- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

OPENING

• End of the Spear (2006) (PG-13: Occasional graphic violence) — A compelling independent feature that dramatizes a true-life calamity of the 1950s and its redemptive aftermath. Five missionaries in Ecuador make contact with a remote tribe and are speared and hacked to death. Relatives and colleagues of the victims do manage to establish a mission among the tribe, pacifying tribesmen who had participated in the killings. Directed in Panama by Jim Hanon, who had made a documentary, “Beyond the Gates,” about the same subject. With Louie Leonardo and Chad Allen in the principal roles.

• Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2006) (PG-13) — The latest Albert Brooks comedy, in which the writer-director-star plays himself, purportedly a government emissary, recruited by Fred Dalton Thompson to draft an official report on the Muslim sense of humor. Mr. Brooks travels to India and Pakistan to begin his research, accompanied by a trio of aides. While in New Delhi, he tries to promote a large-scale comedy concert. Ultimately, the mission takes him to the offices of Al Jazeera.

• The New World (2005) (PG-13: Occasional nudity and graphic violence) — An account of the Jamestown settlement and the fateful journey of Pocahontas to England after marrying tobacco planter John Rolfe. Writer-director Terrence Malick envisions a passionate attachment between the Powhatan princess (teenage newcomer Q’orianka Kilcher) and the English adventurer John Smith (Colin Farrell) prior to her alliance with Rolfe (Christian Bale). The cast also includes Christopher Plummer, Wes Studi, David Thewlis and August Schellenberg.

• On the Outs (2006) (R) — A topical melodrama about three teenage girls who face an uphill battle against crime, drugs and promiscuity while dwelling in the same urban neighborhood. Written and directed by Lori Silverbush and Michael Skolnik.

• Underworld Evolution (2006) (R) — A sequel to the 2003 horror thriller “Underworld” that reunites the original co-stars, director and screenwriter. The pretext is a blood feud between tribes of vampires and werewolves, with Kate Beckinsale as an Amazon vampire and Scott Speedman as a lycan ally who makes her warrior blood tingle. Derek Jacobi joins the cast as a vampire patriarch.

• The White Countess (2005) (PG-13: Occasional sexual candor and violence) The final collaboration between director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant. The latter died while the movie was in post-production. The English novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, whose “The Remains of the Day” attracted the team years earlier, began adapting an obscure Japanese novel while contriving the screenplay for “Countess.” The title alludes to both the exiled White Russian heroine, played Natasha Richardson, and a Shanghai nightclub of the late 1930s named after her by the hero, Ralph Fiennes as a blind and melancholy former diplomat who dreams of running a fashionable saloon in his adopted city. It acquires the cachet he desires but in a time frame shadowed by war and intrigue. With two sets of mother-daughter teams: Madeleine Potter and Madeleine Daly, cast as her mother’s niece; and Miss Richardson and her mother Vanessa Redgrave, augmented by Lynn Redgrave, sister of Vanessa and aunt of Natasha.

NOW SHOWING

• Brokeback Mountain (2005) (R) — A movie version of an Annie Proulx short story about two young men who blunder into sexual intimacy while isolated one summer tending sheep in the Wyoming mountains. Although the men marry and have children, they sustain an affair during reunions over many years. Heath Ledger, who remains a cowhand in Wyoming, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who moves to Texas, portray this melancholy love match. Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway are cast as their respective spouses. Directed by Ang Lee from a screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. 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.

• Casanova (2005) (R: Frequent prurient allusions in an 18th century setting; intermittent mockery of the Roman Catholic Church) — *1/2. A costume romance from director Lasse Hallstrom, who fails to finesse a mock-biographical dud set in Venice, circa 1756. Heath Ledger, something of a revelation in “The Brothers Grimm” and “Brokeback Mountain,” reverts to his earlier tentative form in the title role, meant to be dashing and irresistible. Sienna Miller is a high-minded pill as his love object. Both assume disguises and false names with weary frequency. Jeremy Irons is the heavy, a spoilsport from the Vatican, and Oliver Platt makes a grotesque splash as an alleged pork fat mogul from Genoa who is courting the heroine.

