- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006


• Cars (2006) (G: All ages admitted). The folks who brought us “The Incredibles” return with a story about the benefits of leaving the fast lane. “Cars” follows a hotshot race car (voiced by Owen Wilson) who gets stranded in a small town en route to abig race. The voices of Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt and Larry the Cable Guy flesh out the cast. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Clean (2005) (R) — The Chinese actress Maggie Cheung won the best actress award at the Cannes Festival a year ago while collaborating with the French director Olivier Assyas on this tearjerker about a musician trying to kick her drug addiction and regain custody of her young son. The cast includes Nick Nolte, Martha Henry and Beatrice Dalle. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• A Prairie Home Companion (2006) (PG-13: Some risque humor). Director Robert Altman (“Nashville”) translates Garrison Keillor’s venerable radio show into a big-budget feature. The cast, which includes Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline and Woody Harrelson, portray folksy entertainers performing on their show’s final broadcast.

• Swimmers (2005) (R: Occasional violence, profanity and sexual candor). An independent feature written and directed by Doug Sadler, who uses locations on Maryland’s Eastern Shore very effectively while depicting a succession of crises in a maritime family, the Tylers. The youngest child, 11-year-old Emma (Tara Devon Gallagher, recruited from the student body of “Mad Hot Ballroom”), needs inner ear surgery. The financial pinch intensifies misunderstandings between her parents, played by Cherry Jones and Robert Knott. Two grown brothers come to blows over a neurotic troublemaker played by Sarah Paulson, whose mental instability displays creepy echoes of Jean Seberg in “Lilith.” Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Twelve and Holding (2006) (R) — Calamities and perversities pile up in a Long Island suburb, commencing with the death of a little boy and the burden of guilt assumed by his older brother. The adult cast members include such familiar names as Annabella Sciorra, Linus Roache, Tony Roberts, Mark Linn-Baker and Bruce Altman. Directed by Michael Cuesta of “L.I.E.” from a fatalistic screenplay by Anthony Cipriano.


• Akeelah and the Bee (2006) (PG: Some mild language) — ***. A young South Central girl (Keke Palmer) catches the National Spelling Bee championships on ESPN and is hooked. She studies hard and sets her sights on winning the next year’s competition. Angela Bassett plays the girl’s mother and Laurence Fishburne is a helpful professor. “Akeelah” is predictable, mushy in spots and hardly cutting-edge. None of that matters when Mr. Fishburne is counseling young Akeelah. Their tender scenes, and the film’s oversized heart, make it a warm and winning film for young and old. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• American Dreamz (2006) (PG-13: Disturbing themes, sexual situations and adult language) — **1/2. Hugh Grant is the Simon Cowell-esque host of the country’s most popular television show. President Staton (Dennis 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 wrings some laughs out of touchy material but too much of the satire only skims the surface. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Art School Confidential (2006) (R: Male frontal nudity, violence, language) — **. A dark comedy that returns director Terry Zwigoff to a familiar subject — contempt. An art-school freshman (Max Minghella), a darkly handsome, brooding naif who aspires to become the greatest artist of the 21st century, arrives on the dilapidated campus to find it beset by competitive students, pretentious faculty and a serial killer. The film contains some very funny set pieces but gleams with disdain for all concerned, including the audience, which makes it curiously watchable in spite of some clumsy plotlines. With John Malkovich as an appallingly pretentious professor and wasted turns by Angelica Huston as an aging faculty vamp and Steve Buscemi as the proprietor of an off-campus coffee shop. Reviewed by Adam Mazmanian.

• The Break Up (2006) (PG-13: Sexual situations, nudity and adult language) — ***. Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston play a fractured couple fighting over who gets to keep their condo. Their relationship might strain belief, but Mr. Vaughn’s comic antics make this “Break-Up” worth all the fuss. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Da Vinci Code (2006) (PG-13: Disturbing images, violence, some nudity and sexual content) — **. Dan Brown’s popular page turner becomes a watch glancer in the hands of director Ron Howard. “Code” follows a religious scholar (Tom Hanks) who gets embroiled in an ancient mystery involving the Catholic Church and a certain great painter. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• District B13 (2006) (R) — A French crime thriller set in Paris in the near future, when the government has isolated ethnic enclaves within walls, and gang warfare prevails. The gang in a sector called B13 is rumored to be in possession of weapons of mass destruction, and an intrepid agent is assigned to infiltrate and investigate. With David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli. Not reviewed.

• 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 seriocomedy showcases writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s knack for crafting beautifully real characters. It’s a lovely script with wonderful subtleties and clever wordplay made even better by outstanding performances. Reviewed by Jenny Mayo.

