Film Capsules

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

Openings

ALL THE REAL GIRLS (R) -- See review on Page 41.

BASIC (R) -- See review on Page 42.

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (PG-13) -- See review on Page 41.

THE CORE (PG-13) -- See review on Page 46.

HEAD OF STATE (PG-13) -- See review on Page 41.

NOWHERE IN AFRICA (Unrated) -- See review on Page 42.

SPUN (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 46.

First Runs & Revivals

{sstar}ABOUT SCHMIDT (R, 125 minutes) -- After retirement and the death of his wife, insurance executive Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) embarks on a trip across country. His destination: Denver, where his estranged daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis), is about to marry Randall (Dermot Mulroney), a waterbed salesman who promises Jeannie a life of mediocrity. Although the movie (by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor) moves as slowly and flatly as its Midwestern setting, there are powerful rumblings at work beneath the surface. And Nicholson produces the most understated but powerful performance of his career. Contains obscenity and nudity. Area theaters.

{sstar}ADAPTATION (R, 112 minutes) -- From the team (director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman) that gave you "Being John Malkovich" comes a playfully brilliant seriocomedy about the creative process. Ostensibly about the plight of a Hollywood screenwriter (Nicolas Cage) trying to adapt Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief," it's really a sort of fun-undrum that's full of stories within stories, ideas within ideas, questions within questions and metaphors within metaphors. And its near-farcical goose chase of a story, full of thrashing 'gators and plot twists, is almost intentionally tacky -- to prove that only the crassest of plots will make a movie hit. It's a chase-your-own-tail punch line that works beautifully, if cynically. Chris Cooper is sensational as an orchid hunter who figures in the story. Contains sexual material, nudity, obscenity, drug use and some violence. Landmark Bethesda Row, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

AGENT CODY BANKS (PG, 110 minutes) -- In MGM's dreadful attempt to kid-ify the James Bond school of moviemaking (James Bond is an MGM franchise), young Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz of TV's "Malcolm in the Middle") is a longtime undercover agent for the CIA. Secretly trained as a junior 007 (along with other CIA brats), the girl-shy teenager is assigned to become romantically involved with a girl. She's Natalie Connors (Hilary Duff), whose scientist father is involved in a scheme to wreak world havoc with an army of nanobots. The movie is bland and unimaginative. Contains action violence, mild obscenity and inappropriate sensual content. Area theaters.

{sstar}AMANDLA! A REVOLUTION IN FOUR-PART HARMONY (PG-13, 103 minutes) -- Lee Hirsch's documentary trills, regales and harmonizes its way through the cruel, bloody history that ultimately led to the emancipation of South Africa's indigenous people. This is about the music that took them there, the glorious choral songs and anthems. They sang with cultural pride and anger. These were songs of defiance, social protest and outright war. With admirable concision, "Amandla!" takes us through some milestones of the struggle, as we listen to the songs that arose from them. What songs, what people and what a triumph that their music won in the end. Contains images of violence and minor obscenity. Visions.

APOLLO CINEMA PRESENTS OSCAR SHORTS (Unrated, approximately 105 minutes) -- Here's a chance to see those rarely seen Oscar contenders: the live-action and animated short films. The animated films are the better deal. All five (each 10 minutes or less) shown here are visually impressive, including Polish filmmaker Tomek Baginski's "The Cathedral," about an eerie cathedral that sprouts fibrous tendrils; and "Das Rad" ("Rocks"), a German short about humanesque rocks that hate gathering lichen on their craggy surfaces. In the live-action category, the best is "Inja" ("Dog"). Set in South Africa, it's about a boy whose dog becomes a tool of apartheid and an ironic savior for its white master. Contains some emotionally mature themes and a depiction of animal cruelty. Visions.

BOAT TRIP (R, 95 minutes) -- In this coarse comedy (imagine ground glass mixed with cat litter), two horny straight guys (Cuba Gooding Jr. and Horatio Sanz) accidentally get booked on an all-gay cruise. Gay stereotyping abounds. And the sight gags include Gooding's character pretending to be gay to get closer to the ship's sole female staffer (Roselyn Sanchez), and watching her orally pleasure a banana. This leads to a development reminiscent of "There's Something About Mary." It only gets worse. If this garbage sounds like your kind of thing, sweetheart, you and this movie deserve each other. Contains obscenity, toplessness and pervasive blue humor. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (R, 125 minutes) -- In this stream-of-consciousness riff, documentarian-provocateur Michael Moore takes us from disturbing footage of the Columbine massacre to the attacks on the World Trade Center, stopping off at the home of NRA President Charlton Heston and James Nichols's farm (brother of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols). The movie raises many good points and observations. But Moore provides a rather rambling discourse of causality, which includes racism, white flight and Africanized bees, among many things. And he takes predictable aim (with not especially enlightening solutions or answers) at the NRA, the media and a right-wing conspiracy of racists, gun nuts and corporate profitmakers. Contains scenes of disturbing gun violence and some obscenity. Foxchase and Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.

BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- This lowest common denominator comedy is exactly what it looks like: Steve Martin's white spazziness pitted against Queen Latifah's soul-sister omnipotence. Martin is the king of nerdy tics and facial contortions, and Latifah makes it her business to be the Queen of any moment she elbows her way into. It's clear the point of this movie is enjoying loose laughter without too much scrutiny. But the sitcom shtick wears thin after a while. The movie goes into a frenzy of black and white jokes, gags and situations. There's an inevitable law of diminishing returns at work here. Soon enough, the racial angle becomes the tiresome basis of almost every joke; the movie resorts to sillier and cheaper ploys to keep going. Contains risque racial humor, sexual situations and obscenity. Area theaters.

{sstar}CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (PG-13, 140 minutes) -- Steven Spielberg's charming, diverting story is based on the life of Frank Abagnale Jr. (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a teenager who cashed more than $2 million in fraudulent checks. And under assumed names, he passed himself off as a doctor, a lawyer, a professor and, in the boldest of schemes, an airline pilot. The movie makes this a modern Peter Pan story, in which Frank wins the day through playful mischief, much to the chagrin of FBI Special Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), a veritable Captain Hook who's determined to arrest him. Contains sexual material, some violence and some obscenity. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

{sstar}CHICAGO (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- Not since "Cabaret" has there been a movie musical this stirring, intelligent and exciting. The choreography, by director Rob Marshall and Cynthia Onrubia, is inspired. And screenwriter Bill Condon ingeniously reimagines the musical as a film noir set of dreams in the mind of central character, Roxie Hart. Renee Zellweger's terrific as Roxie, the starlet who'll stop at nothing to be the talk of the town. Catherine Zeta-Jones is assured and sexy as Velma Kelly, Roxie's rival performer. Richard Gere more than completes the marquee package as oily lawyer Billy Flynn. Maybe no movie could ever hold a candle to the great musicals of the past, the ones starring Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers and Donald O'Connor. But "Chicago" sure lights the wick. Contains sexual content, obscenity and violence. Area theaters.

{sstar}CITY OF GOD (R, 130 minutes) -- Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, co-director Katia Lund and screenwriter Braulio Mantovani have created an extraordinary film about Cidade de Deus (City of God), where drug-dealing teenagers kill one another with mesmerizing abandon. Left alone by the police and completely ignored by Brazilian society, the City of God lives by its own rules, trading on marijuana, cocaine, murder and bloody legend. Meirelles and Lund spent months casting, training and rehearsing mostly amateur teenagers who came from Cidade de Deus and other slums. The result: amazingly authentic, fluid performances. Contains disturbing violence, drug content, obscene language, nudity and sexual scenes. In Portuguese with subtitles. Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.

CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE (R, 100 minutes) -- About the only enjoyable thing here is watching Jet Li block, kick and humiliate his opponents with one hand in his pocket and a look of casual peeve. Li's casual, phoned-in manner seems highly appropriate. Why expend anything but minimal energy on a secondhand action movie that retreads all the tired staples of the 1980s and '90s: the car stunts, the cussing, the fighting, the shooting, and did I mention the car stunts? The story, in which rapper DMX needs help getting his kidnapped daughter back and Li needs to get hold of some valuable and dangerous black diamonds, is functional, throwaway business. Contains violence, killing, gore, sexual content and obscenity. Area theaters.

