- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2006

OPENING

• Accepted (2006) (PG-13). A farce about a group of high school cronies whose lack of college acceptance letters prompts them to organize a Potemkin campus of their own, with the connivance of an uncle (Lewis Black) who agrees to be the dean. Before long the deception proves a preposterous success and the student body grows by leaps and bounds.

• Boynton Beach Club (2006) (NR: Adult humor and mature themes). A group of sixtysomethings juggles love and bereavement at a senior living center. The film’s seasoned cast includes Joseph Bologna, Renee Taylor, Sally Kellerman and Brenda Vaccaro. Director Susan Seidelman (“Desperately Seeking Susan”) works from a script co-written by her mother, Florence Seidelman, based on the older woman’s experiences in senior living. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Heading South (2005) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter and treatment). A French-Canadian melodrama about the romantic and social entanglements experienced by a trio of North American women drawn to a Haitian gigolo while vacationing in the Caribbean in the 1970s. The principal cast members are Charlotte Rampling, Lys Ambroise, Menothy Caesar, Louise Portal and Karen Young. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon and Landmark E Street Cinema.

• The Illusionist (2006) (PG-13: Ominous story elements; fleeting profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor). A handsome and ingeniously contrived costume romance with supernatural trappings, derived by writer-director Neil Burger from a very short story by Steven Millhauser titled “Eisenheim the Illusionist.” Edward Norton makes a suitably intense Eisenheim, an Austrian magician who reunites with an aristocratic childhood sweetheart named Sophie (Jessica Biel) while astounding audiences in Vienna, circa 1900. Sophie is engaged to a tyrannical (and apocryphal) Hapsburg crown prince called Leopold (Rufus Sewell), so her affair is a perilous one. Paul Giamatti is the pivotal character, a police official whose loyalties shift while shadowing the lovers.

• Material Girls (2006) (PG). Ready or not, here come the Duff sisters, Hilary and Haylie, in a mutual comedy vehicle, cast as rich girls suddenly obliged to make livings of their own after the family cosmetics fortune disappears.

• Snakes on a Plane (2006) (R). The heavily promoted reptile-phobic thriller arrives at last, with Samuel L. Jackson starring as the most resourceful potential victim on a flight imperiled by hundreds of poisonous snakes. Evidently, they have been infiltrated as part of an insidious scheme to kill the witness whom Mr. Jackson, an FBI agent, is escorting from Hawaii to Los Angeles.

• Time to Leave (2006) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter and treatment). A tearjerker from the French writer-director Francois Ozon. He casts Melville Poupaud as a homosexual photographer whose flourishing career and contented private life in Paris are turned upside down by a dire medical diagnosis: he has only months to live. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Trust the Man (2006) (R). A romantic comedy about two Manhattan couples. Julianne Moore plays an actress wed to David Duchovny; Maggie Gyllenhaal plays an aspiring novelist who goes with Billy Crudup, Miss Moore’s brother. One of the inside jokes appears to be that the women are the active careerists. Written and directed by Bart Freundlich, the actual husband of Miss Moore.

NOW SHOWING

• The Ant Bully (2006) (PG) — **1/2. A computer-animated feature derived from a children’s book by John Nickle, who envisioned the incredible misadventures of a 10-year-old boy who learns lessons in humility when reduced to insect size and enslaved by the backyard ant colony he has stomped routinely. It’s a nice morality tale about the pitfalls of transferring aggression and the pluses of teamwork, and children will find the computer-animated film both entertaining and visually pleasing. Reviewed by Jenny Mayo.

• Barnyard (2006) (PG) — A computer-animated farce about a group of fun-loving barnyard animals who party all night long after the farmer goes to bed. Their ringleader is an incongruously masculine cow named Otis, dubbed by Kevin James. His vocal co-stars are Courteney Cox, Sam Elliott, Danny Glover, Wanda Sykes and Andie MacDowell. Not reviewed.

