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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. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

{sstar} BALLETS RUSSES (UNRATED, 118 minutes) -- How much do ballet lovers on these shores owe to the Ballets Russes? As surely as Alexander the Great plowed through the known world in his day, those starving Russian emigres rolled across America and built a ballet audience where none had been before. With its tireless whistle-stop tours, the Ballets Russes paved the way for American Ballet Theatre and, by extension, all the other outcroppings of that refined European tradition that took hold here and flourished. This is all made clear in this electrifying documentary that lovingly and authoritatively brings to life an era of unequaled artistic excitement. This movie is not pedagogy aimed only at ballet buffs. It's spun out like a historical thriller, laying bare the politics, rivalries, tremendous egos and creative appetites that ultimately produced two warring troupes. The guides through this wonderfully messy world are the dancers themselves, many white-haired and aged, offering up tart and often funny anecdotes. Contains nothing objectionable. Landmark's Bethesda Row and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Sarah Kaufman

{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. It's a performance, not an impersonation. Writer Dan Futterman and director Bennett Miller are extremely agile, giving the movie a minimalist's purity. Contains violent language and images. Area theaters.

-- Stephen Hunter

{sstar} CHICKEN LITTLE (G, 78 minutes) -- Based on the old tale, and the image of ardent, mythological stupidity -- the chicken who thought the sky was falling when an acorn fell on its head -- this computer-animated gee-whizzer takes the story one more crank toward the literal. When the thing hits Chicken Little, it turns out it is a piece of the sky, the sky is falling. The movie then wittily finds a way to morph into a fabulous parody of "War of the Worlds," possibly a bit intense in parts for the smallest of beings. The animators are fabulous and full of mischief, weaving enough ironic amusements into the story for the longer of tooth. Contains scenes that may be too intense for small or easily frightened children. Area theaters.

-- S.H.

{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. What is evoked best, though, is Africa, that maddening panorama of beauty, nobility, poverty and corruption. Contains sexuality, gore and violence. Loews Tysons.

-- S.H.

DERAILED (R, 120 minutes) -- This film is fast, slick, stupid, violent fun and, despite the cynically high body count, without serious intention in this world. It is set in motion when Charlie (Clive Owen) has an affair with Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston), whom he has met on a train. She's a smart, chic woman and, like Charlie, somewhat worn down by life, oppressed by circumstances and has a mate who no longer lights her fires and she no longer lights his. So they're trysting the night away when suddenly the world goes out of whack: Feral man enters, in the form of Philippe Laroche (Vincent Cassel, who does feral beautifully). He pistol-whips Charlie, rapes Lucinda, takes money, credit cards, cell phones, dignity and any sense of the universe as rational. Lucinda insists that he not go to the police. Then Philippe calls him: He wants money. What can Charlie do? He is trapped. Eventually, the movie waltzes toward the absurd, the unbelievable, then veering back toward some sort of just-marginal believability. Your connection to it is likely to be determined by your ability to suspend disbelief. Contains extreme violence and sexual scenes. Area theaters.

-- S.H.

{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. This is a family to root for, as much as the horse. Contains mild profanity and a disturbing horse injury. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

{sstar} THE DYING GAUL (R, 101 MINUTES) -- This stylish, nervy, neo-noir thriller boasts a cast to die for -- Campbell Scott, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard -- in a minor-key chamber piece about a Hollywood producer (Scott), his screenwriter wife (Clarkson) and an aspiring young filmmaker (Sarsgaard) who comes into their lives and changes them forever. The movie is a small, self-contained gem of incisive writing, superb acting and rich, expressive visuals. Contains strong sexual content and profanity. Avalon and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Ann Hornaday

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. Claire gives him driving directions to Elizabethtown and that other destination: her big, home-fried heart. There's not much specialness between Bloom and Dunst, other than the surface appeal of two attractive people making (or almost making) kissy face. Contains profanity and some sexual references. Loews Tysons.

-- D.T.

FLIGHTPLAN (PG-13, 88 minutes) -- In "Flightplan," a little girl goes missing on 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 projects strength and vulnerability in equal measure. 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.

