- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

OPENING

• The Aristocrats (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — Some kind of elaborate practical joke hatched by comedians Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza, who recruit scores of cronies and/or stand-up comics to kibitz about an antique joke purported to be the filthiest thing of its kind ever conceived or performed. The accomplices include Gilbert Gottfried, Jon Stewart, George Carlin, Drew Carey, Steven Wright, Harry Shearer, Martin Mull, Paul Reiser and Hank Azaria.

• Balzac and the Little Seamstress (2003) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with elements of comic vulgarity and sexual candor) — . A Chinese film that takes a wistfully nostalgic view of the follies of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Two city-bred teenagers, Luo and Ma, are sent to the countryside for “re-education” in the early 1970s. They find and nurture an infatuation with a village charmer known as the Little Seamstress, since her grandfather is a revered tailor. A romance between the girl and Luo ensues after the boys begin reading to her from a cache of European novels in translation. The illiterate heroine is particularly drawn to Balzac. Very attractively shot in mountainous locales, the movie tends to take the human costs of the period lightly until forcing a crisis. Then it miscalculates again by losing track of the heroine. In Mandarin with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Deuce Bigalow European Gigolo (2005) (R: Pervasive crude and sexual humor, language, nudity and drug content). Rob Schneider follows up his surprise 1999 hit with another round of doofus debauchery. His Deuce character winds up in Amsterdam on the trail of a male prostitute murderer. Original “Deuce” co-star Eddie Griffin returns as Deuce’s crass but comical pal.

• Four Brothers (2005) (R: Strong language, violence and mature situations). Director John Singleton, hot again after helping produce the indie hit “Hustle & Flow,” directs this revenge tale co-starring Mark Wahlberg. The actor plays one of four adopted siblings out to find the men responsible for killing their mother. The film also stars Andre 3000, better known to music fans as half of OutKast.

• The Great Raid (2005) (R: Graphic depictions of combat, torture and mass execution in a World War II setting) — ****. A great new war movie that catches up with a gallant rescue mission improvised on short notice in late January of 1945 in the Philippines. A company of U.S. Army Rangers and a larger contingent of Filipino guerrillas surround and assault the Cabanatuan prison camp, where about 500 Allied survivors of the Japanese conquest and the Bataan Death March in 1942 remain captives of the Japanese army, now in systematic retreat from Gen. MacArthur’s forces. Subplots observe the approaching Rangers, the prisoners and members of the anti-Japanese resistance in Manila. All tensions culminate in a brilliant night battle sequence. Beautifully visualized from the outset, in color so deftly subdued that it tends to evoke black-and-white, the movie retrieves profoundly touching documentary footage of the mission’s aftermath during the finale. With stellar performances by Benjamin Bratt and James Franco as Ranger officers and by Joseph Fiennes, Connie Nielsen and a pair of charismatic menaces, Motoki Kobayashi and Gotaro Tsunashima. Among its many authentic evocations, the film takes the Japanese very seriously as adversaries. Directed by John Dahl, whose aptitude for thrillers has taken a quantum leap into another genre.

• Grizzly Man (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and evidence of dementia in a documentary format) — **1/2. An authentically unnerving memoir of a demented personality, a failed actor who called himself Tim Treadwell and won renown by promoting himself as a “protector” of Alaskan grizzly bears. For many years he taped his trips to the wilderness, where he tried to get up close and personal with the wildlife. Ultimately, he got so close that a rogue grizzly mauled him (and a female companion) to death. Werner Herzog, always attracted to lunacy, was invited to distill a feature from the Treadwell collection of vacation tapes, which also preserved numerous psychotic rants for the camera. If you think it can be edifying to see madness dead-on, “Grizzly Man” provides the real-life horror.

