- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

OPENING

• The Amityville Horror (2005) (R: Sexuality, language, teen drug use and frightening imagery). The 1979 film about evil spirits taking possession of a house gets a remake from the people who brought us 2003’s ?The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.? Here, Ryan Reynolds (?Van Wilder?) steps in for the original’s James Brolin, playing a family man who slowly goes mad after the family moves into a monstrous mansion on Long Island. Melissa George takes over for Margot Kidder as the wife who watches her family fall apart in their ?dream? home. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Monsieur N. (2003) (o MPAA Rating adult subject matter, with occasional episodes of violence and morbidity in a historical setting; fleeting nudity and sexual allusions) — —.1/2. One and one-half stars.e same pretext as the British costume film ?The Emperor’s New Clothes? three years ago: Could Napoleon have escaped from his final exile on St. Helena? The movie generates a sense of the isolation and intrigue surrounding the famous captive, his entourage and the English garrison. But it’s a structural dud and lacks an entertaining Napoleon. Some scenes in French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Seven Samurai (1954) (No MPAA Rating made decades before the advent of a ratings system; adult subject matter, with occasional violent episodes, including extended battle scenes; occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and fleeting sexual allusion) — —.****return engagement of Akira Kurosawa’s awesome epic about a handful of vagabond samurai hired to defend a village against bandits in the 16th century. One of the great experiences in the history of the medium, it has grown more satisfying as a result of revivals that restored material cut from the stunning but incomplete version distributed in the United States in 1956-57. The latest refinement: augmented and seemingly complete subtitles, which translate the Japanese dialogue more extensively and pungently than ever before. In Japanese with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema (matinees only through April 21 and regular showtimes thereafter).

• Voices in Wartime (2005) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter). A polemical documentary that mixes contemporary interviews and readings from classical literature in an effort to formulate an anti-war outlook that extends beyond the present. The participants include Chris Sarandon, reading from Homer, and Garrison Keillor, reading from Walt Whitman. Compiled by Rick King. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. —Not reviewed.

NOW SHOWING

• The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, violence and sexual candor; allusions to incest) —.***three starsLewis stars as an ailing holdover from the counterculture who lives in near isolation with his adolescent daughter on an island off the coast of New England. He invites his mistress (Catherine Keener) and her two teenage sons to move in; a move that proves ill-advised. With Beau Bridges as a local builder whom Mr. Day-Lewis regards as a despoiler.

• Beauty Shop (2005) (PG-13: Sexual humor and strong language) —.** fah leads an ensemble cast in this middling spinoff from the ?Barbershop? features. She plays Gina, a talented stylist who opens up her own salon when her creepy boss (Kevin Bacon) pushes her too far. The film’s genial humor is sorely tested by some poor messages regarding prejudice and misogyny. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Bride and Prejudice (2005) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — ***1/2. A sumptuous and rollicking musical comedy update of Jane Austen’s ?Pride and Prejudice? from the makers of ?Bend It Like Beckham.? An exotic English-language entertainment, it’s a far more elaborate and extroverted proposition, ranging from India to London to Beverly Hills and back while revamping the Austen characters among affluent Indians.

• Dear Frankie (2005)(PG-13: Mild profanity) —***. Manipulative yet irresistibly enchanting tale about the yearning of a deaf 9-year-old for a father he knows only as a pen pal. Starring Jack McElhone and Emily Mortimer. Directed by Shona Auerbach. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Dot the I (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence; some nudity and simulations of intercourse) — *1/2. A romantic triangle that places transplants to London — Natalia Verbeke as a Spanish sexpot and Gael Garcia Bernal as a Brazilian dupe — at the mercy of an unscrupulous schemer. The heroine’s every foolish and incriminating move seems to be covered by video surveillance cameras. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Downfall (2004) (R) — ***1/2. A gripping and powerful re-enactment of the final days of the Adolf Hitler apparatus, sheltered from the surrounding Soviet army in bunkers under the Reichstag building at the end of April 1945.

• Dust to Glory (2005) (PG-13: Fleeting vulgarity in casual conversations; evidence of physical and mental stress during athletic competition) — ***. A new sports documentary from Dana Brown, who produced the wonderful surfing panorama ?Step into Liquid.? His subject now is the 2003 renewal of the annual Baja 1000 road races in Ensenada, Mexico, where contestants compete in several simultaneous cross-country marathons, driving everything from motorcycles, dune buggies and vintage VWs to 800 horsepower trucks. Mr. Brown and his camera crews are up to the dusty, sprawling challenges of the Baja setting.

