- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

OPENING

• Antares (2004) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, emphasizing explicit sexuality) — An Austrian variant on the pretext of the Mexican film “Amores Peros.” Writer-director Goetz Spielmann observes the tormented lives of three couples whose paths have intersected gravely in the opening sequence, a car crash. In German with English subtitles. Exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre.

• Beauty Shop (2005) (PG-13) — A spinoff from the “Barbershop” comedies, with Queen Latifah now starring as a former employee who has moved to Atlanta and started her own business. With Djimon Hounsou as a prospective consort, plus Alfre Woodard, Della Reese, Alicia Silverstone, Andie MacDowell, Kevin Bacon and Mena Suvari.

• D.E.B.S. (2005) (PG-13) — An espionage spoof that envisions a quartet of “crime-fighting hotties” — Sara Foster, Meagan Good, Jill Ritchie and Devon Aoki — as secret agents, ostensibly assigned to apprehend a criminal mastermind played by Jordana Brewster. Their actual assignment: Rival the “Charlie’s Angels” franchise.

• Guess Who (2005) (PG-13: Slapstick violence and sexually related humor). The racially charged 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” gets an update with the races switched for good measure. A young black woman (Zoe Saldana) brings home her new beau (Ashton Kutcher), a white man, a move that doesn’t go over well with her father (Bernie Mac). The original “Dinner” starred Sidney Poitier as the young black man facing racial prejudice.

• Masculine Feminine (1966) (No MPAA Rating — fleeting profanity and sexual allusions) — A revival of one of Jean-Luc Godard’s last engaging pictures, a semi-documentary impression of Parisian young people in the middle 1960s that revolves around the infatuation of aspiring journalist Jean-Pierre Leaud with pop singer Chantal Goya. With guest appearances by Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau. In French with English subtitles, enhanced in a new 35 mm print. One week only, exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre.

• Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005) (PG-13) — *1/2. An encore for Sandra Bullock in a popular role of five years ago: FBI agent Gracie Hart, originally assigned to infiltrate a beauty pageant. Too well-known for undercover work in the aftermath of that case, Gracie has grown restless as an agency figurehead. When two of her friends from the pageant, winner Heather Burns and master of ceremonies William Shatner, are kidnapped in Las Vegas, the heroine wants to get back in harness.

NOW SHOWING

• Be Cool (2005) (PG-13: Strong language; violence; sensuality) — *1/2. Sleepwalking sequel to 1995’s Hollywood send-up “Get Shorty” starring John Travolta as wiseguy Chili Palmer, who quits the movies for the music biz. Also starring Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, the Rock and Harvey Keitel. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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 Chorus (2004) (PG-13: Fleeting violence and profanity; thematic emphasis on juvenile delinquency) — ***. The most successful movie in France during the past year salutes an exemplary teacher 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.

• Dear Frankie (2005)(PG-13: Mild profanity) —***. Manipulative yet irresistibly enchanting tale about the yearning of a deaf 9-year-old for a father he knows only as a pen pal. Starring Jack McElhone and Emily Mortimer. Directed by Shona Auerbach. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• Dot the I (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence; some nudity and simulations of intercourse) — *1/2. The latest demonstration of how unrewarding it can be when deception is the sole operating method in a mystery melodrama. In this case a British writer-director, Matthew Parkhill, flashes strictly mercenary credentials while getting tricky with a romantic triangle that places transplants to London — Natalia Verbeke as a Spanish sexpot and Gael Garcia Bernal as a Brazilian dupe — at the mercy of an unscrupulous schemer. The heroine’s every foolish and incriminating move seems to be covered by video surveillance cameras. Mr. Parkhill shares the villain’s obsession: He’ll do anything to promote a movie career. With James D’Arcy. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Downfall (2004) (R) — ***1/2. A gripping and powerful re-enactment of the final days of the Adolf Hitler apparatus, down to few options apart from demoralization, suicide and surrender while sheltered from the surrounding Soviet army in an extensive bunker system under the Reichstag building at the end of April 1945. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema and Loews Georgetown.

• 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.

• 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 age 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.

• Hostage (2005)(R: graphic violence; profanity; drug use) — ** A standard-issue siege thriller with above-average blood and guts. Bruce Willis plays a cop negotiating with three young-punk home invaders while secretly a hostage himself. Directed by Florent Siri. Also starring Kevin Pollack. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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 OkonedoQAS contributes a vivid and impressive performance as his wife. Oscar nominations for Mr. Cheadle and Miss Okonedo.

• Ice Princess (2005) (G) — **. A Disney company bid for the girlish sector of the juvenile market during the Easter season, this sports comedy-drama celebrates a bright high school student, Michelle Trachtenberg, who acquires belated athletic aspirations after doing a paper about competitive figure skaters. She trains with a classmate, Hayden Panettiere, whose substantial head start is aggravated by the demands of a very competitive mother and coach, Kim Cattrall. Joan Cusack has top billing as the heroine’s mom. Michelle Kwan and Brian Boitano make guest appearances.

