Film Capsules

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

Openings

ALFIE (R) -- See review on Page 35.

ENDURING LOVE (R) -- See review on Page 37.

FADE TO BLACK (R) -- See review on Page 36.

GO FURTHER (Unrated) -- See review on Page 36.

THE INCREDIBLES (PG) -- See review on Page 35.

P.S. (R) -- See review on Page 35.

First Runs & Revivals

{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, "Anchorman" rests on the likable funniness of Ferrell. Contains cartoonish violence to an animal, some obscenity, sexual situations and banter. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{sstar} BEING JULIA (R, 104 minutes) -- In 1930s Britain, Julia Lambert (Annette Bening) is the reigning stage actress of the West End. But her life takes a sudden turn when she falls for a young American fan (Shaun Evans) with a shady agenda. When she learns the truth, Julia takes the kind of revenge only an actress can. Bening's a treat, digging into a pagoda-size heap of roles and roles-within-roles and pulling them all out, one by one, deftly. You feel the fun of the thing, as well as the appropriate heartache. She also has the smarts not to Paltrow around with an English accent but simply speak in a neutral New England/mid-Atlantic voice. Instead of being a tiresome diva, she's surprisingly affecting and fragile. And when it does come to vamping it up, her final act is a treat worth waiting for. Contains nudity, sexual situations and some obscenity. Area theaters.

{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 cold, 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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

THE FORGOTTEN (PG-13, 96 minutes) -- Julianne Moore plays Telly Paretta, whose 8-year-old son is suddenly missing after embarking on a flight. But her psychiatrist (Gary Sinise) and even her husband (Anthony Edwards) insist no such son ever existed. Sound the "Twilight Zone" theme and the death knell for the movie. The scenario, which consists mostly of Telly running away from men in dark suits, gets worse and worse. It has its share of visceral surprises, slightly predictable and dumb when all is said and done. And best forgotten. Contains some violence and scary effects. Area theaters.

{sstar} FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (PG-13, 110 minutes) -- Based on the acclaimed nonfiction book by H.G. Bissinger about a small, west Texas town's affection for its winning-against-the-odds high-school football team, director Peter Berg's warts-and-all examination of the Permian Panthers isn't conventional in any way. For one thing, its grainy, washed-out look and shaky-camera style make football fandom feel more like an addiction than a glorious obsession. For another, the plot, which follows the 1988 season under stoic coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), has an unexpected trajectory, especially considering that, at least initially, the story seems to conform to the it-all-comes-down-to- one-game formula. In other words, it's more sociology than hagiography. Even if you don't generally like sports movies, you might like this one. That's because its subject isn't really the game of football, but the game of life. Contains obscenity, sexual content, underage drinking, emotionally abusive parenting, often brutal gridiron action and occasional Texans so twangy you may wish there were subtitles. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{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 Twilight 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. Avalon and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

THE GRUDGE (PG-13, 88 minutes) -- Sure, it's scary, but this lightly Americanized remake of the Japanese ghost story "Ju-on" doesn't exactly break new ground in horror. Heck, the original on which it's based -- itself merely one of four films in a series by director Takashi Shimizu, who also made the new one -- didn't even break new ground when it was new. There are lots of "boo!" moments, to be sure, as American transfer student Sarah Michelle Gellar gets spooked by the powerfully evil spirits lurking at the site of a three-year Tokyo murder, but there are lots of cheesy ones, too, as when several of the dead people show up to reenact their untimely demises, expressly for the edification of us stupid Western audiences, for whom everything, apparently, needs to be s-p-e-l-l-e-d o-u-t. Contains disturbing, occasionally violent imagery and mild sensuality. In English and some Japanese with subtitles. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

HAIR SHOW (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- Comedienne Mo'Nique succeeds in producing a few laughs in "Hair Show," but not enough to call it a winning comedy. She plays Peaches, a hair stylist from Baltimore who visits her estranged, successful sister Angela (Kellitta Smith) when she learns she owes $50,000 to the IRS. Though the two have a tenuous relationship, Peaches hopes to escape her problems and perhaps find the money she owes by spending time with Angela, who runs an upscale hair salon in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Angela is feuding with a rival salon owner, and somehow the only way to save the salon and their sisterly relationship is to enter a hair show. Overall, the movie is slow and average. It's the kind of film you wouldn't mind renting on a night when you're brain-dead from the day's work and don't have the energy to scrutinize cinematic quality as long as you can laugh at some of the background noise. Contains sexual content, some profanity and a few offensive ethnic jokes. Muvico Egyptian Theatres.

