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Capsule reviews of recently reviewed films

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OPENING FRIDAY

CHERRY BLOSSOMS When a father suddenly falls ill, a chain reaction of events begins to expose unspoken feelings among a family.

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

PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND (PG-13) See review.

SERBIS 5 stars (R) See review.

WATCHMEN (R) See review.

DULY NOTED

AFRICA PARADIS This satirical film from director Sylvestre Amoussou imagines the future in a prosperous United States of Africa that turns away underqualified emigrants. The underground economies and demeaning jobs available to undocumented workers might remind viewers of the real-life U.S. $6-$7. Fri., March 6, 8 p.m. High Museum, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-5000. www.high.org.

Continuing

AUSTRALIA 2 stars (PG-13) An English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) and an Australian cattle driver (Hugh Jackman) become reluctant partners for a cattle drive across the outback at the eve of World War II. Moulin Rouge! director Baz Luhrmann indulges his taste for cartoonish hypberbole for the film's hyperactive, grating first 45 minutes, before settling down into a more conventional, tolerable Old School sprawling epic romance. He still lays on the aboriginal mysticism and Wizard of Oz references pretty thick, but at least exposes to racial inequities in Australia's history with more candor than Gone With the Wind did for the South. -- Holman

AZUR AND ASMAR 2 stars (PG) For his fourth animated feature, awesomely-named French director Michel Ocelot spins an Arabian Nights-style fairy tale about a privileged, blue-eyed infant weaned at the same breast as his nursemaidís son, and how they grow into rivals in a quest to find and win the hand of the Djinn Fairy. Subtitled The Princesí Quest for its English translation, the film may have more value as education and entertainment, with Ocelotís digital designs capturing the cultural details of a medieval Muslim country while laying out a worthy 'Can't we all get along?' message. Unfortunately, the stiff facial animation and chilly emotional content will keep both kids and adults at armís length. -- Holman

BEAUTY IN TROUBLE 4 stars (NR) Set in Prague after a disastrous flood, a down on her luck mother of two (Anna Geislerová) becomes involved with a wealthy intellectual expat after her thug husband (Roman Luknár) steals the wrong car. Don't expect for this love story to turn out like Pretty Woman though, director Jan Hrebjek is more interested in exploring the differences between good intentions and sexual desire than crafting another fairy tale. -- Wyatt Williams

BEDTIME STORIES (PG) Fantasy and reality blend together when Skeeter Bronson (Adam Sandler) tells his niece and nephew outlandish tales that mysteriously come true. The magical results turn sour when Bronson loses control of his own stories.

BOLT 3 stars (PG) Superpowered canine Bolt (voiced by John Travolta in his most enjoyable performance in a decade) protects a girl (Miley Cyrus) from evildoers, unaware that theyíre on a TV series. The dog ends up traveling cross-country with a fanboy hamster (Mark Walton) who thinks Bolt's a real hero, and a cynical alley cat ("Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Susie Essman) who knows he's not. Despite a heavily sentimental final third, the film's witty tweaks of film clichÈs and genuine affection for its characters makes Bolt almost heroic among cartoon features. -- Holman

BRIDE WARS (PG) The schedule conflict between two weddings turns best friends into bitter enemies.

CADILLAC RECORDS 4 stars (R) "If you take the ride, you must pay the price," is the tagline. This movie chronicles the rise of Chess Records and its recording artists.

CHANDNI CHOWK TO CHINA When a cook is mistaken for a reincarnated warriow, martial-arts hijinks ensue.

CHE 2 stars (R) Benicio del Toro stars as Argentinian-born Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara in director Steven Soderberghís epic-length biographical examination. Based on Guevaraís own journals, Che takes place in two parts, the first detailing the successful Cuban revolution, the second Guevaraís failed efforts in Bolivia. Soderbergh and del Toto deserve credit for their documentary-style approach, but the emotionally remote material and four-and-half-hour running time may not provide ample reward for the demands it makes on the audience. -- Holman

CIAO 2 stars (R) A man's unexpected death leads to an unexpected bond between his bereaved best friend (Adam Neal Smith) and an Italian graphic designer (co-writer Alessandro Calza). Malysian-born director/co-writer Yen Tan presents Ciao as an unadorned character study of Andrea and Jeff's brief encounter one weekend in Dallas. It's easy to admire the film's dedication to long scenes of casual talk, but hard to connect with its frequently stilted, borderline banal conversation. -- Holman

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