- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005


• 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.

• Nine Lives (2005) (R) — A tearjerker in which the lives of seven adult women and two girls facing emotional crises are contrived to intersect. The principal cast members are Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Kathy Baker, Sissy Spacek, Robin Wright Penn, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Elpida Carrillo, Dakota Fanning and Amanda Seyfreid.

• 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.

• Saw II (2005) (R: Grisly violence and gore, coarse language and drug content). The devious killer called Jigsaw returns in this quickly made 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” stars Donnie Wahlberg, Dina Meyer and Shawnee Smith.

• 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.

• Three Extremes (2005) (R) — A three-part anthology of horror vignettes from Asian directors — Takashi Miike of Japan, Fruit Chan of Hong Kong and Park Chan Wook of Korea. The distributor threatens “dream-like minimalism, savage comedy and baroque horror.” Much obliged.

• The Weather Man (2005) (R) — A character portrait of a popular Chicago television personality at a turning point in his life. Played by Nicolas Cage, he is contemplating an offer to take his weather reports to a national showcase, but his marriage is on the rocks and his adolescent kids need reassurance. With Michael Caine as the protagonist’s esteemed father, Hope Davis as his estranged wife and Nicholas Hoult (of “About a Boy”) and Gemmenne de la Pena as the children.

• Where the Truth Lies (2005) (No MPAA rating — the distributor opted for an unrated release after receiving a restricted NC-17; occasional profanity, sexual candor and violence) — A new feature from the Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, adapting a Rupert Holmes novel about a murder mystery with a show-business backdrop. Alison Lohman plays a reporter of early 1970s vintage who noses into the scandalous events that terminated the partnership of a popular comedy and vocal team of the early 1950s. The partners, perhaps meant to suggest Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in their prime, are played by Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon.


• 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 cellroom infatuation with one of the killers.

• The Constant Gardener (2005) (R: Occasional graphic violence with gruesome illustrative details; elements of sexual candor and racial animosity) *1/2. A movie version of the John Le Carre novel, which belabors a tendentious plot about a deceived and grief-stricken British diplomat in Kenya, a new showcase for Ralph Fiennes as a suffering gentleman. He investigates the violent death of wife Rachel Weisz, a left-wing political activist who appears to have been taking shameful advantage of his trust. The circumstantial evidence contrived to give her a shady profile is eventually softened, leaving the ghost of an angelic martyr to international opportunists in league with a pharmaceutical conglomerate.

• Domino (2005) (R: Systematic depiction of social depravity; frequent profanity, graphic violence and simulated drug use; occasional nudity and sexual candor) — 1/2*. Relentless torture from director Tony Scott, mounting another hell-bent criminal spectacle. This one chronicles the misspent life of the late Domino Harvey, who died a few months ago of a drug overdose while awaiting trial on a federal narcotics rap. The daughter of actor Laurence Harvey and a fortune-hunting fashion model, the subject spent several seedy years as a bounty hunter in Southern California. Mr. Scott and screenwriter Richard Kelly exploit this disreputable gig in a carnival of sensationalism and wretched excess.

• Doom (2005) (R ) — A science-fiction thriller inspired by a popular video stalking game of the early 1990s. Karl Urban and Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, co-star as the leaders of a futuristic Marine unit assigned to lock down and search a base on Mars where numerous nightmarish critters are on the prowl. Not reviewed.

• 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 Elizabeth Shue as a token mom.

• 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.

