Film Capsules

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

Openings

ANACONDAS: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID (PG-13) -- See capsule review on Page 32.

DANNY DECKCHAIR (PG-13) -- See review on Page 30.

HERO (PG-13) -- See review on Page 30.

LET'S GET FRANK (Unrated) -- See capsule review on Page 32.

MEAN CREEK (R) -- See review on Page 31.

SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2 (PG) -- See capsule review on Page 32..

SUSPECT ZERO (R) -- See review on Page 30.

ZHOU YU'S TRAIN (PG-13) -- See review on Page 31.

First Runs & Revivals

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- Here's what I want to know: How cold, exactly, does it have to get for saliva to freeze? I'm curious about this because, in "Alien vs. Predator," the famously drool-drenched beastie of the first half of the title is alive and wet as all get out -- despite now living 2,000 feet below the surface of Antarctica. Oh, well, that's only one little thing that doesn't add up in this update to the old monster showdown formula familiar to fans of "Godzilla vs. Mothra" and the like. Here, a team of scientists (led by Sanaa Lathan) investigating a pyramid buried beneath the South Pole -- look, I told you the premise was whack -- stumble on a bunch of H.R. Giger's "Alien" aliens, only to be caught between them and a trio of dreadlocked outer-space sport hunters made famous from the "Predator" films. I'd say that fur flies, but there's no fur here. Just buckets of spittle and nicely claustrophobic if under-lit claw-to-claw combat. Contains some bad language, sci-fi violence and goo. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} AMERICA'S HEART & SOUL (PG, 86 minutes) -- For this debut documentary, director Louis Schwartzberg took a 35mm camera on his shoulder and traversed the country, making short films about people from all corners. From horse wrangler Roudy Roudebush, who has the run of Colorado's natural beauty to Amelia Rudolph, who heads the Bandaloop Cliff Dancers, a group of nimble, graceful performers who perform beautiful routines on cliffsides, this is about people who carve their own paths. What's powerful about this movie is what's powerful about America. And even though Schwartzberg's documentary exalts the American way of life with the mythical reverence of a Leni Riefenstahl, the experience is undeniably stirring. You could do worse than watch this and walk away with an ebullient spirit. Contains nothing objectionable. Regal Bethesda and Regal Rockville Center.

{sstar} ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (PG-13, 91 minutes) -- This Will Ferrell comedy is wonderfully silly all the time. Its premise has irresistible mileage: Ferrell as a '70s telegenic newsman-stud named Ron Burgundy, a clueless womanizer who hobnobs with a trio of moronic colleagues, sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), news reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). Ron's world gets a rough shakedown when he falls in love with the talented Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), who possesses actual journalistic skills, as opposed to the ability to read from a teleprompter. Written by Ferrell and director Andy McKay (a former "Saturday Night Live" writer), "Anchorman" rests on the likable funniness of Ferrell and his bag of unexpected tricks. Contains cartoonish violence to an animal, some obscenity, sexual situations and banter and (brace yourselves) an entire rendition of "Afternoon Delight." N.E. Theatre Fairfax Corner, Regal Ballston Common and AMC Mazza Gallerie.

BENJI: OFF THE LEASH! (PG, 97 minutes) -- There are two canine stars in "Benji: Off the Leash!" -- one soulful, the other scrappy -- and it's not spelled out until the end who will wear the crowning collar tag "Benji." Though violence is rarely shown, it is suffused throughout the movie with convincing menace in the person of Terrence Hatchett (Chris Kendrick), a mean, mean, mean man running a Mississippi puppy mill. His sensitive son, Colby (Nick Whitaker), rescues a pup that Hatchett kicks and declares worthless, concealing the orphan, whom he calls Puppy, in an elaborate hidden fort. Heavy scenes of implied domestic and animal abuse are jarringly intercut with the lighthearted shtick of two Keystone Kops-like animal control agents dogged by a frisky stray they call Lizard Tongue, since he's always panting. When Puppy ventures out of the fort and meets up with Lizard Tongue, the two are a force to be reckoned with in sleepy Cuddaho County, barking truth to power and plotting to rescue Puppy's sick, painfully over-bred mother from the evil Hatchett. The overall unevenness of tone is the movie's biggest flaw, but the slo-mo scenes of doggie derring-do are quite funny, and the message about how to treat both humans and animals evergreen. Contains violence, mostly implied but some onscreen; theme of domestic abuse. Area theaters.

