- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

OPENING

• Duck Season (2006) (R) — A first feature by a Mexican writer-director, Fernando Eimbecke, who observes the activities of a trio of teenagers who try to pass the time in an apartment after the power goes out in their building. In Spanish with English subtitles.

• The Fallen Idol (1948) (No MPAA rating, made decades before the advent of a rating system; adult subject matter, with occasional ominous episodes) — ***1/2. A revival of the adroit and durably absorbing suspense melodrama that began the filmmaking partnership of writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed. Derived from a Greene short story, the movie stars Ralph Richardson as the resident valet at a foreign embassy in Belgrave Square in London. His unhappy marriage and clandestine romance are unraveling, to the curiosity and perplexity of the ambassador’s young son, who idolizes him. When the adult conflicts lead to an accidental death, the child flees and then tries to aid his guardian in ways that arouse more suspicion by the police. Few contemporary movies would predicate thrillers on domestic tension and the fault line that separates adult deception from childish apprehension. This movie demonstrates how rewarding it once was to “think small” while formulating suspense. With Bobby Henrey as the boy and Michele Morgan and Sonia Dresdel as the contrasting women in Mr. Richardson’s melancholy life. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Find Me Guilty (2006) (R) — Sidney Lumet’s first movie in several years, a chronicle of mob culture and loyalty that revolves around Vin Diesel as an imprisoned member of the Lucchese crime family who becomes a prominent witness during a marathon trial. The cast also includes Ron Silver, Alex Rocco, Annabella Sciorra, Peter Dinklage and Linus Roach.

• 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.

• Thank You For Smoking (2006) (R: Adult language, sexual situations and partial nudity). Christopher Buckley’s scathing satire on political spin cycles is brought to the screen 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.

• Unknown White Male (2006) (PG-13) — A documentary feature that brings authenticity to a favorite melodramatic pretext, amnesia. This case history, compiled by Rupert Murray, recalls the plight of Douglas Bruce, a New Yorker of English extraction who suddenly lost his memory while riding the subway in 2003. He made his way to a police precinct and managed to be identified while registered as John Doe at a nearby hospital. The diagnosis was retrograde amnesia, which leaves general knowledge intact but effaces memories of one’s personal life. The filmmaker was among Mr. Bruce’s forgotten friends; this support group participates in the effort to reacquaint the subject with his lost life and help shape a new one.

• V for Vendetta (2006) (R: Violent sequences, adult language and disturbing imagery). Natalie Portman stars as 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 figure dubbed The Chancellor (John Hurt), who lords it over the country like an Orwellian nightmare. The screenplay, written by “The Matrix’s” Wachowski brothers, is based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel.

NOW SHOWING

• Brokeback Mountain (2005) (R) — A movie version of an Annie Proulx short story about two young men who blunder into sexual intimacy while isolated one summer tending sheep in the Wyoming mountains. Although the men marry and have children, they sustain an affair during reunions over many years. Heath Ledger, who remains a cowhand in Wyoming, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who moves to Texas, portray this melancholy love match. Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway are cast as their respective spouses. Oscars for best direction (Ang Lee) and dramatic score. Not reviewed.

• Capote (2005) (R: Fleeting graphic violence and occasional profanity) — **. An admirably earnest but monotonous and underwritten biographical drama about author Truman Capote. Cleverly impersonated by Philip Seymour Hoffman, the subject is recalled during the period when he was researching and writing the best-selling crime chronicle “In Cold Blood,” based on the murder of a family in rural Kansas. Screenwriter Dan Futterman and director Bennett Miller overlook opportunities to clarify Capote’s mixed motives and deceitful methods. Catherine Keener as Capote’s childhood friend Harper Lee and Bruce Greenwood as his companion, Jack Dunphy, play authors who both seem displeased with the drift of his project, which includes a prison-cell infatuation with one of the killers. Academy Award for best actor (Mr. Hoffman).

• Date Movie (2006) (PG-13: Coarse humor and language) Romantic movies get satirized in this zany comedy, which sends up everything from “Meet the Fockers” to “Wedding Crashers.” Alyson Hannigan of the “American Pie” franchise is the girl, and Adam Campbell plays her would-be beau. Along for the ride are Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Eddie Griffin. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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.

• Firewall (2006) (PG-13) — A suspense thriller predicated on the indomitability of crusty old Harrison Ford, cast as a bank security expert targeted by Paul Bettany, an aspiring thief who kidnaps the hero’s wife and family in hopes of extorting his cooperation in a robbery scheme. With Virginia Madsen as the endangered spouse, plus Alan Arkin, Robert Forster and Robert Patrick. Not reviewed.

