- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

OPENING

• Bad News Bears (2005) (PG-13). A remake of Michael Ritchie’s clever, ornery sports comedy of 1976, which celebrated the competitive spirit of a “diverse” but inept Little League team. Billy Bob Thornton inherits Walter Matthau’s role as the cynical coach who is shamed into making a genuine effort to improve his underdogs. The supporting cast includes Greg Kinnear and Marcia Gay Harden. Directed by Richard Linklater. Not reviewed.

• The Devils Rejects (2005) (R). Arguably the least wanted sequel of the season, a follow-up to the horror thriller “House of 1,000 Corpses,” the brainstorm of an exploitation filmmaker who calls himself Rob Zombie. He remains preoccupied with homicidal maniacs. Not reviewed.

• 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.



• Murderball 2005 (R: Frequent profanity and occasional sexual candor; considerable clinical detail about paraplegic injuries — ***1/2. A stirring sports and human-interest documentary that summarizes an intensely competitive two years in the lives of members of the American quad rugby team. At one time nicknamed “murderball,” the sport consists of four-man teams that play a kind of bumper-rugby on basketball courts; the players ride customized wheelchairs that resemble miniature chariots. Taken to the limit by their principal rivals, the Canadians, in a 2002 world championship series in Sweden, the Americans regroup for the 2004 Paralympic games in Athens.The stories of injuries and recoveries prove emotionally overwhelming. The twists and payoffs in this authentic sports saga are often stranger — and stronger — than fiction.

NOW SHOWING

• 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.

• The Beat that My Heart Skipped (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor) — **. Jacques Audiard, 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.

• 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 Avalon.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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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