- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

OPENING

• The Aryan Couple (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). A historical drama set in the immediate aftermath of the Nazi Party takeover in Germany, with Martin Landau as a Jewish steel magnate forced into exile, Judy Parfitt as his wife and Kenny Doughty and Caroline Carver as loyal employees also intent on fleeing the country. Directed by John Daly, one of the co-producers of “Platoon” and “The Last Emperor.”

• Bee Season (2005) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and painful family conflict) — . An initially intriguing but eventually dispiriting movie version of the striking debut novel of Myla Goldberg. Her humorous voice tends to elude the screenwriting-directing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel. Flora Cross plays the poker-faced schoolgirl, Eliza, whose prowess at spelling elevates her in a family that betrays signs of desperation and estrangement. Overnight she becomes the pet of dad Richard Gere, a Jewish biblical scholar, whose marriage is threatened by the psychotic double life of spouse Juliette Binoche.

• Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) (PG-13: Frequent diabolical spectacle with gruesome illustrative details). The fourth movie spectacle derived from J.K. Rowling’s adventure novels about the students and faculty of Hogwarts, a fantastic academy for wizards in the English countryside. The diabolical conspiracy that threatens young Harry, again played by Daniel Radcliffe, and his closest friends, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson as Hermione, is renewed during a school year dominated by a grueling competition, the Triwizard Tournament. Steve Kloves again adapted the source material. Mike Newell becomes the first English director of a Potter film.

• The Ice Harvest (2005) (R) — A caper farce co-starring Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack as the masterminds of an embezzlement scheme that successfully targets a Wichita, Kan., gangster played by Randy Quaid. An ice storm on the eve of Christmas keeps the deceivers from making a timely getaway. With Oliver Platt and Connie Nielsen. Directed by Harold Ramis, who inherited a project that began with Robert Benton and Richard Russo, adapting a novel by Scott Phillips. Opens Wednesday.

• In the Mix (2005) (PG-13) — A romantic comedy about the sudden mob connections of a New York deejay played by Usher, who saves the life of a gangster, Chazz Palmintieri, but jeopardizes the ensuing gratitude by falling for his daughter, Emmanuelle Chriqui. Opens Wednesday.

• Just Friends (2005) (PG-13) — A romantic comedy starring Ryan Reynolds as a music executive whose crush on a high school classmate, Amy Smart, is reawakened by an encounter a decade later in their New Jersey hometown. He feels a far more confident suitor but is inconveniently squiring Anna Faris, a spoiled heiress with recording aspirations. Opens Wednesday.

• Machuca (2003) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A Chilean feature about two schoolboys from different social classes whose friendship is endangered by the political conflict surrounding Salvador Allende before his downfall in 1973. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Pulse (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A supernatural Japanese thriller about a group of friends haunted by the death of an associate who reappears in grainy, inexplicable computer and video transmissions. In Japanese with English subtitles. Opens Wednesday.

• Rent (2005) (PG-13) — A movie version of the Jonathan Larson musical, which updated “La Boheme” to the East Village in the 1980s and won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award in 1996. The movie cast adds Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms to six veterans of the original production — Taye Diggs, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp. Opens Wednesday.

• Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A concert film showcasing the acerbic stand-up humorist, with appearances by Bob Odenkirk and sister Laura Silverman. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Walk the Line (2005) (PG-13) — A biographical drama about singers Johnny Cash and June Carter, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon and recalled during the middle 1950s, when their romance and careers ignited simultaneously. Writer-director James Mangold had recruited the subjects as active participants in the project before their deaths in 2003.

• Yours, Mine and Ours (2005) (PG: Recurrent slapstick vulgarity) — A remake of the 1968 domestic comedy inspired by the super-sized Beardsley family, formed when a widowed chief petty officer with 10 children married a widowed nurse with a mere eight. The roles originally played by Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball are inherited by Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo. Opens Wednesday.

NOW SHOWING

• Ballets Russes (2005) (No MPAA rating) — A documentary feature, compiled by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, that traces the history of the ballet company formed in 1909 by the Russian art and music impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Exclusively at the Landmark Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Capote (2005) (R: Fleeting graphic violence and occasional profanity) — **. An admirably earnest but monotonous and underwritten biographical drama about author Truman Capote. Cleverly impersonated by Philip Seymour Hoffman, the subject is recalled during the period when he was researching and writing the best-selling crime chronicle “In Cold Blood,” based on the murder of a family in rural Kansas. Screenwriter Dan Futterman and director Bennett Miller overlook opportunities to clarify Capote’s mixed motives and deceitful methods. Catherine Keener as Capote’s childhood friend Harper Lee and Bruce Greenwood as his companion Jack Dunphy play authors who both seem displeased with the drift of his project, which includes a prison cell infatuation with one of the killers.