{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). 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. Contains language, sexuality and brief violence. Magic Johnson Theater.

-- A.H.

GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN' (R, 134 minutes) -- Rap star 50 Cent has led a storied life, a rags-to-riches yarn that has become the stuff of pop legend: Born Curtis Jackson and reared in Queens, New York, Jackson never knew his father and lost his mother, a drug dealer, when he was only 8. Later he became a dealer himself, until deciding, in the mid-'90s, to pursue a career as a rapper. His first record was about to hit the streets in 2000 when Jackson was gunned down; he survived and went on to make headlines, not only for his infectious beats and lyrics, but for his frequent brushes with the law. Good stuff and ripe for the cinematic telling, but 50 Cent's fictionalized life story in which he plays a character named Marcus, is shockingly inert. "Get Rich or Die Tryin' " ain't rich, it's just tryin'. Contains strong violence, pervasive profanity, drug content, sexuality and nudity. Area theaters.

-- 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. 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.) 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. AMC Rivertowne, Magic Johnson Theater and Marlow Theatres.

-- 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. Regal Gallery Place.

-- 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). 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. AMC Tysons Corner.

-- D.T.

JARHEAD (R, 120 minutes) -- Set in 1991 during the first Gulf War, this movie is a kind of lightweight variation on Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket," with its evocation of the institution known as the United States Marine Corps, its love of the profane poetry of sergeants and the bond felt by young men locked in a common ordeal. But it's not quite a war movie because the author of the book on which it's based, Anthony Swofford, didn't quite fight in a war. What is left is a portrait of Swofford and his band of gyrene brothers, wandering haplessly around what seems to be the world's biggest Christo project, looking for action while trying to overcome the soldier's truest enemy, ennui. Jake Gyllenhaal plays "Swoff," as he's called, and what's so good about the movie is Gyllenhaal's refusal to show off; he doesn't seem jealous of the camera's attention when it goes to others and is content, for long stretches, to serve simply as a prism though which other young men can be observed. The movie doesn't hate the corps or the war or the politicians who invented it. So it doesn't have the furious intensity of "Full Metal Jacket" or other screeds, even if it bears an anthropological resemblance. Contains profanity and violence. Area theaters.

-- S.H.

JUST LIKE HEAVEN (PG-13, 101 minutes) -- When David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo) moves into a fantastic San Francisco apartment and is immediately told to move out by its former tenant -- Elizabeth Martinson (Reese Witherspoon), who three months earlier was hit head-on by a truck -- their banter crackles with tart, unforced verve. In a bummer of a bait-and-switch, though, the whimsical romance undergoes a fatal shift in tone, raising troubling end-of-life issues more at home in the pronouncements of Tom DeLay than in a date movie. Contains some sexual content. University Mall Theatres.

-- A.H.

{sstar} KISS KISS, BANG BANG (R, 103 minutes) -- This manic tribute to film noir stars a wackily inspired Robert Downey Jr. as two-bit burglar Harry Lockhart, whose bizarre luck takes him from a botched East Village robbery to Hollywood, where he's a contender for an acting role. This is just the beginning of worse and better to come: Harry's caught in a double-crossing, life-threatening web of complications. The story's just a conduit, however, for lethal, black humor. Macabre, yes, but the movie's also inventive and funny. Contains macabre humor and violence, profanity, sexual situations and nudity. Area theaters.

-- 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. Contains profanity and scenes of violence. Area theaters.

-- S.H.

{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. Contains penguin slapstick. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

-- D.T.

{sstar} NINE LIVES (R, 115 minutes) -- Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia's new film finds nine women in extremis, all facing various versions of mortality. In tight, sharply written scenes -- each a continuous take lasting between 10 and 14 minutes -- they come to terms with death, loss, connection and continuity. The moments that Garcia has chosen to observe are unforgettable, the women -- played by an ensemble of actresses at the top of their respective games -- indelible. The beauty of "Nine Lives" is that its occasionally overlapping stories feel entirely unforced. Contains profanity, brief sexual content and some disturbing images. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- A.H.

{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. 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. AMC Tysons Corner.

-- A.H.

