- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

OPENING

• The Passenger (1975) (PG: Fleeting profanity, violence and sexual allusions) —*1/2.One and one-half stars. of one of Michelangelo Antonioni’s emptiest odysseys. Mr. Antonioni wanders from North Africa to London to Barcelona while failing to account for Jack Nicholson as a feckless TV journalist who impulsively switches identities with a dead Englishman, who turns out to have been an arms dealer. Maria Schneider, the “Last Tango” girl, was recruited as dubious romantic salvation. Nothing clever comes of the identity theft, but countless scenes languish in panoramic long shot. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

NOW SHOWING

• The Aryan Couple (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, dealing with the depradations of Nazi Germany; occasional graphic violence and sexual allusions) — *1/2. This historical dud botches an escape melodrama set in Nazi-occupied Hungary, where an elderly Jewish industrial magnate played by Martin Landau has cut a deal with Heinrich Himmler to surrender all his assets, including a palace full of paintings, in exchange for safe passage to Switzerland for members of his family. Suspense and historical evocation are consistently undermined by preposterous contrivance, particularly when it comes to the title characters, a young Jewish couple who have been posing as the Aryan servants of Mr. Landau and his wife, Judy Parfitt. Although rumored to be Resistance agents, the imposters act peculiarly slack about exit plans of their own.



• Ballets Russes (2005) (No MPAA rating) — A documentary feature, compiled by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, that traces the history of the ballet company formed in 1909 by the Russian art and music impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Exclusively at the Landmark Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Bee Season (2005) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and painful family conflict) — **. An initially intriguing but eventually dispiriting movie version of the striking debut novel of Myla Goldberg. Her humorous voice tends to elude the screenwriting-directing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel. Flora Cross plays the poker-faced schoolgirl, Eliza, whose prowess at spelling elevates her in a family that betrays signs of desperation and estrangement. Overnight she becomes the pet of dad Richard Gere, a Jewish biblical scholar, whose marriage is threatened by the psychotic double life of spouse Juliette Binoche.

• Capote (2005) (R: Fleeting graphic violence and occasional profanity) — **. An admirably earnest but monotonous and underwritten biographical drama about author Truman Capote. Cleverly impersonated by Philip Seymour Hoffman, the subject is recalled during the period when he was researching and writing the best-selling crime chronicle “In Cold Blood,” based on the murder of a family in rural Kansas. Screenwriter Dan Futterman and director Bennett Miller overlook opportunities to clarify Capote’s mixed motives and deceitful methods. Catherine Keener as Capote’s childhood friend Harper Lee and Bruce Greenwood as his companion Jack Dunphy play authors who both seem displeased with the drift of his project, which includes a prison cell infatuation with one of the killers.

• Chicken Little (2005) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — **1/2. A maniacally playful and sometimes irresistible Disney animated elaboration of the “sky is falling” nursery tale that struggles to justify its feature length. The title character is a motherless twerp who needs to prove himself. The first completely computer-animated feature from the Disney studio, the movie does excel at farcical characterization. Chicken Little’s buddy, a hulking porker, is uproarious. A new 3D process will enhance the film at some theaters. If it works, the movie might prove a technical breakthrough.

• Derailed (2005) (R: Vulgar language, a violent sex scene and intense action sequences) —**. Clive Owen plays a family man drawn into an almost-affair with another married woman (Jennifer Aniston). Before they can break their marital vows, a mugger attacks them and steals their IDs. Soon, they’re the target of an elaborate blackmail plan that leads to the expected violence and some unusual plot twists. The capable leads are miscast here, and the story’s believable setup devolves into a generic Hollywood thriller. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Dreamer: Inspired By a True Story (2005) (PG: Elements of family conflict; simulations of a horse race collision that injures an animal) — *1/2. Dakota Fanning plays a little girl who becomes devoted to a racehorse that has broken a leg. The filly’s rebound, supervised by Kurt Russell as Miss Fanning’s dad, is remarkably swift and culminates in her underdog entry in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, undeniably an overreach. Writer-director John Gatins falters in his directing debut while arranging to guarantee the horse’s speedy recovery and triumph. One’s willingness to play along is undermined by the shameless and sappy nature of the manipulation. With Kris Kristofferson as a Walter Brennan throwback, David Morse as an expedient heavy and Elisabeth Shue as a token mom.

• Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2005) (R) — *1/2. A variation on Eminem’s “8 Mile” testimonial for the rapper 50 Cent, cast as a street kid who dabbles in crime and drugs before discovering the promise of pop music. Terrence Howard and Joy Bryant have principal roles.

• Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) (PG: Fleeting profanity) — **. A small-scale, black-and-white tribute to Edward R. Murrow and the staff of his “See It Now” public affairs show on CBS at the time in 1954 when the host decided to criticize Sen. Joseph McCarthy. George Clooney, who collaborated on the screenplay and directed, also plays producer Fred W. Friendly, ceding the uptight spotlight to David Straitharn as the chain-smoking, somber Murrow. The senator is seen only in fleeting archival footage. An antagonist of sorts emerges: Frank Langella in a magisterial impersonation of board chairman William Paley, who backs Murrow’s controversial beau geste despite obvious reservations.

• Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) (PG-13: Frightening imagery, mature themes) — ***. The fourth installment in the imaginative “Harry Potter” series keeps the series’ sense of wonder intact while bringing our heroes into adolescence. This time around, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) must compete against a trio of older, wiser wizards while fretting over finding a date for the big Hogwarts dance. The thrills aren’t as crisp in “Goblet of Fire,” but there’s plenty of humor as Harry falls for a fellow student. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Ice Harvest (2005) (R: Nudity, coarse language, sexual situations and violence) — ***. John Cusack’s Charlie pulls off an imperfect crime in this comedy heist flick from Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”). “Harvest” wants to be the antidote for the cheery holiday season, a character-driven romp where the winter winds bring ice and rain, not great tidings of joy. Oliver Platt and Billy Bob Thornton round out the colorful cast. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• In the Mix (2005) (PG-13) — A romantic comedy about the sudden mob connections of a New York deejay played by Usher, who saves the life of a gangster, Chazz Palmintieri, but jeopardizes the ensuing gratitude by falling for his daughter, Emmanuelle Chriqui. Not reviewed.

• Jarhead (2005) (R: Coarse language, partial nudity, military violence and sexual situations) — ***1/2. Director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) translates Anthony Swofford’s book about his time during the first Gulf War into a powerful film which deftly avoids partisan sniping. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a sniper in training who gets sent to Kuwait to wait for war to break out between Iraq and the United States. Superb supporting turns by Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard highlight this haunting and original look at men at war. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Just Friends (2005) (PG-13) — A romantic comedy starring Ryan Reynolds as a music executive whose crush on a high school classmate, Amy Smart, is reawakened by an encounter a decade later in their New Jersey hometown. He feels a far more confident suitor but is inconveniently squiring Anna Faris, a spoiled heiress with recording aspirations. Not reviewed.

• Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005) (R: Pervasive profanity, sexuality, nudity, gore) — ***. An outrageously funny noir spoof directed by resurgent action screenwriter Shane Black. Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer are a private detective and wannabe actor, respectively, entangled in a shady L.A. demimonde where corpses are turning up like houseflies. Also starring Michelle Monaghan. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Machuca (2003) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A Chilean feature about two schoolboys from different social classes whose friendship is endangered by the political conflict surrounding Salvador Allende before his downfall in 1973. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon. Not reviewed.

• Paradise Now (2005) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere and occasional violence) — **1/2. A scenically and thematically striking account of two young Palestinians whose mission as suicide bombers, bound from Nablus to Tel Aviv, goes awry, illustrating the blunders and uncertainties that not even fanaticism can overcome in certain circumstances. Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s humorous, disillusioning outlook may help deflate myths of jihadist divinity and triumphalism. His instruments of terror, Said and Khaled, are thoroughly human and vulnerable. In Arabic with English subtitles.

• Pride and Prejudice (2005) (PG: Adult subject matter, but no objectionable language or depiction) — ****. A richly satisfying new movie version of the Jane Austen classic, showcasing Keira Knightley in a spirited performance as Elizabeth Bennet, whose prejudicial view of the haughty aristocrat Darcy (Matthew MacFayden) is altered by overwhelming evidence of his devotion to her. Making his feature debut, the young English director Joe Wright blends savory locations and period evocation with persuasive romantic heartache and redemption.