• Chicken Little (2005) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — **1/2. A maniacally playful and sometimes irresistible Disney animated elaboration of the “sky is falling” nursery tale that struggles to justify its feature length. The title character is a motherless twerp who needs to prove himself. The first completely computer-animated feature from the Disney studio, the movie does excel at farcical characterization. Chicken Little’s buddy, a hulking porker, is uproarious. A new 3D process will enhance the film at some theaters. If it works, the movie might prove a technical breakthrough.

• Derailed (2005) (R: Vulgar language, a violent sex scene and intense action sequences) — **. Clive Owen plays a family man drawn into an almost-affair with another married woman (Jennifer Aniston). Before they can break their marital vows, a mugger attacks them and steals their IDs. Soon, they’re the target of an elaborate blackmail plan that leads to the expected violence and some unusual plot twists. The capable leads are miscast here, and the story’s believable setup devolves into a generic Hollywood thriller. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Dreamer: Inspired By a True Story (2005) (PG: Elements of family conflict; simulations of a horse race collision that injures an animal) — *1/2. Dakota Fanning plays a little girl who becomes devoted to a race horse that has broken a leg. The filly’s rebound, supervised by Kurt Russell as Miss Fanning’s dad, is remarkably swift and culminates in her underdog entry in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, undeniably an overreach. Writer-director John Gatins falters in his directing debut while arranging to guarantee the horse’s speedy recovery and triumph. One’s willingness to play along is undermined by the shameless and sappy nature of the manipulation. With Kris Kristofferson as a Walter Brennan throwback, David Morse as an expedient heavy and Elisabeth Shue as a token mom.

• The Dying Gaul (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, violence, morbidity and sexual candor, including simulations of both heterosexual and homosexual intercourse) — *1/2. A movie version of the Craig Lucas play, directed by the playwright himself in Hollywood locations meant to accentuate the luxurious and sinister. Peter Sarsgaard plays a homosexual writer who is manipulated by a closeted movie executive, Campbell Scott, and his vindictive wife, Patricia Clarkson. Their triangle suggests an updated vampire fable for people privileged enough to sell out in Hollywood. The diabolical aspects of chat room sex in “Closer” get even uglier in “Gaul.” Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2005) (R) — *1/2. A variation on Eminem’s “8 Mile” testimonial for the rapper 50 Cent, cast as a street kid who dabbles in crime and drugs before discovering the promise of pop music. Terrence Howard and Joy Bryant have principal roles.

• Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) (PG: Fleeting profanity) — **. A small-scale, black-and-white tribute to Edward R. Murrow and the staff of his “See It Now” public affairs show on CBS at the time in 1954 when the host decided to criticize Sen. Joseph McCarthy. George Clooney, who collaborated on the screenplay and directed, also plays producer Fred W. Friendly, ceding the uptight spotlight to David Straitharn as the chain-smoking, somber Murrow. The senator is seen only in fleeting archival footage. An antagonist of sorts emerges: Frank Langella in a magisterial impersonation of board chairman William Paley, who backs Murrow’s controversial beau geste despite obvious reservations.

• Jarhead (2005) (R: Coarse language, partial nudity, military violence and sexual situations) — ***1/2. Director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) translates Anthony Swofford’s book about his time during the first Gulf War into a powerful film which deftly avoids partisan sniping. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a sniper in training who gets sent to Kuwait to wait for war to break out between Iraq and the United States. Superb supporting turns by Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard highlight this haunting and original look at men at war. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005) (R: Pervasive profanity, sexuality, nudity, gore) — ***. An outrageously funny noir spoof directed by resurgent action screenwriter Shane Black. Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer are a private detective and wannabe actor, respectively, entangled in a shady L.A. demimonde where corpses are turning up like houseflies. Also starring Michelle Monaghan. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Legend of Zorro (2005) (PG: Frequent violence in an adventure fantasy context; fleeting profanity and sexual allusions) — 1/2* A belated sequel to the irresistibly swashbuckling “The Mask of Zorro” in 1998, this unsightly botch comes as a very unwelcome letdown. The plot revolves around a crackpot scheme by French and Dixie warmongers to concoct a super-weapon and sabotage California statehood in the early 1850s. Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have gone dreadfully waxen as the leads and Rufus Sewell as the villain resembles Hurd Hatfield’s Dorian Gray on a terminally bad day. The stunt crew is usurped by digitally exaggerated whoppers. Every scene is a shambles.

