Film Capsules

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



DIVAN (Unrated)






WORD WARS (Unrated)


Look for reviews of this week's opening movies in the Summer Movie Preview pullout section inside Weekend.

First Runs & Revivals

AGENT CODY BANKS 2: DESTINATION LONDON (PG, 93 minutes) -- Thanks mainly to the likable Frankie Muniz, reprising his role as a teenage 007, this sequel is a reasonable diversion. But the story's action sequences are so abbreviated that they hardly register, and the undercooked comedy gives away the fact that the film was rushed into production to accommodate the star's hiatus between "Malcolm in the Middle" seasons. Contains violence (mostly unconvincing hand-to-hand combat) and some unnecessarily crude language. University Mall Theatres.

-- Dan Via

{sstar} THE AGRONOMIST (PG-13, 90 minutes) -- Activist-journalist Jean Dominique, whose quixotic mission to bring grass-roots democracy to Haiti has become national legend, is the subject of Jonathan Demme's warmly felt documentary. Dominique, the founder of Radio Haiti Inter and a powerful voice against the various entrenched powers in Haiti, was gunned down April 3, 2000. The movie outlines Dominique's evolution from a member of the mixed-race aristocracy to a crusading champion for the Creole-speaking underclass of Haiti. That Dominique's murder and the country's political direction remain murky and unsolved is the movie's unavoidable conclusion and yet, a faithful reflection of reality. There appears to be no immediate hope of a solution for either. But we are left with vivid images of Dominique, whose desire to change his country, despite formidable intimidation, is an inspiration to any supporter of democracy. Contains news footage of atrocities. In some French and Creole with subtitles. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

{sstar} THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS (LES INVASIONS BARBARES) (Unrated, 99 minutes) -- A somber reunion of friends and family around the hospital bed of an unapologetic and dying philanderer (Remy Girard) evolves into a moving exploration of what it means to live and to die. Although Remy refuses to let loneliness or approaching death stop him from reveling in his sexual memories, his estranged son, Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau), makes sure his father retains dignity. Denys Arcand's film is admirable in its refusal to be politically correct. And like Sebastien, we can't help but find ourselves falling for an old crank whose spirit refuses to be broken, but who isn't too lost in himself to acknowledge the good things around him. Contains drug use, obscenity and mature sexual discussions. In French with subtitles. Eastport Art Cinemas and Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.

BOBBY JONES: STROKE OF GENIUS (PG, 133 minutes) -- Based on the life of Bobby Jones, the only golfer to win four major tournaments in a single year, "Stroke" is one of those sports movies that treats athletic ability as something next to godliness. Whenever Jim Caviezel, as Jones, hits the ball, accompanied by swells of syrupy music and occasional slo-mo, it's as if angels had descended from heaven to guide it to its home in the cup. Despite such "Field of Dreams"-y touches, the dutifully adoring biography is as earthbound as they come. Contains mild obscenity and a thrown punch. Mazza Gallerie.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

BON VOYAGE (PG-13, 115 minutes) -- Although I'm told it was filmed in color, this World War II-set melodrama persists in my memory as black-and-white. That's partly a compliment -- it hearkens back to a bygone day of swirling, emotional storytelling -- but it's also an indication of just how washed out the tale ultimately feels, despite elements of espionage, heroism, madcap comedy, murder and a love triangle. French director Jean-Paul Rappeneau does a good job of orchestrating the carnival-like action, which folds a government minister (Gerard Depardieu), two-bit crook (Yvan Attal) and a spy (Peter Coyote) into what is essentially the story of one man (Gregori Derangere) deciding between two women (Isabelle Adjani and Virginie Ledoyen), but the movie never transports the audience very far from where it started. Contains some violence. In French, some German and a little English with subtitles. Eastport Art Cinemas, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

BUBBA HO-TEP (R, 92 minutes) -- The idea sounds good on paper: An aging Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell), who it turns out didn't die after all, teams up with up with fellow nursing-home resident Ossie Davis, playing a man who thinks he's JFK, to do battle with a murderous Egyptian mummy in a Stevie Ray Vaughan hat. On second thought, it doesn't sound that good after all. Campbell does give a touching, funny and grotesque performance as the King, though, in the end, this horror-comedy hybrid is neither particularly scary nor funny. Contains obscenity, partial nudity, brief violence, sexual discussion and gross bugs. Visions Bar Noir.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} CLIFFORD'S REALLY BIG MOVIE (G, 75 minutes) -- Chances are, if your toddler likes the PBS cartoon "Clifford the Big Red Dog" or its spin-off, "Clifford's Puppy Days," he or she will also like this sweet-natured feature-length movie. The drawing is a little jazzed up -- a little less flat, if you will, than the TV show -- and the adventure a little more, um, adventurous, as Clifford (voice of John Ritter) runs away from home and his mistress, the young Emily Elizabeth (Grey DeLisle), to join a traveling carnival. Sure, the excitement level is a little on the tame side. But the movie, like its house-size hero, is cuddlier than you might expect. Contains mild jeopardy only rarely exceeding the level of a lost balloon. N.E. Theatre Fairfax Corner, N.E. Theatre Centreville and N.E. Theatre Lee Highway.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