• Brothers of the Head (2006) (R) — ***. The mockumentary has finally come of age. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe made “Lost in La Mancha,” the 2002 documentary that chronicled Terry Gilliam’s (unsuccessful) attempt to film “Don Quixote.” The skills they acquired making that acclaimed film are fully in evidence in “Brothers,” a weird and wonderful film about conjoined twins who find success as a proto-punk band in 1974 that fuses pathos and comedy into an almost disturbing unity. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Clerks II (2006) (R: Crude language, partial nudity, disturbing themes and comic violence) — ***. The slackers from Kevin Smith’s 1994 comedy are back and bawdier than ever. Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) are working at a McDonald’s-style restaurant, but Dante’s pending move sets a comical series of events in motion. The sequel is as rude as the original, but the gags still work, and there’s a modest amount of maturity to keep viewers off balance. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Descent (2006) (R) — A horror thriller about the dilemma of spelunkers who become lost and entombed during the exploration of an Appalachian cave system. They face hideous deaths from a tribe of subterranean humanoids. Written and directed by Neil Marshall. Not reviewed.

• The Devil Wears Prada (2006) (PG-13) — ***. A movie version of the Lauren Weisberger best-seller of 2003 about a young college grad, played by Anne Hathaway, who lands a seemingly enviable job as assistant to Meryl Streep, the editor of a fashion magazine. Before long, her boss’s tyrannical streak proves intolerable. The novel was presumed to be a thinly fictionalized memoir of Miss Weisberger’s post-collegiate sojourn at Vogue. The cast also includes Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Emily Blunt and Adrian Grenier. A surprisingly thoughtful look at an industry about which there is much to love and, deliciously, much to hate. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Lady in the Water (2006) (PG-13) — **1/2. A new supernatural mystery thriller from M. Night Shyamalan, who recruits Paul Giamatti to portray the manager of an apartment building where a mermaidlike creature, Bryce Dallas Howard, emerges from the swimming pool one stormy night. She needs his chivalrous assistance to evade creepy pursuers before returning to the amorphous region from which she came. If one can suspend disbelief along with the building’s tenants, the movie — beautifully shot by cinematographer Christopher Doyle — is as entertaining as anything else playing right now. It’s much funnier than any previous Shyamalan film. Yet it owes its success to the cast more than to Mr. Shyamalan’s message; Mr. Giamatti steals the show. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Little Man (2006) (PG-13:Crude and sexual humor, adultlanguage and brief drug references) — **. The creative team behind “White Chicks” returns with a sloppy, sophomoric comedy that defines bad taste. A vertically challenged criminal (Marlon Wayans, shrunk courtesy of computer effects) tries to hide out as the new adopted son of a young couple. The central gag, that of a grown man’s face plastered on a quasi-baby’s body, does lead to some laughter. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Little Miss Sunshine (2006) (R) — ***1/2. A hilarious black comedy that follows a family of misfits on a road trip from Albuquerque, N.M., to Redondo Beach, Calif., in a broken-down VW bus as they try to get 7-year-old Olive to California in time to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. This could be the funniest film of the year. With Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette as the parents, Alan Arkin as an irascible gramps, Steve Carell as a traumatized brother-in-law and Abigail Breslin and Paul Dano as the kids. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Miami Vice (2006) (R) — **1/2. Michael Mann’s update of his glitzy police detective TV series of the 1980s is darker and deeper than the NBC television show. As writer and director of the film, Mr. Mann has replaced the sun and pastels with dark nightclubs and shades of gray — in both color and morals. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx play the Miami narcs Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, respectively. Gong Li and Naomi Harris are their consorts. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Monster House (2006) (PG) — **1/2. A computer-animated farce about suburban youngsters exploring the neighborhood haunted house. The animation is built around performance-capture wizardry, but the figures rarely feel as grounded as in other animated movies, and the children’s faces look as if they were injected with Botox. Worse, “House” never gels into a bewitching story. That’s a shame because there are plenty of elements here that could have made this a thrill ride for all ages. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006) (PG-13) — *1/2. A live-action romantic farce that starts with a dirty joke and goes downhill from there. Luke Wilson, an unwary New York bachelor, blunders into a one-sided war of reprisal when he breaks up with girlfriend Uma Thurman, a resentful, Marvel-comic-style superhero Woman of Steel. It’s a somewhat creative twist on the typical “psycho-ex” plot but filled with the worst kind of juvenile humor — and anything but super. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• The Night Listener (2006) (R) — A psychological suspense melodrama starring Robin Williams as a late-night radio host who becomes emotionally involved in the plight of a young listener (Rory Culkin) and the boy?s mother (Toni Collette again). The cast also includes Sandra Oh, Joe Morton and Bobby Cannavale. Not reviewed.

