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Short Subjectives

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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Opening Friday
AILEEN: LIFE AND DEATH OF A SERIAL KILLER (NR) See review.

ANYTHING BUT LOVE (PG-13) The songs are as old as the story in this effective homage to classic musicals that might have been just a vanity project for the writers -- director Robert Cary and star Isabel Rose. She plays a cabaret singer in danger of reliving her mother's life. When she chooses between domesticity with lawyer Cameron Bancroft and a career with piano player Andrew McCarthy, the outcome would make Mona Lisa smile. Isabel Rose will be in attendance Jan. 23 and provide a Q&A at the evening shows on Jan. 24. At Madstone Theaters Parkside. --Steve Warren

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT (R) See review.

HIGH TIMES POTLUCK (NR) The doobie-themed magazine High Times presents this comedy about a mobster (Frank Adonis) who succumbs to refer madness. Co-starring Jason Mewes (of Jay and Silent Bob fame), Frank Gorshin and, inevitably, Tommy Chong. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

WIN A DATE WITH TAD HAMILTON! (PG-13) If you want to pretend the last 50 years never happened, you'll enjoy this retro comedy about a wise but not worldly gal (Kate Bosworth) from an idealized Middle America who finds herself torn between a city feller (Josh Duhamel) and the sweet homeboy (Topher Grace) who secretly loves her. Robert Luketic's tribute to naiveté is better than the average January release, but proves a disappointing follow-up to Legally Blonde. --SW

Duly Noted
THE ANIMATION SHOW (2003) (NR) Animator Don Hertzfeldt and "King of the Hill's" Mike Judge present this evening of animated shorts with a high ratio of gems to duds. Highlights include Tim Burton's delightful Vincent Price homage "Vincent," Mike Judge's minimalist doodle "Office Space" (inspiration for the film of the same name) and Hertzfeldt's Oscar-nominated "Rejected," one of the most brilliantly twisted artifacts of the 20th century. Jan. 23-29. Cinefest, GSU Student Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565.--Curt Holman

COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE (2001) (PG) This big-screen version of the anime series depicts a team of bounty hunters as they race the clock to stop a biochemical terrorist. Jan. 22. Cinefest, GSU Student Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565.

EYEDRUM OPEN SCREENING NIGHT (NR) The gallery applies the "open mic night" concept to this evening of work from fledgling filmmakers as well as "found" programming like weird home movies, period infomercials and other oddities. Jan. 28, 8 p.m. Eyedrum. 290 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. $3. 404-522-0655. www.eyedrum.org.

FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF (1986) (PG) A mischievous high schooler (Matthew Broderick) lives life to the fullest on the day he plays hooky. Writer-director John Hughes offers elaborate set pieces that fall short of big laughs, but the movie still has a loyal cult following. You'll be inspired to imitate Ben Stein's nasal "Bueller? Bueller?" at the roll call scene. Jan. 21, 7 p.m., Mick's Bennett St. 2110 Peachtree Road. Free with dinner. 404-355-7163. --CH

FILMMAKERS OF TOMORROW (NR) IMAGE Film & Video Center presents the short works from the 15-19 year-old students of the MEDIA Project. Jan. 29, 6:30 p.m., Atlanta Fulton Public Library, One Margaret Mitchell Square. Free. 404-352-4225. www.imagefv.org.

THE INTOLERABLE BURDEN (NR) Constance Curry's documentary recounts the crisis in public education in the years following segregation. Jan. 22, 4:30 p.m., Joseph W. Jones Room, Woodruff Library, 540 Asbury Circle. Free. 404-727-7620.

MILLENNIUM ACTRESS (PG) Anime auteur Satoshi Kon revisits the themes of his cult hit Perfect Blue, including the tension between media celebrity and reality, with this story of a film crew interviewing a septuagenarian film actress and finding themselves reliving past experiences along with her. Jan. 22. Cinefest, GSU Student Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565.

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) (R) The cult classic of cult classics, the musical horror spoof follows an all-American couple (Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick) to the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), 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 Marietta Star Cinema.

WELLFAIR (NR) This monthly evening of movies, music and artwork includes work from such local filmmakers as Frank Lopez and Alex Orr. Jan. 27, 9 p.m. MJQ Concourse, 736 Ponce de Leon Place. Free. 404-520-1820. www.wellfair.net.

