- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

OPENING

• American Hardcore (2006) (R). A nostalgic rock music chronicle designed to recall bands of the early 1980s that fit the category “hardcore punk.” Directed by Paul Rachman.

• 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. A subsequent movie will concentrate on the Japanese defenders. The principal cast members are Ryan Phillippe, Barry Pepper, Jesse Bradford, Paul Walker, Jamie Bell and John Benjamin Hickey.

• Flicka (2006) (PG). An updated remake of Mary O’Hara’s popular juvenile novel “My Friend Flicka,” originally filmed in 1943 with Roddy McDowall as a rancher’s son who bonds with a wild mustang. Now it’s Alison Lohman as the teenage daughter of a Wyoming rancher. With Tim McGraw and Maria Bello as her parents.

• Little Children (2006) (R). A romantic melodrama about a suburban triangle involving Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Connelly. Written and directed by Todd Field, adapting a novel by Tom Perrotta.

• 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. Miss Coppola accompanies the period charades with a contemporary rock score. The cast also includes Judy Davis, Asia Argento, Danny Huston, Rose Byrne, Molly Shannon and the filmmaker’s cousin Jason Schwartzman.

• The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) (PG). An Imax 3-D revival of the musical animated fantasy that stop-motion specialist Henry Selick and composer Danny Elfman contrived for producer Tim Burton, who supplied the story. The protagonist is a skeletal Halloween goblin called Jack Skellington who takes a fancy toward Christmas and decides to give it a macabre makeover. The vocal cast includes Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey and Paul Reubens.

• The Prestige (2006) (PG-13). After years of neglect, the lore of magicians has returned in 2006. Christopher Nolan’s new movie is set in London at the start of the 20th century. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are cast as once friendly rivals whose relationship becomes embittered and potentially lethal. With Michael Caine, David Bowie and Scarlett Johansson.

NOW SHOWING

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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

• 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. 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

• 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. Not reviewed.

• Infamous (2006) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; graphic depictions of a murder) — **1/2. The other movie about Truman Capote while he was researching and writing “In Cold Blood.” In this colorful portrait, Capote (British actor Toby Jones) isn’t just eccentric and slightly effeminate, he’s flamboyant. The foil to his over-the-top behavior comes by way of his reserved research companion and childhood friend, Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock in a joy of a performance). And here the sexual tension between the writer and murderer Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) steams right to the surface. “Infamous” is a very good film that’s well acted, particularly by Miss Bullock and Mr. Jones. But it’s too bad that “Capote” came out first. — Jenny Mayo

• 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

• 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

• Man of the Year (2006) (PG-13) — *1/2. An awkward mix of satire and suspense that stars Robin Williams as a Jon Stewart-like talk show comedian who gets elected president. It’s a perfect illustration of Hollywood’s tendency to turn Washington into a version of itself, plying politics as show business. The climactic final speech even occurs on a broadcast of “Saturday Night Live.” The compression required in a two-hour film makes accurate depictions of politics a challenge — one that “Man of the Year,” certainly, fails to meet. With Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Linney, Lewis Black, Faith Daniels, Tina Fey and James Carville. — Peter Suderman

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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

• Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2006) (PG). The Chinese director Zhang Yimou returns to a contemporary time frame in this tearjerker set in both Japan and China. Ken Takakura is cast as an elderly man living in retirement in a Japanese fishing village. Learning of the dire illness of an estranged son, he hastens to his bedside in Tokyo and then embarks on an odyssey to Yunnan province, hoping to tape the performance of a legendary folk singer the son reveres. In Mandarin and Japanese with English subtitles. Not reviewed.

• 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

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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