-- Donna Peremes

{sstar} THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: ZATOICHI (R, 116 minutes) -- Ninjas come at this unassuming, gray-haired, blind masseur with everything: sticks, knives, swords, flying kicks, edge-of-the-hand chops. But Zatoichi leaves them in felled, blood-spouting piles. As the legendary blind hero of Kan Shimozawa's novels, Takeshi Kitano (also the writer-director) takes up where all those western gunslingers left off. The violence is cartoonish rather than realistic. Kitano has an impish sense of humor and surprise, alternating scenes of zen calm with outbursts of fighting. And let's not forget the "Riverdance"- style stick-and-dance ensemble number. While Kitano the performer fights with his seemingly endless array of enemies, Kitano the filmmaker makes sure that everything is beautiful, from the wonderful colors and passing tableaux to the intricate fighting choreography. Contains intense violence and some sexual content. In Japanese with subtitles. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

{sstar} THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (PG-13, 110 minutes) -- Matt Damon, reprising his role as Jason Bourne, is outwardly chilly and ruthless but passionately engaged. He has one simple mission. It needs no memorandums, no briefings, no contact with spy handlers. The former CIA assassin has to keep one step away from a ruthless assailant, and possibly more. It's great to see an action movie that takes the international dirty business seriously: agents with questionable allegiance, contract killers who can't be stopped, shady doublespeak in Langley backrooms and such evocative post-Cold War locales as Berlin and Moscow. If Bourne seems like a cold being, that's because he's an instrument of survival. In this movie, you're a candidate to be toe-tagged if you don't pay attention. Contains obscenity and violence. Area theaters.

{sstar} COLLATERAL (R, 120 minutes) -- Tom Cruise is Vincent, a slick contract killer who forces cabdriver Max (Jamie Foxx) to keep the motor running while he knocks off his targets. Both men, it turns out, are equally matched. Director Michael Mann, the riverboat captain of narrative flow, has a knack for making one moment lap into the next. The suspense in "Collateral" turns on desperation, character and situation, as opposed to firepower, muscle and engine torque. Cruise is wonderfully bad. And Foxx is entirely believable as the reserved, silent dreamer, who realizes he's not going to take this anymore. In Steve Beattie's adroit screenplay, Vincent is going to be his worst nightmare and, in a way, his greatest blessing. Contains violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

DE-LOVELY (PG-13, 125 minutes) -- An aged Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) and a friendly stranger called Gabe (Jonathan Pryce) look at Cole's personal and artistic life, as if it were a stage play. It would take a powerful movie to transcend this stagy conceit, and "De-Lovely" isn't that movie. The story-within-the-story focuses on Cole's relationship with his wife, Linda Porter (Ashley Judd), who championed his music and ignored (as much as she could) the songwriter's homosexual persuasions. But despite a subject of immense potential, the film's inert and uninvolving. The flashback scenes, which cover 40 years of Porter's life, never rise above the canned poignancy of a bio-film. Porter's songs, interpreted by a wide variety of singers from Natalie Cole to Elvis Costello, are the movie's only good thing. Contains post-coital canoodling and sexual references. Olney Cinemas and Cineplex Odeon Shirlington.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY (PG-13, 91 minutes) -- Ben Stiller's wickedly funny as the wonderfully repulsive White Goodman, the '70s-coiffed, spandex-attired owner of an exclusive fitness center called Globo Gym. (He suggests the lovechild of Eric Roberts in "Star 80.") Vince Vaughn is also funny as Peter La Fleur, the lackadaisical owner of Average Joe's, a gym for the lumpy, tubby, meek and generally anti-Adonis crowd. When they field opposing teams to compete in a dodgeball contest for $50,000, the movie turns into a spirited spoof on every misfit-team caper from "The Longest Yard" to "The Mighty Ducks." The movie's full of down-and-dirty (but funny) gags and one-liners, and memorable scenes, especially between laid-back Peter and almost psychotically intense White, who refuses to let his complete incompetence with vocabulary or the English language interfere with his self-adoration or misfired sarcasm. Contains obscenity and lewd, crude humor. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

{sstar} DONNIE DARKO -- THE DIRECTOR'S CUT (R, 133 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. 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 Bar Noir.

A DOOR IN THE FLOOR (R, 111 minutes) -- Based on the first section of John Irving's novel "A Widow for One Year," this highfalutin drama about East Hamptons angst, lost children and "Summer of '42" sexual fantasy splashes around in shallow tidal pools of cliche and familiarity. But it's almost worth it to watch Jeff Bridges as Ted Cole, a children's book writer and illustrator whose marriage has gone to hell with Marion (Kim Basinger). Lately, Ted's been dabbling with the emotionally suggestible Mrs. Vaughn (a bravely naked Mimi Rogers) for nude poses and passionate quickies. His troubles are exacerbated when aspiring writer Eddie O'Hare (Jon Foster) offers himself to Ted as a gushingly eager intern and becomes attracted to Marion. Now two men find themselves caught in hot water and at odds with each other. Contains obscenity, sexual content and graphic images. Foxchase.

