- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

OPENING

• Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005) (PG-13) — A domestic drama starring Kimberly Elise as a housewife who finds security and affluence in things of the past when her wealthy husband announces that he plans to move his mistress in and his spouse out of their fashionable Atlanta home. Directed by Darren Grant from Tyler Perry’s adaptation of his own play.

• Cursed (2005) (PG-13) — A horror thriller about siblings trying to recover from grief over the death of their parents and then the ravages of a werewolf attack near their home in the canyons of Los Angeles. A reunion project for several people involved in “Scream,” including director Wes Craven, screenwriter Kevin Williamson and co-star Skeet Ulrich. The cast also features Christina Ricci, Shannon Elizabeth and Scott Foley.

• Head On (2004) (No MPAA Rating; adult subject matter) — A topical romantic melodrama about struggling, devious Turkish immigrants in Hamburg. Played by Briol Uenel and Sibel Kekilli, they agree to a marriage of convenience that later ripens into genuine devotion. Directed by Fatih Akin. In German and Turkish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Man of the House (2005) (PG-13) — A suspense comedy starring Tommy Lee Jones as a Texas Ranger who becomes the live-in bodyguard for a quintet of University of Texas cheerleaders who witnessed a murder. With Cedric the Entertainer as designated sidekick, Anne Archer as a faculty adviser and Christina Milian, Paula Garces, Monica Keena, Kelli Garner and Vanessa Ferlito as the pep squad. Directed by Stephen Herek from a screenplay that originated with the team of John J. McLaughlin and Scott Lobdell, new to the movies, and was revamped by the team of Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, who gave you “Intolerable Cruelty.”



• Nobody Knows (2004) (No MPAA rating; adult subject matter, dealing with an extended case of child neglect and abandonment). The Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-ada gets your attention with a domestic situation that appears primed for calamity. An unmarried mother with four young children moves into a Tokyo apartment under false pretenses, acknowledging only her eldest, a 12-year-old named Akira, as a fellow tenant. The remaining children are smuggled in by suitcase. Mom is inclined to vanish for months, leaving the dependable Akira with insufficient funds to outlast the intervals. Eventually, she fails to show up at all. The youngsters, advised to lay low and avoid people, are remarkably docile while cooped up for months. A polemical plodder, the filmmaker envisions an interminable state of abandonment. The title is a misnomer: several characters learn of the youngsters’ distress, including their bewildering landlady, who shrugs it off. In Japanese with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

NOW SHOWING

• The Aviator (2004) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, graphic violence, sexual candor and vulgarity, and depictions of demented behavior; fleeting nudity) — **1/2. A compressed and bewildering plunge into the colorful, notorious life of Howard Hughes, impersonated by Leonardo DiCaprio from the eccentric genius’s early 20s to early 40s, or 1927-47. The romance of Hollywood and the romance of aviation during the 1930s provide director Martin Scorsese with his liveliest inducements. There is a trio of dandy sequences with Mr. DiCaprio’s Hughes in the cockpit, two spectacularly perilous and one a charming romantic interlude with Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn. Screenwriter John Logan portrays the hero’s sudden, debilitating lapses into dementia but neglects to cushion or clarify their weirdness. The last hour or so bogs down in a supremely bizarre breakdown and a tedious duel with a hostile senator played by Alan Alda. Eleven Academy Award nominations, including best movie, director, actor, supporting actor and supporting actress.

• Because of Winn-Dixie (2005) (PG: Occasional slapstick vulgarity and thematic aspects that deal with family loss and conflict) — **1/2. Ineptitude with comedy hokum on the part of director Wayne Wang gets this adaptation of a Newberry Medal novel off on the wrong paws. Particularly when characters need to chase a shaggy but redemptive mutt called Winn-Dixie, adopted by a lonely, motherless 10-year-old named Opal (Anna Sophia Robb). Her dad (Jeff Daniels) is the new preacher at a storefront Baptist church in a listless Florida town. When the tone becomes wistful and sentimental, the movie improves dramatically. The dog, a performing virtuoso, helps Opal bond with several classmates and melancholy grown-ups. Eva-Marie Saint and Cicely Tyson play elderly eccentrics; Dave Matthews joins the ensemble as an ex-con with a guitar.

