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Short Subjectives April 18 2007

In the Land of Women, Vacancy, Year of the Dog

Opening Friday

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FRACTURE (R) Crime thriller starring Anthony Hopkins as a meticulous engineer accused of murdering his adulterous wife. Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson) plays the district attorney in charge of bringing him to justice. Directed by Gregory Hoblit (Hart's War) and co-stars David Strathairn and Embeth Davidtz.

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IN THE LAND OF WOMEN (PG-13) Adam Brody ("The O.C.") stars in writer/director Jon Kasdan's romantic dramedy as a young man who leaves Los Angeles for suburban Michigan to nurse a broken heart and take care of his ailing grandmother. When he discovers a single mother (Meg Ryan) living next door with her daughters, he ventures on a journey to understand the nature of love.

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VACANCY (R) Nimród Antal's horror film stars Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale as a couple forced to spend the night in a roadside motel after their car breaks down. After finding hidden cameras in the room and a terrifying snuff film playing on the VCR, they realize they must escape before they become the stars ­-- and victims — of a real-life horror flick.

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Duly Noted

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ATLANTA FILM FESTIVAL The 31st annual celebration of independent cinema features a wide array of narrative features, documentaries, shorts and animation. See reviews and roundups of presented works in the Flicks section, and a look at the opening-night film, The Last Days of Left Eye in the Vibes section. Thurs., April 19, through April 28. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive. $8.50 general admission, $6 IMAGE members, seniors and students. 678-495-1424. www.atlantafilmfestival.com.

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ME AND MY SISTER 4 stars (NR) Vastly entertaining 2004 family drama stars French art-house phenom Isabelle Huppert as Martine, a brittle, image-conscious Parisian whose well-oiled equilibrium is thrown off balance with the arrival of her chirpy, animated younger sister, Louise (Catherine Frot). A beautician whom Martine has clearly written off as a provincial, unsophisticated frump, as the film progresses, Louise increasingly defies Martine's expectations in this transcendentally sweet portrait of how Martine's sister prompts her to come to terms with the disappointments in her own life. French Film Yesterday & Today. Fri., April 20, 8 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre. 1280 Peachtree St. $7. 404-733-4570. www.high.org. -- Felicia Feaster

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OLGA (NR) Encore screening of one of the highest-audience-rated films at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Winner of Best Narrative Film, Olga is a Brazilian historical epic based on the true-life story of communist activist and political prisoner Olga Benario Prestes. Sun., April 22, 7 p.m. Regal Medlock Crossing 18. $9. 404-949-0658. www.atlantajewishfilm.org.

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PAN'S LABYRINTH 4 stars (R) Mexican director Guillermo del Toro's gothic fairy tale concerns a little girl (Ivana Baquero) who escapes the violence of the adult world in prolonged fantasies of descent into a magical underworld overseen by an enormous talking faun, Pan. Del Toro (Hellboy), supported by an excellent cast of female actresses, delivers an achingly beautiful parable about the willful desire of children to imagine an alternative reality. April 20 through May 3. Cinefest, GSU University Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565. www2.gsu.edu/~wwwcft.Feaster

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THE RAPE OF EUROPA (NR) Encore screening of one of the highest-audience-rated films at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Winner of the Best Documentary Film prize, the film chronicles the systematic theft and destruction of European artwork during World War II. Sun., April 22, 3 p.m. Regal Medlock Crossing 18. $9. 404-949-0658. www.atlantajewishfilm.org.

