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Short Subjectives December 06 2006

Apocalypto, Blood Dimond, Driving Lessons, others

Opening Friday

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APOCALYPTO 2 stars (R) See review.

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BLOOD DIAMOND 3 stars (R) See review.

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DRIVING LESSONS (PG-13) Most famous as carrot-topped Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films, Rupert Grint stars in this coming-of-age story about a boy who begins moving out of the shadow of his domineering mother (Laura Linney) when he meets a retired actress (Julie Walters, who plays Mrs. Weasley in the films). Written and directed by Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland).

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EATING OUT 2: SLOPPY SECONDS (NR) Phillip J. Bartel directed this sequel to the indie gay comedy Eating Out, with more bedroom comedy that turns sexual orientation upside down — so to speak.

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THE HOLIDAY (PG-13) In this season's romantic comedy from Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give), Yankee Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and Brit Iris (Kate Winslet) switch residences for a vacation and fall in love with, respectively, Jude Law and Jack Black.

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UNACCOMPANIED MINORS (PG) A group of young people snowed in at a Chicago airport find unexpected fun in a bad situation. It sounds sort of like Home Alone meets The Terminal. Directed by Paul Feig.

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Duly Noted

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IDLEWILD 3 stars (R) The Cotton Club meets Purple Rain in first-time director Bryan Barber's Prohibition-era musical featuring OutKast's André "3000" Benjamin, and Antwan "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. Barber is an acrobatic, visually sophisticated director who blends newfangled animation and an old Hollywood sensibility. His blend of everything's-new-again gangster attitude with hip-hop style is canny as well, though a hackneyed script keeps standing in the way of a film that only truly flies when the musical numbers are on. Dec. 8-14. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. 404-651-3565. www2.gsu.edu/~wwwcft/. — Felicia Feaster

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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 Plaza Theatre and Sat. at Peachtree Cinema & Games, Norcross.

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TALES OF THE RAT FINK (NR) This heavily animated documentary biopic (with the voices of John Goodman, Ann-Margret and Jay Leno) profiles Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, who specialized in customized cars, "monster" T-shirts and the 1960s' rodent Rat Fink. Thurs., Dec. 7. $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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TWISTED (NR) In this documentary, filmmaker Laurel Chiten charts her 20-year struggle with dystonia, a neurological disorder that forces muscles to involuntarily contract and twist. Free. Tues., Dec. 12, 7 p.m. Decatur Public Library, 215 Sycamore St. www.itvs.org/outreach.

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Continuing

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BABEL 4 stars (R) A freak mishap has far-reaching repercussions that effect the lives of a pair of American tourists (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), two young Moroccan shepherds, a Mexican nanny (Adriana Barraza) and a deaf Japanese teenager (Rinku Kikuchi). Amores Perros director Alejandro González Iñárritu presents another gripping, gritty and well-acted set of intersecting narratives that feature raw performances (particularly from Rinku Kikuchi) and moments of nearly unbearable suspense. On reflection, Iñárritu's themes of language, globalization and human connection don't quite come together, but Babel's passion and visceral image give it power that transcends borders. — Holman

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BOBBY 2 stars (R) If the late Robert Altman had been dropped on his head as a toddler, Bobby is the sort of movie he might have ended up making. Writer/director Emilio Estevez has clearly adopted Altman's MO for this ambitious effort that's only tangentially about Robert F. Kennedy — we get the all-star cast, the overlapping dialogue, the furtive glances at the ever-changing American landscape — but despite a few scattered scenes worth preserving, the overall picture is shallow, tedious and ultimately insignificant. The film takes place in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel in the hours leading up to Kennedy's assassination, while soggy melodramas involving employees and guests play out in the site's corridors and rooms. Anthony Hopkins, William H. Macy and Laurence Fishburne are among the wasted thespians. — Matt Brunson

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BORAT: CULTURE LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN 4 stars (R) British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen pranks the United States by traveling the nation in his guise as Borat Sagdiyev, a disarmingly cheerful but sexist, anti-Semitic and colossally ignorant journalist from Kazakhstan. The satiric humor stems partly from Borat's unbelievably filthy and inappropriate behavior, but also from his unsuspecting dupes, whose reactions range from polite horror to apparent agreement at his offensive statements. Briefly touching on such notions as the quality of the national character and what makes for "acceptable" comedy, Borat's silly mockumentary turns out to be more than the sum of its naughty parts. — Holman