• Paradise Now (2005) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere and occasional violence) — **1/2. A scenically and thematically striking account of two young Palestinians whose mission as suicide bombers, bound from Nablus to Tel Aviv, goes awry, illustrating the blunders and uncertainties that not even fanaticism can overcome in certain circumstances. Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s humorous, disillusioning outlook may help deflate myths of jihadist divinity and triumphalism. His instruments of terror, Said and Khaled, are thoroughly human and vulnerable. In Arabic with English subtitles.

• Pride and Prejudice (2005) (PG: Adult subject matter, but no objectionable language or depiction) — ****. A richly satisfying new movie version of the Jane Austen classic, showcasing Keira Knightley in a spirited performance as Elizabeth Bennet, whose prejudicial view of the haughty aristocrat Darcy (Matthew MacFayden) is altered by overwhelming evidence of his devotion to her. Making his feature debut, the young English director Joe Wright blends savory locations and period evocation with persuasive romantic heartache and redemption.

• The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005) (PG-13: Some disturbing images and coarse language) — **1/2. Julianne Moore plays the heroic mom to 10 children in this sappy period piece inspired by real events. Miss Moore’s character makes ends meet by winning jingles contests, but her biggest concern isn’t her brood but watching after her alcoholic husband (Woody Harrelson). Miss Moore radiates motherly warmth in “Prize,” but Mr. Harrelson’s mannered performance spoils the effect. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Protocols of Zion (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, dealing with anti-Semitism past and present) — **. The documentary filmmaker Marc Levin, a New Yorker, tries to assess anti-Semitism in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, specifically to discredit the libel that Jews knew of the attacks in advance. During most of the film Mr. Levin pursues a scattershot approach. There are creepy, inconclusive encounters with anti-Semites of various intensities. A side trip to Hollywood goes completely bust while Mr. Levin documents himself playing phone tag with Larry David and Rob Reiner.

• Saw II (2005) (R: Grisly violence and gore, coarse language and drug content) — ** The devious killer dubbed Jigsaw returns in this quickly made but efficient sequel to last year’s horror hit. This time, Jigsaw traps not one but eight victims in elaborate prisons meant to challenge and torture them. “Saw II” offers a few novel sequences, plenty of gratuitous bloodletting and marginally better acting than the original. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Shopgirl (2005) (R: Coarse language and sexual situations) — **1/2. Steve Martin brings his witty novella to the big screen as both star and screenwriter. The comic buries his wild and crazy side as a 50-ish millionaire who woos a young shop clerk (Claire Danes) who is simultaneously dating young Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman). The film’s love triangle is a bit wobbly, but “Shopgirl’s” strong performances and mature take on romance make it an unconventional date film. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Squid and the Whale (2005) (R) — ****. Noah Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical memoir of how a failed Manhattan marriage between writers (Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels), shatters the lives of their teenage sons.

m Ushpizin (2004) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — **1/2. Director Gidi Dar observes the woes and blessings that confront Moshe, a devout but penniless member of a Hasidic congregation in Jerusalem. A charitable windfall allows him to avoid shame and finance a proper feast during the holiday of Succoth. Moshe and his redoubtable wife Malli host unexpected guests when a pair of felons violating their parole show up. One of them has links to a shared disreputable past that Moshe is trying to live down. With the authentic conjugal and Hasidic couple Shuli Rand and Michal Bat Sheva Rand as Moshe and Malli. In Hebrew with English subtitles.

• Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — *** The long-awaited and often gratifying feature debut of the popular animated characters created by England’s Nick Park and showcased a decade ago in two masterful half-hour shorts. Wallace, an eccentric inventor, and his silent but resourceful dog Gromit are operating a humane pest-removal service tasked with removing rabbits destroying the produce of village gardeners anticipating a vegetable festival. Wallace and Gromit seem to be caring for every bunny they catch in teeming basement pens. A science-fiction monster rabbit is created inadvertently in Wallace’s lab and starts emulating King Kong. With the voices of Peter Sallis as Wallace, Helena Bonham-Carter as festival hostess Lady Tottington and Ralph Fiennes as her unscrupulous suitor Victor Quartermaine, a snooty letdown as an antagonist.

• The Weather Man (2005) (R: Profanity, sexual content) — ***. Nicolas Cage is a charmingly unhappy ne’er-do-well with a television career on the rise and a family life in total disarray. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Also starring Hope Davis and Michael Caine. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Zathura (2005) (PG: Fantasy violence and threatening situations) — **1/2. The latest fantasy from the mind of “Jumanji” author Chris Van Allsburg makes for an early holiday treat for youngsters. Two squabbling brothers find themselves adrift in outer space when an old board game comes magically to life. The film’s slack pacing will leave adults equally adrift, but “Zathura” packs plenty of imaginative creatures and nifty special effects for its core audience. Reviewed by Christian Toto.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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