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THE RULES OF THE GAME 4 stars (NR) When it premiered in 1939, Jean Renoir's bourgeoisie-takedown The Rules of the Game was a controversial-enough portrait of social corruption to inspire one man in the audience to try to burn down the theater. Renoir's lyrical comedy of manners follows the upstairs/downstairs sexual hijinks of wealthy philanderers and their comparably bawdy staff at a country chateau on the eve of World War II and is considered a certifiable classic of the French cinema. French Film Yesterday & Today. Sat., April 21, 8 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Theatre. 1280 Peachtree St. $7. 404-733-4570. www.high.org.Feaster

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Continuing

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300 4 stars (R) 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, it's based on a macho graphic novel by Frank Miller and all the backgrounds are computer-generated; unlike Sin City, the 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 thrilling, larger-than-life spectacle. — Curt Holman

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AMAZING GRACE 3 stars (PG) 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 lend a capable hand in supporting roles, with Finney playing a repentant slave-ship captain who eventually penned the famous gospel hymn of the movie's title. — David Lee Simmons

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AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE COLON MOVIE FILM FOR THEATERS 2 stars (R) A bickering milkshake, meatball and box of french fries become embroiled in a power struggle over a piece of exercise equipment that might destroy the world. That said, the plot is pretty much beside the point, and it's a blind leap to assume there even IS a point. This big-screen adaptation of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" shows heroic integrity by staying true to the surreal gags and aggressive nonsequiturs of Adult Swim, and makes practically no concessions to the uninitiated or nonstoned. The Mooninites (feisty aliens with deadpan voices and Atari-era animation) remain hilarious creations, but trying to stretch out the humor of a 12-minute "Aqua Teen" episode to the length of a feature film feels like trying to make a full meal out of vending-machine snack food. — Holman

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ARE WE DONE YET? 2 stars (PG) In this modern interpretation of the 1948 postwar classic Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, family man Nick Persons (Ice Cube) moves from a city apartment to a drool-worthy country mansion but finds himself and his house wrapped around the finger of an outlandish local contractor (a genuinely uproarious John C. McGinley). The laughs are few and far between — mostly courtesy of McGinley — though Ice Cube's scowl and introverted, impacted emotions come in handy in expressing homeowner building angst. — Feaster

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AVENUE MONTAIGNE 3 stars (PG-13) A frothy but entertaining Gallic drama about how the other half lives, Daniéle Thompson's sorta Cinderella story has a beautiful gamine (Cécile de France) taking a job at a chic cafe in the wealthy Avenue Montaigne district of Paris whose unhappy rich inhabitants she watches contemplating life changes. A pianist (Albert Dupontel) wants to give up his career, an art collector (Claude Brasseur) is auctioning off the fruits of his lifelong hobby and a soap opera actress (Valérie Lemercier) contemplates gladly trading her fame and riches to play Simone de Beauvoir on the big screen. If your expectations are low, the film is a diverting, pretty distraction. — Feaster

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BLADES OF GLORY 3 stars (PG-13) Two figure skaters, played by fey Jon Heder and swaggering Will Ferrell, attempt to put aside their bitter rivalry and become the first man-on-man ice-skating team. Will Ferrell's typical comedies let the funny outfits do half the work, but Blades of Glory improves on the formula with stranger, snappier dialogue ("Get out of my face!" "I'll get inside your face!"), a wonderfully bizarre vision of professional skating and an ability to tweak gay panic without resorting to actual homophobia. Ferrell and Heder make amusing foils, and the film gives "Arrested Development" fans a treat by reuniting Will Arnett and Amy Poehler as a psychotically competitive brother-sister figure skating team. -- Holman

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DEAD SILENCE (R) A newlywed (Ryan Kwanten) investigates the death of his wife after they moved to a haunted small town in this thriller directed by James Wan.

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DISTURBIA 3 stars (PG-13) A likable but troubled teen (Shia LaBeouf) under house arrest turns self-appointed neighborhood watch and suspects the guy next door (David Morse) of being a murderer. Director D.J. Caruso proves interested in the voyeuristic POV shots of the premise, at least as a technical exercise, and LaBeouf and Morse lend snap to their roles. Despite being a transparent Hitchcock imitation, Disturbia persuasively argues that the time may be ripe to revisit Rear Window's themes, thanks to advances in picture phones, digital cameras and other gadgets of the YouTube generation. — Holman

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FIREHOUSE DOG (PG) The world's most famous — and Hollywood's most pampered — pooch is separated from his owner and ends up as the mascot of a hapless fire station. There, he helps a 12-year-old boy (Josh Hutcherson) and his father, a veteran fire chief, turn the station into the city's finest. Directed by Todd Holland.

