- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

OPENING

• Ask the Dust (2006) (R: Nudity, sexual situations and adult language). Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek star in this 1930s tale set under the sweltering L.A. sun. Mr. Farrell plays a struggling writer who hopes to make it big in the City of Angels. Miss Hayek is a local Mexican waitress who fights with, and then falls for Mr. Farrell’s character. Writer-director Robert Towne (“Chinatown”) based his film on John Fante’s 1939 drama. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Inside Man (2006 (R: Adult language and violent sequences). Spike Lee directs this heist picture starring Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster and Clive Owen. Mr. Washington plays a hostage negotiator assigned to handle an elaborate bank robbery gone awry. Mr. Owen plays the bandit’s ringleader, while Miss Foster portrays a Manhattan power broker who seeks a private audience with the robbers for mysterious reasons.

• Joyeux Noel (2005) (PG-13) — A French historical drama about a fleeting Christmas Eve truce between soldiers entrenched on opposite sides of the Western front in the first winter of World War I. One of the nominees for best foreign language film in the recent Academy Awards. In French and German with English subtitles.

• Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (2006) (PG-13) — A farce about a redneck imposing himself on city folks, transposed from a popular bit that originated with the Blue Collar Comedy Tour and enjoyed some exposure on the WB network. Employed as a health inspector, the hero offends the managements of several fashionable restaurants. An actor once known as Dan Whitney has adopted the Larry role as his professional name.

• Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — An acclaimed German biographical film that attempts to reconstruct the dire fate of a member of the small anti-Nazi student group known as White Rose, with Julia Jentsch as the title character and Alexander Held as her principal interrogator. Apprehended in 1943 after distributing anti-government leaflets in Munich, Sophie Scholl was executed for high treason within a week. In German with English subtitles. Exclusively at Landmark Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema.

• Stay Alive (2006) (PG-13) — A Disney attempt to poach on the sinister video wheeze, with Frankie Muniz, Jon Foster, Sophia Bush and Samaire Armstrong as teens who discover that it can be fatal to play a mysterious online computer game.

• The Syrian Bride (2004) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — A domestic coedy-drama set in a Druze area of the Golan Heights, where a bride named Mona (Clara Khoury) is determined to marry a Syrian actor named Tallel (Derar Sliman) despite daunting obstacles. The bride and her guests, a voluble and diverting group, remain at the mercy of postponements and red tape that satirize the political and sectarian conflicts of the region. Some dialogue in Lebanese, Hebrew and Syrian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

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).

• 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.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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 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. Not reviewed.

• Gay Sex in the ‘70s (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with a restrictive admission policy) — A presumably self-explanatory documentary feature from Joseph Lovett, who recruits Tom Bianchi and Larry Kramer as narrators for a chronicle that covers the years 1969 through 1981. No one younger than 18 admitted. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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