- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

OPENING

• Apocalypto (2006) (R: Extreme violence, gore, torture and bloodshed). Mel Gibson moves from the Bible to a civilization’s end with this adventure surrounding a Mayan family’s struggle for survival. A peaceful village gets attacked by a neighboring tribe, forcing a family man (Rudy Youngblood) to take extreme measures to protect his wife and child. Minimal dialogue, all in Mayan.

• Black Gold (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). A documentary feature by Marc and Nick Francis, who take a dim view of the global market for coffee. Its wealth doesn’t seem to trickle down to the Ethiopian coffee farmers whose struggles concern them. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Blood Diamond (2006) (R). The diamond trade provides a backdrop for this romantic chase thriller set in Africa a decade ago. Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou portray soldiers of fortune whose pursuit of a rare gem places them in jeopardy from mining interests in Sierra Leone. With Jennifer Connelly, Michael Sheen and Arnold Vosloo.

• Ever Again (2006) (No MPAA rating: Some disturbing imagery). Kevin Costner narrates this documentary tracking the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond. The film cautions that the hatred which peaked during the first half of the 20th century could be happening again. Only this time, according to the movie, the movement is being fed by Islamic extremists. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• The History Boys (2006) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor). A movie version of the Alan Bennett play, transposed by director Nicholas Hytner with the principal cast members. Faculty members at an English prep school in the early 1980s supervise the instruction of eight boys seeking admission to Oxford or Cambridge. Conflicts arise over the best ways to drill for exam day.

• The Holiday (2006) (PG-13). A new seasonal comedy from writer-director Nancy Meyers. Lovelorn heroines played by Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet discover each other over the Internet and agree to swap houses (in different countries) for a Christmas change of scene. The relocations have dynamic romantic consequences. With Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, Edward Burns and Rufus Sewell.

• Unaccompanied Minors (2006) (PG). A holiday farce in the spirit of “Home Alone,” set at a snowed-in airport where an anxious official, Lewis Black, is harassed by five mischievous kids as they wait out a blizzard.

NOW SHOWING

• Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — ***1/2. A documentary feature by the Washington-based conjugal team of Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim, who uncover the bizarre, politically volatile case of a teenage Japanese girl kidnapped by the North Korean government in 1977. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. — Christian Toto

• Babel (2006) (R) — ***. A third collaboration for the Mexican team of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro Gonzalez, who specialize in overlapping plots about aggrieved characters. The echoing scenarios now concern four families in different countries. This sprawling human drama is really an intimate film about relationships writ large, with every character well drawn and treated with delicate sympathy. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal star. Some dialogue in Moroccan, Spanish and Japanese with English subtitles. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Bobby (2006) (R: Adult language, sexual situations, drug use and bloody imagery) — ***. Writer-director Emilio Estevez enlists a cavalcade of stars, from Anthony Hopkins to Sharon Stone, for this complicated yet loving ode to the late Robert F. Kennedy. The film follows 22 characters interacting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, the site of Mr. Kennedy’s assassination. “Bobby” inspires while it entertains, even if it’s overly reverential to Mr. Kennedy. — Christian Toto

• Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) (R: Adult language, excretory humor, disturbing imagery, nudity and alcohol use) — ****. The ultimate in politically incorrect comedy. Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character visits the United States on a fact-finding mission to see what makes this country great. It’s merely an excuse for Mr. Cohen to stage a number of howlingly funny interviews with unsuspecting targets. — Christian Toto

• Candy (2006) (R) — **1/2. A tale of junkie love that’s sometimes aesthetically lovely but all emotionally painful. Candy (Abbie Cornish) is a painter who falls in love with Dan (Heath Ledger), a poet with a penchant for shooting up. Their gasping-for-air love turns suffocating when Dan’s heroin habit sucks Candy in. The film doesn’t write any new chapters on heroin abuse, but does give Miss Cornish and Mr. Ledger raw, meaty roles which they carry off with aplomb. — Jenny Mayo

• Casino Royale (2006) (PG-13: Intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity) — ***1/2. The James Bond franchise hits the rewind button as newcomer Daniel Craig assumes the license to kill. “Royale” is based on the first James Bond novel and shows how 007 became a super agent. This Bond is grittier and more realistic than his predecessors, yielding one of the best films in the spy canon. — Christian Toto

• Catch a Fire (2006) (PG-13: Scenes of torture, adult language and mature themes) — ***. A stirring true story of a South African who became radicalized after being tortured for a crime he didn’t commit. Patrick (Derek Luke) lives a tranquil life in South Africa under apartheid until police come calling after a terrorist bombing at the plant where Patrick works. Mr. Luke’s work is mesmerizing, and director Phillip Noyce keeps a firm balance between the political and thriller themes. — Christian Toto

• The Cave of the Yellow Dog (2006) (No MPAA rating) — ***. A new feature from the Mongolian-born co-director of “The Story of the Weeping Camel,” Byambasuren Davaa. She remains with a nomadic herding family while depicting the dilemma of a girl called Nansai, who adopts a stray dog. Her father fears it will harm their sheep. Miss Davaa focuses on the everyday, and the movie’s stars perform on-camera as nonchalant, real people. The land, unadulterated, is breathtaking. In Mongolian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. — Jenny Mayo

• Deja Vu (2006) (PG-13). A suspense thriller with supernatural trappings. Denzel Washington plays a government agent investigating a suspected terrorist bombing in post-Katrina New Orleans. Mysterious circumstances lead him to believe that the calamity is both an echo and portent of dire events. With Jim Caviezel, Paula Patton and Bruce Greenwood. Not reviewed.