-- Sara Gebhardt

{sstar} HERO ( PG-13, 99 minutes) -- Zhang Yimou, the Chinese filmmaker who gave us such classics as "Red Sorghum" and "Ju Dou," has created a breathtaking, 3rd century B.C. epic about almost supernatural martial artists who walk on water, hang in the air, and slice and dice their opponent into a thousand slivers with breathtaking elegance. This wuxia (martial arts) film, in which an unnamed warrior (Jet Li) remembers (or misremembers, that's the intriguing mystery), his battles with the likes of Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Sky (Donnie Yen) is a graceful, stunning dream. Siu-Tung Ching's choreography is amazing. And you can feel the movie's sensibility and its powerful emotions in every aching image. You're so caught up in these ancient times, you're loath to return to present-day normalcy. Contains stylized martial arts violence and a scene of sensuality. In Chinese with subtitles. Majestic Cinema.

I {heart} HUCKABEES (R, 104 minutes) -- In David O. Russell's too-precious- for-its-own-good comedy, Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) recruits "existential" detectives Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) to help him solve the strange coincidences and troubles of his life. They uncover all kinds of things, including environmentalist Albert's tussle with a sleazy Huckabees store chain executive Brad Stand (Jude Law), who wants to build more stores. The convoluted story, which includes Huckabees spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts); Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), a firefighter who has become radicalized by the world's consumerism and dependence on oil ever since "the big September thing"; and French philosopher Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), who sees randomness where the Jaffes see connectedness, is all pie-in-the-sky conceit but not quite funny enough. Contains nudity, sex scenes and obscenity. Area theaters.

IN THE FACE OF EVIL: REAGAN'S WAR IN WORD AND DEED (PG-13, 110 minutes) -- Based on Peter Schweizer's book "Reagan's War," the movie is an over-the-top tribute to Ronald Reagan, who stood up to a collective "beast" of the 20th century: Bolshevism, communism, fascism and Nazism, all of which advocated state control and power as their goal. All metaphorical beasts need dragon-slayers like Reagan who (in this movie's view) all but singlehandedly brought down the house of the USSR. The tribute will make its target audience, presumably religious, right-wing Christians, heartened and possibly misty-eyed. But its singlemindedness takes a wide berth around inconvenient facts that also contributed to the Soviet collapse, including the regime's economic disintegration. This is for the pre-converted only. Contains footage of historical atrocities. Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Avenue.

LADDER 49 (PG-13, 115 minutes) -- A tribute to firefighters disguised as a drama, this movie shows bravery in the visual Esperanto of Budweiser commercials and Hollywood action films, using the five-alarm star power of John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix. We meet Jack Morrison (Phoenix), who has it in mind to be a hero all along and who just can't wait to start saving people. His genial captain (Travolta) becomes his Obi-Wan Kenobi, who follows his meteoric career. Although "Ladder" tries to show firefighters as vulnerable and human, it mostly turns them into salt-of-the-earth heroes who know how to party hard and save lives. It's adulatory rather than realistic, and it doesn't engage you deeper than its heart-on-the-sleeve emotions. Contains burn injuries, overall emotional intensity and mild profanity. Area theaters.

{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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

{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. Foxchase.

{sstar} THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (R, 126 minutes) -- A good-hearted young Argentine from Cordoba named Ernesto (Gael Garcia Bernal) decides it is time to put aside his medical school education, get on a motorbike with his pal Alberto Granados (Rodrigo de la Serna) and hit the road. He wants to discover South America. This man will grow up to be Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a Marxist revolutionary in the Cuban revolution. But Walter Salles's movie, adapted from Guevara's memoir, "The Motorcycle Diaries," and Granados's "Traveling With Che Guevara," isn't about the politics. It's a lyrical, warmhearted road movie about two men coming of age. Bernal, the star of "Y Tu Mama Tambien," is the movie's guiding star. He beams brightly, charming men and women, rich and poor, healthy and leprous, wherever he goes. Contains obscenity. In Spanish with subtitles. Area theaters.

{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. Contains some sexual innuendo. Regal Ballston Common, Regal Countryside Stadium and Regal Fairfax Town Center.