{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 enchant even the most cynical adults. Contains slapstick, humorous flatulence, the phrase "bite me" and glimpses of an ogre's naked derriere. University Mall Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (R, 120 minutes) -- For more than an hour, Stellan Skarsgard wrestles with something foul in this prequel to the 1973 thriller, and I'm not talking about the demon, Pazuzu. The actor, who does his damnedest to bring a measure of class to the proceedings, is fighting a losing battle to keep the movie from becoming an utter heap of garbage, and while he never prevails, for a long time it's a draw. Then, precisely 80 minutes in -- I know, because I looked at my watch, which is never a good sign in a horror movie -- the garbage gets the upper hand, and the movie, set in a Kenyan architectural dig during lapsed priest Merrin's (Skarsgard) first encounter with the devil, becomes a complete, albeit very bloody, joke. The worst thing isn't the cheapness of the very cheap thrills (and yes, you will probably jump out of your skin a time or two). It's that the devil gets demoted to a bad guy on the order of Freddy Krueger, and that's far less scary than the Ultimate Evil One deserves. Contains blood, gore, violence, obscenity and sexual content. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (R, 112 minutes) -- A guided political missile aimed directly at the presidency of George W. Bush, Michael Moore's sharply ironic narrative takes us from the Florida debacle that decided the 2000 presidential election to the political nettling aftermath of war in Iraq. He also accuses the president of being so financially and personally connected to friends in high Saudi Arabian places, he was too compromised to take decisive action against Osama bin Laden. Sure, the movie skews facts to its own advantage and makes fun of the president's goofier moments. But what counts is the emotional power of Moore's persuasion. There are startling scenes during the American invasion of Iraq that include the visceral terror of a household in Baghdad as young American soldiers break in to arrest someone; and the candid testimony of U.S. troops who express their disgust at the situation there. And perhaps most persuasive is the dramatic turnaround experienced by Lila Lipscomb, a Michigan mother. She changes from patriotic support for the Bush administration to heartbroken despair after she loses a son to the war. Contains footage of war dead and wounded, including children. Area theaters.

{sstar} GARDEN STATE ( R, 102 minutes) -- New Jersey native Zach Braff wrote, directed and stars in this smart, funny story about a TV actor named Andrew (Braff), who returns to his Jersey home town. Everyone from his high school days, it seems, lives in the Twlight Zone, including Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), a gravedigger who helps himself to jewelry in coffins. But then Andrew runs into Samantha (Natalie Portman), an eccentric free spirit who rejuvenates his sleeping spirit. This edgy quasi-comedy is amazingly assured for a directorial debut, even if it's a little uneven. Portman is immediately enchanting and irritating at the same time. But in concert with the morose Andrew, her Sam comes out as colorful relief. Contains obscenity, sexual scenes, and drug and alcohol use. Area theaters.

GARFIELD: THE MOVIE (PG, 85 minutes) -- Kids may be satisfied with this movie version of the famous comic strip simply because it has a fuzzy cat. And a fuzzy dog. "Garfield" is essentially harmless. Basically, the cat's life is upended when his owner, Jon (a supremely bland Breckin Meyer), takes in a new puppy, this to impress the animal doctor Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt) into going out with him. When Garfield kicks the dog out of the house and the pup is kidnapped by a nefarious TV personality (Stephen Tobolowsky) who needs an animal that performs stupid pet tricks, Garfield makes it his moral mission to rescue the dog and become his friend. There's nothing to recommend about this film except its sheer innocuousness. And Bill Murray's off-screen voicing as Garfield adds no "Robin Williams" element to the movie. Contains nothing particularly objectionable, except wan humor. University Mall Theatres.

{sstar} HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE (R, 87 minutes) -- In this often crude but frequently hilarious twenty-something stoner comedy, Harold (John Cho), a Korean American investment banker, and his roommate-pal Kumar (Kal Penn), an Indian American med school student, develop a serious case of the munchies. They must eat the buy-'em-by-the-bag cheeseburgers of White Castle. Their trip becomes a Holy Grail mission on the Jersey Turnpike, full of unexpected mysteries, including encounters with scary animals, racist cops and a phantom redneck with oozy boils on his face. There's a lot of toilet humor, but as long as you're in the bathroom, you might as well be funny. Director Danny ("Dude, Where's My Car?") Leiner has made a peppy, satisfying comedy. Contains obscenity, nudity, drug use and crude humor. Regal Rockville Center, AMC Hoffman Center and N.E. Theatre Fairfax Corner.