• 9 Songs (2004) (No MPAA rating: Explicit sexual content; no admission to anyone under 18) — A romantic melodrama from English director Michael Winterbottom, who punctuates the plot with nine songs performed at a London rock concert where hero Kieran O’Brien met heroine Margot Stilley. A glaciologist, he recalls the thrill of it while flying over Antarctica. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• The Ninth Day (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with depictions of the Dachau concentration camp; sustained ominous atmosphere and occasional graphic violence) — ***. An austere, absorbing Holocaust memoir from the German director Volker Schlondorff, who retrieves a situation from the diary of Abbe Jean Bernard, a Roman Catholic priest who was imprisoned in Dachau. Ulrich Matthes (who played Josef Goebbels in the recent “Downfall”) is a gauntly impressive figure as the fictionalized version of Bernard. Called Henri Kremer, the protagonist is paroled for nine days as part of an SS gambit to bring pressure to bear on his ecclesiastical superior, the bishop of Luxembourg, who has stubbornly refused to condone the German occupation. The title itself is a countdown to further tribulation. The priest is bullied by an SS agent named Gebhardt (August Diehl) who was once a seminarian and flatters himself a diabolical persuader. In German and French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre.

• November (2005) (R) — A suspense thriller with Courtney Cox as a photographer and teacher haunted by the recent murder of her boyfriend, James Le Gros. The cast also includes Anne Archer and Nora Dunn. Directed by Greg Harrison, who was infatuated with rave parties and ecstasy in “Groove,” from a screenplay by novice Benjamin Brand.

• The Skeleton Key (2005) (PG-13) — Kate Hudson is subjected to the haunted house treatment in this supernatural thriller directed by Iain Softley. Cast as the unlucky young nurse hired to care for an elderly couple who live in a decaying mansion in Louisiana swamp country, Miss Hudson is entrusted with a key that opens every creaking door except one, the portal to a sinister attic. With Peter Sarsgaard, Gena Rowlands and John Hurt.

• Supercross: The Movie (2005) (PG-13) — A sports melodrama about two brothers, played by Steve Howey and Mike Vogel, who become rivals while competing on the Supercross motorcycle circuit. Directed by Steve Boyum. Opens Wednesday.

NOW SHOWING

• The Beautiful Country (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor, principally allusions to prostitution) — **. A saga of exile in which an orphaned Vietnamese teenager, played by Damien Nguyen, embarks on an odyssey that concludes in Texas. The scenario anticipates a reunion with his oblivious father, a Vietnam War veteran played by Nick Nolte, meant to suggest a heartland Lear. This resolution leaves a lot to be desired. The scenic aspects of the trek are far more eloquent than the plot, which habitually stalls and drifts between destinations. The most impressive cast member is Thi Kim Xuan, who appears as the hero’s mother. It comes as an ungallant shock when the father-son reunion fails to generate a fresh note of urgency about her plight. Some sequences in Vietnamese with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cinema Arts, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Regal Gallery Place.

• Bewitched (2005) (PG-13: Slapstick violence, mildly coarse language and drug references) — **1/2. Nicole Kidman is a very good witch, indeed, in this clever if vapid remake of the old sitcom. She plays a real witch who somehow gets cast as a fictional witch in a TV update of the 1960s series alongside an actor (Will Ferrell) who prefers to have the spotlight stay on him. Mr. Ferrell’s comic gifts are on full display here, and the story-within-a-story concept generates more laughs than expected. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Broken Flowers —(2005) (R: Occasional profanity, nudity and sexual candor; fleeting violence) .1/2. Another exercise in starvation comedy from Jim Jarmusch, whose material often resembles wilted flowers. Bill Murray is cast as a hard-to-redeem protagonist, an inert and sketchily defined computer entrepreneur who has allowed his life to wilt. This middle-aged sad sack has acquired a reputation as a Don Juan. He goes on a wild goose chase to look up four discarded consorts, played in order by Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton. Only the Stone stopover pays humorous dividends, in part because the old flame has a flirty teenage daughter named Lolita (Alexis Dziena) who enjoys treating the visitor like a potential Humbert.

