- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

OPENING

• Aquamarine (2006) (PG) The return of the mermaid as a comic heroine, courtesy of a novel by Alice Hoffman. Sara Paxton—cq cast as the fanciful title character, who washes ashore and befriends a couple of teenagers played by JoJo Levesque and Emma Roberts. Directed by Elizabeth Allen.

• Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2006) (R: Harsh language) — Comic Dave Chappelle assembled a first-rate hip-hop concert in Brooklyn in September 2004, an event captured for this comical rockumentary. Musicians including the reunited Fugees, Kanye West and the Roots rallied to Mr. Chappelle’s side. Audiences get to watch the behind-the-scenes hustle and humor that made the concert happen.

• Gay Sex in the ‘70s (2006) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter, with a restrictive admission policy) — A presumably self-explanatory documentary feature from Joseph Lovett, who recruits Tom Bianchi and Larry Kramer as narrators for a chronicle that covers the years 1969 through 1981. No one younger than 18 admitted. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 16 Blocks (2006) (PG-13: Violent sequences and adult language) — Bruce Willis stars as a weary cop assigned to escort a witness (Mos Def) to trial. A band of rogue cops doesn’t want Mr. Def’s character to make it to court on time, which sets the stage for an explosive confrontation. Richard Donner of “Superman” fame directs.

• The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter) — The revival of an acclaimed Spanish import, directed by Victor Erice, who cast the precocious Ana Torrent as a lonely little girl who becomes obsessed with the image of Boris Karloff in “Frankenstein” after seeing a screening in her rural hometown. In Spanish with English subtitles. A limited engagement, exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre.

• Ultraviolet (2006) (PG-13) — A science-fiction thriller starring Milla Jovovich as a vampirized superheroine entrusted with the protection of a young boy. Directed by Kurt Wimmer.

NOW SHOWING

• 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 septuagenarian known as Big Momma. Nia Long also rejoins the cast, and John Whitesell directs. Not reviewed.

• 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. Eight Oscar nominations, including best film and direction. Not reviewed.

• 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. Reviewed by Victor Morton.

• 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. Five Academy Award nominations, best film and best actor (Mr. Hoffman).

• Classe Tous Risques (1960) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter; occasional violence and profanity) — ***. A revival showcase for one of the early features directed by the late Claude Sautet. This haunting 1960 crime melodrama, which co-stars Lino Ventura and the engaging young Jean-Paul Belmondo as two gangsters who develop a rapport that leads to an amazing decision, incorporates a revenge scenario within a manhunt scenario and proves a remarkable variation on hard-boiled and fatalistic predecessors. The fade-out is brilliantly laconic. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the AFI Silver Theatre.

• Curious George (2006) (G) — **. An animated feature derived from the famous children’s books by H.A. Rey and his wife, Margret, European refugees from the Nazis who settled in Cambridge, Mass., and collaborated on a whimsical series about an inquisitive little monkey who attaches himself to an explorer in a yellow hat. Ultimately, it’s a sweet story that children will enjoy — but not the one we fell in love with. The principal soundtrack voices are Will Ferrell, Dick Van Dyke, Drew Barrymore, Eugene Levy and Joan Plowright. Reviewed by Jenny Mayo.

• Date Movie (2006) (PG-13: Coarse humor and language) Romantic movies get satirized in this zany comedy, which sends up everything from “Meet the Fockers” to “Wedding Crashers.” Alyson Hannigan of the “American Pie” franchise is the girl, and Adam Campbell plays her would-be beau. Along for the ride are Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Eddie Griffin. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Doogal (2006) (G) — An animated feature derived from the British TV series “The Magic Roundabout.” The movie’s title alludes to the principal character, a pooch with a sweet tooth. He and a trio of critter pals — a bunny, a cow and a snail — board a talking train to search for rare gems that are coveted by an evil sorcerer called Zeebad. The vocal cast includes Ian McKellen, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Lumley, Billy Nighy and Ray Winstone. Not reviewed.

• Eight Below (2006) (PG) — A Hollywood remake of a vintage Japanese adventure saga in which polar explorers must abandon their faithful sled dogs during a winter trek, forcing the animals to survive on their own until a rescue six months later. With Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood and Jason Biggs as the explorers. Not reviewed.