{sstar} HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (PG, 142 minutes) -- It's not just the child actors who look all grown up in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." The filmmaking does, too. Alfonso Cuaron -- director of the Oscar-nominated "A Little Princess" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien" -- has made a grim, atmospheric movie that is so much more sophisticated than its predecessors, both visually and in terms of storytelling, that it's hard to believe the source material is the same. The movie is not perfect, or even close, but it delivers on the promise of J.K. Rowling's novels to a far greater extent. At the start of his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry learns that Sirius Black, the wizard whose betrayal of his parents resulted in their deaths, has escaped from Azkaban, the wizarding equivalent of a maximum-security penitentiary -- and he's coming after Harry. Aside from Cuaron's complete disavowal of cuddliness, the most notable difference in "Azkaban" is the burgeoning maturity of the film's three lead actors. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) look older, old enough for there to be -- ewww -- sexual tension between Ron and Hermione. "Azkaban" excels at capturing -- and elaborating on -- the details that make the books such a delight. Contains fisticuffs, an implied beheading and a sad-sack werewolf. Regal Ballston Common and University Mall Theatres.

-- Nicole Arthur

{sstar} A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD (R, 95 minutes) -- People come and go through Bobby and Jonathan's lives: family members, neighbors, short-term lovers and one newborn. But Bobby (Colin Farrell) and Jonathan (Dallas Roberts) -- friends, onetime lovers and virtually brothers -- are rarely apart. They're family in the oddest way. Director Michael Mayer and scriptwriter Michael ("The Hours") Cunningham don't have the screen time to explore the main and subsidiary characters in Cunningham's novel. But they do well with the episodes, particularly in the first half. Farrell exudes a tremulous, shy quality. Roberts is memorable, too, as the complex Jonathan. But Robin Wright Penn coruscates as the life-affirmative Clare, whose determination to make sense of her relationships with Bobby and Jonathan is the movie's secret ingredient. Contains drug use, sexual scenes and obscenity. Annapolis Harbour and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

{sstar} I, ROBOT (PG-13, 114 minutes) -- This Will Smith sci-fi fantasy, based in part on Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot" collection of short stories, intercuts live action and computer-generated imagery with breathtaking seamlessness. It's about a detective (Smith) who has to investigate the possibility that society's latest line of friendly robots, created by the benevolent Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), could be contemplating a violent revolution. With the slow-moving help of Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), a psychologist with an expertise in robots (or something), Spooner begins to uncover, well, what detectives always do in these films. The movie's fabulous mental escape: playful rather than dark and foreboding. The effects are wonderful, Smith's highly likable, and Alex ("The Crow") Proyas's direction is punchy. Contains computer digital violence and maybe a mild flash of nudity. Area theaters.

{sstar} INTIMATE STRANGERS (R, 105 minutes) -- William Faber (Fabrice Luchini), a shy, primly dressed tax consultant, becomes infatuated with a troubled woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) who mistakes him for a psychiatrist. Soon enough, Faber has "sessions" with this new "client," and hears in detail about her sexually troubled personal life. Of course he falls in love with her. This is a French movie, after all. It's roundly entertaining, a well-done chamber piece between two fascinating characters. Luchini shows why he has been a lasting staple of modern French cinema. He has a glistening stare that tells you about vulnerability, pent-up desires and a frazzled intelligence. And Bonnaire justifies William's intensity with effortless grace. No one has smoked a cigarette like that in recent memory. Contains frank sexual conversation and sexual situations. In French with subtitles. Area theaters.

{sstar} KING ARTHUR (PG-13, 130 minutes) -- This revisionist version of the Arthurian legend, which traces the origins of the well-known saga of knights and derring-do to the 5th century, is a bracing tonic to all that "Camelot"-style, Holy Grail hoo-ha that many of us grew up with. In the film by director Antoine Fuqua (written by David "Gladiator" Franzoni and produced by Jerry "Pirates of the Caribbean" Bruckheimer), Arthur (Clive Owen) is the half-Roman, half-British commander of a troop of reluctant foreign conscripts guarding the Roman territory south of Hadrian's Wall against incursions by Picts and Saxons. Guinevere (Keira Knightley) is a ferocious Pict warrior, while the only sorcery that her father, Merlin (Stephen Dillane), knows is the magic of guerrilla warfare. The story may owe as much to the "Lord of the Rings" cycle as to history, but the whole thing still feels like a breath of fresh air blowing the dust off a very old tale. Contains intense but generally gore-free battle scenes, some bawdy talk and sensuality. In English and a bit of Pictish with subtitles. University Mall Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (R, 130 minutes) -- Director Jonathan Demme and screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris clearly pored over John Frankenheimer's original 1962 cold war thriller and retrofitted everything. Now it's a post-Gulf War Halliburton- dunit, a movie about corporate evil, mind control and political maneuvering. It's an intriguing transmogrification which, ultimately, becomes too torturously labored to believe. But the performers are a hoot: Denzel Washington as the heroic Maj. Bennett Marco; Liev Schreiber as the disturbingly chilly loose cannon, Raymond Shaw, and Meryl Streep (reprising the role made legendary by Angela Lansbury) as a disconcerting ambition machine who'll stop at nothing to reach the White House. With characters like these squaring off, and a climactic finale set on the main stage of a political convention, you can't help thinking: Bring it on. Contains violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

