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Short Subjectives January 17 2007

Capsule reviews of recently reviewed films

Opening Friday

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GOD GREW TIRED OF US 4 stars (Not Rated) See review.

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THE HITCHER (R) Sean Bean reprises Rutger Hauer's role as an inexplicably murderous hitchhiker who plays cat-and-mouse with the young driver dumb enough to pick him up. A remake of the extremely dark, controversial but undeniably terrorizing cult horror flick from 1986.

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LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA 3 stars (R) See review.

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PAN'S LABYRINTH 4 stars (R) See review.

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SWEET LAND (PG) First-time writer/director Ali Selim directs this gentle tale of a German mail-order bride's experiences in rural Minnesota in the 1920s. See online-only review at atlanta.creativeloafing.com and click on Film.

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Duly Noted

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ADAM'S APPLES (2005) (NR) In this wry black comedy, a young neo-Nazi named Adam is sentenced to perform community service in a rural halfway house, where he's unwillingly assigned the task of guarding a churchyard apple tree. Actor Ali Kazim will be present for a Q&A after the screening. Fri. Jan. 19. 8 p.m., Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre. 1280 Peachtree St. $7. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.

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ATLANTA JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL (Not Rated) See review.

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JET LI'S FEARLESS (PG-13) Acclaimed martial arts megastar Jet Li kicks and punches for the last time — allegedly — in this visually opulent period-piece action flick. Through Jan. 25. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565. www2.gsu.edu/~wwwcft.

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MURK (2005) (NR) When a disabled young woman dies on her wedding night, her brother investigates her new husband/widower's background and suspects that the suicide was something more sinister. Sat., Jan. 20. 8 p.m., Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre. 1280 Peachtree St. $7. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.

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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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SISTERS OF SELMA (NR) This documentary recounts the 1965 voting-rights marches in Selma, Ala., from the unsung perspective of Catholic nuns who participated. Thurs., Jan. 18, 7:30 p.m. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site Screening Room, 450 Auburn Ave. Free. 404.331.5190. www.imagefv.org.

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ZEPPELIN (2005) (NR) Filmmaker Matthias Silcher researches the story of his grandfather, who burned to death as a crewmember of the infamous Hindenburg in 1937 in Lakehurst, N.J. Looking at History. Wed., Jan. 24, 7 p.m. Goethe Institut Atlanta, 1197 Peachtree St. $3-$4. 404-894-2388.

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Continuing

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ALPHA DOG (R) Nick Cassavetes directs this crime drama inspired by the life of Jesse James Hollywood, a drug dealer who became one of the youngest men ever on the FBI's Most Wanted List. The cast includes Emile Hirsch, Bruce Willis, Justin Timberlake and Harry Dean Stanton.

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ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES (PG) In this half live-action, half computer-animated film from Luc Besson, a boy embarks on an adventure with tiny fairy-like beings to save his grandfather's house. The plot looks to overlap with The Ant Bully and features voice performances from celebrities as diverse as Madonna, Robert De Niro and Snoop Dogg.

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THE AURA 4 stars (R) Regrettably the last film from Argentine director and noir revisionist Fabián Bielinksy (Nine Queens), who died of a heart attack this past summer, this haunting, unusual caper film features a mesmerizing Ricardo Darín as a mild-mannered epileptic taxidermist who takes a huge detour from his life's path when he travels to the woods of Argentina and teams up with a group of hoods to plot a casino heist. It's dark, destabilizing, inventive stuff. — Felicia Feaster

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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 (Rinko Kikuchi). Amores Perros director Alejandro González Iñárritu presents another gripping, gritty and well-acted set of intersecting narratives that feature raw performances (particularly from Rinko 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. — Curt 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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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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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. — Holman

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CODE NAME THE CLEANER(PG-13) Cedric the Entertainer stars as an ordinary guy who, after stricken by amnesia, is mistaken for an undercover agent. This action/comedy co-stars Lucy Liu and Nicolette Sheridan of "Desperate Housewives."

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CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER 3 stars (R) Chinese director Zhang Yimou presents his third martial arts epic in a de facto trilogy begun with the cerebral Hero and the passionate House of Flying Daggers. Compared with the exuberance of the prior films, the latest suffers from too much restraint and, except for the finale, the fight scenes seem arbitrary and out of place. The plot, about machinations involving China's emperor (Chow Yun-Fat) and his sickly, scheming wife (Gong Li), echoes The Lion in Winter and provides another showcase for the filmmaker's astonishing use of color. — Holman

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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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DREAMGIRLS 4 stars (PG-13) Based on the long-running Broadway musical, Bill Condon's rousing film adaptation parallels the rise of a fractious girl group inspired by The Supremes with the changes in African-American culture in the 1960s and 1970s. Playing a role based on Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jamie Foxx virtually drives the plot but lacks a show-stopping number of his own, hinting that there's a hole in the material. It's still a delightfully cast show, featuring Beyoncé Knowles as a Diana Ross-esque chanteuse, Eddie Murphy as an electrifying R&B star hitting the skids and newcomer Jennifer Hudson as a demanding, discarded diva; a role that's already made the "American Idol" contestant the front runner for this year's Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. — Holman

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ERAGON HIIII (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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FREEDOM WRITERS (PG-13) In this drama inspired by a real person, two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Hilary Swank plays a young teacher who inspires a class of young, at-risk students to learn tolerance and pursue education beyond high school.

