- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

OPENING

• Dear Frankie (2004) (PG-13) A British domestic melodrama starring Emily Mortimer as a single mother. She has spun fanciful tales of a world-traveling father for her deaf 9-year-old son Frankie, composing letters that testify to a long-distance devotion. Finally, it becomes impossible to sustain the deception.— Directed by Shona Auerbach from a screenplay by Andrea Gibb.

• 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. Olivier Hirschbiegel’s production stars Bruno Ganz as Hitler, gravitating between weary melancholy and explosive rants, often aimed at the German populace for proving unworthy of his will. However, the steeliest and scariest member of the inner circle is Corinna Harfouch’s Magda Goebbels as she methodically sedates and poisons her children. In German with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema and Loews Georgetown.

• Hostage (2005) (R) — Shades of “Die Hard” may haunt this Bruce Willis suspense thriller. He’s cast as a former LAPD hostage negotiator who has taken the chief’s job in a suburban police department. A gang of delinquents takes a family hostage within an estate whose elaborate security system becomes an obstacle to rescuers.

• 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.

• Into the Deep 3-D (1994) (No MPAA Rating — suitable for general audiences) — The local debut of an Imax featurette that was first shown over a decade ago. It explores the marine life found in the waters of the Channel Islands near Santa Barbara, Calif. Exclusively at the Johnson Imax Theatre at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

• 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 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 (and reviewed here then with), in a version that he believes significantly reduces the shock effects of the violent episodes — and ought to be compatible with a PG-13 rating. The ratings board did not concur, so Mr. Gibson is releasing his recut without a rating.

• 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.

• 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.

NOW SHOWING

• The Aviator (2004) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, graphic violence, sexual candor and vulgarity, and depictions of demented behavior; fleeting nudity) — **ctor 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.

• 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 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 an Oscar nominee. 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.

• 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 (Second battalion of the Third 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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 babysitting 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.

• 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.

• 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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