• Caterina in the Big City—*** (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and allusions to teenage delinquency) rs. An exuberantly talented, upbeat Italian variation on the “teenyboppers gone wild” theme. Paolo Virzi, the director and co-writer, proves a facile but benevolent social satirist while subjecting the title character to a whirlwind year of culture shock and domestic upheaval. Alice Teghil plays the sweet-natured Caterina, an ingenuous transplant from a small town in Tuscany to a clique-ridden high school in Rome. The filmmakers’ attitude is that a lot of disillusion simply has to be experienced and outgrown. In Italian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• —Charlie and the Chocolate Factory irky situations and mild language) • . Three stars. The Roald Dahl classic, which inspired the delightful 1971 film featuring Gene Wilder, gets retold more accurately by Tim Burton. Johnny Depp stars as the retiring candy king who invites a group of children into his factory to earn the right to be his heir. Mr. Depp’s quirky performance pales in comparison to Mr. Wilder’s, but there’s enough child-like wonder here to justify the retelling. Danny Elfman’s score and original Oompa Loompa tunes bring a fresh voice to the story. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

—The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) (PG-13: Sexual content, profanity, crude and drug-related humor, and comic violence) .f star. Seann William Scott (“American Pie”) and Johnny Knoxville (“Jackass”) play country-boy cousins Bo and Luke Duke in this juvenile raunch-up of the family-friendly TV series set in rural Georgia. Incredibly tacky and yet surprisingly dull at nearly every hairpin turn. Also starring Jessica Simpson and Willie Nelson. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.—

The Edukators (2004) (R) A topical comedy from the German filmmaker Hans Weingartner, who depicts the escapades of three young people who consider it politically bold to break into the homes of wealthy strangers, rearrange the furniture and leave cryptic notes in their wake. The prank is complicated when a sympathetic householder warms to their antics. In German with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

—• Fantastic our (2005) (PG-13: Some mild innuendo and comic-book-style violence) ** Marvel Comics’ “Fantastic Four” series blazes onto the big screen with plenty of pyrotechnics but little substance beneath the sizzle. A super quartet of crime fighters gain their powers from a cosmic-ray storm, but they spend half their time bickering among themselves. Director Tim Story nails the familial infighting but can’t duplicate the razzle-dazzle of the “Spider-Man” features. “Nip/Tuck’s” Julian McMahon isn’t given much to work with as the evil Dr. Doom. Reviewed by Christian Toto.—

• Gus Van ant’s Last Days (2005) (R: Profanity, sexual content) **. A loosely inspired meditation on the last moments of rocker-suicide Kurt Cobain’s life, as imagined by writer-director Gus Van Sant. Purposely discursive and inconclusive, often frustratingly so, the movie stars Michael Pitt as a rock star in the throes and drug addiction and surrounded by parasitical hangers-on. Cinematography by Harris Savides. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.—

• Hustle & Flow , drug use, violence and sexual situations) ***1/2. Three and a half stars.— Terrence Howard dominates this fascinating tale of a pimp trying for his own piece of the American dream. Mr. Howard’s Djay thinks he could be the next big rap star, and he’s teaming up with an old high school friend (Anthony Anderson) for one last stab at stardom. The film doesn’t cower from the sins of its antihero, nor does it deny Djay a chance at redemption. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Island violence, some sexuality and mature themes • ..1/—2***.f stars. Director Michael Bay (“Armageddon”) nearly drowns this futuristic thriller with his stylish excesses, but an intriguing tale rises above the din. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson star as two clones who escape from an enclosed society after learning they were created to supply organs for the rich. The leads offer zero romantic sparks but some of Mr. Bay’s action sequences dazzle. Reviewed by Christian Toto.•

March of the Penguins —(2005) (G) ***. This often dazzling film capturing the life cycle of the emperor penguin will entertain even those normally repelled by nature documentaries. The creatures in question endure brutal temperatures and unforgiving landscapes yet maintain their species through fascinating coping measures. The film’s photography, which brings us right into the penguin world, occasionally is eclipsed by its cutesier segues. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

Me and You and Everyoe We Know (2005) (R: Recurrent morbid and lewd elements; occasional profanity; sexually candid episodes involving perverse teenage girls; a subplot about the scatological fixation of a little boy) *—1/2. Ready or not, here’s the first feature of Miranda July, the alias of a writer-director-leading lady with affinities for the weird and lovelorn in a Southern California suburban setting. “Me and You” showcases the deceptively delicate Miss July herself as a Miss Lonelyhearts named Christine, an aspiring confessional artist who operates a cab service for the elderly. The movie is likely to be a provocative revelation to some and a naturalistic skin-crawler to others. Miss July’s insistence on linking youngsters to her most prurient or shocking vignettes looms as the deal-breaker for skeptics. If she tires of shock effects, her hard-edged graphic sense and humorous coyness might have staying power.