DAREDEVIL (PG-13, 103 minutes) -- When people describe "Daredevil," the film based on the blind Marvel Comics character who fights crime by utilizing his four other heightened senses, as "dark," chances are they're not just refering to the moral ambiguity of a self-doubting superhero lawyer (Ben Affleck) who enacts vigilante justice with a lethal, multipurpose cane. They may also be talking about the action sequences, most of which seem to take place in the dark and/or rain, making it rather hard to see whose rear is getting kicked. While the premise is good, and a psychologically tormented hero is always a nice touch, the physical stunts are often lost in on-screen murk, except for the one fight that takes place in broad daylight between our hero and, of all people, his lady love (Jennifer Garner). Contains violent combat and sensuality. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}DIE ANOTHER DAY (PG-13, 132 minutes) -- It's James Bond as usual, which means good if numbingly repetitive entertainment. Director Lee Tamahori and writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade follow all the rules: the opening action scene; the girl-saturated title sequence (featuring a Madonna song); exotic locales (Cuba, Iceland,etc.); the girls (the marquee babe being Halle Berry); the gadgets; and Bond's usual meetings with M (Dame Judi Dench) and Q (John Cleese, the freshest breath of air in the whole movie). Tamahori adds some witty tributes to old Bond flicks but essentially, this is a repeat episode. Contains action violence and sexual content. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{sstar}DONNIE DARKO (R, 122 minutes) -- Detached, disaffected Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is hostile toward his parents (Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne) and is always in trouble. He also believes that a six-foot-plus rabbit is ordering him to perform evil deeds. His only allies are a new student named Gretchen (Jena Malone) with a shadowy home life, a couple of sensitive teachers (Drew Barrymore and Noah Wyle) and a mysterious former schoolteacher, nicknamed Grandma Death (Joan M. Blair), who has written a book about time travel. Is this science-fiction noir? A twisted coming of age story? The movie, written and directed by Richard Kelly, flutters, like a mischievous butterfly, above the despairing hands of easy description. And that's what's so good about it. Contains drug use, obscenity and some violence. Visions.

{sstar}DREAMCATCHER (R, 134 minutes) -- This horror film brims over with grossness, inconsistency and illogic. And yet, director Lawrence Kasdan and scripwriter William Goldman's adaptation of the Stephen King novel has a rubberneck fascination. It starts off as a story about four childhood friends (Jason Lee, Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant) with mind-reading abilities, then evolves (or spirals) into a large-scale invasion of slimy, flesh-eating slugs. The gross factor is beyond description in a family newspaper and the camp factor (intentional or not, it's hard to tell) includes Morgan Freeman as a military man obsessed with killing the squishy critters, and an "Exorcist"-style possession of someone's body by an alien monster with a Brit villain accent. Contains grotesque and gross material, violence, obscenity and no road map. Area theaters.

{sstar}8 MILE (R, 118 minutes) -- Eminem's debut role is about the rise of a pop star, plain and simple. In Curtis Hanson's film, he's a down-and-out Detroit rapper, nicknamed Rabbit, who dreams of making it. Simple story, yes. But Eminem's a screen presence, shrouded in his hood. The real deal -- and the movie's greatest fun -- is in the rap contests at clubs. They are extraordinary displays of verbal agility, with frenzied applause for poetics. And there's no question, Eminem has the mustard. He raps with the best of them. Contains obscenity, violence and drug use. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{sstar}FAR FROM HEAVEN (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- In Todd Haynes's tribute to the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) and her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), seem like the perfect couple. But when Frank confesses to doubts about his sexual orientation, Cathy's life becomes an overwhelming crisis. And when she reaches out for emotional support to Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), her African American gardener, she incurs problems with her tightknit Connecticut community. Moore's performance is terrific as Cathy, a normal woman caught unwittingly at the forefront of a dawning social consciousness. Contains mature thematic elements, sexual content, brief violence and obscenity. Foxchase.

{sstar}FINAL DESTINATION 2 (R, 100 minutes) -- Kimberley (A.J. Cook) has a premonition of a horrifying chain-reaction freeway crash just as she's about to leave the entrance ramp. She saves the day with a stalled SUV. But Death comes back to claim the people she saved, just as it did in the original "Final" movie. Everyone bands together in an effort to cheat Death, which nonetheless comes up with ingenious, intricately staged methods of execution. Some deaths are a bit mundane, tending to provoke titters and discomforted laughs, but the others achieve their intended, scary effect. Contains strong violence/gruesome accidents, language, drug content and brief nudity. Muvico Egyptian Theatres.

-- Richard Harrington

FRIDA (R, 118 minutes) -- The real Frida Kahlo remains a truly fascinating artist, self-empowerment icon and feminist leading light, despite the attempts of "Frida" the movie to reduce her rich, tragic and courageous life into biopic banality. In the title role, Salma Hayek remains as dedicated to her role and this movie as she is ordinary. She's a pint-size talent riding a legend, a mouse with one eyebrow atop a woolly mammoth. Director Julie Taymor's often-inspired touches -- stop motion, color tinting, black-and-white sequences and even skeletons -- suggest an intelligent desperation. She's doing her attention-getting best to save the movie from conventional doom. As Frida's tempestuous husband Diego Rivera, Alfred Molina steals the movie. Contains nudity, obscenity, violence and emotionally intense material. P&G Montgomery Mall and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

