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Short Subjectives September 13 2006

Capsule reviews of recently released movies

Opening Friday

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· ARMY OF SHADOWS (1969) 4 stars (Not rated) See review.

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· THE BLACK DAHLIA (R) See review.

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· EVERYONE'S HERO 2 stars (G) What to say about a film set during the Depression that somehow works in references to J. Edgar Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt-is-ugly jokes alongside mochuccinos and the requisite bathroom humor? In this pedestrian kid's adventure story accessorized with pop tunes, plucky 8-year-old Yankee Irving travels across the country to return Babe Ruth's stolen bat, save his father's job, learn to play baseball and, oh, in the last five minutes learn the meaning of family. Along for the ride is a wisecracking talking baseball (Rob Reiner) and a sassy bat (Whoopi Goldberg). The fact Christopher Reeve was directing the film at the time of his death may nevertheless make this business-as-usual kiddy product a sentimental favorite. — Felicia Feaster

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· GRIDIRON GANG (PG-13) Wrestler The Rock plays a juvenile detention counselor who uses football (not wrestling?) to inspire his charges to seek a better life.

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· HALF NELSON 4 stars (R) See review.

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· THE LAST KISS (R) Zach Braff stars in this adaptation of the Italian film of the same name about relationship problems and turning 30. Crash's award-winning writer Paul Haggis wrote the screenplay.

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· 13 (TZAMETI) 4 stars (NR) See review.

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Duly Noted

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· ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL 1 star (R) Ostensibly following the growing disillusionment of an art school freshman (Max Minghella) with his conceptual-art centric NYC art school, in truth the film is just a sex-obsessed, wisecracking and out-of-date revisitation of the tone and quality of the crass teen sex comedies of the '80s. Sept. 14. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. 404-651-3565. www2.gsu.edu/~wwwcft. — Feaster

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· BITTER DREAM (2005) (NR) This blend of fact and fiction captures the professions that surround an ancient shrine and neighboring cemetery. Iranian Film Today. $7. Sat., Sept. 16, 8 p.m., Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.

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· GOODBYE, FRANZISKA! (1940) Comic moments lighten this melodrama about newlyweds separated by WWII. Wed., Sept. 20, 7 p.m. Goethe-Institut Atlanta, 1197 Peachtree Rd. $4. 404-892-2388. info@atlanta.goethe.org.

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· HARD CANDY (R) A teenage girl arranges for a rendezvous with a thirtysomething photographer — but the sinister appearances can be deceiving. Sept. 15-21. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. 404-651-3565. www2.gsu.edu/~wwwcft.

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· 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 Peachtree Cinema & Games, Norcross.

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· STUDENT SHORTS PROGRAM (NR) Five documentary shorts by teen, student and graduate student filmmakers address such problems as drugs, segregation and graffiti in Atlanta. Thu., Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, 450 Auburn Ave. Free. 404-352-4225. www.imagefv.org.

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· WAKE UP AREZOO! (2005) (NR) This Iranian drama recaptures the events of the 2003 earthquake in Bam, which left 43,000 people dead and lead to extraordinary examples of heroism and sacrifice. Iranian Film Today. $7. Fri., Sept. 15. 8 p.m., Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre. 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.

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Continuing

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· ANOTHER GAY MOVIE (NR) This comedy puts a gay spin on the premise of American Pie as four gay high school teens vow to lose their virginity before going to college.

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· BROKEN BRIDGES (PG-13) Country music star Toby Keith plays — not surprisingly — a fading country music star who returns to his hometown and meets his 16 year-old daughter for the first time.

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· THE COVENANT (PG-13) Renny Harlin directs this occult thriller about four teenagers who harbor a supernatural secret.

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· CRANK (R) A hit man (Jason Statham) must track down who injected him with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate drops below a certain rate. Sort of like Speed, only instead of a fast-moving bus, it's a fast-moving... guy.