• The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) (PG-13: Frightening imagery, mature themes) — **1/2. Take a courtroom drama and mix in some demonic possession and you get this well-crafted but slight horror flick based on a true story. The trial follows a priest (Tom Wilkinson) accused of negligence in the death of a young woman he tried to save via exorcism. Laura Linney plays the lawyer out to clear the father’s good name. The scares can’t match the grandfather of all possession films, “The Exorcist,” but writer/director Scott Derrickson shows flair with a few goose bump moments. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• A History of Violence (2005) (R: Extreme violence, sexual situations, mature language and themes) — **1/2. Director David Cronenberg’s latest purports to be a meditation on violence in our culture. It will make audiences ponder that theme, but it’s far too interested in imitating a Steven Seagal caper. Viggo Mortensen does all he can to bridge the chasm between the two styles, but ultimately the rugged actor can’t make it work. The film also stars William Hurt and Maria Bello. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• In Her Shoes (2005) (PG-13: Strong language, mature situations and sexual content) — **1/2. “L..A. Confidential’s” Curtis Hanson takes on a best-selling novel about battling sisters (Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette) whose lives couldn’t be any less alike. Enter a widowed grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) they both thought was dead and you have the first stages of sisterly reconciliation. The film’s chick-lit pedigree clashes with Mr. Hanson’s earnest staging, making “Shoes” a clumsy fit for those unfamiliar with the source material. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• Junebug (2005) (R: Profanity, sexual content, including nudity) * . Funny, intimate and affecting first feature from native North Carolinian Phil Morrison that chronicles the culture clash that ensues when a man (Alessandro Nivola) brings home a worldly wife to his childhood home in Winston-Salem. Written by Angus MacLachlan. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• March of the Penguins (2005) (G) —* This often dazzling film capturing the life cycle of the emperor penguin will entertain even those normally repelled by nature documentaries. The creatures in question endure brutal temperatures and unforgiving landscapes yet maintain their species through fascinating coping measures. The film’s photography, which brings us right into the penguin world, occasionally is eclipsed by its cutesier segues. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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 she 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.

• 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.

• Proof (2005) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; scenes of family conflict and loss) — **1/2. A movie version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Auburn that reunites the leading lady and director of “Shakespeare in Love,” Gwyneth Paltrow and John Madden. Miss Paltrow has enjoyed finer demonstrations of cinematic pathos. The strongest performance is contributed by Anthony Hopkins in the post-mortem role of her father, a famous mathematician reduced by dementia. Jake Gyllenhaal proves a callow choice as the young colleague chosen to liberate the heroine from her Sleeping Beauty trance as a dutiful but heartsick daughter and unsung brainiac.

• Reel Paradise (2005) (No MPAA rating; frequent profanity and occasional sexual candor; systemtic elements of family conflict) — * A self-congratulatory video feature about the South Pacific film exhibition idyll of John Pierson. A successful sales agent and promoter for independent filmmakers, he acted on a whim to reopen and manage a theater in Fiji and persuaded Steve James of “Hoop Dreams” to tape the final month of his sojourn. The results ought to be kept strictly in the family. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Serenity (2005) (PG-13: Sequences of intense violence and action, some sexual references) — * The short-lived TV series “Firefly” is reborn as a smart, satisfying feature film from the show’s creator, Joss Whedon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”). The film rejoins the crew of the spaceship Serenity, featuring the actors from the 2002 Fox series, including Adam Baldwin, Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres. Fans and neophytes will appreciate the smart humor and adroitly choreographed fight sequences. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Stay (2005) (R: Coarse language and some disturbing images) — * Young Henry (Ryan Gosling) wants to commit suicide on his 21st birthday, and all the stands between him and his desperate act is his psychiatrist (Ewan McGregor). But what begins as an earnest attempt to save a patient becomes a trip into the surreal in this dark thriller co-starring Naomi Watts. Wasting a gaggle of good actors is bad enough, but “Stay” features one of the least satisfying conclusions in years. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Thumbsucker (2005) (R: Profanity; sexuality involving teens; drug use; disturbing image) — * Clever, affecting first feature from director Mike Mills, who adapted Walter Kirn’s novel about an otherwise typical mixed-up teenager with a deeply unnerving private habit: thumbsucking. The young Lou Pucci deftly negotiates his character’s transition from misfit to monster, and back again, while Benjamin Bratt and Keanu Reeves turn into terrific bit roles. Also starring Tilda Swinton and Vincent D’Onofrio. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• Two for the Money (2005) (R: Pervasive vulgar language, a scene of sexuality and a violent act) — * Al Pacino is Walter Abrams, a betting advisor 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.

• The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, involving historical accounts of racism and graphic violence) — **1/2. An abbreviated new documentary account of the 1955 murder of a Chicago teenager who was brutally murdered by racist vigilantes in rural Mississippi after whistling at a white woman. The culprits were acquitted but later incriminated themselves in a Look magazine post-mortem. The Justice Department recently reopened the case. Filmmaker Keith A. Beauchamp claims partial credit for this decision. The case remains a wrenching time capsule as recalled by Mr. Beauchamp’s interview subjects. The most imposing is the victim’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley. A tower of strength in the aftermath of the killing, she died two years before this film’s completion.

• 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.


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