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A star ({sstar}) denotes a movie recommended by our critics.

THE ARISTOCRATS (Unrated, 87 minutes) -- The joke whose punch line lends this documentary its title isn't especially funny. Filthy, yes, but not a laugh riot, except in the way its structure lends itself to extended riffs of jazz-like improvisation on the part of the 100 or so comedians who line up to tell it. What makes us laugh is the joke's sheer excess. Far more fascinating, however, than its many tellings and retellings, is the footage of comics like Bob Saget and Sarah Silverman talking about the joke, which has been a staple of backstage banter among comedians since vaudeville. Sometimes analyzing why something's funny is enough to kill it, but here it's what makes "The Aristocrats" most interesting. Contains numerous foul-mouthed interpretations of a single filthy joke. Loews Georgetown.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} CAPOTE (R, 98 minutes) -- It is a comical image: fey, mincing, piping little Truman Capote in his vicuna coat and cashmere scarf tiptoeing around the bleak wheat-field burg of Holcomb, Kan., in the wake of some horrific murders about which he admits he doesn't really care. Capote had come to Kansas to investigate the 1959 murders of a wealthy farmer named Clutter and his wife and two kids and to write what became his brilliant "nonfiction novel," "In Cold Blood." As Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman makes you believe in the man: an artist's personality, ruthless and shrewd; a hysteric's delicate grasp of his emotions; a charmer whose wiles could wear down even the wary Kansas lawmen. It's a performance, not an impersonation. The movie is astringent, almost shorn of rhetoric. It makes its points in brief scenes simply composed, without fretwork or flash. The writer and director, Dan Futterman and Bennett Miller, respectively, are extremely agile in this production, giving the movie a minimalist's purity, which feels refreshing in this age of excess. Contains violent language and images. Area theaters.

-- Stephen Hunter

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (PG, 115 minutes) -- People enamored with Gene Wilder's manic, sweet performance in the 1971 "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" may be disappointed in Johnny Depp's oddball eccentricity as this Wonka. Depp's version is an unsettling amalgam of Michael Jackson, Edward Scissorhands and Lisa Kudrow's Phoebe from the TV show "Friends." But there are other watchable delights: Director Tim Burton takes us on a ride of over-the-top proportions, entertaining us while tacitly scolding our mass consumptiveness. Wonka's factory is a wonderland of chocolate lakes and candy-grass banks. There are some hilarious routines performed by the diminutive Oompa Loompas (their songs created by Burton's regular collaborator, Danny Elfman). And Freddie Highmore is a charmer as Charlie, a poor kid who wins a ticket to tour Wonka's factory. Contains offbeat humor and situations, and some mild obscenity. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

-- Desson Thomson

{sstar} THE CONSTANT GARDENER (R, 123 minutes) -- Vivid performances drive Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles's fine adaptation of the John Le Carre novel. Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a mild-mannered junior diplomat in Kenya, is shattered when his wife, Tessa (Rachel Weisz), is violently murdered on a "research trip" far up country. He learns quickly enough that Tessa, a social gadfly type, had acquired a "reputation" in the tight world of British diplomacy. The movie chronicles Justin's growth as he begins to understand what sort of a woman he had. Fiennes hasn't looked so good in years, playing a soft man become hard. Weisz is especially good. The quick evocations of diplomatic life, corporate dealings and even the world of anonymous travel off-passport are splendidly done. What is evoked best, though, is Africa, that maddening panorama of beauty, nobility, poverty and corruption. Contains sexuality, gore and violence. Area theaters.

-- S.H.

DOMINO (R, 128 minutes) -- It seems the only true thing about this movie, which begins with the disclaimer that it is based on a true story . . . "sort of," is the name of its title character, the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey who, after the death of her dad when she was young, embarked on a troubled girlhood and ended up as a bounty hunter. (The real Domino Harvey died in June of a suspected drug overdose.) The film pivots around an ill-fated gig that Domino (Keira Knightley) is explaining to an FBI psychologist (Lucy Liu), entailing lots of doubling and tripling back in time. The effect is edgy, tough and sneakily seductive, as the ultimate Girl Gone Wild plies her trade, using whatever it takes -- assault weapons or lap dances -- to get her man. The filmmakers have added a subplot involving a reality TV show that is following Domino and her crew. There's a manic kind of pleasure in all this, but it turns out to be a tiresome trip. Contains strong violence, pervasive profanity, sexual content, nudity and drug use. AMC Courthouse an AMC Hoffman Center.

-- Ann Hornaday

DOOM (R, 95 minutes) -- A square-jawed, bull-necked leader named Sarge (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) heads a rapid response team of Marines dispatched to investigate a calamity at a remote scientific facility on Mars. The killer mutants they find there will be familiar to the many fans of Doom, the video game that has been keeping people from getting out of the house since 1993. The Rock is an enjoyable presence, not just for his statuesque build but for his occasionally comic moments. Another character called Portman (Richard Brake), a funny futuristic griper, is good for a few chuckles. Karl Urban makes an empathetic Reaper, the ultimate hero of the story, whose transformative finale the audience sees from that much vaunted first-person perspective of the game. But for the most part, "Doom" is a loud, standard-issue sci-fi action film. Contains profanity and intense violence. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