PARADISE NOW (UNRATED, 94 MINUTES) -- This movie takes you behind the terrible curtain of terrorism to find, not too surprisingly, that human beings live there, not necessarily gimlet-eyed extremists. Wisely, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad doesn't delve too deeply into the political oppression his fellow countrymen feel under Israeli occupation. He focuses instead on the humanity of two likable West Bank auto mechanics, Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), who are informed, with only 24 hours' notice, that God has chosen them to obliterate themselves and as many bystanders as they can take with them. Their mission is assigned with such religious reverence -- everyone believes the men are headed directly for paradise -- the would-be bombers are hard-pressed to think of their fate as anything but glorious. The audience is lured into discomforting empathy for Said and Khaled, especially when things start going horribly awry. This movie may not change anyone's ideology, but it should convince some that, but for some deeply divisive views of religious morality, people are pretty much the same on either side of the holy fence. Contains intense thematic material and suspense. In Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- D.T.

{sstar} PRIDE & PREJUDICE (PG, 128 minutes) -- This version of Jane Austen's fabled story, in which Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy begin as fiery opponents and end up as married lovers, is not quite the taming of a shrew, because in Austen's worldview, leading ladies of beauty and wit weren't shrews and never had to be tamed, but merely loved and respected, and good things would follow. That's the main trajectory of this film, starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth and Matthew MacFadyen as the initially dour, snotty Mr. Darcy. Knightley takes control of a scene, radiating power and personality unto the rafters. It's a great performance. Contains mildly adult themes. Area theaters.

-- S.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 are thirty-something Rafi (Thurman) and the 23-year-old David (Greenberg). It's also why 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, the movie really becomes "Prime." Contains sexual scenes and profanity. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

PROTOCOLS OF ZION (UNRATED, 93 minutes) -- This film is either enigmatically or provocatively titled, depending on your familiarity with its referent, the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Written in the late 19th or early 20th century, the Protocols is a fraudulent document purporting to be written by a group of Jews laying out a plan for Jewish world domination, but "the lie that won't die" lives on, inspiring filmmaker Marc Levin to examine just how far the Protocols have informed and infiltrated the culture. Taking his camera into the streets of New York and beyond, Levin begins a series of conversations, many of which would be amusing were they not so appalling. However, in going to such great lengths to correct the racists, bigots and haters of the world, he gives them way too much credit. Contains brief profanity. Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- A.H.

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. The would-be 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. 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.

{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. Regal Fairfax.

-- D.T.

SHOPGIRL (R, 105 minutes) -- Deft but slight, the new Steve Martin film is a case of precise observation of nothing. From his 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. Contains nudity and sexual suggestion. Area theaters.

-- S.H.

{sstar}THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (R, 81 MINUTES) -- Set in Brooklyn 1986, this movie is piercing and forthright. When Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) Berkman inform their children, 16-year-old Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and 12-year-old Frank (Owen Kline), they're getting a divorce, it's the beginning of an emotional whirlwind for four very different people. Bernard shacks up with a student (Anna Paquin). Joan dates an eccentric tennis instructor (William Baldwin). The children have their share of issues, too. The movie is so brutally honest at times, you can almost sense the real Baumbachs squirming, twitching, tut-tutting and maybe even nodding their heads. Contains strong sexual content and graphic profanity. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

{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. The film offers a warm, intimate glimpse of Orthodox Jewish life. 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.

-- 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. Things are just swell until one of Wallace's schemes 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, 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. 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. Contains nudity, sexual scenes, obscenity and slapstick violence. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.

-- D.T.

{sstar} ZATHURA (PG, 102 minutes) -- Based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg, this movie introduces us to 6-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo) and 10-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson). One day when his father is at work, Danny discovers Zathura, an old-fashioned board game with a windup key, a "Go" button and a miniature spaceship that whirs along the game board. That little spaceship springs to life and -- ding! -- up pops a card with a message: "Meteor Shower -- Take Evasive Action." Moments later, the house is bombarded with real meteors. The brothers realize their home has been propelled into outer space. The movie has an almost antique charm, which recalls the 1950s sci-fi movies in which actors in silver suits pretended to be aliens. This gives "Zathura" an appealing, childlike sense of wonder, an element too often forgotten in movies with many times the budget and technological resources. Contains mild profanity, and those Zorgons might be too scary for young children. Area theaters.

