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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of recently released movies

Opening Friday

· AKEELAH AND THE BEE (PG) The spate of spelling bee films (Spellbound, Bee Season) continues with this tale of a girl (Keke Palmer) from Los Angeles attempting to compete in the National Spelling Bee. The cast includes What's Love Got to Do With It? co-stars Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne.

· THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON 3 stars. (PG-13) See review.

· HARD CANDY 2 stars. (R) See review.

· RV (PG) Robin Williams borrows a page from Chevy Chase's Vacation franchise in Barry Sonnenfeld's comedy about a man who takes his family on a trip to the Colorado Rockies and encounters a bizarre band of campers. Along for the ride are Jeff Daniels, Cheryl Hines and "Arrested Development's" Will Arnett and Tony Hale.

· STICK IT (PG-13) A rebellious young gymnast (Missy Peregrym) throws an elite gymnastics program run by a legendary trainer (Jeff Bridges) off-balance.

· STONED 2 stars. (R) See review.

· UNITED 93 3 stars. (R) See review.

Duly Noted

· ATLANTA HIP-HOP FILM FESTIVAL (NR) Atlanta's second annual hip-hop film festival includes such screenings as the concert film Dead Prez: It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop; Scene Not Heard, a documentary about Philadelphia's contribution to hip-hop; and New Flavors: The Emergence of Southern Hip-Hop. Fri.-Sun., April 27-30. Carter Center, 453 Freedom Parkway, and Auburn Avenue Research Library, 101 Auburn Ave. 678-438-8820. www.atlhiphopfilmfest.com.

· BEACH PARTY (1963) The Starlight Six Drive-In celebrates the 30th anniversary of Trader Vic's Atlanta with an evening of tiki torches, live rock music and this cult-fave, sand-and-surf teeny-bopper flick with Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello and music from Dick Dale and the Del Tones. On a double bill with White Savage. Fri., April 28, dusk. Starlight Six Drive-In, 2000 Moreland Ave. $10. 404-627-5786. www.starlightdrivein.com.

· BOATS OUT OF WATERMELON RINDS (2004) (NR) In the late 1960s, two boys living in a small Turkish village struggle to build a movie camera and become film directors. Discovering Turkish Cinema. Fri., April 28, 8 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. Free. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.

· BREAKFAST ON PLUTO 4 stars. (R) Abandoned on the doorstep of a priest (Liam Neeson) as a baby, a young Irish transvestite (Cilllian Murphy) takes a wide-eyed ramble through 1970s Ireland and England in search of his birth mother. Co-adapting Patrick McCabe's novel, director Neil Jordan veers from humor to drama and from realism to fantasy, as if Pluto's spirit is too big to be confined to a single genre. You never know what will turn the next corner of this picaresque comedy -- Brutal IRA terrorists? Brendan Gleeson in a funny animal costume? -- that boasts rich period detail, an intriguingly pacifist viewpoint, and Murphy's dreamily detached performance. April 28--May 4. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565. www2.gsu.edu/~wwwcft. -- Curt Holman

· DOCUFEST ATLANTA Activist documentaries and profiles of unique individuals dominate this debut film festival, including Bob Smith, U.S.A., about seven men who share the same name; The Sandman's Garden, about self-taught artist Lonnie Holley; and Walking the Line, a look at the conflicts over the U.S./Mexican border. Through April 30. PushPush Theater, 121 New St., Decatur. $5-$30. 404-377-6332. info@auff.com. www.docufest.com.

· ISTANBUL TALES (2005) (NR) This love letter to Istanbul unfolds as a series of five vignettes, each by a different film director and inspired by a different fairy tale. Discovering Turkish Cinema. Sat., April 29, 8 p.m., Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. Free. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.

· THE LANGUAGE WE CRY IN (NR) This documentary reaches across hundreds of years and thousands of miles to find traces of 18th-century Sierra Leone in the Gullah communities of modern-day coastal Georgia. Thurs., May 4, and Sat., May 13, 6 p.m. APEX Museum, 135 Auburn Ave. Free. 770-234-5890. tcharles@sankofaspirit.com.

· 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.

· SUGIHARA: CONSPIRACY OF KINDNESS (NR) This documentary profiles Chiune Sugihara, Japan's consul general in Lithuania in World War II, whose efforts to help Jewish refugees inspired the world to call him "the Japanese Schindler." Fri., April 28, 10 a.m., and Sun., April 30, 11 a.m. Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, Morris & Rae Frank Theatre, 5342 Tilly Mill Road. Free. 404-842-1400. www.us-japan.org/jasg.