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FIRST SNOW 3 stars (R) Memento's Guy Pearce plays a flooring salesman in the Southeast who undergoes an existential crisis when a middle-of-nowhere fortune-teller (a superb J.K. Simmons) predicts that he's going to die. First-time filmmaker Mark Fergus uses the isolating effects of wide-open spaces to powerful effect in this thoughtful character study with elements of film noir thrillers. First Snow sags in the middle, but Pearce finds the heart of a slick hustler who finds unexpected depths in the face of mortality. — Holman

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GRINDHOUSE 3 stars (R) Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez team up for a self-contained double feature that pays homage to sleazy exploitation films of the 1970s and the seedy cinemas that screened them. Rodriguez's zombie spoof Planet Terror goes almost exclusively for juvenile gross-outs, although Rose McGowan creates an iconic character as a go-go dancer turned zombie killer. Tarantino takes Death Proof more seriously by affectionately introducing the strong, likeable female characters (including Rosario Dawson and stuntwoman Zoe Bell as herself) stalked by a psycho stunt driver (Kurt Russell). Apart from Death Proof's breathtaking final car chase, Grindhouse's most appealing qualities are its hilarious fake movie trailers and its evocation of the scratchy prints. -- Holman

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THE HOAX 4 stars (R) Lasse Hallstrom's (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules) rollicking adaptation of the true tale of literary charlatan Clifford Irving who sold a faked biography of reclusive nut and billionaire Howard Hughes to his publisher McGraw-Hill is a tale of deception for our times with a marvelously cagey and charismatic lead performance by Richard Gere. — Feaster

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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. Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300. www.fernbank.edu.

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MAFIOSO (1962) 4 stars (NR) Alberto Sordi plays an exuberant, fast-talking technician at an auto plant who brings his urban Italian family to visit his small Sicilian hometown. Alberto Lattuada's rediscovered comedy anticipates The Godfather and "The Sopranos" with its deft combination of humor, drama and pulp crime story. The first half provides enough laughs to be called National Lampoon's Sicilian Vacation but Mafioso turns almost entirely dramatic in its last half hour as it reveals the way one's relatives and "La Famiglia" can make us offers we can't refuse. — Holman

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MEET THE ROBINSONS (G) A schoolboy inventor travels to the future and meets a lovably eccentric family. This computer-animated family flick is based on A Day With Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce, whose playfully retro children's books inspired the kid's shows "Rolie Polie Olie" and "George Shrinks," not to mention the cool designs of Robots.

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THE NAMESAKE 2 stars (PG-13) Mira Nair's (Monsoon Wedding) latest foray into cross-cultural ennui is a bit of a disappointment. When her adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jhumpa Lahiri's novel is focused on recent newlyweds Ashima (Tabu) and Ashoke (Irfan Khan) as they make the difficult immigrant's journey from bright, warm Calcutta to grim Queens in the '70s the film succeeds beautifully. But when Nair's attention turns to their dour teenage hatchling Gogol (Kal Penn) in this epic family drama of cultural collision between the old world and the new, the film loses some energy. Gogol's bratty angst just doesn't carry the emotional gravitas of his parents' loneliness and yearning and every time the attention is on the younger generation's problems the film suffers. — Feaster

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PERFECT STRANGER 1 star (R) Without big names Bruce Willis and Halle Berry, this stupidly serpentine sex thriller with an unbearably hackneyed twist ending would have been direct-to-cable fare. Like a soft-core Nancy Drew, Berry is a maverick reporter who decides to use her sleuthing expertise, sex appeal and the help of a ferrety computer genius colleague (a wasted Giovanni Ribisi) to go after an advertising bigwig (Bruce Willis) she believes is behind a friend's gruesome murder. Very little seems plausible or even especially entertaining in this crass, throwaway thriller from the wildly uneven James Foley (At Close Range, Two Bits). — Feaster

