- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

OPENING

• Avenue Montaigne (2006) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). A new comedy from the French team of writer-director Daniele Thompson and co-writer Christopher Thompson, her son. They take a fashionable Parisian thoroughfare as their setting and cast Cecile de France as an ingenuous newcomer from the provinces who gets a job waiting tables at a popular bistro. Her sunny personality has a tonic effect on several regular customers preoccupied with personal or professional problems. In French with English subtitles.

• Becket (1964) (No MPAA rating: Released four years before the start of the rating system; adult subject matter). A revival of one of the prestige productions of its year, Peter Glenville’s movie version of Jean Anouilh’s historical drama about the legendary friendship and fatal estrangement of Henry II and archbishop Thomas a Becket, portrayed by Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton, respectively. Nominated for 12 Academy Awards, the movie collected only one — Edward Anhalt for screenplay — while “My Fair Lady” was dominating the Oscars. The co-stars were pitted against each other for best actor, and John Gielgud was a nominee for supporting actor as the French monarch, Louis VII. A limited engagement, exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Black Snake Moan (2007) (R). A melodrama about down-and-outers who supposedly salvage each other from squalor and despair. Samuel L. Jackson plays a former jazz musician called Lazarus who rescues town tramp Christina Ricci, abandoned on a Tennessee roadside after a beating. The second feature written and directed by Craig Brewer, who debuted with “Hustle & Flow” two years ago, the movie also features Justin Timberlake, John Cothran and S. Epatha Merkerson in principal roles.

• Kettle of Fish (2007) (R). An independent feature written and directed by a Washington-area filmmaker, Claudia Myers, who casts Matthew Modine as a saxophone player juggling three possible consorts, including one played by the smoldering Gina Gershon.

• Wild Hogs (2007) (PG-13: Crude and sexual content, and some violence). John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy and Tim Allen star as four suburban men looking for adventure and whatever comes their way. They get more than they bargained for when they run into a real biker gang.

• Zodiac (2007) (R). A return to the mass murder pretext for director David Fincher, who made his initial sinister impression with “Seven.” James Vanderbilt’s screenplay draws on the still unsolved killings ascribed to a so-called “Zodiac Killer” in San Francisco during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The cast includes Robert Downey, Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anthony Edwards.

• Amazing Grace (2007) (PG) — ***.A stirring look at how William Wilberforce and other idealists fought to end the British slave trade, released the year of the 200th anniversary of its abolition. The cast includes many of Britain’s finest actors, both old and young, whose performances bring this far above the level of the usual biopic. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• The Astronaut Farmer (2007) (PG). An inspirational saga from the eccentric brothers Michael and Mark Polish. They collaborated on the screenplay directed by Michael Polish. Billy Bob Thornton plays a thwarted astronaut, who was compelled to resign from the space program because of family responsibilities. While struggling to sustain a farm in Texas for a decade, he also builds a rocket inside a barn. The proposed launch provokes intense publicity and government disapproval. With Virginia Madsen as the hero’s wife and Bruce Dern as his father. Not reviewed.

• 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

• Days of Glory (2007) (R: War violence and brief language) — ***. The story of the North Africans who fought to liberate France from the Germans in World War II is finally told. Rachid Bouchareb, a French director of Algerian descent, has crafted a moving film about the men who were denied the French ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity while they helped defend them. In Arabic and French with English subtitles. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• 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. Academy Award to 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 as best actor 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

• 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. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• 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. — Christian Toto

• The Lives of Others (2006) (R: Some sexuality and nudity — ****. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s astonishingly accomplished debut is the best film of 2006 and powerful but understated filmmaking. A Stasi officer in 1984 East Berlin gradually recovers his humanity through spying on a playwright and his actress girlfriend. In German with English subtitles. Oscar for best foreign film.— 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. Oscars for art direction, cinematography and makeup. — 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. Oscar to Miss Mirren as best actress. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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. Not reviewed. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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