{sstar} MARIA FULL OF GRACE (R, 101 minutes) -- As the title character, Catalina Sandino Moreno is a Colombian Mona Lisa, a delicate, 17-year-old soul who agrees to become a drug "mule." This means ingesting multiple capsules of rubber-sealed heroin and smuggling the stash into the United States. Writer-director Joshua Marston has made a powerful modern allegory that holds us tightly in its grip. This is a cold-fever ordeal, not only for Maria but us, as pressures worsen. We can almost feel the cold, clammy skin. We hear the heavy breathing of fear. It's a gripping drama, and many of its climactic scenes will rip holes through your heart. But it's a stunner of a film. And if there's anyone to help us go through this white-knuckle trip, it's Maria. Contains overall intensity, obscenity and bloodshed. In Spanish and English with subtitles. Area theaters.

{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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN (R, 93 minutes) -- I'm not sure if "Monty Python's Life of Brian" -- which is being rereleased both to celebrate its 25th anniversary and to tweak "The Passion of the Christ" -- qualifies as religious satire, since many of the jokes have more to do with big noses (and other big body parts) than with faith. The good news is that the film, which centers around a man named Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman), who was born in the manger one door down from Jesus, is still funny. The bad news, at least to those who remember it fondly as quasi-blasphemous, is that its humor nowadays seems pretty tame, especially in comparison to a religious comedy like "Saved!," which is far nastier in its God-bashing than this quaintly old-fashioned yuk-fest. Contains naughty humor involving sex and religion. Visions Bar Noir. Shown with "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (PG, 86 minutes) -- In Jared Hess's deadpan-funny indie comedy, Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is a scrawny nerd from Preston, Idaho, whose eyes are lost behind the semi-opaque haze of his glasses and who packs some wicked comments for his tormentors. As he weathers his oppressive worlds at home and school, he seems to exist in a live-action version of Mike Judge's TV cartoons ("Beavis and Butt-head," "King of the Hill") or Todd Solondz's suburban geek epic "Welcome to the Dollhouse." Jon Gries is hilariously out-there as Napoleon's incredibly narcissistic Uncle Rico. So is Aaron Ruell as his reclusive, thirty-something brother, Kip. And as Napoleon's withdrawn friend Pedro, Efren Ramirez is almost too odd to chuckle at. You ain't seen nothing, by the way, till you've seen Napoleon attack that tether ball. Contains some sexual innuendo. Area theaters.

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

{sstar} THE NOTEBOOK (PG-13, 121 minutes) -- A genial visitor (the ever-dignified James Garner) named Duke insists on reading a romantic story to an aged woman (Gena Rowlands) despite her struggles with Alzheimer's disease. What Duke reads becomes the main body of the film: a 1940s romance in Seabrook, N.C., between 17-year-old Allie and gutsy 19-year-old Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling), who courts her with the relentlessness of a catbird. The film may be one hundred percent sap, but its spirit is anything but cloying, thanks to persuasive performances, most notably from Rachel McAdams. As Allie Hamilton, whose passionate heart becomes the movie's powerful fulcrum, she almost makes you forget what you're swallowing. Contains sexual situations. Annapolis Harbour and United Artists Fairfax.

OPEN WATER (R, 79 minutes) -- Tearing themselves away from the never-ending demands of yuppie life, Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) book a scuba-diving vacation on a Caribbean island. They find themselves alone in a shark-infested sea. Treading water. This digitally shot low-budget indie is clearly filmmaker Chris Kentis's Blair Fish Project. It has its spooky moments, but mostly our ingrained fear of sharks is the movie's real emotional engine. The two actors (who spent 120 hours filming this in real, shark-infested waters in the Caribbean), the story and the lurching, empty sea that becomes our lasting image are just the collective ignition key. The dialogue is often very stilted and their relationship is rather banal. In the end, Kentis's efforts to build our affection for Susan and Daniel are less successful than the fearful situation in which he dunks them. Contains nudity, obscenity and emotional intensity. Area theaters.