{sstar} DREAMER: INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY (PG, 98 minutes) -- This horse-race drama, in which young Cale Crane (Dakota Fanning) nurses a wounded horse back to racing shape, harnesses the Rules of Cute and Fuzzy Horse Movies (temporary setbacks, underdog horses, stand-up-and-cheer moments) and rides them all the way to the Breeders' Cup. But will her formerly hobbled horse win, despite the terrible odds, when Cale has staked all her hopes and dreams into that special horse (named Dreamer)? Writer-director John Gatins and his actors also fulfill the engaging-family requirement. Fanning, an extraordinary performer, makes a wonderfully sweet and unbratty Cale. Kurt Russell matches her charm as her good-natured father; and as Pop, the grandpa whose passion for horses has been handed down three generations, Kris Kristofferson is a pleasurably gruff-voiced presence. This is a family to root for, as much as the horse. Contains mild profanity and a disturbing horse injury. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

ELIZABETHTOWN (PG-13, 123 minutes) -- Cameron Crowe's misfired romance features Orlando Bloom as shoe designer Drew Baylor, whose latest creation has led to his firing, and Kristen Dunst as life-affirmative flight attendant Claire, who meets him on the plane he has to take to Elizabethtown, Ky. His father, while visiting his home town, just died there. It's Drew's duty to deal with the body and make nice with his estranged Southern relatives. Drew is mopey and despondent and contemplating suicide. Claire gives him driving directions to Elizabethtown and that other destination: her big, home-fried heart. But Drew has to deal with his father and family, as well as work out that, you know, shoe depression. There's not much specialness between Bloom and Dunst, other than the surface appeal of two attractive people making (or almost making) kissy face. Sweet delay before the inevitable coupling is a mainstay in every romance, but Crowe turns that delay into the waiting room from hell. Contains profanity and some sexual references. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (PG-13, 115 minutes) -- Despite the cast's pedigree, this movie is satisfying neither as a murder mystery nor as a vomit-soaked frightfest. A Roman Catholic exorcist (Tom Wilkinson) is charged with negligent homicide in the death of a possessed college student (Jennifer Carpenter). The film, based on a true story, pits a church-going district attorney (Campbell Scott) against the accused priest's nonbelieving defense lawyer (Laura Linney). Although the film seems to come down on the side of the argument that believes in demons, it's never especially persuasive. Good, if slightly overwrought, performances are drowned in more Sturm und Drang hokum than the "Law & Order" wannabe can withstand. Contains sequences of intense disturbing imagery. University Mall Theatres.

-- M.O.

FLIGHTPLAN (PG-13, 88 minutes) -- The baby vanishes. Well, maybe not a baby, but a 6-year-old girl with a resemblance to Miss Froy, the lady who vanished in Alfred Hitchcock's 1938 thriller, "The Lady Vanishes." In that definitive film, the conveyance on which she disappeared was a train. In "Flightplan," it is a jumbo jet, with all sorts of compartments, bays and hidey-holes for a little kid to crawl into, and the movie gives viewers the impression of being on that plane as Jodie Foster -- playing the girl's desperate mother, who may or may not be mentally unhinged -- tries to lead her fellow passengers in a search. Foster, who projects strength and vulnerability in equal measure, is joined by Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean, both excellent. Striking just the right balance between claustrophobia and terrifying emptiness, the young German director Robert Schwentke ratchets up the tension with good taste and quiet, unfussy skill. It all falls apart with the Big Reveal. Contains violence and intense themes. Area theaters.

-- A.H.

THE FOG (PG-13, 100 MINUTES) -- There may be more narrative explanation and higher-priced special effects in this remake of horrormeister John Carpenter's 1980 ghost story, but there are far fewer chills, plenty of dead spots and some genuinely bad acting. A peaceful and prosperous island community off the Oregon coast plans to honor its founding fathers with the unveiling of a statue. Not so fast, though. A boatload of vengeful 19th-century spirits rises from the sea and moves upon the place in a roiling, spectral, insidious fog that picks and chooses where it will seep, engulf and kill. The local priest (Adrian Hough) starts drinking and looking, well, haunted. Tom Welling as a fisherman and Maggie Grace (who wins the expressionless acting award) as his sometime girlfriend play the pretty but pallid leads who eventually deduce why the town is so chosen. Only Selma Blair as the island's chatty radio DJ brings zip to the proceedings. Contains stabbings, drownings, people on fire, pierced by glass shards, or just plain disintegrating. It also includes an understated sexual situation and some profanity. Area theaters.

-- Jane Horwitz

{sstar}THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN (R, 111 minutes) -- Filthy, funny and sweet in equal measure, the feature directorial debut of "Freaks and Geeks" writer-producer Judd Apatow (who co-wrote the script with star Steve Carell) is a Rob Schneider movie with the soul of a chick flick. Wait. That's not actually fair. While it's true that the comedy -- revolving around the efforts of three friends (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen) to get their geeky nice-guy co-worker (Carell) deflowered -- has a lot of smutty humor, it's also pretty smart. In the end, the organ it's really all about exercising is not the one you think, but the human heart. Contains raunchy sex humor, drug use, obscenity, partial nudity and glimpses of a porn film. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and Universal Mall Theatres.

-- M.O.

