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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Page 2 of 5

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

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