THE PRINCESS DIARIES 2: ROYAL ENGAGEMENT (G, 115 minutes) -- Luckily, "Princess Diaries 2" doesn't promote the stereotype still prevalent in popular culture that a princess (read: woman) is weak or somehow broken without a male counterpart. Though it banks its plot on the quest of its main character, Mia (Anne Hathaway), to find a man within 30 days or risk giving up her throne, the film focuses on Mia's reluctance to do so and her grandmother's challenging of an old law that states princesses must be married before becoming queen. Sometimes charming, sometimes a tad too silly and all the time predictable, the film gives you what you'd expect and doesn't take many chances besides allowing for the possibility that a princess might be okay without a husband. But even giving a belated nod to women's lib might just be a sneaky way to open doors for movie No. 3. Contains kissing and mild sensuality. Area theaters.

-- Sara Gebhardt

{sstar} ROSENSTRASSE (PG-13, 136 minutes) -- Based on fact, Margarethe von Trotta's World War II-era flashback drama, about a group of Aryan German women who quietly but insistently fought their husbands' detention by the Nazis, is told in layered, time-skipping fashion, not because it's fashionable, but because it works. The story, you see, is as much about the heroism of the women, embodied by Lena (radiant Katja Riemann), as it is about the legacy of their actions, good and bad. That legacy reverberates across oceans and generations, touching the life of the young New York woman (Maria Shrader) who travels back to Berlin to learn about this fascinating footnote to recent history. Contains ugly anti-Semitism and the ever-present threat of violence. In German with English subtitles. Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and the Avalon.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

SHE HATE ME (R, 138 minutes) -- In Spike Lee's oddball modern fable, assuming that's what it is, Jack (Anthony Mackie) blows the whistle on his biotech company that has secured big money for a phony AIDS cure. Then he becomes a cottage industry, servicing lesbians who need donor sperm. And then he testifies before Congress about his former company. The movie also finds time to pay tribute to the black security guard who caught the Watergate burglars. And then . . . well, at this point, it's hard to know what to make of the film, except it seems, rather predictably, to be something about institutional racism. The movie seems to be some kind of satire. But like his similarly frustrating "Bamboozled," it's a satire with flow charts, footnotes and a riding crop. Lee seems to be trying to examine our own silent but deadly attitudes toward race, as if he's our spiritual and aggressive radon inspector. This is sheer agony to sit through, and not for the reasons Lee would relish. Lee's better when he discovers satire in drama, as in "Do the Right Thing" and "She's Gotta Have It," rather than the other way around. Contains sexual scenes, obscenity and violence. Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

{sstar} SHREK 2 (PG, 93 minutes) -- Set in the Hollywood-like kingdom of Far Far Away, "Shrek 2" pokes fun at a host of movies and television conventions, along with the very idea of fairy tales. Hoping to get started on the "happy ever after" part of their marriage, Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) and new bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz) take a trip from Shrek's home in the swamp to meet her parents (John Cleese and Julie Andrews), who are none too pleased to see their daughter wedded to an ogre. Daddy hires a hit man (Antonio Banderas as a hilarious Puss in Boots), even as Shrek sets out to remake himself in an image more pleasing to his wife. The jokes come rapid-fire, and the resolution of the complications is heartwarming. Contains some edgy humor, mild jokes about body fluids and gasses, vaguely sexual references along the lines of "a roll in the hay" and slapstick violence. Annapolis Harbour, Regal Ballston Common and University Mall Theatres.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} SPIDER-MAN 2 (PG-13, 120 minutes) -- This follow-up film to "Spider-Man" is as fine a repeat experience as our foolish, creativity-challenged tradition of sequelizing allows. You can't ask for more than that. The movie, directed with precision and an appreciation for (relatively) rich character texture by Sam Raimi, remembers all the fine elements of the original film (and the comic book story), including wonderfully choreographed, skyscraper-hanging fights and that achy-breaky relationship between Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). It also reprises the charmingly hokey affection between Peter and his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and introduces a memorable villain: Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a scientist who is fused with the evil he has wrought, a man caught and forever connected to four metallic pincered arms. The film's touching, fun and alert. Contains comic book violence. Area theaters.

{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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and Foxchase.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

TOUCH OF PINK (R, 92 minutes) -- Kyle MacLachlan's boldly bulbous chin finally gets a deeper cleft in "Touch of Pink," a clumsy comedy in which MacLachlan stars as the spirit of Hollywood legend Cary Grant. Grant serves as a spectral surrogate father to Alim (Jimi Mistry), a Londoner of South Asian descent who attempts to hide his homosexual identity from his traditional mother, who wants him to get married as soon as possible. "Pink" borrows blatantly from other films, but elicits few laughs and is so heavy-handed that its themes barely resonate. As for MacLachlan's portrayal of Grant, it's occasionally entertaining, but ultimately this ghost comes across as exactly what he is: lifeless. Contains sexual content and brief profanity. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Jen Chaney