G (R, 96 minutes) -- This contrived exercise in vanity and product placement is being billed as a modern-day, hip-hop version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby." Summer G (potentially wonderful Richard T. Jones) is a hip-hop producer who has amassed a fortune and moved into a seaside mansion. True to Fitzgerald's original story, G has moved there to win the affection of a social climber who is the love of his life, a woman named Sky Hightower (Chenoa Maxwell), wife of snobby scion Chip (Blair Underwood). Things go wrong, really wrong, meaning not that illusions are shattered or hearts are broken or people are killed -- although they are, they are and they are -- but that the plot is a shambles, the acting is atrocious and there is too much concern with getting Heineken and Ralph Lauren labels in the shot. ("G" was produced by and co-stars Andrew Lauren, son of the Gatsby-esque Ralph.) Contains language, sexuality and brief violence. Magic Johnson Theater.

-- A.H.

{sstar} GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (PG-13, 93 minutes) -- George Clooney, who directed (as well as co-wrote), retells the classic story of crusading journalist Ed Murrow, who stood up to braying political bully Joe McCarthy. The stylizations of '50s TV drama, including black-and-white cinematography, are terrific. Clooney casts himself as Murrow's producer, Fred W. Friendly, but hardly registers. Neither do any of the other CBS minions, even though they're played by such names as Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson. Only two people register, David Strathairn as Murrow and Joe McCarthy as Joe McCarthy. (The red-baiting senator from Wisconsin is shown in archival footage, as opposed to being performed by an actor. It's effective for chronicling his charisma and recklessness.) Strathairn's Murrow dominates the movie with furious intelligence, guts, will and nobility. It's a pleasure to sit through something this brisk and mesmerizing. Contains psychological intensity and mild profanity. Area theaters.

-- S.H.

GOSPEL (PG, 105 minutes) -- David Taylor (Boris Kodjoe), a successful, egotistical R&B star, returns to his estranged father, the Rev. Fred Taylor (Clifton Powell), to find him suffering from a terminal illness. Not only that, David's longtime enemy Frank (Idris Elba) is poised to assume the bishop's duties. Should David return to his music life or deal with more urgent matters? Intended for gospel- and faith-appreciating audiences, this is a movie about the struggles for virtuousness in a world of temptation and compromise. It's also filled with some gospel numbers that should uplift its intended audience. Unfortunately, Rob Hardy's writing and directing don't soar quite as high as his spiritual intentions. Contains suggestive themes of sexuality and mild profanity. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

{sstar} A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (R, 95 minutes) -- Like a Trojan horse, David Cronenberg's film has a hidden and powerful purpose. Seemingly a mainstream shoot-'em-up flick, in which the soft-spoken Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) defends his family against a horde of hoodlums, the movie's really about our Pavlovian conditioning to violence. Life seems permanently asleep in a Midwestern hamlet until two men barge into Stall's diner one night. When Tom tells them it's closing time, he finds himself staring at a drawn gun. Tom emerges the victor, but then the questions begin: How did this unassuming diner owner dispatch the gunmen so effortlessly? Why do more gangsters, led by scar-faced Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), keep coming for him? Ultimately, though, Cronenberg's drama isn't about western-style heroism; it's about why we're cheering when Tom plugs them dead. Contains extreme violence, sex scenes, nudity and profanity. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

IN HER SHOES (PG-13, 131 minutes) -- Curtis Hanson's movie about two sisters may be one better than "chick lit," but it's about two worse than drama. In a pedestrian display of opposites, Rose (Toni Colette) has a law firm career, money and smarts but few men. Party girl Maggie (Cameron Diaz) lands the guys but always ends up drunk, penniless and miserable on Rose's sofa. When Maggie casually steals Rose's smooth-operator boss, Jim (Richard Burgi), sisterly tension becomes official breakup. The women branch off into self-discovery subplots. Maggie buses to Florida to confront (and cadge money from) estranged grandmother Ella (Shirley MacLaine). Maggie discovers herself as a fashion consultant and, a closet dyslexic, learns to read. Rose quits her job, walks dogs and realizes former co-worker Simon (Mark Feuerstein) may be Mr. Right. When the sisters meet again, it's not a harmonic convergence. It's just the end of 131 minutes. Contains thematically disturbing material, language and some sexual content. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

{sstar} INNOCENT VOICES (R, 120 minutes) -- For most 11-year-olds, a 12th birthday is something to look forward to. For Chava, a boy growing up in rural El Salvador, it's a date with terror. In Luis Mandoki's tough and tender film, it's the 1980s and Chava's country is embroiled in a 12-year civil war. When boys turn 12, they're spirited away and pressed into the government army. If they return alive, they come back as hardened machines, their innocence lost. What makes the ordeal more acute for Chava (Carlos Padilla) is his natural empathy for the rebels, one of whom is his beloved uncle. Mandoki, director of such English-language movies as "Angel Eyes" and "Message in a Bottle," finds a satisfying blend of sentimentality and hard-core realism. You're so caught up in this story's cruelties and injustices -- he never lets the war become just a backdrop -- you crave sentimentality. Contains profanity and disturbing violence. In Spanish with subtitles. AMC Mazza Gallerie and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- D.T.

THE LEGEND OF ZORRO (PG, 130 minutes) -- Proudly flourishing the Z that stands for "zonked," "The Legend of Zero" -- er, "Zorro" -- is dumb like a lox. It's seven years since the original "Mask of Zorro" made Catherine Zeta-Jones a star and Hollywood royalty in the same breath, and nobody connected with this film -- including Zeta-Jones, Antonio Banderas and director Martin Campbell -- really wants to revisit the initial triumph. So they don't. They pretend to make a Zorro film, when they're really making what feels like a sequel to the dreadful big-screen version of "The Wild, Wild West." Where's Agent Jim West when you need him? Surely, it's more his part of the forest than Zorro's to stop a mega-conspiracy plot to sunder the United States into Civil War. There's just a nonsense plot and too many action sequences of no consequence. What a waste of talent, time and money. And guess what else? It's also really long! Contains profanity and scenes of violence. Area theaters.

