Also PlayingA star (*) denotes a movie recommended by our critics. BABELDirector Alejandro González Iñárritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga tell multiple stories in multiple locations around the globe. In Tokyo, a deaf teenager (Rinko Kikuchi) seems to be suffering from a mental disturbance. In the Moroccan desert, a farmer is given a hunting rifle; his son stupidly hits a grumpy American wife (Cate Blanchett), whose husband (Brad Pitt) is grumpy in his own right. Meanwhile, the couple's Mexican maid (Adriana Barraza) takes their two children into Mexico. The film's parts are much better than its whole. It seems hamstrung by the banality at its center. (R, 142 minutes)Contains violence and sexuality. Area theaters.
-- Stephen HunterBECAUSE I SAID SO
From the looks of the TV ads, this is an intergenerational romantic comedy. As a mother of three grown daughters, the youngest of whom (Mandy Moore) she's desperately trying to marry off, Daphne Wilder (Diane Keaton), is the embodiment of toxic parenting, her enmeshment in her children's lives so neurotic that she seems more like a stalker than a mother. (PG-13, 102 minutes)Contains sexual content including dialogue, some mature thematic material and partial nudity. Area theaters.
-- Ann Hornaday* BLOOD DIAMONDPounding action, pulse-quickening adventure and of-the-moment politics animate this mostly great thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio. He plays a smuggler named Danny Archer who finds himself a mercenary middleman between rebels in Sierra Leone and European diamond merchants. Archer meets Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), who was forced to work in their mines and, while digging, found and hid a huge pink gem. With the help of an American journalist, Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), the two men search for the diamond. Things get out of hand during the film's last half-hour, but the film is a gem. (R, 125 minutes) Contains violence and profanity. AMC Lews Fairfax Square.
-- A.H.* BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTANBorat, played with seamless disingenuousness by Sacha Baron Cohen, has come to America to make a feature-length documentary for the people of his home country. His tour of America begins in New York. But soon he's on his way to California and then through the South. No petard goes unhoisted, a spectacle that delivers squeals, howls or at least low-level chuckles. The movie is a perfect combination of slapstick and satire. (R, 89 minutes) Contains pervasive crude and sexual content, including graphic nudity, and profanity. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.
-- A.H. * BREACH This film examines in microscopic detail the endgame of the manhunt for FBI mole Robert Hanssen, who pleaded guilty in 2001 to spying for Russia. The FBI had the goods, but they needed one more piece of evidence. So they sent in a young man named Eric O'Neill to both assist and spy on Hanssen's computer operation. We see the young man struggling with his own conscience. The acting is superb, particularly from the three principals: Ryan Phillippe as O'Neill, Chris Cooper as Hanssen and the great Laura Linney as Kate Burroughs, O'Neill's supervisor in the secret operation. (PG-13, 110 minutes) Contains violence, sexual content and profanity. Area theaters.
-- S.H.* BREAKING AND ENTERING
-- A.H. * BRIDGE TO TERABITHIAThis beloved children's book has not just survived but thrived in its adaptation to the screen. Two wonderful young actors inhabit the story's main characters: Josh Hutcherson plays the shy, sensitive Jess, who is just entering fifth grade when he meets a new kid named Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), a perky oddball who wears socks on her arms. Neglected at home and bullied at school, they find an isolated forest and dub it Terabithia, an imaginary land. Audiences should be prepared for a major tragedy; the film winds up being a lesson, not just in love but in loss. (PG, 96 minutes) Contains thematic elements including bullying, peril and mild profanity. Area theaters.