CONNIE AND CARLA (PG, 98 minutes) -- It's a bit scary how little of a stretch it is to accept Nia Vardalos as a male drag queen in "Connie and Carla," an overly broad but fitfully crowd-pleasing twist on "Some Like It Hot" in which Vardalos and Toni Collette play women hiding out from mobsters in a West Hollywood gay bar. The humor of the script, which Vardalos also wrote, is sitcom caliber, but the film's message of inclusivity and acceptance is nice. Too bad the political correctness of the story doesn't quite fit with some of the caricatured performances. Contains an off-camera shooting, some drug content and mildly crude sexual humor. Majestic Theatre.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} ELLA ENCHANTED (PG, 95 minutes) -- There's something charmingly old-fashioned about this sly retelling of the Cinderella story, despite the fact that the girl (Anne Hathaway) doesn't really want the handsome prince (Hugh Dancy). At least not at first. She's more interested in saving the ogres, giants and elves of the kingdom from political oppression, not to mention saving herself from a curse that forces her to obey any command she is given (e.g., "Hold your tongue"). As the plucky heroine, Hathaway's no Meryl Streep, but she's so earnest and appealing an actress, and the film so unironic in its embrace of tolerance and self-reliance, that "Ella" may thoroughly enchant even the most cynical adults. Contains slapstick, humorous flatulence, the phrase "Bite me" and glimpses of an ogre's naked derriere. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

ENVY (PG-13, 99 minutes) -- The risk of making a movie whose theme would fall apart were it not for fecal matter is that people may be compelled to draw comparisons to the very poop, to put it nicely, that drives the plot. With all the dog dung in "Envy," it's almost too easy to generalize that it stinks. But it does, unfortunately, despite the big-name actors in its cast. Tim Dingman (Ben Stiller) and Nick Vanderpark (Jack Black) are best friends who live across the street from each other with their respective families in generic suburbia. Their lives are tedious until Nick comes up with a successful get-rich-quick scheme, Vapoorizer, a spray that makes pet poop evaporate into thin air. Tim covets his neighbors' newfound wealth, and his envy causes him to get fired from his job. To deal with it, he uncharacteristically goes to drink at a bar, where he meets a weird vagabond, J-Man (Christopher Walken), who plants an idea in Tim's head that causes him to fire an arrow that accidentally hits Nick's beloved white horse. The fiasco with the horse sends the film into a downward spiral of annoying dialogue and even more annoying situations. Contains profanity, a dead horse and many references to fecal matter. Area theaters.

-- Sara Gebhardt

{sstar} ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (R, 110 minutes) -- Charlie ("Being John Malkovich") Kaufman's most intelligent, thought-provoking and touching script yet is brought to antic life by director Michel Gondry, who unfolds like a slowly opening flower the tale of two lovers (Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet) who have elected to erase each other from their memories. By turns intoxicating and perplexing, Gondry and Kaufman's film is a philosophical love story about the nature of memory and emotion. Serious and silly at the same time, it's a film with both mainstream appeal and an abundance of grown-up ideas. Contains obscenity, drug use and sexual content. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} 50 FIRST DATES (PG-13, 96 minutes) -- Adam Sandler is more "Wedding Singer" than "Waterboy" in this partly charming, partly crass romantic comedy about a reformed womanizer (Sandler) courting a brain-damaged woman (Drew Barrymore) who can't remember her suitor from one day to the next. Sure, there's some gross-out humor here. How can there not be in a movie with Rob Schneider? But the film -- whose message is that love, like antiperspirant, must be re-applied every day -- is ultimately more sweet than sour. Call it a chick flick for guys. Contains discussion of sexual matters, some obscenity, drug use, slapstick violence and walrus vomit. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} THE FOG OF WAR: ELEVEN LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF ROBERT S. MCNAMARA (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- Errol Morris's stunning documentary is about one of the 20th century's most significant players: McNamara, who reprises the highlights of his life and professional career. The movie covers a lot of ground, including McNamara's stint as a Ford Motor Co. executive, his participation as a war planner in World War II and his involvement as secretary of defense during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is another brilliant coup for Morris, the inspired documentarian who has made a career out of conversations with the most fascinating subjects. He tells a story that knocks you right off your feet. Contains verbal accounts and documentary footage of war, tragedy and atrocity. Visions Bar Noir.

GODSEND (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- The silly thriller about a couple (Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) who enlist the aid of a rogue geneticist (Robert De Niro) to clone their dead 8-year-old son (Cameron Bright) is like a ride in an old car. There are bumps and scary moments aplenty when the boy turns evil, but there's the whiff of something stale in the air, too. That would be the smell of every horror movie about a demon child from "Rosemary's Baby" to "The Omen" to "Children of the Corn." Contains some violent imagery, mild obscenity, a scene of discreet lovemaking, thematic material related to the death of a child and lots of moments designed to make you jump in your seat. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

