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Short Subjectives December 20 2006

The Good German, The Good Shepherd, Volver and more

Opening Friday

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THE GOOD GERMAN 3 stars. (R) See review.

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THE GOOD SHEPHERD 2 stars. (R) See review.

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THE HISTORY BOYS 2 stars. (R) See review.

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NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (PG) In this comedy with fantastical elements, Ben Stiller plays a hapless museum security guard who discovers that the exhibits — from dinosaur skeletons to the tiny cowboys on Wild West dioramas — come to life after closing time.

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VOLVER 5 stars. (R) See review.

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WE ARE MARSHALL (PG) Matthew McConaughey stars in this inspirational sports drama about the Marshall University football team's death in a plane crash and a coach's efforts to keep the program together. This tale, based on a true story, marks a change of pace for Charlie's Angels director McG.

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Opening Monday

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BLACK CHRISTMAS (R) Michelle Trachtenberg and Lacey Chabert star in this remake of the 1975 thriller (also known as Silent Night, Evil Night) about a slasher stalking a sorority house.

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CHILDREN OF MEN 5 stars. (R) In England of 2041, following a global epidemic of infertility, a cynical Englishman (Clive Owen) becomes caught up in a revolutionary group's plan, hinging on the miraculous secret of a young woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey). Alfonso Cuaron, director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, retains the premise but departs from the spirit of P.D. James' novel to focus on xenophobia, homeland security and urban unrest. Trading high-tech sci-fi trappings for gritty, present-day concerns, Children of Men practically shimmers with tense scenes and rich themes, culminating with a breathless, wordless extended sequence that pleas for peace and the recognition of our shared humanity. — Curt Holman

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DREAMGIRLS 4 stars. (PG-13) See review.

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Duly Noted

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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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Continuing

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APOCALYPTO 2 stars. (R) A young Mayan villager (Rudy Youngblood) faces unspeakable horrors after being captured and marked for ritual sacrifice. Mel Gibson's all-subtitled historical action film generates enough momentum to distract from speculation about the movie star's apparent anti-Semitism, but renews questions about his sadomasochistic tendencies as a filmmaker. Despite some lose themes about the decline and fall of civilizations, Apocalypto proves mostly an exercise in violence and torture, although admittedly the final act's extended chase scene is well executed. ­-- Holman

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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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BLOOD DIAMOND 3 stars. (R) A white soldier-turned smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a black fisherman (Djimon Hounsou) become unwilling partners in the effort to recover a huge, uncut diamond amid the chaos of a civil war in Sierra Leone. Glory's Edward Zwick directs a crisply paced, superbly photographed film, replete with magnificent vistas and harrowing action scenes. Despite the film's justified indignation over "conflict diamonds," however, the plot proves utterly familiar and the horrific black-on-black violence will more probably stick with the audience more than contempt for the Western corporations that profit from it. — 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. — 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. — Holman

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THE BRIDESMAID 3 stars. (NR) Claude Chabrol's latest clammy chamber piece shows a murder disrupt ordinary French life. The Piano Teacher's splendid Benoît Magimel plays as a decent, hardworking salesman who falls hard for a creepy, mystery-shrouded bridesmaid (Laura Smet) at his sister's wedding. Taut and layered, Chabrol proves when it comes to crafting satisfying, low-key thrillers, he still has it. — Felicia Feaster

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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. — Feaster

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CHARLOTTE'S WEB 3 stars. (G) Like a marketing genius, a friendly spider (voiced by Julia Roberts) used web-based messages to boost the profile — and spare the life — of a runty but good-hearted young pig named Wilbur (Dominic Scott Kay). This live-action adaptation of the classic children's book features barnyard, bodily-function humor that would have been unthinkable in author E.B. White's day. — Holman

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COFFEE DATE 1 star. (NR) A deeply uneventful film that attempts to milk comedy from the tension between straight guys and gay ones, this indie short stretched to feature length sets up Todd (Jonathan Bray), a towering hunk of white-bread heterosexuality, on a date with a gay man named Kelly (Wilson Cruz, from "My So Called Life"). "Comedy" ensues as the pranked Todd becomes Kelly's friend, and maybe more, and opens his eyes to the exotic world of the modern homosexual. Cruz is the only bright spot in this otherwise sitcom-bland affair. — Feaster

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COPYING BEETHOVEN (PG-13) Ed Harris stars as the renowned composer in this fictionalized account of the final year of Beethoven's life, directed by Agnieszka Holland (The Secret Garden).