-- A.H.* CASINO ROYALE Reinventing James Bond as a kind of Navy SEAL with an attitude problem, this movie turns out to be cracking good entertainment. Daniel Craig kicks major maximus as Bond. The plot makes some sense, though a number of connections are so fast you more or less have to take them on faith. Half an hour too long and with too many villains we really can't place in the plot, the movie nevertheless proves you seldom go wrong if you make a movie that leaves you stirred, not shaken. (PG-13, 140 minutes) Contains violence, including a scene of torture, as well as sexual content and nudity. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres. -- S.H.* CHARLOTTE'S WEBE.B. White's children's book -- starring Wilbur the curly-tailed runt, his human friend, Fern, and that spinner of silky acclamations, Charlotte -- has been charming kids into bed since Dwight Eisenhower was president. Those kids, who passed it along to their children, can rest assured that the movie, featuring Dakota Fanning and an off-screen cast that includes Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey and Robert Redford, shares their reverence. The performers, at times, sound as if they're doing a casual read-through before the actual show -- but their relaxed spirit is subtly satisfying. (G, 98 minutes) Contains nothing objectionable. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and University Mall Theatres.
-- Desson Thomson* CHILDREN OF MEN This audacious, sweeping, sobering and finally exhilarating film by Alfonso Cuarón ("Y Tu Mama Tambien") stars Clive Owen as a bureaucrat in 2027 London, the last outpost of the closest thing to civilization in a world gripped by pandemic infertility and a worldwide immigration crisis. When Owen's character, Theo, is pulled back into his activist past by his former lover, Julian (Julianne Moore), he embarks on an epic chase adventure in which the motivation is nothing less than the survival of the human race. Cuarón makes masterful use of cinematic grammar to create a story, a mood and an atmosphere that feels eerily contemporary. (R, 106 minutes) Contains strong violence, profanity, some drug use and brief nudity. Area theaters.
-- A.H.* THE DEPARTED
A deranged wit runs through this film, which finds Martin Scorsese up to his same old tricks of exploring the ritualized tribal aggression of an American ethnic subculture with frequent detours into carnage and mayhem. Here, Scorsese plumbs the colorful depths of the Irish mob in Boston. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson play three men who came up in Southie, only to end up on opposite sides of the law or, more likely, straddling both. The movie crackles right along. (R, 149 minutes) Contains strong, brutal violence, pervasive profanity, strong sexual content and drug material. AMC Tysons Corner, Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and the Avalon.
-- A.H.DREAMGIRLS This movie arrives with more than its share of baggage; the 1981 hit Broadway musical is such a cherished icon that it has taken more than 20 years to be made into a movie. But forget "Was it worth the wait?" The burning question is "Did she do it?" The answer is yes, "American Idol" finalist Jennifer Hudson takes full possession of the show-stealing character of Effie, nailing her signature number, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." But despite Hudson's triumphant debut and an overall fizzy mood of singing, dancing, pop nostalgia and camp, this fictionalized story of Motown is an uneven success. It's a conventional musical (read: cornball and contrived) when something riskier would have been welcome. (PG-13, 131 minutes) Contains profanity, some sexuality and drug use. Area theaters.
-- A.H. EPIC MOVIE
This uncomedy -- apparently intended for viewers with the attention span and sophistication of teenage fleas on crack -- purports to satirize the likes of "Narnia," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," "The Da Vinci Code," "Snakes on a Plane" and other questionable hits. But this movie simply references these films -- with a smutty sense of humor that deserves an R rating. This isn't satire but flat-ire, and it rewards the audience for having just enough brain cells to recognize the movies and the performers who have seen fit to participate, including Kal Penn, Jayma Mays, Darrell Hammond and Jennifer Coolidge. (PG-13, 86 minutes) Contains sex, expletives, crude humor and slapstick violence. The Majestic and Muvico Egyptian Theatres.
