Film Capsules Capsule reviews ... (2024)

Film Capsules

Capsule reviews by Desson Thomson unless noted. A star ({sstar}) denotes a movie recommended by our critics.

Openings

ANOTHER ROAD HOME (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 35.

IT'S ALL GONE PETE TONG (R) -- See capsule review on Page 35.

KICKING & SCREAMING (PG) -- See review on Page 34.

KONTROLL (R) -- See capsule review on Page 35.

MINDHUNTERS (R) -- See review on Page 33.

MONDOVINO (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 35.

MONSTER-IN-LAW (PG-13) -- See review on Page 33.

UNLEASHED (R) -- See review on Page 34.

First Runs & Revivals

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (R, 89 minutes) -- Ostensibly a remake of the 1979 classic of the cheeseball thrill genre, "The Amityville Horror" reminds me more of "Frankenstein" than the 1979 original: a little piece of this movie here, a little piece of that movie there. In other words, it's as reminiscent of "Amityville" number one as it is of "The Shining," "The Exorcist," "Poltergeist," "Stir of Echoes," "The Sixth Sense," "Hide and Seek," "The Grudge" and a thousand other latter-day fright fests. Not to say I didn't like it. It is what it is, which is pretty scary, a little bit funny, and very, very derivative. Contains blood and gore, obscenity, violence, drug use and a sex scene. Area theaters.

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-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER'S PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (PG-13, 140 minutes) -- In this movie version of the renowned stage musical, Christine (Emmy Rossum) becomes a singing success with the Paris opera. But she is torn romantically between childhood sweetheart and opera patron Raoul de Chagny (Patrick Wilson) and the spectral Angel of Music (aka the Phantom), who lives in the basem*nt and will do anything to make Christine successful. The sets, costumes and decor are lavish. All the songs are there from the original show. And if Rossum and Gerard Butler (the Phantom) aren't quite Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford (stars of the 1980s theatrical production directed by Harold Prince), they're engaging and peppy. And thanks to Joel Schumacher's bright direction and a few storytelling embellishments, this is a movie for more than Webber buffs. Contains some brief violent images. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

BEAUTY SHOP (PG-13, 105 minutes) -- In this lackluster spinoff from Ice Cube's "Barbershop," Queen Latifah holds court over a dish-talking circle of female hairdressers (including Alfre Woodward and Keshia Knight Pulliam) for whom no subject is taboo. No fan of salty-tongued banter, head to-and-fro'ing encounters or Queen Latifah should be disappointed. But everyone else will. "Beauty Shop" is a life-affirming yet lifeless sitcom-movie that spends too much time being superficially convivial and not enough time looking for real comedy. It's never more than Queen Latifah's shopworn coronation. And the less said about Kevin Bacon as a snooty Austrian hairdresser, the better. Contains sexual situations, obscenity and some drug references. Magic Johnson Theater, Majestic Cinema and University Mall Theatres.

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{sstar} BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE (PG, 100 minutes) -- In Wayne Wang's family-friendly charmer, a feisty preteen called Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) gets a new friend in her life when she adopts the fuzzball pooch Winn-Dixie, named after the store she finds him in. The dog, a Picardy shepherd, wins over Opal's preacher father (Jeff Daniels) and, eventually, the whole sleepy town of Naomi, Fla. There are sweet supporting performances from Eva Marie Saint, Cicely Tyson and musician Dave Matthews as an eccentric pet store clerk. But the sweetest one of all is Robb. As Opal, she's a puckery scamp without a false note in her performance. She even out-charms the Picardy. Contains mild obscenity and the theme of alcoholism. University Mall Theatres.

{sstar} BORN INTO BROTHELS (Unrated, 85 minutes) -- British photographer Zana Briski comes to Sonagachi, Calcutta's red light district, and teaches photography to the children of prostitutes. As these boys and girls, who range in age from 10 to 14, learn how to frame pictures, load film and accept Briski's critiques, they also start to see their world differently. And Briski never loses her soft-spoken determination, whether she's teaching the children or trying to steer them through India's unwieldy bureaucracy to get them an education and to a photographic exhibition abroad. The movie, which Briski directed with Ross Kauffman, is really about changing the perspectives of eight children in a hopeless world, and Briski's moral involvement in her subjects' lives. Contains obscenity and footage of a sex trade district. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

BRIDE & PREJUDICE (PG-13, 111 minutes) -- Gurinder Chadha, the British-Punjabi filmmaker who made "Bend It Like Beckham," has Bollywoodized Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" into an east-meets-west musical. The lovebirds are headstrong Indian Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) and rich-kid Yank Will (Martin Henderson), who dance romantic rings around each other. The movie's cross-cultural changes from, and similarities to, the novel are intriguing. But in the end, the plot's not so much an Austen-like story as a click track. "Bride & Prejudice" is a we-are-the-world encounter full of colorful ribbons, scarves and saris, and foot-stirring spice-pop. Lalita and Will's sitcom-like jousting lacks the wit and resonance of the conflict between Austen's Elizabeth Bennet and the haughty Mr. Darcy, but the couple certainly engages the eyes. Contains some sexual references. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

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{sstar} CRASH (R, 100 minutes) -- The aftermath of Rodney King and 9/11 seems to sear the nostrils of every Los Angeleno in Paul Haggis's white-knuckle hatefest among characters of almost every ideological, cultural or religious stripe. Asians, Latinos, whites, blacks, rich and poor, Muslim and Christian all clash in this multi-character story that features Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe, Jennifer Esposito and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. If "Crash" only showed the dark side of humanity, it would barely be worth the viewing. But the movie is also about the best in people. As soon as we think we have some characters' number they turn around and do something quite astonishing. We're all so hopelessly human, and writer-director Haggis, who wrote the screenplay for "Million Dollar Baby," gives this truism a deeply lyrical dimension. Contains sexual scenes, obscenity and violence. Area theaters.