• Protocols of Zion (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, dealing with anti-Semitism past and present) — **. The documentary filmmaker Marc Levin, a New Yorker, tries to assess anti-Semitism in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, specifically to discredit the libel that Jews knew of the attacks in advance. During most of the film Mr. Levin purses a scattershot approach. There are creepy, inconclusive encounters with anti-Semites of various intensities. A side trip to Hollywood goes completely bust while Mr. Levin documents himself playing phone tag with Larry David and Rob Reiner.

• Pulse (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A supernatural Japanese thriller about a group of friends haunted by the death of an associate who reappears in grainy, inexplicable computer and video transmissions. In Japanese with English subtitles. Not reviewed.

• Rent (2005) (PG-13: Mature thematic material involving drugs and sexuality; profanity) — **. A charming, if flawed, adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical about a group of outcasts struggling to make a living in pre-Giuliani Greenwich Village. A bombastic score and dated cultural markers contribute to the movie’s aura of staleness. Directed by Chris Columbus. Starring Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs and Jesse L. Martin. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Saw II (2005) (R: Grisly violence and gore, coarse language and drug content) — ** The devious killer dubbed Jigsaw returns in this quickly made but efficient sequel to last year’s horror hit. This time, Jigsaw traps not one but eight victims in elaborate prisons meant to challenge and torture them. “Saw II” offers a few novel sequences, plenty of gratuitous bloodletting and marginally better acting than the original. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A concert film showcasing the acerbic stand-up humorist, with appearances by Bob Odenkirk and sister Laura Silverman. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Shopgirl (2005) (R: Coarse language and sexual situations) — **1/2. Steve Martin brings his witty novella to the big screen as both star and screenwriter. The comic buries his wild and crazy side as a 50-ish millionaire who woos a young shop clerk (Claire Danes) who is simultaneously dating young Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman). The film’s love triangle is a bit wobbly, but “Shopgirl’s” strong performances and mature take on romance make it an unconventional date film. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Squid and the Whale (2005) (R) — ****. Noah Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical memoir of how a failed Manhattan marriage between writers (Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels), shatters the lives of their teenage sons.

• Walk the Line (2005) (PG-13: Some profanity, mild sexuality, depictions of drug dependency) — **1/2. James Mangold’s highly anticipated screen biography of the late Johnny Cash gets the music right, but comes dangerously close to cliche with its one-dimensional storyline: that the reckless Mr. Cash was redeemed by the love of second wife June Carter. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — ***. The long-awaited and often gratifying feature debut of the popular animated characters created by England’s Nick Park and showcased a decade ago in two masterful half-hour shorts. Wallace, an eccentric inventor, and his silent but resourceful dog Gromit are operating a humane pest-removal service tasked with removing rabbits destroying the produce of village gardeners anticipating a vegetable festival. Wallace and Gromit seem to be caring for every bunny they catch in teeming basement pens. A science-fiction monster rabbit is created inadvertently in Wallace’s lab and starts emulating King Kong. With the voices of Peter Sallis as Wallace, Helena Bonham-Carter as festival hostess Lady Tottington and Ralph Fiennes as her unscrupulous suitor Victor Quartermaine, a snooty letdown as an antagonist.

• The Weather Man (2005) (R: Profanity, sexual content) — ***. Nicolas Cage is a charmingly unhappy ne’er-do-well with a television career on the rise and a family life in total disarray. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Also starring Hope Davis and Michael Caine. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Yours, Mine and Ours (2005) (PG: Recurrent slapstick vulgarity) — *. A terminally moronic remake of the 1968 Henry Fonda-Lucille Ball domestic comedy inspired by a super-sized Navy household in the San Francisco Bay area. Dennis Quaid plays a widowed Coast Guard admiral with 10 children who marries Rene Russo, a handbag designer, who has eight. Several of Miss Russo’s kids are adopted, so the film can embrace cliched ethnic diversity. The location shifts to New London, Conn., where Mr. Quaid plays the new commandant of the Coast Guard Academy. Despite his elevated rank, dad is singled out for pratfalling abuse. Slapstick squalor and ineptitude rule, especially when there’s a pretext for food fights.

• Zathura (2005) (PG: Fantasy violence and threatening situations) — **1/2. The latest fantasy from the mind of “Jumanji” author Chris Van Allsburg makes for an early holiday treat for youngsters. Two squabbling brothers find themselves adrift in outer space when an old board game comes magically to life. The film’s slack pacing will leave adults equally adrift, but “Zathura” packs plenty of imaginative creatures and nifty special effects for its core audience. Reviewed by Christian Toto.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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