In the gorgeous middle earth that is Alagaesia, the evil Galbatorix (John Malkovich) has destroyed all the dragon riders and taken over. Meanwhile, a young beauty played dimly by Sienna Guillory escapes from his castle with the last dragon egg, which, though she is pursued by evil shade Durza (Robert Carlyle), she manages to deliver to farm boy-archer Eragon, fated to be the new dragon rider. The little beast is born, and soon enough, it's as big as a locomotive, and fallen hero Brom (Jeremy Irons) shows up to teach the kid the ropes and let him lead the revolution against Galbatorix. After the bad acting by the slumming great actors, the next best thing in the picture is the dragon. (PG, 99 minutes) Contains ample but bloodless battle violence. University Mall Theatres. -- S.H.FACTORY GIRLThis film follows Edie Sedgwick -- a real-life 1960s trust-fund princess and socialite -- from a New England art school to New York, where she joins the Factory, the Manhattan aerie where Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce) bestowed ersatz fame on anyone who won his blessing. In short order -- and for a heartbreakingly short time -- Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) becomes the chief firmament in Warhol's universe. But their platonic romance of sorts goes awry, thanks to her drug use and sudden infatuation with someone (played by Hayden Christensen) who walks, talks and mumbles like Bob Dylan but, well, isn't. This movie isn't a penetrating chronicle of Sedgwick's life so much as a production designer's highlights reel, as we watch her in an array of berets, hats, skirts and far less. (R, 91 minutes) Contains drug use, nudity, profanity and sexual scenes. Area theaters.
--D.T. GHOST RIDERNicolas Cage plays Johnny Blaze, a stunt jock who makes a nice living punching his bike so hard off a ramp it leaps not tall buildings but rows and rows of trucks and even helicopters. He's a second-generationer, having learned the flying trade from his dad who one day tried to fly too far and was brought low for it. But that was after Johnny inked a contract with Old Scratch to save his dad from cancer. It was the devil's trick to get Johnny to sign, then take the old man via different means! In any event, years later, the devil (Peter Fonda) wants the due Johnny cheated him out of in the first place; though a fraud, the contract is still binding. What follows are a lot of loud, chaotic action sequences. (PG-13, 105 minutes) Contains stylized violence and random fire. Area theaters.
-- S.H.* GOD GREW TIRED OF US
The title of this documentary is taken from an interview with the film's most engaging subject, a charismatic and indomitable Sudanese refugee named John Bul Dau. He's trying to explain the atrocities he suffered and witnessed as one of 27,000 "Lost Boys" who trekked from southern Sudan to Ethiopia and finally to Kenya to avoid slaughter during the 20-year civil war. Dau is one of three Lost Boys whose resettlement in the United States is chronicled in this affecting and engaging film. Director Christopher Quinn gracefully portrays the cultural clashes but never overplays the naifs-come-to-the-big-city motif. (PG, 89 minutes) Contains thematic elements and disturbing images. AMC Loews Shirlington.
--A.H.THE GOOD GERMANGeorge Clooney plays Jake, a war correspondent and former Berlin AP bureau chief, now a two-fisted New Republic columnist. He arrives in Berlin ostensibly to cover the Potsdam Conference, but really to find his old squeeze, a stringer who worked for him before the war. Imagine his surprise when it turns out that the woman, Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), has gone from the world's second oldest profession to its first and is the kept gal of his driver, a snippy conniver named Tully, played in whiny singsong by Tobey Maguire. Director Steven Soderbergh's idea was to take a recent thriller set in the 1940s and make it as a '40s picture. But the movie lies there as if on a slab in a morgue, while you admire the corpse for its beauty. (R, 110 minutes) Contains nudity, sexual content, profanity and violence. Cinema Arts Theatre.
-- S.H.* THE GOOD SHEPHERD Edward Wilson (a superbly disciplined Matt Damon) is from one of those old families, you know, the ones that knew everybody, got the best jobs and knew which wine went with which course. The thrust of the film is his journey to becoming a Central Intelligence Agency player of the '60s, charged with discovering the name of a "visitor." The visitor would be the one who told the Cubans which beach the invaders would hit. The investigation is the "now" of the movie, but it stops to wander through history, tracking what may be Edward's growth or what may be his damnation. The movie is serious adult moviemaking. (R, 157 minutes) Contains violence, sexuality and profanity. University Mall Theatres.
