- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

OPENING

• Failure to Launch (2006) (PG-13: Sexual content, partial nudity and adult language) Matthew McConaughey stars as a thirtysomething slacker who wouldn’t mind living at home for the rest of his life. Enter his parents (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw), who are fed up and ready to do something about it. They hire Sarah Jessica Parker’s character to coax their son out of his infantile shell, and naturally a romance blooms. —Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Following Sean (2005 (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A generation-after documentary feature by Ralph Arlyck, who renews acquaintance with a young man he met and filmed in the late 1960s in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. At that time the neighborhood was a hippie mecca and Sean was a precocious 4-year-old in a bohemian household. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• The Hills Have Eyes (2006) (R: Extreme violence and gore, sexual situations and adult language) — Wes Craven’s 1977 cult horror film gets a 21st-century upgrade. An extended family’s vacation goes awry when their RV is set upon by a clan mutated by toxic waste. Kathleen Quinlan heads the mostly anonymous cast in a film that takes swipes at nuclear testing in the 1950s.

• The Libertine (2005) (R: Adult language, sexual situations and nudity). Johnny Depp is John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, a 17th century cad who lived his life one debauched moment at a time. He drank away his health but not before bedding a number of ladies and gentlemen, including an aspiring actress (Samantha Morton) who proves to be a far more complicated partner than expected. John Malkovich, buried under a flowing wig and false nose, co-stars as Charles II.

• The Shaggy Dog (2006) (PG) — A Disney update of two popular predecessors. The prototype, released in 1959, co-starred Fred MacMurray and Tommy Kirk; a 1976 sequel, “The Shaggy D.A.,” cast Dean Jones in an ostensibly grown-up version of the Kirk role, a teenager transformed into the family mutt. Tim Allen inherits these identities, playing an assistant district attorney who becomes a pooch while investigating an animal lab that has concocted a serum capable of inducing weird and comical mutations.

• Tsotsi (2005) (R: Scenes of extreme violence, mature situations and adult language) — A vicious young thug, nicknamed Tsotsi, rules over his youthful gang with nary a thought toward their victims. That changes when he carjacks an affluent woman and drives away with her baby in the back seat. Directed by Gavin Hood from his own screenplay. Academy Award winner, best foreign language film.

• Winter Passing (2006) (R) — The film writing-directing debut of playwright Adam Rapp, who observes Zooey Deschanel as a struggling young actress on a treasure-hunting pilgrimage to Michigan. She hopes to persaude her estranged father, a novelist played by Ed Harris, to publish some of his correspondence for a tidy sum. He is found rooming with two younger housemates, a grad student played by Amelia Warner and a musician played by Will Ferrell.

NOW SHOWING

• Aquamarine (2006) (PG) — The return of the mermaid as a comic heroine, courtesy of a novel by Alice Hoffman. Emma Roberts is cast as the fanciful title character, who washes ashore and befriends a couple of teenagers played by JoJo Levesque and Sara Paxton. Directed by Elizabeth Allen. Not reviewed.

• 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. Oscars for best direction (Ang Lee) and dramatic score. 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. Academy Award for best actor (Mr. Hoffman).

• 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.

• Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2006) (R: Adult language) — ***. Comic Dave Chappelle hosted an all-star hip hop concert in New York in 2004 and let a camera crew catch every good vibration. The film follows Mr. Chappelle from his Ohio home town, where he passes out tickets to the show, to the Big Apple, where performers like Kanye West, Jill Scott and the Roots rock the packed city streets. The film’s buoyant spirit and rollicking rap numbers provide the same kind of natural high Mr. Chappelle’s comedy often inspires. 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 16 Blocks (2006) (PG-13: Cop-style violence, tense situations and adult language) — **1/2. Bruce Willis plays a broken-down cop who rediscovers both his humanity and detective skills while protecting an informant (Mos Def). Mr. Willis’ cop must transport Def’s fast-talking Eddie 16 blocks to the courthouse, but the corrupt officers who will be hurt by Eddie’s testimony will do anything to make sure he never arrives. The film’s gritty first half features several gripping action set pieces, but before long the script veers into schmaltzy, buddy-cop terrain. 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 actress, writer, producer and director Tyler Perry, who continues her impersonation of a flamboyant Southern matriarch, this time observed planning a reunion and coping with several family crises. Not reviewed.

• 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. 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 to Reese Witherspoon as best actress. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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