- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

OPENING

• Amazing Grace (2007) (PG). A biographical tribute to the British abolitionist William Wilberforce, portrayed by Ioan Gruffudd, during his efforts to pass legislation banning the slave trade. Albert Finney portrays a principal ally, John Newton, a former slave ship captain turned clergyman, author of the title hymn. Directed by Michael Apted.

• The Astronaut Farmer (2007) (PG). An inspirational saga from the eccentric Polish brothers, Michael and Mark. They collaborated on the screenplay directed by Michael Polish. The title alludes to Billy Bob Thornton as a thwarted astronaut, who was compelled to resign from the space program because of family responsibilities before participating in a manned mission. While struggling to sustain a farm in Texas for a decade, he also constructs a rocket inside a barn. The proposed launch provokes both intense publicity and government disapproval. With Virginia Madsen as the hero’s wife and Bruce Dern as his father.

• Days of Glory (2006) (R). An Algerian war chronicle about North African volunteers for the Free French during World War II. The exploits of four men are followed during several battles that traverse the Mediterranean and culminate in a showdown with German infantry in Alsace. Directed by Rachib Bouchareb and nominated as best foreign language film in the 2006 Academy Award race. In Algerian and French with English subtitles.

• The Lives of Others (2006).(PG-13). The German entry for the best foreign language film Oscar, “Lives” observes an East German secret police agent who is ordered to compile a presumably incriminating dossier on a writer and his actress wife, suspected of disloyalty to the communist regime. While devoting himself to this assignment, the agent finds his own sympathies shifting from state to dissidents. With Ulrich Muhe as the spy and Sebastian Koch and Martina Gedeck as his targets. Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. In German with English subtitles.

• The Number 23 (2007) (R: Violence, disturbing images, sexuality and adult language). Jim Carrey stars in this numerology-based thriller. The comic actor turns serious to play a contented man whose life changes radically when he finds a book he thinks is based on his own life.

• Reno 911!: Miami (2007).(R). A feature-length promotion for the cast of a Comedy Central sitcom about the likable blundering officers in the sheriff’s department of Washoe County, Nevada, whose big city is Reno. The gang is transported to Miami Beach for a law enforcement convention. With Thomas Lennon, Carlos Alazraqui, Robert Ben Garant, Kerri Kenney-Silver and Wendi McLendon-Covey.

• An Unreasonable Man (2006).(No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). A documentary feature about Ralph Nader, compiled by Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan, who evidently fear that a proud social legacy is being jeopardized by the subject’s campaigning for national political office, which became a sore point for Democrats in 2000. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

NOW SHOWING

• Because I Said So (2007) (PG-13: Mature themes, sexually suggestive dialogue and partial nudity) — **.This is what would happen if Mom’s Redbook married daughter’s Cosmo. It’s a full-color dose of fashion, decor, edibles, beauty queens, sex talk and relationship advice — all light on intelligence, but nevertheless modestly entertaining. Meddling mom Daphne (Diane Keaton) tries to marry off her youngest daughter Milly (Mandy Moore) by secretly finding her a suitor on the Internet. Life intervenes, and budding caterer Milly finds herself cooking with not one but two handsome men. “Because” never transcends the genre, but that’s OK; it’s a chick flick, after all. — Jenny Mayo

• Breach (2007) (PG-13: Violence, sexual content and adult language) — ***1/2. FBI agent-turned-traitor Robert Hanssen is the focus of this psychological thriller starring Oscar winner Chris Cooper. Ryan Phillippe stars as Eric O’Neill, a young agent assigned to flush out Hanssen (Mr. Cooper) for giving away government secrets to the Russians. “Breach” is the sort of smart, superbly acted thriller we typically see released during the fall Oscar season. — Christian Toto

• Breaking and Entering (2007) (R: Sexuality and language) — ***. “The English Patient” director Anthony Minghella’s latest film is an epic writ small. Through the lives of contemporary Londoners, he explores nationality, class, and crime. Though at times rambling, this personal film is a love letter to the city and its varied inhabitants. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Bridge to Terabithia (2007) (PG: Mild peril and a really sad ending) — ***. Katherine Paterson’s beloved children’s book hits the big screen in an adaptation co-written by her son, David. Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) become friends in a rural community and invent a magic kingdom called Terabithia, over which they rule. Director Gabor Csupo does add some major special effects to keep audiences interested — but thankfully, they don’t spoil the novel’s lovely understatedness and innocence. A sad ending, but a happy addition to the children’s film genre. — Jenny Mayo

