Quick Flicks 

Capsule reviews of current movies.

"Brokeback Mountain" — Ang Lee's sumptuously shot, heartbreaking "Brokeback Mountain" is at once a meticulous homage to countless Westerns and an unflinching move into new territory that its forebears keep hidden in the subtext: love between men on the range. As a result, the love story of Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) at times feels as ancient and familiar as any well-worn piece of American legend, even if its content could set John Wayne spinning in his grave. "Brokeback" is arguably the first Hollywood picture that focuses steadfastly on a gay relationship, but in spite of this novelty, the mythic trappings give the story of Ennis and Jack an almost classic feel, as if the pair were ready to take their place with Rick and Ilsa as screen icons. The effect is exhilarating. (R) 134 min. ***** — Thomas Peyser

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" — Andrew Adamson's new film of the first and best-known volume — doesn't have the epic heft or tragic undertones of Peter Jackson's Tolkien trilogy. It's hardly supposed to. The national drinks of Narnia are tea and cocoa, not mead. But these less-stout brews are served up with literate charm and technical skill. The chief narrative strength of the movie may be the way it only very gradually reveals the gravity of the brooding conflict. When the youngest Pevensie, Lucy (Georgie Henley), becomes the first to discover Narnia, she meets only a befuddled faun (James McAvoy), thoroughly English down to his umbrella and brown paper packages tied up with string. By playing to our now apparently insatiable appetite for the quaintly British, the film primes us to expect nothing more sinister than a stale piece of seedcake or a leaky thatched roof. It's therefore all the more unsettling when we discover that there are torture chambers in this snowy paradise and packs of wolves that patrol it with Gestapo-like rigor. Approvingly evoking the trappings of the Crusades, "Narnia" is marked by a peculiarly English celebration of the Church Militant. That noted, it's also a ripping yarn. (PG) 140 min. **** — T.P

"Dave Chappelle's Block Party" -- Though it never reaches the comic highs of "The Chappelle Show," Michel Gondry's documentary of Chappelle's free 2004 Brooklyn music and comedy concert is a satisfying mix of laughs and live music. Most of the funny sequences feature Chappelle wading out into his adoring public, in his rural Ohio hometown, where he sneaks up on unwary residents, and in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, where the show takes place despite nagging rain showers. For most people, the lure of Chappelle and artists like Kanye West, Erykah Badu and The Fugees will be enough to bring them to this concert film. It's "Chappelle Show"-lite, but it's also great fun, a snack for those starved for Chappelle's return to television. (R) 103 min. **** — W.M.

"Final Destination 3" -- The third installment in the crafty "Final Destination" franchise, once again under the guiding eye of director James Wong (co-writer and director on the first "Final Destination"), ups the stakes to give audiences a series of escalating gross-out thrills. In sticking to its well-established formula, the opening sequence -- this time on a deadly roller-coaster ride during a grad-night celebration -- lays out an eye-popping series of fast-action deaths that traumatize the teen survivors whose lives will be threatened for the duration of the movie. Although perhaps not as hair-raising as the highway pileup intro of the second "Final Destination" (directed by David Richard Ellis), the carnival-based catastrophe resonates with the sickening fear induced by amusement rides and sets a youthful tone for the subsequent violence to flourish. Death becomes a character with a mean sense of completion in a movie that, like a roller-coaster ride, includes lots of jolting twists and drops into an abyss of imminent destiny. (R) 92 min. *** - C.S.

"Firewall" -- When not doing Dr. Seuss at Super Bowls, Harrison Ford retreads his waning career with cliché-ridden action thrillers that contain little of either action or thrills. Double-billed with a car (more on that later), he plays Jack Stanfield, a banking security specialist and loyal family man who gets taken for an ostensibly hellish ride (note the sleek lines and powerful performance -- of the car, of course) when his wife (Virginia Madsen) and two young children are held hostage by thieves. Led by Paul Bettany, the gangsters pressure Jack to transfer $100 million into an offshore account. So ridiculous the family dog plays an integral role. Even if you leave the theater in one of the Chrysler 300Cs featured via remarkably crude product placement, "Firewall" is disposable and unmemorable. (PG-13) 105 min. * -C.S.

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" — With the inane promise of making the "darkest" Harry Potter movie yet, Mike Newell takes on directing duties to issue a gruelingly sluggish film in the latest installment of the vastly overrated franchise based on J.K. Rowling's children's books. On the heels of puberty, the bushy browed Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends return from their summer vacation to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A special tournament consumes half of the film's overlong two-and-a-half hour running time before giving way to the promise of a dance. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" ticks along like a watch with a dying battery. If "darker" means that it makes you close your eyes for extended periods, then this Harry Potter episode will seem very dim indeed. (PG-13) 157 min. * — C.S.