• Fast Food Nation (2006) (R: Graphic slaughter scenes, language and mature themes) — **. A fictionalized web of narratives spun from the hard-to-stomach facts presented in Eric Schlosser’s 2001 best-selling book. Its three main fictional subplots give the inhumane truth about fast food’s human faces: the corporate executive, the slaughterhouse worker and the underpaid “Mickey’s” cashier. With Greg Kinnear, Bruce Willis, Wilmer Valderrama and Avril Lavigne. It’s a bit busy, but ultimately conveys a chilling message about the current food processing system. — Jenny Mayo

• Flushed Away (2006) (PG: Crude humor and mild mouse peril) — **1/2. This computer animation begins with a rather vile premise: A hoity-toity pet mouse accidentally gets flushed into London’s sewers. After pulling some jokes from humor’s lowest depths, the film vaults beyond its odoriferous setup into a playful, innovative fantasy land where rodent bad guys ride electric mixers like Jet Skis and slugs become unintentional heroes. Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet and Ian McKellen are the vocal co-stars. — Jenny Mayo

• For Your Consideration (2006) (PG-13: Sexual references and adult language) — ***. The folks behind “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind” are back with a new improv-based comedy, showing what happens when the cast of a low-budget film get sidetracked by Oscar buzz. “Consideration” features the same sly wit shown in those aforementioned comedies along with some needed swipes at our shallow culture. — Christian Toto

• The Fountain (2006) (PG-13: Some intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language) — ***. A mystical-epic romantic saga spread over a millennium by writer-director Darren Aronofsky, with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as his recurrent love match. The chronicle begins in 1500 with Mr. Jackman as a conquistador, continues in 2000 when he’s become a medical researcher and concludes in 2500 when he’s an astronaut. As the story bounces between centuries, it can be difficult at first to figure out what is going on. But patient viewers will be rewarded by one of the most beautiful films of the year, both visually and emotionally. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006) (R: Graphic nudity, some sexuality and language) — **. “Secretary” director Steven Shainberg imagines the inner life of photographer Diane Arbus in this visually striking film. But we rarely see Arbus taking a photo; instead, this oddly conventional film turns into a routine love story instead of an exploration of the muse. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Happy Feet (2006) (PG: Some rude humor and mild peril involving hungry sea lions) — **. The latest animated flick from Warner Bros. In it, penguin-parents Memphis (Hugh Jackman) and Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) beget the adorable, happy-footed Mumble (Elijah Wood). Rather than developing the requisite singing skills of his breed, Mumble shows more prowess in tap dancing, which eventually causes him to be cast out and sent on a journey to explore himself and his world. — Jenny Mayo

• The Last King of Scotland (2006) (R: Some strong violence and gruesome images, sexual content and language) — ***1/2. This fictionalized study of Ugandan despot Idi Amin guarantees Forest Whitaker an Oscar nomination for his nuanced and mesmerizing turn as Amin. The rising young Scottish actor James McAvoy plays a Scottish medical missionary, a naive idealist who becomes Amin’s personal physician and eventually an unwitting partner to his crimes. The film offers not just a sophisticated understanding of the cult of personality but, with Mr. Whitaker’s performance, an engrossing tale right from the start through its bloody end. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj (2006) (R). A sequel to a relentlessly prurient slapstick farce about college life released in 2002. One of the supporting players, Kai Penn, is promoted to the lead: his character, Taj, transfers to an university in England and takes the preoccupations of the original film with him. Not reviewed.

• The Nativity Story (2006) (PG: Some violent content) — ***.Three stars. Director Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen”) gives audiences the story behind the nativity scene millions hold so dear. “Nativity” follows young, pregnant Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) as she travels to Bethlehem with her new husband, Joseph (Oscar Isaac). This “Story” takes great pains not to upset the faithful, and its delicate renderings of Mary’s plight should entrance even nonbelievers. — Christian Toto

• Running With Scissors (2006) (R: Language, mild violence and mature themes) — ***.. Writer-director Ryan Murphy re-creates — or at least re-imagines — the zany environment of Augusten Burroughs’ memoir about life with calamitous bohemian parents (Alec Baldwin and Annette Bening) in the 1970s. After they divorced, Mr. Burroughs was entrusted to the family of his mother’s psychiatrist (Brian Cox), a family equally zany. The neat story is 100 percent well-acted. Miss Bening, in particular, is riveting. — Jenny Mayo

• Stranger Than Fiction (2006) (PG-13: Some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity) — ****. Will Ferrell discovers that his life parallels the plot of a novel being written by Emma Thompson, who wants to kill off his character. Mr. Ferrell, playing it straight, brings a surprising amount of pathos to the IRS agent who only starts learning to live when he learns he’s about to die. A funny film with some clever writing and welcome turns by Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Linda Hunt. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny (2006) (R: Adult language, vulgar humor and drug use) — **. Jack Black’s comical side project Tenacious D makes its big-screen debut. The film shows how Tenacious D band mates JB (Mr. Black) and KG (Kyle Gass) first met and decided to become the greatest rock band in the world. “Pick” is as silly as it sounds, but the duo stage a few inspired comic sequences. — Christian Toto

• Ten Items or Less (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — **1/2. The talents of Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega turn this slight character piece into something special. Mr. Freeman is an out-of-work movie star whose research leads to an unlikely friendship with a down-and-out supermarket clerk. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Turistas (2006) (R). A horror thriller about several American college students who confront sustained terror after their tour bus breaks down along a remote stretch of the Brazilian coast. With Josh Duhamel, Melissa George and Olivia Wilde. Not reviewed. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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