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Short Subjectives 

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

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RUNNING WITH SCISSORS 2 stars (R) In this A-list adaptation of Augusten Burroughs' bestselling memoir, an unbalanced mother (Annette Bening) dumps her loving teenage son (Joseph Cross) at the squalid home of her psychiatrist (Brian Cox) and his loopy family. "Nip/Tuck" creator and first-time director Ryan Murphy gets the film's suburban "Me Decade" look exactly right while completely missing the book's deadpan sense of humor and relying on the soundtrack music for the film's emotional heavy lifting. Bening certainly acts her heart out, but her efforts are virtually for naught, since we pretty much know everything about her character from the moment we set eyes on her. -- Holman

SAW III (R) Like watching the leaves turn color and fall, the release of a new Saw film in late October has become an annual autumn tradition. In the third installment, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) introduces an apprentice to his dismembering mind games.

THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP 2 stars An aspiring artist (Gael García Bernal) finds his attraction to his next-door-neighbor (Charlotte Gainsbourg) complicated by his increasing difficulty in distinguishing his dreams from reality. French director Michel Gondry revisits similar themes from his Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind but the wild, surreal visuals never hold together as elegantly as in the previous film. Sleep nevertheless offers many lovely, memorable sequences, many involving stop-motion animation, that convey the messy, bric-a-brac of dreams and the circular nature of our obsessions. -- Holman

SHORTBUS 2 stars (NR) Beware directors who say they're going to make the definitive sex movie. With only the exceptional Hedwig and the Angry Inch under his belt, John Cameron Mitchell feels it's time to tackle porno-quality sex married to an actual art-house story. The explicit sex is frank all right -- much of it placed front and center in the film's introduction -- but is tied to a corny, shallow story about sexy New Yorkers who are having a hard time in bed. Sex therapist Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) is unable to achieve orgasm and former hustler James (Paul Dawson) is unable to deeply connect to the man he loves. Mitchell suggests post-Sept. 11 angst is to blame, but cardboard characters and dialogue out of a '60s encounter session may be the real problem. -- Feaster

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING So how did Leatherface get such, uh, a leathery face? Find out in this prequel to the Chainsaw franchise of sequels and remakes, featuring Full Metal Jacket's R. Lee Ermey as evil sheriff father.

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