-- S.H.HANNIBAL RISINGThis film is a prequel of sorts, about how the killer Hannibal Lecter ("The Silence of the Lambs") came to be. Novelist and screenwriter Thomas Harris cobbles together a theory that blends equal parts nature and nurture. In the book, he was able to make a point that Hannibal was the scion of a warrior-rich Lithuanian aristocratic family that was sheared down by shrapnel in World War II, orphaning the child and his younger sister. Soon some scummy lads arrive, battlefield parasites who loot, torture and eat. Hannibal (Aaron Thomas plays the child) survives; his sister, Mischa (Helena Lia Tachovska), does not. He then decides upon a life's work: They ate her, so I shall eat them! The movie streamlines all that. It's a shame, because it results in the movie's fundamental flaw: the one-dimensionality of Hannibal. Hannibal is a pure killing machine, and one never senses a struggle in him between the dark and the light. (R, 121 minutes) Contains nasty gore, grisly violent content, profanity and sexual references. Area theaters.
-- S.H.* HAPPY FEETWhen it comes to pleasing a crowd, you can't fail with puppies, pandas or penguins. Which is why anyone watching this computer-animated flick about an adorable tap-dancing, blue-eyed penguin named Mumble is going to, well, flip. At an early age, Mumble (voice of Elijah Wood) realizes he can't sing, let alone come up with the special "heart song" that every able-bodied penguin needs to attract a mate. But the croaky fuzz ball sure can hoof. The movie, a mythic adventure in which Mumble is banished from his fellow waddlers before returning with newfound confidence and awesome snow-floor routines, follows the familiar "Ugly Duckling" pattern. But its terrific songs are a warm cushion of welcome. (PG, 98 minutes) Contains ominous themes of environmental destruction to the planet. The Avalon.
-- D.T.* THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND This film concerns the flamboyant African despot Idi Amin, said to have been responsible for the murder of 300,000 of his fellow Ugandans during the '70s before he finally quit the country and fled to a more hospitable zone. The movie uses a fictional device to get up close and personal, but I'm not sure the fictional device works. Amin, representing a human extreme, is so much more interesting than his witness, a young Scottish doctor of prosaic appetites and self-interests (James McAvoy). The director, Kevin Macdonald, has decided we need a pair of Western eyes through which to gaze upon such extravagance. But as Amin, Forest Whitaker is extraordinary. (R, 121 minutes) Contains extremely graphic violence. Area theaters.
-- S.H.LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA This film starts and stops on "Sulphur Island," where on Feb. 19, 1945, two divisions of Marines came ashore in what would be one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The first major film made by an American -- Clint Eastwood -- to tell the story of the war in the Pacific from the Japanese point of view, it's most valuable as a massive correction. Like his "Flags of Our Fathers," it isn't really a history of a battle. To Eastwood, it's mostly men in tunnels hoping they don't get killed today, even if they know they will tomorrow. In the last half-hour, the story, like the Japanese, loses its way; lacking any clear-cut goals except survival, the film becomes repetitive. (R, 140 minutes) Contains extremely graphic battle carnage. In Japanese with subtitles. Area theaters.
-- S.H.* LITTLE CHILDREN
In this movie, the arrival of a convicted child molester in East Wyndam, Mass., triggers outrage throughout the community. But in this movie's reverse code, Ronnie the pedophile (Jackie Earle Haley) is practically one of the good guys. What links the well-to-do residents of the town is a deep-seated frustration. The happiness everyone seeks seems to be missing. The film is a hugely absorbing social drama that is, by turns, excruciating, sad and sardonic. We're caught up in its emotional sweep, feeling compassion for all the pariahs, including Sarah (Kate Winslet) and Brad (Patrick Wilson), whose extramarital romance provokes gossipy tongues. There's something irresistibly compelling about the movie. (R, 130 minutes) Contains sex scenes, nudity, violence and profanity. Cinema Arts Theatre and AMC Loews Dupont.
