- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

OPENING

• Annapolis (2006) (PG-13: Violence, sexual content and adult language). James Franco (“Tristan & Isolde”) stars as a blue-collar plebe making his way through the U.S. Naval Academy’s rigorous programs. He struggles at first, but finds a new path to glory and honor when he signs on for the school’s competitive boxing program. “Annapolis” co-stars Jordana Brewster, Donnie Wahlberg and Tyrese Gibson.

• Big Momma’s House 2 (2006) (PG-13) — A return engagement for Martin Lawrence as the comedy-prone FBI agent named Malcolm Turner, once again undercover while disguised as a corpulent and mouthy septugenarian known as Big Momma. Nia Long also rejoins the cast, and John Whitesell directed.

• Bubble (2006) (R: Violence, dark themes, drug use and adult language). Director Steven Soderbergh (“Oceans 12”) enlists a group of amateur actors for this small-scale murder mystery set in a poor working town. The film, the first salvo in his effort to release films simultaneously in theaters, on cable and on DVD, follows a trio of doll factory workers whose lives intersect with tragic consequences.

• Cache (2005) (R ) — Also known as “Hidden,” this suspense thriller from the German writer-director Michael Haneke co-stars two of France’s best actors, Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche, as an endangered husband and wife. A TV talk show host, Mr. Auteuil becomes aware that someone has him under persistent and intimate surveillance.

• Nanny McPhee (2006) (PG) — Emma Thompson tries on an identity in the Mary Poppins tradition while adapting one of Christinna Brand’s “Nurse Matilda” books for young people and playing the starring role. A governess with magic powers, Nanny McPhee is hired by a widower, Colin Firth, with seven bratty kids. Nanny’s own appearance has a way of changing as she changes the brood’s behavior patterns. With Angela Lansbury in her first movie role in many years. Directed by Kirk Jones of “Waking Ned Devine.”

• Roving Mars (2006) (G) — ***. A new Imax featurette that summarizes the building and deployment of the remarkable robot explorers Spirit and Opportunity that made successful landings on Mars two years ago. The subject merits a more expansive running time than 40 minutes, but what’s there is choice. Exclusively at the National Air and Space Museum’s Imax theaters at Independence Avenue and Sixth Street SW and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly.

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 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2006) (PG-13: Some drug content and adult language) — **1/2. Writer-director Albert Brooks tries to bridge the cultural divide between the West and the Muslim world with this fitfully amusing comedy. The film finds Mr. Brooks, playing himself, heading to India as a cultural ambassador of sorts to find out what makes Muslims laugh. “Looking” proves a mild comeback after Mr. Brooks’ woeful “The Muse,” but he squanders the ripe material by filling it out with gags about outsourcing and government ineptitude. 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.

• The New World (2005) (PG-13: Occasional nudity and graphic violence) — *1/2. A 400th anniversary account of the Jamestown settlement and the fateful journey of Pocahontas to England after marrying tobacco planter John Rolfe. Writer-director Terrence Malick brings pictorial fascination to settings in tidewater Virginia and Elizabethan England but has little aptitude for character delineation or sustained dramatic narrative. He envisions a passionate attachment between the Indian princess, played by the exceedingly coltish teenage newcomer Q’orianka Kilcher, and the English adventurer John Smith, a stumpy, taciturn letdown as embodied by Colin Farrell. As the eventual bridegroom, Christian Bale is obliged to act shy and deferential to a fault. 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• Walk the Line (2005) (PG-13: Some profanity, mild sexuality, depictions of drug dependency) — ..1/2. James Mangold’s highly anticipated 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.

• The White Countess (2005) (PG-13: Occasional sexual candor and violence) — **1/2. The Japanese-born British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro has fashioned a museum-piece screenplay for director James Ivory around a melancholy romance in Shanghai, circa 1936-37. The title alludes to both the exiled White Russian heroine, played Natasha Richardson, and a nightclub named after her by the hero, Ralph Fiennes as a blind and lovelorn former diplomat. His club acquires the cachet he desires, but it’s shadowed by war and intrigue. Two sets of mother-daughter teams give the casting some novelty. Madeleine Potter plays the devious aunt of her daughter, Madeleine Daly. Miss Richardson is joined by her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, and aunt, Lynn Redgrave. The scenario proves pokey and stilted, but the cast justifies some patience, notably the elegant-masochistic Mr. Fiennes and painfully jealous Miss Potter.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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