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Short Subjectives

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday

50 FIRST DATES (PG-13) Adam Sandler plays an amiable doofus who falls in love with a gal (Drew Barrymore) with short-term memory loss a la Memento, so he has to woo her all over again every day. Debilitating brain damage has never been so romantic.


TAKING SIDES (NR) See review.

TOKYO GODFATHERS (PG-13) See review.

Duly Noted
EYEDRUM FILM AND VIDEO NIGHT (NR) The gallery presents a "Best of Eyedrum" evening of short works by local video and independent film artists. Wed., Feb. 18, 8:30 p.m. Eyedrum, 290 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. $3. 404-522-0655.

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. Young Turkish-German Cinema. Wed., Feb. 18, 7 p.m. Goethe Institut Inter Nationes, 1197 Peachtree St., Colony Square. $4. 404-892-2388.--CH

JULY RHAPSODY (NR) See review.

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 them 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. Thurs., Feb. 12. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565.-- Tray Butler

LOVE FEST (NR) PushPush Theater's The Dailies Project presents an evening of short love stories by Atlanta filmmakers, including "Hazel" by Jacob Gentry, "function" by David Bruckner, "Join the Resistance" by Frank Lopez and "Menage a Moi" by Montine Blank. Sat., Feb. 14, 8 p.m. PushPush Theater, 121 New St., Decatur. $10. 404-377-6332.

MIDDLE EASTERN FILM FESTIVAL (NR) The Georgia Middle East Consortium presents a week of films from the region: Ranais Wedding, Everything Will Be All Right, Bedwin Hackers, Ourzazate Movie, The Bookstore, Low Heights and My Lost Home. Feb. 13-19. Cinefest, GSU University 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.

SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999) (R) If you liked Johnny Depp's boozy buccaneer in Pirates of the Caribbean, you'll enjoy his take on Ichabod Crane as a sleuthing sissy. The script isn't worth losing your head over, but Tim Burton gives his loose, stylish adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow a faster than usual pace. Wed., Feb. 18, 7 p.m., Mick's Bennett Street, 2110 Peachtree Road. Free with dinner. 404-355-7163. -- CH

SUDDENLY (NR) In Buenos Aires, frumpy lingerie salesgirl Marcia (Tatiana Saphir) shuffles through a humdrum existence until a chance encounter with two streetwise biker chicks, Lenin (Veronica Hassan) and Mao (Carla Crespo). They initially kidnap Marcia at knifepoint, but the barely resistant hostage soon embraces their spontaneity and ends up playing house with Mao's eccentric aunt and her two tenants. Filmed in black and white, and with long stretches of silence, Suddenly gives a moody and multilayered meditation on fulfillment and the search for family. Peachtree Film Society. Tues., Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m. at Lefont Garden Hills Cinema, 2835 Peachtree Road. $7.50 ($6.50 for PFS members). 404-266-2850. -- TB

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.

BARBERSHOP 2: BACK IN BUSINESS (PG-13) Business as Usual is more like it. It may be slicker than the original by a hair but the series hasn't lost its funky charm. Ice Cube fights gentrification-minded developers and Cedric the Entertainer rants hilariously about celebrities instead of beloved historical figures. Our familiarity with the characters makes as enjoyable as an old sitcom, and the presence of Queen Latifah, setting up her Beautyshop spinoff, makes this a "very special episode."--SW

THE BIG BOUNCE (PG-13) Although adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel, this amateurish, numbingly uneventful caper comedy might as well have been based on a Hawaii Board of Tourism video and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Gorgeous but grating newcomer Sara Foster tries to convince Owen Wilson's thieving surfer to rip off evil businessman Gary Sinise. The sex, skin and profanity seem to have been edited down like a hotel room porno flick, so you might want to wait for a dirtier cut on DVD.--CH

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

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT (R) "Punk'd" star Ashton Kutcher plays a scruffy college student who tries to save the life of his long-time sweetheart (Amy Smart) by traveling in time to change their childhood and alter the future -- for the worse. The film's thoroughly unpleasant first hour puts children, babies and dogs in violent jeopardy to serve its vague theme about repressed memories, but some cleverness emerges in its time-travel twists and special effects.--CH

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.--SW

CATCH THAT KID (PG) Panic Room's Kristen Stewart plays a 12-year-old girl who plans a bank heist to pay for the surgery her father needs after falling off Mt. Everest.