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· THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA 3 stars (PG-13) Anne Hathaway plays a recent grad and aspiring journalist who gets a job at the high-fashion Runway magazine where she is tortured by boss-from-hell Meryl Streep, whose wondrously snarky performance steals the show. — Feaster

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· FACTOTUM 4 stars (R) Matt Dillon follows his Oscar-nominated turn as Crash's racist cop with an even more subtle and compelling portrayal of Hank Chinaski, the fictional alter ego of legendary author/barfly Charles Bukowski. With deadpan humor, Norwegian director Bent Hamer tails Chinaski from one dreary blue collar job after another, until the aspiring writer's pursuit of booze and women takes on a kind of integrity. Dillon's understated magnetism finds support from Marisa Tomei and Lili Taylor as Chinaski's floozy girlfriends, and at times the film becomes a rock-bottom romance among the down and out. — Curt Holman

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· HOLLYWOODLAND 3 stars (R) Oscar-winner Adrien Brody plays a seedy Los Angeles detective investigating the suicide of Superman actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck) in 1959. Coming in a year with a new Superman film and numerous mini-scandals about movie stars' public images, Hollywoodland's plot and themes seem to bubble up from the nation's collective unconsciousness. At times, the hard-boiled dialogue rings a little off-key, and Affleck at times pushes himself past his range, but the tabloid-targeted actor can clearly identify with Reeve's dilemma of being imprisoned by his own celebrity. — Holman

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· HOUSE OF SAND (R) Not to be confused with Ben Kingsley's House of Sand and Fog, this Spanish drama stars Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station) in the tale of a young bride who spends her entire life trying to escape her home in a remote desert.

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· HOW TO EAT FRIED WORMS (PG) Based on Thomas Rockwell's book, this film depicts an 11-year-old boy (Luke Benwald) who accepts a bully's challenge to eat 10 worms in one day. Tom Cavanaugh and Kimberly Williams co-star.

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· IDIOCRACY (R) Office Space director and "Beavis & Butt-Head" creator Mike Judge helms this sci-fi satire about an average man (Luke Wilson) who sleeps for 1,000 years and awakens to discover that society has become so dumbed-down, he's now the smartest man on Earth.

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· IDLEWILD 3 stars (R) First-time director Bryan Barber's Prohibition-era musical featuring Outkast's André "3000" Benjamin and Antwan A. "Big Boi" Patton. Percival (Benjamin) is the straight-laced piano player in the raucous, gin-soaked Church nightclub where his childhood friend Rooster (Patton) entertains the crowd with his lewd musical numbers and tries to wrest control of the club away from gangsters led by Hustle & Flow's Terrence Howard. — Feaster

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· THE ILLUSIONIST 4 stars (PG-13) In this twisty, arresting drama set in early 20th century Vienna, Edward Norton plays a Houdini-style magician obsessed with the fiancé (Jessica Biel) of the sadistic crown prince (Rufus Sewell). Some of the period-piece details prove a little unsteady, but overall writer-director Neil Burger spins a clever, compelling yarn that appreciates the power of stage magic to both seize your attention and confound your expectations. — Holman

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· IMAX THEATER Greece: Secrets of the Past (NR) This documentary explores the archeological secrets of Ancient Greece and features the Parthenon in its original glory as well as the volcanic eruption that buried the island of Santorini. Dolphins (NR): Pierce Brosnan narrates this slick look at dolphins and the bathing-suited scientists who study them. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300. www.fernbank.edu.

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· INVINCIBLE 3 stars (PG) An inspiring story of Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) — a broke and broken-hearted south-Philly bartender who attended an open tryout for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976 and ended up making the team. — Noah Gardenswartz

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· LASSIE 4 stars (PG) Like a kid's classic imagined by Ken Loach, the screen's favorite plucky collie returns in a socially aware drama. Set in Yorkshire on the eve of World War II, this heart-tugging charmer features Lassie as the beloved pet of a coal miner's son whose unemployed father is forced to sell the family dog to a local aristocrat. An emotionally pure, occasionally comic film that divides the world into those who are kind to animals and those who are not, this British-made Lassie may be a little long for wee folk, but for the rest of us, this kid's yarn is a cut above the rest. — Feaster

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· LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE 2 stars (R) When a bubbly 7-year-old (Abigail Breslin) aspires to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, her quirky relatives (including Greg Kinnear as a failed motivational speaker and Steve Carell as a suicidal Proust scholar) take a road trip across country. Not since National Lampoon's Vacation has such a Whitman's Sampler of freaks crammed into a car, and this feather-light film only serves to prove the increasing mainstreaming of independent film. — Feaster

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· QUEENS 2 stars (NR) Spanish director Manual Gómez Pereira's comedy Queens is Almodóvar-lite, about five flamboyant, sexy 50 and 60-something mothers who assemble in Madrid for the public wedding of their assorted gay sons. The mamas' tolerance for recently legalized gay marriage ranges from complete to just barely, but politics are the last thing on Pereira's mind. The director is more concerned with the kind of frothy, superficial, broad sex comedy that brings to mind the Doris Day/Rock Hudson pairings of yore. But you have to hand it to Pereira for so convincingly (aided by a cast of wonderful Spanish dames) displaying the feisty charms of his over-the-traditional-age cast. — Feaster

