- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

OPENING

• The Bridesmaid (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). French director Claude Chabrol returns to the erotic mystery thriller. Benoit Magimel as the hero suspects he may be in for trouble when a new romantic interest suggests they collaborate in murder to demonstrate mutual devotion. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Casino Royale (2006) (PG-13: Intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity). The James Bond franchise hits the rewind button as newcomer Daniel Craig assumes the license to kill. “Royale” is based on the first James Bond novel and shows how 007 became a super agent in the first place.

• Copying Beethoven (2006) (PG-13). A biographical drama about Ludwig von Beethoven during the composition and performance of his Ninth Symphony in 1824. Ed Harris stars, struggling to complete the work despite deafness and a looming deadline. Diane Kruger plays a young conservatory student who becomes his copyist and artistic confidante. Directed by Agnieszka Holland.

• Deck the Halls (2006) (PG). A holiday farce evidently intended to trump a daunting example, “National Lampoon?s Christmas Vacation” of 1989. Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick are cast as neighbors who become caught up in an overblown duel of Christmas lighting. With Kristin Davis and Kristin Chenoweth as their wives. Opens Wednesday.

• Deja Vu (2006) (PG-13). A suspense thriller with supernatural trappings. Denzel Washington plays a government agent investigating a suspected terrorist bombing in post-Katrina New Orleans. Mysterious circumstances lead him to believe that the calamity is both an echo and portent of dire events. With Jim Caviezel, Paula Patton and Bruce Greenwood. Opens Wednesday.

• Fast Food Nation (2006) (R). Richard Linklater?s dramatization of a non-fiction expose of the fast food industry written a few years ago by Eric Schlosser. Charges of tainted meals prompt Greg Kinnear, a food chain executive, to examine his company?s supply and distribution chain.

• For Your Consideration (2006) (PG-13: Sexual references and adult language). The folks behind “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind” are back with a new improv-based comedy. “Consideration” shows what happens when the cast of a low-budget film get sidetracked by Oscar buzz. Co-starring Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Harry Shearer.

• The Fountain (2006) (PG-13). A mystical-epic romantic saga spread over a millennium by writer-director Darren Aronofsky, with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as his recurrent love match. The chronicle begins in 1500 with Mr. Jackman as a conquistador, continues in 2000 when he?s become a medical researcher and concludes in 2500 when he?s an astronaut. Opens Wednesday.

• Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006) (R). The subtitle is intended as a warning of liberties taken with the life and career of photographer Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman). Her flair for freakish and disconcerting subject matter is recalled by a fictional acquaintance played by Robert Downey Jr.

• Happy Feet (2006) (PG). An animated musical comedy in celebration of Emperor penguins. Evidently, each member of the species develops a distinctive mating call. Unable to carry a tune, the hero of this fable compensates with eloquent dance steps. The vocal cast includes Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman.

• Let’s Go to Prison (2006) (PG-13). A farce about new cellmates on a collision course, the sort of premise likely to baffle sane human beings. Dax Shepard is cast as an ex-con who deliberately returns to prison in order to harass Will Arnett, the recently incarcerated son of a despised, deceased judge.

• Shut Up & Sing (2006) (R). A three-year chronicle of performing dates and political controversy with the Dixie Chicks, accompanied by documentary filmmakers Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck.

• Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny (2006) (R). A rock music farce co-starring Jack Black and Kyle Gass, sidekicks in the band called Tenacious D. This fable recalls the discovery of a magical guitar pick. Opens Wednesday.

NOW SHOWING

• Babel (2006) (R) — ***. A third collaboration for the Mexican team of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro Gonzalez, who specialize in overlapping plots about aggrieved characters. The echoing scenarios now concern four families in different countries. This sprawling human drama is really an intimate film about relationships writ large, with every character well drawn and treated with delicate sympathy. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal star. Some dialogue in Moroccan, Spanish and Japanese with English subtitles. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) (R: Adult language, excretory humor, disturbing imagery, nudity and alcohol use) — ****. The ultimate in politically incorrect comedy. Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character visits the United States on a fact-finding mission to see what makes this country great. It’s merely an excuse for Mr. Cohen to stage a number of howlingly funny interviews with unsuspecting targets. — Christian Toto

• Catch a Fire (2006) (PG-13: Scenes of torture, adult language and mature themes) — …. A stirring true story of a South African who became radicalized after being tortured for a crime he didn’t commit. Patrick (Derek Luke) lives a tranquil life in South Africa under apartheid until police come calling after a terrorist bombing at the plant where Patrick works. Mr. Luke’s work is mesmerizing, and director Phillip Noyce keeps a firm balance between the political and thriller themes. — Christian Toto

• Deliver Us from Evil (2006) (NR: Adult language and mature themes) — ***1/2. Writer-director Amy Berg investigates the tragic case of a pedophile ex-priest working his way across Northern California in this searing documentary. “Evil” musters a convincing rage against how the Church covered up the priest’s crimes. More chilling, though, is watching the priest in question confess to his crimes without much remorse. — Christian Toto

• The Departed (2006) (R: Brutal violence, pervasive adult language, some strong sexual content and drug material) — ***. Director Martin Scorsese re-teams with Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Aviator”) in a tale about going deep undercover with a Boston Irish mafia boss (Jack Nicholson). Mr. Scorsese’s latest is as good, and as bloody, as it gets for the film’s first two-thirds. Sadly, the ending lacks the emotional resonance this disturbing saga demands. The terrific cast includes Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin. — Christian Toto

