- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2005

OPENING

• 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. —His famous recruits during the company’s most influential period in the teens and 1920s included Nijinsky, Fokine, Massine and Balanchine. The well-traveled company split into rival groups after Diaghilev’s death in 1929 but remained a name and heritage of consequence into the 1960s. Exclusively at the Landmark Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Derailed (2005) (R: Vulgar language, a violent sex scene and intense action sequences) —** Two stars. Clive Owen plays a family man drawn into an almost-affair with another married woman (Jennifer Anston). 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.

• Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) (R) — This updated spoof of the private eye genre, written and directed by Shane Black appropriating the title of Pauline Kael’s second collection of movie criticism, casts Robert Downey Jr. as a petty thief who blunders into New York auditions for a Hollywood detective movie. Flown west for a screen test, he hangs out with an eccentric, homosexual private eye played by Val Kilmer, to prep for his test. Mr. Downey also falls for Michelle Monaghan as a struggling actress.

• 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.

• 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.

NOW PLAYING

• After Innocence (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A polemical documentary feature directed by Jessica Sanders, who recalls several cases of convictions overturned because of subsequent DNA evidence. Her subjects include defense teams active in proving the innocence of other prisoners. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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 race horse 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.

• The Dying Gaul (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, violence, morbidity and sexual candor, including simulations of both heterosexual and homosexual intercourse) — *1/2. A movie version of the Craig Lucas play, directed by the playwright himself in Hollywood locations meant to accentuate the luxurious and sinister. Peter Sarsgaard plays a homosexual writer who is manipulated by a closeted movie executive, Campbell Scott, and his vindictive wife, Patricia Clarkson. Their triangle suggests an updated vampire fable for people privileged enough to sell out in Hollywood. The diabolical aspects of chat room sex in “Closer” get even uglier in “Gaul.” Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Elizabethtown (2005) (PG-13: Sexual content and profanity) — . Writer-director Cameron Crowe attempts to find a new “Jerry Maguire” in hunky Orlando Bloom, who plays a hotshot shoe designer who finds the meaning of life in the small Kentucky hamlet where his father recently died. A catchy soundtrack and a cracklingly eccentric regional cast fails in the end to rescue the movie from its ersatz gravity. Also starring Kirsten Dunst and Susan Sarandon. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• Innocent Voices (2005) (R: Graphic violence in a wartime setting) — A memoir of an alternately playful and ominous boyhood, endured under the threat of crossfire and conscription in El Salvador during the early 1980s. In Spanish with English subtitles. 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.

• The Legend of Zorro (2005) (PG: Frequent violence in an adventure fantasy context; fleeting profanity and sexual allusions) — 1/2*. A belated sequel to the irresistibly swashbuckling “The Mask of Zorro” in 1998, this unsightly botch comes as a very unwelcome letdown. The plot revolves around a crackpot scheme by French and Dixie warmongers to concoct a super-weapon and sabotage California statehood in the early 1850s. Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have gone dreadfully waxen as the leads and Rufus Sewell as the villain resembles Hurd Hatfield’s Dorian Gray on a terminally bad day. The stunt crew is usurped by digitally exaggerated whoppers. Every scene is a shambles.

• North Country (2005) (R) — **1/2. A topical melodrama that weds Charlize Theron to the “Norma Rae” pretext as a woman of northern Minnesota who returns after a failed marriage and takes a job in a coal mine to support herself and two kids. Before long she is the object of sexual harassment and brings suit against the offenders. With Frances McDormand and Sissy Spacek, not to mention Sean Bean, Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins and Michelle Monaghan.

• 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.

• Prime (2005) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor) — *1/2. A doting but trite romantic comedy about a skittish divorcee of 37 (Uma Thurman) who falls for a callow suitor of 23 (Bryan Greenberg). Neither she nor her platitudinous Jewish therapist, Meryl Streep, is aware of the dreary coincidence meant to tickle the audience: The patient’s new beau is the shrink’s mildly prodigal son. This coy secret is a groaner from the outset. Writer-director Ben Younger’s clumsiness with the genre is aggravated by a refusal to decide whether it’s age or religious affiliation that imperils the love affair.

• The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005) (PG-13: Some disturbing images and coarse language) — **1/2. Julianne Moore plays the heroic mom to 10 children in this sappy period piece inspired by real events. Miss Moore’s character makes ends meet by winning jingles contests, but her biggest concern isn’t her brood but watching after her alcoholic husband (Woody Harrelson). Miss Moore radiates motherly warmth in “Prize,” but Mr. Harrelson’s mannered performance spoils the effect. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• 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.

• Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005) (PG: Scary images; brief mild profanity) — . A creepy, enchanting new stop-animation feature from Tim Burton and co-director Mike Johnson. Johnny Depp voices the main character, the melancholy Victor Van Dort, whose arranged marriage to the daughter of impoverished aristocrats is interrupted when he awakens the spirit of a long-dead bride and winds up in the strange underworld of the living dead. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Touch the Sound (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter but no objectionable depiction or language) — . A half-fascinating, half-exasperating documentary feature that observes the partially deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie in rehearsal, performance, travel and reflection. The director, Thomas Riedenheimer, hankers to raise our consciousness about the interdependence of sight and sound but fails to provide enough confidential scenes with Miss Glennie, who possesses a lovely speaking voice and makes the stronger case for appreciating sound as an enveloping sense. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Two for the Money (2005) (R: Pervasive vulgar language, a scene of sexuality and a violent act) — . Al Pacino is Walter Abrams, a betting adviser who teams up with a prediction prodigy (Matthew McConaughey) in the hopes of winning big. It’s up to Walter’s wife (Rene Russo) to keep them both from self-destructing from their fast-paced lifestyles. Mr. Pacino’s over-the-top style makes “Money” worth watching, but the film’s promising setup gives way to a formulaic final reel. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Ushpizin (2004) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — **1/2. Director Gidi Dar observes the woes and blessings that confront Moshe, a devout but penniless member of a Hasidic congregation in Jerusalem. A charitable windfall allows him to avoid shame and finance a proper feast during the holiday of Succoth. Moshe and his redoubtable wife Malli host unexpected guests when a pair of felons violating their parole show up. One of them has links to a shared disreputable past that Moshe is trying to live down. With the authentic conjugal and Hasidic couple Shuli Rand and Michal Bat Sheva Rand as Moshe and Malli. In Hebrew with English subtitles.

• 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 War Within (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with sustained ominous content) — A more topical suspense pretext than audiences may welcome at the moment, especially in New York City. Hassan, a Pakistani member of a band of jihadist suicide bombers planning multiple attacks in the city, takes refuge with an assimilated friend, Khalid, in Jersey City when the attacks have to be postponed. Hassan suffers pangs of conscience about betraying Khalid’s trust and shadowy recollections of being imprisoned and interrogated for terrorist associations in Europe. Not reviewed.

• 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.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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