- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

OPENING

• Across the Universe (2007) (PG-13). A musical celebration of much that was once fashionable — the Beatles, hippies, psychedelia, anti-war radicalism — from director Julie Taymor, who casts Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturges as young lovers. Their lives ostensibly mirror the highs and lows of the Vietnam War years. The cast members, who include Bono and Eddie Izzard as gurus, sing numerous Beatles songs to sustain the evocation.

• The Brave One (2007) (R). Not a remake of the 1956 film about a Spanish youth who loves a bull earmarked for the corrida. The old title appears to conceal “Death Wish” retailored for Jodie Foster. Miss Foster stars as a Manhattan radio personality injured in an assault that costs the life of her fiance. Upon recovery, she vows to get even with the assailants. Terrence Howard co-stars as a sympathetic police detective who must intervene before she gets downright lethal.

• Eastern Promises (2007) (R). A suspense thriller from Canadian horror specialist David Cronenberg, reunited with Viggo Mortensen, his leading man from “A History of Violence.” Still violence-prone, Mr. Mortensen plays a driver for a London-based criminal syndicate of Russian extraction, bossed by Armin Mueller-Stahl. Attracted to an earnest midwife played by Naomi Watts, the hero discovers that she may be in jeopardy from his own masters.

• The Hunting Party (2007) (R). A topical thriller that returns to Bosnia as a hotbed of intrigue and danger. Terrence Howard is also on hand for this one, cast as a video cameraman who encounters a former colleague from the war years, Richard Gere, while covering another story in Sarajevo with an untried reporter, Jesse Eisenberg. Mr. Gere claims to be on the trail of a notorious war criminal, but he’s been a phantom for years and could be delusional. Written and directed by Richard Shepard.

• In the Shadow of the Moon (2007) (PG). An exceptionally stirring homage to the Apollo moon missions, combining vintage NASA footage with recollections by nine surviving lunar astronauts. The most prominent participants are Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, Gene Cernan, Alan Bean and Charles Duke. The first moon landing of Apollo 11 and the imperiled Apollo 13 flight receive the most attention. Exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre, Cinema Arts and Landmark Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema.

• In the Valley of Elah (2007) (R). An Iraq war polemic of some kind from Oscar winner Paul Haggis, who wrote “Million Dollar Baby” and directed “Crash” from his own screenplay. Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon are cast as the parents of a young soldier who disappears soon after returning from the war. Charlize Theron co-stars as a private detective hired to help trace him. Exclusively at Loews Georgetown.

• I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With (2007) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). A self-generated comedy vehicle for portly Jeff Garlin, Larry David’s sidekick on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Mr. Garlin also wrote and directed this portrait of a lovelorn, struggling Chicago actor who may finally have met the gal for him, Sarah Silverman.

• Live-In Maid (2007) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). An Argentine import that showcases Norma Aleandro as an aging, helpless Buenos Aires socialite, more and more dependent on her loyal, longtime maid, Norma Argentina. The latter is hard-pressed to continue open-ended devotion. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark Bethesda Row.

• Mr. Woodcock (2007) (PG-13). A domestic farce with Seann William Scott as the grown son of Susan Sarandon, a widow who announces that she is about to remarry. Her choice is Billy Bob Thornton as the title character, a high school coach unfondly recalled as a sarcastic bully. The prospect of this stepdad provokes Mr. Scott to desperate but presumably futile measures.

NOW SHOWING

• Balls of Fury (2007) (PG-13). A sports-and-espionage farce about a supposed underworld of cutthroat professional Ping-Pong, to which leading man Dan Fogler returns on undercover assignment for the FBI, reporting to agent George Lopez. The object: to undermine a criminal despot and Ping-Pong enthusiast named Feng, played by Christopher Walken. With James Hong as the hero’s Confucian mentor and Maggie Q as his demanding trainer. Not reviewed.

• Becoming Jane (2007) (PG: Brief nudity and mild language) — ***. A fun and frothy costume drama that re-imagines Jane Austen as the heroine of a complicated love story not unlike those she wrote. Austen fans will have fun spotting the allusions to her six novels, but they might not be satisfied with the idea that the great novelist would have given up all her talent for love. Anne Hathaway puts in an accomplished performance as the author. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) (PG-13: Intense action sequences) — ***. Jason Bourne is back in this third, and potentially final, tale of the operative who can’t remember his past. Matt Damon remains a gripping action hero, and the film’s fight sequences rank as some of the year’s best. — Christian Toto

• The Brothers Solomon (2007) (R). A sex farce written by “Saturday Night Live” staffer Will Forte, also cast as one of the title characters, crackpot siblings who hire a surrogate mother, SNL cast member Kristen Wiig, whom they propose to impregnate in hopes of comforting their ailing dad with the prospect of a grandchild. Will Arnett plays the other Solomon. Directed by Bob Oedekirk, erstwhile comedy-writing partner of Jim Carrey. Not reviewed.

