- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

OPENING

• 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.

• Basic Intinct 2 (2006) (R: Sexual situations, nudity and adult language). Sharon Stone revisits her career-making role as the sultry writer who can’t help getting in trouble with the law. This time, Miss Stone tangles with Scotland Yard and is assigned a psychiatrist (David Morrisey) with whom she resurrects her sexual games.

• CSA: The Confederate States of America (2006) (Unrated). What if the South had won the Civil War? This new mockumentary answers that question, reliving the past 150 years of U.S. history as if the North had gone down to defeat. Some actual footage is interspliced with fake clips and photographs meant to illustrate the country’s ugly racial past — and present.

• Duma (2005) (PG: Occasional ominous episodes involving African wildlife) — **1/2. A belated Washington booking for a Carroll Ballard movie that played in a handful of cities last year. A sold-out showing at the Avalon during the recent Environmental Film Festival prompted this commercial revival. Mr. Ballard’s sublime movie version of “The Black Stallion” also debuted at the Avalon in 1979. A shakier fable of child-animal bonding, “Duma” derives its title from the Swahili word for cheetah and alludes to a cub found and raised by a South African rancher’s son named Xan. From the beginning, his father (Campbell Scott) cautions that the animal will need to be returned to the wild when grown. The movie would have been more plausible if the adolescent Xan and his parents undertook this mission together. The plot envisions the boy on a quixotic trek by himself, surviving desert and jungle hazards too numerous to remain credible. Nevertheless, the landscapes are often majestic. With Hope Davis in what proves a thankless maternal role. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006) (PG) — An admirably consistent and inventive sequel to the delightful animated feature of 2002, in which Ray Romano, Denis Leary and John Leguizamo provided the voices of three critters on a survival trek in a prehistoric setting: Manny the woolly mammoth, Diego the saber-toothed tiger and Sid the Sloth. They return and hit the road again, averting flood waters from a melting glacier and predators on land and sea. Queen Latifah joins the troupe as the voice of a somewhat confused she-mammoth named Ellie. The misadventures of Scratch the squirrel, still obsessively pursuing a prized acorn, are also tracked throughout this installment. Directed by Carlos Saldanha.

• 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.

• 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.***.Three stars.

• Slither (2006) (R) — A horror thriller about a small town imperiled by contamination from a mysterious, gruesome microorganism. With Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker and Nathan Fillion. Directed by James Gunn, promoted from a screenwriting gig on the recent remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead.”

NOW SHOWING

• Ask the Dust (2006) (R: Nudity, sexual situations and adult language) — **. John Fante’s absorbing L.A. love story gets muddled by Oscar-winning writer Robert Towne. Colin Farrell stars as a fledgling novelist who starts up an angry romance with a Mexican waitress (Salma Hayek). The attractive leads never send off any sparks, and by the film’s tragic finale you’re left feeling very little save bored. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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 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.

• Joyeux Noel (2005) (PG-13) — **1/2.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. It’s a simplistic fantasy that ignores the larger complexities of war in favor of a belief in basic human goodness. Still, as far as fantasies go, it’s an appealing one. One of the nominees for best foreign language film in the recent Academy Awards. In French and German with English subtitles. Reviewed by Peter Suderman.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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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