- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

OPENING

• The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D (2005) (PG) — A new juvenile fantasy from Robert Rodriguez, presumably consistent with his “Spy Kids” series. The plot revolves around a lonely 10-year-old who imagines a pair of super-hero companions.

• 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.

• High Tension (2005) (R) — A French filmmaker, Alexandre Aja, joins the horror throng with a thriller about two coeds menaced by a stalker while residing in a secluded farmhouse. With Cecile De France and Maiween Le Besco as the endangered ones.

• The Honeymooners (2005) (PG) — A racially playful update of the beloved Jackie Gleason sitcom, with Cedric the Entertainer as bus driver Ralph Kramden and Mike Epps as sanitation worker Ed Norton. Their plans to move into a duplex in Brooklyn are jeopardized by one of Ralph’s get-rich-quick follies. Gabrielle Union is cast as Alice Kramden and Regina Hall as Trixie Norton.

• 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.

• 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.

• Tell Them Who You Are (2005) (R) — A documentary feature about the famous cinematographer Haskell Wexler, directed by his son Mark, whose career as a photojournalist seems to have involved some conflict with his father that spills over into this insider’s memoir. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Torremolinos ‘73 (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, involving the vintage porn movie industry in Europe) — A Spanish sex comedy about a struggling husband and wife who hope to hustle a nest egg by collaborating on a low-budget erotic film, made illegally in Franco-ruled Spain in the early 1970s and aimed at a receptive Scandinavian market. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

NOW SHOWING

• Brothers (2004) (R: Depictions of wartime brutality and domestic violence; occasional profanity and sexual candor) — **1/2. Danish director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen take a half-sympathetic, half-repellent approach to uncertainty and loss in military families. An Army officer, Michael, deploys to Afghanistan, leaving his family and his wastrel kid brother Jannik at home. When Michael is reported killed, Jannik tries to become useful to his sister-in-law, Sarah, and her two daughters. The filmmakers begin a big tease about whether Jannik and Sarah are ripe for infatuation. Suddenly, Michael lives — as a captive in a Taliban encampment. The plot is then wrenched in lurid directions to paint Michael as a POW with a shameful secret, which causes him to go psycho after being rescued and repatriated. The filmmakers reject their own opportunism and decide on a reconciliation between husband and wife. During generous interludes, the movie has its moments. In Danish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark Bethesda Row and 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. They get a second chance at prosperity when a motormouth manager, Paul Giamatti as Joe Gould, arranges a bout that rekindles Braddock’s ring career. The period evocation and principal performances are first-rate. There’s some dubious caricature of the ultra-colorful Max Baer to accentuate menace, but Craig Bierko gives him a distinctive, powerhouse presence.

• Crash (2005) (R: Profanity; sexual content; brief nudity; some violence) — . “Million Dollar Baby” scripter Paul Haggis debuts impressively as a director here in this deftly written fable about the interconnectivity of strangers and hair-trigger race relations in Greater Los Angeles. An impressive ensemble cast includes Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle and Michael Pena. 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.

• The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) (PG: Action violence; mild profanity) — **1/2. Comic sci-fi adventure starring Martin Freeman as an average Brit scooped into space for an intergalactic voyage of sight gags and spoofy philosophy. Also starring Mos Def and Sam Rockwell. Based on the BBC radio and novel series by the late Douglas Adams. Directed by Garth Jennings. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Interpreter (2005) (PG-13: Violence; some profanity; sensuality) — **. A political assassination thriller from veteran director Sydney Pollack, starring Nicole Kidman as an enigmatic U.N. translator who overhears talk of a plot to kill an African dictator while he addresses the General Assembly. A reasonably subdued Sean Penn plays the Secret Service agent assigned to the case. Fully five screenwriters fail to make sense of the movie’s tangled skein of paranoia and gauzy internationalism. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Kicking & Screaming (2005) (PG: Comic violence and strong language.) Will Ferrell takes an unfortunate career misstep with this flat kiddie comedy. He plays a put-upon dad who takes over his son’s soccer team in an effort to outcoach his father (Robert Duvall), the league’s best coach. Even Mr. Ferrell’s inspired rants can’t bring more than an occasional chuckle to this warmed over “Bad News Bears” retread. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Kung Fu Hustle (2005) (R: Violent imagery and action) — **1/2. Stephen Chow writes, directs and stars in this wonderfully imaginative film with too much ambition for its own good. A sad-sack town in China is under assault from a notorious gang, and only a handful of retired kung fu masters are on hand to save the townsfolk from doom. The brilliant first reel of “Hustle” gives way to an uneven story overwhelmed by Looney Tunes-style action. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• Look at Me (2004) (PG-13: Brief profanity; sexual references) — ***. An almost perfectly calibrated Cannes screenplay winner from French director Agnes Jaoui (co-writing with husband Jean-Pierre Bacri), who uses the indifferent relationship of a famous novelist to his overweight daughter (Marilou Berry) to skewer fame. In French with subtitles. 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.

• The Man Who Copied (2003) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). A Brazilian suspense melodrama about a young copy machine operator who becomes fixated on a young woman whose apartment windows are vulnerable to his peeping. In Portuguese with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• Off the Map (2003) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity, graphic violence, nudity and sexual candor; allusions to clinical depression and drug treatment) — ****. On a remote New Mexico homestead, the small, extraordinary Groden family attempts to weather a psychological crisis, father Charley Groden’s plunge into depression. All the “dysfunctional family” cliches are turned topsy-turvy because the Grodens are resourceful throwbacks to the traditions of pioneering self-reliance. Exclusively at the Avalon, Cinema Arts and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

• Rock School (2005) (R: Profanity) —****. First-time documentarian Don Argott spends a raucous and revealingly entertaining at the Paul Green School of Rock Music in Philadelphia, a real-life rock academy that predates — and surpasses — the Jack Black comedy “The School of Rock.” Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005) (PG: Fleeting vulgar dialogue and sexual allusions; episodes of family conflict) — **. An attractive showcase for a quintet of young actresses, derived from a juvenile best-seller about the summertime activities of four high school friends from Bethesda who find themselves separated but exchange a supposedly magical talisman: a pair of jeans that miraculously fit every one of them. Most of the subplots are trite, but there are scenes that flatter every member of the sorority.

• 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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