• Firewall (2006) (PG-13) — A suspense thriller predicated on the indomitability of crusty old Harrison Ford, cast as a bank security expert targeted by Paul Bettany, an aspiring thief who kidnaps the hero’s wife and family in hopes of extorting his cooperation in a robbery scheme. With Virginia Madsen as the endangered spouse, plus Alan Arkin, Robert Forster and Robert Patrick. Not reviewed.

• Freedomland (2006) (R: Adult language and violent content) — **1/2. Julianne Moore stars as a single mother who blames her son’s disappearance on a black man from the projects. Her story fires up a racial storm, one that causes a local cop (Samuel L. Jackson) to investigate. Turns out the single mother’s story may not be as it appears. Mr. Jackson’s steely presence is sorely needed here because Miss Moore’s histrionics sap our sympathy for both her character and the film’s overheated narrative. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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. Oscar nomination for Miss Dench as best actress.

• 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 brain trust 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. Five Academy Award nominations, including best film and direction.

• Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006) (PG) — A concert film shot by Jonathan Demme, preserving highlights from two evenings of a Neil Young show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. Meant as a send-off for Mr. Young’s album “Prairie Wind,” the songfest is augmented by Emmylou Harris. Exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre and Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Night Watch (2006) (R: Violence, disturbing imagery and adult language) — **. The first film in a proposed trilogy from Russian writer-director Timur Bekmambetov, “Night Watch” follows the centuries-long struggle between the powers of light and darkness here on earth. Along comes a young man (Konstantin Khabensky) who may tilt the balance in favor of one side, but which one? “Night Watch” features a few spectacular sequences, but they evaporate eventually in a fog of incomprehensible storytelling. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Pink Panther (2006) (PG-13: Slapstick violence, occasional crude humor) — **. Steve Martin attempts to resurrect the “Pink Panther” franchise made famous by world-class funnyman Peter Sellers. Our new Inspector Clouseau (Mr. Martin) must solve the mystery of a stolen pink diamond without bumbling his way into catastrophe. Mr. Martin’s French accent is a hoot, and he has always been a first-class slapstick clown. Nevertheless, even he can’t make this loosely connected series of sketches measure up to the original films. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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. Oscar nomination to Keira Knightley as best actress.

• Running Scared (2006) (R: Extreme violence, gore, adult language and disturbing imagery) — *. Paul Walker plays a low-level thug in this Tarantino-esque gangster yarn. Mr. Walker’s character must retrieve a gun swiped from his house that could tie him to a shooting, all the while looking after his young son and fidgety wife. The film’s no-holds-barred violence and its nonsensical plot twists make this an easy candidate for one of 2006’s worst movies. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Something New (2006) (PG-13: (Mature themes, sexual situations) — ***. An interracial blind date sets this daring romantic comedy in motion, but the material rises above the usual boy-meets-girl fare. Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker send off sparks as the seemingly mismatched couple who learn something new about both romance and interracial courtship. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005) (R) — **. A behind-the-scenes comedy about a British movie company engaged in the preposterous: a movie version of Laurence Sterne’s notoriously quixotic, discursive and whimsical comic novel “Tristram Shandy,” originally published in installments from 1759 to 1767. The re-enactments from the book work better than the modern framework. Steve Coogan is miserably overcast as the title character; his father, Walter Shandy; and a saturnine self-caricature called Steve Coogan. The prankish aspects also are poorly served by Rob Brydon as an impish rival, cast as Uncle Toby. The personalities of these actors seem more interchangeable than complementary.

• Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion (2006) (PG-13) — A sequel to “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” an earlier theater piece from actor, writer, producer and director Tyler Perry, who continues his impersonation of a flamboyant Southern matriarch, this time observed planning a reunion and coping with several family crises. 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. Oscar nominations for Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as best actor and actress. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Why We Fight (2005) (PG-13) — Another argumentative documentary feature from Eugene Jarecki, who compiled “The Trials of Henry Kissinger” a few years ago. Borrowing the title of Frank Capra’s famous Army indoctrination films of World War II for heavy-handed ironic effect, Mr. Jarecki attempts to formulate a case against American defense and national security policy since the Cold War. Not reviewed.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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