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Short Subjectives March 14 2007

Capsule reviews of recently reviewed movies

Opening Friday

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DEAD SILENCE (R) Newlyweds Jamie and Lisa Ashen (Ryan Kwanten, Ella Ashen) have established a new life for themselves far from their hometown of Ravens Fair — a sleepy, near-forgotten blip on the map haunted by late-night whispers and ghost stories from generations past. But when his wife is gruesomely murdered, Jamie reluctantly returns to Ravens Fair for the funeral, intent on unraveling the mystery surrounding her death. Directed by James Wan (Saw).

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GLASTONBURY (R) 3 stars. See review.

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I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE (R) 2 stars. See review.

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OLD JOY (NR) 5 stars. See review.

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PREMONITION (PG-13) 3 stars. See review.

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Duly Noted

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ISABELLA (2006) The story of a world-weary cop, Ma Chen-Shing (Chapman To), and the homeless young woman Cheung Bik-yan (Isabella Leong), who claims to be his daughter, Ho-Cheung Pang's film takes place in Macau during the summer of 1999, just before the city returns to Chinese control after centuries of Portuguese rule. In Cantonese with English subtitles. Hong Kong Panorama. Fri., March 16. 8 p.m., Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre. 1280 Peachtree St. $7. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.

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RIDICULE (1996) A young nobleman and engineer (Charles Berling) travels to Paris hoping for an audience with King Louis XVI to discuss funding his irrigation project but realizes that the only way to navigate the court is through his sharp wit. Directed by Patrice Leconte. In French with English subtitles. From Royalty to Revolution. Sat., March 17. 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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Continuing

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300 (R) 4 stars. In 480 B.C., 300 Spartan warriors stand against an army of hundreds of thousands in an ultraviolent action epic that makes the Hercules and Conan movies look like flailing slap-fights. Like Sin City, Frank Miller adapts his macho graphic novel, and all the backgrounds are computer-generated; unlike Sin City, Miller's painterly images don't overwhelm the emotional investment of such actors as Gerard Butler and Lena Headey as Sparta's king and queen. If it plays like the biggest army recruiting commercial ever made (particularly given that the bad guys are Iranians — I mean, Persians), 300 nevertheless conquers its own overwrought tendencies to offer a larger-than-life spectacle. — Curt Holman

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AMAZING GRACE (PG) 3 stars. Director Michael Apted (49 Up) examines the attempts of British reformers in Parliament led by William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) to end the Empire's slave trade toward the end of the 18th century. While Apted's own attempts to quicken the film's extended storyline spanning nearly two decades by using flashbacks falls a bit short, the compelling subject matter and Gruffudd's earnest performance are engaging enough. Veteran British actors Albert Finney and Michael Gambon offer supporting roles, with Finney as a repentant slave-ship captain who eventually penned the famous gospel song of the movie's title. — David Lee Simmons

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THE ASTRONAUT FARMER (PG) 2 stars. Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) is a Midwestern rancher and dad with a devoted wife (Virginia Madsen), whose secret passion is to ride the rocket he is building in his barn into space. Directors Mark and Michael Polish's film is an attempt to revisit the kind of idealized American small town and man-with-a-dream that propelled the 1930s and '40s films of Frank Capra. But instead, this improbable, ham-fisted attempt at homespun message film feels hopelessly contrived, full of nostalgia for a time when men were men and women were women and all was right in America. — Felicia Feaster

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BACKSTAGE (NR) A groupie (Isild Le Besco) becomes involved in the life of her idol (Emmanuelle Seigner), a singer similar to Debbie Harry in this thriller written and directed by Emmanuelle Bercot.

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BECAUSE I SAID SO 1 star. A nasty piece of cinema posing as a romantic comedy, Because I Said So is this year's Monster-In-Law, a vicious stab at the maternal instinct that also manages to humiliate the iconic actress at its center. Diane Keaton headlines the film as Daphne, a 59-year-old woman who still dotes on her youngest daughter, Milly (Mandy Moore). Determined to find Mr. Right for Milly, Daphne interviews prospective suitors and settles on a wealthy architect (Tom Everett Scott), but her plans are upset by the additional presence of a struggling musician (Gabriel Macht). For all its faults, the movie's most unforgivable sin is its treatment of the great Diane Keaton: Watching her humiliated on camera in the service of such a loathsome character is inexcusable. Just a few years ago, Keaton played a character who was sexy, funny and intelligent in Something's Gotta Give. This one's more like Something Gave Out. — Matt Brunson

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BLACK SNAKE MOAN (R) 1 star. Director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) returns to his favorite romantic triangle: a soulful black man, a white slut and the music that unites them. Samuel L. Jackson is a blues-playing farmer with a broken heart who decides he can heal the town slut (Christina Ricci) of her wanton ways (brought on by childhood sexual abuse) by chaining her to a radiator in her underwear. Both too stupid and too intent on the final-hour redemption of its cartoonish characters to qualify as camp, this lame homage to '70s drive-in movies and Southern gothic feels more like the scenario for a Dixie-themed blue movie. — Feaster