UNCOVERED: THE WAR ON IRAQ (Unrated, 83 minutes) -- If you still haven't read or heard anything about the accusations some are making that President Bush and company may have misrepresented a few facts while making their case for war against Iraq, you might want to check out Robert Greenwald's muck-racking and cogent documentary, originally made before his latest, "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism," but recently updated with new footage. If, on the other hand, you've already made a point of seeing every left-wing documentary to come down the pike so far this year (and there have been plenty), this one may feel a tad redundant. There could be such a thing as outrage fatigue, after all. And we liberals have to conserve our strength -- and our indignation -- for such upcoming documentaries as the new Karl Rove profile, "Bush's Brain." Contains political deception. The Avalon.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

THE VILLAGE (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- M. Night Shyamalan's mystery-thriller is about a fear-prone village that believes dangerous creatures lurk in the surrounding woods. When villager Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) suffers a stabbing and needs outside medicine, his blind fiancee, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), decides to venture into that scary beyond. It's an intriguing premise until we see the silly Twilight Zone punchline. The movie has its suspense-filled moments. But for the most part, the film's a bewildering disappointment, given the talents of Shyamalan, who gave us "The Sixth Sense." Even a great storyteller like M. Night, it seems, can lead himself into the woods. Contains overall intensity and violence. Area theaters.

{sstar} WE DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (R, 104 minutes) -- Grounded by the remarkable ensemble acting of Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts and Peter Krause as married couples who cheat on each other with each other, "We Don't Live Here Anymore" feels less like a movie than the experience of being a fly on the wall during some very awkward conversations. If you like that sort of thing -- and I do -- you'll have a field day. In addition to the performances, the script (adapted by Larry Gross from a pair of stories by Andre Dubus) and direction (by John Curran) underscore the reality that making marriages work can be, well, work, and unpleasant work at that. Those looking for escapism would do well to consider the fact that "We Don't Live Here Anymore" will make you feel like you've moved in, if only for a short while, with the sad and sometimes bilious people who reside there. Contains obscenity, talk of sex and scenes involving sex and nudity. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

WITHOUT A PADDLE (PG-13, 99 minutes) -- There's apparently not enough room in the deep woods for both crazy antics and epiphanies. "Without a Paddle" tries very hard to be a sincere, pseudo coming-of-age story about 30-year-old men finally discovering who they are and what they want out of life. But because of over-the-top plot elements, mediocre acting and lack of chemistry between the three main actors, it fails in the attempt. Where it succeeds, however, is in outrageously stupid, silly and sometimes crude moments that color the narrative about three childhood friends (played by Seth Green, Dax Shepard and Matthew Lillard) lost in the Oregon woods. Contains sexual material, some profanity, some violence, crude humor and drug references. Area theaters.

-- Sara Gebhardt

YU-GI-OH! THE MOVIE (PG, 91 minutes) -- There's nothing new about a Japanese anime trading card and television series phenomenon that takes its characters to the big screen to capitalize on its popularity. The film is an obvious ploy to keep kids watching the animated series so that they continue to play the Duel Monsters! game and buy the merchandise. The producers don't waste time on subtlety or creative story lines in their quest for upholding their successful brand. They follow the winning formula of the television show, creating a supersize episode that centers its plot on Yugi Moto, a short, friendly, spiky-haired teenager who is the champion Duel Monsters! player. When mean teen Seto Kaiba sets out to topple Yugi's card-game reign, not only does Yugi have to defend himself but he also has to save the universe. Though there is a strong theme that promotes loyalty to friends throughout the movie, there's nothing inspiring about "Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie," unless you count the way it compels kids to continue to support the "Yu-Gi-Oh" franchise. Contains combat and monster images. Area theaters.

-- Sara Gebhardt

Repertory

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," daily at 11, 2 and 5. "Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk," daily at noon and 3. "NASCAR: The Imax Experience," daily at 1, 4 and 6. 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly. 202-357-2700.

AMERICAN CITY DINER -- "Vertigo," Friday at 8:30. "The Manchurian Candidate," Saturday at 8:30. "Cape Fear," Sunday at 8. "A Streetcar Named Desire," Monday at 8:30. "Philadelphia," Tuesday at 8:30. "Gaslight," Wednesday at 8. "Absence of Malice," Thursday at 8. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

COLUMBIA ASSOCIATION LAKEFRONT Film Festival -- "Something's Gotta Give," Friday at 8:30. Town Center lakefront, Columbia. 877-713-9674, Ext. 9010.

FREER -- "Chungking Express," Friday at 7 and Sunday at 2. Free, but tickets required. Meyer Auditorium, 12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW. 202-633-1000.