-- D.T.* LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE Uncle Frank (Steve Carell), the nation's preeminent Proust scholar, is sporting white gauze on his wrists, a result of his recent suicide attempt. Daddy (Greg Kinnear) wants to be a motivational speaker, only he's really the kind of annoying sales-pitch guy who motivates others to roll their eyes. Mom (Toni Collette) sneaks smokes and considers it a balanced meal when she opens a bag of salad to go with her Diet Sprite and chicken-in-a-bucket. Throw all of them in a broken-down, yellow VW bus en route from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, Calif, and it feels like a recipe for disaster. Which it is. Hilariously so. (R, 101 minutes) Contains profanity and scenes of drug use. AMC Tysons Corner.
-- Jennifer Frey * LIVE AND BECOMEEthiopian Jews and their repatriation to the Holy Land is the political context for Radu Mihaileanu's mostly affecting story of an Ethiopian boy who becomes an accidental part of that communal history. The unnamed 9-year-old meets his destiny in 1985 when his mother orders the Christian boy to pose as Schlomo, a Jewish child -- so he can be part of Operation Moses, the Israeli government's airlift rescue of Ethiopian Jews to their spiritual home. The movie is a lot to digest and, after a time, feels overextended. But in the end, what the movie is talking about and who's on screen transcend the storytelling. (Unrated, 140 minutes) Contains profanity and sexual situations. In Amharic, Hebrew, French and English with subtitles. Cinema Arts Theatre.
-- D.T. THE MESSENGERS
This strictly by-the-numbers modern horror piece makes you wonder why they bothered. A clearly dysfunctional family headed by Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller buys a decrepit sunflower farm. Alas, the joint is haunted. The fulcrum of the disturbances is the teenage daughter Kristen Stewart ("Panic Room"), who sees and experiences things no one else does. Is she nuts or the only one who has read the script? (PG-13, 84 minutes) Contains adult themes, disturbing violence, mild gore, much hysteria and a little boy who never talks.
-- S.H. MISS POTTERIn this film about children's author Beatrix Potter (Renee Zellweger), we learn about the restrictive household in which she lived and how she takes comfort in the animals she befriends, adopts and anthropomorphizes in her stories. When Beatrix falls in love with Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor), her publisher, her parents object to the union because Norman works for a living. And it takes becoming a celebrity author for Beatrix to achieve their begrudging respect. If the movie is respectful and factually informative, it's also tightly corseted -- in dramatic terms. The dialogue and the performances are all too often on the nose. (PG, 92 minutes)Contains brief mild profanity. AMC Courthouse.
-- D.T. * MUSIC AND LYRICS The setup of this movieis cleverly simple. Hugh Grant, as one Alex Fletcher, is one-half of a pop group of '80s fame, the unsuccessful half. Enter cute Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore). She's here to water the plants, here being his apartment, while he is in turmoil with a snarky young lyricist. The issue is that Alex has been asked by a pop sensation to come up with a song for her video. So why is the girl watering the plants coming up with better lines? Soon an extremely awkward partnership is born. I don't think the ending is up to the rest of the movie, but Grant and Barrymore are great together, and the movie has both zing and song. (PG-13, 100 minutes) Contains sexual innuendo. Area theaters.
-- S.H.* NIGHT AT THE MUSEUMBen Stiller plays Larry Daley, a divorced dad who has trouble bringing his many moneymaking schemes to fruition. He finds work at New York's Museum of Natural History, where he is tutored in security by three outgoing guards (Dick Van Dyke, Bill Cobbs and a scene-stealing Mickey Rooney). The old codgers are definitely up to something, and when the doors are locked for the day, Larry discovers what they didn't tell him: At night, all the stuffed animals, dioramas and mannequins come to life and run amok. The plot thickens, but the movie is mostly all about those eye-popping scenes. (PG, 108 minutes) Contains mild action, profanity and brief rude humor. Area theaters.
