- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

OPENING

• The Beautiful Country (2005) (R) An orphaned Vietnamese teenager, played by Damien Nguyen, embarks on an odyssey from Saigon to New York City to Texas in hopes of finding his father, an American soldier during the Vietnam War. With Nick Nolte and Bai Ling in supporting roles.— Directed by Hans Petter Moland.Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Regal Gallery Place.

• Broken Flowers (2005) (R) — Bill Murray plays a computer entrepreneur with a checkered romantic past who embarks on a cross-country trip to find the teenage son he’s never known. The supporting cast includes Julie Delpy as his most recent consort, plus Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Tilda Swinton and Sharon Stone as ex-flames who may have knowledge of the elusive offspring. Exclusively at the Landmark Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema.

• The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) (PG-13) — Another feature recycling of a vintage sitcom. The prototype, a network fixture from 1979-85, revolved around speed-burning cousins Bo and Luke Duke, now played by Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville, who could always outrace minions of the law in a 1969 Dodge Charger. The Duke family also includes a dishy cousin named Daisy (Jessica Simpson) and a moonshine-distilling uncle named Jesse (Willie Nelson). Their nemesis is a crooked politician called Boss Hogg, now impersonated by Burt Reynolds.

• 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.

• Gus Van Sant’s Last Days (2005) (R) — The fictionalized last days of a rock musician named Blake, reputedly inspired by Kurt Cobain and played by Michael Pitt, the American undergrad in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers.” Blake is observed by director Van Sant in potentially suicidal isolation at his country hideaway.

NOW SHOWING

• Bad News Bears (2005) (PG-13: Systematically profane and vulgar dialogue; fleeting drug and sexual allusions; fleeting violence with facetious overtones) — *. Already overstocked with remakes this season, Paramount seems to throw in the towel with this listlessly derivative update of “The Bad News Bears,” a genuinely distinctive and bracing sports comedy in 1976. The collaborators’ approach to the material is so stale and uninspired that it’s difficult to detect glimmers of enthusiasm. A strange torpor clings to almost every frame. Billy Bob Thornton inherits Walter Matthau’s role as a confirmed cynic shamed into getting serious about a coaching stint with an underdog Little League team in Los Angeles. Richard Linklater’s direction is so feeble that he might have phoned it in, over a bad connection.

• 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.

• Caterina in the Big City (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and allusions to teenage delinquency) — ***. 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 (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.

• Dark Water (PG-13: Frightening sequences; ominous atmosphere; brief profanity) ? **. Tepid remake of a Japanese thriller starring Jennifer Connelly as a single mom living with her daughter in a dingy, flood-prone apartment on New York’s Roosevelt Island. There’s water, water everywhere, and what gets drowned, unfortunately, is the horror. Directed by Walter Salles. Also starring Ariel Gade, John C. Reilly and Tim Roth. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Fantastic Four (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.

• 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.

• Ladies in Lavender (2005) (PG-13: Fleeting ominous elements and sexual allusions) — **. Maggie Smith and Judi Dench play sisters who share a secluded seacoast home on the Cornwall coast in the late 1930s. Miriam Margolyes is their brusquely amusing cook and housekeeper. A castaway (Daniel Bruehl) washes up on the beach, and the women nurse him back to health. He emerges as a violin virtuoso destined to make a brilliant London debut under the sponsorship of Natasha McElhone, a glamourpuss watercolorist living near the sisters. While Miss Dench gets a crush on the convalescent, village doctor David Warner pines for Miss McElhone. The quality of heartbreak is exceedingly frail, but the actresses remain fine company.

• Land of the Dead (2005) (R: Graphic violence, gore, adult language and drug use) — **1/2. George A. Romero, whose “Night of the Living Dead” created the whole zombie genre, returns to his roots for the fourth part in his undead series. In “Land” the zombies rule the world, but a small group of humans survive in a walled city that keeps the creatures out — for now. Mr. Romero isn’t at the top of his ghoulish game with “Land,” but the film packs a few nifty scares and enough gore to please horror fanatics. 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 Everyone 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. 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.

• 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 over some idyllic suburb, 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 his 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.

• Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (2005) (PG-13: Frequent sword duels and depictions of massive aerial combat in a science-fiction setting; occasional graphic violence with gruesome illustrative details) — **1/2. The sixth and probably final installment of the progressively overblown science-fiction saga. Spectacle remains the strong suit, especially lavish aerial combat and prolonged light-saber duels. If you go for those alone, there’s a big show to savor.

• 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.

• 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.

• The World (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with fleeting intimations of violence and occasional sexual allusions) — *1/2. A somberly unrewarding perspective on contemporary China from a young filmmaker named Jia Zhangke, whose previous features had been banned in the domestic market. Mr. Zhangke contemplates members of the performing and security work force whose lives seem to be going nowhere at an amusement park on the outskirts of Beijing called World Park. In Mandarin, Shanxi dialect and Russian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Yes (2005) (R) — Some kind of polemical erotic fable from the British filmmaker Sally Potter, moved to contrive a variation on “Hiroshima, mon amour” in the aftermath of September 11. She casts Joan Allen as an adulterous wife who leaves husband Sam Neill in Paris to pursue a Middle-Eastern lover to Beirut. The affair is ornamented by dialogue rendered in verse — a brainstorm recently parodied by New Yorker critic Anthony Lane in what may prove a definitive pan. Not reviewed.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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