• Catch and Release (2007) (PG-13: Sexual content, language and some drug use) — **1/2. Oscar-nominated screenwriter Susannah Grant helms her first film with this fun, if slightly saccharine, romantic dramedy. A tragic accident turns Gray Wheeler’s (Jennifer Garner) wedding day into her fiance’s funeral. While turning to her love’s best guy friends for consolation, she finds not only companionship but also a surprise love interest. She’ll need these relationships to help her deal with the secrets she’ll soon learn about the man she thought she knew through and through. — Jenny Mayo

• Dreamgirls — (2006) (PG-13: Language, racism, some sexuality and drug content) — ***1/2. Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose play the members of a pop vocal trio of the early 1960s loosely based on the Supremes. For the most part, the $70 million big-screen adaptation of the 1981 Broadway hit is as good as its hype — as is Jennifer Hudson as Effie White, in an astonishing film debut. Director Bill Condon skillfully translates the musical to the big screen in this timeless tale of backstage ambition, racism, heartache and redemption that spans the 1960s and ‘70s. Eight Academy Award nominations, including Eddie Murphy for supporting actor and Miss Hudson for supporting actress. — Robyn-Denise Yourse

• Factory Girl (2007) (R: Prominent drug use, sexual content, nudity and language) — **. Director George Hickenlooper’s biopic on Edie Sedgwick (played by Sienna Miller) recounts the rise of a blue-blooded art-school student to “It” girl status as she befriends pop artist Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce) and becomes the star of his movies and social scene. When she develops feelings for a mysteriously unnamed musician, perhaps Bob Dylan (Hayden Christensen), both men will wrestle for control over her and eventually throw the fragile nymph into a downward spiral. The script oversimplifies the real story, but makes for a largely entertaining film nonetheless. — Jenny Mayo

• Family Law (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter, with occasional sexual candor). An affectionate comedy-drama about a clan of Jewish lawyers in Buenos Aires, narrated by Daniel Hendler as the third-generation inheritor. He prefers to teach the law and becomes preoccupied with demonstrating his child-raising sincerity for a beautiful young wife. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Ghost Rider (2007) (PG-13: Horror violence and disturbing imagery) — *1/2. Nicolas Cage is Ghost Rider, Marvel’s cursed superhero, who metes out justice astride a flaming motorcycle. Johnny Blaze (Mr. Cage) makes a deal with the devil and is transformed into a fiery avenger with supernatural powers. “Ghost Rider” is alternately dopey and surreal, meant only for the most forgiving comic book junkies. — Christian Toto

• Hannibal Rising (2007) (R: Disturbing themes, violent imagery, adult language and gore) — **. The prequel to the Hannibal Lecter franchise shows the personal tragedies that created the serial cannibal we came to know and fear. The young Lecter, played by relative unknown Gaspard Ulliel, can’t convey a fraction of the fright Anthony Hopkins summoned in his signature role. — Christian Toto

• 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 earned Forest Whitaker an Oscar nomination for his nuanced and mesmerizing turn as Amin. The rising young Scottish actor James McAvoy plays a Scottish medical missionary, a naive idealist who becomes Amin’s personal physician and eventually an unwitting partner to his crimes. The film offers not just a sophisticated understanding of the cult of personality but, with Mr. Whitaker’s performance, an engrossing tale from the start through its bloody end. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Letters From Iwo Jima (2007) (R: Graphic war violence) — ***1/2. Clint Eastwood’s second, and superior, World War II epic in the past few months focuses on the Japanese soldiers forced to fight in the waning days of the war. Weary troops dig in at Iwo Jima as the Allied forces advance for a major battle, and the director makes every element of it feel brutal and real. In Japanese with English subtitles. Four Academy Award nominations, including best movie and direction. — Christian Toto

• Music and Lyrics (2007) (PG-13: Some sexual content — *. Romantic comedy written and directed by Marc Lawrence, who penned “Miss Congeniality.” In this formulaic film, Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is a has-been ‘80s artist who teams up with an unlikely lyricist, a plant caretaker named Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore). Their goal: to produce the next hit for the moment’s biggest, raunchiest pop star. The movie does a nice job parodying the recording industry, with its vacuity and over-bloated budgets, but ultimately, it suffers from that which it decries. — Jenny Mayo