-- A.H.NORBITThis movie, which follows the misery of the title character (Eddie Murphy), a nerd who's caught between his abusive, extremely rotund wife, Rasputia (Murphy in big mode), and his beloved childhood sweetheart, Kate (Thandie Newton), does have its moments, most of them slapstick. There certainly is something funny about Rasputia speeding down a water slide and breaking infrastructure upon her landing. As Mr. Wong, Norbit's adoptive Chinese father, Murphy certainly tests the boundaries of political correctness. Even in the permissive environment of an Eddie Murphy comedy, it feels wrong and jarring. This movie isn't one of Murphy's best. (PG-13, 102 minutes) Contains crude and sexual humor, nudity and profanity. Area theaters.
-- D.T.* NOTES ON A SCANDALJudi Dench plays Ms. Covett, a salty old pro teaching at an English middle school, and she noted poor Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), the new art teacher, back when she came to the young teacher's rescue as misbehavior threatened to turn her class into anarchy. Ms. Covett, iron of spirit as well as of petticoat, stops that outbreak with a few steely words, then takes the younger teacher under her wing. We watch what we think will unspool as a touching story of human weakness as told from a sympathetic viewpoint (Hart is indicted for allegedly having sexual relations with a male student), but we soon realize that cheesy uplift is not on the menu. One thing that marks the dark brilliance of the film is the level of the acting, but that is just part of a larger issue: its vision. (R, 98 minutes) Contains sexual content and profanity. Area theaters.
-- S.H. * ONLY HUMAN This Spanish farce has absolutely no business being as laugh-out-loud funny as it often is. Seriously, what were the chances of a family comedy -- built around a Jewish woman bringing her Palestinian beau home for the first time -- being anything but absurd, goofy and very strained? Writer-directors Dominic Harari and Teresa Pelegri have penned an amusing script and, as directors, inject a delicate human texture into the story's intermixing of capricious zaniness, frank sensuality and Mideast politics. Even as this movie becomes almost helium-induced, our interest never flags. (Unrated, 89 minutes) Contains nudity, sexual scenes, violence and profanity. In Spanish with subtitles. The Avalon.
-- D.T.* PAN'S LABYRINTHIt's 1944, the fascists have just won Spain's civil war and a girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is traveling with her mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), to live with her new stepfather, a Nationalist army captain named Vidal (Sergi López). When Ofelia arrives at her new home -- an abandoned mill on the edge of a forest that still shelters Republican guerrillas -- it becomes clear she matters little to Vidal. Ofelia increasingly takes refuge in a richly imagined fantasy life, one that eventually leads her to a faun living in the titular labyrinth on the house's property. When she meets the faun -- a fantastical creature played by Doug Jones -- he charges her with completing three tasks to prove she's worthy of the supernatural company she's keeping. With this film, director Guillermo del Toro seems to have created his manifesto, a tour de force of cautionary zeal, humanism and magic. (R, 112 minutes) Contains graphic violence and profanity. In Spanish with subtitles. Area theaters.
-- A.H.* THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESSThis movie is the biography of a real guy named Christopher Gardner, whom Will Smith, charming and bright, embodies to the fingertips. He is a salesman who ends up on the streets -- with his son. The proud man who had dreamed for so much is humiliated not merely by his failure but by the fear and pain it inflicts on his son (played beautifully by Smith's own son Jaden). The movie is almost devised like a rat-in-maze experiment. Every few minutes some new obstacle comes up for Chris, threatening to obliterate his dreams, at which point the film stands back and watches him improvise brilliantly on the run. (PG-13, 117 minutes) Contains language and psychological intensity. Muvico Egyptian Theatres, AMC Loews Fairfax Square and University Mall Theatres.
-- S.H.* THE QUEENThe queen reigns but she does not rule. That constitutional irony is the chilly but entertaining subtext of Stephen Frears's tragicomedy about the worst public relations crisis at Buckingham Palace since Henry VIII started beheading his wives. The crisis begins in late August 1997, when Elizabeth II (played with frosty understatement by Helen Mirren) learns of Princess Diana's death. Refusing to make a public statement, the monarch remains sequestered at the royal family's Scottish retreat, hoping the whole thing will go away. Of course, it doesn't. And Elizabeth must learn that the road to the people's hearts is paved with empathy, not protocol. Mirren's finely calibrated performance reveals a complex woman coping with a bewildering world. (PG-13, 99 minutes) Contains mild profanity. Area theaters.