• Following Sean (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A generation-after documentary feature by Ralph Arlyck, who renews acquaintance with a young man he met and filmed in the late 1960s in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. At that time the neighborhood was a hippie mecca and Sean was a precocious 4-year-old in a bohemian household. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Freedomland (2006) (R: Adult language and violent content) — **1/2. Julianne Moore stars as a single mother who blames her son’s disappearance on a black man from the projects. Her story fires up a racial storm, one that causes a local cop (Samuel L. Jackson) to investigate. Turns out the single mother’s story may not be as it appears. Mr. Jackson’s steely presence is sorely needed here because Miss Moore’s histrionics sap our sympathy for both her character and the film’s overheated narrative. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Hills Have Eyes (2006) (R: Extreme violence and gore, sexual situations and adult language) — **. Wes Craven’s 1977 cult horror film is reborn as a slick, modern horror tale. The film follows a family set upon by mutated freaks when the clan’s RV gets stuck in the middle of nowhere. “Hills” boasts solid production values and competent, by horror standards, acting. But it’s ultimately a gore-fest strictly for genre junkies. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Libertine (2006) (R: Sexual situations, nudity, alcohol abuse and adult language) — **1/2. Johnny Depp shines as the true-life poet and skirt chaser John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester. The period piece captures John’s libidinous ways, a lifestyle that culminates in an early grave. Mr. Depp’s performance is a wonder, but the film’s curious appeal fades as John’s fatal disease starts taking its toll. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Night Watch (2006) (R: Violence, disturbing imagery and adult language) — **. The first film in a proposed trilogy from Russian writer-director Timur Bekmambetov, “Night Watch” follows the centuries-long struggle between the powers of light and darkness here on Earth. Along comes a young man (Konstantin Khabensky) who may tilt the balance in favor of one side, but which one? “Night Watch” features a few spectacular sequences, but they evaporate eventually in a fog of incomprehensible storytelling. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Pink Panther (2006) (PG-13: Slapstick violence, occasional crude humor) — **. Steve Martin attempts to resurrect the “Pink Panther” franchise made famous by world-class funnyman Peter Sellers. Our new Inspector Clouseau (Mr. Martin) must solve the mystery of a stolen pink diamond without bumbling his way into catastrophe. Mr. Martin’s French accent is a hoot, and he has always been a first-class slapstick clown. Nevertheless, even he can’t make this loosely connected series of sketches measure up to the original films. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Running Scared (2006) (R: Extreme violence, gore, adult language and disturbing imagery) — *. Paul Walker plays a low-level thug in this Tarantino-esque gangster yarn. Mr. Walker’s character must retrieve a gun swiped from his house that could tie him to a shooting, all the while looking after his young son and fidgety wife. The film’s no-holds-barred violence and its nonsensical plot twists make this an easy candidate for one of 2006’s worst movies. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 16 Blocks (2006) (PG-13: Cop-style violence, tense situations and adult language) — **1/2. Bruce Willis plays a broken-down cop who rediscovers both his humanity and detective skills while protecting an informant (Mos Def). Mr. Willis’ cop must transport Def’s fast-talking Eddie 16 blocks to the courthouse, but the corrupt officers who will be hurt by Eddie’s testimony will do anything to make sure he never arrives. The film’s gritty first half features several gripping action set pieces, but before long the script veers into schmaltzy, buddy-cop terrain. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Shaggy Dog (2006) (PG) — ***1/2.A Disney update of two popular predecessors. The prototype, released in 1959, co-starred Fred MacMurray and Tommy Kirk; a 1976 sequel, “The Shaggy D.A.,” cast Dean Jones in an ostensibly grown-up version of the Kirk role, a teenager transformed into the family mutt. Tim Allen inherits these identities, playing an assistant district attorney who becomes a pooch while investigating an animal lab that has concocted a serum capable of inducing weird and comical mutations. Miraculously, this version manages to bring the beloved story up to date — pampered pooches, computer-generated graphics and all — while still honoring the spirit of the originals. Reviewed by Jenny Mayo.

• Something New (2006) (PG-13: Mature themes, sexual situations) — ***. An interracial blind date sets this daring romantic comedy in motion, but the material rises above the usual boy-meets-girl fare. Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker send off sparks as the seemingly mismatched couple who learn something new about both romance and interracial courtship. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005) (R) — **. A behind-the-scenes comedy about a British movie company engaged in the preposterous: a movie version of Laurence Sterne’s notoriously quixotic, discursive and whimsical comic novel “Tristram Shandy,” originally published in installments from 1759 to 1767. The re-enactments from the book work better than the modern framework. Steve Coogan is miserably overcast as the title character; his father, Walter Shandy; and a saturnine self-caricature called Steve Coogan. The prankish aspects also are poorly served by Rob Brydon as an impish rival, cast as Uncle Toby. The personalities of these actors seem more interchangeable than complementary.

• 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.

• Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion (2006) (PG-13) — A sequel to “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” an earlier theater piece from actress, writer, producer and director Tyler Perry, who continues her impersonation of a flamboyant Southern matriarch, this time observed planning a reunion and coping with several family crises. Not reviewed.

• Unknown White Male (2006) (PG-13) — A documentary feature that brings authenticity to a favorite melodramatic pretext, amnesia. This case history, compiled by Rupert Murray, recalls the plight of Douglas Bruce, a New Yorker of English extraction who experienced a sudden loss of memory while riding the subway to Coney Island in 2003. He made his way to a police precinct and managed to be identified while registered as John Doe at a nearby hospital. The diagnosis was retrograde amnesia, which leaves general knowledge intact but effaces memories of one’s personal life. The filmmaker was among Mr. Bruce’s forgotten friends; this support group participates in the effort to reacquaint the subject with his lost life and help shape a new one. Not reviewed.

• Walk the Line (2005) (PG-13: Some profanity, mild sexuality, depictions of drug dependency) — **1/2. James Mangold’s highly anticipated screen biography of the late Johnny Cash gets the music right but comes dangerously close to cliche with its one-dimensional story line: that the reckless Mr. Cash was redeemed by the love of second wife June Carter. Oscar to Reese Witherspoon as best actress. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Winter Passing (2006) (R) — The film writing-directing debut of playwright Adam Rapp, who observes Zooey Deschanel as a struggling young actress on a treasure-hunting pilgrimage to Michigan. She hopes to persuade her estranged father, a novelist played by Ed Harris, to publish some of his correspondence for a tidy sum. He is found rooming with two younger housemates, a grad student played by Amelia Warner and a musician played by Will Ferrell. Not reviewed.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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