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THE GOOD GERMAN 3 stars (R) A cynical journalist (George Clooney) in Berlin for the Potsdam conference renews ties with the femme fatale (Cate Blanchett) he loved before World War II. Director Stephen Soderbergh offers a loving but labored black-and-white homage to 1940s film noir, but the more German tries to look and sound like Casabalanca the more awkward and distant it becomes. Tobey Maguire perfectly captures the kind of fresh-faced sidekick performance of the era before turning out to be a violent, foul-mouthed black marketeer, but whether Soderbergh wants to pay tribute to Hollywood's Golden Age or undermine it becomes increasingly unclear. — Holman

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THE GOOD SHEPHERD 2 stars (R) Director Robert De Niro presents a kind of shadow history of the CIA, flashing back from the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961 to the group's Ivy League origins. Despite its antiseptic lack of style, Shepherd attempts to be something akin to The Godfather for American espionage, juxtaposing WASPy rituals with the moral hollowness of the spy game. Instead of an engaging, evolving character like Michael Corleone, however, Shepherd focuses on a soulless company man (Matt Damon) whose tepid personal dilemmas never attain tragic dimensions. The big-name supporting cast includes Alec Baldwin, John Turturro, William Hurt and Angelina Jolie. — Holman

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HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER(PG) Not to be mistaken for the Shrek movies, this animated comedy features a pair of star-crossed lovers (voices by real-life couple Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr.) who resist an alliance of storybook villains to take over Fairy Tale Land. Other voice talents include Andy Dick, Wallace Shawn and George Carlin.

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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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MISS POTTER 2 stars (PG) Chris Noonan (Babe) should have stuck to the barnyard. His sugar-dusted biopicture of the English creator of Peter Rabbit and a rash of cheery children's tales imagines Beatrix Potter as a perky Victorian cheerleader too chipper to let even meanie-pie old death get her down. A teeth-gnashingly annoying Renee Zellwegger brings a sunny disposition and little else to this shallow tale of a woman who defied the repressive British social codes of her day in both her writing, scientific pursuits and conservation efforts. — Feaster

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NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 4 stars (PG) The occasionally unfunny Ben Stiller is inspired and feeling his comic imp in this very enjoyable romp about a slacker divorced dad Larry (Stiller) who tries to win back his son's affection by taking a job as a night watchman at the Museum of Natural History and discovers that the displays of animals, explorers, cavemen and soldiers come alive at night. With its subtext of male anxiety and championing of book learnin' and the lessons of history, Shawn Levy's film offers equal entertainment for adults and children including a crack-comic cast featuring "The Office's" Ricky Gervais as the museum boss and a dementedly funny Mickey Rooney as a retiring night guard. — Feaster

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NOTES ON A SCANDAL 4 stars (R) If you need an antidote to the usual schoolroom inspirational a la Freedom Writers, then this nasty slice of Brit-misanthropy should be just the ticket. From Patrick Marber's script and Zoe Heller's novel, the film begins as an engrossing thriller about the parasitic relationship between a beautiful, bourgeois inner-city London schoolteacher (Cate Blanchett) and the older dominatrix schoolmarm (Judi Dench) who develops an unhealthy fascination with her colleague's indiscretions and supple flesh. But its initially thrilling knee-deep cynicism soon mutates into a blatantly misogynist, homophobic portrait of Dench's hellbent crone, a turnaround which makes it into a very guilty pleasure indeed. — Feaster

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THE PAINTED VEIL 3 stars (PG-13) English newlyweds (Naomi Watts and Edward Norton) wrangle with their marital difficulties against the backdrop of a cholera outbreak and political unrest in rural China in the 1920s. Watts reunites with John Curran, her director for We Don't Live Here Anymore for a visually impressive, emotionally intimate tale with tensions that hit closer to the bone than the usual straight-laced Merchant-Ivory period piece while conveying more breadth of feeling than Curran's previous film. Norton and especially Watts superbly convey the spouses' different difficulties in expressing themselves. — Holman

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PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER 2 stars (R) This adaptation of the best-selling, highly enjoyable 1985 novel by Peter Suskind chronicles the escalating depravity of an 18th century man (Ben Whishaw) with superhuman sniffing powers, able to isolate and identify any scent on earth. Grenouille decides to create the most sublime perfume ever using the essence of beautiful dead virgins. It's an effort to kill the very thing you love that German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) seems unable to milk meaning from. He is instead content to create in the film's unsuccessful second half an epic historical crime story as Grenouille transforms into a hunted serial killer. — Feaster

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PRIMEVAL (R) A news crew ventures to South Africa to find a legendary 25-foot crocodile in this horror flick that appears reminiscent of J-Lo's Anaconda.

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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 3 stars (PG-13) Filled with reflection and regret, writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone's sixth and (hopefully) final installment of the Rocky franchise/saga features the Italian Nag coming out of retirement because, it seems, he knows no other way. Stallone's script feels like a really great rough draft, as he reunites many of the first movie's characters for a bittersweet trip down memory lane before kicking into the familiar gear of battling his latest nemesis. This time, it's heavyweight champ Mason Dixon (former light heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver), undefeated but still looking for respect, and hoping to find it in an exhibition match with the legendary Balboa. Stallone's performance is surprisingly touching, if ultimately self-glorifying — but then, wasn't the first Rocky? — David Lee Simmons

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STOMP THE YARD (PG-13) A troubled 19-year-old dancer from Los Angeles enrolls in Atlanta's fictional Truth University, where he gets caught up in romance and the "step show" competitions of black fraternities.

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VOLVER 5 stars (R) Pedro Almodóvar proves yet again that he is one of the most engaging filmmakers working today. He balances intense feeling and giddy silliness without sacrificing humanity or heart in this tale of a devoted mother, played by an intoxicating Penélope Cruz, who finds herself disposing of a dead husband, running an illegal restaurant and fending off her mother's ghost. Blending elements of Italian neorealist cinema, classic Hollywood melodramas like Mildred Pierce and outrageous Almodóvarian wit, Volver is an earthy, heartfelt pleasure from top to bottom. — Feaster

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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.