- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

OPENING

• Al Franken: God Spoke (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). The documentary filmmakers Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus distill a couple of years of hanging out with Mr. Franken, the diminutive comedian and struggling liberal controversialist. This feature-length portrait also solicits the opinions of assorted admirers and detractors; their ranks include Michael Moore, Al Gore, William Safire, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• All the King’s Men (2006) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, violence and sexual candor). A new movie version of Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of 1946, adapted and directed by Steven Zaillian. Sean Penn is cast as the charismatic demagogue, Willie Stark, modeled on Huey Long during his meteoric career as governor of Louisiana. Ostensibly, the time frame is advanced into the late 1940s and early 1950s, but the production design and mood continue to echo the Depression years. With Jude Law as the problematic narrator-protagonist, Jack Burden, who derives from the patrician class and becomes a go-between for the upstart governor. With Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Patricia Clarkson and Jackie Earle Haley, a stunning presence as Stark’s driver and bodyguard.

• Can Mr. Smith Get To Washington Anymore? (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). A documentary feature by Frank Popper about the 2004 congressional campaign of a Missouri political longshot named Jeff Smith, evoking memories of the James Stewart character in Frank Capra’s famous rabblerouser “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Confetti (2006) (R). A British comedy about three couples who become finalists in a bridal magazine’s contest for “most original wedding.” Written and directed by Debbie Isitt, with Martin Freeman, Jessica Stevenson, Stephen Managan, Felicity Montagu, Jimmy Carr and Alison Steadman as her ensemble.

• Fearless (2006) (PG-13: Violent action sequences). Jet Li, in what he promises is his final martial arts film, plays real-life fighter Huo Yuanjia in this intense biopic. Mr. Li portrays the martial arts legend, a man who overcame great personal strife to embody the finest aspects of martial arts, during his formative years at the dawn of the 20th century.

• Feast (2006) (R). The latest beneficiary of the Project Greenlight showcase, which hasn’t proved a theatrical advantage to previous recipients. This semi-facetious horror thriller was contrived by director John Gulager and co-writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton. Presumably under the influence of “Shaun of the Dead,” they envision an isolated tavern where several young strangers must defend themselves against a family of zombies.

• Flyboys (2006) (PG-13: Some sexual content and war-themed action sequences). James Franco (“Annapolis”) leads a young cast retelling the story of volunteer pilots who helped France in the early stages of World War I. French actor Jean Reno co-stars as a military commander overseeing the green squad.

• Haven (2006) (R). A romantic suspense melodrama set in the Cayman Islands, where Orlando Bloom and Zoe Saldana are a love match. The cast also includes Bill Paxton, Gabriel Byrne and Bobby Cannavale. Written and directed by Frank E. Flowers.

• 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.

• The Science of Sleep (2006) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual allusions and comic vulgarity). The first French-made feature by the exceptionally imaginative and playful Michel Gondry, whose earlier pictures were collaborations with the American humorist Charlie Kaufman — “Human Behavior” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” The latter won them an Academy Award as best original screenplay. Written and directed by Mr. Gondry, “Sleep” 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.

NOW SHOWING

• 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. Neither Mr. De Palma’s trademark visuals, nor two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, can overcome the ridiculous final reel. — Christian Toto

• 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. 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.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• The Ground Truth (2006) (R). A documentary feature about the recruitment, training and combat service of several young soldiers, observed by filmmaker Patricia Foulkrod. Not reviewed.

• 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

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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

• 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

• 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

• This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter) — **. Why are films rated the way they are? Director Kirby Dick attempts to answer that question with this new documentary, 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 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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