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PREMONITION 3 stars (PG-13) Sandra Bullock plays a housewife who begins doubting her sanity after his husband's death when she experiences her days out of sequence. Reminiscent of the premise of Memento, director Mennan Yapo's supernatural thriller intrigues the audience with Bill Kelly's reasonably clever script instead of horror-house jolts. — Holman

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THE REAPING (R) Hilary Swank plays a former Christian missionary who lost her faith after her family was tragically killed, and has since become a world-renowned expert in disproving religious phenomena. But when she investigates a small Louisiana town that is suffering from what appear to be the biblical plagues, she realizes that science cannot explain what is happening and she must regain her faith to combat the dark forces threatening the community. Directed by Stephen Hopkins (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers).

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REIGN OVER ME 2 stars (R) Don Cheadle plays a bored, disrespected dentist who learns to enjoy life again when he renews his friendship with his college roommate (Adam Sandler), who's become an immature, unstable recluse following his family's death on Sept. 11. As in Punch-Drunk Love, Sandler proves he can convey a stillness on screen that serves him well as a dramatic actor, and he's well-paired with Cheadle's sympathetic, understated performance. While writer/director Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger) brings some unexpected complexity to the situation, a subplot about an obsessed patient (Saffron Burroughs) trivializes mental illness, while the use of pop songs to provide emotional texture proves particularly heavy-handed. — Holman

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SHOOTER 2 stars (R) Playing a sniper with a testosterone-dripping name of Bob Lee Swagger, Mark Wahlberg follows up his Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Departed with a dumber "political" action film. His covert military sniper gets coaxed from retirement to avert an assassination, only to be framed and become the target of a national manhunt. The script convincingly portrays the nuts-and-bolts details of marksmanship, and Training Day director Antoine Fuqua can stage a competent action scene, but the film relies on so many clichés that you can cherry-pick your pet peeves (like a Southern school teacher apparently unable to speak proper English), and the film's "patriotic" philosophy seems to boil down to vengeful anarchy. ­-- Holman

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TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER 3 stars (NR) Like Red River on peyote, this visually astounding Thai film features homoeroticism aplenty, eye-gouging colors and über-emotions as it riffs on the hyperbolic qualities of Eastern cinema, American Westerns and river-of-tears Douglas Sirk melodramas. A forbidden love between a beautiful rich girl and a vengeance-mad Thai cowboy is the least interesting element of a film whose crazed visual splendor is the real selling point. -- Feaster

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WILD HOGS 1 star (PG-13) Four Cincinnati bunglers (John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy) decide to embark on a midlife-crisis road trip to the West Coast. The "gay panic" humor is so rampant that it's reasonable to wonder if cast and crew wrapped each shooting day by beating up a homosexual off-screen. — Matt Brunson

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THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY 3 stars (NR) British progressive Ken Loach's latest film, a winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, stars Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Breakfast on Pluto) as Damien, a young County Cork resident who forsakes a promising future as a doctor to help his fellow Irishman fight brutal British control of Ireland in the Irish War of Independence of the 1920s. — Feaster

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YEAR OF THE DOG 4 stars (PG-13) Screenwriter Mike White's (Chuck & Buck, School of Rock) directorial debut is a gingerly misanthropic anti-chick flick about a woman, Peggy (Molly Shannon) crazy for dogs who goes through a radical life change when her beloved beagle, Pencil, dies. Defying every expectation about where such stories are "supposed" to go, this deadpan comedy and wonderfully openhearted film is a small triumph of go-it-own-way indie cinema. — Feaster

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ZODIAC 4 stars (R) 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. Fincher doesn't stint on disturbing, visceral crime scenes, but also makes Zodiac one of the rare serial killer films that, instead of almost glorifying mass murderers as supervillains, weighs in with insights as to how such criminals seize the public and private imagination. — Holman



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