• Goal! The Dream Begins (2006) (PG) —An inspirational sports saga about a Mexican-American youth whose prowess in a recreational soccer league earns him a tryout with a professional club in England. With Kuno Becker in the lead and various soccer celebrities in bit roles. Directed by Danny Cannon from a screenplay by the venerable team of Dick Clement and Ian La Fresnais, whose credits date back 40 years. 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.

• An Inconvenient Truth (2006) (PG) — A polemical documentary feature in which director Davis Guggenheim assists former Vice President Al Gore to sustain an illustrated lecture about the catastrophes they foresee as a consequence of global warming. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• Keeping Up with the Steins (2006) (PG-13: Adult language, partial nudity and some drug references — **. Jeremy Piven of “Entourage” fame plays a meddling father who wants his son to have a bigger, better bar mitzvah than a rich neighbor’s son. “Steins” has a good heart and a fine performance from Garry Marshall as Mr. Piven’s estranged father but a severe paucity of laughs. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Lost City (2006) (R) — Andy Garcia attempts to evoke Havana during the late 1950s, on the eve of the Castro revolution, while portraying a prominent showman whose livelihood is at risk — the owner of a fashionable nightclub called El Tropico. The source material is a novel by the Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante. The cast also includes Bill Murray, Dustin Hoffman, Tomas Milian and Ines Sastre. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Mission: Impossible III (2006) (PG-13: Action violence, some sensuality and disturbing imagery) — ***. Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, the superspy spawned from the popular 1960s series. Director J.J. Abrams breathes new life into the franchise, thanks to some nifty stunts and a sparkling cast including Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman as the latest villain. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Omen (2006) (R: Disturbing imagery, adult language and gore) — **1/2. The spooky 1976 thriller about a demon child named Damien is given a 21st-century facelift. Liev Schreiber plays the father of a young boy who, unbeknownst to him, is the spawn of Satan. “The Omen” is a step above the usual horror schlock but no match for the original. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Over the Hedge (2006) (PG: Slapstick violence and coarse humor) — ***. A gaggle of woodland creatures wake from their winter sleep to find their forest replaced by a housing development in this warm-hearted feature. Strong vocal performances by Bruce Willis, Nick Nolte, Garry Shandling and Steve Carell elevate the pedestrian story. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Poseidon (2006) (PG-13: Disturbing images and action violence) — **1/2. The 1972 film “The Poseidon Adventure” is reborn with updated special effects and a colorful cast led by Kurt Russell. Once more, a luxury cruise ship is upended by a massive wave. The film’s crisp pace gets bogged down by cliched characters and a gnawing sense of redundancy. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Puffy Chair (2006) (R) — A romantic farce about the misadventures of a trio of couples embarked on a road trip to deliver a large purple easy chair as a birthday gift. Directed by Jay Duplass from a screenplay by himself and Mark Duplass, who also plays a principal role. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Sketches of Frank Gehry (2006) (PG-13: Brief strong language) — **. In this, his first documentary, veteran filmmaker Sydney Pollack asks what the fuss is about his architect friend. He answers with fawning commentary by Hollywood moguls and celebrities who gush about Mr. Gehry’s genius throughout this superficial movie. The film misses what is essential to understanding Gehry — his theatrical spaces — and that’s a shame because film has the potential to capture the three-dimensional power of architecture. As a subject, Mr. Gehry expresses self-doubts about his work, but he’s evidently savvy enough to persuade a respected movie director to enshrine his legend with this all-too-flattering film. Reviewed by Deborah K. Dietsch.

• Thank You for Smoking (2006) (R: Adult language, sexual situations and partial nudity) — ***1/2Christopher 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.

• Typhoon (2006) (R) — An apocalyptic chase thriller from the Korean filmmaker Kwak Kyung-taek, who pits an embittered modern pirate called Sin against a stalwart naval officer, Kang Se-jong, with the survival of the Korean peninsula in the balance. Not reviewed.

• Water (2005) (PG-13: Occasional violence and sexual candor) — **1/2 The Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta concludes a trilogy of social and romantic dramas about India in the decades before political independence with this absorbing account of a widowed child bride banished in 1938 to a shadow region — an ashram for widows in Varanasi, a holy city on the Ganges. The 8-year-old newcomer, Chuyia, must contend with a house tyrant, a splendid grotesque as embodied by the veteran character actress Manorma. The girl finds protectors in the kind-hearted Seema Biswas and beauteous Lisa Ray, exploited as a courtesan with wealthy clients across the river. In Hindi with English subtitles. Exclusively at the AMC Loews Dupont Circle and the Landmark Bethesda Row.

• X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) (PG-13: Intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language — **1/2. The heroic X-Men and their mutant foes face their greatest challenge in their third big-screen adventure. A cure to the mutant gene has been found, but will our heroes take their medicine? The film stuffs a number of worthy subplots into the mix, but too many themes — and characters — leave the viewer exhausted. Reviewed by Christian Toto.


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