• The Oh in Ohio (2006) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter). A romantic comedy starring Parker Posey as a wife recovering from the shock of marital collapse. Her husband, Paul Rudd, has fallen for one of his high school students. With Liza Minnelli and Danny DeVito in supporting roles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) (PG-13: Some intense action sequences, frightening imagery) — **.Capt. Jack Sparrow is back in the first of two sequels to the surprise 2003 smash. Capt. Jack (Johnny Depp) is reunited with Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) in a chase to capture the beating heart of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). The snap of the original is gone, replaced by complicated story lines and numbing action sequences. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Pulse (2006) (PG-13) — The latest superfluous remake of a Japanese horror thriller about a Web site that proves fatal to unwary browsers. With Christina Milian and Kristen Bell as potential victims. Directed by Jim Sanzero under the auspices of Wes Craven. The prototype was directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Not reviewed.

• A Scanner Darkly (2006) (R: Drug and animated sexual content, language and a brief violent image) — ***. A movie version of a science-fiction novel by Philip K. Dick, who envisioned a futuristic underworld in which undercover narc Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) has several friends under surveillance. A perverse stroke of casting finds them portrayed by actors with conspicuous drug histories of their own: Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder. The live-action scenes are overlaid with an animation process called interpolated rotoscoping, similar to the methodology in director-screenwriter Richard Linklater’s 2001 film “Waking Life.” Mr. Linklater’s thoughtful movie is slow going at first; it takes a while to get to the payoff. When it does, though, this cautionary tale about the damage drugs can do turns into an oddly life-affirming film. Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Scoop (2006) (PG-13) — ***1/2. Woody Allen matches Scarlett Johansson with Hugh Jackman in a romantic comedy-mystery about an American undergrad vacationing in England who blunders onto a potentially scandalous story. Being a journalism student, she naturally pursues it at her peril — with the help of Mr. Allen as a magician. In finding a fresh locale, a youthful partner and a new place for himself in front of the camera as mentor rather than lover, Mr. Allen has scored his best scoop in years, and his funniest film since 1998’s “Celebrity.” Reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Step Up (2006) (PG-13) — A romantic melodrama about how dance reforms a surly street kid from Baltimore. Ordered to attend a community service program, Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum) finds his attitude changing under the influence of a ballerina named Nora (Jenna Dewan), an instructor at the Maryland School of the Arts. Not reviewed.

• Strangers with Candy (2006) (R: Drug use, adult language and sexual themes) — **1/2. The cult Comedy Central series starring Amy Sedaris gets the big-screen treatment with often hilarious results. Miss Sedaris’ Jerri Blank tries to restart her life by returning to high school at the tender age of 47. “Candy” traffics in absurdist, politically incorrect humor for the first hour, but the laughs dry up during the home stretch. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) (PG-13: Crude and sexual humor, language, drug references and brief comic violence) — ***. Will Ferrell is Ricky Bobby, a NASCAR legend trying to fend off a challenge from a French racing phenom (Sacha Baron Cohen). The film lets Mr. Ferrell dig deeper into his farcical brand of humor, but ultimately his supporting troupe brightens the spotty material. Mr. Cohen’s Jean Girard transforms “Talladega Nights” from a middling star vehicle into a consistently amusing romp. Also co-starring are John C. Reilly, Gary Cole and Jane Lynch. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) (PG: Brief adult language) — ***. The life and untimely death of an environmentally sound car fuels this provocative documentary. The electric car seemed like the answer to the country’s oil dependency woes, so why did so many forces unite to stamp it out? “Car” lets the consumer off too easily, but otherwise, the film entertains while it simultaneously alarms. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• World Trade Center (2006) (PG-13: Intense and emotional content, some disturbing images and language) — **1/2. Director Oliver Stone re-creates the September 11 attacks with all the precision and reverence he can muster. What Mr. Stone’s film doesn’t do is go beyond the headlines and obvious emotional highlights. Stars Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena fare best as two Port Authority workers trapped under the fallen Twin Towers. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Zoom (2006) (PG) — More shades of “The Incredibles” in a live-action comedy, with Tim Allen as a retired superhero entrusted with the training of juvenile prospects. The cast also includes Courteney Cox and Spencer Breslin. Directed by Peter Hewitt from a screenplay by numerous gag writers. Not reviewed.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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