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Short subjectives 

Capsule reviews of recently reviewed movies

Opening Friday

THE ABANDONED (R) An American film producer returns to her Russian homeland and seeks clues to her mother's mysterious death by visiting a haunted, ghostly farm.

AMAZING GRACE (PG) 3 stars. Director Michael Apted (49 Up) examines the attempts of British reformers in Parliament led by William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) to end the Empire's slave trade toward the end of the 18th century. While Apted's own attempts to quicken the film's extended storyline spanning nearly two decades by using flashbacks falls a bit short, the compelling subject matter and Gruffud's earnest performance are engaging enough. Veteran British actors Albert Finney and Michael Gambon lend a capable hand in supporting roles, with Finney playing a repentant slave-ship captain who eventually penned the famous gospel song of the movie's title. (Online review and podcast interview with Ioan Gruffud available at atlanta.creativeloafing.com; click on Flicks.) -- David Lee Simmons

THE ASTRONAUT FARMER (PG) 2 stars. Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) is a Midwestern rancher and dad with a devoted wife (Virginia Madsen), whose secret passion is to ride the rocket he is building in his barn into space. Directors Mark and Michael Polish's film is an attempt to revisit the kind of idealized American small town and man-with-a-dream that propelled the 1930s and '40s films of Frank Capra. But instead, this improbable, ham-fisted attempt at homespun message film feels hopelessly contrived, full of nostalgia for a time when men were men and women were women and all was right in America. (See Billy Bob Thornton interview.) -- Felicia Feaster

FLANNEL PAJAMAS (NR) 3 stars. Former October Films exec Jeff Lipsky centers his second feature film on a young Manhattan couple, Stuart Sawyer (Justin Kirk) and Nicole Reilly (Julianne Nicholson), and the fits and starts of their relationship from a first blind date through marriage and the eventual conflicts that threaten their relationship. Some of the stilted, contrived indie dialogue threatens to destroy the authenticity of a film which in every other regard struggles for and achieves an admirable sense of truthfulness. -- Feaster

INDIGÉNES (DAYS OF GLORY) (NR) 4 stars. See review.

THE NUMBER 23 (R) 2 stars. See review.

RENO 911!: MIAMI (R) 4 stars. In this made-for-film version of Comedy Central's hit show "Reno 911," the extremely dysfunctional police force heads down to Miami for a national police convention (that they were mistakenly invited to) and ends up "policing" the entire city as a bio-terrorism threat keeps all of the other officers detained. (Exclusive podcast interview with Lt. Jim Dangle and Deputy Travis Junior at atlanta.creativeloafing.com; click on Flicks.) -- Noah Gardenswartz

Duly Noted

MARION BRIDGE (NR) Based on a play by Daniel MacIvor and directed by Wiebke von Carolsfeld, the film won the Best Canadian First Feature Award at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival. Exquisitely acted film observing the tensions between three grown-up sisters attending to their dying mother in a small Nova Scotia town. Canada's Best. Sat., Feb. 24. 8 p.m., Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre. 1280 Peachtree St. $7. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.

MOTHRA (1961) (NR) 3 stars. When explorers kidnap two fairy-sized girls from a mysterious island, a train-sized caterpillar storms Japan and turns into a monstrous moth to get them back. This splashy, colorful entry in the genre of giant Japanese creature-features features the most relatively benign monster in the stable. Presented by Silver Scream Spookshow. Sat., Feb. 24, 1 and 9:30 p.m. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce De Leon Ave., $6-$10. 404-873-1939. www.plazaatlanta.com. ­-- Curt Holman

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.

THREE TIMES (NR) A rapturous trio of love stories shot in different styles and set in three different locales and eras: a pool hall in 1966, an exclusive brothel in 1911 and the urban landscape of today's Taipei. From director Hou Hsiao Hsien. In Taiwanese and Mandarin with subtitles. Celebrating Taiwan's Cinema. Fri., Feb. 23. 8 p.m., Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre. 1280 Peachtree St. $7. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.

Continuing

ACADEMY AWARD SHORTS (NR) 4 stars. Landmark presents two programs of the complete nominees of the upcoming Oscars in both the live-action and animated-short-film categories. Buzz-worthy shorts include "West Bank Story," about competing falafel stands against the backdrop of the Middle Eastern conflict, and "Lifted," a comic tale about alien abduction from Cars creators Pixar.

BABEL (R) 4 stars. A freak mishap has far-reaching repercussions that effect the lives of a pair of American tourists (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), two young Moroccan shepherds, a Mexican nanny (Adriana Barraza) and a deaf Japanese teenager (Rinko Kikuchi). Amores Perros director Alejandro González Iñárritu presents another gripping, gritty and well-acted set of intersecting narratives that feature raw performances (particularly from Rinko Kikuchi) and moments of nearly unbearable suspense. On reflection, Iñárritu's themes of language, globalization and human connection don't quite come together, but Babel's passion and visceral image give it power that transcends borders. -- Holman

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