· TRANSAMERICA 2 stars. (R) Felicity Huffman ("Desperate Housewives") deserves praise for her well-observed performance as Bree Osbourne, a pre-op male-to-female transsexual anxiously awaiting her sex change operation. A hitch is thrown in her plan when an adult son (Kevin Zegers) she didn't know she had turns up and the pair drive from New York to California, meeting various kooks along the way. For a road movie about a trannie trying to keep her true gender a secret from her male prostitute son, Transamerica is a weirdly conventional film that ends up making Bree's prissy she-male ways the butt of too many jokes. Thurs., April 27. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565. www2.gsu.edu/~wwwcft. -- Felicia Feaster

Continuing

· ADAM & STEVE 3 stars. (NR) Like their biblical counterparts, Adam (Craig Chester) and Steve (Malcolm Gets) tempt fate for knowledge: What do love and commitment mean for couples, gay or straight? A few antics (sudden, choreographed dances and a slew of fat jokes) obscure the real moments of comedy that are both witty and strange, and though the self-awareness of the dialogue grows wearying, the truth spoken is undeniable. Parker Posey and Chris Kattan steal the best lines, playing their one-note supporting roles with perfect pitch. Silly but well-intentioned, this tryst, at the core, recounts a love story as old as time. -- Keene

· AMERICAN DREAMZ 2 stars. (PG-13) A befuddled U.S. president (Dennis Quaid doing a droll but superficial Dubya) and a reluctant suicide bomber (Sam Golzari) find themselves on a collision-course meeting via a televised singing contest clearly inspired by "American Idol." Dreamz features likable performers (including Hugh Grant as the caustic, self-loathing host), quotable jokes and a clever wrap-up, but disappointingly goes after easy targets in predictable ways. Writer/director Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) consistently avoids opportunities to put some real teeth in his satire. -- Holman

· ATL 3 stars. (PG-13) The veneer of nostalgia and innocence elevates this film set in the hard-scrabble Mechanicsville ghetto where five high school seniors find their relief and escape from imminent adulthood at a south side roller rink. Like the Jets and the Sharks of days gone by, Rashad (Tip "T.I." Harris) and his buddies wage snazzy dance-step "war" on the rink floor and grapple with the usual coming of age problems of girls, college, career and family. -- Feaster

· THE BENCHWARMERS (PG-13) David Spade, Rob Schneider and Jon "Napoleon Dynamite" Heder star as three losers who try to make up for their childhood incompetence at sports by forming a three-man team to take on actual Little Leaguers.

· BRICK 3 stars. (R) Writer/director Rian Johnson catches fire with a seemingly lame premise: a convoluted mystery in the style of hard-boiled 1940s detective thrillers, set in a contemporary high school. But as brooding loner Brendan (a terrific Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to track down his troubled former girlfriend, Brick becomes both a compelling suspense story and an unusual portrait of teen angst from the inside out. The antiquated slang may not be authentic, but given that Brendan no doubt perceives himself as a noble, self-sacrificing hero worthy of Raymond Chandler, the lonely film-noir flourishes aptly fit his point of view. -- Holman

· DON'T COME KNOCKING 3 stars. (R) Director Wim Wenders, an American culture junkie, turns his attention to the Hollywood Western in this disjointed, often rambling but unique take on the West, the cowboy, the movies and fatherhood. Sam Shepard (who also wrote the script) plays a movie cowboy with a reputation for drink and womanizing who goes AWOL from a film shoot in search of his past. On his walkabout, he reunites with the mama (Eva Marie Saint) he hasn't seen in 30 years, an old lover (Jessica Lange), and discovers, very late in life, that he's a daddy. -- Feaster

· FAILURE TO LAUNCH 2 stars. (PG-13) A professional interventionist (Sarah Jessica Parker) tries to "launch" a love-challenged slacker (Matthew McConaughey), still living at home with his parents, into real adulthood. This trite rom-com blunder features 50 people applauding a televised kiss in a coffee shop, five CGI animal attacks, three "quirky sidekick" friends, two clear shots of Terry Bradshaw's bare bottom, one resuscitated mockingbird and zero reasons as to why Failure wasn't launched straight to DVD. -- Keene

· FRIENDS WITH MONEY 4 stars. (R) Nicole Holofcener (Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing) brings her usual shrewdly observed, culturally astute read on modern anxiety to a group of Los Angeles friends worrying about aging, career, relationships and, yes, money. Frances McDormand, Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusak and Catherine Keener lead this strong, woman-centric ensemble cast as sophisticated, privileged urbanites whose hip, busy lives as screenwriters and clothing designers don't necessarily keep unhappiness at bay. -- Feaster

· ICE AGE 2: THE MELTDOWN (G) This sequel to the computer animated hit swaps the three-mammals-and-a-baby premise of the sequel for a Pleistocene romance between two mammoths (voiced by Ray Romano and Queen Latifah).

· IMAX THEATER Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets (NR): This exploration of one of America's greatest natural wonders retraces the canyon's history, from Native Americans to modern-day white-water rafters. Wild Safari: A South African Adventure (NR): This 5,000-mile journey from the lush grasslands of the Southern Cape to the desert expanse of the Kalahari tracks elephants, Cape buffaloes, rhinos, leopards and lions. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300. www.fernbank.edu.

