- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

OPENING

• American Dreamz (2006) (PG-13: Disturbing themes, sexual situations and adult language). Hugh Grant is the Simon Cowell-esque host of the country’s most popular television show. President Statoncqennis Quaid) hopes to boost his poll numbers by appearing on the program, while a terrorist group sees the singing show as a platform for its next murderous act. Writer-director Paul Weitz of “About a Boy” fame fuses parodies of “American Idol” and the Bush administration into a comic soap opera with dark undercurrents never too far from the surface.

• b L’Enfant (2005) (R) — The year-after arrival of the Golden Palm winner at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. A Belgian social parable from the fraternal team of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the movie revolves around Jeremie Renier as the young boss of a gang of petty thieves in the industrial city of Seraing. He experiences a sudden change of heart after shocking his teenage girlfriend by arranging to sell their new baby on the black market. In French with English subtitles.

• Friends With Money (2006) (R: Adult language, sexual situations and brief drug use). Jennifer Aniston joins an ensemble cast to explore the cultural divide separating the haves from the have nots. The “Friends” star plays a broke single woman supported by three close friends and their spouses. The serio-comedy comes from the mind of writer-director Nicole Holofcener, whose previous films include “Walking and Talking” and “Lovely & Amazing.”

• Kinky Boots (2006) (PG-13) — A British social comedy about the rejuvenation of a failing shoe factory in Northampton. Joel Edgerton plays the son of the recently deceased founder; the burden of an unwanted inheritance lightens when he meets a jovial female impersonator, Chiwetel Ejiofor, who suggests changing the company’s line of merchandise from dull, sturdy footwear to the most provocative of high heels. Directed by Julian Jarrold.

• Mountain Patrol (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A Chinese adventure melodrama about game wardens imperiled by antelope poachers in the mountains of Tibet. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• The Notorious Bettie Page (2006) (R) — A biographical drama about the legendary checkered career of a popular pin-up model and stag film performer of the 1950s. Gretchen Mol gets the title role; the supporting cast includes Lili Taylor, David Strathairn, Cara Seymour and Tara Subkoff. Directed by Mary Harron from a screenplay by herself and Guinevere Turner.

• The Sentinel (2006) (PG-13: Violent action sequences and a scene of sensuality). Kiefer Sutherland stars as a Secret Service agent out to stop a plot against the president. The prime suspect is a former agent (Michael Douglas) who taught Mr. Sutherland’s character everything he knows about law enforcement. The thriller co-stars Kim Basinger and Eva Longoria of “Desperate Housewives.”

• Silent Hill (2006) (R) — A demonic thriller, derived from a video game, in which Radha Mitchell plays the distraught mother of a young girl diagnosed as a potential psychotic. Preferring flight to further medical advice, the heroine departs with her child, played by Jodelle Ferland, and chooses a strange hideaway, a fog-shrouded ghost town where sinister beings hover and beckon. Directed by Christophe Gans, the Frenchman responsible for the terminally heavyhanded “Brotherhood of the Wolf” a few years ago. The supporting cast includes Sean Bean and Deborah Kara Unger. The screenplay is credited to Quentin Tarantino’s crony Roger Avary.

NOW SHOWING

• ATL (2006) (PG-13) — Hip-hop and roller skating converge as pastimes for a quartet of teenagers in an Atlanta neighborhood in the summer after their high school graduation. With Tip Harris and Lauren London. Directed by Chris Robinson. Not reviewed.

• The Beauty Academy of Kabul (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) A documentary feature by Liz Mermin about a group of American women, several born in Afghanistan, who travel to the country in 2002 and open a beauty school in Kabul. The response is so enthusiastic that the first group of students must be chosen by lottery. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• The Benchwarmers (2006) (PG-13) — A sports farce from Adam Sandler’s production company, which reunites with the director of “Happy Gilmore,” Dennis Dugan, and a pair of Sandler cronies, Rob Schneider and David Spade, who are cast as pivotal members of a short-handed amateur baseball team organized by a billionaire with a grievance, Jon Lovitz. He seeks to humble an assortment of cutthroat Little Leaguers who have bullied his own kid. Not reviewed.