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BREACH (PG-13) 3 stars. Breach chronicles the true-life saga of the apprehension of agent Robert Hanssen, who in 2001 was brought down for his role as a longtime spy for the Russians. The superb Chris Cooper plays Hanssen, who's presented as a deeply religious man with a disdain for homosexuals, strong-willed women and many of his peers at the bureau. He's assigned a clerk named Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe), not realizing that the young man is a budding agent who's been ordered by his superior (Laura Linney) to spy on him and collect any potentially incriminating evidence. Breach is competent without being particularly distinguished, with Cooper working hard to provide any psychological subtext to the story behind the headlines. — Brunson

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BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (PG) 4 stars. Though the trailers for Gabor Csupo's children's story suggest two middle-schoolers (in touching performances from Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb) lost in their own private Narnia or Middle Earth, the melancholy but lovely effect of Bridge to Terabithia is more Finding Neverland. Deeply progressive by most kid's-film measures, Bridge to Terabithia features two protagonists who challenge the usual boy/girl stereotypes and really conveys both the exquisite heights of imagination children achieve, as well as how crushing loss looks through their eyes. — Feaster

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GHOST RIDER (PG-13) 2 stars. Is it possible that writer/director Mark Steven Johnson had never even read a Ghost Rider comic book before making the big-screen version? The original Johnny Blaze wasn't a joke-a-second character; he was more somber, as one would expect from a biker who sold his soul to the devil (to save a loved one's life) and then found himself living under a curse that transformed him into a flaming-skull creature whenever in the presence of evil. Of course, when you hire Nicolas Cage to star in your movie, it's safe to assume that camp was what was intended all along. On the plus side, the special effects are pretty cool, and it was inspired to cast Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles (Easy Rider, meet Ghost Rider). Otherwise, this is yet another comic-book adaptation that goes up in flames before our very eyes. — Brunson

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GRAY MATTERS (PG-13) Director Sue Kramer's romantic comedy stars Heather Graham and Tom Cavanaugh as siblings so close everyone believes them to be an actual couple (but not related to each other). Trouble brews when he meets the girl of his dreams. Molly Shannon, Alan Cumming and Sissy Spacek co-star.

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THE HOST (R) 4 stars. A dysfunctional family bands together when an amphibious mutant in Seoul's sewers kidnaps a young girl as a midnight snack. Reinvigorating the long-neglected giant-monster genre, The Host negotiates some dizzying mood swings, from horror flick to broad political satire (aimed primarily at America) to family drama occasionally reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine. The film mirrors South Korean anxieties without stinting on superbly staged sequences with its freaky, rampaging creature. — Holman

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IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS (NR) 4 stars. Nicely photographed for a documentary set in a war zone, director James Longley's three-part film looks at the chaos in Iraq following the 2003 American invasion from the vantage of a Sunni orphan, a Shiite religious fundamentalist and a Kurdish farmer's son. What emerges is an unsettling portrait from the Iraqi point of view of a disturbingly imperialist American presence and a country already grappling with quotidian disaster and uncertainty, and with the rise of fundamentalism and religious persecution, perhaps destined for even more. — 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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THE LIVES OF OTHERS (R) 4 stars. Despite being set in recent history, The Lives of Others is also a cautionary tale, offering a possible window into our own future for its message about the life-sapping potential of a government that puts power above its human citizens. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's engrossing Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film follows an East Berlin secret policeman or "Stasi" as he has his first twinge of guilt over a life spent spying on and subsequently destroying the lives of his fellow Germans. When he is ordered to spy on a playwright and his girlfriend, Capt. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) begins to feel affection and sympathy for them. — Feaster

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MUSIC AND LYRICS (PG-13) 3 stars. A has-been 1980s pop star (Hugh Grant) gets a chance to jump-start his career if he can write a new song, so he enlists a quirky amateur (Drew Barrymore) to come up with the words in this romantic comedy from Marc Lawrence. After a shaky start, Music and Lyrics turns into a surprisingly smart and pleasant film that persistently avoids the genre's clichéd complications. Grant proves reliably amusing and Barrymore has never been more charming, and their relationship credibly unfolds against a backdrop of the forced intimacy of a creative partnership, as well as the strains of the music industry's pressure to artistic compromise. — Holman

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NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (PG) 4 stars. 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 Ricky Gervais as the museum boss and a dementedly funny Mickey Rooney as a retiring night guard. — Feaster

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NORBIT 2 stars. There's a reason makeup artist Rick Baker owns six Academy Awards, and it can be seen in his latest collaboration with Eddie Murphy. Baker (The Nutty Professor) had a hand in the designs Murphy dons in this comedy, and as usual, his efforts elicit gasps of admiration. Also worthy of (guarded) praise is Murphy himself, who once again is able to create a deft comic persona. That would be the title character, a mild-mannered nerd who ends up marrying a frightening, 300-pound behemoth named Rasputia (also Murphy). Like the geek Murphy played in Bowfinger, Norbit is a likable man whose rotten luck and sweet demeanor earn our sympathies. What doesn't engender audience goodwill is the rest of this picture, which is mean-spirited to its core. The stereotype most likely to offend is its centerpiece: Rasputia, an African-American caricature who's oversexed, overfed and in all other regards over-the-top. — Brunson