GOOD BYE, LENIN! (R, 118 minutes) -- Director and co-writer Wolfgang Becker's sweet family dramedy is set in East Berlin in 1989, when earnest schoolteacher Christiane (Katrin Sass) watches her twenty-something son Alex (Daniel Bruhl) get arrested at an anti-government demonstration. Shocked, she has a heart attack and falls into a coma. When she wakes up, the Berlin Wall no longer stands. The doctor warns Alex that the shock of discovering this new world could kill her, so he and a few accomplices set out to create a little East Germany in the tiny family apartment. Structurally, "Good Bye, Lenin!" is a sitcom, and it turns repetitive in the end. Yet beneath the family saga and easy digs at the tackiness of Western consumer culture, Becker presents a serious critique of authoritarianism and propaganda. Contains brief obscenity and sexuality. Landmark's Bethesda Row, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Mark Jenkins

{sstar} HELLBOY (PG-13, 112 minutes) -- Director Guillermo Del Toro's live-action feature about a demonic-looking superhero (Ron Perlman) who fights evil is a faithful yet imaginative expansion of Mike Mignola's Dark Horse Comics series. Although some of the conflicts are mundanely familiar, Del Toro moves the action along with energy and wit. Perlman is perfect for the role, illuminating what he calls "the whole 'lonely hero' thing" from within -- not to mention from under a ton of makeup and prosthetics. Contains the requisite comic book violence. Annapolis Harbour, Majestic Theatre and United Artists Fairfax Town Center.

-- Richard Harrington

HIDALGO (PG-13, 145 minutes) -- It's nice to see Viggo on a horse again, but the Actor Who Needs No Last Name isn't quite enough to make this epic oater about a Pony Express rider who bests a cutthroat field of competitors in a 3,000-mile horse race across the Saudi Arabian desert feel like much more than NASCAR with hooves. "Hidalgo" is a long and monotonous circuit around a well-worn track, which may take its hero, Frank Hopkins, on a voyage of inner discovery, but it leaves its audience exactly where it started, only $10 poorer. Contains violence, equine euthanasia and some sexual innuendo. Annapolis Harbour and University Mall Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

HOME ON THE RANGE (PG, 76 minutes) -- Roseanne Barr's vocal performance as an assertive bovine in this animated feature gives new meaning to the phrase, "Bossy the Cow." Otherwise, the film, which follows the efforts of three head of cartoon cattle (Judi Dench, Jennifer Tilly and Barr) to save their farm from a dastardly rustler and land grabber (Randy Quaid) is needlessly confusing, not to mention flat and dull looking. Contains jokes about belching and cow udders and some slapstick violence. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} I'M NOT SCARED (R, 101 minutes) -- Set in rural southern Italy, "I'm Not Scared" centers around a young boy's (Giuseppe Cristiano) discovery, in a carefully camouflaged hole, of something terrible. More terrible, though, than what's in the hole is what's waiting for him back home, where the implications of his discovery lead to betrayal and a loss of innocence. Drenched in atmospheric malevolence, Gabriele Salvatores' creepy thriller includes a kind of superficially happy ending, just to satisfy those who crave conventional closure. But it also leaves a disturbing echo of evil that won't go away, just for those of who don't. Contains obscenity, some violence and frequent, disturbing images of a child in jeopardy. In Italian with subtitles. Area theaters. Landmark's Bethesda Row Cinema, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} IN AMERICA (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- Loosely drawn from Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan's own experiences as a film student in Manhattan in the early 1980s, and co-written by Sheridan and his two daughters, the poignant, often poetic memoir is that rarest of breeds -- a film that doesn't exert pressure on your tear ducts so much as your heart. Slowly, gently, Sheridan uses slice-of-life humor and almost magical realism in his tale of a struggling actor/cab driver (Paddy Considine) and his family to seduce the viewer. Parceling out small but great truths about life, death and starting over, "In America" is a bittersweet gem, as uplifting as it is sad. Contains an artfully shot sex scene, some drug references, the threat of violence and a bit of coarse language. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} INTERMISSION (R, 102 minutes) -- Thankfully, this lively and edgy Irish comedy about a bunch of contemporary Dubliners is a leprechaun-free zone. Connected more or less loosely to the central character of John (Cillian Murphy), a young man pining for the girlfriend he has just broken up with, the swirling cast includes Colin Farrell as a violent thug obsessed with kitchen utensils and John's horny best friend Oscar (David Wilmot), who briefly takes up with a much older woman (Dierdre O'Kane) whose husband (Michael McElhatton) has just left her for John's ex (Kelly Macdonald). You get the idea. Frequent appearances are also made by the f-word, along with something known as brown sauce, a ketchup-like condiment that acts as a sort of surreal running joke, adding extra flavor to this tastiest of stews. Contains pervasive crude language, some violence and sexuality. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION (PG-13, 95 minutes) -- His performance may not be up to the manic level of "Barbershop" and "Barbershop 2: Back in Business," but Cedric the Entertainer is at least mildly entertaining in this genial road movie about the comic indignities suffered by a put-upon insurance salesman and his irritating family during a cross-country trip. Since no new ground is covered here, your reaction to the formulaic script will likely depend on how much you like Cedric, who pretty much carries the weight of the entire movie on his stubby little legs. Contains some crude and risque humor and a drug reference. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} KILL BILL VOL. 2 (R, 136 minutes) -- "Kill Bill Vol. 1's" vengeful antihero known as the Bride (Uma Thurman) is back to finish the job described in the two-part film's no-nonsense title, but there are still two more assassins (Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah) standing in her way. Once she dispatches them, however -- in battles with lower body counts but upped gross-out quotient -- she has plenty of time to sit down and chat over old times with former lover-cum-employer, Bill (David Carradine). The gymnastics are only verbal for much of the second half of this twisted love story, but its no less fun than the first installment. Contains obscenity, drug content and plentiful violence. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