PRIMER (PG-13, 82 minutes) -- Don't believe the hype. Despite winning both the Grand Jury Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for advancing science and technology in film at Sundance -- and, really, how hard can that last one be? -- this time-travel thriller is less brain tickler than migraine producer. Written and directed by engineer- turned-auteur Shane Carruth, who also stars, "Primer" is at first equally fascinating and maddening in the way it tells its tale of two engineers (Carruth and David Sullivan) and the time machine that comes between them. Sounding like it was written by David Mamet's computer-geek cousin, the movie increasingly becomes all maddening as it steadfastly resists comprehension in favor of a dense and off-putting brainiac-hipster cachet that masks its ultimate emptiness. Contains some obscenity. Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Avenue.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

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. University Mall Theatres.

-- Sara Gebhardt

{sstar}RAY (PG-13, 135 minutes) -- Assuming the persona of Ray Charles as if it were always his, Jamie Foxx becomes the singer in such an evocative way, you're not sure which one's the real Ray anymore. Taylor Hackford's well-wrought, touching movie shows many significant moments of the blind singer's life, good and bad: His need for women and the comfort of heroin on the bad side; his wit, charm, courage, financial savvy and his musical talent on the other. Kerry Washington is strong as Della Bea Robinson, whom Ray marries; so is Regina King as his passionate, on-the-road lover, Margie Hendricks. But Foxx steals his own show, not exaggerated but subtle. His verbal performance is remarkable, perfectly capturing Ray's inflections and directness, yet making them his own. And he's never far away from a humorous aside. He lights up his own darkness and the movie. Contains extensive drug use and sexual situations. Area theaters.

SAW (R, 100 minutes) -- This grotesque, uneven and kinda dumb mystery-thriller took some minor snipping to avoid an NC-17 rating. It isn't half as cool and clever as it would like you to think it is. Two men (Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell, also the scriptwriter) find themselves ankle-chained to wall pipes in opposite corners of a dilapidated bathroom. Both find tapes and other clues, concocted by the mysterious "Jigsaw Man," which lead them to the bottom line: They can free themselves by cutting through an ankle with hacksaws. The movie's ratio of nastiness to suspense writing is too high. This film's highest priority is the blood and the sawing of leg bones; as for teasing the viewer's brain, that's lower on the list. As a police detective who's involved in a subplot, Danny Glover gets a silly supporting role, especially in the movie's over-the-top (even for a flick like this) finale. Contains gruesome violence and carnage, bad acting and obscenity. Area theaters.

SHALL WE DANCE? (PG-13, 106 minutes) -- No one needs a session at Arthur Murray to keep up with the moves in "Shall We Dance?" In this Hollywoodized version of the 1996 Japanese film of the same name, Richard Gere plays a repressed lawyer and family man who, captivated by the sight of a mysterious woman's face gazing out of a dance studio window, signs up for ballroom dance lessons. To his surprise (but not the audience's), he discovers the thrill of dance, all the while forming a friendship with the elusive instructor Paulina (Jennifer Lopez). Meanwhile, his wife (Susan Sarandon) hires a private investigator to find out whether an extramarital affair is what's keeping hubby away from home. While Gere brings a salt-and-pepper-haired sexiness to his role, he and Lopez fail to generate any sparks. Most of the high points come from supporting players such as Stanley Tucci, who brings his usual energy to his part as a balding lawyer and gifted dancer who dons a Fabio-esque wig whenever he hits the floor. What's most disappointing about "Shall We Dance?" isn't its predictability or cliche dialogue. It's the lack of a knock-'em-dead dance scene, clearly a violation of Rule No. 1 in the Dance Movie Handbook. We get a few lovely waltzes but nothing that razzle-dazzles. For a film that stars "Chicago's" Billy Flynn and a former "In Living Color" Fly Girl Dancer, that's not only a violation, it's a sin. Contains some sexual references and brief obscenity.

-- Jen Chaney

SHARK TALE (PG, 92 minutes) -- Through a comedy of errors, the jive-talking fish called Oscar (Will Smith) gets credited for the killing of a mean shark. This puts him in real hot water with the shark's father, a mafioso fish named Don Lino (Robert De Niro). Oscar's only hope is his newfound friend, Don's nicer, pacifist son Lenny (Jack Black). The movie probably won't register as anything but fun to most kids. But that vapor of mediocrity might penetrate more discerning nostrils. Many of us have grown accustomed to extremely high quality in the computer-animated genre, thanks to such great films as "Toy Story" and "Shrek." This movie just doesn't match its predecessors, and those inevitable comparisons to Pixar's "Finding Nemo" will leave "Shark Tale" foundering. Contains mild obscenity and crude humor. Area theaters.