• Eros (2005) (R: Systematic sexual allusions; occasional nudity and simulated intercourse) — *1/2. Michelangelo Antonioni, a venerable 92, is twice the age of the other directors who contribute sketches to this hapless anthology: Steven Soderbergh from the United States and Wong Kar-Wai from Hong Kong. Nevertheless, only the elderly Italian seems to have recognized the wisdom of showcasing naked actresses in a project that purports to be erotically fixated. Mr. Wong remains turgidly lovesick during the curtain-raiser, in which tailor Chen Cheng pines for fashionable prostitute Gong Li. Mr. Soderbergh botches a vaudeville skit with Robert Downey Jr. and Alan Arkin as his inattentive shrink. Finally, Mr. Antonioni ogles two women along some striking Tuscan seascapes. He even implies that they might get around to mutual dalliance, if only he had time for another reel. Episodes in Mandarin and Italian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Fever Pitch (2005) (PG-13: Crude and sexual humor; sensuality) — **. Charming romantic comedy adapted from a Nick Horny novel about an obsessive Red Sox fan (Jimmy Fallon) and a type-A corporate number-cruncher (Drew Barrymore) who struggle to make room in their lives for love. Co-directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly keep the jokes coming, but their stars fail to fully spark. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Guess Who (2005) (PG-13: Slapstick violence and sexually related humor) — ***. The racially charged 1967 movie ?Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? gets an update with the races switched for good measure. A young black woman (Zoe Saldana) brings home her new beau (Ashton Kutcher), a white man, a move that doesn’t go over well with her father (Bernie Mac). Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• In My Country (2005) (R: Frequent allusions to atrocities and racism; occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor) — *1/2. A discouraging attempt to exploit the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa a decade ago as the backdrop for right-thinking moral indignation and excruciating pulp romance. Social pain and loss on a massive scale become mere window dressing for a ga-ga affair between Juliette Binoche as an agonized writer from the Afrikaans gentry and Samuel L. Jackson as an ignorant reporter from The Washington Post. Derived from the book ?Country of My Skull? by Antjie Krog.

• Melinda and Melinda (2005) (PG-13: Occasional sexual candor) — **. Woody Allen’s new comedy sets up an amusing pretext but can’t develop it effectively. A friendly dispute between two writers (Larry Pine and Wallace Shawn) leads Mr. Allen to visualize their alternate versions of a story: a dinner party interrupted by the arrival of a ?mystery woman.? Radha Mitchell doubles as the troublemaking Melindas in both scenarios. The catch is that there’s no distinct difference between Melinda plots; even the styles are indistinguishable.

• Millions (2004) (PG: Ominous episodes; depictions of Catholic saints in humorous and fantastic contexts) — ***. An inventive and stirring contemporary fable about faith and charity from the British filmmaker Danny Boyle. A pair of motherless boys move into a new suburban community with their widowed father and become the custodians of a duffel bag stuffed with currency that will be non-negotiable as soon as the United Kingdom shifts to the euro. This countdown proves a revealing test of character.

• Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005) (PG-13) — *1/2. The pretext of Sandra Bullock’s 2000 crowd-pleaser has not aged gracefully. The new installment becomes a splashier, wackier rattletrap. The heroine, FBI agent Gracie Hart, originally went undercover to protect contestants in a beauty pageant. In the sequel she’s now too much of a celebrity to continue her old job, so she fronts as a Bureau figurehead on talk shows. A kidnapping threatens old friends from the pageant and puts her back in harness.

• Off the Map #(2003) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity, graphic violence, nudity and sexual candor; allusions to clinical depression and drug treatment) — ****. On a remote New Mexico homestead, a small, extraordinary family, the Grodens, attempts to weather a psychological crisis, father Charley Groden’s plunge into depression. All the ?dysfunctional family? cliches are turned topsy-turvy because the Grodens are resourceful throwbacks to the traditions of pioneering self-reliance. A remarkably subtle and gladdening fable of solidarity and inspiration. Exclusively at Cinema Arts, Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Regal Ballston Common.