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CASINO ROYALE 3 stars (PG-13) A necessary revision in the post-Austin Powers age, Martin Campbell's (GoldenEye) adaptation of Ian Fleming's first novel in his spy series begins at the beginning, with the British spy making his first kills, achieving 007 status and establishing the Bond mystique. In this noirish Bond, the super spy bleeds, suffers, falls in love and exhibits some unusual breaks from the jet-setting, quip-master tradition established by Sean Connery, et al. The darker mood makes a welcome change from the formula and, while a distinct break from the smooth operators of yore, Daniel Craig adds a human element to his James Bond. — Felicia Feaster

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COCAINE COWBOYS (R) Billed as "the true story that inspired 'Miami Vice' and Scarface," this documentary traces the rise of the violent Colombian cocaine barons in Miami during the 1980s.

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DECK THE HALLS 1 star (PG) In the storied tradition of Jingle All the Way and Christmas With the Kranks, this agonizing holiday comedy pits Matthew Broderick as an anal retentive Christmas-lover who bristles when his boorish neighbor (Danny DeVito) steals his thunder with an obsessive scheme to make his home Christmas lights visible from outer space. Christmas decoration seems like a funny real-world trend suitable for a holiday film, but Deck the Halls emphasizes labored slapstick and contrived feuds before building to a bogus sentimental solution. Plus, it just looks bad, so the mean-spirited film proves to be ugly on the outside and the inside. — Holman

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DÉJÀ VU 2 stars (PG-13) The latest from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott is movie porn for the electronic media set, a techno-thriller deeply in love with its own hardware. It's also a disappointment, a high-gloss action film that grows increasingly silly as it introduces each new wrinkle in its spiraling plot. Although the decision to stage a massive disaster (the bombing of a ferry) in the heart of Katrina Country will strike many as an unfortunate lapse in judgment, it's the early scenes that prove to be the most compelling, as ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) uses his wits to stockpile various clues that will lead him in the right direction. The film is so accomplished as a straightforward thriller, in fact, that it feels obtrusive when it starts focusing on satellite spyware and even time travel. — Brunson

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THE DEPARTED 4 stars (R) In this exciting, almost insanely intricate crime thriller set in Boston, Leonardo Dicaprio plays an undercover cop trying to ingratiate himself with an Irish mobster (Jack Nicholson), who has a mole in the police force passing as a high-level cop (Matt Damon). Nicholson oversells his naughty-Jack shtick and Vera Farmiga fails to engage our interest in the psychiatrist attracted to both undercover ops in this remake of the superb Hong Kong flick Infernal Affairs. But in his best film since Goodfellas, director Martin Scorsese makes an invigorating return to form that doesn't let the grand thematic gestures spoil the guilty pleasures of suspense scenes, rock soundtracks and profane repartee. — Holman

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FAST FOOD NATION 4 stars (R) Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater presents a fictionalized adaptation of Eric Schlosser's best-selling expose of the unappetizing dietary and workplace consequences of America's huge fast food corporations. Despite a tendency to preach at the audience, Fast Food Nation generates a surprising level of empathy for the ordinary characters in its interlocking narratives, including a hapless fast food marketing veep (Greg Kinnear), a teenage burger-slinging cashier (Ashley Johnson) and an illegal immigrant (Catalina Sandino Moreno) maltreated at a dehumanizing meat-packing plant. They could all use a break today. — Holman

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FLUSHED AWAY 3 stars (PG) A posh London pet rat (voiced by Hugh Jackman), travels the bathroom plumbing down to a zany, rodent-ruled metropolis in the English sewer system. Trading plasticene for pixels for its first computer-animated feature, Aardman Animation downplays its deadpan whimsy for the Shrek model of pop gags and bathroom humor. Despite the uncouth material, the film proves surprisingly fleet and funny while never apologizing for its overt "Englishness." Coming off a year of countless goofy-mammal movies, Flushed Away leaves the competition circling the drain. — Holman

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FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION 3 stars (PG-13) Filmmaker Christopher Guest reunites with his usual comedic cohorts from Waiting for Guffman and its follow-ups for this portrait of the distorting effects that "Oscar buzz" has on a lame-looking, low-budget Southern drama called Home for Purim. The film suffers from too many characters and tired Hollywood stereotypes, like co-writer Eugene Levy's insincere agent. But at least it has some plot (unlike Guest's prior outing, A Mighty Wind) and it provides plenty of score-settling insights into the price of fame. — Holman

