- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

OPENING

• The Game of Their Lives (2005) (PG: Fleeting profanity) —**1/2.Two and one-half stars.h rediscovers members of the 1950 American team in the World Cup tournament. Patrick Stewart does a guest-star turn as a reporter who recalls the team’s tenacious victory in a first-round game against England, reminiscing from a perch at RFK Stadium in the present. Although curiously silent about the team’s fortunes in subsequent games, the movie stages game highlights dynamically and dabbles in enjoyable byways of Americana. The most conspicuous players include Gerard Butler and Wes Bentley.

• The Interpreter (2005) (PG-13) — A suspense thriller co-starring Nicole Kidman as a U.N. interpreter and Sean Penn as the government agent investigating her claim that she has overheard a death threat aimed at a visiting African dignitary.

• King’s Ransom (2005) (PG-13) — A farce starring Anthony Anderson as a wealthy businessman who stages his own abduction in an effort to avoid alimony payments.

• Kung Fu Hustle (2005) (R: Violent imagery and action) — **1/2. Stephen Chow writes, directs and stars in this wonderfully imaginative film with too much ambition for its own good. A sad sack town in China is under assault from a notorious gang and only a handful of retired Kung Fu masters are on hand to save the townsfolk from doom. “Hustle’s” brilliant first reel gives way to an uneven story overwhelmed by Looney Tunes-style action. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• A Lot Like Love (2005) (PG-13: Sexual situations and mature themes) — *1/2. Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet star as two attractive young people who keep meeting over a period of seven years without realizing they’re perfect for each other. This chemistry- and laugh-free romance makes us pine for the days when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan ruled the romantic comedy genre. Miss Peet’s brittle beauty is off-putting here, and Mr. Kutcher fares only slightly better in a role meant for an actor with far greater range. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Turtles Can Fly (2004) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, revolving around children orphaned or seriously injured in wartime) — ***. A vivid, searing fable about the impact of war on a group of children in a Kurdish refugee encampment in Northern Iraq on the eve of the American invasion. The self-styled leader, Soran (Soran Ebrahim), bosses a sizeable crew of orphans, many of them amputees. His status is threatened by the appearance of an armless boy credited with clairvoyant gifts; this rival has a beautiful sister named Agrin (Avaz Latif), so traumatized by despair that she’s beyond the reach of anyone inclined to impress or save her. Directed by the Iranian Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi, whose mix of realism and nightmarish fantasy may leave spectators at a loss from time to time. Nevertheless, he achieves a distinctive update on Vittorio DeSica’s classic of World War II, “Shoeshine.” In Kurdish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

NOW SHOWING

• The Amityville Horror (2005) (R: Violent imagery, sexual situations, teen drug use and profanity) — **1/2. The 1979 horror yarn gets a spiffy modern update but leaves the chills behind. Ryan Reynolds plays the head of a young family that moves into a too-good-to-be-true mansion on Long Island. The film is better produced than the original, but there’s nothing unique about the familiar scares trotted out before us. Mr. Reynolds, best known for his wise-cracking roles (“Van Wilder”), stretches nicely as the dad who slowly goes mad. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, violence and sexual candor; allusions to incest) — ***. Daniel Day-Lewis 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) — **. Queen Latifah 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• Monsieur N. (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with occasional episodes of violence and morbidity in a historical setting; fleeting nudity and sexual allusions) — *1/2. A French variation on the 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.

• 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 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.

• 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.

• 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) — ****. The latest 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).

• 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.

• 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.

• Voices in Wartime (2005) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with occasional archive footage of combat, carnage and destruction) — *1/2. A polemical documentary that mixes contemporary interviews and readings from classical literature in a fitful effort to formulate an antiwar outlook that extends beyond the present. Short but seemingly unfinished, this compilation was probably intended for last year’s election and emphasizes members of a semi-literary pressure group, Poets Against the War. Having missed a timely, partisan opportunity, director Rick King reaches back into the past, consulting genuine scholars and prominent antiwar journalists, notably Jonathan Schell and Chris Hedges. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 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.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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