WINGS OF GLASS (NR) Rebellious, sexy 18 year-old Nazli (Sara Sommerfeld) only wants to be a normal Swedish girl with a Swedish boyfriend, but her conservative Iranian father Abbas (Said Oveissi) plans for his irresponsible daughter to marry her macho, financially secure cousin. An unsympathetic lead and a tendency to throw too many issues into the mix make for a less than satisfying, often superficial approach to the problems faced by Sweden's growing Middle Eastern immigrant population. Films at the High: The New Faces of Swedish Cinema. Jan. 24, 8 p.m., Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Auditorium. $5. 404-733-4570. www.high.org. --Felicia Feaster

Continuing
ALONG CAME POLLY (PG-13) What might have been a funny movie relies on body emissions for nearly all its laughs. Ben Stiller pees, pukes and poops his way through the role of Reuben, a conservative insurance risk assessor whose wife, Lisa (Debra Messing), runs off with a scuba instructor on their honeymoon. Reuben hooks up with Polly (Jennifer Aniston), his total opposite, but then along comes Lisa again. Stiller is Stiller, Aniston is very good and Philip Seymour Hoffman steals the picture, but it's petty theft. --SW.

BAD SANTA (R) Advocate for the anti-consumerist, retro-obsessed values of the splenetic counterculture, director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) tries to apply his misanthropic perspective to mainstream Hollywood comedy. His alcoholic Santa (Billy Bob Thornton), who robs the same shopping malls where he plies his trade, is another antisocial cult figure infused with the values of Zwigoff's alternative comix imagination. But the director can certainly do better than this thin parody of the saccharine, smarmy Christmas comedy. --FF

BIG FISH (PG-13) On his deathbed, a colorful Southerner (Albert Finney) tells his fanciful life story to his skeptical son (Billy Crudup) in Tim Burton's latest tribute to the imagination. With Ewan McGregor radiantly playing Finney's younger self, the tall tales that dominate the film are comic, magical and appropriately "Southern." Only the present-day scenes with the humorless son drag on the film's otherwise delightful pageant of witches, giants and misguided poets. --Curt Holman

CALENDAR GIRLS (PG-13) A real event inspired this inevitable distaff version of The Full Monty, when middle-aged members of a Yorkshire women's club posed nude (tastefully) for a calendar to raise money for charity. A contrived story has been built around the incident with formulaic obstacles and no overriding concept beyond making a commercial movie. Helen Mirren and Julie Walters ensure it won't be a total loss. With a little tit, a little titillation and nothing to offend anyone, it's the feel-good movie of -- well, at least the 108 minutes it takes to unfold. --Steve Warren

CHASING LIBERTY (PG-13) It Happened One Night begat Roman Holiday, which begat this tale of a pampered princess busting loose and falling in love. As the daughter of President Mark Harmon, Mandy Moore starts her Roman holiday in Prague, aided by cute Matthew Goode, an undercover Secret Service agent who keeps her safe while giving her the illusion of freedom. The scenery kicks the plot's ass at every turn, although senior agents Jeremy Piven and Annabella Sciorra fall in love more entertainingly than their younger co-stars. --SW

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (PG) The idea of two people bringing 12 more into the world seems more irresponsible now than it did in 1950, when the original Cheaper By the Dozen was made. (The two films have only the title in common.) Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt and their brood nevertheless offer 99 fun minutes, as long as you stop thinking about our finite resources and focus on slapstick, puke, dog-in-crotch jokes and the love underneath it all. --SW

COLD MOUNTAIN (R) The English Patient's writer-director Anthony Minghella loses his way trying to bring Charles Frazier's civil war odyssey to life. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman never strike sparks as would-be-lovers separated by the war between the states, and Minghella stoops to crude means to manipulate his audience, rather than find a consistent tone. On the plus side, the film features a truly Homeric opening battle, a wrenching, well-crafted episode with Natalie Portman and a broad but amusing Renee Zellweger angling for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. --CH

THE COMPANY (PG-13) Robert Altman's frustratingly diffuse portrait of the labor and egos behind the seemingly effortless work of Chicago's Joffrey Ballet feels like the director working at half-power. Neve Campbell (who has a dance background) is the young corps ballerina, whose stage mother pushes her daughter to break out of the rank-and-file. Altman does manage to capture the nitty-gritty details of a career in dance, which includes waiting, frustration, injury and sacrifice. But his portrait feels incomplete and random, like a commercial for what could have been an interesting film. --FF

THE COOLER (R) Director Wayne Kramer takes a humorous premise -- a man so unlucky that a Vegas casino pays him to jinx (or "cool") more fortunate gamblers -- and inexplicably treats it as the stuff of serious drama. The film features tender, insightful bedroom scenes and substantial acting from Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin and William H. Macy in the title role, but its morality tale of honor in Vegas gambling dens never convinces. If The Cooler were a bet, you wouldn't take it. --CH