-- S.H.

{sstar} MAGNIFICENT DESOLATION: WALKING ON THE MOON 3D (Unrated, 41 minutes) -- The next best thing to going to the moon? Rocketing up there on the Imax screen sporting 3-D eyewear. Narrated by Tom Hanks (also a producer), this gee-wonderful, virtual visit to the arid orb uses ingenious technical sleight of hand to -- let's face it -- fake it beautifully. To create the sensation that we are bounding like gravity-free lambs on the lunar surface with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, director Mark Cowen and crew have culled authentic footage from various kinds of stock -- 16mm, 35 mm and TV Kinescope video -- and blown them up into the 70 mm Imax format. Then, using a combination of computer-generated imagery and live-action reenactments, they've created the illusion we're taking that giant leap for mankind. Contains nothing objectionable. National Air and Space Museum.

-- D.T.

{sstar} MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (G, 80 minutes) -- In this charmfest of a movie, narrator Morgan Freeman tells us about the habits and tremendous resilience of the emperor penguins, whose procreation quest takes them on an incredible journey on the frozen continent, where on a good day, the temperature is 58 degrees below zero. We're talking journeys of about 70 miles to the most frigid chunk of land on Earth. The film is full of wonderful moments and spectacles, including thousands of penguins huddled en masse, nursing their eggs. The wind moans (sometimes those gusts are 100 mph) and peppers them with snow. But they hold on to those eggs, which would crack and kill the baby inside if they touch the ground. But when those fluffies are born, you understand why the parents go to all that trouble. Contains penguin slapstick. University Mall Theatres.

-- D.T.

{sstar} NORTH COUNTRY (R, 130 minutes) -- Charlize Theron, as a fictionalized version of the first woman to file a sexual harassment lawsuit in the United States, proves her acting chops yet again in an engrossing, well-crafted story of a grave injustice avenged. Based on a real-life 1984 case in which Lois Jenson sued her employer, a Minnesota mining company, this drama tells the story of Josey Aimes (Theron), a young woman who flees an abusive marriage with two kids in tow, arriving on her parents' doorstep in Minnesota's bleak Mesabi Iron Range. At the encouragement of a friend (Frances McDormand), Josey gets a well-paid job at one of the mines, which have only recently begun to hire women. There, the women are routinely groped, verbally abused and physically threatened, culminating, in Josey's case, in a near-rape on a pile of taconite. Director Niki Caro's depiction of the unspoken tribal codes that hold an insular community together and the severe price of transgressing them is observant, even elegant. Contains profanity, sequences involving sexual harassment, including violence and disturbing dialogue. Area theaters.

-- A.H.

{sstar} PRIME (PG-13, 105 minutes) -- This romance, starring Meryl Streep, Uma Thurman and Bryan Greenberg, follows a familiar boy-meets-girl scenario, but filmmaker Ben Younger turns the routine into combustible fun. That's why, for instance, the two lovers in our story are the thirty-something Rafi (Thurman), who can hear the baby clock ticking, and the 23-year-old David (Greenberg), whose idea of a good time is playing Nintendo. It's also why -- in the movie's central complication -- Rafi talks openly about her romantic issues with a therapist, Lisa (Streep), who happens to be David's very devout Jewish mom and would disapprove of this union with an older shiksa. Neither woman makes the David connection for a while, and that's uncomfortably amusing enough. But when Lisa finds out and insists on continuing the sessions (while Rafi remains in the dark), the movie really becomes "Prime." Contains sexual scenes and profanity. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

PROOF (PG-13, 100 minutes) -- Where can movies go that theater can't? Close up, and that's where director John Madden parks his camera as Gwyneth Paltrow fights madness and grief in this adaptation of David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Catherine (Paltrow) is the daughter of a legendary math professor who lost his mind (Anthony Hopkins). Now he's dead, and Catherine is a mess: Does she have his gifts? Is she getting his disease? Is there proof? The story, adapted by Auburn and Rebecca Miller, retains the clever twists and entertaining, logic-driven dialogue of the original. For better and worse, "Proof" is now explicitly a star vehicle, and Paltrow will impress a lot of people. Yet by ruthlessly zooming in on Catherine's morbid obsessions, Madden makes Auburn's probing but lively stage material darker, more cloistered and less fun. Contains drug references, profanity and some sexual content. AMC Tysons Corner.

-- Nelson Pressley

ROLL BOUNCE (PG-13, 107 minutes) -- If you were a junior-higher back in the day, the '70s and early '80s, then your idea of a hot Saturday night was hanging out at the local roller rink, and director Malcolm Lee captures that time, with the insult-a-thons, the preening and posturing of polyester-clad lotharios and the angst of young love. And for the most part, he got the cast right, with rapper Bow Wow as X, a young Chicago teenager with a jones for skating, and the sturdy Chi McBride as his widowed father (though supporting players Khleo Thomas, Rick Gonzalez and Jurnee Smollett prove much stronger, more natural actors than Bow Wow). What Lee doesn't pull off is the story: The film can't get its rhythms right, fluctuating wildly between comedy and pathos. Contains profanity and crude humor. Area theaters.