-- D.T.

Repertory

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 (3D)," daily at noon, 3 and 5. "To Fly!," daily at 2. 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly. 202-357-2700.

AMERICAN CITY DINER -- "Along Came Polly," Friday at 8. "Million Dollar Baby," Saturday at 8. "Intolerable Cruelty," Sunday at 8. "Devil's Advocate," Monday at 8. "Kill Bill," Tuesday at 8. "Rain Man," Wednesday 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 -- "The Only Son," Saturday at noon and Monday at 7. 1711 N. Charles St., Baltimore. 410-727-3456.

CINEMA ART BETHESDA -- "The Seventh Seal," Sunday at 10 a.m. Landmark's Bethesda Row Theatre, 7235 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda. 301-365-3679.

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.

EUROPEAN UNION FILM SHOWCASE --

At the AFI Silver Theatre (8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring; 301-495-6720): "A Land of Glass" Friday at 6 and Saturday at 12:20. "Come Into the Light," Friday at 7:30 and Saturday at 4:30. "The Wedding Party," Friday at 9:50. "Kim Novak Never Swims in Genesaret's Lake [Kim Novak badade aldrig i Genesarets sjo]," Saturday at 2. "Unconscious," Saturday at 7. "Revolution of Pigs," Saturday at 9:45 and Sunday at 9:40. "Forest for the Trees," Saturday at 10 and Monday at 9:30. "Wrong Side Up" Sunday at 12:20 and Monday at 6:30. "Visions of Europe," Sunday at 1 and Tuesday at 9:20. "The Fatalist," Sunday at 3:30 and Tuesday at 7. "Mrs. Henderson Presents," Sunday at 7. "Hostage," Monday and Tuesday at 9:15.

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

GOETHE INSTITUT -- "Suite Habana," Monday at 4:30 and 6:30. 812 Seventh St. NW. 202-289-1200.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- "To Be or Not to Be," Friday at 7. "Harlem Variety Revue [Part 1]," Monday at 7. "The President Vanishes," Tuesday at 7. Free. Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. 202-707-5677.

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER -- Imax Theater: "Santa vs. Snowman," Friday and Tuesday-Wednesday at 12:10 and 4:20; Saturday-Sunday at 11, 1:10, 3:20 and 6:40. "Fighter Pilot" and "Hubble," Friday and Tuesday-Wednesday at 3:15; Saturday-Sunday at noon and 4:20. "Cirque du Soleil," Friday and Tuesday-Wednesday at 2:10; Saturday and Sunday at 2:15 and 5:30. Davis Planetarium: "Entertaining Einstein," Friday and Tuesday-Wednesday at 1 and 4; Saturday-Sunday at 2 and 4. "Live From the Sun," Saturday at noon. "The Sky: Live!" Friday and Tuesday-Wednesday 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 GALLERY OF ART -- "Winslow Homer -- The Nature of the Artist," Friday and Sunday at 12:30. "Salvador Allende," Saturday at 4:00. "Place de la Republique," Sunday at 4. Free. East Building, Fourth and Constitution NW. 202-737-4215.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART -- "Kings of the Water," Sunday at 1. Free. Lecture Hall, Sublevel 2, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. 202-357-4600.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY -- Johnson Imax Theater: "Into the Deep (3D)," Friday-Saturday at 10:20, 12:10, 2, 3:50 and 6:40; Sunday-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. "The Polar Express (3D)," Wednesday at 5 and 7. 10th and Constitution NW. 202-633-7400.

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

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

TAKOMA PARK FILM FESTIVAL -- "Pee Stains and Other Disasters," Friday at 8. Short film programs, Saturday at 2, 7 and 9; Sunday at 2. Takoma Park Community Center, Auditorium, 7500 Maple Ave., Takoma Park. 301-891-7100.

TOWSON UNIVERSITY -- "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," Monday at 7:30. Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium, 8000 York Rd., Towson. 410-704-2787.