- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

OPENING

• 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. Several winning personalities emerge from a Tribeca school whose teacher is also a memorable softie. It never occurs to you, while enjoying the children for their own sakes, that a rooting interest needs to be invested in whether one school will emerge as a citywide contender. However, since the children from Washington Heights do end up in the finals, the movie shifts emphasis in the last reel to concentrate on their underdog bid. This turn for a “Rocky” finish is scarcely needed to improve the movie’s charm and appeal. Directed by Marilyn Agrelo.

• The Nomi Song (2004) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter). A documentary feature about the late Klaus Nomi, an eccentric rock performer of the 1980s who died of AIDS. Directed by Andrew Horn. Some dialogue in German with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• 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. George Lucas concludes his initially exuberant and progressively overblown science-fiction saga with a sixth and probably final installment, whose multiple finales anticipate the plot of the original “Star Wars” of 1977. 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; the settings and battles are often as impressive as the filmmaker intends. He long ago failed to invent adequate reasons for caring about the promise and curse of Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christenesen), the sulky flyboy destined to become Darth Vader. This chapter makes it official. Mr. Lucas does provide a freshly diverting showcase to Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor, who finds it child’s play to corrupt Anakin — but does take pity on the weak-minded youth as well. A volcanic landscape adds expressive ferocity to the final duel between Mr. Christensen and Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, who has matured agreeably into a double for Kenneth Branagh.

• 3-Iron (2004) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter). A new feature from Kim Ki-duk, director of the remarkable allegorical fable “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring.” Now he envisions an ominous romantic idyll involving a drifter who takes refuge in abandoned houses and a housewife fearful of her husband. With Jae Hee and Lee Seung-yeon as the principals. In Korean with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

NOW SHOWING

• The Amityville Horror (2005) (R: Violent imagery, sexual situations, teen drug use and profanity) —**1/2. Two and a half stars.ets a spiffy modern update but leaves the chills behind. Ryan Reynolds plays the head of a young family that moves into a too-good-to-be-true mansion on Long Island. The film is better produced than the original, but there’s nothing unique about the familiar scares trotted out before us. Mr. Reynolds, best known for his wisecracking roles (“Van Wilder”), stretches nicely as the dad who slowly goes mad. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Animation Show (2005) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter, with occasional graphic violence and nightmarish themes) — ***. A new anthology with a dozen titles, not so strong at the start and finish but impressive down the middle. The best selections commence with Item No. 4, David Russo’s “Pan With Us,” an inventive cascade of imagery to accompany a Robert Frost poem. Exclusively at the Cinema Arts.

• Another Road Home (2004) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) —**1/2. A documentary feature by Israeli-American filmmaker Danae Elon, depicting her efforts to locate and reunite with her family’s former Palestinian housekeeper. This search, circa 2002, leads to a flourishing immigrant community in Paterson, N.J. Miss Elon’s fondness and admiration for her subject, Musa Obeidallah, seems easy to justify. A resourceful, stoic, salt-of-the-earth patriarch, he contrived to finance American upbringings and educations for his eight sons while also endearing himself to the filmmaker as a baby sitter and guardian. Unfortunately, there’s an emotional price tag: Miss Elon’s sneaky-vindictive resentment of her own parents, the writer Amos Elon and his American-born wife, who have abandoned Israel for Northern Italy. The movie becomes a kind of reprisal for their failure to surround the filmmaker with a big, loyal family and an abiding sense of a homeland. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• 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. Written by Mr. Haggis and Robert Moresco. 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.two-and-one-half stars.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.

• House of Wax (2005) (R: Sexual situations, strong language and copious amounts of blood and gore) — *1/2. An amateurish throwback to the 1980s splatter films that pretends it’s a remake of the 1953 horror film with Vincent Price. Co-star Paris Hilton proves a capable victim, and her uneven acting is echoed by her equally flat co-stars. Only Elisha Cuthbert and Chad Michael Murray rise to the occasion, looking at ease amid the killings. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• Jiminy Glick in LaLaWood (2005) (R: Occasional profanity and frequent slapstick vulgarity; recurrent sexual innuendo; fleeting violence in a farcical context) — ***1/2. An uproarious send-off for the summer movie season, a genuine screwball classic, a spoof modern Hollywood richly deserves — courtesy of Martin Short and backers. Mr. Short’s Jiminy Glick is a nutcase, a prodigiously obese and scatterbrained exaggeration of the celebrity interviewer — effusive, self-absorbed and weirdly subversive. The title is a blithe misnomer because Jiminy makes his first big professional splash at the Toronto Film Festival, where he gets involved in a murder mystery.

• Kicking & Screaming (2005) (PG: Comic violence and strong language.) Will Ferrell takes an unfortunate career misstep with this flat kiddie comedy. The “SNL” graduate 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.

• Kingdom of Heaven —(2005) (R: Strong violence, mature themes and gore-filled fight sequences) *** . Orlando Bloom stars as a blacksmith turned hero in this politically polite but polished take on the Crusades. Ridley Scott of “Gladiator” fame stages battle sequences like few directors can, but he can’t overcome the casting of Mr. Bloom in a role better suited for a Russell Crowe-type, someone we believe could command an army of thousands. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Kontroll ——(2003) (No MPAA rating ** adult subject matter, with frequent profanity and graphic violence) ars. A cinematically talented but grungy and preposterous fable of tenacity and redemption. It uses the Budapest subway system as a sinister setting where ticket inspectors demand proof of admission from riders who strike them as suspect. A serial killer is on the loose and may be a phantasm designed to torment the rugged but despondent hero, an inspector who bosses a crew of scruffy castoffs and seems to be a fugitive from a respectable street-level career. In Hungarian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• —Kung Fu Hustle (2005) (R: Violent imagery and action) **1tars. 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.

