clockwork Orange comes on real horrorshow. Fri.-Sat., April 22-23, midnight. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive. - Curt Holman

LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE (2004) (NR) Antoine Fuqua's (Training Day) concert film captures the February 2003 celebration of the blues' 100th birthday at Radio City Music Hall. A host of luminaries, past and present, old school and new, mount the stage to honor the occasion, including the evening's host, Martin Scorsese (Clint Eastwood already had dibs on jazz), Ruth Brown, Mavis Staples, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Buddy Guy, India Arie, Macy Gray and John Fogerty. A smattering of memorable performances make up for the tepid ones without breaking any new ground in the uninspiring concert film genre. The sight of youth bowing and scraping in deference to wrinkled old age is something to behold in a youth-crazed culture. Recent Releases. Fri., April 22, 8 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Auditorium, 1280 Peachtree St. $5. 404-733-4570. www.high.org. - Felicia Feaster

NOSFERATU (1979) (NR) Director Werner Herzog conjures a mordant atmosphere in this remake of F.W. Murnau's classic vampire film of the same name, with Klaus Kinski disappearing beneath eerie makeup as the vampire. Bruno Ganz plays hapless human Jonathan Harker in this haunting treatment of the Dracula mythos. The Many Faces of Bruno Ganz. Wed., April 27, 7 p.m. Goethe Institute Inter Nationes, 1197 Peachtree St., Colony Square. $4. 404-892-2388. - 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.

SHORT-LIVED! A SHORTS SLAM (NR) IMAGE Film & Video Center's freewheeling evening of short films takes inspiration from "The Gong Show," as a panel of judges, egged on by the audience, dictates whether films run to the end or get "gonged" in progress. IMAGE Film & Video Center. Fri., April 25, 7:30 p.m. The Earl, 488 Flat Shoals Ave. $5 (free for IMAGE members). 404-352-4225. www.imagefv.org.

A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (R) A young Frenchwoman (Amelie's Audrey Tautou) launches an obsessive search for her lover (Gaspard Ulliel), officially declared lost in the no-man's-land of World War I. Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet applies his visionary intricacy to a sprawling account that alternates between quirky comedy and graphic war-time horrors. Jeunet's approach sacrifices some emotional depth for novelistic breadth, but by the end the film fills us with a sense of awe that encompasses the world at its most terrible and beautiful. On a double-bill with When the Cat's Away. April 22-28. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. 404-651-3565. www.cinefest.org. - CH

Continuing

ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATED SHORTS (NR) Episodes from and about childhood shine in this collection of eight animated and live-action short films, all 2004 Oscar contenders. The computer-animated "Birthday Boy" and live-action "Little Terrorist" each effectively present a child's perspective on international conflicts, while live-action winner "Wasp's" portrayal of a loving but neglectful mother feels like one of Mike Leigh's working class dramas. But I've never seen anything like the brilliant animated winner "Ryan," a wildly imaginative - and at times disturbing - combination of homage, interview, autobiography and surreal imagery. - CH

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (R) Who knew that the 1979 Amityville Horror flick was so good, it demanded a remake? The new version about the haunted Long Island residence, "based on a true story," stars Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George and Philip Baker Hall.

THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE His '60s commune failed years ago, but Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his teenage daughter Rose (Camilla Belle) are still clinging to their off-the-grid, idyllic back-to-nature life despite the construction of a suburban housing development on their remote island. A richly detailed character study about a father and daughter unable to imagine a reality outside themselves and the dangerous consequences that entails, Rebecca Miller's (daughter of playwright Arthur) drama starring her husband Day-Lewis is an exquisitely sad, deeply felt film. - FF

BEAUTY SHOP (PG-13) Barbershop it ain't, though it recycles almost every plot point from that Ice Cube comedy. But Beauty Shop has its own frothy appeal held together by the warm, charismatic presence of Queen Latifah as a hair entrepreneur who quits a chic salon to open her own beauty shop in the 'hood. The scenes where her diverse staff gleefully riff, vamp and insult over the hot rollers offer something to hold onto amidst an uninspiring plot involving Latifah's efforts to hold onto the salon when the Man comes calling. It's all lighter-than-air, but it's hard not to be momentarily charmed by all the assembled intergenerational girl power and fizzy energy. - FF