• Norbit (2007) (PG-13: Crude sexual humor, adult language and nudity) — **. Eddie Murphy is Norbit, a meek man overwhelmed by his gargantuan wife, also played by Mr. Murphy. “Norbit” scores a few easy laughs, but much of the movie is obsessed with crude, often offensive gags. — Christian Toto

• Notes on a Scandal (2006) (R: Language and some aberrant sexual content) — ***1/2. Few moviegoing experiences this year were as pleasurable as watching Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, two of the best actresses of their generations, go at each other in “Notes on a Scandal.” Miss Blanchett is a teacher having an illicit affair with a student, while Miss Dench uses her friend’s secret for her own purposes in this literate thriller turned melodrama. Oscar nominations to Miss Dench for best actress and Miss Blanchett for supporting actress. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Pan’s Labyrinth (2007) (R: Graphic violence and some language) — ****. With his dark fairy tale for adults set in Franco’s Spain, which explores good and evil, childhood, imagination and politics in the tradition of Terry Gilliam, director Guillermo del Toro has made a masterpiece whose images are not soon forgotten. In Spanish with English subtitles. Three Oscar nominations, including best foreign-language film. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Le Petit Lieutenant (2007) (Unrated) — ***. The investigators are more fascinating than the crimes in this emotionally deep French police drama. Jalil Lespert is the young lieutenant who reminds Nathalie Baye, a two-years-sober commandant, of her long-dead son. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• The Queen (2006) (PG-13: Brief strong language) — ***. Helen Mirren gives a savvy, thoughtful interpretation of Queen Elizabeth II, 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. With James Cromwell as Prince Philip. Four Oscar nominations, including best movie, best direction and best actress (Miss Mirren). — Kelly Jane Torrance

• The Situation (2007) (NR: Mature themes, war-time violence, bloody imagery and adult language) — **1/2. Connie Nielsen stars as a journalist trying to get to the bottom of how two Iraqi teens ended up dead after running into a U.S. checkpoint. The film carefully depicts the chaos overwhelming modern Iraq but the rubble overshadows what’s meant to be a compelling love triangle involving Miss Nielsen’s character. — Christian Toto

• Smokin’ Aces (2007) (R: Strong violence, pervasive adult language, some nudity and bloody imagery) — **. A Las Vegas magician (Jeremy Piven) decides to squeal on the mob, and the mob strikes back with a vengeance. A team of manhunters, including Ben Affleck and singer Alicia Keys, set out to shut up Mr. Piven’s character permanently while the FBI tries to keep him alive. It’s loud, nonsensical and bloody, but a few scenes display a light, comic touch. — Christian Toto

• Tyler Perry’s ‘Daddy’s Little Girls’ (2007) (PG-13) — The latest feature from the prolific actor-writer-director concerns Monty Elba as a garage mechanic seeking custody of his three daughters from an unfit ex-wife. He complicates his case by falling in love with his attorney, Gabrielle Union. The cast includes Lou Gossett Jr. as a workplace friend and confidant. Not reviewed.

• Venus (2007) (R: Nudity, adult language and mature themes) — ***1/2. Peter O’Toole stars as an aged ladies’ man who falls for his friend’s nurse despite their massive age difference. Their relationship isn’t sexual or even reciprocal, but it lets Mr. O’Toole’s character come alive for what could be the last time. Mr. O’Toole is his usual brilliant self, but co-star Jodie Whittaker holds her own as the object of his inappropriate affections. Oscar nomination to Peter O’Toole for best actor. — Christian Toto

• Volver — (2006) (R: Morbidity, mild violence and adult themes) — ***. Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar’s 16th full-length feature. The tenured writer-director returns to the big screen and to his homeland of La Mancha to tell this tale of two sisters, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) and Sole (Lola Duenas), whose mother (Carmen Maura) re-enters their lives as a ghost. The cloud of magical realism hangs over this pastiche of hilarious, heartwarming and painfully honest vignettes, making for a beautifully textured film. In Spanish with English subtitles. Oscar nomination to Penelope Cruz as best actress. — Jenny Mayo MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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