- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2005

OPENING

• The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005) (PG) — Another sports yarn from the Disney studio, which reaches back in the annals of golf to the U.S. Open of 1913. Defending champion Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) of Great Britain finds himself challenged by Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf), a 20-year-old American amateur with a 10-year-old caddie, Eddie Lowery (Josh Flitter).

• Into the Blue (2005) (PG-13: Violent action, sexual situations and mature language). “Fantastic Four’s” Jessica Alba stars in this water-based thriller from the writer-director of “Blue Crush.” The film casts Miss Alba alongside Paul Walker as two divers who discover a sunken treasure that snares the attention of a local drug lord.

• Mirrormask (2004) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter) — An independent feature that unites comic book artists Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman as movie collaborators (director and screenwriter, respectively). Their story revolves around a teenager named Helena (Stephanie Leonidas), whose anxiety about her stricken mother seems to induce a hallucinatory state. She wanders in a fantastic setting controlled by rival queens. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Oliver Twist (2005) (PG-13: Sustained ominous elements and occasional graphic violence) — *1/2. Evidently a wrong turn in a Victorian direction for Roman Polanski and screenwriter Ronald Harwood after their Oscar-winning collaboration on “The Pianist.” Dickens definitely eludes them, resulting in perhaps the first movie version of “Oliver Twist” that runs out of gas before Oliver reaches London. Ben Kingsley is the only stellar attraction, a Fagin whose most telling characteristic is extremely squinty eyes. Barney Clark is an appealing Oliver, but the level of casting and evocation compares so poorly to the vivid, stirring David Lean and Carol Reed versions that it’s difficult to believe the new filmmakers were enthusiasts for the source material.

• Serenity (2005) PG-13 (Sequences of intense violence and action, some sexual references). The short-lived TV series “Firefly” is reborn as a 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.

• Thumbsucker (2005) (R) — A comedy that emerged from the Sundance Film Festival, with Lou Taylor Pucci as a teenager struggling to outgrow a persistent thumbsucking habit. Therapy seems to help for a while, but the patient suffers a relapse and acquires a fresh array of undesirable habits.

NOW SHOWING

• The Baxter (2005) (PG-13) — Another romantic comedy about a loser’s redemption, written and directed for himself by Michael Showalter. He plays lovelorn protagonist Elliot Sherman, a shy tax accountant with a history of being jilted by girlfriends. He may have lucked out with a magazine editor played by Elizabeth Banks. They’re engaged, but one of her high-school sweethearts (Justin Theroux) is suddenly back on the scene. Not reviewed.

• Broken Flowers (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, nudity and sexual candor; fleeting violence) — *1/2. Another exercise in starvation comedy from Jim Jarmusch, who casts Bill Murray is cast as a middle-aged sad sack who has acquired a reputation as a Don Juan. He looks up four discarded consorts, played in order by Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton. Only the Stone stopover pays humorous dividends, in part because the old flame has a flirty teenage daughter named Lolita (Alexis Dziena) who enjoys treating the visitor like a potential Humbert.

• 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. Nevertheless, 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.

• Elevator to the Gallows (1957) (No MPAA rating: Made before the advent of the rating system; occasional profanity, violence and sexual allusions) — *1/2. A revival of Louis Malle’s 1958 debut feature, which becomes a maddening fiasco. The pretext has nerve-wracking potential: Jeanne Moreau’s lover, Maurice Ronet, kills her husband but is trapped in the office elevator he had counted on for his getaway. You expect the scenario to concentrate on the lovers and how they reached this grotesque juncture. Incredibly, it prefers joyrides and digressions with extraneous characters that fall short with a thud. “Elevator” is a vintage rattletrap, but it contains numerous cliches and familiar faces of the approaching new wave. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Everything Is Illuminated (2005) (PG-13: Occasional graphic violence, profanity and comic vulgarity) — **1/2. An austerely stripped-down and fitfully droll movie version of the acclaimed novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, who made a spectacle of verbal clowning and hyperbolic overstatement, starting with the title itself. Liev Schreiber, who is not in the cast, keeps his film directing debut compact, affordable and contemporary while distilling the book’s sprawl. With Elijah Wood as the author’s fictionalized namesake, an obsessive twerp who embarks on a trip to the Ukraine looking for traces of Jewish ancestors who fled or died during World War II. Eugene Hutz is an amusing, rawboned find as his malapropic guide Alex, an Americanized hustler-hipster.

• 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.

• Flightplan (2005) (PG-13) — A psychological suspense thriller starring Jodie Foster as a plane passenger who begins insisting that her 6-year-old daughter has vanished during a flight from Berlin to New York City. With Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean and Erika Christensen. Not reviewed.

• The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005) (R: Profanity; pervasive sexuality; crude humor; drug use) — *** An unapologetically hilarious sex farce with sweetness at its center, starring brilliantly understated comedian Steve Carell as a terminally chaste electronics store stock supervisor. His work buddies (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen) entice him to do the deed with all manner of floozies, but he’s got his heart set on Catherine Keener’s doggedly classy Trish. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Grizzly Man (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and evidence of dementia in a documentary format) — **1/2. An authentically unnerving memoir of a demented personality, a failed actor who called himself Tim Treadwell and promoted himself as a “protector” of Alaskan grizzly bears. For many years he taped his trips to the wilderness, where he tried to get up close and personal with the wildlife. Ultimately, a rogue grizzly mauled him (and a female companion) to death. Werner Herzog, always attracted to lunacy, distilled this feature from the tapes, which also preserved numerous psychotic rants for the camera. It’s madness dead-on, a real-life horror.

• 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.

