- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

OPENING

• Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker (2006) (PG). The British answer to juvenile spy Cody Banks is MI6 recruit Alex Rider, entrusted to newcomer Alex Pettyfer. The teenage hero discovers that his missing guardian, an uncle played by Ewan McGregor, is a secret agent. It becomes young Alex’s first mission to assist in his rescue, by infiltrating the apparatus of villain Mickey Rourke.

• Fanfan the Tulip (1952) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — ..1/2. A revival of the genially facetious French swashbuckler of 1952 about the adventures of a legendary French hero in the Robin Hood mold during the reign of Louis XV. Co-starring Gerard Philipe and Gina Lollobrigida, it proved a considerable popular success when new, and won director Christian-Jaque the best direction award at the Cannes Film Festival, a distinction that now seems generous. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Grudge 2 (2006) (PG-13). A sequel to an exploitable transplant of a horror thriller, derived from a single-minded Japanese prototype in which characters are imperiled by a kind of free-floating wrathful curse. The Japanese director, Takashi Shimizu, has remained onboard for the English-language replicas. Sarah Michelle Gellar played the heroine of the first spinoff. Amber Tamblyn is cast as her sister, also an American in Tokyo, in this reprise.

• A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006) (R). A memoir of a turbulent youth in Queens, recalled in adulthood by Robert Downey, Jr., whose character is portrayed in flashback by Shia LaBeouf. With Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest and Rosario Dawson. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Infamous (2006) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; graphic depictions of a murder). The other movie about Truman Capote while he was researching and writing “In Cold Blood.” Doug McGrath’s dramatization is much more elaborate and penetrating than that of “Capote,” particularly when depicting the author’s social-literary circle in New York and speculating about his ill-advised intimacy with the condemned murderer Perry Smith. With a superb ensemble and performances by Toby Jones as Capote, Daniel Craig as Smith and Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee that will be difficult to ignore during Oscar season.

• Man of the Year (2006) (PG-13). An election season farce from writer-director Barry Levinson, who casts Robin Williams as a TV comedian and talk show host who decides to run for the presidency after years of mocking politicians. With Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Linney, Lewis Black, Faith Daniels, Tina Fey and James Carville.

• The Marine (2006) (PG-13). A cross-over action vehicle for professional wrestler John Cena, cast as a former Marine obliged to clean house in a crime-ridden neighborhood. With Kelly Carlson and Robert Patrick.

• Shortbus (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter and treatment). A new immersion in sexually ambiguous theatrical life from John Cameron Mitchell, the writer-director of the cross-dressing tearjerker “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” The title alludes to an “underground salon” in New York that serves as “a mad nexus of art, music, politics and polysexual carnality.” With a cast of newcomers.

NOW SHOWING

• All the King’s Men (2006) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, violence and sexual candor) — **1/2. Writer and director Steven Zaillian’s adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s 1946 book is a moving illustration of Lord Acton’s maxim that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sean Penn as Willie Stark fully becomes the corrupted politico in a perfect performance, and the whole cast is impressive. But it’s a slightly sloppy piece of work, made ponderous by narrative voiceovers. Jude Law plays the problematic narrator-protagonist, Jack Burden, a patrician who becomes a go-between for the upstart governor Stark. With Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Patricia Clarkson and Jackie Earle Haley. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• 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 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

• Employee of the Month (2006) (PG-13: Lewd and crude humor and language) — **. The first movie comedy vehicle for HBO headliner Dane Cook, cast as the resident slacker at a discount retail store. He is suddenly motivated to ingratiate himself with a new checkout clerk, Jessica Simpson, whose dating standards exclude guys without enough initiative to compete for Employee of the Month honors. It must have sounded like a comedy lover’s dream. Unfortunately, the end product is like a trip to SuperClub: You got some necessities — tuna, multivitamins, etc. — but mostly, you ended up with a whole lot of junk you didn’t really need. — Jenny Mayo

• Flyboys (2006) (PG-13: Some sexual content and war-themed action sequences) — **1/2. A World War I action film, based on the real life of the Lafayette Escadrille, a pioneering squad of French and American fighter pilots who battled German forces in the months before this country entered the war. It brims with heroism, cross-cultural conflicts and the inherent drama of the earliest days of flight. But “Flyboys” opts for a flyweight take on history, soaring chiefly when its special effects capture the spectacular dogfights. James Franco leads the mostly unfamiliar cast, proving once again he’s the ideal man for superficial fare. — Christian Toto

• 49 Up (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). Michael Apted’s latest update on the human-interest documentary cycle he began in the 1960s with an engaging film titled “7 Up,” which observed a cross-section of British schoolchildren. In its aftermath he has reunited with many of the original participants and their families at seven-year intervals. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• The Guardian (2006) (PG-13) — **. “Top Gun” meets “The Perfect Storm” in this admiring Coast Guard showcase. Kevin Costner plays an emotionally wounded Coast Guard rescue swimmer who gets stuck training a bunch of know-nothing cadets, among them Ashton Kutcher as a whippersnapper with attitude. But forget the testosterone, the over-the-top effects, the stock female characters and the hackneyed lines. The film wants viewers to see the sacrifices the Coast Guard, particularly rescue swimmers, makes daily to save lives, and it does succeed in illuminating the experiences of a silent elite. — Jenny Mayo