• Murderball —2005 (R Frequent profanity and occasional sexual candor; considerable clinical detail about paraplegic injuries ***1/2—.ports and human-interest documentary that summarizes an intensely competitive two years in the lives of members of the American quad rugby team. At one time nicknamed “murderball,” the sport consists of four-man teams that play a kind of bumper-rugby on basketball courts; the players ride customized wheelchairs that resemble miniature chariots. Taken to the limit by their principal rivals, the Canadians, in a 2002 world championship series in —Sweden, the Americans regroup for the 2004 Paralympic games in Athens. The stories of injuries and recoveries prove emotionally overwhelming. The twists and payoffs in this authentic sports saga are often stranger — and stronger than fiction.

• Must Love Dogs —(2005) (PG-13: Sexual content) .*** An utterly charming, if excessively articulate, romantic comedy starring Diane Lane and John Cusack as fortysomething marriage losers rebounding through the magic and the mayhem Directed by Gary David Goldberg. Also starring Christopher Plummer, Elizabeth Perkins and Dermot Mulroney. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Saraband— (2003) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor) ***1/2. Ingmar Bergman returns as a writer-director in this belated supplement to “Scenes from a Marriage.” Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson play the same characters, Johan and Marianne, mismates divorced for 30 years and impulsively reunited when she visits him at his country home. Mr. Bergman introduces a second relationship, an incestuous one, between Johan’s son by an earlier marriage, Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt), and Karin (Julia Dufvenius), Henrik’s daughter. The set-up is Freudian to an agonizing fault, but the Bergman flair for corrosive torment reasserts itself while Henrik and Karin are emoting. Even when you’re resisting it, the movie has spellbinding sequences of confessional intimacy. In Swedish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cinema Arts, Landmark Bethesda Row and Landmark E Street Cinema.

—• 05) (PG: Occasional violent spectacle in a science-fiction style with comic overtones) .Three stars.— A surprisingly witty and entertaining synthesis of “The Incredibles” with high-school romantic farce in the John Hughes vein and superschool rivalries that resemble Hogwarts Academy. Sky High, secluded above a lofty cloud bank, recruits the supernaturally precocious. Entering freshman Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the only son of titans Steve and Josie Stronghold (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston), celebrated for their feats as The Commander and Jetstream. Will, whose super powers have yet to manifest themselves, is placed in the school’s also-ran category. He is comforted by a dream girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) whose motives may be suspect. The student body and faculty are generously stocked with amusing types and skillful performers.

• Stealth ence, sexual situations and coarse language) *** Director Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) scores again with this action thriller following a futuristic jet guided by a computer brain. Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx are the human leads, but Mr. Cohen’s nifty flying sequences are the real stars here. “Stealth” even sneaks in some thoughts on fighting wars without the human element, but the movie never strays too far from its popcorn roots. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

—War of the Worlds Disturbing imagery and sci-fi violence) ***-1/2 Steven Spielberg returns to the summer blockbuster format with this spectacular re-imagining of the H.G. Wells classic. Tom Cruise stars as a divorced dad who tries to save his family when an alien invasion hits his town. The actor’s peculiar publicity moves are quickly forgotten when the alien creatures start incinerating everything in sight. Nobody creates rock ‘em, sock ‘em entertainment quite like Mr. Spielberg, who is at the peak of his powers here. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Wedding Crashers (2005) (R: Profanity; strong sexuality; nudity) *** The most successful installment of the “Frat Pack” to date, starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as professional wedding crashers. True love and other hilarities threaten to end the infantile duo’s streak at a post-wedding weekend on the Eastern Shore. Directed by David Dobkin. Also starring Christopher Walken and Rachel McAdams. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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