- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

OPENING

• After Midnight (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — An Italian comedy that uses the Museum of Cinema in Turin as a principal location and movie allusions as a frame of reference. Fired from her job, a young woman takes refuge in the museum, where she’s befriended by a wistful night watchman. A limited engagement, exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre. In Italian with English subtitles.

• A Tout de Suite (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A French crime thriller about a Parisian art student who becomes the moll of a bank robber and finds herself abandoned during a getaway trek across the Mediterranean. 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 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.

• Kings and Queen (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A comedy-drama from the French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin, who casts Emmanuelle Devos as a gallery owner who turns to an unstable ex-husband, a musician played by Mathieu Amalric, when she needs someone to adopt her young son while she devotes herself to a terminally ill father. Mr. Amalric’s suitability is clouded by his temporary incarceration for psychiatric observation, under the scrutiny of a clinic director played by Catherine Deneuve. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Land of the Dead (2005) (R: Graphic violence, gore, adult language and drug use). George A. Romero, whose “Night of the Living Dead” created the whole zombie genre, returns to his gruesome roots for the fourth part in his undead series. In this one the zombies rule the world, but a small group of humans survives in a city with walls that keep the creatures out — for now.

• Rize (2005) (PG-13) — An urban dance saga about aspiring young people from South Central Los Angeles who stage dance competitions inspired by African tribal traditions.

• Saving Face (2005) (R) — A domestic-romantic comedy about a lesbian affair that develops between Chinese-American partners in New York City. The difficulties include concealment from one’s straitlaced family in Queens and the other’s determination to relocate to Paris. Some dialogue in Mandarin with English subtitles.

• War of the Worlds (2005) (PG-13) — Steven Spielberg’s update of the H.G. Wells classic. A prodigious alien attack of mysterious origin is launched on the United States. Many civilians must fend for themselves as the military tries to defend against the onslaught. Tom Cruise stars as a divorced father from New Jersey; he struggles to protect daughter Dakota Fanning while searching for her mother, Miranda Otto. Mr. Spielberg has reassembled a trusted team for this return to science-fiction spectacle. Opens Wednesday.

NOW SHOWING

• The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3D (2005) (PG: Action violence and a brief excretory joke) — **1/2. “Spy Kids” director Robert Rodriguez brings his puckish sense of humor to this tale of a boy whose dreams get him in all sorts of trouble. Said child (Cayden Boyd) dreams up a fantasy realm featuring the title characters, who later turn to the boy for help when their planet faces extinction. The film’s 3-D sequences disappoint, but children will cheer over the silly humor and heroic maneuvers. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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 re-start 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. But 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 Bridge of San Luis Rey (2005) (PG: Ominous episodes and some sexual allusions; fleeting violence and gruesome illustrative details) — *1/2. Irish director Sarah McGuckian botches a remake of Thornton Wilder’s novella, the Pulitzer Prize winner of 1928. Gabriel Byrne, Geraldine Chaplin and Adriana Dominguez project the right temperaments for the author’s meditations on fate, estrangement and eternal mysteries, but the estimable Kathy Bates is out of place as a colonial Spanish aristocrat dwelling in Lima, Peru, in the early 18th century. For the rest — including Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and F. Murray Abraham — it’s a look-out-below fiasco.

• 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.

• The Deal (2005) (R) — A futuristic thriller about war and espionage that envisions a Middle Eastern oil crisis that has driven prices sky-high and left the automotive world vulnerable to manipulation by the Russian mafia. Not reviewed.

• Deep Blue (2005) (G: Occasional images of predatory sea creatures) — ***1/2. An imposing documentary feature from many of the filmmakers involved in the “Blue Planet” television series. In fact there’s a certain amount of overflow footage from that ambitious project. The collection is frequently stunning and sometimes wrenching — there are recurrent predatory assaults as big fish feed on smaller specimens. The mind-boggling sights include proximity to enormous shoals of fish and a plunge into the Marianas Trench by a pair of Mir submersibles, which enable crews to illuminate marine life forms that had remained beyond camera range.

• 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.