{sstar} ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM (Unrated, 120 minutes) -- Based on Fortune reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind's "The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron," Alex Gibney's blow-by-blow documentary retelling of what was, at the time, the largest corporate bankruptcy in history is by turns harrowing and hilarious. And nauseating, too. When you're not aghast in horror at the allegations of misdeeds by Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow, three of Enron's highest executives, or laughing at the sheer chutzpah of what they've been accused of, you might be sickened by the reminders that this wasn't a victimless crime, but that thousands of employees and investors in the company lost far more than their shirts. Contains obscenity, a non-graphic reenactment of a suicide and strip club footage. Landmark's Bethesda Row, Cinema Arts Theatre and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

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FEVER PITCH (PG-13, 98 minutes) -- This American baseball recasting of Nick Hornby's British soccer memoir never quite steps up to its iffy plate. It's a complete strikeout. As the Boston Red Sox fan who has to choose between his beloved game and a gorgeous, available business consultant (Drew Barrymore), Jimmy Fallon is ineffective at best, deadly weird at worst. The two of them embark on a romantic relationship so formulaic, you wonder why filmmaking brothers Bobby and Peter Farrelly (makers of "Dumb & Dumber," "There's Something About Mary") even wanted to do this. There isn't one true Farrelly moment in the whole film, not one little pratfall, no hair incidents, no nothing. Contains sexual language, sexual scenes, obscenity and cartoon violence. Area theaters.

{sstar} FRANK MILLER'S SIN CITY (R, 124 minutes) -- Comprising three edge-of-your-seat sagas, this brilliant adaptation of Miller's cult graphic novel series is co-directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez. (Quentin Tarantino guest-directs one scene.) Miller and Rodriguez have achieved the near-impossible: reproducing the pictorial reality of those comic book stories onto the screen with digital enhancement, darkly perfected sets and masterful makeup. The performers look part cartoon and part human and thoroughly convincing. But all the visual fandango in the world means nothing without effective performers. Everyone is terrific here, including tough guys Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro. And those are just the guys. The women are equally formidable, including Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy and Rosario Dawson as an Uzi-packing hooker. Contains obscenity, violence, nudity and sexual scenes. Area theaters.

GUESS WHO (PG-13, 103 minutes) -- It's never a good sign when the characters in a film laugh harder at their own jokes than the audience. It's particularly troubling when some of those jokes -- as in this limp, race-reversal version "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," in which Bernie Mac plays a man horrified to discover that his daughter's boyfriend (Ashton Kutcher) is white -- are themselves racist. That dinner-table scene, in which Kutcher's character repeats a series of offensive jokes he's heard, to the initial delight of his African American girlfriend's (Zoe Saldana) family, is meant, I suppose, to show that the film is honest, but it just ends up making it look desperate for laughs. Contains vulgarity and sexual humor. Annapolis Mall, Magic Johnson Theater and Majestic Cinema.

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-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} HITCH (PG-13, 114 minutes) -- Will Smith is his usual peppy self as Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, an undercover love consultant in New York who takes on a new client: the fire-hydrant- shaped Albert (Kevin James), an accountant who is desperate to get romantic with his glamorous celebrity client Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). Hitch's secret life and his heart are threatened by Sara Melas (Eva Mendes), a gossip writer on the trail of this secret love doctor and quite taken with Hitch. Smith and Mendes are funny and engaging, but it's James who steals the movie. Watch him on the dance floor and you'll see what I mean. He's bullishly elegant and very funny. Contains some obscenity and sexual situations. Majestic Cinema, Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and National Amusem*nts Fairfax Corner.

{sstar} THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (PG, 110 minutes) -- It was a wonderful television miniseries, radio series and a five-book "trilogy," all created by Douglas Adams. Now comes this respectably amusing movie, which has Martin Freeman of the BBC series "The Office" as Arthur Dent. The hapless earthling, with an alien pal Ford Prefect (Mos Def), embarks on a massively epic and wonderfully improbable trip that includes visits to other spaceships and planets. The companions meet a bevy of oddballs, including the two-headed president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell); the eternally depressed robot Marvin (voiced by a hilariously misanthropic Alan Rickman); an extremely bizarre quasi-spiritual leader named Humma Kavula (John Malkovich); and a sort of planet construction engineer known as Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy). Given the fact that a quintessentially British show-book-franchise has been peopled with Brits and Americans and spearheaded by a Hollywood studio, this is more than a pleasant surprise. Contains some sophisticated thematic elements and minor strong language. Area theaters.

