- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2006

OPENING

The Conformist (1971) (R: Occasional violence and sexual candor) — **1/2. Bernardo Bertolucci’s first immersion in costume romance, thinly camouflaged as a character study of a romantically and morally tormented secret service agent in the Mussolini regime. Played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, he is ordered to assassinate a former professor, a liberal exile residing in Paris with a smoldering young spouse, Dominique Sanda. Since the protagonist is accompanied by his own conjugal bombshell, Stefania Sandrelli, the door is wide open for a picturesque lesbian tease, which culminates in Mr. Bertolucci’s first tango in Paris, staged at a dance hall with the leading ladies as irresistibly slinky partners. Emblematic of the entire Bertolucci career, the movie fronts as a nightmarish political fable while being a pushover for erotic longing and titillation. In Italian with English subtitles. One week only, exclusively at the AFI Silver Theatre.

The Covenant (2006) (PG-13). A supernatural thriller, directed by Renny Harlin and set at a New England prep school where the privileged lads seem to be threatened by secret societies, ancient curses and sudden homicide.

Hollywoodland (2006) (R: Occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual candor). A mixture of movieland biopic and sinister speculation, recalling the circumstances that led to the premature death of actor George Reeves in June 1959. Presumed to be a suicide, he had achieved an unwelcome fame earlier in the decade playing Superman on a low-budget television series. The screenwriters account for the official explanation and formulate two alternate scenarios that involve foul play. With Ben Affleck as Reeves, Diane Lane and Robin Tunney as his consorts and Adrien Brody as a brash but struggling private eye, hired by the actor’s glowering mother, Lois Smith.

Nobelity (2006) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter). A documentary feature by Turk Pipkin, interweaving interviews about the future with nine Nobel Prize laureates. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

The Protector (2006) (R: Pervasive violence and some sexual content). Thai action hero Tony Jaa returns as a young man out to reclaim his family’s lost honor. Mr. Jaa’s last film released stateside, “Ong Bak,” earned him praise in the action film community, in part because he did his own stunt work.

NOW SHOWING

Accepted (2006) (PG-13). A farce about a group of high school cronies whose lack of college acceptance letters prompts them to organize a Potemkin campus of their own, with the connivance of an uncle (Lewis Black) who agrees to be the dean. Before long the deception proves a preposterous success and the student body grows by leaps and bounds. Not reviewed.

Beerfest (2006) (R: Crude and sexual content, language, nudity and substance abuse). Another irrepressibly vulgar farce from the comedy troupe called Broken Lizard, consisting of Jay Chandrasekhar (who also directs), Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske. The latter two Lizards are cast as American brothers of German extraction who stumble upon a vintage beer games competition while visiting the old country. The cast also includes Juergen Prochnow, Cloris Leachman and Mo’Nique. Not reviewed.

Boynton Beach Club (2006) (NR: Adult humor and mature themes) — **1/2. A group of sixtysomethings juggle love and bereavement at a senior living center. The film’s seasoned cast includes Joseph Bologna, Renee Taylor, Sally Kellerman and Brenda Vaccaro. “Boynton” is often hilarious and treats its seniors with respect, but the picture’s final reel feels forced and artificial. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

Crank (2006) (R: Strong violence, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and drug use). Jason Statham stars as a hit man injected with a deadly poison. In order to live, he has to keep his adrenaline flowing otherwise the poison will take effect. “Crank” co-stars Amy Smart and country crooner/actor Dwight Yoakam. Not reviewed.