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DECK THE HALLS 1 star. (PG) 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 this one just 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. — 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). — Holman

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ERAGON 1 star. (PG) After finding a dragon egg, a farmboy (Ed Speleers) in a faraway land meets a mystic mentor (Jeremy Irons), gets a sword, rescues a princess and otherwise retraces the plot of Star Wars. The dragon (voiced by Rachel Weisz) is a splendid computer-animated creation, but Eragon otherwise proves to be a flat and dreary piece of escapism. Incidentally, the original book was written by a teenager, which may explain why the film offers such a callow, adolescent wish-fulfillment fantasy. — 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, this one 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 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. This film 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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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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THE HOLIDAY 3 stars. (PG-13) There is a great deal of charm to this tale of smart, recently-heartbroken singletons, played by city mouse Cameron Diaz and country mouse Kate Winslet. They swap their respective homes in L.A. and the English countryside over the Christmas holiday and just so happen to meet the loves of their lives on new soil. The presence of faux-Hollywood trailers and an old movie screenwriter (Eli Wallach) offers an interesting, self-reflexive commentary on some of the shallow values of New Hollywood compared to the Tinseltown of old. — Feaster

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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 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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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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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 PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS 3 stars. (PG-13) Will Smith is earnest and appealing, even if his enthusiasm is more believable than his sorrow in this fact-based film about a man struggling to change his life. In this valentine to the American dream, Chris Gardner (Smith) has been abandoned by his wife to care for his 5-year-old son while trying to change from a homeless medical supply salesman with a high school diploma to a Dean Witter stockbroker. Just when director Gabriele Muccino digs beneath his glossy Hollywood tale and shows the domino-effect hardship of being poor, something fraudulent or superficial steals his thunder. But the story's sentimental take on black fatherhood and the well-done father-son relationship account for a great deal of its appeal. — Feaster

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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. 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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ROCKY BALBOA 2 stars. (PG-13) The sixth Rocky movie is perhaps the ultimate in both money-grubbing and star-groveling, yet because Stallone so obviously loves this great character he created, it's hard to get worked up in a fury of righteous indignation. Rocky Balboa has some nice touches, particularly in the way it draws upon memories of previous installments, and Stallone is never more human as an actor than when he's essaying this role. But the movie spends too much time in idle and not enough in overdrive; and what should be the central storyline — Rocky comes out of retirement to fight a champion (Antonio Tarver) half his age — only takes shape once the picture's nearly over. — Brunson

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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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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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TURISTAS 3 stars. (R) Director John Stockwell (crazy/beautiful, Blue Crush) offers a subversive spin on the Hostel impale-the-tourists formula by managing to sympathize with both its victims and its "Others." The hot American tourists who get stranded in the hostile Brazilian countryside are relatively likable, while the Brazilian locals have legitimate reasons to resent their lowly position in the global economy. In Turistas the girls get to fight back, the gore is more chilling than graphic and the film is a cut above the usual teen-exploitation.

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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.

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VAN WILDER: THE RISE OF TAJ (R) Film genres are defined by their adaptations to cultural mood and fashion, but a certain brand of sub-moronic teen comedy has made no changes to its essential formula since the '70s. Taj Mahal (Kal Penn) is a "supercool" American abroad teaching at a prestigious British college who befriends a group of hopeless nerds. The nerds battle an equally caricatured group of college aristocrats but the real winner is the cool, lady-killing American Taj who gets the girl and somehow seduces the entire student body and faculty in the process. It would be nice if real Americans abroad had such luck. — Feaster



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