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HOSTAGE (R, 113 minutes) -- Bruce Willis's latest thriller, in which he plays a disgraced police hostage negotiator trying to redeem himself, starts promising. For one thing, the bullet-headed action hero's performance actually shows emotional complexity, and the plot setup is interesting. Willis's cop must rescue a crooked accountant's (Kevin Pollak) family from a couple of volatile teenagers (Jonathan Tucker and Marshall Allman) and their psychotic friend (Ben Foster) without jeopardizing the safety of his own wife and daughter (Serena Scott Thomas and Rumer Willis), who have been kidnapped by the accountant's evil cronies. Rather than extricate itself from this mess with actual brain power, however, the film resorts to that old cop-out: blowing things up real good. Contains sexual scenes, nudity, obscenity and a gruesome crash landing. University Mall Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

HOUSE OF WAX (R, 105 minutes) -- In this modern update of the 1953 Vincent Price horror film, a group of friends, including Paige (Paris Hilton), Blake (Robert Ri'chard), Carly (Elisha Cuthbert), Wade (Jared Padalecki) and Nick (Chad Michael Murray), drive south to watch a college football game. Like most horror movie characters, they do their best to place themselves in the jaws of danger. In this case, that's a wax museum in a sleepy town where you can check in but you can't check out, at least not without a nice wax finish to your skin. There's an escalation of twisted killings, as the owner of that wax house emerges. And look for little sad*stic touches here and there, especially one involving heavy-duty scissors and a human finger. Yeooow. Contains graphic violence and sexual situations. Area theaters.

THE INTERPRETER (PG-13, 135 minutes) -- Sydney Pollack's thriller rides for a long time on a compelling premise: the possibility of an assassination in the United Nations' General Assembly. U.N. interpreter Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) gets wind of a plan to kill an African leader. But when she contacts the U.S. Secret Service, Silvia is surprised to find herself the target of suspicion by agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), the man in charge of investigating her report. As a straight-ahead thriller, the movie is enjoyable and stirring much of the time. But Kidman's character is schematically conceived: a native of (fictional) Matobo and a sophisticate with radical connections to (and formulaically traumatic memories of) Matobo's revolutionary days. And Penn's Tobin, who also carries around his own formulaic mental baggage, makes an interesting but not emotionally involving foil. Contains violence, some sexual content and brief obscenity. Area theaters.

JIMINY GLICK IN LALAWOOD (R, 90 minutes) -- Never was this funny a comedian (Martin Short) in this horrible a movie. Short's portly, tart-tongued and quite possibly extraterrestrial Jiminy Glick is a Falstaffian figure who lives and breathes show business in a supremely irritating manner, and whose voice fluctuates from "The Exorcist"-style basso profundo to something approaching castrato. But in this tortured conceit, he goes to the Toronto Film Festival, becomes a minor celebrity and also believes he may have accidentally killed an actress. It's a bizarre story, punctuated with unnecessary grossness. The best thing about this movie are the interviews Jiminy has with Steve Martin (playing himself). That's where you see Glick at his best. Contains graphic obscenity and sexual situations. Landmark's Bethesda Row, National Amusem*nts Fairfax and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

KING'S RANSOM (PG-13, 90 minutes) -- Anthony Anderson plays Malcolm King, a wealthy businessman who has built up a lot of enemies over the past, including his soon-to-be ex-wife (Kellita Smith) and his disgruntled employees. He hatches a plan to avoid paying for a messy divorce by staging his own kidnapping with a ridiculously high ransom. He assumes everyone will assume he's broke after that. Naturally things don't go as planned. Contains crude and sexual humor and language. AMC Rivertowne, Magic Johnson Theater and Majestic Cinema.

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KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (PG-13, 138 minutes) -- Ridley Scott's epic, about the battle of wills between Balian of Ibelin (Orlando Bloom), a 12th-century French crusader charged with protecting Jerusalem from Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), is a powerful visual experience. But at the same time, it's just another digitalized, live-action cartoon that suggests "Lord of the Rings IV: Legolas Defends Jerusalem." Scott and screenwriter William Monahan have assembled a thoughtful (if flawed) antiwar scenario about the religious divisions that pit one great people against another. But the movie's reduced to a backdrop for a boy toy with good hair and excellent backlighting. The real star is Massoud as Saladin, an Islamic hero of deep integrity. To introduce an archetype like this to western audiences may have been worth this whole flawed movie. Contains graphic battle violence. Area theaters.

{sstar} KUNG FU HUSTLE (R, 95 minutes) -- Stephen Chow's martial arts comedy snaps and crackles like nuclear popcorn on a scorching griddle. Filmmaker Chow, who made the hyper-cartoonish comedy "Shaolin Soccer," has out-brillianted himself. He plays Sing, an impoverished opportunist who manages to antagonize a small slummers' community and the Axe Gang oppressing them. The whole thing's a glorious excuse for amazing computer-generated imagery and jaw-dropping visual effects. Characters defy gravity in the manner of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." They withstand amazing physical punishment, as if they're the fleshy residents of a Hong Kong-style Warner Bros. cartoon. And their protracted, balletic fights are great as kung fu spectacle and for their comic genius. Contains stylized violence and some obscenity. In Cantonese with subtitles. Area theaters.