ELF (PG) Will Ferrell plays an ill-adjusted man-child raised by Santa's helpers then sent to New York City to find his long-lost father and -- surprise! -- save Christmas in the process. Director Jon Favreau (Swingers) should end up on the naughty list for producing such pointless holiday pabulum. --Tray Butler

GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING (PG-13) Exquisitely photographed by cinematographer Eduardo Serra in beautiful homage to 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, this captivating film is also true to the covert personal and political issues that backstoried classical oil painting. Director Peter Webber's calm, subtle, but fascinating adaptation of Tracy Chevalier's best-selling work of historical fiction, speculates on the class and sexual issues that might have informed Vermeer's (Colin Firth) creation of one of his greatest works, "The Girl with a Pearl Earring," using a humble, virginal housemaid (Scarlett Johansson) as his muse. --FF

HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (R) Its melodramatic, grandiose conclusion is an odd match with its previous flat-line rhythm, but the grim House of Sand and Fog is greatly enhanced by Ben Kingsley's memorable performance as an Iranian immigrant who battles with a depressed woman (Jennifer Connelly) over her former house by the sea. Connelly's zombie-like, unengaging performance, as well as the film's emotionally mismatched first and second half, account for its inability to work, despite some interesting content. --FF

IMAX THEATER: Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey (NR) This world music sampler with the emphasis on percussion was filmed on five continents by the creators of the stage musical Stomp. The Stomp cast is augmented by a dozen acts representing the sounds that have influenced them, performing for about two minutes each. For all the time, money and effort involved the result should have been better. Through Feb. 6. Roar: Lions of the Kalahari (NR) The "circle of life" plays out in the Botswana desert in an unusually focused IMAX documentary, as two male lions fight for domination over a water hole. Kudos to Tim Liversedge, a rare filmmaker with the balls to set his camera in the middle of a pride of lions. Don't always believe what the narrator tells you and juxtaposed shots appear to show. Just be amazed by what you actually see. Through Apr. 30 Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300. www.fernbank.edu. --SW

IN AMERICA (PG-13) My Left Foot director Jim Sheridan builds his partially autobiographical tale of an Irish immigrant family on sweetness and sentiment, but without sugar-coating or safety nets. Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine give emotionally complex performances as the parents dealing with the death of their youngest child, while their two daughters find their first year in New York to be thrillingly exotic. Musical choices like "Do You Believe in Magic" overemphasize the themes of miracles, but In America feels like an honest attempt to transform painful personal experience into an accessible artistic catharsis. --CH

IN JULY (NR) Fatih Akin's romantic comedy resembles an early John Cusack with German subtitles -- Das Sure Thing, perhaps. A free-spirited young lovely (Christiane Paul) road-trips across Central and Eastern Europe with a stuffed-shirt (Moritz Bleibtreu) who gradually falls in love with her. At times the director clumsily imitates the Hollywood formula, but mostly In July offers a charming homage to screwball comedy and a fascinating travelogue to places tourists rarely visit. At Madstone Theaters Parkside. --CH

THE LAST SAMURAI (R) Edward Zwick's samurai epic falls short of its potential with the miscasting of Tom Cruise as boozing, battle-weary soldier hired to help put down an insurgency (led by the charismatic Ken Watanabe) in 19th century Japan. The film's last act, with its lavish battle scene, lives up to its ambitions, but Cruise never conveys the haunted gravitas of his role, and only emphasizes the overly simplistic, romanticized screenplay. --CH

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (PG-13) The final chapter of director Peter Jackson's sprawling adaptation of Tolkein's trilogy feels less like a self-contained film than the crescendo of a single, nine-hour fantasy epic. By alternating between the spectacular battle scenes of a war film and the terrifying suspense of a horror movie, King's intensity builds to a nearly unbearable pitch, while its close attention to character earns its profound feelings of release and closure. Admittedly exhausting, the three films join the company of The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and other classics of imaginative cinema. --CH

LOST IN TRANSLATION (R) Director Sofia Coppola's (The Virgin Suicides) much-anticipated second film brings together Bill Murray and indie flick ingénue Scarlett Johansson as accidental tourists in Tokyo. Both insomniacs at crisis points in their marriages, the two start a unique friendship that takes through from karaoke clubs to titty bars in a soft-focus search for connection and meaning. Coppola strings together enough tiny brilliant moments to overcome the film's nearly absent plot and produces a sophomore effort almost as sparkling as her first. --TB

