- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

OPENING

• The Brothers Grimm (2005) (PG-13: Recurrent ominous episodes emphasizing demonic spectacle; some gruesome illustrative details and sexual allusions) A tackily conceived shambles that encourages Terry Gilliam to flail away. Screenwriter Ehren Krueger thinks it droll to envision the famous philologists and folklorists Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm as a fraternal set of con men. Portrayed by Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, they make a disreputable profession of faking supernatural scares in rural communities and then contracting to exorcise the demons. While exploiting the credulity of one village, they blunder into a “real” deathtrap of a haunted forest, the domain of a zombie Rapunzel, who dwells in a tower and shapeshifts from seductive to hideous. Another unflattering showcase for Monica Bellucci. The movie displays no appreciation for the actual lives and achievements of the Grimms and keeps stumbling over its own strenuous horror effects.

• The Cave (2005) (PG-13) — The latest variant on “Alien,” with Cole Hauser and Eddie Cibrian as adventurous brothers who recruit Morris Chestnut and Piper Perabo for a spelunking and diving expedition to Romania, where a vast, unexplored cavern has been discovered beneath a 13th century abbey. Directed by Bruce Hunt.

• The Constant Gardener (2005) (R) — A movie version of the John Le Carre novel, with Ralph Fiennes as a British diplomat in Kenya who investigates the violent death of wife Rachel Weisz, a left-wing political activist who appears to have been taking shameful advantage of his trust. With Danny Huston and Bill Nighy as dishonorable compatriots. Directed by Fernando Meirelles. Opens Wednesday.

• Junebug (2005) (R) — An independent feature about an awkward family reunion in North Carolina, where art dealer Embeth Davidtz meets the parents (Celia Watson and Scott Wilson) and brother (Benjamin McKenzie) of her husband, Alessandro Nivola, for the first time. The family circle also includes Amy Adams as a pregnant, garrulous sister-in-law. Directed by Phil Morrisson.



• Lila Says (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. A French-language romantic comedy set in Marseille and directed by a Lebanese transplant, Ziad Doueiri. He casts Mohammend Khouas as an aspiring writer from a Muslim neighborhood attracted to a flirtatious blonde bicyclist named Lila, played by Vahina Giocante. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema.

• Undiscovered (2005) (PG-13) — A comedy-melodrama about the romance of a model with acting aspirations, Pell James, and a singer-songwriter, Steven Strait, reunited in Los Angeles after a brief acquaintance in New York. Directed by Meiert Avis.

NOW SHOWING

• The Aristocrats (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — Some kind of elaborate practical joke hatched by comedians Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza, who recruit scores of cronies and/or stand-up comics to kibitz about an antique joke purported to be the filthiest thing of its kind ever conceived or performed. The accomplices include Gilbert Gottfried, Jon Stewart, George Carlin, Drew Carey, Steven Wright, Harry Shearer, Martin Mull, Paul Reiser and Hank Azaria. Not reviewed.

• Asylum (2005) (R: Morbid sexual content, with occasional nudity and simulated intercourse; occasional graphic violence) * Natasha Richardson sleepwalks into her 40s as the adulterous wife of the new deputy superintendent of a Yorkshire mental institution in 1959. With no discernible interests beyond smoking and light gardening, she proves easy carnal pickings for inmate Marton Csokas, a sculptor imprisoned for butchering his wife. The only question that emerges from this volcanic dalliance: “How low can she go?” Answer: “Flat on the pavement.” One of the movies least likely to put a song in your heart and bounce in your step. With Hugh Bonneville as the cuckolded husband and Ian McKellen as his senior colleague, a calmly domineering collector of loonies.

• Balzac and the Little Seamstress (2003) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with elements of comic vulgarity and sexual candor) — **. A Chinese film that takes a wistfully nostalgic view of the follies of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Two city-bred teenagers, Luo and Ma, are sent to the countryside for “re-education” in the early 1970s. They find and nurture an infatuation with a village charmer known as the Little Seamstress, since her grandfather is a revered tailor. A romance between the girl and Luo ensues after the boys begin reading to her from a cache of European novels in translation. The illiterate heroine is particularly drawn to Balzac. Very attractively shot in mountainous locales, the movie tends to take the human costs of the period lightly until forcing a crisis. Then it miscalculates again by losing track of the heroine. In Mandarin with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Broken Flowers (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, nudity and sexual candor; fleeting violence) — *1/2. Another exercise in starvation comedy from Jim Jarmusch, whose material often resembles wilted flowers. Bill Murray is cast as a hard-to-redeem protagonist, an inert and sketchily defined computer entrepreneur who has allowed his life to wilt. This middle-aged sad sack has acquired a reputation as a Don Juan. He goes on a wild goose chase to look up four discarded consorts, played in order by Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton. Only the Stone stopover pays humorous dividends, in part because the old flame has a flirty teenage daughter named Lolita (Alexis Dziena) who enjoys treating the visitor like a potential Humbert.

• Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) (PG: Quirky situations and mild language) — ***. The Roald Dahl classic, which inspired the delightful 1971 film featuring Gene Wilder, gets retold more accurately by Tim Burton. Johnny Depp stars as the retiring candy king who invites a group of children into his factory to earn the right to be his heir. Mr. Depp’s quirky performance pales in comparison to Mr. Wilder’s, but there’s enough child-like wonder here to justify the retelling. Danny Elfman’s score and original Oompa Loompa tunes bring a fresh voice to the story. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Cronicas (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A Mexican-produced suspense thriller starring John Leguizamo as an ambitious television reporter from Miami who endangers himself and his crew while pursuing the trail of a serial killer to a small town in Ecuador. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Deuce Bigalow European Gigolo (2005) (R: Pervasive crude and sexual humor, language, nudity and drug content) — **. Rob Schneider follows up his surprise 1999 hit with another round of doofus debauchery. His Deuce character winds up in Amsterdam on the trail of a male prostitute murderer. Original “Deuce” co-star Eddie Griffin returns as Deuce’s crass but comical pal. It’s as silly and lewd as it sounds, but Mr. Schneider’s lovable Deuce has his moments. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) (PG-13: Sexual content, profanity, crude and drug-related humor, and comic violence) — *1/2. Seann William Scott (“American Pie”) and Johnny Knoxville (“Jackass”) play country-boy cousins Bo and Luke Duke in this juvenile raunch-up of the family-friendly TV series set in rural Georgia. Incredibly tacky and yet surprisingly dull at nearly every hairpin turn. Also starring Jessica Simpson and Willie Nelson. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005) (R: Profanity; pervasive sexuality; crude humor; drug use) ? *** An unapologetically hilarious sex farce with sweetness at its center, starring brilliantly understated comedian Steve Carell as a terminally chaste electronics store stock supervisor. His work buddies (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen) entice him to do the deed with all manner of floozies, but he’s got his heart set on Catherine Keener’s doggedly classy Trish. Directed by Judd Apatow. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Four Brothers (2005) (R: Strong language, violence and mature situations) — ***. Director John Singleton, hot again after helping produce the indie hit “Hustle & Flow,” directs this simplistic revenge tale co-starring Mark Wahlberg. The actor plays one of four adopted siblings out to find the men responsible for killing their mother. The film also stars Andre 3000, better known to music fans as half of OutKast. The engaging cast, and two standout set pieces, pave over the wafer-thin morality.

• The Great Raid (2005) (R: Graphic depictions of combat, torture and mass execution in a World War II setting) — **** A great new war movie that catches up with a gallant rescue mission improvised on short notice in late January of 1945 in the Philippines. A company of U.S. Army Rangers and a larger contingent of Filipino guerrillas surround and assault the Cabanatuan prison camp, where about 500 Allied survivors of the Japanese conquest and the Bataan Death March in 1942 remain captives of the Japanese army, now in systematic retreat from Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s forces. Subplots observe the approaching Rangers, the prisoners and members of the anti-Japanese resistance in Manila. All tensions culminate in a brilliant night battle sequence. Beautifully visualized from the outset, in color so deftly subdued that it tends to evoke black-and-white, the movie retrieves profoundly touching documentary footage of the mission’s aftermath during the finale. With stellar performances by Benjamin Bratt and James Franco as Ranger officers and by Joseph Fiennes, Connie Nielsen and a pair of charismatic menaces, Motoki Kobayashi and Gotaro Tsunashima. Among its many authentic evocations, the film takes the Japanese very seriously as adversaries. Directed by John Dahl, whose aptitude for thrillers has taken a quantum leap into another genre.

• Grizzly Man (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and evidence of dementia in a documentary format) — **1/2. An authentically unnerving memoir of a demented personality, a failed actor who called himself Tim Treadwell and won renown by promoting himself as a “protector” of Alaskan grizzly bears. For many years he taped his trips to the wilderness, where he tried to get up close and personal with the wildlife. Ultimately, he got so close that a rogue grizzly mauled him (and a female companion) to death. Werner Herzog, always attracted to lunacy, was invited to distill a feature from the Treadwell collection of vacation tapes, which also preserved numerous psychotic rants for the camera. If you think it can be edifying to see madness dead-on, “Grizzly Man” provides the real-life horror.