• Brick (2006) (R) — *** — An homage to film noir that won a special jury prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Writer-director Rian Johnson attempts to interweave the conventions of vintage private eye movies with a suburban high school setting in Southern California. The film has the raw feel of a first effort but is suffused with love of both filmmaking and the incredible variety of American personality. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is cast as the teenage sleuth, who encounters various sinister types while searching for a missing girlfriend. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2006) (R: Adult language) — ***. Comic Dave Chappelle hosted an all-star hip hop concert in New York in 2004 and let a camera crew catch every good vibration. The film follows Mr. Chappelle from his Ohio hometown, where he passes out tickets to the show, to the Big Apple, where performers like Kanye West, Jill Scott and the Roots rock the packed city streets. The film’s buoyant spirit and rollicking rap numbers provide the same kind of natural high Mr. Chappelle’s comedy often inspires. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Don’t Come Knocking (2006) (R) — ***. The latest in a series of small, understated movies about the late-life crises of disconnected men. Directed by Wim Wenders from a script by playwright Sam Shepard (who also stars), it’s an ornery sibling to most male-angst movies, in which supposedly successful men must come to grips with the disappointments of their lives. But where those films pondered life’s uncertainties and found little in the way of hope, “Don’t Come Knocking” offers a vision of home and family as truly satisfying alternatives to the empty fantasies of mainstream success. Reviewed by Peter Suderman.

• Failure to Launch (2006) (PG-13: Sexual content, partial nudity and adult language) — Matthew McConaughey stars as a thirtysomething slacker who wouldn’t mind living at home for the rest of his life. Enter his parents (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw), who are fed up and ready to do something about it. They hire Sarah Jessica Parker’s character to coax their son out of his infantile shell, and naturally a romance blooms. Not reviewed.

• The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter and treatment) — Another disreputable parent, now a promiscuous and addicted mother played by director Asia Argento, daughter of the Italian horror specialist of the 1970s, Dario Argento. The protagonist frequents low company, sometimes with her 11-year-old son in tow. The supporting cast includes Peter Fonda, Winona Ryder and Marilyn Manson. Derived from a notorious cult novel by J.T. LeRoy. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006) (PG) — **1/2 Manfred the mammoth (Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) return and hit the road again in this follow-up to 2002’s computer-animated hit “Ice Age.” Now they (and Scrat the squirrel) head for a boat to escape the rising waters as the polar ice caps melt. Queen Latifah joins the troupe as the voice of a somewhat confused she-mammoth named Ellie. The film delivers a solid, entertaining story for all ages, but has too many characters, all running amok — and vying for our attention. Reviewed by Jenny Mayo.

• The Inside Man (2006) (R: Violent sequences, sexual situations and adult language) — ***. Spike Lee rebounds from his recent clunkers with a thriller that compares favorably to “Dog Day Afternoon.” Denzel Washington plays a hostage negotiator trying to deal with a savvy bank robber (Clive Owen) who appears to have pulled off the perfect crime. The strong cast is matched by a smart screenplay and more than a few satisfying twists. “Inside Man” also stars Jodie Foster and Christopher Plummer. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Lonesome Jim (2006) (R: Sexual situations, adult language and drug content) — ***. Character actor Steve Buscemi proves he’s as adept behind the camera as in front of it with this depressing yarn of a young man who shouldn’t have gone home again. Our Jim (Casey Affleck) returns to his Midwestern roots after striking out in New York City, but finds life with his parents suffocating and sour. Salvation comes in the form of a young nurse (Liv Tyler) with a sweet spot for lost souls. “Jim” would be insufferably morose if not for the coal-black humor streaked across nearly every scene. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Lucky Number Slevin (2006) (R: Sexual situations, graphic violence, adult language and mature themes) — **1/2. Josh Hartnett is Slevin, a young man with a mistaken identity problem. Dueling mob lords think he’s someone else, someone who owes them both a great deal of cash. Sir Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman play the mobsters, and Bruce Willis appears as a hit man whose loyalties are as complex as the rest of this comic thriller. The crackling supporting cast can’t camouflage the story’s insincerity or Mr. Hartnett’s bland presence. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School (2006) (PG-13: Adult subject matter) — A romantic melodrama about a widower (Robert Carlyle) who is inspired by the dying confidences of an accident victim to visit a dance academy, where he meets and falls in love with an instructor played by Marisa Tomei. The cast also includes John Goodman, Mary Steenburgen, Sean Astin, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny DeVito. Directed by Randall Miller from a screenplay by himself and spouse Jody Savin, expanding on a dramatic short made several years ago. Not reviewed.