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THE FOUNTAIN 4 stars (PG-13) In director Darren Aronofsky's heady sci-fi flick, Hugh Jackman plays men in three time-lines trying to prove his love for a woman (each played by Rachel Weisz): a Spanish conquistador seeking a Mayan secret, a present-day surgical researcher and a far-future space traveler braving the distant reaches of the cosmos. The Fountain presents some of the most beautiful visions ever created by cinematic special effects, yet avoids tidy answers and unfolds as a kind of M.C. Escher puzzle, forever looping back on itself to offer more clues to universal mysteries. — Holman

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FUCK 2 stars (NR) Steve Anderson's documentary uses the checkered past and current prevalence of the f-word as a springboard for addressing the nature of free speech. Although the documentary features lively animated bumpers from Bill Plympton and such opinionated interviewees as Ice T, Alan Keyes, Kevin Smith, Pat Boone and a hilarious Billy Connolly, the film presents only superficial perspectives on such topics as the increasingly censorious Federal Communications Commission, or the notion that the coarsening of the culture is an unwelcome side effect of a free and open society. — Holman

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FUR (R) The creators of the kinky love story Secretary cast Nicole Kidman as famed photographer Diane Arbus in a film that's less a conventional biopic than a fantasy on Arbus' artistic concerns and persona. Robert Downey Jr. plays a neighbor and muse who suffers from a werewolf-like excess of body hair.

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HAPPY FEET 3 stars (PG) Forever improving on nature, Hollywood offers an animated answer to the crowd-pleasing penguin doc March of the Penguins. A mix of environmental message and "American Idol"-song and dance extravaganza, the energetic adventure centers on a penguin who, unlike his peers, cannot sing, but can hoof like there's no tomorrow. — Feaster

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HOLLA (R) A TV reporter and her friends are stranded in a cabin with a murderous sociopath in H.M. Coakley's horror film tailored for an African-American audience.

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IMAX THEATER Deep Sea (NR) Get an up-close-and-personal look at sea turtles, giant octopi and other strange and colorful marine life in this visit to the ocean floor. 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. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300. www.fernbank.edu.

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JONESTOWN: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PEOPLES TEMPLE 4 stars (NR) If your knowledge or memory of 1978's Guyana massacre extends no further than the phrase "Drink the Kool-Aid," you should check out Stanley Nelson's documentary about the Rev. Jim Jones and his ultimately fatal control over the Christian cult known as Peoples Temple. Nelson emphasizes the point of view of former cult members — including people present on the day 900 men, women and children committed suicide en masse — to illustrate how the group's admirable ideals were twisted by Jones. The film's account of the hours leading up to the massacre prove almost painfully suspenseful and feature gripping confrontations captured on film and audiotape. — Holman

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THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND 3 stars (R) Based on Giles Foden's novel, this thriller imagines 1970s Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (Forrest Whitaker) appointing a naive Scottish doctor as his personal doctor. As their relationship develops, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) also becomes Amin's political confidante, witnessing his growing paranoia and murderous reign firsthand. The film begins as a rousing study of Amin's charismatic, outsize personality amidst a black power and folk music-infected Africa. But it soon descends into a kind of Halloween-goes-African, an absurd white man's nightmare as Garrigan finds himself trapped in the baroque horrors of Amin's Uganda. Though there is implausibility galore and a disturbing use of Africa as the source of both the white world's fantasies and fear, Whitaker rises above the often exploitative material to deliver a performance of astounding humanity and appeal that gets you into the dark, divided heart of the dictator. — Feaster

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LET'S GO TO PRISON (R) Will Arnett, beloved as the jerky, pretentious "illusionist" in "Arrested Development," plays a doofus who finds himself wrongfully jailed in this raunchy comedy directed by "Mr. Show" co-creator Bob Odenkirk.