BORN INTO BROTHELS (R) In Calcutta's red light district hundreds of children grow up in a shadowy labyrinthine world of prostitution, drug abuse and hopelessness. Photographer Zana Briski uses photography to offer these children of prostitutes a window out of the city's rank brothels. The results can be poignant, with the children offering - considering their age - shockingly perceptive, eloquent insight into their situations, and some exquisite photographs to boot. But perhaps due to Briski's unflappable British reserve, the film is a surprisingly emotionless, distanced view of these children's lives, which is not always a good thing. The camera allows them to establish their personhood, but it's also a camera that separates us from them. - FF

CHRYSTAL (R) Georgia-born actor Ray McKinnon wrote and directed this often grim tale of guilt and redemption in the Ozarks. Billy Bob Thornton's ex-con seeks forgiveness from his agonized wife, Chrystal (McKinnon's off-screen wife Lisa Blount), 16 years after a disastrous car accident. Heavy-handed symbolism and psychosexual baggage bog down the film's central relationship, but McKinnon reveals an eye for truthful, original and unexpectedly funny details about the modern-day South, from roots music to the backwoods drug trade (embodied by the director's scene-stealing performance as a hillbilly kingpin). - CH

DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN (PG-13) This adaptation of Tyler Perry's successful play is set (and shot) in an Atlanta defined by economic and moral extremes. On one hand is the moneyed high life represented by Steve Harris' attorney. On the other is the "ghetto" warmth and family togetherness of matriarch Madea's (Tyler Perry) world, where the attorney's wife (Kimberly Elise) escapes when her husband turns her out of their McMansion. Perry and first time director Darren Grant manage some genuinely funny moments and even some tender ones, but for the most part, Diary's combination of raunchy comedy, syrupy romance and God-talk just feels ADD, as the film tries desperately - and futilely - to be all things to all people. - FF

DOWN AND DERBY (PG) A Pinewood Derby race for boys turns an average bunch of dads into driven competitors in this family comedy with Lauren Holly and Pat Morita.

DOWNFALL (R) The surreal horrors of war alternate with intimate, documentary-style close-ups of the final days of the Third Reich's high command in Oliver Hirschbiegel's powerful film. Bruno Ganz provides a terrifying yet humanizing portrayal of an aging Hitler, capable of both monstrous cruelty and unexpected tenderness. The scrupulously researched film offers eyewitness accounts of the chaotic collapse of Berlin's defenses and, within Hitler's bunker, the destruction of Nazi illusions of greatness. - CH

EROS (R) In this anthology film, three international filmmakers Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni tackle the big topic of desire, a far more complicated prospect than the in-and-out fundamentals of porn. Though together the filmmakers show how moviemaking itself is an erotic enterprise, all about individual desire translated into visuals, the thrills end with that insight. The results range from Soderbergh's mildly intriguing film noir with Robert Downey Jr. as an erotically fixated ad man, and a Josef von Sternberg mood-piece by Wong Kar Wai that is more style than substance. But the real disappointment is '60s art house sensation Antonioni's musing on a couple's desire-impaired relationship that begins with promise but soon veers into depressing pretense. - FF

FEVER PITCH (PG-13) Workaholic careerist Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) and boyish math teacher Ben (Jimmy Fallon) fall in love, but his superfan obsession with the Boston Red Sox throws their relationship a curve ball. The pointedly unfunny first half-hour makes Fallon and Barrymore look like big-screen comedy rookies. But once the film starts digging into sports rituals, fan psychology and incompatible passions, Fever Pitch turns into the rare Hollywood romantic comedy that's actually about something. - CH

