- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

OPENING

• Deliver Us From Evil (2006) (NR: Adult language and mature themes). Writer-director Amy Berg investigates the tragic case of a pedophile priest working his way across Northern California in this searing documentary. Miss Berg follows not just the priest and his victims but the Catholic Church’s handling of the matter along with other cases of alleged child abuse.

• A Good Year (2006) (PG-13). A movie version of Peter Mayle’s best-seller that reunites Russell Crowe with director Ridley Scott, who had a hand in developing the book. Mr. Crowe is cast as a London-based 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. With Abbie Cornish as the leading lady, a rival claimant to the land.

• Harsh Times (2006) (R: Adult language, drug use, disturbing imagery and extreme violence). Christian Bale plays an Iraq war veteran with serious anger management issues trying to join the Los Angeles Police Department. The character’s excesses lead both him and a longtime pal (Freddy Rodriguez) into dangerous situations. Written and directed by “Training Day” screenwriter David Ayer.

• 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.

• The Return (2006) (PG-13). Sarah Michelle Geller in jeopardy again, while cast as a traveling saleswoman (no jokes, please) haunted by premonitions of homicide at the hands of a serial killer. She travels to the hometown of his most recent victim in order to facilitate a showdown. With Sam Shepard, Adam Scott and Kate Beahan in supporting roles.

• Stranger Than Fiction (2006) (PG-13). A comedy-drama that dabbles in fatalistic prospects while casting Will Ferrell as an IRS agent whose life parallels the plot of a novel being written by Emma Thompson, whose characters tend to be doomed. With Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

• Unknown (2006) (NR: Violence and adult language). Five strangers wake up in an abandoned warehouse with no identity and no memory of how they got there. The mystery deepens when the men realize some of them are responsible for kidnapping the others. The indie mystery stars Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper and Joe Pantoliano.

NOW SHOWING

• Babel (2006) (R) — ***. A third collaboration for the Mexican team of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro Gonzalez, who did “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams” and specialize in overlapping plots about aggrieved characters. The echoing scenarios now concern four families in different countries. “Babel” may seem at first glance like an epic, with its intersecting intercontinental tales, but this sprawling human drama is really an intimate film about relationships writ large, with every character well drawn and treated with delicate sympathy. It’s one of the year’s greatest achievements. 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) — ****. Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” is the ultimate in politically incorrect comedy. His 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

• Conversations with God (2006) (PG: Mature themes, some mild adult language) — *1/2. Neale Donald Walsch’s popular book series comes to the big screen. A middle-aged radio show host (Henry Czerny) asks some tough questions of God, which starts an inspirational dialogue. “Conversations” means well, but its hokey staging and laughable dialogue strip it of any meaningful purpose. — Christian Toto

• Death of a President (2006) (R) — **. In this mock-documentary, British filmmaker Gabriel Range envisions the assassination of President George W. Bush on Oct. 19, 2007. The film is neither as good nor as a bad as the pundits say. The film does not revel in the president’s death — in fact, the event is treated with a surprising lightness of touch. The real achievement is that this talented director has made an astonishingly good-looking, realistic pseudo-documentary at the bargain basement price of $2 million. It sets the stage for a compelling political study, but Mr. Range only hints at the difficult questions such an audacious project should be asking. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Driving Lessons (2006) (PG-13: (language, sexual content and some thematic material) — **1/2. A vehicle of his own for Rupert Grint, who portrays Ron in the Harry Potter adventures. In this sweet but thoughtful coming-of-age tale set in suburban London, he 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 derives from the best-selling chronicle by James Bradley, whose father was one of the five Marines and a Navy corpsman immortalized in Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi in 1945. The film centers largely on the three 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 who call on them to help raise money to keep the war going. 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. A collaboration between the Aardman animation studio of “Wallace & Gromit” renown and DreamWorks that transposed the pretext to a computer animation format. It 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 (belching, bathrooms, etc.), it manages to vault 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

• Open Season (2006) (PG: Occasional slapstick vulgarity) — ***. The debut film by Sony Pictures Animation, this goofy and witty buddy flick about a tame bear (voiced by Martin Lawrence) that liberates a deer (voiced by Ashton Kutcher) on the eve of hunting season is one both young and old can appreciate. Lush animation, a complex story line, funny one-liners and physical comedy make it very entertaining. — Jenny Mayo

• The Prestige (2006) (PG-13) — ***1/2. Christopher Nolan’s new movie is a period piece, 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. The look of the film is impeccable, and as the rivalry between the two becomes more intense, so does the suspense. “The Prestige” — named for the part of a magic trick that offers something shocking — is 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) — ***. It used to be war, poverty and assassination that kept monarchs up at night. Now it’s whether they feel enough. That odd change in Western society is dramatized in “The Queen,” with Helen Mirren in a savvy, thoughtful interpretation of the queen 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. The supporting cast includes James Cromwell as Prince Philip. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Running With Scissors (2006) (R — language, mild violence and mature themes) — ***. Writer-director Ryan Murphy, who has a penchant for the sensational, 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. It’s a neat story, one in which its protagonist discovers peace and even comedy amid anguish. And it’s 100 percent well-acted. Miss Bening, in particular, is riveting. — Jenny Mayo

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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