· INSIDE MAN 4 stars. (R) Spike Lee's Brian Grazer-produced Hollywood heist film makes a definite break from Lee's provocative, content-rich form, but this cops-and-robbers thriller also isn't without its subtext and subtle critiques. Denzel Washington, in engagingly laid-back mode, is a NYPD detective trying to salvage his tarnished reputation by negotiating with the ice-cold bank robber (Clive Owen) who has 50 hostages and a lot of cold, hard cash in his possession in a Wall Street bank. Lee's obvious interest in the bonhomie and friction that characterize NYC's melting pot and the ghosts of Sept. 11 that still linger give a semi-conventional plot line a little more heft. -- Feaster

· KEKEXILI: MOUNTAIN PATROL (NR) Named for the mountainous wilds of Tibet, this beautifully photographed, thematically complex docudrama depicts the efforts of dedicated volunteers to protect wild antelope from poachers.

· PHAT GIRLZ (PG-13) Mo'Nique plays an aspiring designer of plus-sized fashions who looks for love and acceptance in this comedy that co-stars Eric Roberts.

· THE SENTINEL 2 stars. (PG-13) Michael Douglas plays Harrison Ford and Kiefer Sutherland co-stars as Tommy Lee Jones in this slick thriller that tries to put one over on the audience but ends up only fooling itself. An appropriately constipated Douglas plays a Secret Service agent wrongly suspected of attempting to assassinate the U.S. president (David Rasche). It falls to his colleague and former friend (Sutherland) to track him down. The script runs out of steam long before the physically fit actors in the cast, leading to a string of unsatisfactory resolutions and tedious action set-pieces. Director Clark Johnson doubtless planned to deliver a hand-wringing thriller filled with unexpected twists and turns, but even good intentions can find themselves caught in the line of fire. -- Matt Brunson

· SCARY MOVIE 4 2 stars. (PG-13) Anna Faris and Regina Hall reprise their roles yet again for this irreverent, but mostly crude, send up of pop culture, particularly horror movies. Some potentially clever moments of parody fall flat by lampooning material that's long past it's expiration date, especially gags involving a certain Scientologist actor and daytime talk show host. Even moments like Dr. Phil (the real one) severing his own foot (the wrong one) in a send up of Saw II couldn't save this farce. Like an old joke that's been told too many times, the Scary Movie franchise should have been severed after its third installment. -- Keene

· SILENT HILL (R) Despite the protests of her husband (Sean Bean), a frightened mother (Radha Mitchell) takes her gravely ill daughter to the otherworldly ghost town of Silent Hill in search of a cure. This style-drenched horror flick was written by Pulp Fiction co-scripter Roger Avary.

· SLITHER (R) Serenity's Nathan Fillion stars in this comedic gore fest about a small town overrun by a zombie plague. Writer/director James Gunn wrote the Dawn of the Dead remake and the Scooby Doo live action movies.

· TAKE THE LEAD (PG-13) Antonio Banderas plays a former professional dancer who volunteers to teach dance in the New York public school system in this inspirational-teacher flick with Alfre Woodard and Ray Liotta.

· THANK YOU FOR SMOKING 4 stars. (R) Aaron Eckhart of In the Company of Men plays Nick Naylor, a proudly unprincipled tobacco lobbyist who tries simultaneously to be a professional liar and a good father. Smoking takes palpable delight at the double-speak of the spin industry -- Nick claims that lobbyists like him stick up for "little guys" like loggers, sweatshop owners and land mine developers -- and features many hilarious set pieces. As Nick weighs being a good role model to his son (Cameron Bright), the film never cops out by giving him a bogus change of heart, and he takes pride in his lack of integrity. -- Holman

· TSOTSI 2 stars. (R) Winner of this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Gavin Hood's crime drama tracks the change of heart of a vicious thug (Presley Chweneyagae) after he accidentally kidnaps a baby. For the first 10 minutes, Tsotsi has the street-wise energy of City of God or early Martin Scorsese, but the redemption themes play with a disappointingly heavy hand in Hood's adaptation of the novel by playwright Athol Fugard. -- Holman

· V FOR VENDETTA 4 stars. (R) Like 1984's George Orwell taking a stab at a Batman tale, this futuristic thriller depicts a caped crusader called "V" (Hugo Weaving beneath a grinning mask) who targets a totalitarian police state in a near-future England. Although the creators of the Matrix movies adapt the cult comic book series with fast-paced panache, the film's radical politics -- which, among other things, seem to glamorize terrorism -- feel naive in a post-9/11 landscape. Natalie Portman lends a human touch and moral center as a meek young woman gradually radicalized by V's example. -- Holman

· WHEN DO WE EAT? (R) A Passover Seder takes an unusual turn with the patriarch (Michael Lerner) unwittingly takes a hit of Ecstasy. This dysfunctional family holiday comedy features Lesley Ann Warren and Jack Klugman.

· THE WILD 1 star. (G) Comparisons to Dreamworks' similar (and superior) Madagascar prove unnecessary to point out the myriad shortcomings of The Wild, which manages to be abysmal on its own terms. Apart fromm the impressively lifelike CGI animation, everything about this toxic toon is intolerable, especially the sidekicks who accompany Samson the lion (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) as he leaves the comforts of the New York zoo to search for his wayward son in a faraway jungle. Nigel the koala (Eddie Izzard) rates a special mention, emerging as the most loathsome animated character since Martin Short's insufferable robot in Treasure Planet. -- Brunson

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