- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

OPENING

• Grandma’s Boy (2006) (R) A farce about a thirtysomething geek played by Allen Covert. Employed as a video-game tester, he is suddenly evicted from his apartment and moves in with his grandmother, Doris Roberts, and her two roomies, Shirley Jones and Shirley Knight. Directed by Nicholaus Goossen from a screenplay originated by Mr. Covert. —Not reviewed.(2006) (R) — A new horror thriller from Eli Roth, the director of “Cabin Fever.” Set in a lethally secluded town in Slovakia, the plot entraps a pair of American backpackers who follow their lust into a hostel that turns out to be a pit of crime and menace. The leads are Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson.

• The Matador (2005) (R: Violence, sexual situations, adult language and mature themes). Pierce Brosnan plays a burned-out hit man 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 dark comedy lets Mr. Brosnan distance himself from his James Bond persona.

• Match Point (2005) (R: Occasional sexual candor and violence). Woody Allen, transported to London and vicinity, gets a hankering to emulate Patricia Highsmith. Jonathan Rhys- Meyers attempts to generate sinister fascination as a tennis-playing opportunist named Chris who is welcomed into a posh family, marries eligible daughter Emily Mortimer and then schemes to kill an inconvenient girlfriend, Scarlett Johansson, formerly attached to his new brother-in-law, Matthew Goode. It’s designed as a study in coldblooded social climbing.

• Naked in Ashes (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A documentary survey of aspiring and practicing yogis in farflung Indian locations, compiled by Paula Fouce. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

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.

• Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (2005) (PG) — A sequel to last year’s slapstick revamp of the 1950 hit about a large family of early 20th-century vintage. Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt return as the parents of a preposterously big brood in the early 21st century. The plot revolves around a summer vacation that finds the clan competing with another family at a sports resort. Eugene Levy plays Mr. Martin’s rival, the father of eight. Directed by Adam Shankman from a screenplay by Sam Harper. Not reviewed.

• 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 excels at farcical characterization. Chicken Little’s buddy, a hulking porker, is uproarious.

• 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.

• The Family Stone (2005) (PG-13: Adult humor, coarse language and drug use) —*. Sarah Jessica Parker leaves her “Sex and the City” life behind for this family dramedy set around the holidays. Miss Parker plays an uptight woman who meets her boyfriend’s family for the first time with disastrous consequences. His family, despite their outwardly liberal appearance, don’t take kindly to her frigid mannerisms. “Stone” starts as a well-observed family drama but quickly breaks down into a illogical scrapbook of family snapshots. 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.

• Go For Zucker! (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, consistent with the R category; occasional profanity, slapstick violence and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and simulations of intercourse) — **. Reputedly the first German-Jewish comedy hit “since World War II.” Henry Huebchen is cast as a Berlin pool hustler who must finesse a reconciliation with an estranged Orthodox brother, Udo Samuel, to claim their late mother’s inheritance. Director Dany Levi and co-writer Holger Franke don’t make an airtight case for Mr. Huebchen as an irresistible reprobate, an update of Moliere’s imaginary invalid, but the ensemble is diverting. In German with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 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.

• Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) (PG-13: Frightening imagery, mature themes) — ***. The fourth installment in the imaginative “Harry Potter” series keeps the series’ sense of wonder intact while bringing our heroes into adolescence. This time around, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) must compete against a trio of older, wiser wizards while fretting over finding a date for the big Hogwarts dance. The thrills aren’t as crisp in “Goblet of Fire,” but there’s plenty of humor as Harry falls for a fellow student. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Ice Harvest (2005) (R: Nudity, coarse language, sexual situations and violence) — ***. John Cusack’s Charlie pulls off an imperfect crime in this comedy heist flick from Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”). “Harvest” wants to be the antidote for the cheery holiday season, a character-driven romp where the winter winds bring ice and rain, not great tidings of joy. Oliver Platt and Billy Bob Thornton round out the colorful cast. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Keeper — The Legend of Omar Khayyham (2004) (No MPAA rating) — An English-language feature that conjures up impressions of the 11th-century Persian genius when a 12-year-old boy living in the present learns that his family claims Omar Khayyam as an illustrious ancestor. With Bruno Lastra in the title role, plus Adam Echahly as the juvenile lead and Vanessa Redgrave in a guest appearance. Directed by Kayvan Mashayekh. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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 Producers (2005) (PG-13: Adult humor and sexual situations) — **. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick recreate their Broadway roles for a film based on a musical based on the 1968 comedy. The title characters devise a scheme to get rich off a Broadway dud but discover an untapped audience for wacky Hitler humor. Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell co-star as the curvaceous Ulla and the film’s Nazi sympathizer/playwright, respectively. What works so well on stage stumbles on the silver screen, in part because the cast and crew behave as if they’re still on Broadway. Those oversized gestures and glossy production numbers look silly on the big screen. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• Syriana (2005) (R: Violence, including torture scene, and some profanity) —**. A long-winded political thriller from “Traffic” screenwriter Stephen Gaghan. An ensemble cast that includes George Clooney, Matt Damon and Chris Cooper trots around the globe amid a conspiracy of money, oil politics and power. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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