{sstar}GANGS OF NEW YORK (R, 165 minutes) -- In Martin Scorsese's brilliantly realized vision of a Civil War-era Lower Manhattan populated by murderers, whores and thieves, Daniel Day Lewis stands out as Bill "the Butcher" Cutting, a villain so villainous he makes "LOTR's" Saruman look like Ghandi. Squaring off against the mustachioed meat-cutter is Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio), the now-grown son of a man killed by Bill in a turf war between Bill's gang of native-born Americans and a rabble of reviled Irish immigrants. The tale of a son's revenge deferred is as old as Greek mythology, but Scorsese's vision brings it to dizzying life in a blur of fact and fiction, blood, sweat and tears. Contains obscenity, nudity, implied sexuality and intense and pervasive violence. AMC Courthouse and Loews Georgetown.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (PG, 161 minutes) -- Something evil's lurking in the bowels of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) attends. And in this second installment in the Potter series, the young wizard and pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) try to find it. This movie, which marks the late Richard Harris's last appearance as headmaster Dumbledore, isn't as charming as the original. It's darker and narratively more long-winded. And the special effects seem to be competing with the "Lord of the Rings" movies. Also, many of the movie's memorable elements and characters (including Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman and Julie Walters) are rendered into near-cameo players. But nothing from J.K. Rowling's book is left to wither away. And that should please the vast reading audience that'll watch the movie. Contains some emotionally intense moments. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{sstar}THE HOURS (PG-13, 114 minutes) -- The death of the haunted, brilliant British author Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) starts a fatalistic ripple. Decades later, two women (Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep) will feel the sad, anxious rhythms of Woolf's life and death. The movie, based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is deeply moving, but not merely for three stories of agony, bravery and inspiration. With its deft intercutting of place and time, the film creates a powerful sense of mysticism and fate. And the performances are top-notch. You don't just love the movie for its structure but for the haunted people in it, making each other miserable, but forcing each other to face who they are. Contains mature thematic elements, some disturbing images and some obscenity. Area theaters.

HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS (PG-13, 112 minutes) -- It's not as lame as it sounds, but this film about a magazine columnist (Kate Hudson) who tries to sabotage a relationship with a guy (Matthew McConaughey) just so she can write about it isn't as clever as it could be, either. The wacky misunderstandings are straight out of the romantic comedy rule book, and the targets of some of the jokes (Kathie Lee Gifford and Celine Dion, to name a couple of the supposedly "girlie" things that drive men insane) are, let's face it, sitting ducks. Still, the stars have a nice, unforced chemistry and even I, professional curmudgeon, have to admit I lost track of how many times I laughed. Contains sexual humor and situations, a single punch in the eye and repeated use of a vulgarity for excrement. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

THE HUNTED (R, 94 minutes) -- This strangely inert action-adventure drama stars Tommy Lee Jones as a Special Forces instructor who has to track down loose-cannon ex-student Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), who has lost his mind. This trudging retread of "The Fugitive" depicts the long-winded, bloody pursuit of Hallam. Two survivalists hiding and stalking each other in the Northwestern woods may sound good, but it ain't. Contains bloody violence, obscenity and a depiction of violence to animals. Area theaters.

THE JUNGLE BOOK 2 (G, 72 minutes) -- I would say that "The Jungle Book 2" is just a slightly reworked reprise of the Disney classic, minus the great music of the original, except that the sequel is shameless enough to include encores of several of the 1967 film's songs, in addition to a couple of unmemorable ones of its own. The story line, in which a lovable oaf of a bear (voice of John Goodman) and a kindly panther (Bob Joles) help wild child Mowgli (Haley Joel Osment) avoid becoming a tiger's (Tony Jay) next meal, is basically the same as the first movie, with the addition of two new characters, a pair of village children whom Mowgli has met. Although the fright factor has been upped a little bit, it's hard to disguise heated-up leftovers. Contains a scary tiger. Loews Rio and Muvico Egyptian Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (PG-13, 179 minutes) -- Peter Jackson's second installment of the "Rings" trilogy doesn't just eclipse the first film. Its production design, CGI (computer-generated imagery), storytelling (with, of course, all appropriate credit to J.R.R. Tolkien) and performances form a constellation of delights. In addition to the fine cast, including Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies), there are trees that talk, rise and walk with lofty majesty; an extraordinary critter-cum-satyr of a hobbit (Andy Serkis) called Gollum; and a rousing, medieval-style battle with a castle, siege weapons and a seemingly endless outpouring of Uruk-hais. And in the nether-center of this all, you can feel not just the power and sureness of Jackson's direction, but his boyish wonder. Contains battle carnage and some scary images. United Artists Bethesda, University Mall Theatres and Cineplex Odeon Uptown.