-- Teresa Wiltz

SAW II (R, 91 minutes) -- We have eight folks trapped inside a grim house, all raging at one another as if this is some reality TV show gone criminally insane. They must negotiate their way through deadly booby traps to get out -- all this before they succumb to the noxious gas flowing through the vents. Their only escape clues come from prerecorded tapes made by the bass-voiced Jigsaw, who gamely suggests they collaborate. Their only hope from the outside comes from detective Eric Mason (Donnie Wahlberg), whose teen son (Erik Knudsen) is among the captured. Mason eventually catches Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and tries to beat the truth out of him. Not a good idea. Fans of the first "Saw" can look forward to involuntary incineration, wrist and throat slashing, bullets through brains and the bashing of someone's head with a nail-festooned club. The most horrifying moment is when you realize things have been set up for another sequel. Contains grisly violence and gore, terror, language and drug references. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

SEPARATE LIES (R, 85 minutes) -- In this psycho-emotional thriller, three members of the English upper class behave terribly well when they find themselves in a spot of trouble involving adultery, manslaughter and obstruction of justice. In Hollywood's hands, this would also feature steamy sex scenes, Oscar-worthy histrionics and someone avenging his honor with a gun. But the directorial debut by Julian Fellowes is all about restraint, good taste and discretion. Mendacity and avarice may form the toxic heart of the story, but they're nearly obscured by a civilized polish. "No life is perfect," says James Manning (Tom Wilkinson) by way of introduction, and as James, a high-powered London lawyer, kisses his pretty wife, Anne (Emily Watson), goodbye on their posh doorstep, it's clear that only carnage can ensue. And it does, in the person of one William Bule (Rupert Everett), whom James and Anne meet that weekend at their country house. Some very bad things happen, which in terms of movie logic are entirely predictable. Contains profanity and some sexual references. AMC Courthouse.

-- A.H.

{sstar} SERENITY (PG-13, 119 minutes) -- When Joss Whedon's imaginative sci-fi series, "Firefly," was canceled, fans went into deep mourning. But thanks to their enthusiastic snapping up of the show's DVDs, Universal ponied up $40 million for "Serenity," a movie version that brings back Capt. Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his lovable, outer-space mercenaries. In the retelling, writer-director Whedon has boiled off a lot of the complexity and introduced a new character, the ruthless Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an agent for the evil Alliance, the Big-Brotherish federal government that runs Mal's galaxy. The result is a sort of amphetamine-fueled reprise, designed to give fans their sentimental jolt but also drum up new devotees. It's entertaining, especially because of Mal's colorful followers and Whedon's snappy, witty and often poignant pen. Contains sci-fi violence, sexual situations and profanity. Muvico Egyptian Theatres, AMC Tysons Corner and Regal Fairfax Town Center.

-- D.T.

SHOPGIRL (R, 105 minutes) -- Deft but slight, the new Steve Martin film is a case of precise observation of nothing. From Martin's own screenplay, based on his own novella and directed by Anand Tucker, the movie watches listlessly as old rich guy Ray Porter (Martin) begins a pointless, clearly doomed affair with shopgirl Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes), who sells gloves at Saks in Beverly Hills. Slight age diff: He's fifty-something, she's twenty-something. Is this harmless or a species of child abuse? On this issue, as on many others, the movie is silent. It's a film concerned with cool surfaces, with getting things right, particularly clothes and fashion accoutrements. It's hip, it's now, it's happening, it's dull. The movie never explains the nature of this relationship: Why does he become obsessed (in a polite way) with her; why in turn does she let a man older than her father, even if he's well preserved, caress her body? No answers. Contains nudity and sexual suggestion. Area theaters.

-- S.H.

{sstar} THREE . . . EXTREMES (Unrated, 120 minutes) -- Like a bouquet of poisoned flowers, this trio of horror films from three "extreme" Asian directors shows how much evil fun talented bad boys can have on a very small scale. The Chinese filmmaker Fruit Chan gets things off roaringly with "Dumplings," a beautiful, hysterically funny study of the monstrosity of vanity involving a fading TV actress Ching (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah). In "Cut," director Chan-wook Park shows off his talent for extreme melodrama: A young director (Byung-hun Lee) awakens to find himself not merely kidnapped but placed in a grotesque world where he must choose whether to let a madman cut off his wife's fingers. He can stop her slow ordeal by strangling a little girl. Finally, Japanese crazy man Takashi Miike checks in with "Box," in which a novelist recalls a hideous occurrence of sibling jealousy and slowly unravels the secrets of what she did and what was done to her. None of it is very pretty. Contains extremely powerful images of violence and psychologically disturbing information. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- S.H.

TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE (PG, 76 MINUTES) -- The Corpse Bride is indeed dead. Sure, she's cute, but she has a wayward eye that pops out at inopportune moments, thanks to the talking maggot renting space in its socket. Not exactly marriage material, as Victor, voiced by Johnny Depp, discovers when he's dragged from the Land of the Living by the Corpse Bride (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter). Will true love -- with a living lass (voiced by Emily Watson) -- prevail over the Corpse Bride's ferocious determination? The movie is breathtaking viewing, shot in sumptuous shades of blacks, whites and grays, using not computerized means but older-school stop-motion animation. The film is tongue-in-cheek and wry, with kitschy musical numbers. But we can't quite figure out whom the film is intended for: Animated talking maggots does not a kiddie movie make. Contains scary images. Area theaters.