{sstar} LOOK AT ME (PG 13, 110 minutes) -- This French seriocomedy from Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri (once married to each other, they're a sort of Gallic Nichols and May team) is a movie of biting social observation. Lolita Cassard (Marilou Berry), the slightly chubby daughter of Etienne (Jean-Pierre Bacri), a successful, self-absorbed writer, has a desperate need for Etienne's approval. Her resentment and heartbreak over this permeates the trenchant film like a mournful song. The characters exude moral three-dimensionality; they're not built to behave or please us. And because of this rampant freedom, we watch with a sort of bemused anxiety, not sure what the next moment will bring. But this uncertainty attunes us to the small, passing graces. As the movie's official bad guy, Bacri is something of a rascally pleasure. You can't help smiling at his transparent agenda. Contains some obscenity and a sexual reference. In French with subtitles. Area theaters.

{sstar} LOST EMBRACE (Unrated, 100 minutes) -- Set in a shabby Buenos Aires shopping mall populated by an assortment of endearingly odd ducks, Argentine filmmaker Daniel Burman's shaky-camera, cinema-verite-style dramedy meanders in charming fashion, but its focus is the anomie-afflicted son (Daniel Hendler) of a lingerie shop proprietor (Adriana Aizemberg). While the son, who yearns to reconnect with his Polish Jewish roots, searches for old immigration papers, it's clear that more is missing from his life than some old passports. Ultimately, the film has less to do with his escape from the drudgery of his external circ*mstances than with his reconnection to a vital part of himself. Contains obscenity, shots of a circumcision, discussion of sex and some sensuality. In Spanish with subtitles. Avalon.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

MELINDA AND MELINDA (PG-13, 99 minutes) -- Two playwrights, Sy (Wallace Shawn) and Max (Larry Pine), discuss the differences between tragedy and humor. We get to see them tell the same story in both genres, starring Radha Mitchell as Melinda. In the tragic version, she's an old friend and unexpected guest who comes into the lives of out-of-work, alcoholic actor Lee (Jonny Lee Miller) and Laurel (Chloe Sevigny). In Sy's funny version, Mitchell is a suicidal neighbor befriended by also-unemployed actor Hobie (Will Ferrell) and his filmmaker wife, Susan (Amanda Peet). There are similarities in both versions, which makes trying to keep track of everything rather demanding, as we switch from the funny Melinda to the tragic one. The other difficulty is that Mitchell's performances aren't distinctive enough to help you. But Ferrell makes a charming goofball. Contains adult material, sexual situations, and substance use. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

{sstar} MILLION DOLLAR BABY (PG-13, 137 minutes) -- You can almost smell the ringside sweat and old leather punching bags in Clint Eastwood's tribute to the "sweet science" of boxing, and the old-time movies and fiction devoted to it. Based on two short stories in "Rope Burns," by F.X. Toole (the pseudonym of former cut-man Jerry Boyd), it's a gut-stirring tall tale about a boxer (one buff Hilary Swank), her crusty trainer (Eastwood) and the wily old boxing gym proprietor (Morgan Freeman) who narrates the story. As Maggie, Swank is a package of dynamite, a determined soul with too much to prove and too little time to do it in. And Eastwood is so good in this movie, it almost feels like cheating. Contains some brutal boxing violence, emotional intensity and obscenity. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

{sstar} MILLIONS (PG, 98 minutes) -- In Danny Boyle's delightful modern fairy tale, two young English brothers discover a bag of money. Anthony, the 9-year-old (Lewis Owen McGibbon) wants to spend it. But 7-year-old Damien (Alexander Nathan Etel), who happens to experience regular visions of saints, insists on giving it to the poor. Witty, sweet and charming but never sappy, the movie joins the heady company of such extraordinary child-centered movies as "The 400 Blows," "My Life as a Dog" and "Au Revoir Les Enfants" ("Goodbye, Children"). In all these films, reality is seen from a young perspective, but there is no condescension in the exercise. A magical movie. Contains mature themes, some peril and sensuality but ultimately nothing too objectionable. Area theaters.

MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- Even Sandra Bullock's brand of gutsy goofiness can't save this glaringly unfunny sequel to the 2000 flick, itself a pretty laughless affair about a tomboyish FBI agent who gets an Eliza Doolittle-style makeover to go undercover as a beauty pageant contestant. Ten months after the pageant, FBI "spokes-model" Gracie and her feisty new partner, Sam (Regina King), go to Las Vegas, where Miss United States (Heather Burns) and pageant emcee Stan Fields (William Shatner) have been kidnapped. Soon the plucky agents start believing they can solve this crime faster than the local feds. And if you think solving the crime means they have to participate in a musical number at a drag queen show, you're right. For much of the movie, Gracie is so infuriatingly obnoxious, it's impossible to be on her side. The makers of "Miss Congeniality 2" have violated the cardinal rule of Sandra Bullock cinema: They turned her into someone unlikable. Contains sex-related humor. National Amusem*nts Fairfax Corner.

