- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

OPENING

• Dear Wendy (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with occasional graphic violence) — *1/2. Another feckless anti-American allegory from the Danish crank Lars von Trier, entrusting his faulty scenario to a colleague, Thomas Vinterberg. Their hardscrabble mining town is meant to resemble the forlorn and bigoted site Mr. von Trier called “Dogville” in his last allegorical monstrosity. The youthful protagonist, Dick (Jamie Bell), writes a farewell letter to his beloved handgun, Wendy, a small-caliber revolver without a trigger guard. Dick and his pal Stevie (Mark Webber in a likable performance) start a gun club that meets in an abandoned mine shaft, but their pacifistic intentions come to grief, for reasons that are ludicrous at best. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) (PG: Fleeting profanity) — **1/2. 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 Strathairn 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 and persuasively expressed reservations.

• The Gospel (2005) (PG) — An independent feature about a successful rhythm-and-blues singer (Boris Kodjoe) who returns home during a death watch for his father, a minister, and decides that he may need to rescue the congregation from an unworthy successor (Idris Elba).

• Green Street Hooligans (2005) (R) — A topical melodrama starring Elijah Wood as a Harvard dropout who retreats to England for a visit with his married sister, Claire Forlani. He promptly falls under the influence of bad company, her brother-in-law Charlie Hunnam, an incorrigible soccer hooligan.

• In Her Shoes (2005) (PG-13: Strong language, mature situations and sexual content). From a best-selling novel about battling sisters (Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette) whose lives couldn’t be any less alike. Enter a widowed grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) they both thought was dead and you have the first stages toward sisterly reconciliation. Directed by Curtis Hanson of “LA Confidential.”

• Separate Lies (2005) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; thematic preoccupation with social depravity) — *1/2. A prosperous couple played by Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson (workaholic solicitor and restless wife) plunge into a downward spiral when she takes up with a dissolute aristocrat (Rupert Everett) and becomes implicated in a hit-and-run calamity. The cuckolded husband decides to cooperate in a cover-up by the time an inspector calls. It’s all meant to be terribly sophisticated about moral ambiguity, although no ambiguities are discernible.

• Touch the Sound (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A documentary feature about the deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie, observed on and off the concert stage by director Thomas Riedelsheimer. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Two for the Money (2005) (R: Pervasive vulgar language, a scene of sexuality and a violent act). Al Pacino is Walter Abrams, a betting adviser who teams up with a prediction prodigy (Matthew McConaughey) in the hopes of winning big. It’s up to Walter’s wife (Rene Russo) to keep them both from self-destructing from their fast-paced lifestyles.

• Waiting (2005) (R) — A comedy predicated on a hectic shift at a chain restaurant called ShenaniganZ, where new employee John Francis Daley becomes acquainted with regulars Ryan Reynolds and Justin Long, manager David Koechner and other denizens of the kitchen and dining room.

• Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — ***.The long-awaited feature debut of the popular animated characters created by Britain’s Nick Park and showcased in a series of delightful shorts. Wallace, an eccentric inventor, and his silent but resourceful dog Gromit are operating a pest-removal service called “Anti-Pesto.” The biggest nuisance: rabbits threatening the labors of village gardeners anticipating a vegetable festival. Bunny infestations do threaten to ruin the event, especially when a science-fiction monster rabbit starts running wild. 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.

NOW SHOWING

• Broken Flowers (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, nudity and sexual candor; fleeting violence) — *1/2. Another exercise in starvation comedy from Jim Jarmusch, who casts Bill Murray is cast as a middle-aged sad sack who has acquired a reputation as a Don Juan. He looks 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.

• The Constant Gardener (2005) (R: Occasional graphic violence with gruesome illustrative details; elements of sexual candor and racial animosity) *1/2. A movie version of the John Le Carre novel, which belabors a tendentious plot about a deceived and grief-stricken British diplomat in Kenya, a new showcase for Ralph Fiennes as a suffering gentleman. He investigates the violent death of wife Rachel Weisz, a left-wing political activist who appears to have been taking shameful advantage of his trust. Nevertheless, the circumstantial evidence contrived to give her a shady profile is eventually softened, leaving the ghost of an angelic martyr to international opportunists in league with a pharmaceutical conglomerate.