• Melinda and Melinda (2005) (PG-13: Occasional sexual candor) — **.The new Woody Allen comedy, predicated on a coffeehouse conversation between two writers (Larry Pine and Wallace Shawn) who speculate about alternate plots for a story that begins with a common situation, a dinner party interrupted by the arrival of a “mystery woman.” Radha Mitchell doubles as the troublemaker in the alternate scenarios, which share a heavy emphasis on infidelity but are meant to illustrate contrasting comic and melodramatic approaches. The cast also includes Will Ferrell, Amanda Peet, Chloe Sevigny, Jonny Lee Miller, Brooke Smith and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

• Millions (2004) (PG: Ominous episodes; depictions of Catholic saints in humorous and fantastic contexts) — ***. An inventive and stirring contemporary fable about faith and charity from the British filmmaker Danny Boyle. A pair of motherless boys move into a new suburban community with their widowed father and become the custodians of a windfall: a duffel bag stuffed with currency that will be non-negotiable as soon as the United Kingdom shifts to the euro. This countdown proves a revealing test of character.

• Off the Map (2003) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity, graphic violence, nudity and sexual candor; allusions to clinical depression and drug treatment) — ****. The title alludes to the remote northern New Mexico homestead of a small, extraordinary family, the Grodens, consisting of mother Arlene (Joan Allen), father Charley (Sam Elliott) and precocious adolescent daughter Bo (Valentina de Angelis), encountered in 1974 as they attempt to weather a psychological crisis, Charley’s alarming plunge into depression. Director Campbell Scott and writer Joan Ackermann, adapting her own play, turn all the “dysfunctional family” cliches topsy-turvy because the Grodens are enviably resourceful throwbacks to the traditions of pioneering self-reliance and rugged individualism. A remarkably subtle and gladdening fable of solidarity and inspiration. Think of it as the sneaky Great American Movie of 2003 — and rejoice. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

• The Pacifier (2005) (PG: Scatological humor, action-film violence and mildly harsh language) — ** Vin Diesel makes a bumpy shift to kiddie comedies with this tale of a Navy Seal baby-sitting five children. Mr. Diesel gets some comic mileage out of lampooning his tough guy image, but this by-the-numbers comedy is meant only for the least demanding viewers. “Everybody Loves Raymond’s” Brad Garrett steals a scene or two as a dense school administrator. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Passion Recut (2004) (Unrated reissue of movie originally rated R for sustained images of graphic violence while depicting the arrest, torture and crucifixion of Jesus) — **. This Mel Gibson beau geste for the Easter season revives his controversial Biblical saga, “The Passion of the Christ,” released a year ago, in a version that he believes significantly reduces the shock effects of the graphic violence. The aim was a PG-13 rating. The ratings board did not concur, so Mr. Gibson is distributing “Recut” without a rating. Theaters are likely to insist that it’s still an R-rated film. The running time is four minutes shorter. Most of the deletions appear to be concentrated on the first prolonged torture sequence, in which Roman soldiers brutalize Jim Caviezel’s Jesus.

• The Ring Two (2005) (PG-13: Violence, disturbing imagery and harsh language)— ** Naomi Watts returns in the sequel to the sleeper horror hit that made audiences wary of unmarked VHS tapes. The film finds Miss Watts moving to a new town in order to escape the nightmares unleashed by that accursed videotape only to learn its evil spirits aren’t finished with her yet. The film’s director, Hideo Nakata, shot the Japanese film “Ringu” upon which the first American “Ring” was based. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Robots (2005) (PG: Suggestive humor and comic violence) — **. The creators of the delightful “Ice Age” can’t sustain that film’s sweetly comic momentum with “Robots,” their latest invention. A string of top-line stars from Halle Berry to Robin Williams do their best to bring life into this tale of a young inventor (Ewan McGregor) who runs into an evil corporate hack (Greg Kinnear). The visually dazzling film is like the Tin Man, a clanking contraption lacking a heart. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• 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.

• The Upside of Anger (2005) (R: Sexual situations, alcohol use, language and violence) — **1/2. Joan Allen crackles with rage in this seriocomic look at midlife desertion and the road to recovery, but it’s Kevin Costner who gently swipes this uneven yarn as Miss Allen’s over-the-hill ballplayer. The film never finds the right balance between genuine emotion and crass gags, but watching a fully realized romance between two middle-aged stars is a treat unto itself. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2003) (G: Adult subject matter and treatment, with allusions to illness and death among bird species) — ***. A beguiling account of the emergence of an amateur birdman in the North Beach area of San Francisco during the 1990s. After years of surviving in obscurity on the streets, a failed musician named Mark Bittner began observing and feeding the parrot flock near his ramshackle cottage on Telegraph Hill. He become exceptionally knowledgeable about this particular bird population, evidently spawned by imported but abandoned pets. Director Judy Irving saves a delightful mating kicker for the fadeout. Exclusively at the Avalon and Landmark E Street Cinema.

• William Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ (2004) (R: Occasional profanity and portents of gruesome violence; allusions to anti-Semitism in a late-16th-century setting) — **1/2. A creditable, if frequently miscalculated, movie version of the play. The trial scene achieves an embittered and vivid intensity, and it’s entertaining to watch Al Pacino have a go at Shylock, even when his accent and cadences take turns for the peculiar. Jeremy Irons makes a very woebegone Antonio and Joseph Fiennes a far from seductive Bassanio, but Chris Marshall proves a striking Graziano. Lynn Collins acquires a devious authority when disguised as the advocate Balthasar in the trial scene.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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