GRIOT CINEMA -- "Tasuma," Sunday at 3:15. City Museum, 801 K St. NW. 202-232-3400.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "The Raw Ones," Friday at 7. "Heart of Dixie," Tuesday at 7. "CBS Reports: Mississippi and the 15th Amendment," "Eyewitness: The President Faces the Racial Crisis" and "Never Turn Back: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer," Thursday at 7. Free, but reservations required. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- Imax Theater: "Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees" and "Hubble: Galaxies Across Space & Time," Friday daily at 10:30, 12:45, 3 and 7:45. "NASCAR 3D: The Imax Experience," Friday, Saturday and Thursday at 11:30, 1:45, 4, 6:30 and 8:45; Sunday-Wednesday at 11:30, 1:45, 4 and 6:30. "Sacred Planet," daily at 5:15. Davis Planetarium: "The Sky Live!" Friday, Saturday and Thursday at noon, 3 and 6; Sunday at 3; Monday-Wednesday at noon and 3. "The Sky Above Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," daily at 1. "Ring World," daily at 2 and 5. "Hubble Heritage: Poetic Pictures," daily at 4. "Live From the Sun," Sunday at noon. 601 Light St., Baltimore. 410-685-5225.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "A Swedish Love Story" and "Giliap," Saturday at 2. "Roy Andersson's Commercials" and "Songs From the Second Floor," Sunday at 4:30. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART -- Lecture Hall: "Mortu Nega," Sunday at 2. Free. 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 12:15, 3:10 and 6. "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous (3D)," daily at 11:15, 1:10, 4:05, 5:05 and 7. "Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man (3D)," Friday-Saturday at 8. 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.

PSYCHOTRONIC FILM SOCIETY -- "Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack," Tuesday at 8. Dr. Dremo's Taphouse, 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 202-736-1732 or 202-707-2540.

REEL MOMS -- At Loews Georgetown (3111 K St. NW. 202-342-6033): "Garden State," Tuesday at 11. At Loews Fairfax Square (8065 Leesburg Pike, Vienna. 703-506-9857): "Garden State," Tuesday at 11. Loews Rio (9811 Washingtonian Center, Gaithersburg. 301-948-6673): "Garden State," Saturday at 10 and Tuesday at 11.

VISIONS BAR NOIR -- "Donnie Darko," Friday-Saturday at midnight. "Monty Python's Life of Brian," Friday at midnight. "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," Saturday at midnight. 1927 Florida Ave. NW. 202-667-0090.

New on Video

{sstar} DOGVILLE

(R, 2003, 177 MINUTES, LIONS GATE FILMS)

Despite director Lars von Trier's published comments about how "Dogville" is really about the capacity we all have for both good and evil, the film's specifically anti-American slant is hard to miss. That's because, just in case you missed it during the film's nearly three-hour tale of a beautiful fugitive (a powerful Nicole Kidman) who is first sheltered, then abused, by the citizens of a Depression-era Rocky Mountain village, von Trier hammers his apparent point home during the closing credits by playing David Bowie's "Young Americans" over a montage of shots of the American poor. The stingingly provocative film is hurtful, insulting even, and, yes, it's supposed to be. Contains violence, sensuality and sexual assault.

-- Desson Thomson

{sstar} ELLA ENCHANTED

(PG, 2004, 96 MINUTES, MIRAMAX FILMS)

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.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR

(R, 2004, 100 MINUTES, 20TH CENTURY FOX)

A titillating urban legend becomes a tawdry Hollywood fantasy in this tale of a high schooler (Emile Hirsch) who falls in love with a new neighbor (Elisha Cuthbert) who turns out to be a porn star. Soon she's madly in love with the guy, and when he gets in a financial bind -- although she is, naturally, abandoning her previous life -- she summons her old co-workers to make a sex flick at the kid's school. Nothing in this film makes any sense, and with each new development the preposterous story just becomes less interesting. Contains much talk about sex and pornography, several instances of near-nudity and some bloodless violence.

-- Mark Jenkins

LAWS OF ATTRACTION

(PG-13, 2004, 87 MINUTES, NEW LINE CINEMA)

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. The plot, the dialogue and the main characters' love connection are mind-numbing, and even Parker Posey (playing a weird client) can't save the show. Contains implied sexual situations.

-- Sara Gebhardt

{sstar} SHAOLIN SOCCER

(PG-13, 2001, 87 MINUTES, MIRAMAX FILMS)

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.

-- M.O.

Izabella Scorupco is Sarah in "Exorcist: The Beginning," a disappointing prequel to the 1973 horror film.Dax Shepard, left, Seth Green and Matthew Lillard find adventure in the great outdoors in "Without a Paddle."