{sstar}SIDEWAYS (R, 124 minutes) -- In Alexander ("About Schmidt") Payne's terrific comedy, Miles (Paul Giamatti) takes his old college friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a road trip through California wine country before Jack gets married. It becomes a comedy of errors, as Jack chases after a woman (Sandra Oh) who steals his heart. Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor have made the funniest, most assured film of their partnership so far. The characters are so enjoyably matched, you'd follow their endless squabblings anywhere. Add the scenic wonders of Santa Ynez, and two fiercely independent women (including Virginia Madsen) who enter both men's lives, and you've got an irresistibly potent combination."Sideways" isn't just a road comedy, it's a great film about men and women. Contains some violence, obscenity, sexual scenes, nudity and pot smoking. Landmark's Bethesda Row and Loews Georgetown.

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (PG, 107 minutes) -- Less about the world of tomorrow than the world of yesterday, this technically innovative film (shot with live actors against an empty blue screen, with antique-looking, pulp-fiction-style details filled in later by computer animators) will be of less interest to fans of cutting-edge science fiction than to old-movie buffs. Set in the 1930s, the in-jokey story of crack reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) and mercenary flying ace Joe Sullivan (Jude Law), who are investigating a series of attacks by flying robots, is neat-o, in a film-geek kind of way. Still, first-time director Kerry Conran, who convinced Hollywood to let him make "Sky Captain" by shopping around a six-minute demo he made on his home laptop, isn't so much in love with dusty old black-and-white serials as he is with his own film, and that cold self-satisfaction shows. Contains some sci-fi/action violence. Regal Rockville Center, Majestic Cinema and AMC Hoffman Center.

-- 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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

STAGE BEAUTY (R, 105 minutes) -- This story about a male stage actor (Billy Crudup) who performs Shakespearean female roles and a female ingenue (Claire Danes) who dreams of playing a woman as a woman, is clearly meant to draw the same audiences who responded to "Shakespeare in Love." Director Richard Eyre and writer Jeffrey Hatcher (adapting his stage play "Compleat Female Stage Beauty") don't produce the brightness and luster of the 1998 "Shakespeare." This time around, the pretty faces, fine costumes, period-movie jokes and visits from a reigning monarch (in this case, a broad-as-a-barn Rupert Everett) feel imitative and secondhand. As Ned Kynaston, the talk of London with his portrayals of such well-known Shakespearean roles as Desdemona and Ophelia, Crudup is delicate, slim and graceful, but he never gets us to warm to him. Contains sexual content, some nudity and obscenity. Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

SURVIVING CHRISTMAS (PG-13, 92 minutes) -- In this Christmas turkey, a lonely rich yuppie (Ben Affleck) who has no family and no friends, pays a family living in his old childhood home to spend Christmas with him. A family, that is, of one-dimensional archetypes, including James Gandolfini as a bearded grump with a heart of gold; his frumpy, frustrated wife (Catherine O'Hara); and a teenager (Josh Zuckerman) who watches porn on his computer. Our yuppie boy is also torn between two women: the rich, empty chick (Jennifer Morrison) and the grumpy, serious but ultimately genuine Alicia (Christina Applegate). It seems Affleck is trying to beat out Pauly Shore and Cuba Gooding Jr. for worst movie posterboy of all time. Contains sexual content, obscenity, a drug reference and Affleck. Area theaters.

TAXI (PG-13, 97 minutes) -- I liked Jimmy Fallon on "Saturday Night Live." The ex-"Weekend Update" co-anchor always came across like one of those genial, smart-alecky Everydudes who live to crack up their friends in the group house next door. But the ability to make light of such celebs as Bobby Brown at a desk week after week does not a movie star make, and "Taxi" -- a buddy flick in which Fallon's bumbling New York cop teams up with Queen Latifah's speed-demon cabbie to pursue Brazilian supermodel bank robbers -- is proof of that. Even the closing-credit outtakes, in which Fallon is seen making himself and his castmates laugh, are way funnier than anything scripted in this stalled comedic vehicle. Contains violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (R, 98 minutes) -- This puppet comedy, by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of "South Park," is wickedly funny and devilishly subversive. It's riddled with obscenity and extremely low-rent humor that will curl almost anyone's hair. When one puppet gets sick from a night of partying, he pukes. And pukes. And pukes. And as for the movie's flashpoint scene -- a lovemaking session between two marionettes that had to be trimmed to avoid an NC-17 rating -- well, I didn't know puppets could do that. If it's raunchy the movie is also some sort of low-rent satire that targets plain old couch-potato us and our perception of the post-9/11 world, informed by a composite prism of fear, cultural ignorance and government spin. Contains puppet sex, puppet violence and extremely graphic language. Oh yeah, and major pukeage. Area theaters.

