- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

OPENING

• Elevator to the Gallows (1957) (No MPAA rating: Made before the advent of the rating system; occasional profanity, violence and sexual allusions) —*1/2.One and one-half stars.e’s 1958 debut feature, which enjoyed more of a vogue for recruiting Miles Davis to contribute a jazz score than for its merits as a mystery thriller. The awful truth is that it 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.

• 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.

• 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. Directed by Les Mayfield.

• Saraband (2003) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor) — **1/2. Ingmar Bergman returns as a writer-director in this belated supplement to “Scenes from a Marriage.” Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson play the same characters, Johan and Marianne, mismates divorced for 30 years and impulsively reunited when she visits him at his country home. Mr. Bergman introduces a second relationship, an incestuous one, between Johan’s son by an earlier marriage, Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt), and Karin (Julia Dufvenius), Henrik’s daughter. The set-up is Freudian to an agonizing fault, but the Bergman flair for corrosive torment reasserts itself while Henrik and Karin are emoting. Even when you’re resisting it, the movie has spellbinding sequences of confessional intimacy. In Swedish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cinema Arts, Landmark Bethesda Row and Landmark E Street Cinema.

• The Talent Given Us (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A semi-autobiographical, picaresque comedy in which filmmaker Andrew Wagner recruits members of his own family as principal characters. His parents, Judy and Allen, precipitate a reunion while trying to alert him to a job prospect. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 2046 (2004) (R) — The Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai was in the mood for a companion piece to his most accomplished movie, the romantic tearjerker “In the Mood for Love.” Released five years ago, it depicted the smoldering, unconsummated attraction of two married people who meet as boarders while holding down jobs in a city far from their spouses. The original leading man, Tony Leung, is now cast as a gambler-amorist-pulp novelist who pursues half a dozen women, including “Mood for Love” leading lady Maggie Cheung. The time frame extends fancifully from the 1960s to the year cited in the title, when Hong Kong will lose its quasi-independence from mainland China. With Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li as new consorts for Mr. Leung. In Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese with English subtitles.

• 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.

NOW SHOWING

• Broken Flowers (2005) (R: Occasional profanity, nudity and sexual candor; fleeting violence) — *1/2. Another exercise in starvation comedy from Jim Jarmusch, whose material often resembles wilted flowers. Bill Murray is cast as a hard-to-redeem protagonist, an inert and sketchily defined computer entrepreneur who has allowed his life to wilt. This middle-aged sad sack has acquired a reputation as a Don Juan. He goes on a wild goose chase to look 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 Brothers Grimm (2005) (PG-13: Recurrent ominous episodes emphasizing demonic spectacle; some gruesome illustrative details and sexual allusions) *1/2. A tackily conceived shambles that encourages Terry Gilliam to flail away. Screenwriter Ehren Krueger thinks it droll to envision the famous philologists and folklorists Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, as a fraternal set of con men. Portrayed by Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, they make a disreputable profession of faking supernatural scares in rural communities and then contracting to exorcise the demons. While exploiting the credulity of one village, they blunder into a “real” deathtrap of a haunted forest, the domain of a zombie Rapunzel, who dwells in a tower and shapeshifts from seductive to hideous. Another unflattering showcase for Monica Bellucci. The movie displays no appreciation for the actual lives and achievements of the Grimms and keeps stumbling over its own strenuous horror effects.

• The Cave (2005) (PG-13) — The latest variant on “Alien,” with Cole Hauser and Eddie Cibrian as adventurous brothers who recruit Morris Chestnut and Piper Perabo for a spelunking and diving expedition to Romania, where a vast, unexplored cavern has been discovered beneath a 13th century abbey. Directed by Bruce Hunt. Not reviewed.

• Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) (PG: Quirky situations and mild language) — ***. The Roald Dahl classic, which inspired the delightful 1971 film featuring Gene Wilder, gets retold more accurately by Tim Burton. Johnny Depp stars as the retiring candy king who invites a group of children into his factory to earn the right to be his heir. Mr. Depp’s quirky performance pales in comparison to Mr. Wilder’s, but there’s enough child-like wonder here to justify the retelling. Danny Elfman’s score and original Oompa Loompa tunes bring a fresh voice to the story. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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 tail-chasing, self-devouring, 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. Mr. Le Carre has always been fond of heroines whose political naivete made them pawns for the ruthless. He’s still at it, and the dubious aspects loom larger than ever. With Danny Huston and Bill Nighy as dishonorable Englishmen. Directed by Fernando Meirelles, who keeps slogging away long after you’ve cried “uncle.”