• The Pacifier #(2005) (PG: Scatological humor, action-film violence and mildly harsh language) — **. Vin Diesel makes a bumpy shift to kiddie comedies with this tale of a Navy Seal baby-sitting five children. Mr. Diesel gets some comic mileage out of lampooning his tough guy image, but this by-the-numbers comedy is meant only for the least demanding viewers. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Ring Two #(2005) (PG-13: Violence, disturbing imagery and harsh language)— **. Naomi Watts returns in the sequel to the sleeper horror hit. The film finds Miss Watts moving to a new town in order to escape the nightmares unleashed by that accursed videotape only to learn its evil spirits aren’t finished with her yet. The film’s director, Hideo Nakata, shot the Japanese film ?Ringu? upon which the first American ?Ring? was based. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Robots (2005) (PG: Suggestive humor and comic violence) — **. The creators of the delightful ?Ice Age? can’t sustain that film’s sweetly comic momentum with this, their latest invention. A string of top-line stars from Halle Berry to Robin Williams do their best to bring life into this tale of a young inventor (Ewan McGregor) who runs into an evil corporate hack (Greg Kinnear). The visually dazzling film is like the Tin Man, a clanking contraption lacking a heart. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Sahara #(2005) (PG-13: Action-style violence) — **1/2. Matthew McConaughey stars as explorer Dirk Pitt in this playful adaptation of the Clive Cussler novel. Dirk is trying to find a long lost artifact when he runs into a kindhearted doctor (Penelope Cruz) who is looking to save a West African village from a deadly toxin. The film’s logic-defying script isn’t one for the ages, but the cast barrels through anyway to provide some old-fashioned thrills. The tight ensemble includes Steve Zahn and William H. Macy. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Sin City (2005) (R: Frightening imagery, violence, nudity and strong language) — ***. Comic book legend Frank Miller co-directs his supremely faithful take on his ?Sin City? graphic tales. It’s not for the squeamish, but an all-star cast (Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson and Benicio Del Toro) combine with the film’s dazzling visuals to make ?Sin City? a unique thriller. Those not weaned on comic books may check out of the story, but there’s still plenty to feast on, from the hard-boiled dialogue to the digital scenery. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• State Property 2 (2005) (R) — Who knew there was a ?State Property? to begin with? This obscure sequel evidently continues the saga of three competing crime syndicates in Philadelphia. Their ringleaders are known as Beans, Dame and Loco. Say no more. Not reviewed.

• Up and Down (2004) (R: Frequent profanity, intermittent violence and occasional sexual vulgarity; fleeting racial epithets) — **1/2. A distinctive, outrageously provocative social comedy from the Czech team responsible for ?Divided We Fall? in 2000: writer-director Jan Hrebejk and co-writer Petr Jarchovsky. They attempt to satirize both downscale and upscale characters while alternating plots set in contemporary Prague. The filmmakers suggest that Old Europe is feeling plenty of strain, and their own methods of depicting symptomatic decadence get heavy-handed. The sanest response to social turmoil is embodied in a character who has emigrated to Australia. In Czech with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• The Upside of Anger (2005) (R: Sexual situations, alcohol use, language and violence) — **1/2. Joan Allen crackles with rage in this seriocomic look at midlife desertion and the road to recovery, but it’s Kevin Costner who gently swipes this uneven yarn as Miss Allen’s over-the-hill ballplayer. The film never finds the right balance between genuine emotion and crass gags, but watching a fully realized romance between two middle-aged stars is a treat. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Walk on Water (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual candor, including allusions to homosexual cruising and sex acts) — **. A polemical suspense thriller from an Israeli filmmaker, Eytan Fox, who finds it important to soften up a Mossad agent played by Lior Ashkenazi, assigned to shadow relatives of a venerable Nazi war criminal who may still be alive and bound for Germany. The hard-bitten hero is meant to undergo a change of heart while growing fond of the suspect’s thoroughly unthreatening grandchildren. A proficient suspense vehicle while laying groundwork in Istanbul, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the movie caves during the concluding episodes in Berlin. Some dialogue in Hebrew and German with English subtitles, but scenes in English predominate.

• The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2003) (G: Adult subject matter and treatment, with allusions to illness and death among bird species) — ***. A beguiling account of a failed musician who began observing and feeding the parrot flock near his ramshackle cottage on San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill in the 1990s. Director Judy Irving saves a delightful mating kicker for the fadeout. Exclusively at the Avalon and Landmark E Street Cinema.

• William Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ (2004) (R: Occasional profanity and portents of gruesome violence; allusions to anti-Semitism in a late-16th-century setting) — **1/2. A creditable, if frequently miscalculated, movie version of the play. The trial scene achieves an embittered and vivid intensity, and it’s entertaining to watch Al Pacino have a go at Shylock, even when his accent and cadences take turns for the peculiar. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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