• El Cantante (2007) (R: Drug use, sexuality and language) — **1/2. Jennifer Lopez and her Nuyorican Productions’ first feature film, a biopic about the tumultuous life of salsa pioneer Hector Lavoe. The Latina’s real-life hubby, Marc Anthony, stars as the Puerto Rican singer, who immigrates to New York City in 1963 and soars to singing success on the wings of the emerging salsa genre. As his career blossoms, though, his personal life shrivels, including his marriage to “Puchi” (Miss Lopez). The movie’s best attribute is Mr. Anthony’s electric renditions of his predecessor’s songs, which appear mostly in splashy mini music videos complete with subtitles. — Jenny Mayo

• Chalk (2007) (PG-13: Language). **1/2”. Chalk” has been touted as a mockumentary about teachers in the style of “The Office” and the films of Christopher Guest. In reality, “Chalk” is subtler and at times a bit slower-paced, and many of the laughs it elicits will likely be more like chuckles than guffaws. Anyone who ever has been in school can find something to relate to here, but it’s not necessarily a film for everyone. The teachers are portrayed by Troy Schremmer, Janelle Schremmer and Shannon Haragan. Directed by Mike Akel from a screenplay by himself and Chris Mass. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. — Jenny Mayo

• Death at a Funeral (2007) (R). A farce about the mishaps and indignities, fitfully obscene, that await an English family gathered for the funeral of a deceased dad. Matthew MacFadyen and Rupert Graves are cast as respectively earnest and flighty sons. As the widow, Jane Asher gets a funny line that transcends the context: “Tea can do many things, my dear, but it can’t bring back the dead.” Alan Tudyk has some virtuoso scenes as a guest accidentally zonked by a hallucinogenic pill. The filthiest gags target Peter Vaughn as an immobile, cranky codger. With Peter Dinklage as the resident ringer. Directed by Frank Oz from a screenplay by Dean Craig. Not reviewed.

• Deep Water (2007) (PG: Thematic elements, mild language and incidental smoking) — ***. Documentary about the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, the first solo non-stop round-the-world sailing competition. A largely by-the-book adventure documentary, it focuses mainly on Donald Crowhurst, a 36-year-old amateur sailor who signed up for the competition only to find himself on the open seas with a leaking boat and a fading grip on reality. Turning back would mean financial ruin, yet continuing on was a suicide mission. He chose a third option. — Jenny Mayo

• The Devil Came on Horseback (2007) (Not rated: Highly disturbing images) — ***. A documentary about the Darfur conflict takes the perspective of former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle, who worked as an unarmed military observer with the African Union in Darfur. The film has a definite agenda (see SaveDarfur.org), and uses Mr. Steidle’s harrowing story and the haunting photographs he took to this end. — Jenny Mayo

• Hairspray (2007) (PG: Some language, suggestive content and teen smoking) — ***. Director-choreographer Adam Shankman takes inspiration from the 1988 John Waters film and subsequent Broadway show. Full-figured teen Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) finally gets her chance to be on “The Corny Collins Show” but soon learns she’s not the only person facing discrimination in ‘60s-era Baltimore. Also starring John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, Zac Efron and more. Not as poignant as Mr. Waters’ work, but cheekier and a whole lot more music-centric. — Jenny Mayo

• I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007) (PG-13: Crude sexual humor, nudity, adult language and drug references) — … Adam Sandler and Kevin James play a pair of straight firefighters who pretend to be a same-sex couple to receive domestic-partner benefits. The intermittently amusing film staunchly defends homosexual rights while maligning the women in the cast and insulting an Asian character. — Christian Toto

• The Invasion (2007) (PG-13: Violence, mature themes and adult language) — **. The fourth interpretation of Jack Finney’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” explores our fear of a deadly pandemic. A doctor (Nicole Kidman) and her friend (Daniel Craig) try to stop an invasion of alien spores overtaking the planet. “The Invasion” isn’t as gripping or insightful as the 1978 version starring Donald Sutherland. — Christian Toto

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007) (PG-13: A brief sexual reference) — ***1/2. Every competitive arena should have foes as ferociously funny and compelling as Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, the two men who vie for the “Donkey Kong” arcade game world record in this nifty documentary. One is a hot-sauce mogul, the other an unemployed “Mr. Mom” type. Need we say more? — Jenny Mayo