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LITTLE CHILDREN 4 stars (R) One of the rare films that improves on a novel, Todd Field's film adaptation of Tom Perrotta's (Election) snarky social comedy shows real tenderness for and insight into its characters, despite their myriad problems ranging from selfishness and porn-addiction to antisocial sexual urges. Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson play the married parents of young children who meet on the playground and soon tumble into bed in a leafy Massachusetts suburb where adultery is just a way of momentarily escaping deeper anxieties. — Feaster

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MARIE ANTOINETTE 3 stars (PG-13) Eighteenth-century Versailles meets high school in Sofia Coppola's confectionery, girly-girl take on France's most famous teenage queen. Kirsten Dunst is pearly perfection as the Austrian babe traded to the French as the wife to future King of France XVI (Jason Schwartzman), who prefers his hunting dude pals to making babies with Marie. Coppola has never failed to let her cool-girl flag fly, and her injection of '80s Pop tunes and California attitude into the 18th century royal court is often a gas. But it's not enough to cover for Marie A's distinct lack of an inner life (gazing wistfully out of windows doesn't count), or some compelling take on this famous female rebel. — Feaster

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THE NATIVITY STORY 2 stars (PG) Like a well-meaning, pro-Jewish prequel to The Passion of the Christ, this Bible epic recounts the courtship of Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Joseph (Oscar Isaac) against a background of immaculate conception and Roman exploitation. Despite the sympathetic and respectful performance of Castle-Hughes, the results prove stodgy and solemn, with the last 20 minutes resembling the most pain-staking live nativity re-enactment you can imagine: There's the star, there's the shepherds, here come the comic-relief wise men, etc. — Holman

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THE PRESTIGE 4 stars (PG-13) Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play rival Victorian-era stage magicians in an enchanting, intricate period piece. Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins) raises the suspense and emotional stakes of Christopher Priest's seemingly unfilmable novel, which features fascinating behind-the-scenes details of an illusionist's craft as well as the eternal tension between showmanship and technical perfectionism. The Prestige provides plenty of razzle-dazzle and clever construction that will reward a second viewing, even if the ambiguous ending prompts arguments about how they did it. — Holman

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THE QUEEN 4 stars (PG-13) Helen Mirren is enthralling as the emotionally flummoxed Queen Elizabeth II who finds herself stuck in the middle of royal protocol and modernization when former princess Diana dies. The grieving British masses demand a public funeral, but the monarch resists and chipper new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) steps in to run interference. An often hilarious portrait of the bizarre WASP rituals of the royals and the media blitzkrieg surrounding Diana's death, Stephen Frears exceptionally enjoyable tragicomedy is a tour de force all around. — Feaster

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THE SANTA CLAUSE III: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE (PG) Tim Allen once more dons the white beard and red felt as a regular guy who takes to his newfound career as Kris Kringle. In this outing, Santa invites his new in-laws (Ann-Margaret and Alan Arkin) to the North Pole at the same time as Jack Frost (Martin Short) attempts a hostile takeover. It sounds sort of like a cross between Meet the Fockers and "Mr. Cold Miser."

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SAW III (R) Like watching the leaves turn color and fall, the release of a new Saw film in late October has become an annual autumn tradition. In the third installment, serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) introduces an apprentice to his dismembering mind games.

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SHUT UP AND SING (NR) This documentary blends performance footage and behind-the-scenes sequences to recount the firestorm that surrounded country music stars the Dixie Chicks following singer Natalie Maines' criticism of President Bush during a 2003 concert.

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STRANGER THAN FICTION 3 stars (PG-13) Dull IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) learns that he has inadvertently become the lead character in a book being written by reclusive author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson). Despite the innovative premise, this never matches the existential, mind-bending depths of, say, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and remains resolutely mainstream, with flights of fancy that lightly tickle the brain but never really challenge it. The upside is that this allows a love story to take root amid the high concept, and as enacted by Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal (playing a baker who awakens Harold's dormant passions), it's both charming and disarming. — Brunson

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10 ITEMS OR LESS (R) Morgan Freeman plays a persnickety movie star who becomes "stranded" at an ethnic market on the outskirts of Los Angeles while researching a role, but finds personal renewal when he befriends a cashier (Paz Vega).

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TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY 2 stars (R) Jack Black and Kyle Gass bring their hilarious, "heavy acoustic" comedy duo, Tenacious D, to the big screen with frustrating results. As Black and Gass's deluded, open-mic-night losers embark on a quest to find a black-magic guitar pick, The Pick of Destiny seems to have everything going for it, including hilariously overwrought songs, Tarot-style animated titles and cameos from Sasquatch, Satan and Tim Robbins. Rather than hit the raunchy heights of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, however, director Liam Lynch achieves no better than the level of an old Cheech and Chong movie, and watching the film's weak comedic timing is like seeing a great live act diminished by feedback distortion. — Holman

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TURISTAS 3 stars (R) See review.

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VAN WILDER: THE RISE OF TAJ 0 stars (R) See review.



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