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Short subjectives

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
THE CLAIM (R) 1/2 A filmmaker who seems determined to tackle every genre under the sun, British director Michael Winterbottom's loose adaptation of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge is set on the brutal, frigid frontier of California's Sierra Nevada 1860s gold rush. With more than a passing resemblance to Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Winterbottom's film is an atmospheric, but not especially gripping, drama centering on the wealthy founding father of Kingdom Come, a town erected on a vicious bargain Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan) struck decades ago that comes back to haunt him in the form of Sarah Polley and Nastassja Kinski. -- Felicia Feaster

MR. RICE'S SECRET (NR) 1/2 Top-billed David Bowie has about three minutes of screen time as a dead man who helps terminally ill 12-year-old Bill Switzer (no Haley Joel Osment but he handles some difficult scenes extremely well) learn it's the quality, not quantity, of your life that counts. The ending confuses the message of this well-meaning mix of Stand by Me, a disease-of-the-week movie and a little magic. Only Spielberg could have really made it work, but it's better than Pay It Forward. -- Steve Warren

SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (R) A snarling, slavering, demonic Willem Dafoe delivers the ghoulish goods in this slightly stuffed but beautifully mounted historical-horror-comedy-biopic about the making of Nosferatu in 1922. John Malkovich plays a strong second fiddle as F.W. Murnau, a director so dedicated to making the ultimate vampire movie that he hires a real vampire to play the lead. -- Eddy Von Mueller

SUGAR & SPICE (PG-13) In this black comedy, a cheerleading squad decides to trade in its pompoms for pistols and take up bank robbing as an extracurricular activity. Their descent into teenage rebellion comes after the head cheerleader discovers she's pregnant with the quarterback's baby and needs money to support the child. The peppy heists bring the unruly squad more attention than they expected.

THE WEDDING PLANNER (PG-13) 1/2 Comedically challenged Jennifer Lopez plays Mary, who has been so busy planning other people's weddings she forgot to have one of her own. She's working on a big one when she meets Mr. Right (onetime Next Big Thing Matthew McConaughey), who happens to be the groom. Call me The Wedding Panner, but never spent as boring a 105 minutes as I did watching this dud, and I'm not exaggerating as much as the person who labeled this lifeless mess a "romantic comedy." -- SW

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 FOLLOWERS Three tight friends decide to pledge the same exclusive fraternity, but their friendship is put to the test when one is rejected because he is black. The two white friends want to join in spite of the racism, and the fraternity president tests their loyalty as members by having them target their African-American friend during hazing. Jan. 26-Feb. 1 at 2, 6 and 10 p.m., GSU's cinéfest.

GATES OF HELL In Lucio Fulci's 1980 film, a priest commits suicide in a New England cemetery, opening the gates of hell. A reporter teams up with a young psychic to figure out how to close the portal before the dead rise and kill the living. Jan. 26-27 at midnight, GSU's cinéfest.

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS Ninth in line to inherit a dukedom, Louis decides to up his odds by killing off the competition. Alec Guinness plays all eight victims in this 1949 dark comedy. Films at the High, The Alec Guinness Quartet, Jan. 26 at 8 p.m., Rich Auditorium.

THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER (R) Jackie Chan does some of his best fighting, though fewer crazy stunts, in this magnificent mess from 1994 that vaults from broad comedy (Anita Mui doing "I Love Lucy Liu") to intense melodrama, shows off the comic "drunken boxing" style, and bashes the Brits of a century ago for plundering Chinese land and antiquities. It's dubbed in English so you can focus on the action. Sexagenarian director Lau Ka Leung has some fight scenes too, suggesting Chan's career doesn't have to end anytime soon. Jan. 26-Feb. 1 at 12, 4 and 8 p.m., GSU's cinéfest. -- SW

'LONG ROAD TO MAZATLAN' and 'THREE' Isaac Julien examines black and queer culture in these 1999 films, which together explore reflections on dance, sexuality and myths of America. "Mazatlan" features choreographer Javier de Frutos and focuses on myths of the American West, including the figure of the cowboy. "Three" features choreographers Bebe Miller and Ralph Lemon and centers on desire through dance and symbolically weighted images. The Contemporary's Sound and Vision Series, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m., Atlanta College of Art, Rich Auditorium.

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