-- Jen Chaney

{sstar} OFF THE MAP (PG-13, 111 minutes) -- Campbell Scott's uplifting, witty movie, based on a Joan Ackermann play, doesn't just glow because of New Mexico's achingly gorgeous sunsets. There's a collective scintillation about its rich, distinctive characters, narrative serendipity and ineffable magic. It's about a family (including Joan Allen, Sam Elliott and newcomer Valentina De Angelis) that lives in the desert without a telephone, plumbing or money. And yet they lack for nothing. They are living, it seems, on life itself. Their world is threatened when an IRS agent (Jim True-Frost) comes to collect back taxes. De Angelis is a mischievous charm. Allen is her own subtle force. And it's a sensual treat to watch the rugged Elliott at work. Contains nudity, obscenity and one impromptu wrestling match. Cinema Arts Theatre and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

THE PACIFIER (PG, 94 minutes) -- Vin Diesel gets domestic as a Navy SEAL who must protect a fatherless family from ninja forces bent on finding a special disk in the home. This means -- cue canned laughter here -- Vin dealing with baby vomit, screaming kids and petulant teenagers. Diesel, whose acting wouldn't merit a nonspeaking, walk-on role in a dinner theater production, is supposed to be a muscular fish out of water. But unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vin is not endearing for his woodenness. He's all splinters. Contains slapstick violence and Vin Diesel. National Amusem*nts Fairfax Corner.

{sstar} PALINDROMES (Unrated, 101 minutes) -- Todd ("Happiness") Solondz never shies away from pushing hot buttons. This story about a preteen girl Aviva (and yes, her name is a palindrome) is played by eight very different actors. And the storyline is guaranteed to scratch all nerve endings. Aviva becomes pregnant after having sex with the son (Robert Agri) of some close friends. Naturally, Aviva's mother (Ellen Barkin) is outraged. A liberal woman, she insists that Aviva have an abortion. But Aviva doesn't agree with the plan. She wants to keep the child. She wants her own baby. When she's forced to undergo the operation, Aviva runs away, determined to get pregnant again. "Palindromes" references many taboos and political prejudices, forcing the viewer to consider them. But as soon as the film seems to be taking some sort of assertive stand, it suddenly runs for the very opposite. A character who appears saintly will have a terrible flaw. A sexual predator will suddenly soften and become human before our eyes. Born-again Christians talking about the sanctity of life plan to murder an abortionist. The movie demands moral elasticity. For those willing to take it, "Palindromes" has its share of backhanded rewards. Contains shocking, provocative material, sexual scenes, obscenity and violence. Landmark's Bethesda Row.

{sstar} POOH'S HEFFALUMP MOVIE (G, 68 minutes) -- Even the hardest-hearted critic can't possibly malign "Pooh's Heffalump Movie," a benign, baby blanket of a film about embracing those who seem a little different. After all, we're talking about Pooh, Piglet and the rest of the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood. To object to anything they do is like staging a protest against wide-eyed innocence. In this film, the beloved characters go into high-alert mode when a seemingly destructive heffalump (otherwise known as a lavender elephant with a British accent) trounces through the neighborhood. The ever-alarmist Rabbit leads an expedition to capture the formidable creature, while young Roo takes his own journey, one that leads him to a young, playful heffalump named Lumpy who turns out not to be so scary at all. Sure, the running time of this movie is a little on the short side and yes, you can see the plot developments and the honey-coated moral coming from an A.A. Milne mile away. But there's still something refreshing about a traditional animated movie that tells an old-fashioned story without attempting to win over the adults with double entendres or pop culture references. Contains nothing objectionable. University Mall Theatres.

-- Jen Chaney

{sstar} ROBOTS (PG, 91 minutes) -- A young robot named Rodney (voice of Crawford Wilson and, later, Ewan McGregor) grows up to be a resourceful inventor with aspirations to put together new robots out of old parts. But in this ever-modernizing world, reconditioned robots -- known as outmodes -- are rapidly obsolete. Rodney's dream puts him at odds with the dastardly industrialist Phineas T. Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), who plans to turn everyone into a revamped, expensive model. "Robots," directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, moves along at an entertaining, if increasingly familiar clip. It isn't superior to such computer-animated hits as "Shrek" and "The Incredibles," but it's still visually inventive; and Robin Williams is amusing as a quippy robot named Fender. Contains slightly risque sexual humor and bathroom gags. Area theaters.

SAHARA (PG-13, 124 minutes) -- Master explorer Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) is determined to unearth an ironclad battleship from the Civil War era that somehow wound up near Africa's Niger river. With his quippy sidekick, Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), and a sultry Spanish doctor (Penelope Cruz), he goes after it, with the army of a corrupt military leader and Tuareg tribesmen on his trail. The movie, based on a novel from the Dirk Pitt series by Clive Cussler, "Sahara" is pretty much an excuse for McConaughey (one of several executive producers) to flex his gym-toned assets and play tough on boats, trains and camels. But despite a plethora of high-action chases, gun battles, boat battles and the various exotic locales, the movie's a lame Indiana Jones episode. Contains action violence. Area theaters.