{sstar}OLD SCHOOL (R, 91 minutes) -- In Todd Phillips's funny and, of course, socially unredeemable comedy, Frank (Will Ferrell), Mitch (Luke Wilson) and Beanie (Vince Vaughn), whose college days are a distant memory, decide to turn Mitch's off-campus house into a frat for everyone. The plot's nothing much: prolonged war between the underhanded college dean (Jeremy Piven) and the all-ages fraternity (including an 89-year-old geezer named Blue); a growing romance between Mitch and Nicole (Ellen Pompeo); and Frank's spiraling funk as he awaits forgiveness from his estranged wife. But in terms of sheer belly-laugh count, this one's in the same plentiful company as "There's Something About Mary" and Phillips's "Road Trip." The movie belongs to Ferrell, whose Frank is a hilarious and sometimes even adorable party animal. Contains strong sexual content, nudity and obscenity. Area theaters.

{sstar}THE PIANIST (R, 148 minutes) -- Roman Polanski's wrenching drama, winner of last year's Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival, follows the strange destiny of Wladyslaw Szpilman (a pitch-perfect Adrien Brody), a young pianist from Warsaw who miraculously survives the Nazi invasion of his hometown. But survival is cruel: He hides in buildings while the Nazis destroy his people. The movie, a sonata of human suffering and tragedy, takes assured and firm grasp of your senses. Polanski, himself a survivor of Nazi-occupied Poland, has created a near-masterpiece. Cinematographer Pawel Edelman's darkly powerful images and production designer Allan Starski's stunning re-creations of a shattered Europe are unforgettable. Contains disturbing violence and emotionally affecting material. Some German with subtitles. Area theaters.

PIGLET'S BIG MOVIE (G, 75 minutes) -- After being ignored once too often by Winnie the Pooh and the other denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood, Piglet runs off in a sulk, leading his pals to organize a search party in this genial animated spinoff of the classic A.A. Milne books. Although the pink-striped porker remains missing for most of the film, his friends regale themselves with flashbacks illustrating Piglet's oft-overlooked feats of heroism and bravery, set to charming new songs by Carly Simon. While not nearly as endearing as the Sebastian Cabot-narrated adaptations of the 1960s and 1970s, "Piglet's Big Movie" is a a benign addition to the Pooh film canon. Contains nothing offensive. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}THE QUIET AMERICAN (R, 100 MINUTES) -- In this adaptation of the Graham Greene novel, Michael Caine is Thomas Fowler, a British journalist caught in colonial Indochina in the 1950s. It's a strange world, where communists, French, Americans and a tyrannical leader named General The (Quang Hai) are vying for power. The main story, though, is about Fowler's attempts to stop his young girlfriend Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen) from falling for Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), a bumbling American aid worker given to baseball caps and goofy sincerity. Caine's imperial world weariness gives the movie a vital potency. Without the actor, "The Quiet American" would be a respectable foreign-hellhole drama, something along the lines of "The Year of Living Dangerously." But thanks to his subtly nuanced performance, there's a deeper dimension to everything. He's snappily ironic at times, sometimes amazingly delicate, always engaging. Contains wartime violence, gruesome injuries, some obscenity and sexual situations. Area theaters.

RABBIT-PROOF FENCE (PG, 95 minutes) -- Phillip Noyce's film, based on the historical ill-treatment of indigenous Australians in the 1930s, has a powerful moral tone. But its dramatic delivery isn't quite as effective. Three girls of mixed heritage, 14-year-old Molly Craig (Everlyn Sampi) and her younger cousins, Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and Gracie (Laura Monaghan), come to the attention of Mr. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), a government racial inspector whose job is to train them as domestics for white society. After they're abducted and taken to a training camp 1,500 miles away, Molly plots her escape with her cousins, using a continental-wide fence as a guiding post to find their way home. The movie, based on a book by Molly's daughter, Doris Pilkington, makes Branagh's character too one-dimensional. And our desire to see Molly's return isn't as compelling as it ought to be. Contains emotionally intense material. P&G Montgomery Mall, Eastport Cinema and Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.

{sstar}THE RECRUIT (PG-13, 115 minutes) -- This is throwaway Hollywood stuff but it's still fun, particularly for the stud-versus-silverback battles of will between Colin Farrell and Al Pacino, who play CIA greenhorn and recruiter, respectively. Directed by Roger Donaldson, this seems like a reprise of "No Way Out." Once again, a talented greenhorn joins a powerful institution and falls in love with a woman who may or may not be trouble. There's talk of a mole. And there's a powerful master of ceremonies (Pacino) who knows everything and who may or may not be a good guy. Still, you could do worse than sit and enjoy this. I know you could. I've seen those movies. Contains violence, sexuality and obscenity. United Artists Fairfax Towne Center.