• Everything Is Illuminated (2005) (PG-13: Occasional graphic violence, profanity and comic vulgarity) — **1/2. An austerely stripped-down and fitfully droll movie version of the acclaimed novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, who made a spectacle of verbal clowning and hyperbolic overstatement, starting with the title itself. Liev Schreiber, who is not in the cast, keeps his film directing debut compact, affordable and contemporary while distilling the book’s sprawl. With Elijah Wood as the author’s fictionalized namesake, an obsessive twerp who embarks on a trip to the Ukraine looking for traces of Jewish ancestors who fled or died during World War II. Eugene Hutz is an amusing, rawboned find as his malapropic guide Alex, an Americanized hustler-hipster.

• The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) (PG-13: Frightening imagery, mature themes) — **1/2. Take a courtroom drama and mix in some demonic possession and you get this well-crafted but slight horror flick based on a true story. The trial follows a priest (Tom Wilkinson) accused of negligence in the death of a young woman he tried to save via exorcism. Laura Linney plays the lawyer out to clear the father’s good name. The scares can’t match the grandfather of all possession films, “The Exorcist,” but writer/director Scott Derrickson shows flair with a few goose bump moments. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Flightplan (2005) (PG-13) — A psychological suspense thriller starring Jodie Foster as a plane passenger who begins insisting that her 6-year-old daughter has vanished during a flight from Berlin to New York City. With Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean and Erika Christensen. Not reviewed.

• The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005) (R: Profanity; pervasive sexuality; crude humor; drug use) — ***. An unapologetically hilarious sex farce with sweetness at its center, starring brilliantly understated comedian Steve Carell as a terminally chaste electronics store stock supervisor. His work buddies (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen) entice him to do the deed with all manner of floozies, but he’s got his heart set on Catherine Keener’s doggedly classy Trish. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005) (PG) — Another sports yarn from the Disney studio, which reaches back in the annals of golf to the U.S. Open of 1913. Defending champion Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) of Great Britain finds himself challenged by Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf), a 20-year-old American amateur with a 10-year-old caddie, Eddie Lowery (Josh Flitter). Not reviewed.

• A History of Violence (2005) (R: Extreme violence, sexual situations, mature language and themes) — **1/2. Director David Cronenberg’s latest purports to be a meditation on violence in our culture. It will make audiences ponder that theme, but it’s far too interested in imitating a Steven Seagal caper. Viggo Mortensen does all he can to bridge the chasm between the two styles, but ultimately the rugged actor can’t make it work. The film also stars William Hurt and Maria Bello. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Into the Blue (2005) (PG-13: Violent action, sexual situations and mature language) — *1/2. “Fantastic Four’s” Jessica Alba parades around in a series of bikinis in this water-based thriller from the writer-director of “Blue Crush.” It’s still as dull as a bag of sand. “Blue” casts Miss Alba alongside handsome Paul Walker as two divers who discover a sunken treasure that snares the attention of a local drug lord. “Blue” takes forever to set up its simple premise, drowning us in an ocean of pretty oceanography and cardboard characters. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Junebug (2005) (R: Profanity, sexual content, including nudity) ? ***. Funny, intimate and affecting first feature from native North Carolinian Phil Morrison that chronicles the culture clash that ensues when a man (Alessandro Nivola) brings home a worldly wife to his childhood home in Winston-Salem. Written by Angus MacLachlan. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Just Like Heaven (2005) (PG) — **.A romantic comedy with a supernatural angle, co-starring Mark Ruffalo as the current tenant of a San Francisco apartment and Reese Witherspoon as his immediate predecessor, who comes and goes in a ghostly fashion while insisting that she still lives there.

• King of the Corner (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and comic vulgarity) — **1/2. An unassuming but engaging addition to the sub-genre of social comedies that revolve around middle-aged protagonists facing mid-life crises. Peter Riegert plays marketing executive Leo Spivak, too distracted by family obligations to notice that he’s being set up for a fall at the office. His counterattack proves funny and edifying: in desperation he discovers his inner cutthroat and earns a strange new respect. Too tentative to breakthrough as a sleeper but worth encouraging, the movie boasts a diverting cast: Eric Bogosian, Eli Wallach, Rita Moreno, Isabella Rossellini, Beverly D’Angelo, Harris Yulin, Ashley Johnson. Exclusively at the Landmark Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema.

• Lord of War (2005) (R: Drug use, violence, sexual situations and adult themes) — **1/2. Nicholas Cage stars as a veteran gunrunner who confronts the consequences of his work while being hounded by an Interpol agent. “War” co-stars Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke and Bridget Moynahan. 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.