{sstar} TURTLES CAN FLY (Unrated, 95 minutes) -- Iranian Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi's third narrative feature is his most accomplished yet, and that's saying something. Unutterably, profoundly moving, this cinema verite tale from the director of "A Time for Drunken Horses" and "Marooned in Iraq" is set in a small Kurdish village in the days leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, where a 13-year-old hustler nicknamed Satellite (Soran Ebrahim) befriends a sorrowful orphan girl (Avaz Latif) who has been traveling with her armless brother (Hiresh Feysal Rahman), the victim of a land mine, and a blind toddler. The revelation of what has made the girl so sad -- and what she does with that sadness -- ultimately affects not only Satellite in ways he's never known, but also us. Contains some disturbing and violent imagery. In Kurdish with subtitles. Landmark's Bethesda Row.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} UP AND DOWN (R, 108 minutes) -- Set in a contemporary, conflicted Prague populated by crooks and other disaffected types, Czech filmmaker Jan Hrebejk's serious comedy looks at the lives of a bunch of randomly connected people through the lens of globalism. Although some of his concerns are with Czech nationalism, the difficulties immigrants have with assimilation and the idea of "otherness," he is as interested in the simple search for happiness, made palpable by the tale of a childless couple (Jiri Machacek and Natasa Burger) who pick up an abandoned baby in a pawn shop, and the stories of other struggling characters. Hrebejk's true subject is, on one level, family, but it's also the family of man. Contains obscenity, sexual content, racist dialogue and brief violence. In Czech, German and Russian with subtitles. Avalon.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} WALK ON WATER (Unrated, 94 minutes) -- The black-and-white moral world of an assassin (Lior Ashkenazi) working for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency starts to look mighty gray when his assignment to track down and terminate a fugitive Nazi leads him to befriend the old man's grandchildren, a pretty young German woman living on a kibbutz (Caroline Peters) and her gay brother (Knut Berger). Eytan Fox's film is rich with ideas about what ethical living means, making connections between hom*ophobia, Nazism and the desire for -- and spiritual costs of -- revenge. It's a beautiful, complex film about friendship, letting go of the past and embracing forgiveness. Contains obscenity, some violence (both actual and theoretical), nudity and discussion of sexuality. Landmark's Bethesda Row and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} WINTER SOLSTICE (R, 89 minutes) -- Moments of sad stillness pervade this film, characterized best not by what happens in it but by what happens just under its calm surface. Written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Josh Sternfeld, it's ostensibly the story of a widower (Anthony LaPaglia) trying to run a landscaping business and raise two sons (Aaron Stanford and Mark Webber) five years after his wife died in a car accident. But "Solstice" is more than a tale of a lonely man and the difficulties of being a single parent. It's about the difficulties -- and the rewards -- of simply living, most of which only reveal themselves, like flowers in a garden, slowly and with a lot of hard work. Contains obscenity. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

XXX: STATE OF THE UNION (PG-13, 101 minutes) -- Ice Cube brings his trademark scowl, but not much else, to the role of super-spy in this dull-witted sequel to the 2002 Vin Diesel vehicle. Alas, Diesel's character -- a secret agent who saves the world from evil under the codename "XXX" -- is no longer with us, so convict Darius Stone (Ice Cube) must step into his combat boots, getting sprung from prison by National Security Agency recruiter Samuel L. Jackson, who hands the new "Triple X," as he's called, a few high-tech weapons and lets him loose on the bad guys. The target this time is a corrupt U.S. secretary of defense (Willem Dafoe) bent on taking over the country, but otherwise this "XXX" is pretty much a retread of something that was a bad idea in the first place. Contains frequent action violence and some obscenity. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

Repertory

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DOWNTOWN -- At the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater: "Fighter Pilot," daily at 11:25, 2, 4 and 6. "Space Station (3D)," daily at 10:25, 12:25, 3 and 5. "To Fly!" daily at 1:25. At the Albert Einstein Planetarium: "Infinity Express," daily at 10:30, 11, 11:30, 12:30, 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, 4, 4:30 and 5. "The Stars Tonight," daily at noon. Seventh and Independence SW. 202-357-1686.

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DULLES -- "Fighter Pilot," daily at 11:30, 1:30, 3:30 and 5:30. "Straight Up: Helicopters in Action," daily at 2:30. "Magic of Flight," daily at 12:30 and 4:30. 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly. 202-357-2700.

AMERICAN CITY DINER -- "Midnight Cowboy," Saturday at 8. "Bus Stop," Sunday at 8. "How to Marry a Millionaire," Monday at 8. "Donnie Brasco," Tuesday at 8. "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," Wednesday at 8. "Elmer Gantry," Thursday at 8. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

CHERRY RED PRODUCTIONS -- "Trapped by the Mormons," Friday at 6:45, 8:30, 10:15 and midnight; Saturday at 1:30, 3:15, 5, 6:45, 8:30, 10:15 and midnight. Warehouse Screening Room, 1021 Seventh St. NW. 202-298-9077.

DC ANIME CLUB -- "Black Heaven," "Samurai Deeper Kyo" and "Full Metal Panic," Saturday at 1. Martin Luther King Library, Room A9, 901 G St. NW. 202-582-2492.

FILMS ON THE HILL -- "Here Comes the Navy," Wednesday at 7. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh St. SE. 202-547-6839.

FREER -- "The Terrorizers," Friday at 7. "A Confucian Confusion," Sunday at 2. "Mauri," Thursday at 7. Free, but tickets required. Meyer Auditorium, 12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW. 202-633-1000.

