- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2006

OPENING

• The Black Dahlia (2006) (R: Strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and adult language). Director Brian De Palma returns with this noir tale about two detectives tracking down the man who killed a Hollywood starlet. The impressive cast features two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, Scarlett Johansson, Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart.

• Conversations With Other Women (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). A two-character romantic melodrama directed by Hans Canosa, who introduces Helena Bonham Carter and the busy Aaron Eckhart as seemingly flirtatious guests at a wedding reception, then observes their follow-up rendezvous in a hotel room. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Everyone’s Hero (2006) (G). A computer-animated sports fable about a baseball-loving kid of the early 1930s who embarks on a cross-country odyssey to see Babe Ruth. With vocal characterizations by Jake T. Austin, Rob Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, Brian Dennehy and William H. Macy. The late Christopher Reeve was involved in the production at one time. Directed by Dan St. Pierre and Colin Brady from a screenplay by Bob Kurtz.

• Gridiron Gang (2006) (PG-13). A topical-inspirational sports melodrama that stars Dwayne Johnston, aka The Rock, as a probation officer at a juvenile detention center in Los Angeles. He takes it upon himself to organize and coach an inmate football team. With Xzibit, Vanessa Ferlitto, L. Scott Caldwell, Leon Rippy and Kevin Dunn. Directed by Phil Joanou from a screenplay by Jeff Maguire.

• The Ground Truth (2006) (R). A documentary feature about the recruitment, training and combat service of several young soldiers, observed by filmmaker Patricia Foulkrod.

• House of Sand (2006) (R). A Brazilian import co-starring the mother-daughter team of Fernanda Montenegro and Fernanda Torres. They portray a mother and daughter who endure a bleak existence for half a century in a remote seacoast village, attempting to homestead in a region dominated by sand dunes. Directed by Andrucha Waddington. In Portuguese with English subtitles.

• The Last Kiss (2006) (R). A romantic comedy co-starring Zach Braff and Jacinda Barrett as a young couple nearing a few decisions about their future. The supporting cast includes Blythe Danner, Tom Wilkinson, Casey Affleck and Rachel Bilson. Directed by Tony Goldwyn from a screenplay by Paul Haggis, renowned for “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash.”

• This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). A documentary feature by Kirby Dick, responding to complaints from independent filmmakers who believe the rating system takes a far less indulgent attitude toward their work than toward major studio productions.

NOW SHOWING

• Beerfest (2006) (R: Crude and sexual content, language, nudity and substance abuse). Another irrepressibly vulgar farce from the comedy troupe called Broken Lizard, consisting of Jay Chandrasekhar (who also directs), Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske. The latter two Lizards are cast as American brothers of German extraction who stumble upon a vintage beer games competition while visiting the old country. The cast also includes Juergen Prochnow, Cloris Leachman and Mo’Nique. Not reviewed.

• Boynton Beach Club (2006) (NR: Adult humor and mature themes) — **1/2. A group of sixtysomethings juggle love and bereavement at a senior living center. The film’s seasoned cast includes Joseph Bologna, Renee Taylor, Sally Kellerman and Brenda Vaccaro. ?Boynton? is often hilarious and treats its seniors with respect, but the picture’s final reel feels forced and artificial. — Christian Toto

• The Covenant (2006) (PG-13). A supernatural thriller, directed by Renny Harlin and set at a New England prep school where the privileged lads seem to be threatened by secret societies, ancient curses and sudden homicide. Not reviewed.

• Crank (2006) (R: Strong violence, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and drug use). Jason Statham stars as a hit man injected with a deadly poison. In order to live, he has to keep his adrenaline flowing otherwise the poison will take effect. ?Crank? co-stars Amy Smart and country crooner/actor Dwight Yoakam. Not reviewed.

• Crossover (2006) (PG-13). A sports melodrama about basketball prodigies played by Wesley Jonathan and Anthony Mackie, who hope to showcase their talents during a streetball tournament in Los Angeles where most rules of the game are suspended. Written and directed by Preston A. Whitmore II. Not reviewed.

• The Devil Wears Prada (2006) (PG-13) — ***. A movie version of the Lauren Weisberger best-seller of 2003 about a young college grad, played by Anne Hathaway, who lands a seemingly enviable job as assistant to Meryl Streep, the editor of a fashion magazine. Before long, her boss’s tyrannical streak proves intolerable. The novel was presumed to be a thinly fictionalized memoir of Miss Weisberger’s post-collegiate sojourn at Vogue. The cast also includes Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Emily Blunt and Adrian Grenier. A surprisingly thoughtful look at an industry about which there is much to love and, deliciously, much to hate. — Kelly Jane Torrance.