• Driving Lessons (2006) (PG-13: (language, sexual content and some thematic material) — **1/2. In this sweet but thoughtful coming-of-age tale set in suburban London, Rupert Grint, who portrays Ron in the Harry Potter adventures, plays a vicar’s son whose trying summer, dominated by driving lessons with his mother (Laura Linney) and volunteer work at a retirement home, is transformed by a part-time job with a retired actress (Julie Walters). The chemistry between Miss Walters, one of Britain’s best veteran actresses, and one of acting’s newest finds, Mr. Grint, is a delight. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Flags of Our Fathers (2006) (R) — ***. The first of two combat sagas about the battle of Iwo Jima directed by Clint Eastwood. This forerunner centers largely on the three Iwo Jima flag-raisers who survived: John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) — heroes exploited by War Bond tour organizers. It’s an important history lesson taught by an impressive cast, and it calls into question our very notions of heroes and history. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Flushed Away (2006) (PG: Crude humor and mild mouse peril) — **1/2. This computer animation begins with a rather vile premise: A hoity-toity pet mouse accidentally gets flushed into London’s sewers. After pulling some jokes from humor’s lowest depths, the film vaults beyond its odoriferous setup into a playful, innovative fantasy land where rodent bad guys ride electric mixers like Jet Skis and slugs become unintentional heroes. Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet and Ian McKellen are the vocal co-stars. — Jenny Mayo

• A Good Year (2006) (PG-13: Boudoir scenes and mild language) — *1/2. A movie version of Peter Mayle’s best-seller that reunites Russell Crowe with director Ridley Scott. Mr. Crowe plays a London investment banker who moves to Provence to sell a vineyard inherited from his late uncle. While settling in, the visitor finds the property unexpectedly enchanting. At over two hours, the movie gets languorous. — Jenny Mayo

• Harsh Times (2006) (R: Adult language, drug use, disturbing imagery and extreme violence) — **1/2. Christian Bale plays an Iraq war veteran with serious anger management issues trying to join the LAPD. The film’s stark violence wants to make a case against conflict, but the film takes too much pleasure in all the mayhem. — Christian Toto

• Iraq in Fragments (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). A documentary feature by James Longley, who assembles contrasting impressions from Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish parts of the country. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• The Last King of Scotland (2006) (R: Some strong violence and gruesome images, sexual content and language) — ***1/2. This fictionalized study of Ugandan despot Idi Amin guarantees Forest Whitaker an Oscar nomination for his nuanced and mesmerizing turn as Amin. The rising young Scottish actor James McAvoy plays a Scottish medical missionary, a naive idealist who becomes Amin’s personal physician and eventually an unwitting partner to his crimes. The film offers not just a sophisticated understanding of the cult of personality but, with Mr. Whitaker’s performance, an engrossing tale right from the start through its bloody end. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Marie Antoinette (2006) (PG-13) — **. Sofia Coppola’s attempt at historical costume melodrama and whimsy, with Kirsten Dunst as the ill-fated consort of Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). Miss Coppola accompanies the period charades with a contemporary rock score. What starts out as a character study devolves in tableaux of gambling, shopping and lovemaking that waste one of the year’s best casts — Judy Davis, Rip Torn and Steve Coogan. In the process, the generic monarch loses all sympathy, and Miss Coppola’s film ends up being all style, no soul. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• The Prestige (2006) (PG-13) — ***1/2. Christopher Nolan’s new movie is a Hitchcockian thriller and a science-fiction picture rolled into one as the friendly competition between two illusionists (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) in turn-of-the-20th-century London devolves into lethal obsession. As the rivalry between the two becomes more intense, so does the suspense. One of the most entertaining films of the year. With Michael Caine, David Bowie and Scarlett Johansson. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• The Queen (2006) (PG-13: Brief strong language) — ***. Helen Mirren gives a savvy, thoughtful interpretation of Queen Elizabeth II, who, as the film would have it, jeopardized the monarchy because she was insufficiently upset about the death of her son’s ex-wife Diana, Princess of Wales — and is taught a thing or two about the public and the press by her green new prime minister, Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. With James Cromwell as Prince Philip. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• The Return (2006) (PG-13). Sarah Michelle Geller in jeopardy again, while cast as a traveling saleswoman haunted by premonitions of homicide at the hands of a serial killer. She travels to the home town of his most recent victim in order to facilitate a showdown. With Sam Shepard, Adam Scott and Kate Beahan in supporting roles. Not reviewed.

• Running With Scissors (2006) (R — language, mild violence and mature themes) — ***.. Writer-director Ryan Murphy re-creates — or at least re-imagines — the zany environment of Augusten Burroughs’ memoir about life with calamitous bohemian parents (Alec Baldwin and Annette Bening) in the 1970s. After they divorced, Mr. Burroughs was entrusted to the family of his mother’s psychiatrist (Brian Cox), a family equally zany. The neat story is 100 percent well-acted. Miss Bening, in particular, is riveting. — Jenny Mayo

• Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006) (PG). Martin Short is the farcical troublemaker, an envious Jack Frost, in this third seasonal installment of the Tim Allen comedy series about a divorced suburban dad recruited to carry on the identity of Santa Claus. With Ann-Margret and Alan Arkin. Not reviewed.

• Stranger Than Fiction (2006) (PG-13: Some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity) — ***. Will Ferrell discovers that his life parallels the plot of a novel being written by Emma Thompson, who wants to kill off his character. Mr. Ferrell, playing it straight, brings a surprising amount of pathos to the IRS agent who only starts learning to live when he learns he’s about to die. A funny film with some clever writing and welcome turns by Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Linda Hunt. — Kelly Jane Torrance

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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