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NOTES ON A SCANDAL (R) 4 stars. If you need an antidote to the usual schoolroom inspirational à 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 NUMBER 23 (R) 2 stars. Jim Carrey attempts to tap his manic energy to darker currents with his portrayal of a family man who becomes increasingly obsessed with both an enigmatic book and the seemingly coincidental presence of the number "23" everywhere he looks. Unlike the JFK assassination or "Da Vinci Code" conspiracies, the film's numerology lacks deeper implications and feels more like a fixation of the tinfoil-hat crowd. Director Joel Schumacher's emphasis on empty stylishness offers some grisly Goth eye candy but never builds suspense or empathy for the characters. — Holman

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PAN'S LABYRINTH (R) 4 stars. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro's (Hellboy, Cronos) exquisitely gothic fairy tale concerns a little girl (Ivana Baquero) who escapes the nightmarish Spanish Fascist stepfather and violence of the adult world in prolonged fantasies of descent into a magical underworld overseen by an enormous talking faun, Pan. Del Toro, supported by an excellent cast of female actresses, delivers an achingly beautiful parable about the willful desire of children to imagine an alternative reality. — Feaster

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PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS (NR) 2 stars. A commitment-phobic gay woman (Elizabeth Reaser) loses her latest paramour and hooks up with both a straight guy (Justin Kirk) and his estranged girlfriend (Gretchen Mol). Writer/director Maria Maggeni admirably explores some of the gray areas of erotic connection and sexual stereotyping, but her insistent, cutesy attempt to emulate the tweedy style of Woody Allen's comedies muffles the film's message about sexual identity. — Holman

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THE QUEEN (PG-13) 4 stars. Oscar-winner 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 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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RENO 911!: MIAMI (R) 4 stars. In this made-for-film version of Comedy Central's hit show "Reno 911," the extremely dysfunctional police force heads down to Miami for a national police convention (that they were mistakenly invited to) and ends up "policing" the entire city as a bio-terrorism threat keeps all of the other officers detained. To hear an exclusive podcast interview with Lt. Jim Dangle and Deputy Travis Junior, visit atlanta.creativeloafing.com and click on Flicks. — Noah Gardenswartz

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THE SITUATION (R) 2 stars. Director Philip Haas (Angels & Insects) may have his heart in the right place in wanting to show the impossible Iraq situation, but his love triangle about an American journalist (Connie Nielsen) torn between an intelligence officer (Damian Nelsen) and an Iraqi photographer (Mido Hamada) is a superficial Casablanca-style retread. The Situation manages to turn a nightmarish war into a turbulent backdrop for a romantic melodrama. — Feaster

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TYLER PERRY'S DADDY LITTLE GIRLS (PG-13) Reverse-Cinderella tale centers about a successful attorney (Gabrielle Union) who falls in love with a financially challenged mechanic (Idris Elba) who is a single father of three children. The relationship hits a snag when the janitor's ex-wife comes back into his life and threatens to take away their kids.

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AN UNREASONABLE MAN (NR) 4 stars. Co-directors Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan provide a corrective of sorts to the popular perception of former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader as an egomaniacal menace who some believe denied Al Gore the presidency in the wafer-thin close election of 2000. Instead, through extensive interviews with Nader and his proponents and detractors, a compelling portrait emerges of a man with a long, sterling history of public advocacy and a definite contrarian bent whether fighting big business or the Democratic power structure. — Feaster

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VOLVER (R) 5 stars. 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 such as Mildred Pierce and outrageous Almodóvarian wit, Volver is an earthy, heartfelt pleasure. — Feaster

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WILD HOGS (PG-13) 1 star. Director Walt Becker's simple-minded comedy has the audacity to reference Deliverance in one scene, yet the only folks who'll be squealing like a pig are the ones who fork over 10 bucks, only to find themselves royally screwed after enduring its inanities. Four Cincinnati bunglers (John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy), each suffering though some pathetic form of mid-life crisis, decide to embark on a road trip to the West Coast. They mount their motorcycles with the intent of rediscovering life's little pleasures, but it's not long before these queasy riders are having to cope with menacing bikers, "bomb"-dropping birds and a homosexual highway patrolman (John C. McGinley). The "gay panic" humor is so rampant that you wonder if the cast and crew wrapped each shooting day by beating up a homosexual off-screen. — Brunson

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ZODIAC (R) 4 stars. As if refuting his own overly stylish, dramatically thin serial killer film Se7en, director David Fincher focuses on the institutional weaknesses and moral ambiguities in his procedural thriller about the pursuit of California's notorious "Zodiac" murderer. Mark Ruffalo's police inspector wrestles with building a case, while Jake Gyllenhaal's newspaper cartoonist becomes increasingly obsessed when the killer remains at large for years. Fincher doesn't stint on disturbing crime scenes but also makes Zodiac a rare serial killer film that, instead of almost glorifying mass murderers as supervillains, offers insights as to how such criminals seize the public and private imagination. — Holman



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