GUESS WHO (PG-13) In this race-versed remake of 1968's famed mixed-marriage comedy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Bernie Mac plays a temperamental dad nonplussed by her daughter's white boyfriend (Ashton Kutcher). Apart from a handful of intriguingly tense scenes, the remake avoids the complexities of race in America to become little more than a rip-off of Meet the Parents. Mac's slow-burning presence and moments of effortless cool give Guess Who what little soul it has. - CH

HITCH (PG-13) It's a rare director and actor who can handle the contrapuntal demands of romantic comedy. As inoffensively lovable as Will Smith is, he makes a far better class clown than a love-burned romantic lead. "Hitch" is a Manhattan matchmaker schooling nerdy guys to romance their dream girls who must learn to love again from a newspaper gossip columnist (a brittle Eva Mendes). When Hitch coasts on factory-assembled comic convention (black guy teaches white guy how to play it coooool) the film is on firm ground. When it asks Mendes and Smith to summon up some chemistry, and heads toward a canned matrimonial denouement, the fun turns into grueling ordeal. - FF

HOSTAGE (R) Bruce Willis delivers a committed performance as Jeff Talley, an LAPD hostage negotiator whose botching of a tense standoff leaves him with innocent blood on his hands and prods him into moving to a sleepy community where the crime rate hovers around zero. For a good while, director Florent Siri and scripter Doug Richardson do their pulpy material proud, with real attention to both exposition and execution. But as the storyline gets more crowded (another gang of villains ends up holding Talley's own family hostage), the film falls apart through outlandish developments and ludicrous resolutions to the various plot strands. - Matt Brunson

ICE PRINCESS (G) A high school bookworm ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" Michelle Trachtenberg) defies her Ivy League-obsessed mother (Joan Cusack) to pursue her dream of becoming a competitive figure skater. Kim Cattrall plays her coach.

IN MY COUNTRY (R) Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche star in this drama, directed by John Boorman, about the revelations of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings on apartheid.

IMAX THEATER: Bugs! (NR) A praying mantis and a butterfly "star" in this documentary about the insects of the Borneo rainforest - some of whom will be magnified 250,000 times their normal size on the IMAX screen. The Living Sea (NR) Humpback whales, golden jellyfish and giant clams star in this documentary about the diversity of undersea life, with music by Sting and narrated by Meryl Streep. (CH) Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300. www.fernbank.edu.

IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL (NR) This documentary about outsider artist Henry Darger perhaps makes Darger too much of a freakish "discovery" of the filmmaker, though the artist was long known in art world circles. Darger's bizarre, beautiful drawings, assembled in an epic 15,000 page tome, featured an army of plucky little girls fighting sadistic grown-ups in a fantastical world of the artist's creation. Those testaments to one man's obsessiveness and rich inner life were discovered by his landlords after the Chicago janitor's death in 1973. Perhaps Yu's film will bring a larger audience to Darger's fascinating artworks. - FF

MELINDA AND MELINDA (PG-13) Woody Allen sets his comedic instincts head-to-head with his dramatic aspirations in this film that presents roughly the same story twice, alternating between comedic and tragic spins of similar events. Radha Mitchell plays a self-loathing boozehound in one, a sexy free spirit in the other, but in each reveals the fissures in some friends' marriage. As Woody Allen's surrogate neurotic wise-cracker, Will Farrell makes the humorous half pleasant enough, but the self-important "tragic" portion proves weirdly, inhumanly stilted. Melinda and Melinda's intriguing premise only proves that a lousy tragedy isn't as good as a passable comedy. - CH

MILLION DOLLAR BABY (PG-13) While America's critics are busy hurting themselves trying to come up with more accolades for this "masterpiece" by American film "genius" Clint Eastwood, the rest of us scratch our heads in utter disbelief, wondering what all the fuss is about. This clich&233;-addicted boxing drama, lacquered with a feigned working class melancholy cribbed from previous pugilist pictures, depicts a spunky blue collar boxer (Hilary Swank) who lives out her daddy fantasies when a grizzled boxing trainer (Eastwood) overcomes his aversion to girl fighters and coaches her to victory. - FF

