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Flicks - Sex, Thugs and Rock 'n' Roll

CL critic Curt Holman's five picks for the Atlanta Film Festival

HUSTLE & FLOW ?Image ?Image ?Image ?Image ?Image

Writer/director Craig Brewer mixes a heady cocktail of pimp life and crunk hip-hop in one of the best films of 2005 — and arguably the most honest, eye-opening screen portrayal of rap music ever made. Terrence Howard gives a sensitive, complex performance as DJay, a two-bit Memphis pimp and pusher who sees hip-hop as his last chance to escape criminal life. We don't exactly sympathize with him, but Hustle & Flow doesn't do justice to DJay's contradictions: talented artist, exploiter of women, melancholy soul. Brewer captures the infectious thrill of musical creation in DJay's makeshift recording sessions — you'll find yourself singing along to his track "Pop That Trick." The film even generates nail-biting suspense when DJay tries to win the favor of rap star Skinny Black (played with appropriate arrogance by Atlanta's Ludacris). Fri., June 10 at 8 p.m. Rialto Center for Performing Arts, 80 Forsyth St. 404-651-4727. www.rialtocenter.org.

HOOLIGANS ?Image ?Image ?Image ?Image ?Image

Elijah Wood sheds a little of his Hobbit image by playing Matt, an expelled Harvard journalism major who visits his sister in London and grows fascinated with the bloodthirsty camaraderie of British football hooligans. Charlie Hunnam, previously known for Nicholas Nickleby and other pretty-boy roles, brings a feral charisma to his role as a British schoolteacher who happens to be the ruthless, fiercely loyal leader of a "hooligan firm" of football fans. ("Stop calling it fuckin' soccer!") Director Lexi Alexander, a former female kickboxer, brings high-impact authority to the intense cinema verite brawl scenes, and Hooligans' script relies on convincing reportage about the rituals, rivalries, music and histories of hooliganism. At heart, it's an old-fashioned social melodrama that slows down considerably whenever Matt's concerned family barges in. Despite its predictable outcome, Hooligans follows Fight Club with its intriguing portrayal of both the allure, pride and self-defeating futility of a culture based on violence. Fri., June 17 at 8 p.m. Rialto Center for the Performing Arts, 80 Forsyth St. 404-651-4727. www.rialtocenter.org.

SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE ?Image ?Image ?Image ?Image ?Image

Obsessive cults of film fanatics form around directors like South Korea's Park Chanwook, whose bizarre revenge drama Oldboy won the Grand Jury Prize of last year's Cannes Film Festival. His 2002 film, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, as the title suggests, anticipates Oldboy's themes of vendettas that push the limits of reason. Characters in collision include a deaf-mute with green hair who goes to extreme lengths to secure a kidney for his dying sister; an ordinary businessman-turned-remorseless killer after his daughter's kidnapping; and a quirky young sexpot who may be a Marxist terrorist. Describing Chanwook's films as "not to everyone's taste" is an understatement. They alternate between moments of weirdly affecting tenderness and gratuitously gory sadism that make Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch seem squeamish. Chanwook remains an exciting, visionary filmmaker who makes audiences feel like they're watching human affairs through utterly alien eyes. Wed., June 15 at 9:30 p.m. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive. 678-495-1424. www.landmarktheaters.com.

THE BOYS OF BARAKA ?Image ?Image ?Image ?Image ?Image

A group of middle-school boys from Baltimore's inner city get a chance to secure a better education and safer future through the Baraka School, a two-year educational program in rural Kenya. The film focuses on four boys, including a remarkably passionate would-be preacher, and intercuts between their culture shock in Africa and their despairing families in Baltimore trying to rise above crime and poverty. The filmmakers wittily emulate the credits style of HBO's "The Wire," which shares the backdrop of Baltimore's drug-riddled streets, and the film drinks in some stunning African vistas, including the boys' triumphant climb up Mount Kenya. But some material goes untapped: We don't learn as much as we'd like about the Baraka program or its faculty members, who are depicted as equal parts tough youth counselors and Peace Corps volunteers. Real life throws some unexpected curves at both the school and the students, building to genuinely surprising and heartbreaking resolutions in which the boys most likely to succeed aren't the ones you expect. Fri., June 17 at 2:30 p.m. Rialto Center for Performing Arts, 80 Forsyth St. 404-651-4727. www.rialtocenter.org.

9 SONGS?Image ?Image ?Image ?Image ?Image

Over several weeks, a British glaciologist (Kieran O'Brien) goes to rock concerts with a free-spirited American chick (Margo Stilley), and then they have sex in his room. That's pretty much the plot of this already notorious film, from 24-Hour Party People director Michael Winterbottom, which lives up to its claims for having the most explicit, unsimulated sex scenes of any nonpornographic film. With starkly beautiful images of the Antarctic landscape, exciting rock performances and uninhibited sexuality, 9 Songs clearly strives to be a sensual feast of photography, music and eroticism. But we never give a damn about the couple: We only hear snippets of bland conversation, and the bedroom gymnastics are edited too quickly to convey any insight into their relationship. Curiosity-seekers won't be able to resist checking out 9 Songs, but you end up enjoying the groovy performances by Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream and the Dandy Warhols more than the sex acts of the vacuous hedonists. Winterbottom's erotic ideas amount to "Here are the naughty bits, and later we'll show you how they fit together." Perhaps 9 Songs should have been titled 24-Hour Pubic People. Sun., June 12 at 5 p.m. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive. 678-495-1424. www.landmarktheaters.com.

curt.holman@creativeloafing.com