• Boogeyman 2005 (PG-13: Horror-style violence and partial nudity) — *. Barry Watson of “Seventh Heaven” stars as a young man who returns to his childhood home to face the fears that once kept him up at night. Staying awake is the hardest part of watching this uninspired dreck. “Boogeyman” comes from a new mini-studio forged partly by Sam Raimi of “Evil Dead” fame, but the quirky auteur’s touch is nowhere to be seen on the finished product. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Born into Brothels (2004) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, set largely in an authentic red-light district in Calcutta; occasional profanity and sexual candor; allusions to child abuse and violence) — **1/2. A British photographer named Zana Briski settled in Calcutta and became absorbed in the problems confronting the children of several prostitutes. She started a photography class for eight of them and tried to enroll some in boarding schools. The children are enormously appealing. Miss Briski’s generous impulses are filtered through a flinty, sad-sack presence that arouses intrusive neurotic vibes. Nevertheless, the raw material remains compelling. Having won scores of festival awards over the past year, the movie is an Oscar finalist as best documentary feature. Some dialogue in Bengali with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Bride and Prejudice (2005) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — ***1/2. A sumptuous and rollicking musical comedy update of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” from the makers of “Bend It Like Beckham.” An exotic English-language entertainment, it’s a far more elaborate and extroverted proposition, ranging from India to London to Beverly Hills and back while revamping the Austen characters among affluent Indians. The Bollywood influence is vividly reflected in the production numbers staged by Saroj Khan. With the goddessy Aishwarya Rai as the heroine, called Lalita, and Martin Henderson as her Darcy.

• The Chorus (2004) (PG-13: Fleeting violence and profanity; thematic emphasis on juvenile delinquency) — ***. The most successful movie in France during the past year and a plausible favorite as best foreign language film in the Academy Awards. It salutes an exemplary teacher (Gerard Jugnot), who uses choral music to break down the resistance of students at a school for orphaned and delinquent boys in the Auvergne, circa 1949. In French with English subtitles. Oscar nominations for best song and foreign language film.

• Coach Carter (2005) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, racial epithets and sexual candor, including a subplot about a pregnant teenager) — **. Ponderous inspirational sledding from Thomas Carter, the director of “Swing Kids” and “Save the Last Dance.” His eponymous hero is the stubbornly demanding Ken Carter, a businessman in Richmond, Calif., who agrees to take over as the high school basketball coach and then dares to suspend the entire squad and forfeit games when players fall short of his minimum academic standards. Samuel L. Jackson stars as the estimable coach, and it’s too easy to endorse his goals without finding the role itself genuinely clever and winning.

• Constantine (2005) (R: Disturbing images, adult language and explicit violence) — **1/2. Keanu Reeves takes on the DC Comics’ “Hellblazer” series, a darkly imagined world filled with demons and ghostly visions. It’s an ambitious undertaking and the normally wooden Mr. Reeves is more than up to the task, but the filmmakers won’t fully invest in the pulpy material. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Fear and Trembling (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with fleeting nudity and some sinister thematic elements) — **1/2. A slap-in-the-face companion feature for “Lost in Translation” from the French director Alain Corneau. He transposes a semi-autobiographical best seller by Belgian author Amelie Nothomb, confiding a year of passive-aggressive misery spent as the outsider in a Japanese workplace. In French and Japanese with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Finding Neverland (2004) (PG: Thematic preoccupation with family tragedy and loss) —***. A stirring and often imaginative tear-jerker predicated on the original production of James M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” a century ago. The unhappily married author (Johnny Depp) adopts a grieving family after a chance meeting with four boys whose father has died recently. Barrie grows fond of the boys and their mother, Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies (Kate Winslet), then creates his wistful fantasy of Neverland as an act of rejuvenating devotion. Several facts are altered: The doomed father, never seen in the film, died three years after the premiere of “Peter Pan.” The role of Barrie is blandly benign, but the story remains a sentimental powerhouse. Seven Oscar nominations, including best movie and actor.

• Hide and Seek (2005) (R: Frightening sequences; violence) — **1/2. Taut psychological thriller starring Robert De Niro as the father of a traumatized girl (Dakota Fanning) with violent fantasies involving an imaginary friend. Director John Polson and first-time screenwriter Ari Schlossberg do everything right except what matters most: the Big Twist. Also starring Dylan Baker. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Hitch 2005 (PG-13: Suggestive humor and comic violence)— *1/2. Will Smith wastes his nearly endless supply of charm in this rancid romantic comedy. We’re told Mr. Smith’s Hitch is the ultimate date doctor, but he meets his match with the commitment-shy Sara (Eva Mendes). “The King of Queens’” Kevin James is the lone bright spot as a nebbishy accountant trying to woo a debutante with Hitch’s help. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• In Good Company 2005 (PG-13: Sexual situations, harsh language and alcohol use) — *** “About a Boy” writer-director Paul Weitz thumbs his nose at corporate misdeeds with this almost great dramedy. Dennis Quaid stars as an older ad salesman who gets replaced at work by an upstart (Topher Grace) who has never sold an ad in his life. Their tense relationship sharpens when said upstart falls for Mr. Quaid’s daughter (Scarlett Johansson). The film’s bright performances and sophistication get torpedoed by a conventional epilogue that belongs in another, lesser, film. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Hotel Rwanda (2004) (PG-13: Occasional graphic violence and profanity; fleeting images of sexual abuse and exploitation) — **1/2. A dramatization of the harrowing dilemma experienced by Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager in Kigala, Rwanda, who sheltered hundreds of refugees during the genocidal slaughters of 1994, in which members of the Tutsi tribal population were murdered systematically by vengeful Hutu countrymen. Don Cheadle is cast as Mr. Rusesabagina, a compassionate sophisticate obliged to bribe and outwit cutthroats. Sophie Okonedo contributes a vivid and impressive performance as his wife. Oscar nominations for Mr. Cheadle and Miss Okonedo.