UNDERTOW (R, 108 minutes) -- Teenager Chris (Jamie Bell), a kid living in a hardscrabble, woodsy corner of a southern state, and his younger brother Tim (Devon Alan) find themselves on the run from a demented uncle (Josh Lucas) straight out of prison. Directed by David Gordon Green, "Undertow" wants to be two things: a sensual, down-south visual essay in the style of Green's previous inspired films, "George Washington" and last year's "All the Real Girls," and a sort of Bubba thriller. The result: a movie with singularly striking moments and images, but unevenly torn between its would-be poetry and its melodramatic narrative. Contains gruesome material, violence and obscenity. At Landmark's Bethesda Row and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

VANITY FAIR (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- It's quite possible that Reese Witherspoon, who brilliantly plays social-climbing heroine Becky Sharp in director Mira Nair's version of the William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, is too brilliant. That's because Witherspoon's Becky, more so even than the character in the book, is hugely likable, which leads us to hope for a redemption for the character that ultimately never comes on the page or on the screen. Yes, she schemes her way from poverty into high society, breaking hearts and ignoring her family in the process, but Witherspoon's charisma makes us yearn for some lesson to be learned, for a reward tempered by a kind of comeuppance. That's not the fault of Thackeray, but of the actress, who raises expectations that the film only dashes. Contains brief partial nudity, a mild boudoir scene, scuffling and images of war dead. Foxchase.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} VERA DRAKE (R, 120 minutes) -- In postwar England, young women who find themselves in "a spot of trouble" would do well to be rich. Daughters of the leisured classes can solve such problems with a discreet visit to a doctor. But poorer girls, they can only hope for someone as gentle and safe as Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton). She's a devoted wife, mother and neighbor who seems to find time for everybody. And she is about to learn that no good deed goes unpunished, especially in the working classes. Written and directed by Mike Leigh, the British filmmaker who made "Secrets & Lies" and "Topsy-Turvy," "Vera Drake" is a carefully calibrated parable that quietly sneaks into your heart and prods it sharply. Staunton is the heart and guts of this drama. And you cannot accompany her on this journey without feeling the intense highs and lows of her oddly fated life. Contains intense thematic material. Area theaters.

WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW!? (Unrated, minutes) -- It's hard to believe it took three directors (Mark Vicente, William Arntz and Batty Chasse) to make this mish-mash of a movie about the nature of consciousness, time, matter, psychiatry, emotions and religion. I guess the trio must have divided up the work, which includes documentary-style talking-head footage by a parade of New Age experts unidentified until the end; a fictional narrative starring Marlee Matlin as a depressive photographer; and CGI animations of the human sex drive that look like Mr. Potato Head crossed with flubber. What the #$*! do they know? Not much, apparently, about making movies. Contains obscenity and sexual content. Landmark's Bethesda Row, Alexandria Old Town Theater and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

WOMAN THOU ART LOOSED (R, 99 minutes) -- This grim tale, adapted from a novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes, is about the troubled life of Michelle (Kimberly Elise), who was raped at age 12 by her mother's boyfriend, Reggie (Clifton Powell). Michelle's mother, Cassie (Loretta Devine), refuses to believe what happened because she doesn't want to lose a man; and Michelle grows up bitter and angry. Michael Schultz's movie hinges almost diagrammatically on that act of child abuse, like a made-for-TV melodrama. Despite some strong performances, particularly from Elise, and all manner of stylistic flourishes by Schultz and screenwriter Stan Foster, the movie feels stagelike and a little too self-conscious. There are good scenes and less-assured moments, rich characters and cliched ones. Ultimately, the movie's too uneven to be totally satisfying. Contains obscenity, rape and other violence. Area theaters.