• Mirrormask (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — **1/2. An independent feature that unites comic book artists Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman as movie collaborators (director and screenwriter, respectively). Their story revolves around a teenager named Helena (Stephanie Leonidas), whose anxiety about her stricken mother seems to induce a hallucinatory state. She wanders in a fantastic setting controlled by rival queens. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Reviewed by Joseph Szadkowski.

• Oliver Twist (2005) (PG-13: Sustained ominous elements and occasional graphic violence) — .1/2. Evidently a wrong turn in a Victorian direction for Roman Polanski and screenwriter Ronald Harwood after their Oscar-winning collaboration on “The Pianist.” Dickens definitely eludes them, resulting in perhaps the first movie version of “Oliver Twist” that runs out of gas before Oliver reaches London. Ben Kingsley is the only stellar attraction, a Fagin whose most telling characteristic is extremely squinty eyes. Barney Clark is an appealing Oliver, but the level of casting and evocation compares so poorly to the vivid, stirring David Lean and Carol Reed versions that it’s difficult to believe the new filmmakers were enthusiasts for the source material.

• Proof (2005) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; scenes of family conflict and loss) — **1/2. A movie version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Auburn that reunites the leading lady and director of “Shakespeare in Love,” Gwyneth Paltrow and John Madden. Miss Paltrow has enjoyed finer demonstrations of cinematic pathos. The strongest performance is contributed by Anthony Hopkins in the post-mortem role of her father, a famous mathematician reduced by dementia. Jake Gyllenhaal proves a callow choice as the young colleague chosen to liberate the heroine from her Sleeping Beauty trance as a dutiful but heartsick daughter and unsung brainiac.

• 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.

• Roll Bounce (2005) (PG-13) — A new comedy from Malcolm Lee, the director of “The Best Man” and “Undercover Brother,” starring Bow Wow as a roller-skating enthusiast who must seek a new rink when his neighborhood establishment closes in the 1970s. He and his pals venture into the Sweetwater Roller Rink, which has a reputation for competitive swank and eccentricity. With Mike Epps, Chi McBride and Nick Cannon. Not reviewed.

• Serenity (2005) (PG-13: Sequences of intense violence and action, some sexual references) — ***. The short-lived TV series “Firefly” is reborn as a smart, satisfying feature film from the show’s creator, Joss Whedon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”). The film rejoins the crew of the spaceship Serenity, featuring the actors from the 2002 Fox series, including Adam Baldwin, Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres. Fans and neophytes will appreciate the smart humor and adroitly choreographed fight sequences. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Thing About My Folks (2005) (PG-13: Comic violence, strong language and adult humor) — **1/2. Former “Mad About You” star Paul Reiser whips up a thoughtful road picture between a middle-aged man (Mr. Reiser, working double duty as the screenwriter) and his crusty pop (Peter Falk). Mr. Reiser’s sitcom sensibilities stay buried until the final reel, but before then we’re treated to a beautifully acted feature filled with rich, real dialogue and a brilliant turn by Mr. Falk. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Thumbsucker (2005) (R: Profanity; sexuality involving teens; drug use; disturbing image) — ***. Clever, affecting first feature from director Mike Mills, who adapted Walter Kirn’s novel about an otherwise typical mixed-up teenager with a deeply unnerving private habit: thumbsucking. The young Lou Pucci deftly negotiates his character’s transition from misfit to monster, and back again, while Benjamin Bratt and Keanu Reeves turn into terrific bit roles. Also starring Tilda Swinton and Vincent D’Onofrio. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005) (PG: Scary images; brief mild profanity) — ***. A creepy, enchanting new stop-animation feature from Tim Burton and co-director Mike Johnson. Johnny Depp voices the main character, the melancholy Victor Van Dort, whose arranged marriage to the daughter of impoverished aristocrats is interrupted when he awakens the spirit of a long-dead bride and winds up in the strange underworld of the living dead. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• An Unfinished Life (2005) (PG-13) — **. A domestic melodrama starring Robert Redford as an embittered Wyoming rancher who resists reconciliation with a widowed daughter-in-law played by Jennifer Lopez, who arrives in need of protection from a threatening boyfriend (Damian Lewis). The cast also includes Morgan Freeman as Mr. Redford’s sidekick and Becca Gardner as Miss Lopez’s 11-year-old daughter, plus Josh Lucas and Camryn Manheim.

• 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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