- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2005


• 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.

• King Kong (2005) (PG-13) — Peter Jackson’s follow-up project after sweeping the Academy Awards with the last installment of “Lord of the Rings.” He returns to his favorite monster movie, the 1933 prototype that spawned one unsatisfactory remake in 1976. Armed with a budget of about $150 million, Mr. Jackson is reunited with co-writers Fran Walsh (his wife) and Philippa Boyens. Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody inherit the roles originally played by Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot, respectively. As before, they venture to primitive Skull Island in the 1930s and return to New York with its captive monarch, the gigantic ape Kong. Opens Wednesday.

• Syriana (2005) (R) — A topical suspense thriller about the agents of several countries and energy companies who share a cutthroat vested interest in Middle Eastern oil. Directed by Stephen Gaghan from his adaptation of Robert Baer’s book “See No Evil.” The cast includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, William Hurt, Michelle Monaghan, Tim Blake Nelson, Christopher Plummer and Amanda Peet.

• Winter Soldier (1972) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with frequent profanity and graphic accounts of war atrocities) — *1/2. A revival of the propaganda documentary assembled by a filmmaking “collective” that attended the three-day Detroit press conference held in 1971 by a group of veterans alleging atrocities by American troops in the Vietnam War. The footage is mostly talking-heads interviews or testimonials in grainy 16mm black-and-white stock. The future senator John F. Kerry makes a very fleeting appearance, as bystander rather than witness. More of a hostage to the past than an edifying or persuasive document, the film incorporates about 30 witnesses but keeps reverting to a handful who seem to mesmerize the collective for one reason or another. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.


• Aeon Flux (2005) (PG-13) — Pronounce it “Eon” and behold Charlize Theron in a blend of “The Matrix,” “Catwoman” and “La Femme Nikita.” Derived from an MTV cartoon of the 1990s, this live-action and ultra-digital enlargement has been in post-production for some time. Miss Theron is cast as a sleek assassin in a 25th-century city-state dominated by brainiacs. With Marton Csokas, Frances McDormand, Jonny Lee Miller and Sophie Okonedo. Not reviewed.

• The Aryan Couple (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, dealing with the depradations of Nazi Germany; occasional graphic violence and sexual allusions) — *1/2. This historical dud botches an escape melodrama set in Nazi-occupied Hungary, where an elderly Jewish industrial magnate played by Martin Landau has cut a deal with Heinrich Himmler to surrender all his assets, including a palace full of paintings, in exchange for safe passage to Switzerland for members of his family. Suspense and historical evocation are consistently undermined by preposterous contrivance, particularly when it comes to the title characters, a young Jewish couple who have been posing as the Aryan servants of Mr. Landau and his wife, Judy Parfitt. Although rumored to be Resistance agents, the impostors act peculiarly slack about exit plans of their own.

• Bee Season (2005) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and painful family conflict) — * An initially intriguing but eventually dispiriting movie version of the striking debut novel of Myla Goldberg. Her humorous voice tends to elude the screenwriting-directing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel. Flora Cross plays the poker-faced schoolgirl, Eliza, whose prowess at spelling elevates her in a family that betrays signs of desperation and estrangement. Overnight she becomes the pet of dad Richard Gere, a Jewish biblical scholar, whose marriage is threatened by the psychotic double life of spouse Juliette Binoche.

• 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.

• 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 does excel at farcical characterization. Chicken Little’s buddy, a hulking porker, is uproarious. A new 3-D process will enhance the film at some theaters. If it works, the movie might prove a technical breakthrough.

• Darwin’s Nightmare (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A polemical documentary feature by Hubert Sauper, who supposes the degradation of Lake Victoria as a result of introducing an aggressive marine species, the Nile perch. One of the 15 semifinalists in the 2005 Academy Award competition. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Derailed (2005) (R: Vulgar language, a violent sex scene and intense action sequences) — * Clive Owen plays a family man drawn into an almost-affair with another married woman (Jennifer Aniston). Before they can break their marital vows, a mugger attacks them and steals their IDs. Soon, they’re the target of an elaborate blackmail plan that leads to the expected violence and some unusual plot twists. The capable leads are miscast here, and the story’s believable setup devolves into a generic Hollywood thriller. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Dreamer: Inspired By a True Story (2005) (PG: Elements of family conflict; simulations of a horse race collision that injures an animal) — *1/2. Dakota Fanning plays a little girl who becomes devoted to a racehorse that has broken a leg. The filly’s rebound, supervised by Kurt Russell as Miss Fanning’s dad, is remarkably swift and culminates in her underdog entry in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, undeniably an overreach. Writer-director John Gatins falters in his directing debut while arranging to guarantee the horse’s speedy recovery and triumph. One’s willingness to play along is undermined by the shameless and sappy nature of the manipulation. With Kris Kristofferson as a Walter Brennan throwback, David Morse as an expedient heavy and Elisabeth Shue as a token mom.