{sstar}RIVERS AND TIDES: ANDY GOLDSWORTHY WORKING WITH TIME (Unrated, 90 minutes) -- In Thomas Riedelsheimer's eloquently simple and direct documentary, we watch Scottish environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy at his charming, committed work. He creates temporary structures made out of nature itself, which he then leaves for nature to reclaim or transform into something else. It might be whirlpool-like structures of driftwood or the simple eloquence of plucked yellow flowers floating in a small tidal pool. These "works" are both temporary and transcendental. To watch and appreciate them as he does is to undergo a transformation yourself. This kind of art puts you into a profound conversation with the glorious, uncompromising and mesmerizing flow of nature. Contains nothing objectionable except one mild obscenity. Landmark Bethesda Row and Visions.

{sstar}RUSSIAN ARK (Unrated, 97 minutes) -- The first feature-length movie ever to contain its entire story in one, uninterrupted shot (87 minutes in duration), this film pays tribute to Russia's great state museum, the Hermitage, and by extension the nation, its cultural treasures and history. With breathtakingly detailed choreography, Russian director Alexander Sokurov leads you through 33 rooms of the museum (Peter the Great's former Winter Palace) and several centuries of artistic and cultural magnificence. During this unblinking inner journey, we meet all manner of characters, both historic and modern. "Ark" is more than a showcase nod to Russian history, or an elaborate technical exercise. It's an extraordinary dramatic experience, a blissful waltz through time. Contains nothing objectionable. Landmark Bethesda Row.

{sstar}SPIDER (R, 98 minutes) -- Watching flashbacks that present the childhood memories of an obviously deranged man (Ralph Fiennes as the twitching, mumbling title character in David Cronenberg's masterful psychological thriller) gives new meaning to the term "unreliable narrator." Dennis "Spider" Cleg's version of his youth should be taken with more than a grain of salt, especially since his version of his current life, replete with the occasional hallucination, is not exactly to be trusted. But that's how Cronenberg keeps us on the edges of our seats -- by parceling out the "facts" of Spider's life (such as they are) in small and highly subjective doses. When we finally do figure out exactly how messed up our hero is, it doesn't come as so much of a shock as a sneaking, sickening suspicion fulfilled. Contains partial nudity, a sexual encounter and violence. Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar}TALK TO HER (R, 113 minutes) -- In Pedro Almodovar's deeply touching film, male nurse Benigno (Javier Camara) takes obsessive (or romantically devoted) care of Alicia (Leonor Watling), a ballet dancer rendered comatose. By talking to her, he believes their souls communicate and that he may just coax her out of the darkness. Almodovar, long thought of as art cinema's impish prince, has evolved into something more mature. The movie has many of the Almodovarian twists and turns, in which the comedic, the tragic and the poetic are hand in hand. But this time around, things are profoundly humanistic and sincere. And Camara's performance is sublime. Contains sexual scenes, nudity and obscenity. In Spanish with subtitles. Area theaters.

TEARS OF THE SUN (R, 121 minutes) -- Bruce Willis is a veteran Navy SEAL who flies into war-torn Nigeria to save two nuns, one priest and an impossibly chiseled and beautiful surgeon (Monica Bellucci). The movie's an Uncle Sam's Fighting Men infomercial, in which our upstanding American warriors descend godlike from the heavens into the darkest continent -- not just to save four white souls but also to save the Africans from themselves. The deeper we get into this movie, the more horrible the carnage, and the weirder, more wanton and cheesier the script. Contains horrifying wartime atrocity, including rape, execution and mutilation; also contains obscenity and nudity. Area theaters.

VIEW FROM THE TOP (PG-13, 87 minutes) -- Looking for something undemanding and completely innocuous, starring Gwyneth Paltrow? This is for you. Everyone else, you'd best sit this one out. She's Donna Jensen, a small-town gal who dreams of being a first-class flignt attendant. Paltrow has a sweet smile and fairy tale princess charm. But the movie's zest-free, despite Mike Myers's energetic attempts to steal the show as a cross-eyed flight instructor. Donna's rivalry with a one-dimensional schemer-hussy (Christina Applegate) and her love of adorable law student Ted (Mark Ruffalo) don't add up to the charming shaggy dog this movie wants to be. Contains some obscenity and sexual references. Area theaters.