THE LADYKILLERS (R, 104 minutes) -- Writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen's motley remake of the 1955 British comedy should appeal most strongly to viewers who think that Tom Hanks, who plays a thief and a potential murderer, can do no wrong. Hanks is the ringleader of a gang that plans to empty a Mississippi River casino boat's vault. His new landlady is Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall), who eventually learns what the plotters are really doing, and thus must be eliminated. The script contains glimmers of character-driven comedy from a gentler time, but also indulges some broadly stereotypical African American farce. As the tone wavers and the pace stumbles, the movie ultimately comes down to Hanks's gratingly artificial performance. Contains much slapstick violence and some hippity-hop vulgarities. Area theaters.

-- Mark Jenkins

LAWS OF ATTRACTION (PG-13, 87 minutes) -- If "laws of attraction" were on the book, they should stipulate that two people's affinity for each other was natural, genuine and perhaps even a bit heartwarming. A judge evaluating the bond between opposing divorce lawyers Audrey Miller (Julianne Moore) and Daniel Rafferty (Pierce Brosnan) in "Laws of Attraction" would likely deem it in violation of such rules. The formulaic film falls flat early on, when Audrey and Daniel get intoxicated and go home together. They ignore what has happened and focus on their work until a mutual case takes them to Ireland, where once again, they have a few too many drinks. This time, they end up getting married as part of the country town's annual tradition. To save their careers, they must pretend they are a happy couple when they return to New York. Oh, the irony of divorce lawyers, who have seen the worst of marital dysfunction, accidentally taking the matrimonial plunge themselves and denying themselves the quick-fix divorce. Can they work it out? Will they learn to love each other because of the rings on their fingers? Who cares? The plot, the dialogue and the main characters' love connection are basically mind-numbing, and even Parker Posey (playing a weird client) can't save the show. Contains implied sexual situations. Area theaters.

-- Sara Gebhardt

{sstar} LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (PG-13, 201 minutes) -- Director and cowriter Peter Jackson's triumphant conclusion to his "Rings" trilogy brings it home for everyone. We enjoy the fulfillment of destinies for once-and-future monarch Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), his resolute love, Arwen (Liv Tyler), and his two warrior-allies, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davis). We also see what becomes of the honorable Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), of Theoden (Bernard Hill), Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), and the scores of others. The movie's good at big and small-scale stories. Contains intense battle sequences and some frightening images. Majestic Theatres and Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

MAN ON FIRE (R, 146 minutes) -- Like "I'm Not Scared," "Man on Fire" has to do with a kidnapping, but in this movie the behavior of the hero (Denzel Washington) is almost as disturbing as that of the bad guys. Playing a vengeful bodyguard who goes after the abductors of his young charge (Dakota Fanning), Washington is like "The Punisher's" Punisher, but without the comic-book sensibility; like "Kill Bill's" Bride, but without the murderous glee; and like "Walking Tall's" Chris Vaughn, but without the Rock's WWE-inspired tongue-in cheek elan. The mayhem of "Man on Fire" is dead serious, with the emphasis on "dead." Contains obscenity, generic gun violence, torture and a creative assortment of execution-style slayings. In English and Spanish with subtitles. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (PG-13, 138 minutes) -- Peter Weir's epic not only gives you an atmospheric feel for the agony and ecstasy of early 19th-century sea warfare, it's a rollicking good story. And Russell Crowe is top of the line as Capt. Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), the British captain on the trail of a formidable French frigate. The cinematography, montage, sounds of the ocean, sets and costumes are all part of a constantly exhilarating whole. Composers Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti have provided an unforgettable score. And the performances are perfect. Paul Bettany gives us a stirring character as Aubrey's best friend and the ship surgeon. But Crowe's the main attraction. Contains intense battle sequences, disturbing violence, primitive surgery and some obscenity. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{sstar} MEAN GIRLS (PG-13, 93 minutes) -- "Saturday Night Live" head writer Tina Fey based her script for this sharp, smart teen comedy on author Rosalind Wiseman's "Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter to Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence," and its roots in ethnography show. It's both a kind of anthropological document and an enormously satisfying entertainment, which means that it feels real, as well as really funny. Lindsay Lohan shines as the nice girl trying to retain her sanity -- and niceness -- in a sea of mini-skirted sharks. Contains some crude language, sexual humor, rioting high-school students and underage drinking. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} MONSIEUR IBRAHIM (R, 95 minutes) -- Omar Sharif sparkles in the title role of a wise and worldly Muslim shop owner who befriends -- and ultimately adopts -- a troubled Jewish teenager named Momo (Pierre Boulanger) in this gently moving drama set in 1960s Paris. Taking Momo under his wing when the boy's morbidly depressed father abandons him (this after his mother has run off, too), Ibrahim offers not just love but real insight into the mysteries of life. Contains thematic sexuality, a sex scene and partial nudity. In French and Turkish with subtitles. P&G Old Greenbelt and Cineplex Odeon Shirlington.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

NASCAR: THE IMAX EXPERIENCE (PG, 47 minutes) -- If speed is what you're looking for, you may be better off playing a race car video game than watching the IMAX movie devoted to NASCAR. Though there are some adrenaline-pumping race scenes shot from the perspective of both driver and spectator, the majority of the short feature portrays what happens off the track. The revving of 800-horsepower engines and footage of cars traveling 200 mph around an oval speedway are merely short segments spliced in between a discussion of the intricate science and extensive preparation involved before big races and interviews with NASCAR bigwigs, tailgating fans, and race car drivers and their spouses, all of which makes for an interesting behind-the-scenes look at one of the world's most popular spectator sports. Contains a few crash scenes. National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center IMAX Theater.