• Heading South (2005) (No MPAA rating: Sexual situations, nudity, adult language and disturbing themes) — ***. A group of older American women travel to Haiti to gain sexual gratification from the country’s young males. What begins as ?Sex and the City?-style debauchery turns into a smart tale of mutual exploitation amidst the backdrop of a troubled nation. Exclusively at the Avalon and Landmark E Street Cinema. — Christian Toto.

• 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 — it’s a way to make a quick buck and maybe even get himself some publicity — 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 looks, alas, can be deceiving. Directed by Bryan Barber, the film is 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. Mr. Benjamin doesn’t outright fumble his lines. Mostly, he looks gorgeous on screen. Cicely Tyson and Patti LaBelle contribute little in star cameos. The choreography by District native and three-time Tony winner Hinton Battle is splendid, but can’t rescue this film. — Robyn-Denise Yourse.

• The Illusionist (2006) (PG-13: Some sexuality and violence) — **1/2. Edward Norton is the title character, a stage magician circa 1900 Vienna whose show seems more magic than simple slight of hand. His act draws the ire of Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) and his conflicted police captain (Paul Giamatti). The stars shine as expected but the film trips over a soggy love triangle. — Christian Toto

• 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, rabid Eagles fan, recent divorcee 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

• 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

• My Country, My Country (2006) (NR: Some violence, mature themes and bloody imagery) — ***1/2. Absorbing documentary following a middle aged Iraqi doctor who decides to run for office in the weeks before his country’s historic elections. The film expertly balances the frightening violence gripping the country with the flicker of hope the upcoming vote provides. Exclusively at the Avalon. — Christian Toto

• Nobelity (2006) (No MPAA rating: Some violent imagery and disturbing themes)— *1/2. Documentarian Turk Pipkin tries to solve the world’s problems by asking nine Nobel laureates for guidance on big issues like war, poverty and energy conservation. The results, sadly, are as child-like as they are uninformative. — Christian Toto

• Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) (PG-13: Some intense action sequences, frightening imagery) — **.Capt. Jack Sparrow is back in the first of two sequels to the surprise 2003 smash. Capt. Jack (Johnny Depp) is reunited with Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) in a chase to capture the beating heart of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). The snap of the original is gone, replaced by complicated story lines and numbing action sequences. — Christian Toto.

• 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

• Quinceanera (2006) (R) — ***. This may be the most insightful film about Latino culture in a long while. The title alludes to the approaching 15th birthday celebration of heroine Magdalena, played by Emily Rios in an impressive debut. When she discovers she’s pregnant, her preacher father kicks her out of the family home. She moves in with a forgiving great-uncle, who already has one tenant, a young nephew, on the premises. With Jesse Garcia and Chalo Gonzalez. Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. Some dialogue in Spanish 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

• Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) (PG-13: Crude and sexual humor, language, drug references and brief comic violence) — ***. Will Ferrell is Ricky Bobby, a NASCAR legend trying to fend off a challenge from a French racing phenom (Sacha Baron Cohen). The film lets Mr. Ferrell dig deeper into his farcical brand of humor, but ultimately his supporting troupe brightens the spotty material. Mr. Cohen’s Jean Girard transforms ?Talladega Nights? from a middling star vehicle into a consistently amusing romp. Also co-starring are John C. Reilly, Gary Cole and Jane Lynch. — Christian Toto

• The Wicker Man (2006) (PG-13). An Americanized remake of a 1973 British mystery thriller that cast Edward Woodward as a police detective investigating the disappearance of a child on a remote island that turned out to harbor a coven of cultists who reverted to pagan sacrifices. This reprise is set on an island off the coast of Maine and unites Nicolas Cage as the sleuth and Neil LaBute as writer-director. The cast also includes Ellen Burstyn, Leelee Sobieski, Molly Parker and Frances Conroy. Not reviewed.

• World Trade Center (2006) (PG-13: Intense and emotional content, some disturbing images and language) — **1/2. Director Oliver Stone re-creates the September 11 attacks with all the precision and reverence he can muster. What Mr. Stone’s film doesn’t do is go beyond the headlines and obvious emotional highlights. Stars Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena fare best as two Port Authority workers trapped under the fallen Twin Towers. — Christian TotoMAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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