• House of Flying Daggers (2004) (PG-13: Stylized martial-arts violence and some sexual themes) — ****. Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s “Daggers” aims to be this year’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” but actually manages to upstage that critical darling. The film follows a clash between revolutionaries wielding “flying daggers” and the government forces out to stop them. The director’s last film, “Hero,” earned strong notices and the praise of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino earlier this year, and this epic should be no different. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Million Dollar Baby (2004) (PG-13: Boxing violence; mild profanity; disturbing themes) — ***. Another emotionally powerful, morally daring movie from Clint Eastwood, who directs and stars as boxing trainer Frankie Dunn, who reluctantly takes female pugilist Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) into his corner. Also starring Morgan Freeman. Seven Academy Award nominations, including best movie, director, actor, actress and supporting actor. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2004) (PG-13: Frequent violence in the context of a martial arts spectacle) — *1/2. An impressive athletic showcase for the Thai martial arts specialist Tony Jaa, whose energy and dexterity rationalize a cartoonish modern folk yarn about an indomitable village lad, Ting, who overcomes all the snares of Bangkok’s underworld while pursuing a stolen Buddha figure. In Thai with English subtitles.

• Pooh’s Heffalump Movie (2005) (G) — ***. The Disney company adds a graceful new feature to its Winnie the Pooh collection — and takes the liberty of depicting the mythical Heffalumps of the A.A. Milne stories as lavender toy elephants. The legendary critters are vainly stalked by Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Rabbit, but peaceful coexistence is established before tea time. A commendable introductory feature for pre-schoolers, with a song score by Carly Simon.

• Ray (2004) (PG-13: Depiction of drug addiction; sexuality; tragic death scene) — ***1/2. Jamie Foxx gives a memorable performance as the late Ray Charles in Taylor Hackford’s moving biography of an American musical icon. Oscar nominations for best movie, director and actor. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Rory O’Shea was Here (2004) (R: profanity; mild sexual suggestiveness) —*** A defiantly mirthful Irish import about two disabled friends (James McAvoy, Steven Robertson) who test-drive a life of independence. Also starring Romola Garai. Directed by Damien O’Donnell. Written by Jeffrey Caine. Reviewed by Scott Galupo

• The Sea Inside (2004) (PG-13: Adult thematic content, involving severe injury and suicide; occasional profanity, domestic conflict and sexual allusions) — **81/2. The talented young Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar takes on the real-life story of a former ship’s mechanic who fought a 30-year campaign to end his life and became the figurehead of an organization called Death With Dignity. Paralyzed from the neck down, Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem) resides with a tight-knit family in Galicia, surrounded by activists and admirers. Because he remains intellectually acute, the “quality of life” issue is never cut-and-dried. The movie tends to be at its weakest when taking it for granted that euthanasia is the enlightened option. In Spanish with English subtitles. Oscar nomination as best foreign language film.

• Sideways (2004) (R: Coarse language, simulated sexual situations, violence and crude humor)— ***1/2. A wine-tasting trip turns into a chance for some serious soul searching for two mismatched pals (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church). Writer-director Alexander Payne (“About Schmidt”) jumps into the Oscar fray with this richly imagined comic drama brimming with deft performances. Academy Award nominations for best movie, director, supporting actor and supporting actress. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Son of the Mask (2005) (PG: Crude language and excretory humor) — *1/2. “Son of the Mask” tries to make the 1994 original into another film franchise. But without star Jim Carrey and the imagination that helped the first film delight, it’s a lost cause. Jamie Kennedy takes over for Mr. Carrey, playing a boyish animator whose life changes when he puts on that accursed mask. Co-stars Traylor Howard and Alan Cumming keep the film afloat, albeit barely. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Travellers and Magicians (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with occasional nightmarish episodes) — ***. An auspicious new feature from the director of “The Cup,” Khyentse Norbu, an esteemed Buddhist lama. In this comic-romantic fable, he blends aspects of a Canterbury Tale with shades of James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” Bored by village life, a young government official decides to beat a retreat back to urban civilization. He misses a bus in the high country and meets another hitchhiker, a storytelling monk. The monk shares a voluptuous, nightmarish story of exile and lust in the backwoods. In Dzongkha, a language of Bhutan, with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• William Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ (2004) (R: Occasional profanity and portents of gruesome violence; allusions to anti-Semitism in a late 16th century setting) — **1/2. A creditable, if frequently miscalculated, movie version of the play. The trial scene achieves an embittered and vivid intensity, and it’s entertaining to watch Al Pacino have a go at Shylock, even when his accent and cadences take turns for the peculiar. Jeremy Irons makes a very woebegone Antonio and Joseph Fiennes a far from seductive Bassanio, but Chris Marshall proves a striking Graziano. Lynn Collins acquires a devious authority when disguised as the advocate Balthasar in the trial scene. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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