• First Descent (2005) (PG-13) — Snowboarders go Alaskan, in a semi-documentary stunt spectacle that recruits Shawn Farmer, Nick Peralta, Terje Haakonsen, Shaun White and Hannah Teter, testing their skills in the Frozen North. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• In the Mix (2005) (PG-13) — A romantic comedy about the sudden mob connections of a New York deejay played by Usher, who saves the life of a gangster, Chazz Palmintieri, but jeopardizes the ensuing gratitude by falling for his daughter, Emmanuelle Chriqui. Not reviewed.

• Jarhead (2005) (R: Coarse language, partial nudity, military violence and sexual situations) — ***1/2. Director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) translates Anthony Swofford’s book about his time during the first Gulf War into a powerful film which deftly avoids partisan sniping. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a sniper in training who gets sent to Kuwait to wait for war to break out between Iraq and the United States. Superb supporting turns by Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard highlight this haunting and original look at men at war. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Just Friends (2005) (PG-13) — A romantic comedy starring Ryan Reynolds as a music executive whose crush on a high school classmate, Amy Smart, is reawakened by an encounter a decade later in their New Jersey hometown. He feels a far more confident suitor but is inconveniently squiring Anna Faris, a spoiled heiress with recording aspirations. Not reviewed.

• Machuca (2003) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A Chilean feature about two schoolboys from different social classes whose friendship is endangered by the political conflict surrounding Salvador Allende before his downfall in 1973. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon. Not reviewed.

• Paradise Now (2005) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere and occasional violence) — **1/2. A scenically and thematically striking account of two young Palestinians whose mission as suicide bombers, bound from Nablus to Tel Aviv, goes awry, illustrating the blunders and uncertainties that not even fanaticism can overcome in certain circumstances. Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s humorous, disillusioning outlook may help deflate myths of jihadist divinity and triumphalism. His instruments of terror, Said and Khaled, are thoroughly human and vulnerable. In Arabic with English subtitles.

• The Passenger (1975) (PG: Fleeting profanity, violence and sexual allusions) — *1/2. An inexplicable revival of one of Michelangelo Antonioni’s emptiest odysseys. Mr. Antonioni wanders from North Africa to London to Barcelona while failing to account for Jack Nicholson as a feckless TV journalist who impulsively switches identities with a dead Englishman, who turns out to have been an arms dealer. Maria Schneider, the “Last Tango” girl, was recruited as dubious romantic salvation. Nothing clever comes of the identity theft, but countless scenes languish in panoramic long shot. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 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.

• Rent (2005) (PG-13: Mature thematic material involving drugs and sexuality; profanity) — * A charming, if flawed, adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical about a group of outcasts struggling to make a living in pre-Giuliani Greenwich Village. A bombastic score and dated cultural markers contribute to the movie’s aura of staleness. Directed by Chris Columbus. Starring Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs and Jesse L. Martin. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A concert film showcasing the acerbic stand-up humorist, with appearances by Bob Odenkirk and sister Laura Silverman. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Shopgirl (2005) (R: Coarse language and sexual situations) — **1/2. Steve Martin brings his witty novella to the big screen as both star and screenwriter. The comic buries his wild and crazy side as a 50-ish millionaire who woos a young shop clerk (Claire Danes) who is simultaneously dating young Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman). The film’s love triangle is a bit wobbly, but “Shopgirl’s” strong performances and mature take on romance make it an unconventional date film. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Squid and the Whale (2005) (R) — * Noah Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical memoir of how a failed Manhattan marriage between writers (Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels), shatters the lives of their teenage sons.

• 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.

• Yours, Mine and Ours (2005) (PG: Recurrent slapstick vulgarity) — * A terminally moronic remake of the 1968 Henry Fonda-Lucille Ball domestic comedy inspired by a super-sized Navy household in the San Francisco Bay area. Dennis Quaid plays a widowed Coast Guard admiral with 10 children who marries Rene Russo, a handbag designer, who has eight. Several of Miss Russo’s kids are adopted, so the film can embrace cliched ethnic diversity. The location shifts to New London, Conn., where Mr. Quaid plays the new commandant of the Coast Guard Academy. Despite his elevated rank, dad is singled out for pratfalling abuse. Slapstick squalor and ineptitude rule, especially when there’s a pretext for food fights.

• Zathura (2005) (PG: Fantasy violence and threatening situations) — **1/2. The latest fantasy from the mind of “Jumanji” author Chris Van Allsburg makes for an early holiday treat for youngsters. Two squabbling brothers find themselves adrift in outer space when an old board game comes magically to life. The film’s slack pacing will leave adults equally adrift, but “Zathura” packs plenty of imaginative creatures and nifty special effects for its core audience. Reviewed by Christian Toto.


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