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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of recently released movies

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· AN AMERICAN HAUNTING (PG-13) Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland and Rachel Hurd-Wood star in this "fact-based" horror flick about the so-called Bell Witch of Tennessee in the early 1800s.

· 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

· L'ENFANT 4 stars (R) The socially conscious Dardenne brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre started as documentary makers, a sensibility and aesthetic they bring to the shaky camera work and fly-on-the-wall realism of their fiction films. This Palme d'Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival tracks an 18-year-old mother and her 20-year-old petty criminal boyfriend who are juggling new parenthood and a life on the streets. You feel like you are there on the streets with them, undergoing the same degradation and epiphanies and the effect is devastating. -- Feaster

· 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

· HARD CANDY 2 stars (R) A lurid, increasingly brain-dead shocker about a pedophile (Patrick Wilson) trapped and tortured by a revenge-minded teen (Ellen Page), this one is I Spit on Your Grave-brand exploitation for the cyber age. Music video veteran David Slade initially has an admirable grasp on his characters and their kinky courtship, but soon loses his cool. By film's end, Slade is trying to pass off his implausible, sensational thriller for some kind of feminist commentary, but nothing in the writing or direction warrants a deeper reading. -- Feaster

· HOOT (PG) Logan Lerman plays a young man who moves from Montana to Florida and fights developers to protect an owl habitat. This family-friendly film is based on the book for young readers by Carl Hiassen, whose mystery novels strike comedic gold in depicting Floridian misbehaviors.

· ICE AGE: 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 Amazon (NR) This documentary traces the Amazon River from its source in the Andes mountains to the Amazon river basin and captures the beauty of its diverse wildlife. Through Aug. 18. 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. Through June 2. 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

· KINKY BOOTS 3 stars (PG-13) After the Price shoe factory goes bankrupt, its timid owner (Joel Edgerton) stumbles, literally, into a kinky-boot clad drag queen (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who helps spice up the business. Rote lessons about identity and second chances ensue, but it is Ejiofor (convincing as both a man and a woman,) who completely steals the show, elevating this otherwise humdrum and obvious story into something, well, kinky. Unlike the gender of its hero, the moral of this British burlesque is unmistakable -- behind every great man is a woman -- even if she turns out to be a man. -- Allison C. Keene

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