- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

OPENING

• 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 Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Crash (2005) (R) — A topical melodrama about class, racial and ethnic turmoil in Los Angeles, co-written and directed by Paul Haggis, the screenwriter of “Million Dollar Baby.” Mr. Haggis recruits an impressive cast — Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate, Jennifer Esposito, Terrence Howard, William Fichtner — to portray a cross section of characters whose paths cross ominously in a period of 36 hours.

• House of Wax (2005) (R: Horror-movie violence, strong language and some sexual content). The 1953 thriller starring Vincent Price is reborn, this time with a cast of young stars, including the infamous Paris Hilton. A group of teens are forced to find shelter in an old museum when their car breaks down, leading them into the clutches of the museum’s wicked curator. The film co-stars Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray and Jared Padalecki.

• 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.

• Kingdom of Heaven (2005) (R: Action battles and intense imagery). Director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) returns to days of yore with an epic retelling of the Crusades. Orlando Bloom stars as a young blacksmith who rises up to defend his people. “Heaven” co-stars David Thewlis and Liam Neeson.

• Kontroll (2003) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter, with frequent profanity and graphic violence) — . 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.

• Lost Embrace (2004) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and sexual candor) — **1/2. 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.

• Winter Solstice (2005) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; episodes of family conflict) — *1/2. A domestic melodrama about a New Jersey landscaper, Anthony LaPaglia, and his two sons, Aaron Stanford and Mark Webber, still prisoners of sorrow several years after the accidental death of the woman of the house. A sympathetic pretext and set of performers are weakened by a script that declines to become talkative or revealing enough to get crucial things off some manly chests.

NOW SHOWING

• The Amityville Horror (2005) (R: Violent imagery, sexual situations, teen drug use and profanity) — **1/2. The 1979 horror yarn gets 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.

• 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 Game of Their Lives (2005) (PG: Fleeting profanity) — **1/2. Director David Anspaugh rediscovers members of the 1950 American team in the World Cup tournament. Patrick Stewart does a guest-star turn as a reporter who recalls the team’s tenacious victory in a first-round game against England, reminiscing from a perch at RFK Stadium in the present. The movie dynamically stages game highlights and dabbles in enjoyable byways of Americana. The most conspicuous players include Gerard Butler and Wes Bentley.

• 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.

• House of D (2005) (PG-13: Frequent comic vulgarity; recurrent depictions of urination; fleeting profanity and episodes about family loss) — *. A stupefying dose of the facetious and sappy from David Duchovny, making his writing-directing debut with a groaner. He also plays the older, ruminating incarnation of the protagonist, Tom Warshaw, embodied in extended flashbacks by Anton Yelchin as a Greenwich Village boy in the early 1970s. Young Tom’s widowed mother (Tea Leoni) is on a fast track to suicidal depression. Robin Williams affects a droopy lower lip and Walter Matthau scowl while playing Tommy’s mentor, a childish janitor and delivery man. The cast also includes Frank Langella and Mr. Williams’ teenage daughter Zelda.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• A Lot Like Love (2005) (PG-13: Sexual situations and mature themes) — *1/2. 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.

• Major Dundee (1965) (No MPAA rating — made before the advent of the ratings system; occasional battle scenes and gunfights) — **. A 40th-anniversary restoration of Sam Peckinpah’s first large-scale production, an unwieldy Western saga that co-starred Charlton Heston and Richard Harris as antagonists in uniform — the former as a headstrong cavalry officer determined to avenge an Indian massacre, the latter as a resentful Confederate prisoner pressed into helping. The pursuit begins to stagnate about halfway through the yarn. Correcting the crucial flaws would be impossible; a few scenes have been restored and an inferior new musical score inserted, but they don’t amount to inspired tinkering. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Melinda and Melinda (2005) (PG-13: Occasional sexual candor) — **. Woody Allen’s new comedy sets up an amusing pretext but can’t develop it effectively. A friendly dispute between two writers (Larry Pine and Wallace Shawn) leads Mr. Allen to visualize their alternate versions of a story: a dinner party interrupted by the arrival of a “mystery woman.” Radha Mitchell doubles as the troublemaking Melindas in both scenarios. The catch is that there’s no distinct difference between Melinda plots; even the styles are indistinguishable.

• 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 duffel bag stuffed with currency that will be nonnegotiable 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) — ****. 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. A remarkably subtle and gladdening fable of solidarity and inspiration. Exclusively at Cinema Arts, Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Regal Ballston Common.

• The Other Side of the Street (2004) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter, with allusions to sex, prostitution and street crime; fleeting profanity) — .1/2. A misbegotten Brazilian feature that reunites the writer and leading lady of “Central Station.” Marcos Bernstein fails to devise a clever variation on “Rear Window” for the esteemed character actress Fernanda Montenegro, cast as an amateur sleuth, a pensioner named Regina. She functions as a neighborhood snoop for the police whose reliability is questioned when she reports witnessing a possible murder attempt through an apartment window. While playing foxy, Regina becomes a potential new consort for her suspect. In Portuguese with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Palindromes (2005) (R) — The latest misanthropic brainstorm from Todd Solondz of “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and “Happiness.” He begins by announcing the suicide of Dawn Wiener, the woebegone adolescent protagonist of “Dollhouse.” This clears the deck for a new unhappy adolescent protagonist: Dawn’s palindromic cousin Aviva, portrayed in relays by six juveniles and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Obsessed with getting pregnant, Aviva wanders into sinister byways of suburban New Jersey. Not reviewed.

• Sahara (2005) (PG-13: Action-style violence) — **1/2. 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) — ***. Comic-book 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.

• Turtles Can Fly (2004) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter, revolving around children orphaned or seriously injured in wartime) — ***. A vivid, searing fable about the impact of war on a group of children in a Kurdish refugee encampment in Northern Iraq on the eve of the American invasion. The self-styled leader, Soran (Soran Ebrahim), bosses a sizable crew of orphans, many of them amputees. His status is threatened by the appearance of an armless boy credited with clairvoyant gifts; this rival has a beautiful sister named Agrin (Avaz Latif), so traumatized by despair that she’s beyond the reach of anyone inclined to impress or save her. Directed by the Iranian Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi, whose mix of realism and nightmarish fantasy may leave spectators at a loss from time to time. Nevertheless, he achieves a distinctive update on Vittorio DeSica’s classic of World War II, “Shoeshine.” In Kurdish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Up and Down (2004) (R: Frequent profanity, intermittent violence; fleeting racial epithets) — **1/2. 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 whiIe 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.

• 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. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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 Fox, 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.

• 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 a failed musician who began observing and feeding the parrot flock near his ramshackle cottage on San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill in the 1990s. Director Judy Irving saves a delightful mating kicker for the fade-out. Exclusively at the Avalon and Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 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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