- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 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.

• The Departed (2006) (R: Strong brutal violence, pervasive adult language, some strong sexual content and drug material).Director Martin Scorsese re-teams with Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Aviator”) in a story about going deep undercover with a Boston mafia boss (Jack Nicholson) and his minions. The heady cast includes Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin.

• Employee of the Month (2006) (PG-13). 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.

• 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.

• The Last King of Scotland (2006) (R). This fictionalized study of Ugandan despot Idi Amin, potentially the role of a lifetime for Forest Whitaker, views his tyranny from the perspective of a European outsider who becomes an insider. This is James McAvoy as a Scottish medical missionary named Garrigan; hired as Amin?s personal physician, he becomes an eyewitness — and accomplice — to systematic barbarity. With Gillian Anderson and Kerry Washington.

• The Queen (2006) (PG-13). Helen Mirren portrays the contemporary Queen Elizabeth in this seriocomic portrait of the English royal family in the immediate aftermath of Princess Diana?s violent death. The supporting cast includes James Cromwell as Prince Philip and Michael Sheen as Tony Blair.

• Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2006) (PG). The Chinese director Zhang Yimou returns to a contemporary timeframe 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.

• 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.

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

• 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

• Gabrielle (2005) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). A drama of marital estrangement derived from a Joseph Conrad story, “The Return,” set in Paris about a century ago and directed by Patrice Chereau, best known for “Queen Margot.” The co-stars are Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Avalon. 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

• Idlewild (2006) (R)*. An original film musical with a 1930s setting by members of the hip-hop group OutKast, Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton. The film looks terrific — beautifully framed in dusky, sensuous hues befitting the underworld of the Depression-era. But it’s little more than an extended music video enabling its stars to play dress-up and preen amid a contrived and confused plot set to anachronistic hip-hop songs, complete with a predictable ending. — Robyn-Denise Yourse

• 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

• Jackass II (2006) (R). A return engagement for Johnny Knoxville and his intrepid, harebrained stunt team, illustrating the risk-taking impulse at its least desirable. Directed by Jeff Tremaine. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• Jet Li’s Fearless (2006) (PG-13: Violent action sequences) — **1/2. Jet Li, in what he promises is his final martial arts film, plays martial arts legend Huo Yuanjia in this intense biopic. In portraying the man who overcame great personal strife to embody the finest aspects of martial arts at the dawn of the 20th century, Mr. Li tells a broader story of peace, personal growth and national pride in his inimitable style. We have to endure plenty of the choppy acting and signpost storytelling characteristic of martial-arts movies, but Mr. Li makes it worth our while. — Christian Toto

• 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 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 Protector (2006) (R: Pervasive violence and some sexual content) — **. Thai action hero Tony Jaa returns as a young man out to reclaim his family’s lost honor as well as two stolen elephants. Mr. Jaa’s acrobatic fighting is the only reason to sit through the film, but boy, is he a marvel to behold in full fury mode. — Christian Toto

• Renaissance (2006) (R: Some violent images, sexuality, nudity and adult language) — **1/2.Daniel Craig lends his voice to this animated film noir told in stark black and white. Mr. Craig plays a cop trying to solve the disappearance of a promising young researcher working to stopthe aging process. The story can be torturous but the animation is uniformly beautiful. — Christian Toto

• School for Scoundrels (2006) (PG:13: Stronglanguage, 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

• Snakes on a Plane (2006) (R) — **1/2. The heavily promoted reptile-phobic thriller with Samuel L. Jackson starring as the most resourceful potential victim on a flight imperiled by hundreds of poisonous snakes. Director David R. Ellis strikes just the right tone for such B-movie nonsense in the opening moments and hangs on for dear life. The shock moments are uniformly telegraphed. The film is a lowest common denominator romp. — Christian Toto

• 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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