-- Sara Gebhardt

NEW YORK MINUTE (PG, 86 minutes) -- Although the twin-sister characters "played" -- and I use the term very loosely -- by real-life twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen only age one day during the action of this lackluster comedy, "New York Minute" seems to last weeks. Centering around estranged siblings who are forced to work together when they encounter numerous urban obstacles during a visit from their Long Island home to the Big Apple, the film plays off the Olsens' looks and not their acting ability. The action sequences flow better than the dramatic ones, but the infrequency of real laughs makes for one long, hard sit for impatient viewers. Contains mild sensuality. Area theaters.

-- Sara Gebhardt

{sstar} OSAMA (PG-13, 82 minutes) -- The first entirely Afghan film shot since the rise and fall of the Taliban, Siddiq Barma's crushingly tragic story follows a young girl (Marina Golbahari) forced to disguise herself as a boy in order to find work when her widowed mother loses her job at a foreign-run hospital and is prevented from leaving the house due to the restrictive policies of the Taliban, which prevent women from moving about except in the company of a male relative. She calls herself Osama, and her ruse is, of course, discovered after the boys of the town have been rounded up and sent to the local madrassa, a school-cum-Taliban- training-facility, leading to a fate that holds, while short of execution, a kind of death of the spirit. Contains thematic material related to the onset of puberty and scenes depicting harsh treatment of children. In Dari with subtitles. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} OSCAR SHORTS (Unrated, 76 minutes) -- Three live-action and two animated short films from among those nominated at the most recent Oscars (including the animated winner, Australia's claymation "Harvie Krumpet") offer up an assortment of takes on the human condition, from Germany's "The Red Jacket," a meditation on death, connection and a kind of rebirth, to France's "Squash," which paints a particularly painful -- but probably accurate -- portrait of male aggression. My personal favorite, however, is a bonus: The student Oscar-winning "Perpetual Motion," an animation that posits harnessing the energy created by spreading jelly on the back of a cat. Don't ask. It actually makes a lot more sense than it sounds. Contains obscenity, claymation nudity, brief images of warfare, sexual humor, thematic material related to death and the on-screen birth of a calf. In English and a variety of other languages with subtitles. Visions Bar Noir.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (R, 126 minutes) -- Mel Gibson's almost pornographically violent narrative of Jesus's last 12 hours feels like what I imagine it's like to watch a snuff film. Try as you might to remind yourself that what you're seeing is only a movie, the onslaught of savagery is rendered so realistically and with such unrelenting fury that it renders rationale faculties inert. Which is exactly Gibson's point, I'm sure, making "The Passion" less an episode of movie-going than, for many, something akin to a religious experience. It's just too bad that, for those viewers who don't come into the theater already knowing that they should care about Jesus's pain, Gibson's film, which gives short shrift to Jesus's lifetime of good words and deeds, doesn't really provide them with any reason to do so now. Contains numbingly graphic violence and emotional intensity. In Aramaic and Latin with subtitles. Loews Rio, Majestic Theatres and University Mall Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} THE PRINCE & ME (PG, 111 minutes) -- A modern-day fairy tale. The words themselves have a certain je ne sais . . . cliche. So it should come as no surprise that translating the purported genre of "The Prince & Me" onto the big screen yields a sweet but predictable story. Nothing is new about the movie's premise, but it is entertaining all the same. Noble, cute crown prince, Edvard Valdemar Dangaard (Luke Mably) begins the film as an irresponsible member of the Danish monarchy who feels burdened by his lineage. To find himself, he goes to the University of Wisconsin, where he changes his name to Eddie and conceals his true identity. There, he meets Paige Morgan (Julia Stiles), a conscientious, driven senior who has spent the past four years working hard to earn a spot in medical school. Chemistry between Paige and Eddie develops, and when paparazzi eventually exposes Eddie's royal stature, Paige must choose between the prince and a career in medicine. Contains mild sexual innuendo. United Artists Fairfax.