• On a Clear Day (2006) (PG-13) — A British saga about an unemployed Glasgow shipbuilder, played by Peter Mullan, who restores his sagging morale by secretly training for a swim across the English Channel. Challenge to aspiring screenwriters: Can you top this as an inspirational brainstorm? With Brenda Blethyn in a principal role. Not reviewed.

• Our Brand Is Crisis (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and footage of political riots in Bolivia) — ***. An intriguing documentary feature compiled by Rachel Boynton during an excursion to Bolivia in 2003, where she observed a dead-heat presidential election from the perspective of American political consultants, the K Street firm of Greenberg-Carville-Shrum. The partnership had been retained by the courtly senior candidate, former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. He proved the narrow but ill-omened winner, deposed only months later after national protests spearheaded by a rival, Evo Morales, who assumed power at the end of 2005. This backward glance is revealing in several respects, especially its unpremeditated impressions of resurgent populist demagoguery and anti-Americanism in South America. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Scary Movie 4 (2006) (PG-13: Crude sexual humor, violence and mature language) — **. The “Scary Movie” franchise celebrates its fourth film by poking fun at “War of the Worlds,” “The Village” and “The Grudge,” as well as non-horror movies like “Brokeback Mountain.” Anna Faris returns as Cindy, the addled heroine trying to find love again after her boyfriend’s death. But that storyline exists merely to connect the various parodies. A few of “Scary’s” jokes connect, but too many fall embarrassingly flat for this parody to nail its targets. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• She’s the Man (2006) (PG-13) — A high school romantic comedy that uses Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” as its model. The principal screenwriters, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, did a similar revamp on “The Taming of the Shrew” a few years ago, resulting in the breezy “10 Things I Hate About You.” Amanda Bynes plays the heroine, Viola, who enters a boarding school posing as her twin brother Sebastian (James Kirk), delayed by a rock music gig in London. Viola falls for her unsuspecting roomie Duke (Channing Tatum), a soccer star, who is already smitten with classmate Olivia (Laura Ramsey), who then develops a crush on the masquerading Viola. Not reviewed.

• Thank You for Smoking (2006) (R: Adult language, sexual situations and partial nudity) — ***1/2. Christopher Buckley’s scathing satire on political spin cycles is brought to the screen with all of its wit and intelligence intact by writer-director Jason Reitman (son of Ivan Reitman). Aaron Eckhart plays a sleazy tobacco lobbyist who dreams of a new way to get cigarettes in the mouths of men and women everywhere. The movie’s nod toward personal responsibility is refreshing, but so, too, are its hilarious supporting characters. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Tsotsi (2006) (R: Violence, a disturbing kidnapping and adult language) — ***1/2. The 2005 Oscar winner for best foreign language film follows a young South African gang leader who finds redemption when he accidentally kidnaps a small child. Writer-director Gavin Hood brilliantly captures the energy and danger in the Johannesburg environs where the movie is set. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• V for Vendetta (2006) (R: Violent sequences, adult languages and disturbing imagery) — ***. Natalie Portman plays a young woman caught between living in a totalitarian state and helping a masked terrorist (Hugo Weaving) tear it down. The futuristic Britain is ruled by a Hitler-like figured dubbed The Chancellor (John Hurt), who lords it over the country like an Orwellian nightmare. The film’s political overtones are as heavy as lead and nearly as dense, but that cannot take away from the story’s originality or Miss Portman’s compelling performance. The screenplay, written by “The Matrix’s” Wachowski brothers, is based on Alan Moore’s 1980s series of graphic comic book stories. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Wild (2006) (G) — Disney’s computer-animated feature for the spring bears curious resemblances to DreamWorks’ “Madagascar” of last year. A group of resourceful New York zoo animals improvise a trek to Africa in order to retrieve a lion cub accidentally transported back to the wild. The voice leads are Kiefer Sutherland, William Shatner, Jim Belushi, Janeane Garofalo, Richard Kind and Eddie Izzard. Not reviewed.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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