LOVE DON'T COST A THING (PG-13) This African-American remake of Can't Buy Me Love finds Nick Cannon as geeky as Patrick Dempsey was. The high school senior blows his savings and chances for a scholarship in exchange for having Paris (Christina Milian) pose as his girlfriend to propel him into the in crowd at school. Cannon was good in Drumline, where he went through college. Now he's back in high school. Draw your own analogy. The Ebonic title is far from the worst thing about this movie, which proves money can't buy you talent. --SW

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (PG-13) Russell Crowe lightens up to play Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), captain of the HMS Surprise as he matches wits with a bigger, faster French ship in this Napoleonic-era nautical adventure. Director Peter Weir stays faithful to the spirit of Patrick O'Brien's novel, one of a beloved series that promotes maritime procedure over swashbuckling plot. The film's impeccable approach to detail will appeal more to History Channel fans than the general movie-going audience, but it boasts exciting set-pieces and a colorful cast of character actors. --CH

MONA LISA SMILE (PG-13) A forward-thinking art history professor (Julia Roberts) takes a prestigious teaching job at Wellesley College in 1953 but learns too late that the country's best and brightest women have no higher aspiration in life than a MRS. degree. Mike Newell's film begins with some real insights into how culture can be used as social control, and how even the country's elite are trained to think within a very narrow box. But, as if fearful of being seen as too political, it soon dissolves into gooey convention as Roberts and the pretty young cast become embroiled in their individual romantic subplots. --FF

MONSTER (R) Like Boys Don't Cry, this biopic of female serial killer Aileen Wuornos will be remembered less for its script that its unforgettable central performance. Charlize Theron not only submerges her considerable beauty beneath sun-ravaged make-up, she gets beneath Wuornos' skin to find the self-loathing that erupts in violence towards men. As former hooker Wuornos murders her johns to support her manipulative girlfriend (Christina Ricci, back in form), she sees herself as akin to the heroine of a exploitation revenge movie. Theron and Ricci's acting keep Monster from sinking to that level. --CH

MY BABY'S DADDY (PG-13) If Three Men and a Baby was funny, three men and three babies should be three times as funny, right? Maybe it should be, but it isn't. On one magic night, Eddie Griffin, Anthony Anderson and Michael Imperioli, friends since infancy, all get women pregnant, which means they'll eventually have to grow up. After The Watermelon Woman director Cheryl Dunye plunges into the mainstream, but shows she's not ready for prime time. The film trivializes serious issues and plays as broadly as a Friday movie but with surprisingly few laughs. --SW

PAYCHECK (PG-13) Ben Affleck plays an ethically-challenged engineer who lets a shady computer company erase three years of his memories -- and then finds himself pursued by both the FBI and corporate goons for things he can't remember doing. Down-on-his-luck director John Woo includes some of his signature action shots, but only looks like he's parodying himself. The only upside is that the film should help boost demand for memory-wiping technology. --CH

PETER PAN (PG) The sexiest children's movie ever, P.J. Hogan's take on J.M. Barrie's classic may push young viewers into puberty ahead of schedule. Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) uses feminine wiles to manipulate Peter (Jeremy Sumpter) in a scene that sizzles as much as two 12-year-olds can make it. Director Hogan gives the otherwise familiar story a distinctive look -- slightly surreal, wholly artificial yet believable within its fantasy context. The film's eroticism will please some adults, upset others and probably go over children's heads, at least on a conscious level. --SW

THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED (NR) This engrossing, real-life political thriller details a coup d'état in April 2002 Venezuela which the filmmakers insinuate, was encouraged by the Bush administration. American officials were threatened by President Hugo Chvez's Marxist policies. In the kind of fluke that might have been dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter, two Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain just happened to be making a documentary in Chvez's presidential palace the coup occurred, so they captured everything on film. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. --FF

DISNEY'S TEACHERS PET (PG) Nathan Lane's the whole show in this spinoff from the Saturday morning animated series. He's the voice of Spot, the dog who wants to be human and gets his wish via wacko scientist Ivan Krank (Kelsey Grammer). Five "punch-up writers" keep the gags coming, Gary Baseman's drawings prove crude but colorful and (mostly brief) songs fill the film, but Lane's contribution makes it a high-grade comedy for all ages. --SW

TORQUE (PG-13) This new school action movie zooms past The Fast and the Furious in kinetic visuals but lags behind it in plot and characterization. Ford (Martin Henderson) is a biker with two buddies and a babe (Monet Mazur), who's caught between two drug-dealing biker gangs and the FBI. The actors, the machines, even the scenery strike more poses than Madonna in the process of telling the story, which appears to have been put together by a computer. --SW

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