- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005


• Be Cool (2005) (PG-13) A movie version of Elmore Leonard’s sequel to “Get Shorty,” which introduced the debonair Florida mobster Chili Palmer as a problem-solver among Hollywood chiselers. John Travolta once again portrays Palmer, who has shifted from the movie business to pop music management. With Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Harvey Keitel, Cedric the Entertainer, The Rock and Christina Milian. —Directed by F. Gary Gray from Peter Steinfeld’s screenplay.

• Gunner Palace (2005) (PG-13: Frequent Profanity in a documentary combat setting; vivid accounts of battles, injuries and deaths) — . A documentary summary of several months spent in the company of an Army unit (2nd battalion of the 3rd Field Artillery) based at the Baghdad palace once occupied by the late Uday Hussein. Their patrols in the teeming Adhamiya district convey a vivid sense of apprehension and uphill effort. For the first time civilians may begin to distinguish the sounds of rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and improvised explosive devices — at a considerable distance, fortunately. The narration is less effective, because director Michael Tucker seems intent on echoing the voice of Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now.” Big on clamor, he also reverts to volleys of rap music that almost spoil the impact of the impromptu rap riffs contributed by the soldiers themselves. One of them, Richmond Shaw, proves exceptionally eloquent.

• Imaginary Heroes (2005) (PG-13) — A domestic melodrama about the travails of a teenager (Emile Hirsch) whose mother (Sigourney Weaver) and father (Jeff Daniels) are locked in a downward spiral of estrangement.

• The Jacket (2005) (R: Sustained ominous atmosphere and occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual candor) — *1/2. Amnesia and time-traveling make lumpy bedfellows in this bleak and blundering psychological thriller. Adrien Brody must transcend the cuckoo’s nest as a Desert Storm vet whose patchy memory leads him into civilian jeopardy, first as an innocent murder suspect and then as an inmate at a mental asylum dominated by the shock therapies of Kris Kristofferson. The hero is repeatedly sedated and slipped into a morgue drawer while tightly bound in a straitjacket. Despite the confinement, Mr. Brody remains psychologically free-floating and projects himself into the future, where he is tenderly reunited with Keira Knightley, the fetching update of a character he met when she was a little girl. A very hard supernatural sell, and director John Maybury is not a crack salesman.

• The Pacifier (2005) (PG: Slapstick violence and mildly raw language). Vin Diesel leverages his tough guy image in this kiddie comedy from Adam Shankman, the director of “Bringing Down the House.” Mr. Diesel plays a Navy Seal forced to watch over a scientist’s unruly brood.

• Schultze Gets the Blues (2005) (PG: Adult subject matter but no objectionable depiction; fleeting profanity and sexual allusions) — **. A conceptually beguiling but monotonously deadpan picaresque comedy from a young German filmmaker, Michael Schorr, who follows a recently retired German miner named Schultze (Horst Krause) from his hometown to the bayou country of Louisiana. The sound of a zydeco band on radio has a stunning impact on Schultze, who plays the accordion, usually in the company of a polka band. He plays his zydeco tune compulsively and then resolves to attend a music festival in Louisiana. The movie neglects to immerse him in folk music of the kind he seeks. Mr. Schorr gets scenically sidetracked watching Schultze pilot a rented boat in strange waters. When he runs out of gas, the film follows suit. In German with English subtitles.


• 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. Five Academy Awards, including supporting actress (Miss Blanchett).

• 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 (AnnaSophia 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.

• 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. Academy Award, 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.

• 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.

• Cursed (2005) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual vulgarity) — *. The auspicious “Scream” partnership of director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson seemed to be running on fumes by the time they reached “Scream 3” five years ago. This ill-advised get-together results in a shambles. The movie casts Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg as siblings infected by a werewolf lurking in the wilds of Los Angeles. A public assault threatens the celebrities invited to a horror film exhibit at a Hollywood Boulevard club. With Joshua Jackson as Miss Ricci’s dubious beau and Brooke Allen as her seething rival.

• Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005) (PG-13: Crude humor; drug use; some violence) — **. A frustratingly mixed bag of farce, chick-flick melodrama and whooping black evangelism, adapted by Tyler Perry (who, Eddie Murphy-like, assumes three roles) from his popular stage play. Kimberly Elise, as the titular woman scorned, is the classiest thing in a movie that can’t decide whether it’s dumb or divine. Directed by Darren Grant. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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. Oscar for original score.

• Head On (2004) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — **. A talent showcase for the German-born Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin. Middle-aged drunkard Cahit (Birol Uenel) and wild thing Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), avid for hedonism at the age of 20, meet in a Hamburg loony bin after he drives a car into a wall and she slashes her wrists. Nevertheless, she proposes marriage in order to escape a straitlaced family — and possesses enough savings to stake them to a marriage of convenience. The movie goes sappy after wallowing in sensationalism, but it arouses your curiosity about the vitality of the Turkish immigrant community in Europe. In German and Turkish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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. Academy Awards for best movie, director, actress and supporting actor. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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 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.

• 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 to Mr. Foxx for best 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) — **1/2. 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, 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 for best adapted screenplay. 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.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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