-- Sara Gebhardt

THE PUNISHER (R, 124 minutes) -- There's a scene in which government operative-turned-superhero Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) -- shell-shocked by the murders of his entire extended family -- is eating dinner with the losers who live in his rundown tenement (Ben Foster, John Pinette and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Suddenly, the up-to-then violent avenger of his loved ones' deaths, is just another guy breaking bread, and trying to connect, with the rest of humanity. It's a tender and complex scene, and watching it felt like I was miles away from the inexorable death march of violence that filled the rest of this live-action comic book. If only there had been more scenes like it to enrich yet another story of revenge. Contains obscenity, glimpses of partial nudity and much violence. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED (PG, 85 minutes) -- After reuniting in the first live-action "Scooby-Doo," the members of Mystery Inc. -- Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Velma (Linda Cardellini), Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby-Doo (voiced by Neil Fanning) -- find themselves successful and universally adored. But at the opening of the Coolsonian Criminology Museum's new exhibit -- a collection of costumes worn by criminals they've unmasked -- the Pterodactyl Ghost comes to life and goes on a rampage, and a masked villain threatens to destroy Coolsville. When newscaster Heather Jasper-Howe (Alicia Silverstone) blames Mystery Inc. for the disaster and casts doubt on its ability to solve the mystery, the sleuths begin to question their own weaknesses and roles in the group. The monsters are still the highlight of the film, and if history is any guide, there will be more ghosts and evildoers for our wholesome heroes to battle in "Scooby-Doo 3." Contains rude language, some fighting and scary situations. Area theaters.

-- Christina Talcott

{sstar} SHAOLIN SOCCER (PG-13, 87 minutes) -- Written, directed, produced and edited by popular Hong Kong comedian Stephen Chow, who also stars in the film and performs his own stunts, "Shaolin Soccer" is a brilliant, breezy fusion of the underdog sports flick and the martial arts actioner. Playing a practitioner of kung fu who, along with his five brothers, takes up soccer for the first time, in the process taking on the nefarious Team Evil, Chow lights up the screen with aw-shucks charisma, But the biggest delights of the movie are its eye-popping special effects and wire-work stunts, not to mention an outsize sense of humor about itself and the cliches of its genre -- make that genres -- that is utterly disarming. Contains slapstick action violence. In Cantonese with subtitles. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER . . . AND SPRING (Unrated, 103 minutes) -- This delicate Korean fable by Kim Ki-duk, is about the slow boomerang trajectory of existence -- the way it curves away from you and yet ever toward you. With its heart-stopping setting, gorgeous images and a lovely little story, it's as fresh as woodland dew. It's about the lifelong relationship between a Buddhist monk (Oh Young-soo) and his novice (played by various actors in different stages of life), who live together in a small floating monastery in the center of a pond, nestled in a wooded mountain valley. This unsullied, bucolic corner of nature is going to be a spiritual workshop for the young boy, whose life will be an evolution through the straits of folly and sadness to dawning consciousness and rebirth. Told in virtually wordless sequences and with an inspired simplicity, the movie makes affecting epics of the smallest things. Contains sexual scenes and nudity. In Korean with subtitles. Landmark's Bethesda Row, Cinema Arts Theatre and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

STARSKY & HUTCH (PG-13, 97 minutes) -- This spoof of the 1970s buddy-cop TV show should be called "Stiller & Wilson" for all the similarity it bears to its namesake. Sure, the basic premise and the Ford Gran Torino are essentially the same, but the humor, such as it is, derives entirely from Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson's comfortably familiar public personae as slightly nebbishy and surfer-mellow halves of an odd couple. Many "That '70s Show"-style yuks are gotten through jokes about man-perms, disco, Tab, sweatbands, aviator-frame sunglasses and bad period music, but, after all, how hard is that? Contains obscenity, drug use, sexual humor and partial nudity. Annapolis Harbour and Regal Ballston Common.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} SUPER SIZE ME (Unrated, 98 minutes) -- I laughed, I cried, I threw up. Well, maybe I didn't throw up, but filmmaker Morgan Spurlock does, and on camera, in his funny, smart and important -- okay, gross, too -- documentary about the health effects of a 30-day, all-McDonald's diet. And it ain't pretty. "Super Size Me," however, is utterly engrossing, with its mix of statistics, cartoons featuring saggy-breasted chickens, man-on-the-street interviews, Michael Moore-style muckraking and diaristic gazing by the filmmaker at his own navel -- even as his midsection expands with all the fat and sugar he's putting away. Contains obscenity, vomiting, a glimpse of a rectal exam, discussion of sex and sexual dysfunction, shots of gastric bypass surgery and other unappetizing things. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} 13 GOING ON 30 (PG-13, 98 minutes) -- A simple worldview informs "13 Going on 30," a film whose far-fetched foundation is overshadowed by the endearing story of Jenna Rink, a 13-year-old who, teen angst in hand, visits adulthood in an attempt to escape her current outcast status. When Jenna is suddenly transported from the high-ponytail age of the '80s to 2004, we find that she has become a 30-year old magazine editor who back-stabs fellow co-workers to get ahead, ignores her family and dates a vacuous, muscular, meathead hockey player. The older Jenna (Jennifer Garner) is mature in body, but not in mentality. She does not understand who she has become, so she finds grown-up Matt (Mark Ruffalo) -- who she had insulted before being thrust into the adult world to gain favor with the cool kids -- to help her sort through the parts of her life that she has missed. As Matt reluctantly helps Jenna evaluate the choices she apparently has made, feelings develop between them, and we wait to see if wishing dust can really alter the course of their lives. That Jenna's journey takes place in a fantasy world where everything ends up in neat little packages is expected, since it is the kind of place a 13-year-old might dream up. Contains some sexual content and a reference to drug use. Area theaters.

