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Opening Friday

· BEE SEASON (PG-13) Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche star in this adaptation of Myla Goldberg's novel about one family's experience with spelling bees and Jewish mysticism.

· THE DYING GAUL HHHH (R) See review on p. 63.

· HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE HHHH (PG-13) See review on page 62.

· KEANE (R) Damian Lewis of "Band of Brothers" plays a potentially mentally ill man haunting New York's Port Authority in search of his lost daughter.

· WALK THE LINE HHH (PG-13) See review on p. 61.

Opening Wednesday

· THE ICE HARVEST (R) John Cusak and Billy Bob Thornton star in this dark, holiday-themed heist picture that marks a change of pace for Groundhog Day director Harold Ramis. Think Grosse Pointe Blank meets Bad Santa.

· IN THE MIX (PG-13) Haven't seen an usher in a cinema in a while? That changes when singer Usher plays a DJ who saves a Mafia princess and becomes her de facto bodyguard.

· JUST FRIENDS (PG-13) Rejected by his high-school crush years ago, Ryan Reynolds grows up to be an incorrigible Don Juan -- until he encounters the same woman (Anna Faris) as an adult.

· RENT (PG-13) Chris Columbus (director of the first two Home Alone and Harry Potter movies) helms this adaptation of Jonathan Larson's smash Broadway musical, which resembles a rock-influenced La Boheme in the age of AIDS. It stars Taye Diggs and Rosario Dawson.

· USHPIZIN (PG) The appealingly named Giddi Dar directs this realistic comedy about an ultra-orthodox Jewish couple in Israel.

· YOURS, MINE & OURS (PG) When Dennis Quaid's widower and Rene Russo's widow get married, the children of their new household add up to 18 -- making it three times as good as "The Brady Bunch's" six kids.

Duly Noted

· THE ARISTOCRATS HHHH (NR) George Carlin, Gilbert Gottfried, Sarah Silverman, John Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg and scores of other comedians take turns telling -- or commenting on -- an old, notoriously offensive joke usually reserved for other comedians instead of their audiences. Nov. 18-Dec. 1. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565. -- Curt Holman

· DAILIES: RETURN TO PEPPERLAND (NR) See review to right.

· LOVE AND INTRIGUE (1982) (NR) The Romeo-and-Juliet-style mismatched romance of a president's son and a musician's daughter inevitably leads to difficult circumstances. Wed., Nov. 23, 7 p.m. Goethe Institut Atlanta, 1197 Peachtree St. $3-$4. 404-892-2388.

· OUT ON FILM FESTIVAL (NR) The 18th annual festival of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender film comes to a close with the New York-based comedy Adam and Steve. Thurs., Nov. 17. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive. $7-$20. 877-725-8849.

· THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) (R) The cult classic of cult classics, the musical horror spoof follows an all-American couple to the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, 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.

· A SKIN TOO FEW: THE DAYS OF NICK DRAKE (NR) Dutch director Jerome Berkvens presents a meditative documentary on British musician Nick Drake, who released three albums before overdosing on antidepressants in 1974. Thurs., Nov. 17. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565.


· CAPOTE HHHHH (R) It's hard to take your eyes off Philip Seymour Hoffman as the vain, brilliant, manipulative and also haunted writer Truman Capote. Shrugging off the limitations of the usual biopic story arc, Bennett Miller's absorbing, thought-provoking, extremely well-crafted first fiction film (he directed the documentary The Cruise) focuses on a small but significant portion of Capote's life during the researching of his groundbreaking work of true crime nonfiction In Cold Blood, and the unhealthy mutual dependency that develops between the writer and one of the killers (Clifton Collins) of a Kansas farm family. -- Felicia Feaster

· CHICKEN LITTLE H (G) In this computer-animated catastrophe, Chicken Little (Zach Braff) of nursery-rhyme fame warns the cuddly critters of Oaky Oaks of an imminent alien invasion. Disney Animation flailingly emulates the pop references of the Shrek movies and, after about five minutes, stomps all over its promising jokes. In the spirit of such monickers as Foxy Loxy and Turkey Lurkey, Chicken Little would be better named Sucky Clucky. -- Holman

· THE CONSTANT GARDENER HHHH (R) In this flashy, faithful adaptation of John Le Carré's espionage best-seller, Ralph Fiennes plays impressively against type as a meek diplomat in Africa investigating the murder of his activist wife (Rachel Weisz). Director Fernando Mereilles brings a similar intensity and eye for telling detail that marked the sizzling City of God and makes The Constant Gardener one of the rare political thriller's that's actually about politics. Too many characters seem to exist simply for exposition instead of insight, but the film stirringly blends suspenseful paranoia, tragic romance and indignation at corporate misdeeds in the Third World. -- Holman