• The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) (PG: Intense battle sequences and frightening moments) — ***1/2 C.S. Lewis’ beloved text gets the big-screen treatment and loses none of its appeal in the translation. The classic tale of four siblings who enter an enchanted realm via a wardrobe door brims with crafty creatures and delightful performances. The book’s spiritual subtext remains in place, but children will be too busy marveling at all the colorful action to notice. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Fun with Dick and Jane (PG-13: Brief profanity, drug references, sexual humor) — *1/2. A tepid, at times cringe-worthy, remake of a 1977 comedy starring Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni as a couple driven to robbery by hard corporate luck. Directed by Dean Parisot. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Glory Road (2006) (PG: Racial issues including violence and epithets, and momentary bad language) — *1/2. Director James Gartner and producer Jerry Bruckheimer (“Remember the Titans”) tell the authentic story of the first all-black starting line-up for a college basketball team. Texas Western, led by no-name coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas), overcomes stifling odds and unabashed racism in 1966 to win the national championship against top-ranked Kentucky and the legendary coach Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight). Unfortunately, the very worthy topic receives the “Hollywood” treatment, rendering it slightly entertaining but ultimately unfulfilling. Reviewed by Tarron Lively.

• 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.

• Hoodwinked (2005) (PG) — ***. An edgy, cute, animated take on “Little Red Riding Hood” in a computer-animated format. The traditional fairytale is transformed into a classic whodunit, with a dapper frog (the voice of David Ogden Stiers) at the helm of the investigation and enough quirky characters to keep the youngsters squealing the whole way through. Other vocal roles belong to Anne Hathaway, Patrick Warburton, Jim Belushi and Glenn Close. Reviewed by Jessica Leshnoff.

• Hostel (2006) (R: Extreme gore, bloody imagery, nudity, sexual situations, adult language and drug use) — **1/2. Eli Roth of “Cabin Fever” fame sharpens his horror skills with this torture-laden tale of three men who take a wrong turn in Europe. The backpackers think they’ve found a hedonistic utopia in a Slovakian hostel, but it’s really a front for a prison where people pay thousands for the chance to torture innocents. Mr. Roth appears addicted to sadistic imagery, but he’s savvy enough to include some intriguing subtexts here, including the price we’re willing to pay to satiate our darkest desires. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• King Kong (2005) (PG-13: Violence, disturbing images, mild profanity) — ***. A dazzling, if overlong, update of the 1933 classic from “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson. The giant ape has never looked better, or more sympathetic, and Mr. Jackson’s technical prowess doesn’t disappoint. Starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Last Holiday (2006) (PG-13) — An update of the 1950 English comedy-drama that recruited J.B. Priestley as a screenwriter and starred Alec Guinness as a man who decides to treat himself to a fun-seeking fling after being informed he has a short time to live. Queen Latifah is now the protagonist, a cookware saleswoman from New Orleans who gets a grave diagnosis and invests her savings in a trip to Europe. The co-stars include LL Cool J, Gerard Depardieu and Timothy Hutton. Directed by Wayne Wang. Not reviewed.

• The Matador (2005) (R: Violence, sexual situations, adult language and mature themes) — ***. Pierce Brosnan reinvents his on-screen persona in this hit-man movie with a twist. The former James Bond plays a burned out assassin who charms a stranger (Greg Kinnear) into helping him complete one last assignment. The duo meet in Mexico, but the action eventually moves to Colorado, where Mr. Kinnear’s character must explain his newfound friend to his doting wife, played by Hope Davis. The film’s quirky humor and sparkling performances more than compensate for its illogical plotting. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Match Point (2005) (R: Occasional sexual candor and violence) — *1/2. Woody Allen is transported to London and vicinity with results that prove mostly maladroit. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers fails to generate the needed sinister fascination as a tennis-playing opportunist. Welcomed into a posh family, he marries eligible daughter Emily Mortimer and then schemes to kill an inconvenient girlfriend, Scarlett Johansson as a bimbo actress, formerly attached to his new brother-in-law, Matthew Goode. Designed as a study in coldblooded social climbing, the movie goes awry in just about every feasible way.

• Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (PG-13: Occasional sexual candor and violence in a historical setting) — ***. Rob Marshall follows “Chicago” with another fable about rivalry among showgirls, this one steeped in exotic Japanese trappings. Ziyi Zhang matures into a beautiful geisha, threatening the pride and status of Gong Li, the reigning diva in her particular establishment. Another prominent Chinese actress, Michelle Yeoh, reunites with Miss Zhang, her co-star in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The production commands respect for period evocation (the late 1920s through the late 1940s), but it doesn’t persuade you that geisha traditions and heartaches amount to an irresistible mystique.

• Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, nudity and sexual innuendo) — *1/2. An eccentric show business memoir from director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Martin Sherman, who recall the odd-couple theatrical partnership of a wealthy widow, Laura Henderson (Judi Dench), and a London theatrical producer, Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins). In the 1930s they collaborate on reviving a West End theater called the Windmill, first with musical revues and then by adding statuesque nudity. This enhancement proves the movie’s classiest element. Mr. Frears and Mr. Sherman fumble their way through the learning curve while mounting this nostalgic and potentially jolly yarn. The disagreeable nature of their title character makes for lousy company in too many scenes.

• Munich (2005) (R: Frequent graphic violence; occasional profanity and sexual candor, including a simulation of intercourse grotesquely intercut with a murder scene) — **1/2. Steven Spielberg, abetted by screenwriters Eric Roth and Tony Kushner, backtracks to the original media outrage of Palestinian terrorism, the capture and killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Eric Bana is cast as the leader of an Israeli espionage unit commissioned to take reprisals against Palestinian exiles in Europe believed to be part of the braintrust responsible for the Munich calamity. Despite several gripping and intriguing episodes, the movie ultimately champions high-minded equivocation in the post-September 11 vein. It identifies with the avengers but embraces all available options for second-guessing, hand-wringing and disillusion.

• 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 Ringer (2005) (PG-13: Adult humor, slapstick violence and coarse language) — **. Johnny Knoxville stars as a man so hard up for cash he decides to rig the Special Olympics for a quick payday. Special Olympics officials endorsed this comedy, and one can quickly understand why. The film pokes some fun at the athletes’ peculiar mannerisms but spends more time toasting their athleticism and big hearts. “The Ringer” should have spent equal time shoring up the rickety humor. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Rumor Has It (2005) (PG-13). A family reunion comedy directed by Rob Reiner. Jennifer Aniston plays a New York Times writer traveling back to Pasadena, Calif., for the wedding of sister Mena Suvari. The heroine herself is engaged, to Mark Ruffalo, but confesses a certain reluctance to grandmother Shirley MacLaine, who hints that cold feet may be a family curse. A rumor has persisted that granny is the prototype for the Mrs. Robinson character in “The Graduate.” Somehow, Miss Aniston sorts things out by diverting to San Francisco to consult Kevin Costner, once a close friend of her late mother and now an “Internet billionaire.” Not reviewed.

• 39 Pounds of Love (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — ***. A touching documentary feature about the cross-country odyssey of Ami Ankilewitz, a diminutive American-born Israeli who survived a childhood onslaught of muscular dystrophy but weighs only 39 pounds and has only limited movement in one hand. It’s sufficient to let him work as a computer animator, and the trip, from Los Angeles to Miami in a Tioga van that accommodates several friends and caretakers, is augmented by his winsome cartoon about a lovelorn bird. The Israeli filmmaker Dani Menkin, also one of the companions, directed this portrait of a remarkable survivor. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Tristan & Isolde (2006) (PG-13) — A new account of the legendary, ill-starred love match, set in the medieval British Isles and co-starring James Franco and Sophie Myles. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, whose strongest credits range from “Fandango” to “Rapa-Nui.” Not reviewed.

• Walk the Line (2005) (PG-13: Some profanity, mild sexuality, depictions of drug dependency) —**1/2. two and one-half stars.nticipated screen biography of the late Johnny Cash gets the music right but comes dangerously close to cliche with its one-dimensional story line: that the reckless Mr. Cash was redeemed by the love of second wife June Carter. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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