• Moliere (2007) (PG-13: Sexual situations) — ***. Writer-director Laurent Tirard takes a period of the French playwright’s life about which we know almost nothing and imagines it as the inspiration for the immortality that followed. Romain Duris is a sexy, brooding Moliere, whose genius is shaped by the very Moliere-like farce in which he finds himself. In French with English subtitles. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• Mr. Bean’s Holiday (2007) (PG). The return of Rowan Atkinson’s tongue-tied, rubber-faced and supremely weird bungler, observed through a cycle of mishaps in France after he wins a vacation to the Riviera. Bean intrudes on the Cannes Film Festival and saves a pretentious actor-director, Willem Dafoe, from professional folly. Fleeting dialogue in French and Romanian with English subtitles. Not reviewed.

• Shoot ‘Em Up (2007) (R: Pervasive strong bloody violence, sexuality and some language) — ***1/2. Quite simply the most entertaining film of the year. At once a send-up of, a love letter to, and an exciting example of the action flick, writer-director Michael Davis has, like last year’s “Casino Royale,” made a tired genre new again. Clive Owen is the very good guy and Paul Giamatti the very bad guy in this hilarious and violent film. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• The Simpsons Movie (2007) (PG-13: Irreverent humor throughout) — ***. Two decades after their first appearance on “The Tracy Ullman Show,” the Simpsons clan finally makes the leap to the big screen with a film that might not revive Simpsons fever to its peak levels but serves as an important reminder of why we let the clan into our homes and why they became a phenomenon. The flick is wider, longer, less about peripheral characters and has splashier animation as well as a more epic plot than its TV counterpart, but its plotline (Homer’s stupidity leads to the possible demise of his marriage and all of Springfield) feels familiar in all the right ways. — Jenny Mayo

Stardust (2007) (PG-13: Fantasy violence and risque humor) — **1/2. Director Matthew Vaughn and a star-studded cast take on Neil Gaiman’s epic fantasy novel. Tristan (Charlie Cox) crosses from the English town of Wall into a world of magic and murder called Stormhold to fetch a falling star (Claire Danes) for the woman he loves (Sienna Miller). On the way home, he’ll have to protect her from venomous princes, a lightning-stealing pirate (Robert De Niro) and a bloodthirsty witch (Michelle Pfeiffer). Imagination and performances are “Star”-y, yet some of the humor crumbles like “dust.” — Jenny Mayo

• Superbad (2007) (R: Pervasive crude and sexual content, strong language, drinking, some drug use and a fantasy/comic violent image, all involving teens) — ***. Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”) returns as a producer for this dirty little comedy about two high school seniors, Seth and Evan (named after screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera), trying to score booze and chicks one night before they leave for college. Funny yet filthy, “Superbad” is more “American Pie” than “Wedding Crashers.” — Jenny Mayo

• Them (2007) (No MPAA rating: Adult subject matter). A claustrophobic thriller from Romania, with Michael Cohen and Olivia Bonamy as a couple in suburban Bucharest whose home is besieged by supernatural marauders. In Romanian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• 3:10 to Yuma (2007) (R: Violence, disturbing imagery) — ***1/2. The 1957 classic starring Glenn Ford as a charismatic outlaw is reborn by James Mangold (“Walk the Line”). In “Yuma,” Mr. Ford’s part is played by Russell Crowe, and Christian Bale is the rancher out to escort the outlaw to prison. The remake is grittier, more complex and better in nearly every way than the terrific original. — Christian Toto

• This Is England (2007) (Not rated: Some violent scenes, drug use, language and mild sexuality) — ***1/2.Three and a half stars British writer-director Shaun Meadows’ semiautobiographical film follows 12-year-old Shaun (Thomas Turgoose, a nonprofessional in an amazing breakout role), who’s living in 1980s-era seaside England and coping with his father’s death after the Falklands War. Tired of being bullied, the youngster falls in with a crowd of skinheads who give him everything he needs, including brotherhood and belonging — but there may be painful costs associated with his childhood choices. — Jenny Mayo

• 2 Days in Paris (2007) (R: Sexual content, some nudity and language) — ***. Despite making an experimental film several years back, French actress Julie Delpy considers this dialogue-heavy romantic comedy her directorial debut. In it, she stars as Marion, a French-born photographer, who takes her boyfriend, Jack (Adam Goldberg), for a vacation in her native Paris. There, they find their relationship tested by Marion’s sexually open parents, her myriad ex-boyfriends and Jack’s increasing jealousy. — Jenny Mayo MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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