· DERAILED H (R) The inaugural feature from the Weinstein Co. recalls the formation of TriStar Pictures back in the '80s, when the quality of its initial slate was so dreadful that one critic suggested the company should change its name to OneStar. The film stars Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston as unhappily married business drones whose attempt at an affair gets interrupted by a French thug (Vincent Cassel) with blackmail on his mind. I figured out the major plot twist even before stepping into the theater, yet this movie is so fundamentally brain-dead on so many levels that predictability turns out to be the least of its problems. -- Matt Brunson

· DOOM HH (R) Stating that Doom is probably the best of the numerous flicks based on a video game ranks as the feeblest praise imaginable, akin to noting that benign genital herpes is the best sexually transmitted disease to acquire. Still, in a sub-sub-genre that has subjected us to the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Resident Evil, we'll take our favors where we can get them. Doom rips off Aliens at every turn, as a group of military grunts find themselves combating vicious creatures at a manned outpost in outer space. For a good while, director Andrzej Bartkowiak actually attempts to make a real movie rather than just a video game simulation, though he loses control toward the end. -- Brunson

· DREAMER: INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY HHH (G) Taking a well-worn formula and adding some flavor through a pair of rich characterizations, Dreamer centers on horse trainer (Kurt Russell) and his daughter (Dakota Fanning) nursing an injured race horse back to health. Many child stars are either sloppily sentimental or coldly calculating, and while Fanning has occasionally veered toward the latter, she delivers her warmest and most natural performance in this picture. -- Brunson

· ELIZABETHTOWN HH (PG-13) Kirsten Dunst's quirky flight attendant inspires Orlando Bloom's disgraced athletic shoe designer during a visit to Kentucky for his father's funeral. Writer/director Cameron Crowe revisits similar themes from Jerry Maguire, but the mix of mannered love story, corporate satire and family comedy never hangs together. The great music makes Elizabethtown feel like Crowe's latest awesome mix tape, with a movie around it. -- Holman

· FLIGHTPLAN HH (PG-13) On the heels of Red Eye comes this month's aerial thriller. This one, about a widow (Jodie Foster) whose daughter disappears during an intercontinental flight, quickly begins its narrative descent and eventually explodes on contact, creating fireballs of flaws so massive, they obliterate entire theater auditoriums and even singe the concession stands. Foster's performance deserves a better showcase -- instead, she's much like the lone suitcase that's left on the baggage claim belt, circling wearily while surrounded by an atmosphere of indifference. -- Brunson

· FORTY SHADES OF BLUE HHHH (NR) Russian actress Dina Korzun is mesmerizing as the lonely trophy wife of a significantly older, megalomaniacal Memphis music producer Alan (Rip Torn). Her solitude seems momentarily lifted with the arrival of Alan's estranged son (Darren Burrows), also locked into an unhappy marriage. But this being a film centered on a Russian, Ira Sachs' serene, below the surface character study uncoils into the kind of tragedy that seems Korzun's cultural destiny. -- Feaster

· G (R) The Hamptons provides the backdrop for a hip-hop romance inspired by The Great Gatsby and starring Richard T. Jones, Chenoa Maxwell and Blair Underwood. Don't mistake the title for the MPAA rating.

· GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN' HH (R) Rapper 50 Cent may have set the music world on fire, but as a movie star, he's as relevant as a dead mike. His starring vehicle, about a drug dealer trying to make it as a rap star, is yet one more uninspired crime pic. Yet the movie it most resembles -- coincidentally, given the proximity of the release dates -- is this past summer's Hustle & Flow (in which a pimp tried to make it as a rapper). It's fascinating to place both films side by side and see how one succeeds while the other doesn't. With its rich characterizations and pungent atmosphere, Hustle flows, while Get Rich Or Die Tryin', with its frayed theatrics and stiff performance by 50 Cent, isn't worth a plugged nickel. -- Brunson

· GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK HHHHH (PG) In the early 1950s, Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) used his CBS show "See It Now" to take on Sen. Joe McCarthy's "witch hunt" tactics. Every creative decision pays off in George Clooney's second film, a black-and-white homage to the "greatest generation" of broadcast journalists, whose courage in the face of enormous pressures makes the Bush administration press corps look timid by comparison. The film succeeds enormously well at getting you under the skin of Murrow's reporters and anticipating the increasing influence of entertainment on broadcast news. See it now. -- Holman

· THE GOSPEL HH (PG-13) Atlanta filmmaker Rob Hardy wrote and directed this heavy-handed tale of an R&B star who returns to his estranged father's church seeking redemption. Some soaring numbers from some of gospel music's biggest stars and a charismatic performance from "The Wire's" Idris Elba as an ambitious, media-savvy pastor provide the brightest spots in this unsubtle retelling of the prodigal son parable. -- Holman

· IMAX THEATER Mystery of the Nile (NR): This IMAX adventure follows a small group of reporters and filmmakers as they travel 3,000 miles up the Nile River. 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 whitewater rafters. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300.

