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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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CRASH (R) Writer/director Paul Haggis (whose Million Dollar Baby script just won an Oscar) presents one of those sprawling multi-character films set in Southern California, only it emphasizes racism as the unifying element. Both thought-provokingly relevant and shamelessly manipulative, Crash presents a simmering melting pot of frustrated Los Angelenos waiting to take out their rage on the first person of a different color who crosses their path. The engrossing scenes and dedicated actors (including Don Cheadle in the central role as an honest LAPD detective) make up for Crash's heavy-handed storytelling. - Curt Holman

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

ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM (NR) Alex Gibney's documentary about the rise of the business world's $65 billion uber-successful Enron empire and its subsequent undoing is as much fun as can be had watching the gory spectacle of American greed in action. Though American legend has since recast the tale of Enron into aberrant corporate legend, to Gibney's credit, he spreads blame around and shows how the particular immorality of placing money before people practiced to an excessive degree at Enron is just standard operating procedure in an American business world and government deeply tied to the Enron fall. - FF

THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (PG) After alien bureaucrats blow up the Earth, the last surviving Englishman ("The Office's" Martin Freeman) reluctantly treks through the stars to find the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything. Supporting players like Bill Nighy and the clever visual design best capture the deadpan comedy of Douglas Adams' beloved novel, but otherwise the film resorts to a strained, frenzied pace. "Don't Panic" may be the motto of the galactic travel guide that gives this sci-fi spoof its name, but director Garth Jennings' film often feels on the verge of freaking out. - CH

HOUSE OF WAX (R) My contempt for this remake of the 1953 classic is so great that I'm reluctant to even call it a "film," as that designation automatically places it in the pantheon of works by Welles, Hitchcock, Bergman and even Ed Wood. Suitable only for unemployable teens and speech-slurring rednecks, this film finds a group of dim-witted kids serving as slasher fodder for murderous twin brothers. Sadistic beyond compare, this House has been built by mercenaries, not moviemakers. - MB

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

IT'S ALL GONE PETE TONG (R) You don't have to be versed in the dance-club scene to dig the grooves and laugh at the jokes in this faux documentary about fictional superstar DJ Frankie Wilde (the comical yet poignant Paul Kaye). The splashy first half provides a kind of Spinal Tap spoof of music industry excess, but when Frankie goes deaf, the film provides a quirky yet intriguing perspective on disabilities. Ultimately it has less in common with 24 Hour Party People than Children of a Lesser God. - CH

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