INTERNATIONAL JEWISH FILM Festival --

For tickets and information, call 703-323-0880.

At Cinema Arts Theatre (9650 Main St., Fairfax. 703-978-6991): "Prisoner of Paradise," Friday at 1. "Wondrous Oblivion," Friday at 4 and Sunday at 1. "Le Grand Role," Saturday at 9. "The Harmonists," Sunday at 3 and 7. "Paper Clips," Monday at 1 and 7, Thursday at 4. "Broken Wings," Monday at 4. "Prisoner of Paradise," Tuesday at 1 and 7. "A Walk on the Moon," Tuesday at 4. "Imaginary Witness," Wednesday at 10 and 4. "James' Journey to Jerusalem," Wednesday at 1 and 7, Thursday at 1.

At Regal Countryside Cinema (45980 Regal Plaza, Sterling. 703-404-8603): "Stolen Summer," Sunday at 4. "Le Grand Role," Sunday at 7.

At the Embassy of Israel (3514 International Dr. NW. 202-364-5500; reservations required.): "Nina's Tragedy," Thursday at 7.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "The Petrified Forest" and "Pull My Daisy," Friday at 7. "Urgh! A Music War," Tuesday at 7. "The Anderson Platoon" and "Meet the Press: Civil Rights Special," Wednesday at 6:30. "The Count of Monte Cristo," Thursday at 7. Free. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- Imax Theater: "Titanica" and "Hubble: Galaxies Across Space & Time," Friday at 12:10, 4:20 and 7:40; Saturday at 1:40, 4:20 and 7:40; Sunday at 1:10 and 4:20; Tuesday-Thursday at 12:10 and 4:20. "Forces of Nature," Friday at 2:10 and 5:30; Saturday-Sunday at 12:10, 2:10 and 5:30; Tuesday-Thursday at 2:10. "NASCAR 3D," Friday at 3:10 and 6:30; Saturday-Sunday at 11, 3:10 and 6:30; Tuesday-Thursday at 3:10. Davis Planetarium: "Rockets & Robots," Friday and Tuesday-Thursday at 1 and 4; Saturday-Sunday at 2 and 4. "The Sky: Live!" Friday, Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday at 3; Saturday at 3 and 5. "Live From the Sun," Saturday at noon. "The Sky Above Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Saturday-Sunday at 1. 601 Light St., Baltimore. 410-685-5225.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES -- "Preserving the Charters of Freedom," daily at 10:30, 11, 11:30, noon, 12:30, 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30 and 4. "Americans in Paris," Friday at 7. Free. William G. McGowan Theater, Constitution Avenue between Seventh and Ninth streets NW. 202-501-5000.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Black Beauty," children's film, Friday and Saturday at 10:30 "Pour la Suite du Monde," "Study of a River," "La Pointe Courte," "Free Fall" and "Standard Gauge," Saturday at 2. "Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre," Sunday and Tuesday at 11:30. "On the Way to 'The Gates,'" Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday at 12:30. "Nanook of the North," "The Pottery Maker" and "The Land," Sunday at 4. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART -- "In and Out of Africa," Saturday at 2. Lecture Hall: Free. Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. 202-357-4600.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN -- "Smoke Signals," Thursday at 3. Free. Rasmuson Theater, Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW. 202-633-1000.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY -- Johnson Imax Theater: "Into the Deep (3D)," Friday-Saturday at 10:20, 12:10, 2, 3:50, 5:40 and 7:30; Sunday-Thursday at 10:20, 12:10, 2 and 3:50. "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous (3D)," Friday-Saturday at 11:10, 1, 2:50, 4:40 and 6:30; Sunday-Thursday at 11:10, 1, 2:50 and 4:40. 10th and Constitution NW. 202-633-7400.

PSYCHOTRONIC FILM SOCIETY -- "Untitled Star Wars Mockumentary," Tuesday at 8. Dr. Dremo's Taphouse, 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 202-736-1732 or 202-707-2540.

WEST VIRGINIA INTERNATIONAL Film Festival -- "Turtles Can Fly," Friday at 5. "Bride & Prejudice," Friday at 8. "Schultze Gets the Blues," Saturday at 2 and 8, Sunday at 5. "Travellers and Magicians," Saturday at 5, Sunday at 2 and 8. Shepherdstown Opera House, 131 West German St., Shepherdstown, W.Va. 304-876-2432.

New on Video

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13

(R, 2005, 109 MINUTES, ROGUE PICTURES)

This spirited, overblown remake of John Carpenter's cult movie of 1976, stars Ethan Hawke as Jake Roenick, the on-duty cop at a lonely precinct during a Detroit snowstorm. Jake and his crew find themselves under fire when a bad cop (Gabriel Byrne) tries to break out key prisoner Marion Bishop (Fishburne), a cool-as-a-cuke gangster who knows where all the bodies are buried. Jake decides to release the prisoners and hand them weapons. A siege is on. This is a studio-manufactured B-movie. You're supposed to feel cool and deliciously unsophisticated for even seeing it. And yet, there's that smell of corporate affectedness. This is a movie to enjoy and laugh at, simultaneously. And maybe it will draw renewed attention to Carpenter's eminently better movie. Contains violence, obscenity and sexual situations.