• 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. Directed by Judd Apatow. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Four Brothers (2005) (R: Strong language, violence and mature situations) — ***. Director John Singleton, hot again after helping produce the indie hit “Hustle & Flow,” directs this simplistic revenge tale co-starring Mark Wahlberg. The actor plays one of four adopted siblings out to find the men responsible for killing their mother. The film also stars Andre 3000, better known to music fans as half of OutKast. The engaging cast, and two standout set pieces, pave over the wafer-thin morality. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Great Raid (2005) (R: Graphic depictions of combat, torture and mass execution in a World War II setting) — ****. A great new war movie that catches up with a gallant rescue mission improvised on short notice in late January of 1945 in the Philippines. A company of U.S. Army Rangers and a larger contingent of Filipino guerrillas surround and assault the Cabanatuan prison camp, where about 500 Allied survivors of the Japanese conquest and the Bataan Death March in 1942 remain captives of the Japanese army, now in systematic retreat from Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s forces. Subplots observe the approaching Rangers, the prisoners and members of the anti-Japanese resistance in Manila. All tensions culminate in a brilliant night battle sequence. Beautifully visualized from the outset, in color so deftly subdued that it tends to evoke black-and-white, the movie retrieves profoundly touching documentary footage of the mission’s aftermath during the finale. With stellar performances by Benjamin Bratt and James Franco as Ranger officers and by Joseph Fiennes, Connie Nielsen and a pair of charismatic menaces, Motoki Kobayashi and Gotaro Tsunashima. Among its many authentic evocations, the film takes the Japanese very seriously as adversaries. Directed by John Dahl, whose aptitude for thrillers has taken a quantum leap into another genre.

• 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 won renown by promoting 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, he got so close that a rogue grizzly mauled him (and a female companion) to death. Werner Herzog, always attracted to lunacy, was invited to distill a feature from the Treadwell collection of vacation tapes, which also preserved numerous psychotic rants for the camera. If you think it can be edifying to see madness dead-on, “Grizzly Man” provides the real-life horror.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• Sequins (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A domestic melodrama about the friendship that develops between a pregnant teenager (Lola Naymark) and the dressmaker (Ariane Ascaride) who employs her as an embroidery assistant. Directed by Eleonore Faucher. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Sky High (2005) (PG: Occasional violent spectacle in a science-fiction style with comic overtones) — ***. A surprisingly witty and entertaining synthesis of “The Incredibles” with high-school romantic farce in the John Hughes vein and superschool rivalries that resemble Hogwarts Academy. Sky High, secluded above a lofty cloud bank, recruits the supernaturally precocious. Entering freshman Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the only son of titans Steve and Josie Stronghold (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston), celebrated for their feats as The Commander and Jetstream. Will, whose super powers have yet to manifest themselves, is placed in the school’s also-ran category. He is comforted by a dream girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) whose motives may be suspect. The student body and faculty are generously stocked with amusing types and skillful performers.

• A Sound of Thunder (2005) (PG-13) — A science-fiction time-travel thriller that went into production about three years ago and has taken a while to complete finishing touches. Ben Kingsley is cast as the owner of a travel agency called Time Safari, Inc., which specializes in hunting trips to prehistoric ages. Edward Burns is his top scout and Catherine McCormack the inventor of the company’s technology, evidently subject to slip-ups that could mean curtains for terrestrial life in the near future. Derived from a Ray Bradbury short story and directed by Peter Hyams. Not reviewed.

• Transporter 2 (2005) (PG-13) — A sequel to the French-made chase thriller of 2002, in which Jason Statham starred as a laconic and awesomely proficient soldier of fortune. He returns as the same character, Frank Martin, now the driver-bodyguard for a wealthy Miami family whose son is kidnapped. With Matthew Modine, Keith David, Jason Flemyng, Alessandro Gassman and Amber Valletta. Directed by Louis Leterrier for producer and co-writer Luc Besson, the man who invented “La Femme Nikita.” Not reviewed.

• 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.

• Valiant (2005) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — ***. This computer-animation caprice from a humorously resourceful team is an upbeat surprise. The material is affectionately and expertly British: a salute to fledgling members of the Royal Homing Pigeon Service, entrusted with a mission to Occupied France on the eve of D-Day. Ewan McGregor supplies the voice of the plucky, undersized hero, Valiant, whose principal sidekick is a Cockney motormouth called Bugsy, dubbed by Ricky Gervais. The evocations of World War II patriotism and pop culture are consistently witty. The animators also possess a flair for bird characterization and interplay that makes lavish production resources unnecessary. The welcome voices include Tim Curry (as the villain, a glowering Prussian falcon), Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, John Cleese (in great form as a captive pigeon injected with truth serum), John Hurt, Olivia Williams and Pip Torrens. The song score includes savory inserts of “The White Cliffs of Dover” by Mr. Gervais and “Non je ne regrette rien” by Edith Piaf.

• 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.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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