• Hollywoodland (2006) (R: Occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual candor) — **** A noir mixture of movieland biopic and sinister speculation, recalling the circumstances surrounding the premature death in 1959 of actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck), out of work and out of favor at 49 after making his mark as Superman on a low-budget TV series. He is presumed to have shot himself, but his mother hires gumshoe Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) to investigate. Simo takes the case, but as he delves into it he actually starts to care. This real-life unsolved mystery has plenty of dramatic potential. In his feature film debut, director Allen Coulter makes the most of it while never going over the top. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Invincible (2006) (PG: Sports violence and some adult language). ***. The true story of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Vince Papale is told with considerable emotion in this new biopic. Mark Wahlberg is Vince, a rabid Eagles fan, recent divorce and superior weekend warrior who decides to check out an open tryout for his favorite team. Weeks later, he’s on the squad. The film hits all the expected sports film highlights, but does so with a passion befitting its underdog subject. — Christian Toto

• Jesus Camp (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — ***. A fascinating, reluctantly deadpan summary of the fervent course of instruction at a summer camp for the children of evangelical Christians, supervised at a North Dakota retreat by Becky Fischer, probably not a culture hero to the documentary team of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. Three of the youngsters emerge as charismatic prospects. A prize-winner at the most recent Silverdocs Film Festival.

• Keeping Mum (2006) (R) — ***. The British black comedy is a wonderful institution, and this one is one of the funniest on screen in quite some time. Maggie Smith plays a Mary Poppins-like new housekeeper with homicidal tendencies who brings order — in her own mysterious way — to the dysfunctional family of an absent-minded vicar (Rowan Atkinson) and his adulterous wife (Kristin Scott Thomas). Rarely has wrongdoing been so much fun. Patrick Swayze co-stars. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• 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, as viewed through the eyes of a Scottish medical missionary who becomes Amin’s personal physician and eventually an unwitting partner to his crimes, guarantees Forest Whitaker an Oscar nomination for his nuanced and mesmerizing turn as Amin. As the physician, the rising young Scottish actor James McAvoy plays a naive idealist whose portrayal suggests that idealists may be the world’s most dangerous people. 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

• The Last Kiss (2006) (R) — **1/2. A coming-of-age tale for a new generation, the thirtysomethings who don’t want to grow up, this comedy-drama remakes the 2001 Italian film “L’Ultimo bacio,” transporting it to Wisconsin. Zach Braff plays a successful architect who’s about to settle down with Jacinda Barrett but can’t stop thinking about Rachel Bilson and doesn’t want to give up choices. Directed by Tony Goldwyn from a screenplay by Paul Haggis, renowned for “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash.” — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Little Miss Sunshine (2006) (R) — ***1/2. A hilarious black comedy that follows a family of misfits on a road trip from Albuquerque, N.M., to Redondo Beach, Calif., in a broken-down VW bus as they try to get 7-year-old Olive to California in time to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. This could be the funniest film of the year. With Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette as the parents, Alan Arkin as an irascible gramps, Steve Carell as a traumatized brother-in-law and Abigail Breslin and Paul Dano as the kids. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• 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 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

• School for Scoundrels (2006) (PG-13: Strong language, crude and sexual content and comic violence) — *1/2. Jon Heder of “Napoleon Dynamite” plays a loner who finds courage in the classroom of a twisted self-help motivator (Billy Bob Thornton). “Scoundrels” takes a fine comic idea and runs it quickly into the ground. — Christian Toto

• The Science of Sleep (2006) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual allusions and comic vulgarity) — ***. The first French-made feature by the imaginative and playful Michel Gondry. “Sleep” brings the dream world of one very confused young man to magical life. It is set in Paris and luxuriates in the fantasy life of a young illustrator played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who becomes smitten with neighbor Charlotte Gainsbourg after moving back to an apartment owned by his mother, Miou-Miou. With a witty supporting performance by Alain Chabat as an office jester. Some dialogue in French with English subtitles. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) (R). A possibly dead-end sequel, but don’t count on anything that merciful. The same collaborators who successfully remade Tobe Hooper’s notoriously repulsive prototype of 1974 in 2003 return to the scene of the crime and supposedly account for its origins. Not reviewed.

• This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — **. Director Kirby Dick’s new documentary on the ratings system is a jaunty, vaguely comic, low-budget affair, interspersed with lively graphics and montages of clips from the films it discusses. It tries to tar the ratings board with charges of secrecy and censorship, but it mostly serves as a forum for purveyors of graphic sexual imagery to whine that movie theaters and retail outlets have declined to air their work. And, quite unintentionally, it reminds viewers — with its barrages of sexually explicit imagery — why the major movie studios instituted a ratings system to begin with. — Peter Suderman

• The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2006) (PG-13). A documentary feature that recalls the ill-fated Beatle’s publicity campaigns and passport disputes after taking up residence in New York in the 1970s and becoming an anti-war activist. Not reviewed. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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