Crossover (2006) (PG-13). A sports melodrama about basketball prodigies played by Wesley Jonathan and Anthony Mackie, who hope to showcase their talents during a streetball tournament in Los Angeles where most rules of the game are suspended. Written and directed by Preston A. Whitmore II. Not reviewed.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) (PG-13) — *** A movie version of the Lauren Weisberger best-seller of 2003 about a young college grad, played by Anne Hathaway, who lands a seemingly enviable job as assistant to Meryl Streep, the editor of a fashion magazine. Before long, her boss’s tyrannical streak proves intolerable. The novel was presumed to be a thinly fictionalized memoir of Miss Weisberger’s post-collegiate sojourn at Vogue. The cast also includes Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Emily Blunt and Adrian Grenier. A surprisingly thoughtful look at an industry about which there is much to love and, deliciously, much to hate. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

Factotum (2006) (R). A movie version of one of Charles Bukowski’s autobiographical novels, with Matt Dillon cast as a hard-drinking alter-ego called Henry Chinaski, observed boozing, courting and working. Adapted and directed by the Scandinavian filmmaker Bent Hamer, who made the witty “Kitchen Stories” a few years ago. With Lily Taylor as the hero’s principal consort. Not reviewed.

Half Nelson (2006) (R: Drug use, adult language, sexual situations and violence) **1/2. Ryan Gosling of “The Notebook” plays an earnest teacher battling a serious drug addiction. He reaches out to one of his students (Shareeka Epps) who may provide the hope he desperately needs. Mr. Gosling’s work here is revelatory but the film’s too ambitious and scattershot in its ideological underpinnings. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

Heading South (2005) (No MPAA rating: Sexual situations, nudity, adult language and disturbing themes) — ***. A group of older American women travel to Haiti to gain sexual gratification from the country’s young males. What begins as “Sex and the City”-style debauchery turns into a smart tale of mutual exploitation amidst the backdrop of a troubled nation. Exclusively at the Avalon and Landmark E Street Cinema. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

How to Eat Fried Worms (2006) (PG). A movie version of the juvenile best-seller by Thomas Rockwell, with Luke Benwald as an 11-year-old who agrees to a foolish wager when confronted by the school bully. Adapted and directed by Bob Dolman, whose supporting cast includes Kimberly Williams, Hallie Kate Eisenberg and Tom Cavanaugh. Not reviewed.

Idlewild (2006) (R) — . An original film musical with a 1930s setting by members of the hip-hop group OutKast, Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton. The film looks terrific — beautifully framed in dusky, sensuous hues befitting the underworld of the Depression-era. But looks, alas, can be deceiving. Directed by Bryan Barber, the film is little more than an extended music video enabling its stars to play dress-up and preen amid a contrived and confused plot set to anachronistic hip-hop songs, complete with a predictable ending. Mr. Benjamin doesn’t outright fumble his lines. Mostly, he looks gorgeous on screen. Cicely Tyson and Patti LaBelle contribute little in star cameos. The choreography by District native and three-time Tony winner Hinton Battle is splendid, but can’t rescue this film. Reviewed by Robyn-Denise Yourse.

The Illusionist (2006) (PG-13: Some sexuality and violence) — **1/2. Edward Norton is the title character, a stage magician circa 1900 Vienna whose show seems more magic than simple slight of hand. His act draws the ire of Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) and his conflicted police captain (Paul Giamatti). The stars shine as expected but the film trips over a soggy love triangle. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

Invincible (2006) (PG: Sports violence and some adult language). ***. The true story of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Vince Papale is told with considerable emotion in this new biopic. Mark Wahlberg is Vince, rabid Eagles fan, recent divorcee and superior weekend warrior who decides to check out an open tryout for his favorite team. Weeks later, he’s on the squad. The film hits all the expected sports film highlights, but does so with a passion befitting its underdog subject. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006) (R) — ***1/2. A hilarious black comedy that follows a family of misfits on a road trip from Albuquerque, N.M., to Redondo Beach, Calif., in a broken-down VW bus as they try to get 7-year-old Olive to California in time to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. This could be the funniest film of the year. With Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette as the parents, Alan Arkin as an irascible gramps, Steve Carell as a traumatized brother-in-law and Abigail Breslin and Paul Dano as the kids. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

Material Girls (2006) (PG: Fleeting vulgarity and sexual allusions) — ***. A disarming comedy vehicle for the Duff sisters, Hilary and Haylie, who profit from a modestly clever script and a director (Martha Coolidge) who seems to know how to protect the likable aspects in potentially insufferable heroines. They’re cast as heiresses who transcend a spoiled-moronic L.A. lifestyle by responding resourcefully to an attempt to sabotage their late father’s cosmetic business by defaming his reputation. The supporting cast has a kind of homecoming weekend appeal if you’ve been a moviegoer for a generation or two: Anjelica Huston, Brent Spiner, Maria Conchita Alonso, Lukas Haas, Colleen Camp. Reviewed by Gary Arnold.