• Happily Ever After (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, consistent with the R category; occasional profanity and systematic sexual candor, with an emphasis on marital infidelity) *1/2. The Israeli-French humorist Yvan Attal and his wife, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, play a restless Parisian couple with a cute little boy (their own), who may need to reconcile himself to estrangement sooner or later, since papa remains obsessed with infidelity. Despite flashes of cleverness and insight, the movie degenerates into an interminable and obnoxious wallow in Gallic amorality. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 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.

• The Honeymooners (2005) (PG-13: Comic violence and mild innuendo) — **. Cedric the Entertainer headlines this gentle but unnecessary remake of the 1950s TV institution. Cedric’s Ralph Kramden is always digging up some get-rich-quick scheme, but his latest could endanger his chances of buying a duplex for his wife Alice (Gabrielle Union) and their neighbors Norton (Mike Epps) and Trixie (Regina Hall). The film’s stale gags and wandering plot can’t completely besmirch Cedric’s avuncular turn as a kinder, gentle Ralph Kramden. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) (PG) — An animated feature from Hayao Miyazaki, director of the Oscar-winning “Spirited Away.” Sinister and benign spirits also 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 water colorist 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.

• 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.

• The Longest Yard (2005) (PG-13: Profanity; crude and sexual humor; drug reference; football violence) — **1/2. Adam Sandler and Chris Rock star in a super-sized, super-violent remake of the (overrated) ‘70s gridiron comedy. It’s the cons vs. the guards in a godforsaken Texas penitentiary, and retired National Football League stars such as Michael Irvin make the action seem bone-crunchingly real. But the laughs quit at the 50-yard line. Directed by Peter Segal. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Lords of Dogtown (2005) (PG-13: Sexual situations, coarse language and drug use) — **1/2. Counterculture guardian Stacy Peralta (“Riding Giants”) tells the story of his own contributions to the birth of skateboarding in this ambitious but uneven yarn. It’s a coming of age saga with fantastic skateboarding stunts, but when the wheels stop spinning we’re left numb to the characters’ woes. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Mad Hot Ballroom (2005) (PG: Some allusions to troubled family and social backgrounds; no objectionable language or depiction) — ***1/2. A disarming documentary feature that observes fifth-grade students in New York City schools as they participate in ballroom dance classes and then prepare to compete in annual dance competitions. A “Rocky” finish is scarcely needed to improve the movie’s charm and appeal.

• 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.

• Monster-in-Law (2005) (PG-13: Profanity, sexual references) — **. A tit-for-tat farce of pre-wedding hijinks starring comeback girl Jane Fonda as the domineering prospective in-law of Jennifer Lopez. Miss Fonda chews the scenery; Miss Lopez stands out like, and acts about as well as, a sore thumb. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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,” since the plot deals with contract killers who fall in love and marry, only to become targets of each other.

• My Summer of Love (2005) (R: Occasional sexual candor while depicting a lesbian affair). A British romantic fable about lovelorn adolescent Yorkshire girls who become inseparable companions over the course of a summer. Not reviewed.

• The Perfect Man (2005) (PG: Some mature themes) —*1/2. Teen star Hilary Duff plays a young woman who creates an imaginary suitor to please her single mom (Heather Locklear). Miss Duff bases the make-believe beau on a friend’s uncle (Chris Noth), who might just be a match for her mom after all. Naturally, the scheme backfires, but the film never gives us enough humor or insight to warrant the complications. Miss Duff remains a sweet but underwhelming screen presence better suited for TV projects. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Shake Hands with the Devil (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, concerned with the Rwandan massacres of 1994 and including some distant but authentic images of the killings) — ***. An exceedingly partial but nonetheless sobering Canadian documentary feature about Lt. Gen. (ret.) Romeo Dallaire, the officer who was left in a position of impotence as commander of the United Nations’ troops in Rwanda in 1994 as the Hutus slaughtered their Tutsi countrymen. The filmmakers summarize the Rwandan calamity effectively and deliver well-earned rebukes to those who collaborated in the U.N. cop-out. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 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.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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