-- Desson Thomson

HAIR SHOW

(PG-13, 2004, 100 MINUTES, URBANWORKS)

Comedienne Mo'Nique succeeds in producing a few laughs in "Hair Show," but not enough to call it a winning comedy. She plays Peaches, a hair stylist from Baltimore who visits her estranged, successful sister Angela (Kellitta Smith) when she learns she owes $50,000 to the IRS. Though the two have a tenuous relationship, Peaches hopes to escape her problems and perhaps find the money she owes by spending time with Angela, who runs an upscale hair salon in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Angela is feuding with a rival salon owner, and somehow the only way to save the salon and their sisterly relationship is to enter a hair show. Overall, the movie is slow and average. It's the kind of film you wouldn't mind renting on a night when you're brain-dead from the day's work and don't have the energy to scrutinize cinematic quality as long as you can laugh at some of the background noise. Contains sexual content, some profanity and a few offensive ethnic jokes.

-- Sara Gebhardt

{sstar} IN GOOD COMPANY

(PG-13, 2004, 119 MINUTES, UNIVERSAL PICTURES)

Director Chris ("American Pie," "About a Boy") Weitz gives us amusing tension between the truehearted Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), a salt-of-the-earth 51-year-old salesman for a sports magazine, and Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), the twenty-something brat who suddenly becomes his boss. Just when he thinks he's got a handle on the new life, Dan learns Carter is dating his daughter (Scarlett Johansson). Grace is mischievously enjoyable. He's all motormouth anxiety and mangled corporate-speak, as he pretends to be big money. And Quaid, craggier now than the Continental Divide, reprises the likability he had in "The Rookie." The movie's very pleasant to sit through; it moves along at an enjoyable, positive clip and eloquently exults in the joy of character conflict. Contains sexual situations, drug references and one minor moment of violence.

-- D.T.

THE LAST SHOT

(R, 2004, 94 MINUTES, BUENA VISTA PICTURES)

Matthew Broderick plays aspiring screenwriter Steven Schats, who thinks a film producer (Alec Baldwin) has just agreed to produce his screenplay. But the producer is Joe Devine, an undercover FBI agent trying to lure mobsters working in the film business.This uneven comedy movie shows director and co-writer Jeff Nathanson's comedic talents in fits and starts. Steven's two-bit ambition is not exactly winning. And Joe's agenda isn't much more compelling. As for the movie's "knowing" commentary about Hollywood, it's neither inspired nor original. An uncredited Joan Cusack is the only bright spot, as a frustrated Hollywood player with colorful language. Contains nudity, obscenity and some violence.

-- D.T.

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU

(R, 2004, 118 MINUTES, BUENA VISTA PICTURES)

In Wes Anderson's fantasy-caper, Bill Murray is Zissou, a bearded, American version of Jacques Cousteau, who decides it's time to spice up his documentaries. So he decides to hunt the elusive jaguar shark that took his top diver. And when young Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) appears in Steve's life, claiming to be his long-lost son, Steve figures that'll put some poignancy into the proceedings. There's a lot to enjoy here, including the Brazilian guy (Seu Jorge from "City of God") who sings breathy samba versions of 1970s David Bowie songs. But "Life Aquatic" hovers frustratingly between charming and mildly amusing. The small-scale gags, riffs and motifs that worked so brightly in "Bottle Rocket" and "Rushmore" seem to simmer with less incident here. Contains nudity, drug use, obscenity and some violence.

-- D.T.

RACING STRIPES

(PG, 2005, 90 MINUTES, UNIVERSAL PICTURES)

This film about a zebra who aspires to win horse races slows to a mediocre canter right out of the starting gate. When they find a lost baby zebra (voice of Frankie Muniz), onetime horse trainer (Bruce Greenwood) and his daughter, Channing (Hayden Panettiere) raise it. The zebra (soon to be named Racing Stripes) dreams of racing against the thoroughbreds at the nearby racecourse, located (with obvious computer-graphic convenience) next door. When the script isn't recycling the familiar, it's filling every possible other moment with labored puns and toilet humor. David Spade and Steve Harvey are rarely amusing as two flies whose favorite subject is, not surprisingly, dung-related. And young audiences are supposed to be tickled by the voice of Joe Pantoliano as a goose who claims to be a New Jersey GoodFella. Contains crude potty humor and some mild obscenities.

-- D.T.

{sstar} WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

(R, 2004, 127 MINUTES, SONY PICTURES CLASSICS)

In Michael Radford's version of the Shakespeare play, Al Pacino puts on the gown and the red cap and dons the hoary beard of Shylock. But he plays this larger-than-life role with entrancing restraint. The filmmakers have taken this nettlesome anti-Semitic character and charged his situation with philosophical dimension. To watch this movie is to not only appreciate the majesty of Shakespeare's poetics but to engage in a profound, subtextual dialogue with bigotry. Jeremy Irons makes a sensitive, if anti-Semitic Antonio, the one whose pound of flesh is in danger, according to Shylock's contract. And Lynn Collins is a standout as Portia, a beautiful woman of means who decides to do something to save Antonio. Contains nudity and emotionally intense material.

-- D.T.

Film Capsules Capsule reviews ... (2024)

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