• — *** Look at Me13: Brief profanity; sexual references) • .three stars. 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.—

— Lost Embrace (2004) (No MPAA rating adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and sexual candor) alf stars. A slight but engaging social comedy from the Argentine filmmaker Daniel Burman, an affectionate observer of the largely immigrant proprietors of a set of shops around the corner, part of a bustling, low-rent commercial district in Buenos Aires. The protagonist is a restless young Jew of Polish extraction whose mother runs a lingerie shop. They await the return of his father, who left 30 years earlier to fight in the Yom Kippur War and remained in Israel. The central plot thread is flimsy, but the voluble and close-knit aspects of both blood relatives and retail kinsmen give the movie a distinctive warmth and vitality. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• A Lot Like Love (2005) (PG-13: Sexual situations and mature themes) one-and-a-half stars. Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet star as two attractive young people who keep meeting over a period of seven years without realizing they’re perfect for each other. This chemistry- and laugh-free romance makes us pine for the days when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan ruled the romantic-comedy genre. Miss Peet’s brittle beauty is off-putting here, and Mr. Kutcher fares only slightly better in a role meant for an actor with far greater range. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

—• llions (2004) (PG: Ominous episodes; depictions of Catholic saints in humorous and fantastic contexts) ***—Three stars. 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 duffel bag stuffed with currency that will be nonnegotiableW• as soon as the United Kingdom shifts to the euro. This countdown proves a revealing test of character.

• Mindhunters— (2005) (R) ** A suspense thriller, reputedly modeled on Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians,” in which FBI profilers in training discover that there’s a killer in their midst. With Val Kilmer, Christian Slater, LL Cool J, Jonnycq, Kathryn Morris, Clifton Collins Jr., Will Kemp and Patricia Vasquez. Not reviewed.•

• Mondovino — **(2005) (No MPAA rating ject matter, with fleeting profanity and vulgar remarks) .Two stars. A survey of the international wine industry conducted by a knowledgeable but maddening cinematic intermediary, Jonathan Nossiter, who worked as a sommelier before he turned to filmmaking. Many colorful, opinionated and conflicted figures argue the merits of traditional versus modern methods of growing and distribution. Mr. Nossiter is such a lousy, unsteady cameraman that it’s often an ordeal to follow conversations in the fractured manner he observes them. Some dialogue in French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish with English subtitles.

• 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. Directed by Robert Luketic. 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) ****te 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. A remarkably subtle and gladdening fable of solidarity and inspiration. Exclusively at Cinema Arts and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

• Sahara (2005) (PG-13: Action-style violence) — **1/2• .Two ad a half stars. Matthew McConaughey stars as explorer Dirk Pitt in this playful adaptation of the Clive Cussler novel. Dirk is trying to find a long-lost artifact when he runs into a kindhearted doctor (Penelope Cruz) who is looking to save a West African village from a deadly toxin. The film’s logic-defying script isn’t one for the ages, but the cast barrels through anyway to provide some old-fashioned thrills. The tight ensemble includes Steve Zahn and William H. Macy. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• — Sin City (2005) (R: Frightening imagery, violence, nudity and strong language) *** k legend Frank Miller co-directs his supremely faithful take on his “Sin City” graphic tales. It’s not for the squeamish, but an all-star cast (Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson and Benicio Del Toro) combines with the film’s dazzling visuals to make “Sin City” a unique thriller. Those not weaned on comic books may check out of the story, but there’s still plenty to feast on, from the hard-boiled dialogue to the digital scenery. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Up and Down— (2004) (R: Frequent profanity, intermittent violence; fleeting racial epithets) ***1/2.—Two and one-half stars.— A distinctive slap-upside-the-head social comedy from the Czech team responsible for “Divided We Fall” in 2000: writer-director Jan Hrebejk and co-writer Petr Jarchovsky. They alternate plots set in Prague while satirizing downscale and upscale characters. The upshot: Still demoralized by communist dogma and inundated by immigrants, Old Europe is feeling plenty of strain. The sanest response to social turmoil is embodied in a prodigal son named Martin, who has emigrated to Australia. In Czech with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Unleashed (2005) (R) ** A martial-arts vehicle for Jet Li rather incongruously set in Glasgow and reinforced by acting heavyweights Bob Hoskins and Morgan Freeman. Mr. Hoskins is cast as a gangster who has raised Mr. Li, an orphan, as his ferocious slavey, a human pit bull who terrorizes all potential rivals. Circumstances permit a wholesome influence to elevate the young man’s outlook: Mr. Freeman as a blind piano tuner with a winsome stepdaughter. Not reviewed.

• — Walk on Water (2003) (No MPAA rating adult subject matter, with occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual candor, including allusions to homosexual cruising and sex acts) ** A polemical suspense thriller from an Israeli filmmaker, Eytan Foxcq, who finds it important to soften up a Mossad agent played by Lior Ashkenazi, assigned to shadow relatives of a venerable Nazi war criminal who may still be alive and bound for Germany. The hard-bitten hero is meant to undergo a change of heart while growing fond of the suspect’s thoroughly unthreatening grandchildren. A proficient suspense vehicle while laying groundwork in Istanbul, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the movie caves during the concluding episodes in Berlin. Some dialogue in Hebrew and German with English subtitles, but scenes in English predominate.

• XXX: State of the Union (2005) (PG-13) A sequel to one of the most ridiculous adventure thrillers of recent years, with Ice Cube inheriting the superstud role from Vin Diesel. Continuity is provided by Samuel L. Jackson, who returns in the role of a National Security Agency stalwart who recruits the Ice Man from the brig in order to protect Peter Strauss, a nice president of the United States, from Willem Dafoe, a treacherous secretary of defense. Not reviewed.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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