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Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
THE AMATI GIRLS (PG) ** 1/2 Mercedes Ruehl, Sean Young, Dinah Manoff and Lily Knight play the daughters of recently widowed Cloris Leachman in Anne DeSalvo's dripping-with-sincerity drama that portrays Italian-American family life without reference to the Mafia. Ruehl's marriage is much like her mother's; Young is ready to divorce a workaholic; and Manoff's afraid of commitment. When developmentally challenged Knight decides she wants "a real boyfriend," most of the family is opposed. Cinematically proficient but not innovative, The Amati Girls probably helped DeSalvo get major family issues off her chest. -- SW

THE GIFT (R) ** Where do I go to return The Gift? Cate Blanchett plays a small town medium who gets embroiled in violence and sleazy behavior in a script, co-written by Billy Bob Thornton, that plays like "Peyton Place" with ESP. Director Sam Raimi injects a few shocks, but the film proves too over-the-top to be taken seriously, and with too many classy performers (including Keanu Reeves and Hilary Swank) for camp value. -- CH

THE PLEDGE (R) Director Sean Penn's 1950s thriller follows a police chief (Jack Nicholson) on the verge of retirement who makes a pledge to a young mother (Robin Wright Penn) to track down the killer of her child. The all-star cast includes Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Benicio del Toro and Sam Shepard.

SNATCH (R) *** As in his debut film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie doesn't construct plots so much as geometry exercises, setting groups of heavily-armed cockney hoodlums and hitmen in motion and seeing how often they collide. Nominally concerned with fixed boxing matches and the scramble for a stolen diamond, Snatch offers more of the same, with better jokes, a broader canvas and Brad Pitt stealing the show as a gypsy boxer whose accent is hilariously impenetrable. -- CH

Duly Noted
EXECUTION IN JUSTICE Witness to a shooting, Felix Spät, an attorney, helps convict Professor Kohler of the crime, which carries a 20-year sentence. Following the trial, Spät falls in love with Kohler's daughter, and against his better judgment, she convinces him to retry the case. Things go wrong, and Kohler gets off, leaving Spät to seek his revenge. The 1993 film is in German with English subtitles. German Criminal Films, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m., Goethe Institut Atlanta.

THE FIVE SENSES (R) *** Canadian director Jeremy Podeswa makes a noble, if not completely satisfying, effort to convey the desires and frustrations in the lives of a group of disparate Toronto residents occupying the same office building in his second feature. The quirky, pensive, thoughtful influence of a director like Atom Egoyan is much in evidence here. And while Podeswa doesn't have Egoyan's licks and can often meander into preciousness, his story seems a genuine, exploratory expression of a common desire for connection many will relate to. Peachtree International Film Society, Jan. 21 at 6 p.m., Cinevision Screening Room. -- FF

GRANDE ILLUSION Set during WWI, director Jean Renoir's 1937 classic focuses on two French soldiers who are imprisoned in a German camp. With the help of fellow inmates, they hatch a clever plan to dig a tunnel to freedom. Their great escape, however, doesn't go quite as they expected. Films at the High, Jan. 20 at 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium.

GRANDMA AND HER GHOSTS While staying at his grandmother's house, a young boy has to deal with the trouble-making ghost he accidentally sets free. Through this adventure, the boy discovers that his grandmother is actually a powerful Taoist shaman. The animated film is in Chinese with subtitles. Films at the High, Jan. 20 at 4 p.m. and Jan. 21 at 3 p.m., Rich Auditorium.

IMAX AT FERNBANK: LEGEND OF THE LOCH Based on the famous Scottish song, "Loch Lomond," the movie tells of a young singer who uses song to bring an 18th-century couple separated by war back together in the modern era. The film interweaves historical and modern Scotland in this haunting, romantic tale. Special Screenings Series, Jan. 19, 20 and 21 at 6 p.m., Fernbank Museum of Natural History.

M The police in a German city mount an exhaustive investigation to catch a killer who is targeting children. A group of criminals decide to find the madman themselves after the increased police presence becomes bad for business. Director Fritz Lang's 1931 film is in German with English subtitles. German Criminal Films, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m., Goethe Institut Atlanta.

MADADAYO Writer/director Akira Kurosawa's last film, the movie features Tatsuo Matsumura as Hyakken Uchida, a beloved professor who leaves his job to become a writer after his house is destroyed in air raids on Japan in 1943. His old students plot to move him from the hut he and his wife now inhabit to a bigger home. Jan. 19-25 at 12, 4:15 and 8:30 p.m., GSU's cinéfest.

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