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Capsule reviews of recently released films

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OPENING FRIDAY
DUPLICITY (PG-13) Espionage, romance, and the perfect con are mixed together for this thriller cocktail. Clive Owen and Julia Roberts star.

THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD 2 stars (PG) See review.

KNOWING (PG-13) Would you believe that a time capsule dug up at your child's elementary school could predict the future? If you were in this movie, the latest in a string of Nicolas Cage historical thrillers, you would.

I LOVE YOU, MAN (R) See review.

SUNSHINE CLEANING (R) See review.

DULY NOTED
ALICE'S RESTAURANT See review.

PSST!3 A series of 17 collaborative films from more than 175 participants comes to Atlanta for one night only. The event is truly international, with filmmakers from Berlin, Copenhagen, Nashville, New York, Paris, and, of course, Atlanta. The event boasts a lively influence of Surrealist techniques and mash-up style. Don't miss it! Wed., March 18. 7:30 p.m. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-873-1939. www.plazaatlanta.com.

CONTINUING
THE CLASS 4 stars (Not rated) In this Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, teacher and award-winning novelist François Bègaudeau plays a fictionalized version of himself, a middle-school French instructor who struggles with his confrontational middle-school students. Compared to Hollywood inspirational teacher-dramas like Dangerous Minds, The Class could be a remedial course, focusing on the institutional and cultural challenges that make education an uphill battle. Primarily set in the classroom, the film reveals complex conflicts and proves that educational problems have no easy answers. — Curt Holman

CORALINE 4 stars (PG) When spunky tween Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) and her family move into a remote boarding house, she discovers a deceptively appealing ìother worldî full of magical wonders. Henry Selick, director of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, helms another film of stop-motion animated splendors reminiscent of such fantastical coming-of-age stories as Alice in Wonderland and Pan’s Labyrinth. Definitely try to see it in 3-D, which fits the stop-motion format like a hand in glove, but be warned that the wild images may be too creepy for little kids. — Holman

CROSSING OVER 2 stars (R) Harrison Ford plays the central role of a weary but conscientious Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer in this sprawling drama about diverse Los Angelenos whose lives intersect through the issue of illegal immigration. Writer/director Wayne Kramer follows the model of the Oscar-winner Crash all too closely, and though he nimbly juggles multiple storylines, the themes and confrontational performances prove hilariously heavy-handed. Kramer has clearly done his homework in the Catch-22s of U.S. immigration laws and black market documents, but the hyperbolic crime-related subplots drown out the thoughtful content. — Holman
 
FANBOYS 2 stars (PG-13) In late 1998, a group of Star Wars fans road-trips from Ohio to Marin County, Calif., to break into Skywalker Ranch and steal a rough cut of The Phantom Menace. First scheduled for release in 2007, the film became a geek cause celebre when the studio contemplated cutting out a wan subplot in which one of the friends is dying of cancer. Even with the cancer plot included, the characterizations are thin, the cameos predictable and the craft generally amateurish, suggesting that films like Clerks set the bar for comedies about fandom culture way too low. — Holman

GOMORRAH 3 stars (NR) Italy's official entry for this year's Academy Awards offers a sprawling, journalistic portrayal of the Camorra crime syndicate in Naples. Director Matteo Garrone's five entwined narrative lines cross generations and social strata, from a white-collar toxic waste dumper to an impoverished housing projects kid named Totó (Salvatore Abruzzese) who aspires to join a "clan." Gomorrah leaves audiences in the position of innocent bystanders, without always knowing who the players are or where sudden violence will come from, and manages to offer a gangster film without a trace of glamour. — Holman 

GRAN TORINO 3 stars (R) For possibly his last screen role, Clint Eastwood plays a pistol-packing, bigoted Korean war vet who becomes reluctantly involved with his Hmong neighbors. Gran Torino’s ideas are about as obvious as a bad Stephen King adaptation, but there's something irresistible about the film's middle section, when Eastwood bonds with a young man (Bee Vang) over manual labor. — Holman

THE INTERNATIONAL 2 stars (R) An Interpol agent (Clive Owen) and a New York City attorney (Naomi Watts) try to build a case against a corrupt global bank, but all their potential witnesses end up dead. Inspired by the BCCI banking scandal of the 1990s, The International hits the national mood just right — what better time to attack financial institutions than during a global financial meltdown? Run Lola Run director offers technically proficient spy-type thrills, but the film wavers uncertainly between loud action movie and tub-thumping economic populism. — Holman

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT This by-the-book horror remake involves parents taking violent revenge against the man who attacked their daughter.

MISS MARCH A couple dude-brahs chase down the centerfold model that they used to know. Expect a few good fart jokes.

THE READER 4 stars (R) A German law student (David Kross) discovers that his older-woman fling (Kate Winslet) from his teenage years was a former guard at Auschwitz. The Hours’ Stephen Daldry directs one of the season's richest and most challenging films, in which the central relationship unfolds as a powerful, two-pronged character study as well as providing sturdy metaphors for a nation's guilt, responsibility and forgiveness. Playing the same character in different decades, Kross and Ralph Fiennes show how short relationships can reverberate across a person's life, but Kate Winslet owns the film with her career-best leading performance. — Holman

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD 2 stars (R) A young, miserably married couple (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) seek to escape the suburban rat race of 1950s America in this adaptation of Richard Yates’ acclaimed novel. Seldom has such an intelligent, impeccably-mounted production seemed so out of sync with the cultural zeitgeist: DiCaprio and Winslet dig deeply in their performances, but its hard to feel sorry for such superficial, prosperous characters at a time of foreclosures and layoffs. — Holman

TWO LOVERS 2 stars (R) Joaquin Phoenix's bizarre recent behavior upstages his performance in director James Gray's romantic triangle about a depressed would-be photographer (Phoenix) who vacillates between his attraction to an unstable, alluring neighbor (Gwyneth Paltrow) and the nice Jewish girl (Vinessa Shaw) hand-picked by his parents. Phoenix's Brando-esque method acting suggest that family ties and bipolar disorder have blunted his role's true passions, but he also falls prey to a habit of overplaying his characters as innocent or "slow." The actresses make stronger, more relaxed impressions, including Paltrow’s self-destructive beauty and Isabella Rosellini's loving, unpretentious mother. — Holman

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