"The Hills Have Eyes" -- This remake of Wes Craven's 1977 cult classic comes with Craven's seal of approval, considering he produced it. Craven's skeletal original script is fleshed out with broad strokes of Cold War nuclear fright to make a much gorier and disturbing narrative. Pulling a trailer home behind their Suburban, a husband and wife take a road trip to California through the New Mexico desert to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. With them are their three children, son-in-law, granddaughter and two dogs. A cannibal group of mutated victims of '50s-era nuke testing lie in wait. Director Alexandre Aja ratchets up the crusty gore as the tourists' numbers diminish and the remaining few are left to fight for their survival. Loose pacing in the film's first and third acts mars an otherwise gut-wrenching horror story. (R) 105 min. ** — C.S

"Match Point" -- Even at his most serious and subtle, Woody Allen never fails to see the humor in things, even if his characters don't. His main man in "Match Point" is Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a former pro tennis player who's had to become a tennis pro. In short order he falls in with wealthy British scion Tom (Matthew Goode) and his sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), along with Tom's luscious fiancée, Nola (Scarlett Johansson, the only American in the cast), a struggling actress who's obviously come to the wrong part of the world to get her big break. Partly from attraction, partly from a sense of financial gain (one of the film's many charms is how delightfully ambiguous it is about Chris' motivations), he's soon married to Chloe, but is carrying on a torrid affair with Nola (now split from Tom), who's overstuffed with sexuality in the way that only Scarlett Johansson can be. "Match Point" is a rare serve from Allen, a movie both funny and suspenseful. Jealous lovers have been turned into films before, but rarely this memorably. (R) 124 min. — Christopher Null

"Mrs. Henderson Presents" -- Esteemed director Stephen Frears eloquently transports the story of '30s-era English widow Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench), who purchases a London theater and hires veteran stage manager Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to run it. Mrs. Henderson's motives come to the fore as she imposes her political clout to bare the naked bodies of her theater's dancers to the delight of the young soldiers who fill the seats every night. Hoskins and Dench share a unique chemistry that pierces the story's heavy-handed construction. (R) 102 min. *** "Mrs. Henderson Presents" -- Esteemed director Stephen Frears eloquently transports the story of '30s-era English widow Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench), who purchases a London theater and hires veteran stage manager Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to run it. Mrs. Henderson's motives come to the fore as she imposes her political clout to bare the naked bodies of her theater's dancers to the delight of the young soldiers who fill the seats every night. Hoskins and Dench share a unique chemistry that pierces the story's heavy-handed construction. (R) 102 min. *** — C.S.

"Nanny McPhee" -- Set in a distinctly unglamorous corner of Victorian England, "Nanny McPhee" follows the fortunes of a widowed undertaker (Colin Firth) beset by a brood of very naughty children and a wicked aunt (Angela Lansbury) who, for reasons never really explained, has threatened to cut off her crucial financial support unless he takes a wife. His children have proved the match of every nanny in the district when McPhee (Emma Thompson, who wrote the screenplay) arrives on the scene and begins, with ruthless efficiency and magical powers, to set the house to rights. Based on the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand, the movie has a rather oddly unfocused and disjointed quality. But the ragged edges of the plot are mostly offset by, or perhaps even a product of, the movie's anarchic glee, its chief merit. (PG) 97 min. *** —T.P.

"Ultraviolet" -- Only a small notch above the recent sci-fi flop "Aeon Flux," "Ultraviolet" gains superficial entertainment value from Milla Jovovich's athletic dance moves as she poses her way through interminable computer-generated chase scenes set in the late 21st century. Violet (Jovovich) is a lithe assassin dispatched by her underground resistance leader to steal an encased weapon from her repressive government. However, when the weapon turns out to be a doomed young boy named Six (Cameron Bright, "Birth"), she has to do even more bullet dodging to keep herself and the boy alive. The film's opening narration warns that Violet was "born into a world you may not understand." Don't believe it. It's a story you are very familiar with. (PG-13) 85 min. * —C.S.

"Walk the Line" -- Originality is not a ring of fire that this Johnny Cash biopic dares to cross. Directed by James Mangold ("Girl, Interrupted"), the movie is enjoyable but routine and safe, drawing largely on Cash's autobiographies. It is a serviceable entertainer, with decent if not great performances by its leads (Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter), but it is marred by one glaring and unfortunate characteristic: It's just like last year's Ray Charles biopic, "Ray." The likeness is due in some degree to unavoidable coincidence, but lack of imagination is also partly to blame. No matter how you explain it, the similarity nags the viewer with the notion that "Walk the Line" is simply a crass attempt to, well, cash in on a genre. PG-13 136 min. ** --W.M.


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