Miami Vice (2006) (R) — **1/2. Michael Mann’s update of his glitzy police detective TV series of the 1980s is darker and deeper than the NBC television show. As writer and director of the film, Mr. Mann has replaced the sun and pastels with dark nightclubs and shades of gray — in both color and morals. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx play the Miami narcs Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, respectively. Gong Li and Naomi Harris are their consorts. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

My Country, My Country (2006) (NR: Some violence, mature themes and bloody imagery) — ***1/2. Absorbing documentary following a middle aged Iraqi doctor who decides to run for office in the weeks before his country’s historic elections. The film expertly balances the frightening violence gripping the country with the flicker of hope the upcoming vote provides. Exclusively at the Avalon. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) (PG-13: Some intense action sequences, frightening imagery) — ** Capt. Jack Sparrow is back in the first of two sequels to the surprise 2003 smash. Capt. Jack (Johnny Depp) is reunited with Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) in a chase to capture the beating heart of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). The snap of the original is gone, replaced by complicated story lines and numbing action sequences. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

The Quiet (2006) (R). A domestic mystery melodrama about a cheerleading teen (Elisha Cutherbert) who reacts with less than total generosity when her parents decide to adopt a deaf girl (Camilla Belle), whose silence gradually makes her a favorite confidante of classmates. Edie Falco is also in the cast. Directed by James Babbit from a screenplay by Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft. Not reviewed.

Quinceanera (2006) (R) — ***. This may be the most insightful film about Latino culture in a long while. The title alludes to the approaching 15th birthday celebration of heroine Magdalena, played by Emily Rios in an impressive debut. When she discovers she’s pregnant, her preacher father kicks her out of the family home. She moves in with a forgiving great-uncle, who already has one tenant, a young nephew, on the premises. With Jesse Garcia and Chalo Gonzalez. Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. Some dialogue in Spanish with English subtitles. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

Snakes on a Plane (2006) (R) — **1/2. The heavily promoted reptile-phobic thriller with Samuel L. Jackson starring as the most resourceful potential victim on a flight imperiled by hundreds of poisonous snakes. Director David R. Ellis strikes just the right tone for such B-movie nonsense in the opening moments and hangs on for dear life. The shock moments are uniformly telegraphed. The film is a lowest common denominator romp. Reviewed by Christian Toto on The Washington Times Web site.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) (PG-13: Crude and sexual humor, language, drug references and brief comic violence) — ***. Will Ferrell is Ricky Bobby, a NASCAR legend trying to fend off a challenge from a French racing phenom (Sacha Baron Cohen). The film lets Mr. Ferrell dig deeper into his farcical brand of humor, but ultimately his supporting troupe brightens the spotty material. Mr. Cohen’s Jean Girard transforms “Talladega Nights” from a middling star vehicle into a consistently amusing romp. Also co-starring are John C. Reilly, Gary Cole and Jane Lynch. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

The Wicker Man (2006) (PG-13). An Americanized remake of a 1973 British mystery thriller that cast Edward Woodward as a police detective investigating the disappearance of a child on a remote island that turned out to harbor a coven of cultists who reverted to pagan sacrifices. This reprise is set on an island off the coast of Maine and unites Nicolas Cage as the sleuth and Neil LaBute as writer-director. The cast also includes Ellen Burstyn, Leelee Sobieski, Molly Parker and Frances Conroy. Not reviewed.

World Trade Center (2006) (PG-13: Intense and emotional content, some disturbing images and language) — **1/2. Director Oliver Stone re-creates the September 11 attacks with all the precision and reverence he can muster. What Mr. Stone’s film doesn’t do is go beyond the headlines and obvious emotional highlights. Stars Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena fare best as two Port Authority workers trapped under the fallen Twin Towers. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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