{sstar}THE WILD THORNBERRYS MOVIE (PG, 79 minutes) -- In this movie version of the children's TV series, the Thornberrys, a family who travels the globe to film and observe wildlife, have a run-in with dastardly poachers. And Eliza (voiced by Lacey Chabert), Nigel's 12-year-old daughter who can secretly speak with wild animals, must save some captured cheetahs. Of course, she's assisted by her chimp friend Darwin (Tom Kane), who, for reasons that escape me, speaks very posh English. The film's slight, but pleasant enough. Its ecological, pro-wildlife sentiments are certainly welcome. And Tim Curry's veddy veddy British accent as wildlife documentarian and family patriarch Nigel Thornberry is amusing. Contains some dramatic peril. University Mall Theatres.

{sstar}WILLARD (PG-13, 95 minutes) -- In this remake of the 1971 cult classic, Crispin Glover (the world's weirdest, loopiest actor) blends so easily with rats -- the furry, pink-tailed anti-stars of this nutty flick -- it's pure camp. Glover is Willard Stiles, a milquetoast employee who becomes enchanted with rodents and soon develops a pied-piper scheme to get his revenge on nasty boss Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey). The rats are eerie, both as real animals in close-up shots or the CGI-created critters that swarm Willard's dark, dank world. But nothing will creep you out as much as the human star. He has found his home -- or rathole. Contains terror, violence to rodents and people, obscenity and some sexual content. Area theaters.

Repertory

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM -- At the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater: "Space Station 3D," Monday-Thursday at 11:05, 1:05 and 3:05 and 5:45. "To Fly!," daily at 10:25 and 5:05. "Straight Up: Helicopters in Action," daily at 12:10, 2:10 and 4:10. 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.

CHARLES THEATRE -- "The Lady Eve," Saturday at noon. 1711 N. Charles St., Baltimore. 410-727-3456.

DCJCC -- "How I Learned to Overcome My Fear and Love Arik Sharon," Tuesday at 7. 1529 16th St. NW. 202-777-3248.

FILMS ON THE HILL -- "Helen's Babies" and "Yankee Clipper," Wednesday at 7. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh St. SE. 202-547-6839.

HIRSHHORN MUSEUM -- "Art 21," Thursday at noon. "How to Draw a Bunny," Thursday at 8. Independence Avenue at Seventh Street SW. 202-357-2700.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Dirty Harry," Friday at 7. "Phantom of the Paradise," Tuesday at 7. "Pride and Prejudice" and "Revenge," Thursday at 6:30. Free, but reservations required. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE 202-707-5677.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- "The Lion King," Saturday-Sunday at 10 and 1:55; Monday-Friday at 11 and 3. "Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure," Saturday-Sunday at 11:55, 12:55, 3:50, 4:50 and 7; Monday-Friday at 1, 2, and 4:55. "Space Station (3D)," Thursday-Friday at 8; Saturday at 5:50 and 8. 601 Light St., Baltimore. 410-685-5225.

MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY -- "Bugs! (3-D)," daily at 10:20, 12:15, 2:10 and 4:05; "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous (3-D)," daily at 11:15, 1:10, 3:05 and 5. "Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey," Friday-Saturday at 6 and 8. "Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man," Friday at 7 and 9; Saturday at 7. Samuel C. Johnson Theater, Tenth and Constitution NW. 202-633-7400.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Edouard Vuillard," Friday, Sunday Tuesday and Thursday at 11:30; Tuesday-Thursday at 2. "Barry Lyndon," Friday at 2; Sunday at 4. "The Flaherty," Saturday at 2:30. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART -- "In Danku the Soup Is Sweeter: Women and Development in Ghana" and "The Virgin Diaries," Friday at 7. Ripley Center, Level 3. 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. 202-357-4600 (TDD: 202-357-4814).

PSYCHOTRONIC FILM SOCIETY -- "Attack the Gas Station," Tuesday at 8. Dr. Dremo's Taphouse, 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 202-736-1732 or 202-707-2540.

VISIONS -- "Donnie Darko," Friday. 1927 Florida Ave. NW. 202-667-0090.

WEINBERG CENTER -- "The Quiet Man," Friday at 7:30. 20 West Patrick St., Frederick. 301-228-2828.

New on Video

These movies arrive on video store shelves this week.

FEMME FATALE

(R, 2002, 114 MINUTES, WARNER BROS.)

In Brian De Palma's thriller-mystery-weirdunit, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is Laure Ashe, an elegant scam artist. Antonio Banderas is tabloid photographer Nicolas Bardo, who makes the mistake of getting involved. She pulls him into a convoluted scenario of love, deception and revenge. De Palma is a big fan of the classic noir films "Obsession" and "Double Indemnity," and it shows all over the place. And his movie rivals David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" for identity shifting, thematic dualities of all kinds, destiny alteration, double crossing and, that old standby, art-house incomprehensibility. Contains sexual scenes, nudity, violence and obscenity.