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

CITY OF GOD (R) This gritty crime drama from Brazil uses the flashy, pulp-fiction techniques of Tarantino and Scorsese to draw attention to the violence and crushing poverty in Rio's sprawling slums. Tracking a bloodthirsty drug dealer and a meek photographer from the '60s to the '80s, the filmmakers make the most of every cinematic trick at their disposal, although their greatest resource is a sense of social outrage that mourns how penniless orphans become larcenous killers.--CH

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

THE FOG OF WAR (PG-13) Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, emerges as commanding yet enigmatic in Errol Morris' urgent, intricate documentary. The title evokes the gray areas of military decisions as well as the contradictions in McNamara's own character. At times evasive about his legacy of Vietnamese military escalation, McNamara offers keen insights into the Cuban Missile Crisis and a harsh assessment about the firebombing of Japan. It's essential viewing, particularly when America flexes its military muscles abroad.CH

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: 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 Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees (NR) As much about the lady as the animals she's studied for more than 40 years, this pleasant but unexciting film features more observation than information about an extended family of Tanzanian chimps and their baboon buddies. Johnny Clegg's music is a plus. Opens Feb. 7. Legend of Loch Lomond This Scottish ghost story depicts 18th century lovers separated by war but reunited in the present day. Feb. 14 only. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300.

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

JAPANESE STORY (R) When Toni Colette's outdoorsy geologist unwillingly plays tour guide for a young but formal Japanese investor (Gotaro Tsunashima), the film sets up a opposites-attract romance in the splendidly photographed outback. Director Sue Brooks and scripter Alison Tilson stay deceptively close to the formula, then take the film on a head-spinning detour to become a thoughtful drama marked by the subtle delicacies of Collette's performance.--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

MIRACLE (PG) The story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team and their victory over the Soviets will make audiences stand up and cheer -- and will probably be co-opted by a presidential candidate as his "vision for America." With too many subplots and too little time, it's not the Seabiscuit of hockey, but at least it feeds the national pride of its target audience. Kurt Russell has one of his best roles as the late Herb Brooks, the team's driven coach.--SW

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

MYSTIC RIVER (R) A continuation of the fixations with masculine strength, vengeance and the violent extremes that have defined Clint Eastwood's directorial and acting career. Sean Penn, a vast improvement on Eastwood's typically wooden action heroes, is a grieving father determined to punish whoever murdered his 19-year-old daughter. Eastwood's emotionally fraught film is hardly the masterpiece it's been made out to be, often weighed down by a ponderous, conventional police investigation plot and a tendency to spell out his aims in canned dialogue and elementary exposition.--FF

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

THE PERFECT SCORE (PG-13) MTV takes a break from reality-based idiocy to dive into the fictional world of teensploitation melodrama. When low SAT scores separate six high schoolers from their dreams, they band together to steal the answers to the test. The dumb caper comedy elements don't play nearly as poorly as the script's anti-drug, anti-conformity, anti-lax parenting public service announcements. Sure, it has Scarlett Johansson. But so did Home Alone 3.--Karen Kalb

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

SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE (PG-13) Cast to type, Jack Nicholson plays a celebrity bachelor who only dates women under 30, but falls for the fiftysomething mother (Diane Keaton) of his latest conquest-to-be (Amanda Peet). When Jack and Diane put aside the script's opposites-attract contrivances, they're irresistibly charming. With its appreciation of older women, the film's heart is in the right place, but as the plot meanders for more than two hours, the thing that's gotta give is our patience.--CH

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

THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE (PG-13) An elderly Frenchwoman and her obese dog face harrowing yet ridiculous obstacles to rescue her bicyclist grandson from French mobsters. Like a Gallic "Wallace & Gromit," this French cartoon feature superbly embraces silent movie-style slapstick and deadpan character animation. The film's bouncy, haunting music have justly earned it a Best Song Oscar nomination. Playing with the Oscar-nominated short "Destino," a posthumously-completed collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema--CH

21 GRAMS (R) Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's (Amores Perros) drama is an anguished meditation on the mess and guilt left behind when a tragedy unites three disparate strangers. A grieving drug addict (Naomi Watts), an ex-con turned Jesus freak (Benicio Del Toro) and a gravely ill man (Sean Penn) waiting for a heart transplant find their lives intersecting in a film that recalls the tapestried existential angst of Magnolia. The film features a genuinely tortured, magnetic turn by Del Toro, whose fascinating character should have had his own movie. 21 Grams is overburdened by its melodramatic meltdowns and actorly moments that spell out the traumas in far too broad gestures.--FF

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

YOU GOT SERVED (PG-13) Omarion of B2K and Marques Houston play best friends who have a falling out on the way to the big dance competition in a clichéd drama that makes all the wrong moves when it leaves the dance floor. Some of the dancing is off the chain but the production values would keep a music video off the air. -- SW

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