- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

OPENING

• 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.

• In My Country (2005) (R) — A new movie from John Boorman about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, granted powers of amnesty in exchange for full disclosure about crimes committed during the apartheid regimes. Samuel Jackson is cast as an American reporter assigned to the story. Juliette Binoche plays an Afrikaans poet and radio broadcaster also absorbed in the proceedings. Derived from the book “Country of My Skull,” by Antjie Krog.

• Schizo (2004) (No MPAA Rating: Adult subject matter) — A feature from Kazakhstan directed by Guka Omarova, whose protagonist is a footloose teenager nicknamed Schizo, drawn into a criminal ring operating bare-knuckle boxing matches. When a fighter is killed, the boy attempts to become a protector for the widow and her son. In Russian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 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 hardboiled dialogue to the digital scenery. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Walk on Water (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — A polemical suspense thriller from an Israeli filmmaker, Eytan Fox. He observes a Mossad agent intent on tracking a suspected war criminal who may still be alive and residing in Germany. In Hebrew and German with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

NOW SHOWING

• 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.

• Be Cool (2005) (PG-13: Strong language; violence; sensuality) — *1/2. Sleepwalking sequel to 1995’s Hollywood send-up “Get Shorty” starring John Travolta as wiseguy Chili Palmer, who quits the movies for the music biz. Also starring Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, the Rock and Harvey Keitel. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• Constantine (2005) (R: Disturbing images, adult language and explicit violence) — **1/2. Keanu Reeves takes on the DC Comics’ “Hellblazer” series, a darkly imagined world filled with demons and ghostly visions. It’s an ambitious undertaking and the normally wooden Mr. Reeves is more than up to the task, but the filmmakers won’t fully invest in the pulpy material. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• D.E.B.S. (2005) (PG-13: Strong sexual content; profanity) — *1/2. A strained parody of grrrl-empowerment movie starring four secret-agent girls with plaid skirts hiked way up to here and carrying automatic weapons. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005) (PG-13: Crude humor; drug use; some violence) — * A frustratingly mixed bag of farce, chick-flick melodrama and whooping black evangelism, adapted by Tyler Perry (who, Eddie Murphy-like, assumes three roles) from his popular stage play. Kimberly Elise, as the titular woman scorned, is the classiest thing in a movie that can’t decide whether it’s dumb or divine. 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. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema and Loews Georgetown.

• 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.

• Gunner Palace (2005) (PG-13: Frequent profanity in a documentary combat setting; vivid accounts of battles, injuries and deaths) — * A documentary summary of several months spent in the company of an Army unit (2nd Battalion of the 3rd Field Artillery) based at the Baghdad palace once occupied by the late Uday Hussein. Their patrols in the teeming Adhamiya district convey a vivid sense of apprehension and uphill effort.

• Head On (2004) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — * Middle-aged drunkard Cahit (Birol Uenel) and wild thing Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), avid for hedonism at age 20, meet in a Hamburg loony bin. She proposes marriage in order to escape a straitlaced family — and possesses enough savings to stake them to a marriage of convenience. The movie goes sappy after wallowing in sensationalism, but it arouses your curiosity about the vitality of the Turkish immigrant community in Europe. In German and Turkish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Hostage (2005)(R: graphic violence; profanity; drug use) — * A standard-issue siege thriller with above-average blood and guts. Bruce Willis plays a cop negotiating with three young-punk home invaders while secretly a hostage himself. Directed by Florent Siri. Also starring Kevin Pollack. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Ice Princess (2005) (G: Episodes of family conflict but no objectionable language or depiction) — * A bright New England high school student (Michelle Trachtenberg, a graceful presence) acquires athletic aspirations while doing a science project about the physics of figure skating. She must deceive her protective mother, Joan Cusack, while catching up on lessons with coach Kim Cattrall. The good will created in the first hour helps cushion a wobbly batch of conflicts in the final half-hour.

• 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 Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

• 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 Passion Recut (2004) (Unrated reissue of movie originally rated R for sustained images of graphic violence while depicting the arrest, torture and crucifixion of Jesus) — * Mel Gibson aimed for a PG-13 rating beau with this version of “The Passion of the Christ.” The ratings board did not concur, so Mr. Gibson is distributing “Recut” without a rating. Theaters are likely to insist that it’s still an R-rated film. The running time is four minutes shorter. Most of the deletions appear to be concentrated on the first prolonged torture sequence, in which Roman soldiers brutalize Jim Caviezel’s Jesus.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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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