-- T.W.

TWO FOR THE MONEY (R, 132 minutes) -- Al Pacino has played the dark mentor so many times, he ought to get a kingmaker's award. So when you see Pacino playing betting-firm capo Walter Abrams and leading ex-football player Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey) into the greedy underworld of high-stakes sports gambling, well, you know to expect certain things. Walter introduces Brandon to his factory of speed-dial score gurus and expounds loquaciously about this hidden world of ecstatic highs and suicidal lows, where fortunes are won or lost over the quirky bounce of the pigskin on "Monday Night Football." Unfortunately, "Two for the Money," directed by D.J. Caruso, hedges on its lurid promise. Sure, it takes us to the dark side, but it does so with such a fat dose of equivocation, the fight between good and evil feels fixed in favor of Hollywood redemption. Contains perverse profanity, a sexual scene and some violence. AMC Courthouse.

-- D.T.

THE UNTOLD STORY OF EMMETT LOUIS TILL (Unrated, 70 minutes) -- In this documentary about the notorious killing in Mississippi in 1955, we see how a grieving mother created a landmark moment in American history. The sheriff in the Delta county where Till was murdered, for supposedly whistling at a white woman at a country store, ordered the boy's mutilated corpse to be buried almost immediately, relatives recount in this fast-paced retelling. But then the call came from Chicago: Mamie Till Mobley, the 14-year-old's mother, ordered the pine box containing her son to be sent home. She then had it pried open and displayed what was inside to all and sundry. The two killers were acquitted by an all-white jury in nothing flat. This is powerful, and often-told, material. But for a documentary that bills itself as "untold," director Kevin Beauchamp never makes clear what he's telling that is new. You leave the theater feeling moved by a mother's courage, sickened by the crime and a little frustrated. Contains some disturbing images, racially offensive terms (in older footage) and explicit discussions of violence. AMC Mazza Gallerie.

-- Neely Tucker

{sstar} USHPIZIN (PG, 90 minutes) -- Ushpizin is Hebrew for "visitors," specifically friends and strangers who may need shelter and sustenance during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. That week-long autumn festival is the setting for this comic drama, about an Orthodox rabbi named Moshe (Shuli Rand) who lives with his wife, Malli (Michal Bat-Sheva Rand), in Jerusalem. The couple is just scraping by while they pray for a son. By twists of fate and faith, their prayers are answered -- sort of -- in the form of two unexpected visitors. As cozy and inviting as the small booth that Moshe and Malli build to celebrate the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, the film offers a warm, intimate glimpse of Orthodox Jewish life. Most revelatory here is Malli, who defies the stereotype of subservience and emerges as a woman of self-possession and substance. As a profession of faith, "Ushpizin" ends on a somewhat troubling proselytizing note, but as a portrayal of an invisible culture, it's an important cinematic milestone. Contains mild thematic elements. In Hebrew with subtitles. Landmark's Bethesda Row, Cinema Arts Theatre and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- A.H.

WAITING (R, 93 minutes) -- This teen gross-out comedy is a puerile, pointless piece of work in which a group of young waiters and waitresses engages in a collective obsession with genitalia, bodily excretions, sexual put-downs and free-floating misanthropy. Recycling humor from "American Pie" and the Farrelly brothers' oeuvre to derivative excess, "Waiting" is a proud member of the rank and vile, a sex comedy for people who found "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" too philosophically arcane to comprehend. The movie follows a day in the life of Shenanigan's, a strip-mall family franchise. A waiter named Monty (Ryan Reynolds, epitomizing unctuous insincerity) trains a newcomer named Mitch (John Francis Daley) and along the way introduces the newbie to the dirty secrets of restaurant culture. Set pieces include a nightmare scenario of what vindictive waiters do with food that is sent back. Contains strong, crude and sexual humor; pervasive profanity and some drug use. Muvico Egyptian Theatres and Regal Fairfaz Town Center.

-- A.H.

{sstar} WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (G, 85 minutes) -- Directed by animators Nick Park and Steve Box, the feature film debut of Wallace and Gromit opens with the dotty English inventor and his quietly superior dog working at yet another ingenious business called Anti-Pesto, which humanely removes four-legged creatures from their town's vegetable gardens. The stakes are unusually high, as the villagers -- including canine Gromit -- are lovingly preparing their produce to compete in the annual vegetable growing contest. Things are just swell until one of Wallace's schemes -- involving a gizmo that "extracts unlovely thoughts and desires" -- goes awry, and the gardens are soon being vandalized by the King Kong of rabbits. Yes, the clay duo have gone a bit high-tech -- Park and Box reportedly used hundreds of computerized effects in this film -- but they're still the same old W&G, right down to the barely discernable thumbprints on their faces. Gromit, who might be the most expressive silent movie star since Buster Keaton, is pure magic. Contains nothing objectionable. Area theaters.

-- A.H.