-- Sara Gebhardt

VAN HELSING (PG-13, 125 minutes) -- This big-budget monster mash brings together Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, various wolfmen, Mr. Hyde and creature killer Van Helsing. But the real clash isn't between vampires and wolfmen, or man and beast. It's between a story and in-your-face computer-generated effects. The story, in which Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) and beautiful, battle-tested Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) take on Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), loses big-time. Writer-director Stephen Sommers (creator of all those "Mummy" hits) uses the barest of excuses to bring these characters together. And the road to the Count is crowded with multiple, confusing subplots and earsplitting effects, with barely a breath in between. If computer-generated imagery is your pleasure, and your only one, consider yourself informed and warned, all in one. Contains action violence, frightening images and some sexual content. Area theaters.

WALKING TALL (PG-13, 85 minutes) -- Wrestler-turned-actor the Rock makes a suitable substitute for Joe Don Baker's Buford Pusser in this remake of the 1973 fact-based revenge drama about a man who takes justice into his own big hands when thugs take over his hometown. Here, rural Tennessee becomes bucolic Washington state and Pusser becomes the more euphonious-sounding Chris Vaughn, a military veteran who gets elected sheriff and brings WWE-style justice to a gang of crystal-meth-dealing crooks with a little help from deputy Johnny Knoxville and a very big stick. It's all as fun -- and as dumb -- as any "Smackdown" match. Contains obscenity, violence, drug use and sensuality. Majestic Theatres and University Mall Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

YOUNG BLACK STALLION (G, 50 minutes) -- This gorgeously shot, nearly wordless prequel to 1979's "The Black Stallion" is short on genuine drama but long on spectacular, National Geographic-worthy vistas of Northern Africa, where the titular colt is befriended by a little girl (Biana G. Tamimi) who tames his fiery spirit and rides him to victory in a climactic race. And so what if the acting is a little stiff? Who goes to an IMAX theater looking for Oscar-caliber performances? Just sit back and enjoy the ride. Contains a couple of scenes of moderate emotional intensity. Natural History Museum's Johnson IMAX Theater.

-- Michael O'Sullivan


AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DOWNTOWN -- At the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater: "Straight Up: Helicopters in Action," daily at 10:15 and 3. "Space Station 3D," daily at 11:10, 12:15, 1:55, 4, 5 and 6. "To Fly!," daily at 1:15. 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 -- "Straight Up: Helicopters in Action," weekdays at 11:30 and 2:30, Saturday-Sunday at 11:30 and 4:30. "Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk," Friday-Sunday and Thursday at 12:30, 3:30 and 6:30, Monday-Wednesday at 12:30 and 3:30. "Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure," weekdays at 1:30 and 4:30, Saturday-Sunday at 1:30. "NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience," Friday and Thursday at 5:30 and 7:30, Saturday at 10:30, 2:30, 5:30 and 7:30, Sunday at 10:30, 2:30 and 5:30, Monday-Wednesday at 5:30. 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly. 202-357-2700.

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

BRAZILIAN-AMERICAN CULTURAL Institute -- "Estorvo (Disruption)," Monday at 7. 4719 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-362-8334.

CINEMA ART BETHESDA -- "Mondays in the Sun," Sunday at 10 a.m. Landmark's Bethesda Row Theatre, 7235 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, MD. 301-365-3679.

DCJCC -- "My Brother's Wedding" and "Welcome to the Waks Family," Tuesday at 7. Goldman Theater, 1529 16th St. NW. 202-777-3269.

EMBASSY OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC -- "Three Veterans," Wednesday at 7:30. Free. 3900 Spring of Freedom St. NW. 202-274-9011 Ext. 3413 or 202-274-9100.

FANGFILMFEST -- "The Hunger," Thursday at 8. "Blood for Dracula," Thursday at 10. Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW. 202-289-1200.

FREER -- "The Hole," Friday at 7. Free, but tickets required. Meyer Auditorium, 12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW. 202-633-4880.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- IMAX Theater: "NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience," Friday-Saturday at noon, 2:10, 4:20, 6:30 and 8:40, Sunday and Thursday at noon, 2:10, 4:20 and 6:30, Tuesday-Wednesday at noon, 2:10 and 4:20. "The Living Sea" and "Hubble: Galaxies Across Space & Time," Friday and Tuesday-Thursday at 1:10. "Sacred Planet," Friday-Saturday at 3:20, 5:30 and 7:40, Sunday and Thursday at 3:20 and 5:30, Tuesday-Wednesday at 3:20. "Dolphins," Saturday and Sunday at 1:10. "Bears," Sunday at 11. Davis Planetarium: "Hubble Heritage: Poetic Pictures," Friday, Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday at 1, Saturday at 1 and 5. "The Sky: Live!" daily except Monday at 3:15. "Ring World," Friday and Tuesday-Thursday at 4, Saturday at noon, 2:30 and 4, Sunday at 2:30 and 4. "The Sky Above Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Saturday-Sunday at 1:45. 601 Light St., Baltimore. 410-685-5225.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya," Friday, Sunday and Tuesday at 11:30. "My Architect," Friday and Saturday at 12:30. "Los Olvidados," Friday at 3:30 and Saturday at 3. "Louise Brooks: Pandora's Box," Sunday at 4:30. "A Place to Be," Wednesday and Thursday at 12:30. "Tender Little Pumpkins," Thursday at 2:30. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART -- "Ora di Napoli (Gold of Naples)," Friday at 7. Lecture Hall, Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. 202-357-4600 (TDD: 202-357-4814).

