Short Subjectives 

The Santa Clause III: The Escape Clause, The Affairs of Julie, others

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THE DEPARTED 4 stars (R) In this exciting, almost insanely intricate crime thriller set in Boston, Leonardo Dicaprio plays an undercover cop trying to ingratiate himself with an Irish mobster (Jack Nicholson), who has a mole in the police force passing as a high-level cop (Matt Damon). Nicholson oversells his naughty-Jack shtick and Vera Farmiga fails to engage our interest in the psychiatrist attracted to both undercover ops in this remake of the superb Hong Kong flick Infernal Affairs. But in his best film since Goodfellas, director Martin Scorsese makes an invigorating return to form that doesn't let the grand thematic gestures spoil the guilty pleasures of suspense scenes, rock soundtracks and profane repartee. -- Holman

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS 3 stars (R) Director Clint Eastwood reveals the history behind one of the 20th century's most famous images: the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima. The film suffers from a convoluted flashback structure and spells out its themes about heroism with an unnecessarily heavy hand at the end. However, the battle scenes, reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, convey the staggering scale of a world war, and the centerpiece story about the "Iwo Jima Marines" and their role in a 1945 bond drive explores some unexpectedly skeptical and complex ideas about selling war to a weary U.S. public. -- Holman

FLICKA 2 stars (PG) Alison Lohman plays Katy, a strong-willed 16-year-old who locates a soulmate in a wild mustang wandering the acres on her family's Wyoming spread. It's refreshing to see an American family on screen that doesn't wallow in dysfunction, but Flicka's emphasis on the humans short-changes the mustang, and there simply aren't enough scenes illustrating the burgeoning bond between Katy and Flicka. The heavy-handed approach to the dramatic plot devices also doesn't help. In moments of despair, you can always count on director Michael Mayer adding some heavy rainstorms to externalize the characters' inner anguish. -- Matt Brunson

THE GRUDGE 2 (PG-13) Sarah Michelle Gellar returns in this sequel to the remake of the Japanese ghost story about a vengeful spirit haunting young people in Tokyo.

THE GUARDIAN 2 stars (PG-13) In this pale imitation of An Officer and a Gentleman, Kevin Costner plays a Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer instructor whose tough-love approach to training works wonders for the young recruits; Ashton Kutcher is a narcissistic pretty-boy student more interested in making a name for himself and romancing the local cutie than in actually saving lives. For a long while, The Guardian wears its clichés pretty well, but because this is a Kevin Costner film -- and because Costner spends more time playing mythic, larger-than-life Christ figures instead of ordinary mortals -- we sense this can only end one way, and the filmmakers deliver a shameless ending. -- Brunson

THE ILLUSIONIST 4 stars (PG-13) In this twisty, arresting drama set in early 20th-century Vienna, Edward Norton plays a Houdini-style magician obsessed with the fiancé (Jessica Biel) of the sadistic crown prince (Rufus Sewell). Some of the period-piece details prove a little unsteady, but overall writer-director Neil Burger spins a clever, compelling yarn that appreciates the power of stage magic to both seize attention and confound expectations. -- Holman

IMAX THEATER Deep Sea (NR) Get an up-close-and-personal look at sea turtles, giant octopi and other strange and colorful marine life in this visit to the ocean floor. Greece: Secrets of the Past (NR) This documentary explores the archaeological secrets of ancient Greece and features the Parthenon in its original glory as well as the volcanic eruption that buried the island of Santorini. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300.

JACKASS NUMBER TWO (R) Johnny Knoxville and his self-destructive buddies re-up for more mortifying pranks and kamikaze stunts.

JET LI'S FEARLESS (PG-13) Billed as the final martial arts film from the high-flying Jet Li, this chop-sockey historical epic promises spectacular period details and gravity-defying fight scenes.

KEEPING MUM 3 stars (R) The darkish British comedyKeeping Mum is cinema as cozy as an afghan or a nice cuppa tea -- something comforting but not exactly life-sustaining. Cut-glass highbrow beauty Kristin Scott Thomas slums through the yuks as the sexually frustrated wife of a village minister (Rowan Atkinson), but her attempt at an affair with an oily American golf pro (Patrick Swayze) is violently frowned upon by her new housekeeper (Maggie Smith), a dear old Mary Poppins-type with a homicidal secret. -- Feaster

THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND 3 stars (R) Based on Giles Foden's novel, this thriller imagines 1970s Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (Forrest Whitaker) appointing a naive Scottish doctor as his personal doctor. As their relationship develops, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) also becomes Amin's political confidante, witnessing his growing paranoia and murderous reign firsthand. The film begins as a rousing study of Amin's charismatic, outsize personality amid a black power and folk music-infected Africa. But it soon descends into a kind of Halloween-goes-African, an absurd white man's nightmare as Garrigan finds himself trapped in the baroque horrors of Amin's Uganda. Though there is implausibility galore and a disturbing use of Africa as the source of both the white world's fantasies and fear, Whitaker rises above the often exploitive material to deliver a performance of astounding humanity that brings the viewer into the dark, divided heart of the dictator. -- Feaster


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    • Local band Manchester Orchestra, who provided the soundtrack, probably would have appreciated a shout-out.

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