Repertory

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DOWNTOWN -- At the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater: "Space Station (3D)," daily at 10:30, 11:30, 1, 2 and 4. "To Fly!," daily at 12:30 and 5. "Straight Up: Helicopters in Action," daily at 3. "Sole Survivor," film and discussion, Thursday at 7. 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 11:30, 2:30 and 5:30. "Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk," daily at 12:30 and 3:30. "Magic of Flight," daily at 1:30 and 4:30. 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly. 202-357-2700.

AMERICAN CITY DINER -- "North By Northwest," Friday at 8. "Tootsie," Saturday at 8. "Rear Window," Sunday at 8. "The Caine Mutiny," Monday at 8. "An Officer and a Gentleman," Tuesday at 8. "Stalag 17," Wednesday at 8. "The Seven Year Itch," Thursday at 8. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

COLUMBIA UNION COLLEGE -- "The Pentagon Papers," Saturday at 7:30. Short Films: "Social Commentaries" at 2 and "Films on a Shoe String" at 3:30. Science Building, 7600 Flower Ave., Takoma Park. 301-891-4000.

DOCS IN PROGRESS -- "Up to the Mountain, Down to the Village" and "Empowered Women," Tuesday at 7. GWU's Media and Public Affairs Building, Jack Morton Auditorium, 805 21st St. NW. 240-505-8696.

EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL -- "Upswing," Saturday at 4:30 and Sunday at 8:45. "Triple Agent," Saturday at 9 and Sunday at 6:25. "Kontroll," Friday at 9 and Sunday at 1:45. "Christmas Rematch," Friday at 7 and Saturday at 7. "South From Granada," Saturday at 2. AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. 202-885-5950.

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

HIRSHHORN -- "Superstar in a Housedress: Jackie Curtis," Friday at 8. Free. Ring Auditorium, Seventh and Independence SW. 202-633-4674.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "Zabriskie Point," Friday at 7. "Carmen McRae, M'Boom, Bobby Hebb, the Persuasions," Monday at 7. "Der Rosenkavalier," Tuesday at 7. "The Swimmer," Wednesday at 7.

LINCOLN THEATER -- "Journey to Lasta," Sunday at 4. 1215 U St. NW. 202-328-6000.

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

MICA AND MARYLAND FILM FESTIVAL -- "Medium Cool," Monday at 7:30. Maryland Institute College of Art's Falvey Hall, 1301 Mount Royal Ave., Baltimore. 410-752-8083.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- Art films in the East building auditorium: "The English Garden, Parts 1 and 2," Friday at 12:30. "The Small Town" and "Cocoon," Saturday at 1. "Clouds of May," Saturday at 3. "At Five in the Afternoon" and "Joy of Madness," Sunday at 4:30. "The English Garden, Parts 3 and 4," Wednesday and Thursday at 12:30. Children's films in the East Building small auditorium: "Cathedral," Saturday at 12:30 and 2:30. "Castle," Saturday at 1:30 and 3:30. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN -- "Jim Northrup: With Reservations," Monday-Thursday at noon. "True Whispers," Thursday at 6:30. Free. Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW. 202-633-1000.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY -- Johnson Imax Theater: "Dolphins," Friday and Saturday at 10:20, 12:10, 2, 4 and 7; Sunday-Thursday at 10:20, 12:10, 2 and 4. "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous (3D)," daily at 11:15, 1:05, 3 and 5. "Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man (3D)," Friday and Saturday at 6 and 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.

OLD TOWN KUROSAWA FILM FESTIVAL -- "Yojimbo," Friday at 4 and 6:15, Sunday at 7:30, Monday at 1:30, Tuesday and Wednesday at 6:45. "Seven Samurai," Friday at 8:30, Saturday at 3 and 9, Thursday at 8. "Rashomon," Saturday at 1 and 7, Sunday and Monday at 5:30, Tuesday at 9, Wednesday at 6:45, Thursday at 5:30. 815 1/2 King St., Alexandria. 703-683-8888.

PSYCHOTRONIC FILM SOCIETY -- "42nd Street Forever," Tuesday at 8. Dr. Dremo's Taphouse, 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 202-736-1732 or 202-707-2540.

REEL MOMS/Gaithersburg -- "The Incredibles," Saturday at 10 and Tuesday at 11. Loews Rio, 9811 Washingtonian Center, Gaithersburg. 301-948-6673.

REEL MOMS/Georgetown -- "The Incredibles," Tuesday at 11. Loews Georgetown, 3111 K St. NW. 202-342-6033.

