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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday

dot the i (R) See review on p. 57.

ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM (NR) See review on p. 58.

HITCHHIKER´S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY

(PG) See review on p. 61.

LOOK AT ME (PG-13) This Cannes Film Festival Best Screenplay winner depicts the relationship between a celebrity novelist and his overweight, insecure daughter, who tries to use singing to assert her own identity.

XXX: STATE OF THE UNION (PG-13) With Vin Diesel branching out as the Pacifier, Ice Cube plays another ¨extreme¨ secret agent in this sequel to XXX, concerning militaristic crazies trying to take over the U.S. government. Sure, like that could ever happen.

Duly Noted

HARDWOOD (NR) Hubert Davis´ Oscar-nominated short documentary examines his family life and the choices of his father, former Harlem Globetrotter Mel ¨Trick¨ Davis. Fri., April 29, 8 p.m., and Sat., April 30, 5 p.m. Southwest Art Center, 915 New Hope Road. Free. 404-505-3220.

NAKED FAME (2004) (NR) Christopher Long´s documentary follows gay porno star Colton Ford as he tries to leave adult films behind and pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. Fri.-Sat., April 29-30, midnight. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive.

ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR (R) You may not think you want to see a subtitled movie about Thai kickboxing, but believe me, you do. Watching Tony Jaa punch, flip and propel himself through this pulpy, fast-paced tale gives you a heady thrill of discovery akin to the groundbreaking, head-breaking early work of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. Apart from the exotic opening scene (a kind of extreme Capture the Flag game in a tree), the plot won´t win any prizes for originality, but with such brutal brawls and exuberant chase scenes, Ong-Bak is a kick in the head. April 29-May 5. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. 404-651-3565. www.cinefest.org.Curt Holman

QUAI DES ORFÈVRES (1947) (NR) Considered ¨the French Hitchcock,¨ director Henri-Georges Clouzot (The Wages of Fear) puts something close to genuine human warmth in this often-overlooked, newly restored little gem of crime fiction, which features lesbians, vicious cops and the fraternal reality of the French underclass. French Film Yesterday and Today. Sat., April 30, 8 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Auditorium, 1280 Peachtree St. $5. 404-733-4570. www.high.org. – Felicia Feaster

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.

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 wartime horrors. Jeunet´s approach sacrifices some emotional depth for novelistic breadth, but by its 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. Thurs., April 28. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. 404-651-3565. www.cinefest.org.CH

Continuing

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, 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 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 charmed by all the assembled intergenerational girl power and fizzy energy. – 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

DON´T MOVE (NR) Penelope Cruz stars in this Italian drama about the charged sexual relationship between an aging surgeon and an impoverished villager.

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

DUST TO GLORY (PG) Son of surfing documentary legend Bruce Brown, Dana Brown tries to invest off-road racing with the same reverence his father brought to surfing. But a gaggle of well-heeled, corporate-sponsored white guys driving little-boy fantasy cars through a dirt-poor country in the annual Mexican road race never quite delivers on Brown´s promise: ¨This isn´t about a race. It´s about ... the human race.¨ Despite all efforts to invest this extreme sport for big boys with emotion and induce some tears over all of that brotherhood-of-the-dirt-track, the slowly paced, badly organized film just spins its wheels. – FF

EATING OUT (NR) Lovelorn straight hunk Caleb (Scott Lunsford) discovers that free-spirited Gwen (the vivacious Emily Stiles) gravitates to gay guys, so he masquerades as a homosexual to get close to her. When Caleb finds himself reluctantly dating Gwen´s gay roommate, Eating Out offers genuine insights into the quirks of gender relations and physical attraction. But too often writer-director Q. Allan Brocka strains to be arch and witty, working overtime to be an ambisexual farce, complete with a climatic dinner party that could be called Guess Who´s Coming Out at Dinner? – 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

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.

THE INTERPRETER (PG-13) Despite the way it uses African genocide as rocket fuel for its thrill ride, Sydney Pollack´s film is a moderately stylish, serviceable drama about a United Nations interpreter (Nicole Kidman) raised in Africa who overhears a murder plot against the leader of her violence-torn African homeland. The Secret Service agent (Sean Penn) who initially thinks she may be involved in the assassination conspiracy transforms into her protector. The fact that Pollack had permission to shoot in the U.N. adds immeasurably to its slick good looks, though the film never follows through on its initial advocacy for peaceniking over warmongering. – FF

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) Stephen Chow, director of the little-seen but superbly silly Shaolin Soccer, drop-kicks the kung fu genre in this goofy, gravity-defying combo of two-fisted action flick and anything for a laugh parody. Matrix-style computer effects serve inventive, Mad Magazine-style sight gags, in which gangsters break into dance routines and middle-aged dorks turn out to be martial arts masters. If a bit more cartoonish than necessary, Kung Fu Hustle still puts a supersonic spin on the chop-sockey flick. – CH

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?

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

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. – 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, 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

16 YEARS OF ALCOHOL (R) Richard Jobson, former frontman of the Scottish punk band the Skids, adapts his novel about growing up alcoholic and angry on the mean streets of Edinburgh. Frankie Mac (Kevin McKidd) has the face of a skinhead, but inside he´s a bouquet of daisies. Jobson´s attempts to render Frankie´s interior voice in poetic voice-over sounds like the flowery musings from a 15-year-old´s diary. It´s too bad Jobson´s obvious sensitivity and hints of a promising visual style get bogged down by so much tedious, Hallmark-Card exposition as Frankie searches to find love and escape his unhappy past. – FF

THE UPSIDE OF ANGER (R) A suburban mother of four (Joan Allen) has anger management issues after her husband´s disappearance. This dreary dramedy from writer-director Mike Binder (HBO´s ¨The Mind of the Married Man¨) never lets her anger reverberate thematically through the film, and proves a tepid romance like an imitation Terms of Endearment. As a former major league baseball player, Kevin Costner steals the show by displaying the comfy charisma that made him a star in the first place. – CH

WALK ON WATER (NR) While on assignment in Berlin, a ruthless, homophobic Israeli intelligence agent befriends the gay grandson of his target, a Nazi war criminal. With subtitles.

WINTER SOLSTICE (R) Writer-director Josh Sternfeld´s quiet debut film doesn´t explode or simmer - it just happens, making us feel not like we´re watching the lives of a lonely widower (Anthony LaPaglia) and his two sons (Aaron Stanford and Mark Webber), but sitting across the table from them. Though nearly all of the characters´ deepest feelings go unspoken, the film builds up so many truthful moments that it captures the conflicts and reconciliations of real life. – CH

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