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· QUINCEANERA 4 stars (R) It is hard to think of another film centered on Mexican-Americans that features characters as complex, fully-drawn and dynamic as the ones in this Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner. On the eve of her traditional Quinceañera, a kind of Sweet-15 party, preacher's daughter Magdalena (Emily Rios) discovers she is pregnant. Her parents banish her but she finds unlikely allies in L.A.'s close-knit Echo Park neighborhood, including her gay gang-banging cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia) and her aging great-great uncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez) who offers his folksy home as a refuge to both of them. Quinceañera tackles a myriad of ideas — from the conflict — between traditional values and the text-messaging new generation to gentrification — without ever losing its focus or succumbing to p.c. stereotype. — Feaster

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· PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST 3 stars (PG-13) Like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is to Raiders of the Lost Ark, this follow-up to unexpectedly clever Curse of the Black Pearl waters down the wit of its predecessor with labored slapstick and spectacle. The middle section, featuring the satanic, half-human Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and the freaky crew of the Flying Dutchman, features such chilling intensity and artful, infernal special effects, it provides the tide that carries this leaky vessel to port, despite the weaknesses of its script and Johnny Depp's likeable but already familiar performance as slurring, sashaying Captain Jack Sparrow. — Holman

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· THE PROTECTOR (NR) An international mafia syndicate steals two beloved elephants from Kham (Ong-Bak's Tony Jaa), a Thai martial arts expert, who had planned to present the large animals to the king of Thailand. Kham must travel to foreign land and take on the mafia to get the elephants back.

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· THE PUSHER TRILOGY 3 stars (NR) Director Nicolas Winding Refn's three part, five-hour plus Danish crime trilogy broken into Pusher (1996), Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands (2004) and Pusher III: I'm the Angel of Death (2005) follows various lowlifes in Copenhagen's violence-addled drug world. But within the Tarantino-meets-Dogme chops, Refn's accomplished cast is able to elicit a surprising amount of empathy for these vindictive, homicidal, self-defeating, hopeless punks doomed to live la vida loca.-- Feaster

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· SNAKES ON A PLANE (R) Based on the strength of the preposterous, plot-summarizing title alone, a huge Internet cult has sprung up around Samuel L. Jackson's thriller about a planeload of reptiles on passenger jet.

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· TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY 3 stars (PG-13) NASCAR racing champ Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) sees his world crumble after a challenge from a gay, French Formula One racer (ñAli G'sî Sacha Baron Cohen). Ferrell and Anchorman director wrote the screenplay, which again feels like a pretext for noisy improvising and funny outfits. Still, the film satirizes America's current cultural landscape by confronting the so-called Red State Southern mentality with such displays as men kissing, gay marriage and outrageous Frenchness. — Holman

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· TRUST THE MAN 3 stars (R) Bart Freundlich (The Myth of Fingerprints) tackles the Peter Pan sensibility of the contemporary man in this by-turns hilarious and irritating romantic comedy. Set in the navel-gazing anxiety stew-pot of Manhattan, the action centers on two fitfully involved men, the sex-starved Tom (David Duchovny) married with children to beautiful actress Rebecca (Julianne Moore) and Tobey (Billy Crudup) whose longtime girlfriend Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal) can't get him to commit to marriage, much less the children she craves. But a film that is initially quite perceptive about the different expectations of men and women soon descends into utter anarchy, its acute observations and motivation lost in the comic buffoonery. — Feaster

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· THE WICKER MAN (R) Neil LaBute directs a remake of the neglected classic 1973 horror film about an remote community with sinister pagan tendencies — and Christopher Lee a leader. The remake has Ellen Burstyn leading a matriarchal society, sure to set up more of LaBute's grim, trademark battle-of-the-sexes themes.

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· WORLD TRADE CENTER 2 stars (PG-13) Oliver Stone's account of two New York Port Authority police officers (played by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena) and their experiences at Ground Zero on Sept. 11 begins as a genuinely gripping account of a disaster America is still trying to process. When the focus shifts to the officers' worried families awaiting their rescue, World Trade Center sinks into tepid, surprisingly conventional tale of Hollywood uplift. Perhaps trying to distance himself from his liberal reputation, Stone errs in the opposite direction and toes the conservative party line. — Holman



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