-- Desson Howe

FRIDAY AFTER NEXT

(R, 2002, 85 MINUTES, NEW LINE CINEMA)

Craig Jones (Ice Cube) and his good-for-nothing cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps) are robbed on Christmas Eve by some punk dressed as Santa. And they have until the end of this Friday to pay their rent or a big guy named Damon (Terry Crews), just back from jail, will take care of them. Producer/co-star Cube's follow-up to the successful comedies "Friday" and "Next Friday" doesn't have the spark of the first two movies, although Epps certainly has his moments. And Cube's still the best thing about it. But all those jokes about "hos" and even more unmentionable subjects are lame. They seem like mere splashing around in the muck. Contains all the bad stuff: obscenity, sexism, bathroom humor, sexual scenes, nudity and violence.

-- D.H.

{sstar}JACKASS: THE MOVIE

(R, 2002, 90 MINUTES, PARAMOUNT PICTURES)

Sophomoric doesn't even begin to describe the stunts imagined by Johnny Knoxville and his reprobate crew of stuntmen-frat boy delinquents; most of them are too vile, violent or just plain dangerous for MTV, the home of "Jackass." In a nonstop parade of bits that range from 10 seconds to several long minutes, this wrecking crew visits damage to themselves (too-close encounters with alligators, sharks, electric shockers) and to innocent property (down for the count: a rental car rigged for a crash derby, a miniature golf course and several small grocery and variety stores). It's stupid, anarchic and, I hate to admit, terribly funny, though you're likely to blow your lunch almost as often as folks do on screen. Contains dangerous, sometimes extremely rude stunts, language and nudity.

-- Richard Harrington

MAID IN MANHATTAN

(PG-13, 2002, 103 MINUTES, COLUMBIA PICTURES)

Jennifer Lopez plays Latina Cinderella to Ralph Fiennes's WASP prince in this formulaic and deeply implausible romantic comedy about a hotel maid who falls in love with one of the guests, an upper-crusty politician who mistakes her for his social equal when he catches her trying on an expensive outfit. Despite the far-fetched premise -- he's a moneybags Republican, she's a populist from the projects -- J. Lo acquits herself well, and Ralph's British accent is pretty well hidden beneath the honeyed cooings of the perpetual candidate. Wayne Wang directs with his usual steady hand, but the film is little more than a retread of the knight-in-shining-armor- and-downtrodden-damsel scenario, tricked up with a little social-justice hooey. Contains sexual references.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

PORN STAR: THE LEGEND OF RON JEREMY

(NR, 2001, 79 MINUTES, MAELSTROM ENTERTAINMENT)

Fat, jowly, swarthy, sweaty and hirsute in places you're not supposed to be hirsute in, adult film star Ron Jeremy has a face only a mother could love. Fortunately, he has another body part that has served as his meal ticket, not to mention his passport to passion with, legend has it, more than 4,000 different women. Okay, so porn has nothing to do with love. Still, there's something endearing, in a revolting kind of way, about Jeremy, at least as he comes across in Scott J. Gill's -- ahem -- engrossing documentary. Maybe it's his honesty. Maybe it's his anxiety over his monthly AIDS test. Maybe it's his self-deprecating humor or his Everyman-as-Superman shtick. Funny and sad in equal measure, "Porn Star" leaves us with a disturbing image: that of a lonely and delusional man with one prodigious gift, trapped in his own fantasy. Contains obscenity, nudity, somewhat less-than-graphic sex scenes and frank discussion of sexual mechanics.

-- M.O.

SKINS

(R, 2002, 94 MINUTES, FIRST LOOK MEDIA)

The strength of Native American director Chris Eyre's movie is the documentary-textured depiction of Native Americans in their social environment. Its weakness is a story that's a patchy combination of soap opera, low-tech magic realism and, at times, plodding sociological commentary. Rudy (Eric Schweig) is a criminal investigator with the Pine Ridge P.D. who spends most of his time stopping bar fights among his fellow tribesmen. The general malaise hits home because Rudy's shiftless brother and Vietnam veteran, Mogie (Graham Greene), is drinking himself into oblivion. Angered over the unsolved death of a Native American youth, Rudy takes out vigilante retribution on the assailants. Greene's over-the-top performance is actually appropriate for Mogie, a big-souled person whose social graces are nonexistent, but whose moral purpose is unclouded. Contains violence and obscenity.

-- D.H.