{sstar} THE WEATHER MAN (R, 100 minutes) -- Imagine a newborn taking in that first gasp of air, his terrified eyes trying to absorb the glare of the delivery room lights. That is precisely the expression in Dave Spritz's eyes, whether he's calling the weather or trying to make sense of his disastrous personal life. Dave (Nicolas Cage) may be an adult, but, existentially speaking, this guy's in diapers. Delivering the forecast in the Windy City means a lot of high-spirited patter about the degrees of misery Chicagoans can expect each day. Dave's value as a celebrity is brought into stark relief on the street. Everybody, it seems, either wants to pester him for predictions or toss fast food projectiles at him. Then there are his relationships with his recently divorced wife, Noreen (Hope Davis), and two teenage children -- all in dire need of intervention -- to round off his failings. Should Dave leave all this for a promising job in New York or stay and put right his family issues? The film shines the light on a special kind of heroism -- the guts to face up to yourself and make changes. Contains relentless profanity and nudity. Area theaters

-- D.T.

{sstar} WEDDING CRASHERS (R, 119 minutes) -- Jeremy (Vince Vaughn) and John (Owen Wilson) are scoundrels who crash weddings so they can score with women in this often-funny caper. But when they attend a big-time Washington wedding party for the daughter of Secretary of the Treasury William Cleary (Christopher Walken), things change. John falls a little too sincerely for Claire (Rachel McAdams), one of the secretary's daughters. And Jeremy gets in a little over his head with another Cleary daughter, Gloria (Isla Fisher), who soon declares her undying, bunny-boilingly permanent love for Jeremy. Vaughn is definitely the best man in this wedding comedy. As Jeremy, he's a cad and a half who can motormouth like a machine gun, spraying men, women and children with manic, rat-a-tat outbursts of toxic insincerity. It's often dirty, yes. But it's also manic and inspired. Contains nudity, sexual scenes, obscenity and slapstick violence. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

-- D.T.

WHERE THE TRUTH LIES (Unrated, 108 minutes) -- Canadian director Atom Egoyan delivers a rare misfire with this shockingly fatuous murder mystery. Based on a book by Rupert Holmes, the film stars Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon as a 1950s song-and-dance team that breaks up soon after the covered-up death of a pretty hotel maid; 15 years later, they're approached by a pretty journalist (Alison Lohman) who wants to write a book about the episode. Any resemblance to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis is purely intentional, but why they deserve to be libeled this way is unclear. Firth is the apotheosis of control and rectitude and Bacon does a good job of channeling the goofball with a dark side, but Lohman is oddly affectless as the writer with about a dozen hidden agendas. Egoyan's erotic preoccupation is nothing more than a titillating sideshow, and the film's self-important subtext, about the nexus of exploitation where celebrity and journalism meet, makes the same old points. Contains graphic sexuality, profanity and violence. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- A.H.

WILD SAFARI 3D (Unrated, 45 minutes) -- Untrue to its name, this Imax tour of some of the most beautiful parks and game preserves in South Africa is pretty tame, harmless but surprisingly thrill-free. It takes viewers on a photographic hunt for Africa's "Big Five." And filmmaker Ben Stassen bags his elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos and cape buffalo, along with a few zebras, giraffes and sundry antelopes thrown in for good measure. Still, the 3D that "Wild Safari" was filmed in proves to be more of a distraction than a benefit in a movie that, while photographed with the same amazing detail and intimacy that has made "March of the Penguins" such a hit, never reaches out to grab viewers, literally or figuratively. Contains a very brief shot of animals doing what comes natural and brief carcass eating. National Museum of Natural History.

-- A.H.


AFI SILVER THEATRE -- "Pickpocket," Friday at 6:20 and 8, Saturday at 3:30 and 7:25, Sunday at 1 and 7:25, Monday-Tuesday at 5:15 and 9:15. "Samurai Rebellion," Friday at 9:40, Saturday at 1, Sunday at 9:05. "Harakiri," Saturday at 9:05, Sunday at 4:45. "Fantastic Night," Sunday at 2:40, Monday at 7:10. 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. 301-495-6720.

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DOWNTOWN -- At the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater: "Fighter Pilot," daily at 11:25, 1:25 and 4. "Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon (3D)," daily at 10:25, 12:25, 3 and 5. "To Fly!," daily at 2:25. At the Albert Einstein Planetarium: "Infinity Express," Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday at 10:30, 11, 11:30, 12, 12:30, 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, 4, 4:30 and 5; Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday at 10:30, 11, 11:30, 12, 12:30, 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, 4 and 4:30. "The Stars Tonight," Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday at 5. Seventh and Independence SW. 202-357-1686.

AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM/DULLES -- "Fighter Pilot," daily at 11, 1 and 4. "Space Station," daily at noon, 3 and 5. "To Fly!," daily at 2. 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly. 202-357-2700.

AMERICAN CITY DINER -- "Jaws," Friday at 8. "There's Something About Mary," Saturday at 8. "Diner," Sunday at 8. "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," Monday at 8. "The Getaway," Tuesday at 8. "Cool Hand Luke," Wednesday at 8. "Bullitt," Thursday at 8. 5532 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-1949.

ARLINGTON PLANETARIUM -- "Our Place in Space," Friday and Saturday at 7:30; Sunday at 1:30 and 3. 1426 N. Quincy St., Arlington. 703-228-6070.

CHARLES THEATRE -- "Juliet of the Spirits," Saturday at noon, Monday at 7 and Thursday at 9. 1711 N. Charles St., Baltimore. 410-727-3456.

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

DC FILM SOCIETY -- "Coming Attractions -- Winter 2005," Monday at 7. Landmark's E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. 202-452-7672 or 202-554-3263.