· JARHEAD HHH (R) In Sam Mendes‚ adaptation of Anthony Swofford's memoir, a Marine sniper (Jake Gyllenhaal) fllirts with madness as he awaits combat in the Persian Gulf War. Jarhead presents snappy bits of barracks humor and some haunting images (Kuwait‚s burning oil fields look like hell itself), but inevitably feels anticlimactic: the "jarheads" suffer a kind of existential dilemma as they long to kill but never see combat. Admirably sympathetic to the pressures brought upon the modern military, Jarhead still proves disappointingly evasive in its lack of opinion on the current Iraq War. -- Holman

· KINGS AND QUEEN HHHH (NR) In this rich, erudite melodrama, French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin cuts between two parallel stories: Emmanuelle Devos' single mother faces her father's terminal illness, while Mathieu Amalric's tempestuous violinist finds himself committed to a mental hospital. The two plots roughly divide between drama and comedy, but Kings and Queen never fits into neat genre categories, and Desplechin, directing like a man told he'll never make another film again, seems to cram his every life lesson and aesthetic idea into a fast-paced two-and-a-half hours. -- Holman

· KISS KISS, BANG BANG HHH (R) Scripter Shane Black, best known for penning Lethal Weapon, makes his directorial debut with this fast and furious yarn that isn't a buddy/action movie as much as a send-up of a buddy/action movie. Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer are both in top form, respectively playing a none-too-bright thief who gets mistaken for an actor and the gay private eye assigned to prepare him for his screen test. The murder-mystery plot becomes needlessly complicated and doesn't hang together, causing the picture to move forward in fits and starts. But, as scathing indictments of Tinseltown go, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang may not be The Player, but it's a player nonetheless. -- Brunson

· THE LEGEND OF ZORRO HH (PG) Mr. and Mrs. Zorro (Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones) divorce after 10 years of marital smoldering and squabbling, but can their oh-so-cute son (Adrian Alonso) -- and a lot of obvious computerized special effects -- help them thwart a conspiracy that threatens the future of America? Despite reuniting the director and stars of 1998's rousing The Mask of Zorro, this belated sequel proves so sloppy, silly and overacted, it contaminates your memories of the prior film. -- Holman

· NINE LIVES HHHH (R) An Altmanesque anthology loaded with famous faces from Sissy Spacek to Glenn Close, director Rodrigo Garcia's film about the turbulent events in nine different Los Angeles women's lives has the feel of a collection of well-crafted short stories. (Garcia's father is novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez.) Each story is shot in one continuous take, and if they're not all great, the film offers enough food for thought and stellar performances to elevate the lesser material. -- Feaster

· NORTH COUNTRY HHHH (R) Charlize Theron is a mother of two who escapes an abusive marriage only to find more brutality when she takes a job at a mine where women are viewed as unwanted intruders in a male domain. Though the film comes with a conventional stand-up-and-cheer courtroom denouement, its portrait of the pervasive cruelty of both men and women who conspire to keep women in their place should inspire some soul-searching about both the good and the bad that society supports. -- Feaster

· PARADISE NOW HHH (PG-13) The kind of incendiary film that will vindicate some and infuriate others, Hany Abu-Assad's non-sequitur mix of dark comedy and thriller follows two hopeless young Palestinian men (Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman) who have decided to become suicide bombers and travel with bombs strapped to their bodies, from the West Bank to Tel Aviv. Too didactic and structurally rambling to be a great film, Abu-Assad's is instead a smaller, imperfect human drama that dares to humanize people others would prefer to write off as terrorists. -- Feaster

· PRIDE & PREJUDICE HHH (PG) Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Deborah Moggach have done an exemplary job of making us care all over again about the plight of the Bennet sisters, whose busybody mom (Brenda Blethyn) sets about finding them suitable husbands against the backdrop of 19th century England. The oldest daughter Jane (Rosamund Pike) immediately lands a suitor, but the independent Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) finds herself embroiled in a grudge match with the brooding Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen). Romanticists who fell hard for Colin Firth's Darcy in the 1995 BBC miniseries may or may not warm to MacFadyen (who's fine in the role), but there's no quibbling over Knightley's intuitive, note-perfect work as Elizabeth. -- Brunson