MILLIONS (PG) Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) applies his special effect-heavy hand to the story of 7-year-old Damian (a routinely adorable and freckled Alex Etel) whose imaginary friends are Catholic saints. When a bag stuffed with money falls from a passing train, Damian wants to give the windfall to charity and his older brother wants to invest it in real estate. But the saints and the spiritual dilemma of how to spend that money are just two of Boyle's many passing fancies. He is far more interested in doing visual loop-de-loops and imagining that childhood wonder is best evoked with gee-whiz effects. - FF

MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS (PG-13) Sandra Bullock's FBI agent must thwart a pair of kidnappers with the help of her hostile new partner (Regina King) and an offensive gay caricature (Diedrich Bader). With no feel for characterization, dialogue or plot development, this is the sort of dull sequel that's sure to be politely dismissed as merely routine, when it's that very sense of rampaging mediocrity - of flagrant laziness and audience disregard oozing out of every blemished pore - that renders it all but unwatchable. - MB

THE PACIFIER (PG) Navy SEAL Lt. Shane Wolfe (Vin Diesel) is assigned to take care of the five out-of-control children of a missing scientist whose wife is sent on a secret mission. Every predictable single-guy-versus-child joke occurs - like changing a diaper with pliers - plus, a few twists that are just bizarre. As we learned in Kindergarten Cop, a tough guy is no match for unruly kids and unruly kids are not match for a tough guy's discipline. - HK

THE RING 2 (R) Naomi Watts faces more spooky goings-on surrounding a supernatural videotape with lethal ramifications to anyone who watches it. With Blockbuster no longer imposing late fees, who knows what horrors will be unleashed?

ROBOTS (PG) Robots is like the engine of a Honda Civic under the hood of a Cadillac Escalade. It offers a reliable ride in an otherwise fantastic physical world. Young Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) is a poor, small-town robot made of hand-me-down parts who dreams of becoming an inventor in the big city. The bland plot is propped up with relatively amusing pop-culture reference, but not as seamlessly as Pixar's productions. - HK

SAHARA (PG-13) There is something about the cocky, thrill-seeking globe-trotting adventurer Dirk Pitt with his ability to stamp out the world's problems in a single-blow that just seems, well, ill-timed considering the mounting crises of African genocide and the war in Iraq raging abroad. In this cartoonish adaptation of adventure novelist Clive Cussler's novel, Pitt is a former Navy SEAL turned international treasure hunter with the cool of James Bond and the chops of an Army-of-one. He's in Africa hunting a long-lost Civil War battleship and helping a World Health Organization doctor (Penelope Cruz) find the source of a plague killing local villagers in this theme park ride of a movie, not surprisingly directed by outgoing Disney C.E.O. Michael Eisner's son Breck Eisner. - FF

SIN CITY (R) Based on Frank Miller's hard-boiled cult comic books of the same name, Sin City wallows unapologetically in violence, T&A and other preoccupations of adolescent boys of all ages. Co-directors Miller and Robert Rodriguez leer over interlocking tales of chivalrous antiheroes (led by a hulkingly charismatic Mickey Rourke) who take on a corrupt city's sadistic power brokers. Though the film's black-and-white images can sear your retinas, its repetitive plots, grisly slapstick and predictable misogyny can leave you embarrassed to be a geek. - CH

STATE PROPERTY 2: PHILLY STREETS No stars (R) There may be worse ways to spend your time, I just can't think of any. Hip hop mogul Damon Dash couldn't leave Abdul Malik Abbott's critically panned State Property alone, and so continues the gangsta franchise with this loathsome, nihilistic, brain cell-frying rock of cinematic crack. Drug dealer Beans (Beanie Sigel) is trying to keep control of his Philadelphia drug empire from prison. Every cartoonish gangsta clich&233; is offered up with a straight face - bitches ­n' hos, endless gunplay, mega-SUVs - in a film that mistakes regurgitated formula for a sense of humor. - FF

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