- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

OPENING

• Asylum (2005 (R) — Shades of “Mrs. Soffel,” with Natasha Richardson as the adulterous wife of the new deputy superintendent of a Yorkshire mental institution in 1959. She falls in love with inmate Martin Csokas, an artist imprisoned for murdering his wife, and abets his escape. With Hugh Bonneville as the betrayed husband and Ian McKellen as one of his colleagues. Directed by David McKenzie, from an adaptation of Patrick McGrath’s novel by Patrick Marber and Chrysanthy Balis.

• Cronicas (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A Mexican-produced suspense thriller starring John Leguizamo as an ambitious television reporter from Miami who endangers himself and his crew while pursuing the trail of a serial killer to a small town in Ecuador. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) (R) — A sex farce contrived as a starring vehicle for comedian Steve Carell, who collaborated on the screenplay with director Judd Apatow. Mr. Carell is cast as the title character, Andy Stitzer, a fixture on the staff of an electronics store. His friends are determined to broker dates that end his prolonged virginity. Another option presents itself: friendship with a single mother played by Catherine Keener, also 40 and raising a trio of youngsters.

• Red Eye (2005) (PG-13: Graphic violence, strong language and adult situations.) — **1/2. Horror maestro Wes Craven dials down the bloodshed for this taut thriller set mostly aboard an airplane. Rachel McAdams plays a woman singled out by a terrorist (Cillian Murphy) to help him carry out a hit on the deputy secretary of homeland security. The early nail-biting sequences give way to a silly and uneven finale. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Tunnel (2001) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor, including simulated intercourse) — *1/2. The belated American release of a near-epic German melodrama supposedly inspired by the first efforts to tunnel under the Berlin Wall at the time it was being constructed in 1961. NBC News showcased the tunnelers’ successful project on a “White Paper” special. A great deal of the movie’s re-enactment borders on the stilted and preposterous. Heino Ferch, later cast as Albert Speer in “Downfall,” plays a superheroic figure, a former swimming champion in East Germany who looks determined to the dig the tunnel singlehanded. The director, Roland Suso Richter, seems more than ready to compete with Michael Bay at delirious melodrama. In German with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Valiant (2005) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — * This computer-animation caprice from a humorously resourceful team is an upbeat surprise. The material is affectionately and expertly British: a salute to fledgling members of the Royal Homing Pigeon Service, entrusted with a mission to Occupied France on the eve of D-Day. Ewan McGregor supplies the voice of the plucky, undersized hero, Valiant, whose principal sidekick is a Cockney motormouth called Bugsy, dubbed by Ricky Gervais. The evocations of World War II patriotism and pop culture are consistently witty. The animators also possess a flair for bird characterization and interplay that makes lavish production resources unnecessary. The welcome voices include Tim Curry (as the villain, a glowering Prussian falcon), Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, John Cleese (in great form as a captive pigeon injected with truth serum), John Hurt, Olivia Williams and Pip Torrens. The song score includes savory inserts of “The White Cliffs of Dover” by Mr. Gervais and “Non je ne regrette rien” by Edith Piaf.

NOW SHOWING

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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.

• Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) (PG: Quirky situations and mild language) — * 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.

• 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. It’s as silly and lewd as it sounds, but Mr. Schneider’s lovable Deuce has his moments. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) (PG-13: Sexual content, profanity, crude and drug-related humor, and comic violence) — *1/2. 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.

• 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 simplistic 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 engaging cast, and two standout set pieces, pave over the wafer-thin morality.

• 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. Douglas 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.

• Gus Van Sant’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 (2005) (R: Harsh language, drug use, violence and sexual situations) — ***1/2. 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 (2005) (PG-13: Intense violence, some sexuality and mature themes — **1/2. 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.

• Murderball 2005 (R: Frequent profanity and occasional sexual candor; considerable clinical detail about paraplegic injuries — ***1/2. A stirring sports 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 — of online matchmaking. Directed by Gary David Goldberg. Also starring Christopher Plummer, Elizabeth Perkins and Dermot Mulroney. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• Sky High (2005) (PG: Occasional violent spectacle in a science-fiction style with comic overtones) — * 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 (2005) (PG-13: Action violence, 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.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• War of the Worlds (2005) (PG-13: 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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