· PRIME HH (PG-13) Meryl Streep admirably underplays the role of the kvetchy Jewish mom, a therapist who's distraught when she learns that her 23-year-old son (Bryan Greenberg) is dating one of her patients, a 37-year-old divorcee (Uma Thurman). The stakes might seem greater if Greenberg's character were stepping out with a woman played by, say, 70-year-old Judi Dench, but after a shaky start that promises a rehash of Monster-In-Law (please, God, no), the movie eventually finds some rhythm not so much in the expected spats between the lovers but in the genuine bond between the conflicted therapist and the damaged flower placed in her care. Ultimately, Streep and Thurman do more for the movie than the movie does for them. -- Brunson

· THE PRIZE WINNER OF DEFIANCE OHIO (PG-13) Julianne Moore confirms that she's cornered the market on roles as oppressed 1950s housewives in her latest film, in which she makes ends meet by writing award-winning jingles. It's written and directed by Jane Anderson, scripter of The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader Murdering Mom. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

· SAW 2 (R) "Parts is parts" in this sequel to last year's hit low-budget dismemberment thriller, as the sadistic "Jigsaw Killer" traps his latest victims in a booby-trapped shelter.

· SHOPGIRL HH (R) With two shallow characters and a blandly gloomy story line, this adaptation of Steve Martin's novella feels like Pretty Woman putting on airs: a wistful, therapy-culture fairy tale for the New Yorker crowd. Martin, who is 60, plays a wealthy man who sweeps a pretty Saks Fifth Avenue clerk (Claire Danes, age 26) off her feet -- a lingering mystery considering Martin's performance as a corpse-like, unctuous moneybags. The only pleasure comes from Jason Schwartzman as a clueless slacker who vies with Mr. Big for the shopgirl's affection. -- Feaster

· THE SQUID AND THE WHALE HHH (R) It's a hard fact of life whether crowed by Tammy Wynette or Park Slope eggheads: breaking up is hard to do. Filmmaker Noah Baumbach offers a semi-autobiographical remembrance of divorce's toll on the kids. The year is 1986, two bookish Brooklyn intellectuals (Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels), based on Baumbach's film critic mother and novelist father, split, shuttling their two sons (Owen Kline and Jesse Eisenberg) between their homes and unleashing some major anguish and anxieties. Often darkly funny in charting the effects of D-I-V-O-R-C-E for the over-analytical set not supposed to experience such mundane traumas, the film is too emotionally distant and too inconclusive to offer more than that age-old assertion that divorce sucks. -- Feaster

· TWO FOR THE MONEY HH (R) Al Pacino's back in full manic mode in this malnourished morality tale not dissimilar in structure to other Pacino vehicles in which he serves as a shady mentor to a hot young actor (The Devil's Advocate, The Recruit, etc.). Here, he plays Walter Abrams, the head of a sports consulting firm who finds his protégé in Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey), a naïve guy with a near-psychic ability to accurately handicap gridiron match-ups. Brandon's picks make both men rich, but personality conflicts threaten to derail both their careers. The film's entertainment value can be found in its incoherence -- this movie is so ludicrous on so many fundamental levels that it almost crosses into camp territory. -- Brunson

· WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT HHH (G) Inane inventor Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) and his silent, sensible dog, Gromit, take on an oversized rabbit-monster before their town's beloved vegetable competition. Compared to Chicken Run and the claymation duo's short films, Were-Rabbit's script feels thin and puns feel forced, but the film's brilliant set-pieces wittily lampoon horror-film clichés. -- Holman

· THE WEATHER MAN HHH (R) Divorced, depressed TV weatherman David Spritz clings to career advancement as the key to improving his relationship with his ailing father (Michael Caine) and unhappy children. Despite outbursts of humor -- including a funny running joke involving Spritz being pelted with junk food -- the film maintains a surprisingly quiet tone as it examines the weather man's life of unquiet desperation. The film may not be as profound as director Gore Verbinski believes it to be, but you appreciate its effort to criticize hollow American values. -- Holman

· ZATHURA HHH (PG) Like Jumanji, this is based on a children's picture book by Chris Van Allsburg. Despite both involving a magical board game, this film differs in that it's set in outer space, showcases better visual effects and replaces Jumanji's Robin Williams with a manic, defective robot (on second thought, that last point might not qualify as a difference). Imaginative without being particularly exciting, Zathura will appeal immensely to young viewers while causing adults to be the ones to occasionally fidget in their seats. Grown-ups, however, will be the ones who benefit from the script's funniest quip, a throwaway line involving the indie flick Thirteen. -- Brunson

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