- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2005

OPENING

• The Beat that My Heart Skipped (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor) —.**Two stars.diard, who brought a fresh note to the crime thriller a few years ago in “Read My Lips,” loses his bearings while remaking James Toback’s delirious debut feature of 1978, “Fingers.” Roman Durais inherits the original Harvey Keitel role as a young mob thug torn between lawless and artistic impulses. A chance meeting with a former mentor from the musical world prompts Mr. Durais to resume piano lessons, but the pull of vice and inertia proves stronger. His real avocation is seduction, also the source of the movie’s most diverting episodes. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 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. Expect new songs, new Oompa Loompas and another bizarre turn by Mr. Depp.

• Happy Endings (2005) (R) — An attempt at playfully convoluted sex farce from Don Roos, the writer-director of “The Opposite of Sex” several years ago. His cast includes Laura Dern, Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tom Arnold, Jesse Bradford, Steve Coogan, Bobby Cannavale and Jason Ritter.

• Wedding Crashers (2005) (R) — A farcical co-starring vehicle for Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, cast as sexual opportunists who habitually crash wedding ceremonies in order to trifle with bridesmaids and other susceptible guests. The supporting cast includes Christopher Walken, Jane Seymour and Rachel McAdams.



NOW SHOWING

• Apres Vous (2005) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor) — **1/2. Director Pierre Salvadori and his co-writers sustain some witty character observation and preposterous complications. Daniel Auteuil, as a compulsively helpful headwaiter, rescues a potential suicide named Louis (Jose Garcia) and feels obliged to follow through on his generosity despite inconvenience and Louis’ ingratitude. Eventually the rescuer is rewarded with a new sweetheart: Louis’ ex-girlfriend (Sandrine Kiberlain), a lanky flower-shop proprietor with a wistfully bedraggled appeal. Mr. Auteuil is in expert control of a self-effacing temperament and expressively beady eyes. In French with English subtitles.

• Batman Begins (2005) (PG-13: Action movie violence and disturbing themes) — **1/2. “Memento” director Christopher Nolan gallantly tries to restart the Batman movie franchise with a thoughtful but ultimately wan prequel. Christian Bale is just fine as the Caped Crusader, whose past we learn through a series of cogent flashbacks. However, the lack of an arresting villain and murky battle sequences render “Batman Begins” inferior to the 1989 feature starring Michael Keaton. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Bewitched (2005) (PG-13: Slapstick violence, mildly coarse language and drug references) — **1/2. Nicole Kidman is a very good witch, indeed, in this clever if vapid remake of the old sitcom. She plays a real witch who somehow gets cast as a fictional witch in a TV update of the 1960s series alongside an actor (Will Ferrell) who prefers to have the spotlight stay on him. Mr. Ferrell’s comic gifts are on full display here, and the story-within-a-story concept generates more laughs than expected. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Caterina in the Big City (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and allusions to teenage delinquency) — ***. An exuberantly talented, upbeat Italian variation on the “teenyboppers gone wild” theme. Paolo Virzi, the director and co-writer, proves a facile but benevolent social satirist while subjecting the title character to a whirlwind year of culture shock and domestic upheaval. Alice Teghil plays the sweet-natured Caterina, an ingenuous transplant from a small town in Tuscany to a clique-ridden high school in Rome. The filmmakers’ attitude is that a lot of disillusion simply has to be experienced and outgrown. In Italian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Cinderella Man (2005) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and graphic violence, concentrated in prizefight sequences) — ***1/2. A fable of athletic tenacity and family solidarity during the Depression, this ingratiating new classic of the fight game celebrates the remarkable comeback of boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe), who emerged from a five-year slump and grinding poverty to challenge Max Baer for the heavyweight title in June 1935. The aura of tenderness that surrounds Mr. Crowe as Braddock and Renee Zellweger as his apprehensive wife, Mae, gives the movie an irresistible emotional appeal.

• Dark Water (PG-13: Frightening sequences; ominous atmosphere; brief profanity) ? **. Tepid remake of a Japanese thriller starring Jennifer Connelly as a single mom living with her daughter in a dingy, flood-prone apartment on New York’s Roosevelt Island. There’s water, water everywhere, and what gets drowned, unfortunately, is the horror. Directed by Walter Salles. Also starring Ariel Gade, John C. Reilly and Tim Roth. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — **1/2. A refresher course on the Enron business scandal, derived from the book by Fortune magazine reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. They are principal interview subjects for documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, who provides a coherent and often diverting chronicle of the company’s rise, malpractice and fall. A denouement awaits the outcome of federal trials next year.

• Fantastic Four (2005) (PG-13: Some mild innuendo and comic-book-style violence) — **. Marvel Comics’ “Fantastic Four” series blazes onto the big screen with plenty of pyrotechnics but little substance beneath the sizzle. A super quartet of crime fighters gain their powers from a cosmic-ray storm, but they spend half their time bickering among themselves. Director Tim Story nails the familial infighting but can’t duplicate the razzle-dazzle of the “Spider-Man” features. “Nip/Tuck’s” Julian McMahon isn’t given much to work with as the evil Dr. Doom. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 5x2 (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, including occasional profanity, nudity and sexual candor, with interludes of simulated intercourse) — *1/2. A reverse-chronology gambit gone wrong. Mismates Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and Stephane Freiss sign a divorce agreement in the first episode, then backtrack in subsequent installments to their first impromptu date during an Italian holiday. Every new revelation makes the male partner more contemptible; the heroine threatens to catch up after a relatively sympathetic start. The whole scenario seems to have been designed to anticipate a masterfully composed, metaphorical fadeout shot. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Heights (2005) (R) — A dramatic ensemble piece about five characters in search of renewal or reassurance in New York City during a single day. With Elizabeth Banks and James Marsden as an engaged couple, Glenn Close as the former’s mother and Jesse Bradford and John Light as strangers, an actor and reporter, who cross their paths. Not reviewed.

• Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity and sexual allusions) — **1/2. A cheerfully energized and sometimes clever update of Disney’s “Love Bug” franchise, this belated but playful-as-a-pup sequel casts Lindsay Lohan and Michael Keaton as the Beetle-loving daughter and father who inherit the magical 1963 Volkswagen Beetle nicknamed Herbie and prepare him for the NASCAR circuit.

• Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) (PG) — An animated feature from Hayao Miyazaki, director of the Oscar-winning “Spirited Away.” Sinister and benign spirits contend in this fable about a teenager named Sophie who has been transformed into a witch. To dispel the curse, she seeks out a wizard called Howl whose abode is guarded by a fiery but helpful demon. Not reviewed.

• Kings and Queen (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, sexual candor, depictions of drug use and morbid story elements) — *. Insufferable psychodramatic doodling from the French director Arnaud Despleschin, curiously esteemed in some critical precincts. This protracted, equivocal impression of a femme fatale and her hapless consorts casts Emmanuelle Devos as an art-gallery owner who can be murder on the men in her life. Mathieu Amalric co-stars as an unstable ex importuned to take custody of her son at the time Mr. Amalric’s character is enjoying the facilities of a mental asylum. The medium itself appears to be Mr. Despleschin’s impromptu clinic. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Ladies in Lavender (2005) (PG-13: Fleeting ominous elements and sexual allusions) — **. Maggie Smith and Judi Dench play sisters who share a secluded seacoast home on the Cornwall coast in the late 1930s. Miriam Margolyes is their brusquely amusing cook and housekeeper. A castaway (Daniel Bruehl) washes up on the beach, and the women nurse him back to health. He emerges as a violin virtuoso destined to make a brilliant London debut under the sponsorship of Natasha McElhone, a glamourpuss watercolorist living near the sisters. While Miss Dench gets a crush on the convalescent, village doctor David Warner pines for Miss McElhone. The quality of heartbreak is exceedingly frail, but the actresses remain fine company.

• Land of the Dead (2005) (R: Graphic violence, gore, adult language and drug use) — **1/2. George A. Romero, whose “Night of the Living Dead” created the whole zombie genre, returns to his roots for the fourth part in his undead series. In “Land” the zombies rule the world, but a small group of humans survive in a walled city that keeps the creatures out — for now. Mr. Romero isn’t at the top of his ghoulish game with “Land,” but the film packs a few nifty scares and enough gore to please horror fanatics. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Layer Cake (2005) (R: Strong violence, harsh language and drug use) — ***. Rising star Daniel Craig gives a craggy gravitas to this seedy gangster film, which has enough twists to satisfy genre purists. Mr. Craig plays an upper-crust drug dealer looking to retire with a pulse, but the game and its players just won’t let him. Watch for a commanding performance by Michael Gambon as one of two criminal kingpins. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Madagascar (2005) (PG: Comic violence and mild excretory humor) — ***1/2. The latest computer-generated wonder follows a quartet of zoo animals who find themselves lost in the jungle after years of safe captivity. Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith and Chris Rock all shine as the lead voices, and the lush animation is matched by jokes that young and old will giggle over. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Ma Mere (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, including sexually explicit episodes, nudity, profanity and a preoccupation with depravity) — 1/2*. A tediously sordid French import, derived from a novel by Georges Bataille and starring Isabelle Huppert as a widow who has abandoned herself to vice. As part of the downward spiral, the heroine entrusts her allegedly pious son to a sadomasochistic initiation by cronies played by Joana Preiss and Emma de Caunes. A particularly disreputable sequence has Miss Preiss pretending to molest the son in public. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 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.

• Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) (R: Recurrent morbid and lewd elements; occasional profanity; sexually candid episodes involving perverse teenage girls; a subplot about the scatological fixation of a little boy) — *1/2. Ready or not, here’s the first feature of Miranda July, the alias of a writer-director-leading lady with affinities for the weird and lovelorn in a Southern California suburban setting. “Me and You” showcases the deceptively delicate Miss July herself as a Miss Lonelyhearts named Christine, an aspiring confessional artist who operates a cab service for the elderly. The movie is likely to be a provocative revelation to some and a naturalistic skin-crawler to others. Miss July’s insistence on linking youngsters to her most prurient or shocking vignettes looms as the deal-breaker for skeptics. If she tires of shock effects, her hard-edged graphic sense and humorous coyness might have staying power.

• Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) (PG-13) — **.The fateful vehicle matching Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as passionately susceptible co-stars. Not to be confused with the vintage romantic comedy of the same name, directed in 1941 by Alfred Hitchcock, this “Smith” can be legitimately confused with “Prizzi’s Honor” because the plot deals with contract killers who fall in love and marry, only to become targets of each other.

• Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (2005) (PG-13: Frequent sword duels and depictions of massive aerial combat in a science-fiction setting; occasional graphic violence with gruesome illustrative details) — **1/2. The sixth and probably final installment of the progressively overblown science-fiction saga. Spectacle remains the strong suit, especially lavish aerial combat and prolonged light-saber duels. If you go for those alone, there’s a big show to savor.

• Undead (2005) (R) — An Australian fraternal team, Michael and Peter Spierig, join the zombie bandwagon in this thriller about a country girl, Felicity Mason, whose hometown suffers a zombie meltdown in the wake of a meteor shower. She takes refuge at the lonely farmhouse of simpleton Mungo McKay. Not reviewed.

• 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.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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