• Hustle & Flow (2005) (R: Harsh language, drug use, violence and sexual situations) — ***1/2. Terrence Howard dominates this fascinating tale of a pimp trying for his own piece of the American dream. Mr. Howard’s Djay thinks he could be the next big rap star, and he’s teaming up with an old high school friend (Anthony Anderson) for one last stab at stardom. The film doesn’t cower from the sins of its antihero, nor does it deny Djay a chance at redemption. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• Just Like Heaven (2005) (PG) — **.A romantic comedy with a supernatural angle, co-starring Mark Ruffalo as the current tenant of a San Francisco apartment and Reese Witherspoon as his immediate predecessor, who comes and goes in a ghostly fashion while insisting that she still lives there.

• King of the Corner (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and comic vulgarity) — **1/2. An unassuming but engaging addition to the sub-genre of social comedies that revolve around middleaged protagonists facing mid-life crises. Peter Riegert plays marketing executive Leo Spivak, too distracted by family obligations to notice that he’s being set up for a fall at the office. His counterattack proves funny and edifying: in desperation he discovers his inner cutthroat and earns a Strange New Respect. Too tentative to break through as a sleeper but worth encouraging, the movie boasts a diverting cast: Eric Bogosian, Eli Wallach, Rita Moreno, Isabella Rossellini, Beverly D’Angelo, Harris Yulin, Ashley Johnson. Exclusively at the Landmark Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema.

• Lord of War (2005) (R: Drug use, violence, sexual situations and adult themes) — **1/2. Nicholas Cage stars as a veteran gunrunner who confronts the consequences of his work while being hounded by an Interpol agent. “War” co-stars Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke and Bridget Moynahan. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon (No MPAA rating) — A new Imax 3-D featurette that recalls moonwalks with a dozen astronauts, using vintage NASA footage and occasional computer-graphic imagery. Exclusively at the Lockheed Martin Imax Theatre at the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall. Not reviewed.

• The Man (2005) (PG-13) — An odd-couple comedy that teams Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy as crime fighters: respectively, an undercover federal agent and a dental supply salesman who blunders into harm’s way. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• The Memory of a Killer (2004) (R) — A Dutch police thriller in which Antwerp detectives played by Koen De Bouw and Werner De Smedt trace a flurry of killings to a retired assassin (Jan Decleir) whose criminal career was seemingly curtailed by Alzheimer’s. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• Proud (2005) (PG) — A World War II saga about the crew members of a destroyer escort, the USS Mason, manned by black American sailors. With the late Ossie Davis, plus Stephen Rea, Darnell Williams and Denise Nicholas. Not reviewed.

• Red Eye (2005) (PG-13: Graphic violence, strong language and adult situations.) — **1/2. Horror maestro Wes Craven dials down the bloodshed for this taut thriller set mostly aboard an airplane. Rachel McAdams plays a woman singled out by a terrorist (Cillian Murphy) to help him carry out a hit on the deputy secretary of Homeland Security. The early nail-biting sequences give way to a silly and uneven finale. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Roll Bounce (2005) (PG-13) — A new comedy from Malcolm Lee, the director of “The Best Man” and “Undercover Brother,” starring Bow Wow as a roller-skating enthusiast who must seek a new rink when his neighborhood establishment closes in the 1970s. He and his pals venture into the Sweetwater Roller Rink, which has a reputation for competitive swank and eccentricity. With Mike Epps, Chi McBride and Nick Cannon. Not reviewed.

• The Thing About My Folks (2005) (PG-13: Comic violence, strong language and adult humor) — **1/2. Former “Mad About You” star Paul Reiser whips up a thoughtful road picture between a middle-aged man (Mr. Reiser, working double duty as the screenwriter) and his crusty pop (Peter Falk). Mr. Reiser’s sitcom sensibilities stay buried until the final reel, but before then we’re treated to a beautifully acted feature filled with rich, real dialogue and a brilliant turn by Mr. Falk. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• Underclassman (2005) (PG-13: Violence, sexual references, drug material and some teen drinking) **. Former child star Nick Cannon tries to stake out a claim to movie fame with this underwhelming cop comedy. The “Drumline” actor plays a baby-faced cop who goes undercover in a private school to nab a murderer. Young Mr. Cannon has charm, but this rote comedy simply goes through the cop cliche handbook with nary a wrinkle in sight. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• An Unfinished Life (2005) (PG-13) — **. A domestic melodrama starring Robert Redford as an embittered Wyoming rancher who resists reconciliation with a widowed daughter-in-law played by Jennifer Lopez, who arrives in need of protection from a threatening boyfriend (Damian Lewis). The cast also includes Morgan Freeman as Mr. Redford’s sidekick and Becca Gardner as Miss Lopez’s 11-year-old daughter, plus Josh Lucas and Camryn Manheim.

• Venom (2005) (R: Horror-style gore, rough language and extreme violence) — **. The latest exercise in slice ‘em, dice ‘em horror begins blandly enough but manages to rally in its final moments. A voodoo curse takes over a hulking truck driver (Rick Cramer), who then begins killing everyone in his path. A plucky teen (Agnes Bruckner) rallies her friends to smite his plans. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Wedding Crashers (2005) (R: Profanity; strong sexuality; nudity) — ***. The most successful installment of the “Frat Pack” to date, starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as professional wedding crashers. True love and other hilarities threaten to end the infantile duo’s streak at a post-wedding weekend on the Eastern Shore. Directed by David Dobkin. Also starring Christopher Walken and Rachel McAdams. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Wild Safari (2005) (No MPAA rating) — A new Imax 3-D featurette that offers the spectacle of excursions to game reserves in South Africa, under the supervision of a ranger named Liesl Eichenberger. Exclusively at the Lockheed Martin Imax Theatre at the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall. Not reviewed.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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