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY -- Johnson IMAX Theater: "Bugs! (3-D)," daily at 10:20 and 4. "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous," daily at 11:15, 1:05, 2 and 5. "Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees," daily at 12:10 and 3. "Disney's the Young Black Stallion," Friday and Saturday at 6. "Everest," Friday-Saturday at 7. "Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man," Friday-Saturday at 8. Baird Auditorium: "Matsu -- Taiwan's Guardian Goddess," film and lecture, Friday at noon; free. 10th and Constitution NW. 202-633-7400.

NORTHEAST ANIME CLUB -- "GTO," "The Slayers" and "Ranma 1/2," Saturday at 2. Northeast Neighborhood Library, 330 Seventh St. NE. 202-698-3320.

OLD TOWN THEATER -- "Dial M For Murder," Friday at 7:30 and 10, Saturday at 4:30, 7:30 and 10, Sunday at 2, 4:30 and 7:30, Monday at 7:30. "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," Thursday at 7:30. 815 1/2 King St., Alexandria. 703-683-8888.

PSYCHOTRONIC FILM SOCIETY -- "Female Plasma Suckers," Tuesday at 8. Dr. Dremo's Taphouse, 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 202-736-1732 or 202-707-2540.

VISIONS BAR NOIR -- "Bubba Ho-Tep," Friday-Saturday at midnight. "The Sopranos," Sunday at 9. "Queer as Folk," Sunday at 10. 1927 Florida Ave. NW. 202-667-0090.

WEINBERG CENTER -- "The Music Man," Saturday at 3. 20 W. Patrick St., Frederick. 301-228-2828.

New on Video



Errol Morris's stunning documentary is about one of the 20th century's most significant players: McNamara, who reprises the highlights of his life and professional career. The movie covers a lot of ground, including McNamara's stint as a Ford Motor Co. executive, his participation as a war planner in World War II, and his crucial involvement as secretary of defense under President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and under Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War. There are some stunning revelations, including his role in the firebombing of Japan, as well as the nuclear face-off between the United States and Cuba. This is another brilliant coup for Morris, the inspired documentarian who has made a career out of conversations with the most fascinating subjects. He tells a story that knocks you right off your feet. Contains verbal accounts and documentary footage of war, tragedy and atrocity.

-- Desson Thomson

{sstar} IN AMERICA

(PG-13, 2002, 107 MINUTES, 20TH CENTURY FOX)

Loosely drawn from Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan's own experiences as a film student in Manhattan in the early 1980s, and co-written by Sheridan and his two daughters, this poignant, often poetic memoir is that rarest of breeds -- a film that doesn't exert pressure on your tear ducts so much as your heart. Slowly, gently, Sheridan uses slice-of-life humor and almost magical realism in his tale of a struggling actor/cab driver (Paddy Considine) and his family to seduce the viewer. Parceling out small but great truths about life, death and starting over, "In America" is a bittersweet gem, as uplifting as it is sad. Contains an artfully shot sex scene, some drug references, the threat of violence and a bit of coarse language.

-- Michael O'Sullivan



Like a haiku, "Japanese Story" concerns both the small and the large. Its action -- which follows the thaw in the initially chilly relationship between Sandy, an earthy Australian geologist (Toni Collette), and Hiromitsu, the tightly wrapped Japanese businessman (Gotaru Tsunashima) her company has forced her to shepherd around the outback -- turns on a single, devastating event. It doesn't happen early on in the film, when their vehicle gets stuck miles from civilization, with the threat of dehydration, or worse, a distinct possibility. Still, that shared brush with death does act as a catalyst, propelling Sandy and Hiromitsu from reluctant companions to lovers, and her ability to show him something beautiful allows him to blossom from the sad man he was when he arrived Down Under into a kind of flower. Contains obscenity, nudity and sexuality.

-- M.O.



Moviegoers will realize "Scary Movie 3" is a David Zucker presentation when, early in the film, the character played by Charlie Sheen is startled awake, only to smash into an ill-placed lamp as he raises his head. They will really realize it's a David Zucker presentation when he does it again five seconds later. The story, such as it is, melds the plots of "The Ring" and "Signs." People who watch a strange videotape are receiving a call from an eerie-voiced stranger, who promises death in seven days. Intrepid television reporter Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris) tracks the origin of the tape and the caller to a farm outside Washington run by Tom Logan (Sheen) and his younger brother, George (Simon Rex). Zucker's earlier films worked so well as comedies not because the jokes were highbrow, but rather because Zucker took sharp yet unmistakably lowbrow humor and spread it out so each gag could sink in. Unfortunately for "Scary Movie 3," Zucker decided to cram in as many bits as possible and to recycle the worst ones, and the gags that do work don't redeem the film as a whole. Contains crude, sexual humor, obscenity, comic violence and drug references.

-- Matt Bonesteel

The Incredible Hunk, aka Hugh Jackman, is "Van Helsing," slayer of monsters.