REEL MOMS/Largo -- "The Incredibles," Tuesday at 11. Magic Johnson Capital Center, 800 Shoppers Way, Largo. 301-324-4220

REEL MOMS/Vienna -- "The Incredibles," Tuesday at 11. Loews Fairfax Square, 8065 Leesburg Pike, Vienna. 703-506-9857.

TAKOMA PARK FILM FESTIVAL -- "Women of K2" and "Mr. Justice Brennan," Sunday at 2. "Radical Harmonies," Sunday at 7. Art films, Thursday at 7:30. Takoma Theatre, 6833 4th St. NW. 301-567-4867.

WEINBERG CENTER -- "The Inn," Saturday at 7. 20 W. Patrick St., Frederick. 301-228-2828.

New on Video

{sstar} SHREK 2

(PG, 2004, 92 MINUTES, DREAM WORKS)

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 (so fast you'll have to see it twice or wait for the DVD to catch them all), 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.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

(PG, 2004, 120 MINUTES, BUENA VISTA PICTURES)

Jackie Chan continues to strain himself to the point of bursting major blood vessels to be rubbery fun. It's cringe-inducing to watch. In this zestless remake of the 1956 movie, he's Lau Xing, a Chinese villager along for the ride, caught up in a globe-traveling stunt. Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), a 19th-century inventor, bets the imperious Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), head of the Royal Academy of Science, that he can traverse the globe in 80 days; and Lau (whom Phileas dubs Passepartout), who is trying to smuggle a jade Buddha home to his Chinese village, joins him. Coogan, one of England's funniest comedians, is made into an unconvincing leading man. And in the worst cameo of anyone's career, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Prince Hapi, a royal Turkish womanizer, who temporarily interrupts Phileas's journey. Contains action violence, some crude humor and mild obscenity.

-- Desson Thomson

FACING WINDOWS

(NOT RATED, 2003, 102 MINUTES, SONY PICTURES CLASSICS)

In Ferzan Ozpetek's Italian-language film, Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and her husband, Filippo (Filippo Nigro), are obliged to house an old man (the late Massimo Girotti) who has lost his memory. Meanwhile, Giovanna, who's unhappy in her marriage, is attracted to a handsome neighbor (Raoul Bova) who lives across the road. Gradually Giovanna gains an appreciation for the old man, who has quite a story to tell about the Holocaust, if he can only remember. It's a diverting movie, but not for one minute do you think you're watching actual, real people. Just actors, lit up, beautiful and performing away. And of course, being attractive. The best way to appreciate the movie is to get lost in the surface. Contains nudity, some obscenity, some disturbing themes and sexual situations.

-- D.T.

{sstar} FESTIVAL EXPRESS

(R, 2003, 90 MINUTES, THINKFILm INC.)

Lost for 35 years, "Festival Express" finally arrives in theaters and joins "Woodstock" and "Gimme Shelter" as a classic documentary about late '60s and early '70s rock festivals. This long-forgotten 1970 tour was Woodstock-on-wheels, as a private train carried the Grateful Dead, the Band, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, the Flying Burrito Brothers and others on a five-day jaunt through Canada. Film crews recorded it all, but when the tour lost a bundle after "free music" agitators protested the $14 ticket, the raw film disappeared until some music archivists found 60 hours of beautifully shot but unedited 16mm footage and 90 hours of unmixed audio in Canada's National Archives. The Band and the Dead are in peak form, but the revelation is Janis Joplin, whose ferocious, full-throated, rhythm-and-mostly-blues renderings of "Tell Mama" and "Cry Baby" may well be her most powerful filmed performances (less than three months later, she was dead of a drug overdose). The jams are also great fun -- Jerry Garcia, who clearly loved the all-music-all-the-time focus of this short, strange trip, would call the Festival Express "the best time I ever had in rock 'n' roll." Contains adult language.

-- Richard Harrington

{sstar} A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD

(R, 2004, 96 MINUTES, WARNER BROS.)

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.

-- D.T.

The agony of defeat: Brian Chavez (Jay Hernandez) comforts teammate Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) after a loss in the drama "Friday Night Lights."Gael Garcia Bernal plays a 23-year-old medical student named Ernesto Guevara -- the man who would become Che -- in "The Motorcycle Diaries," about Guevara's road trip through South America. Imelda Staunton gives a powerful performance as a wife, mother and abortionist in "Vera Drake."