• Hustle & Flow (2005) (R: Harsh language, drug use, violence and sexual situations) — ***1/2. Terrence Howard dominates this fascinating tale of a pimp trying for his own piece of the American dream. Mr. Howard’s Djay thinks he could be the next big rap star, and he’s teaming up with an old high school friend (Anthony Anderson) for one last stab at stardom. The film doesn’t cower from the sins of its antihero, nor does it deny Djay a chance at redemption. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Island (2005) (PG-13: Intense violence, some sexuality and mature themes — **1/2. Director Michael Bay (“Armageddon”) nearly drowns this futuristic thriller with his stylish excesses, but an intriguing tale rises above the din. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson star as two clones who escape from an enclosed society after learning they were created to supply organs for the rich. The leads offer zero romantic sparks but some of Mr. Bay’s action sequences dazzle. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• March of the Penguins (2005) (G) —***. This often dazzling film capturing the life cycle of the emperor penguin will entertain even those normally repelled by nature documentaries. The creatures in question endure brutal temperatures and unforgiving landscapes yet maintain their species through fascinating coping measures. The film’s photography, which brings us right into the penguin world, occasionally is eclipsed by its cutesier segues. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Must Love Dogs (2005) (PG-13: Sexual content) — ***. An utterly charming, if excessively articulate, romantic comedy starring Diane Lane and John Cusack as fortysomething marriage losers rebounding through the magic — and the mayhem — of online matchmaking. Directed by Gary David Goldberg. Also starring Christopher Plummer, Elizabeth Perkins and Dermot Mulroney. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Pretty Persuasion(2005) (R: Strong language, mature themes and nudity. **”Thirteen’s” Evan Rachel Wood stars a morally repugnant teen who falsely accuses her teacher (Ron Livingston) of molesting her. That’s the ignition for this black comedy, an uneven farce which tries to emulate equally dark movies like “Election” and “Heathers.” Too bad the film’s satirical swipes are so heavy handed and the characters never coalesce into recognizable sorts. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Red Eye (2005) (PG-13: Graphic violence, strong language and adult situations.) — **1/2. Horror maestro Wes Craven dials down the bloodshed for this taut thriller set mostly aboard an airplane. Rachel McAdams plays a woman singled out by a terrorist (Cillian Murphy) to help him carry out a hit on the deputy secretary of Homeland Security. The early nail-biting sequences give way to a silly and uneven finale. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Sky High (2005) (PG: Occasional violent spectacle in a science-fiction style with comic overtones) — ***. A surprisingly witty and entertaining synthesis of “The Incredibles” with high-school romantic farce in the John Hughes vein and superschool rivalries that resemble Hogwarts Academy. Sky High, secluded above a lofty cloud bank, recruits the supernaturally precocious. Entering freshman Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the only son of titans Steve and Josie Stronghold (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston), celebrated for their feats as The Commander and Jetstream. Will, whose super powers have yet to manifest themselves, is placed in the school’s also-ran category. He is comforted by a dream girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) whose motives may be suspect. The student body and faculty are generously stocked with amusing types and skillful performers.

• Stealth (2005) (PG-13: Action violence, sexual situations and coarse language) — ***. Director Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) scores again with this action thriller following a futuristic jet guided by a computer brain. Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx are the human leads, but Mr. Cohen’s nifty flying sequences are the real stars here. “Stealth” even sneaks in some thoughts on fighting wars without the human element, but the movie never strays too far from its popcorn roots. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Tunnel (2001) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor, including simulated intercourse) — *1/2. The belated American release of a near-epic German melodrama supposedly inspired by the first efforts to tunnel under the Berlin Wall at the time it was being constructed in 1961. NBC News showcased the tunnelers’ successful project on a “White Paper” special. A great deal of the movie’s re-enactment borders on the stilted and preposterous. Heino Ferch, later cast as Albert Speer in “Downfall,” plays a superheroic figure, a former swimming champion in East Germany who looks determined to the dig the tunnel singlehanded. The director, Roland Suso Richter, seems more than ready to compete with Michael Bay at delirious melodrama. In German with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Valiant (2005) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — ***. This computer-animation caprice from a humorously resourceful team is an upbeat surprise. The material is affectionately and expertly British: a salute to fledgling members of the Royal Homing Pigeon Service, entrusted with a mission to Occupied France on the eve of D-Day. Ewan McGregor supplies the voice of the plucky, undersized hero, Valiant, whose principal sidekick is a Cockney motormouth called Bugsy, dubbed by Ricky Gervais. The evocations of World War II patriotism and pop culture are consistently witty. The animators also possess a flair for bird characterization and interplay that makes lavish production resources unnecessary. The welcome voices include Tim Curry (as the villain, a glowering Prussian falcon), Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, John Cleese (in great form as a captive pigeon injected with truth serum), John Hurt, Olivia Williams and Pip Torrens. The song score includes savory inserts of “The White Cliffs of Dover” by Mr. Gervais and “Non je ne regrette rien” by Edith Piaf.

• War of the Worlds (2005) (PG-13: Disturbing imagery and sci-fi violence) — ***1/2. Steven Spielberg returns to the summer blockbuster format with this spectacular re-imagining of the H.G. Wells classic. Tom Cruise stars as a divorced dad who tries to save his family when an alien invasion hits his town. The actor’s peculiar publicity moves are quickly forgotten when the alien creatures start incinerating everything in sight. Nobody creates rock ‘em, sock ‘em entertainment quite like Mr. Spielberg, who is at the peak of his powers here. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Wedding Crashers (2005) (R: Profanity; strong sexuality; nudity) — ***. The most successful installment of the “Frat Pack” to date, starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as professional wedding crashers. True love and other hilarities threaten to end the infantile duo’s streak at a post-wedding weekend on the Eastern Shore. Directed by David Dobkin. Also starring Christopher Walken and Rachel McAdams. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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