-- D.T.* SMOKIN' ACESIn a penthouse suite in Lake Tahoe, a somewhat smarmy guy named Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven) has gone to ground while his lawyer is in D.C. huckstering him off to the highest bidder in the law enforcement casino. Buddy knows way too much about not only where the bodies are buried but who turned them into bodies in the first place. Mob bosses realize they have to get him fast, before he clinches the deal and is hustled off to protective custody. Thus every high-end hit man in the world is contacted and offered a million bucks if he or she or they can be the one to snuff Buddy; it's kind of like a hit man's Olympics. Isn't this grown-up? In a word, no, and that's what's so much fun about it. (R, 118 minutes) Contains violence, gore and profanity. Area theaters.
-- S.H. STOMP THE YARDThis is really two movies. The first and most forgettable is the old one about a young man finding himself and becoming somebody. The young man is a Los Angeles street dancer named DJ, well played by Columbus Short. When, at a dance contest heavy on intimidation, he and his brother trump some gang-related dancers, trouble breaks out, the brother (Chris Brown) is killed, and DJ is arrested. It's juvie or, through connections, off to college. At college he decides to commit to a team sport. He leads the team to the nationals. Ho-hum. But the sport isn't basketball or football or anything like that: It's stepping. And that's the second movie. If you've never seen it, it's quite a show, and the movie throws well-deserved light on this somewhat under-the-radar phenomenon. (PG-13, 115 minutes) Contains adult themes, violence, sexual material and profanity. AMC Rivertowne, Muvico Egyptian Theatres and Regal Bowie.
-- S.H.* TYLER PERRY'S DADDY'S LITTLE GIRLSThis movie, written and directed by Tyler Perry, may be strictly mezzo-mezzo as art, but it's wonderful as culture. The romantic melodrama, which stars Idris Elba as a poor mechanic and Gabrielle Union as the rich lawyer who falls in love with him, can be clunky, obvious and poorly executed. But what this movie lacks in cinematic sophistication, it makes up for in setting (Atlanta) and characters (working- and middle-class African Americans). It may do so awkwardly at times, but the movie tells a story -- about aspiration, values and resilience. (PG-13, 95 minutes) Contains thematic material, drug and sexual content, some violence and profanity. Area theaters.
-- A.H.* VENUS Maurice, a veteran stage actor (Peter O'Toole), is facing his final exit, both in career and life. He's also about to undergo prostate surgery, which will almost certainly render him impotent. But when he meets Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), the 19-year-old grand-niece of a close friend. Jessie may be sullen and lacking in sophistication, but Maurice sees her as an unwitting Venus, goddess of love and beauty. Normally we'd balk at a movie about an 80-year-old man's infatuation with a teenage girl, but a geezer's lust is just the starting point for the film, an edgily charming meditation about the mysteries of attraction. It's something of a philosophical un-romance, as the filmmakers celebrate a spiritual connection between two generationally mismatched characters. (R, 91 minutes) Contains profanity, nudity and sexual content. Area theaters.
-- D.T.* VOLVERPenélope Cruz plays a beleaguered Madrid homemaker at the center of this warmly seductive movie, and as Pedro Almodóvar's film makes radiantly clear, all she apparently needed was a return to a Spanish-language role. She plays Raimunda, and she's a subtle revelation. Raimunda's courage is just as compelling as she contends with murder, adultery, incest and visits from her dead mother. This all makes for a deeply entertaining experience. (R, 121 minutes) Contains profanity, sexual scenes, drug use and mature themes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Area theaters. Landmark's Bethesda Row, AMC Loews Shirlington and Landmark's E Street.