EMBASSY OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC -- "Vesnicko ma strediskova (My Sweet Little Village)," Wednesday at 7. Free. 3900 Spring of Freedom St. NW. 202-274-9105 or 202-274-9100, Ext. 3413.

EUROPEAN UNION FILM SHOWCASE -- Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story," Tuesday at 8:30. "Beneath Her Window," Wednesday at 6:30. "Innocence," Wednesday at 8:30. "Fallen," Thursday at 6:30. "Gilles' Wife," Thursday at 8:30. AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. 301-495-6720.

FILMS ON THE HILL -- "Escape Me Never" and "The Blue Danube," Wednesday at 7. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh St. SE. 202-547-6839.

FIRST FRIDAY FREEDOM FILMS -- "Tying the Knot," Friday at 7:30. Free. Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville, 100 Welsh Park Dr., Rockville. 301-762-7666.

FREER -- "Motherland Hotel," Friday at 7. "The Bride," Sunday at 1:30. "The Girl With the Red Scarf," Sunday at 3:30. Free, but tickets required. Meyer Auditorium, 12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW. 202-633-1000.

GOETHE INSTITUT -- "Tokyo Story," Monday at 6:30. 812 Seventh St. NW. 202-289-1200.

HIRSHHORN -- "Chain," Thursday at 8. Ring Auditorium. Seventh and Independence SW. 202-633-4674.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "The Innocents," Friday at 7. "The Cool World," Monday at 7. "The Magic Box," Tuesday at 7. "Just a Gigolo," Thursday at 7. Free. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- Imax Theater: "Bugs! (3D)," Friday and Tuesday-Thursday at 12:10; Saturday-Sunday at 11 and 4:30. "Fighter Pilot" and "Hubble," Friday and Tuesday-Thursday at 3:20; Saturday-Sunday at noon, 2:10 and 5:30. "Cirque du Soleil," Friday and Tuesday-Thursday at 2:10 and 4:30; Saturday at 1:10, 3:20 and 6:40; Sunday at 1:10 and 3:20. Davis Planetarium: "Entertaining Einstein," Friday and Tuesday-Thursday at 1 and 4; Saturday-Sunday at 2 and 4. "Live From the Sun," Saturday at noon. "The Sky: Live!" Friday and Tuesday-Thursday at 3; Saturday at 3 and 5; Sunday at noon and 3. "The Sky Above Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Saturday-Sunday at 1. 601 Light St., Baltimore. 410-685-5225.

NATIONAL CITY CHRISTIAN CHURCH -- "Pills, Profits, Protest: Chronicle of the Global AIDS Movement," Saturday at 7. 5 Thomas Circle NW. 917-521-2498.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART -- "Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time," Friday at 12:30. "A Model for Matisse," Saturday at 2. "I Am Cuba," Saturday and Sunday at 4. "Alexander Calder On-screen," children's film, Sunday at 11:30. "Other People's Pictures," Wednesday and Thursday at 12:30. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL LIBRARY OF MEDICINE -- Episodes of "Ben Casey," "M*A*S*H" and "ER," Thursday at 6. Lisner Hill Center Auditorium, Building 38A, 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda. 301-496-5389.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART -- "From Florida to Coahuila: The History of the Black Seminoles," Sunday at 2. Free. Ripley Center's Lecture Hall, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. 202-357-4600.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY -- Johnson Imax Theater: "Into the Deep (3D)," Friday-Saturday at 10:20 and 6:40; Sunday at 10:20; Monday-Thursday at 10:20, 12:10, 2 and 3:50. "Wild Safari: A South African Adventure (3D)," Friday-Saturday at 11:10, 1, 2:50, 4:40, 5:40 and 7:30; Sunday-Thursday at 11:10, 1, 2:50 and 4:40. "Alaska: Spirit of the Wild," Saturday-Sunday at 12:10, 2 and 3:50. Baird Auditorium: "When the Season Is Good: Artists of Arctic Alaska," Saturday at 10 and 1. "Through the Eyes of the Spirit," Saturday at 11. "Uksuum Cauyai: The Drums of Winter," Saturday at 11:30. "This Land Is Ours," Saturday at 2. "Qayaqs & Canoes: Native Ways of Knowing," Saturday at 3:30. (free) 10th and Constitution NW. 202-633-7400.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WOMEN IN THE ARTS -- "The Garden of Eden," Tuesday at 7. 1250 New York Ave. NW. 202-783-7370.

PSYCHOTRONIC FILM SOCIETY -- "Killer Klowns From Kansas on Krack," Tuesday at 8. Dr. Dremo's Taphouse, 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 202-736-1732 or 202-707-2540.

SHEPHERDSTOWN FILM SOCIETY -- "Chocolat," Friday at 7 p.m. Free. Shepherd University's Reynolds Hall, King Street, Shepherdstown, W.Va. 304-876-1837.

TOWSON UNIVERSITY -- "Oleanna," Monday at 7:30. Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium, 8000 York Rd., Towson. 410-704-2787.

VASSAR FILM FEST -- "Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story" and selected shorts, Saturday at 2, followed by a reception with director Jamie Meltzer, at Goethe-Institut (812 Seventh St. NW). "The Squid and the Whale," Saturday at 6:30, followed by a reception with writer-director Noah Baumbach, at Landmark's E Street Cinema

(555 11th St. NW). 202-675-6609 or 202-363-4102.