The song that would eventually come to be known as "Amazing Grace" arose out of the abolitionist movement. England's abolitionist movement. They did it first. The film chronicles the life of William Wilberforce, a British MP who spent his career fighting to end the British slave trade. (LB) Rated PG
Back in 1979, the Writers Guild of America nominated the film Animal House for a Best Comedy award. The screenwriters lost--which is a common occurrence if you're involved with a lowbrow comedy film and it's awards time. But the subsequent quarter- century has proven that the Writers Guild had it right. This irreverent comedy became the blueprint for countless sex-infused collegiate farces (and nearly every film starring Seann William Scott), none of which has yet bested Animal House's raw belly-laugh appeal. (MD) At the Garland Friday and Saturday midnights. Rated R
ARE WE DONE YET?
Is this movie over yet? That's what I was asking myself after about 15 minutes of its relentless unfunniness. A remake of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, it features Ice Cube as a clueless buffoon who's suckered into buying a crumbling house, Nia Long as his pregnant and idiotic wife, and John C. McGinley as the smiling, overeager real estate agent. On all counts, a painfully bad movie. (ES) Rated PG
BLADES OF GLORY
Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell) and Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder) play figure skating rivals who get in a fistfight, earn lifetime bans, then must team up as the world's first all-male pair to continue skating. A movie about freakish effeminacy and close proximity between male testicles and male faces, Blades of Glory succeeds because it relies on situational discomfort, not homophobia, and because it doesn't take up too much of our time. (LB) Rated PG-13
"Now, a dog who needs a home, and a kid who needs a friend ..." comes the trailer's voice over. "No mom and a firefighter dad," comes the peanut gallery, a coquettish firefighter edited in to provide perspective, before the voice-over guy chimes back in, "... are about to find each other." Sometimes a trailer tells you literally everything you need to know. Kid, check. Dead mom, check. Harried, absentee father, check. Lost dog. Yep, they got everything. (LB) Rated PG
Tarantino and Rodriguez reach deep inside and bring out their exploitative best in their ferocious twin-bill homage to '70s sleaze films. Rodriguez's Planet Terror goes the zombie route, while Tarantino's Death Proof is all high-octane, high-speed car chases (and accompanying murders by Kurt Russell's way-over-the-top Stuntman Mike). The films are gory, funny and unforgiving. The fake trailers before and between them are indescribably outrageous. (ES) Rated R
The story of Clifford Irving, who faked Howard Hughes' autobiography and almost got away with it, The Hoax is an uneven though successful look at an uneven though unsuccessful novelist and con man. (He's unsuccessful in the film anyway. The real Irving was pretty accomplished when he pulled his stunt.) Director Lasse Hallstrom doesn't know when to quit with the visual imagery and manic jump cuts, but the effect largely works, crafting Irving's lies out of the fabric of his truths. (LB) Rated R
HURRICANE ON THE BAYOU
Katrina can be discussed in human, social and political terms easily enough, in forums ranging from political roundtables to Spike Lee films. But Hurricane on the Bayou examines the hurricane as an ecological issue. Beginning as a documentary about the Mississippi Delta, the filmmakers end up turning their IMAX cameras on Katrina as an example of a worst-case scenario. The human and economic costs of ecological mismanagement are laid bare in 45 minutes. (MD) Not Rated; no deaths are depicted.
MEET THE ROBINSONS
Animation meets sci-fi meets an adoptee's identity crisis in this vaguely Jimmy Neutron knockoff. Lewis, a boy who lives in an orphanage, is great at concocting inventions but not so good at the getting-adopted part. Lewis' Memory Scanner seems likely to lead him to his birthmother until a crab-like, dim-witted and dastardly villain known as Bowler Hat Guy foils the kid's plans. (MB) Rated G
THE LAST MIMZY
Kids and science breed stories about geeks who either become cool or accept their geekdom. The Last Mimzy, though, takes two mathematical genius siblings and gives them a chance to be bona fide, world-saving heroes (not just "way to be yourself" heroes). Somehow their big brains warn them about the end of the world and give them the tools to head it off. (LB) Rated PG
"I once had a girlfriend who went to India. Came back thin as a rail," says a moron socialite before asking Gogol Ganguli when he moved to America. "I was born in New York," comes the reply. Director Mira Nair's (Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair) latest film is about the uneasy tightrope walked by many Indian-Americans. Gogol wants to respect his parents' sometimes restrictive traditions, despite being thoroughly American. (LB) Rated PG-13
Sandra Bullock's latest is half Memento, half Groundhog Day and half Billy Pilgrim coming unstuck in time in Slaughterhouse Five. That doesn't add up, but neither does the film, as Bullock's character jumps from the day before her husband died, to the day after, to three days prior, leaving the script in utter disarray behind her. (JS) Rated PG-13.
Hilary Swank makes a lot of unconventional film choices. Some pay off wonderfully (Boys Don't Cry, The Gift). Others fail spectacularly (The Core). The Reaping could have easily fallen into either category, given the plot (ten plagues of Egypt descend upon rural Louisiana). It's going great through the first five plagues, with director Stephen Hopkins creating a sense of creepy unease, conspiracy and menace. Then, as the plagues get more flashy, and the computer graphics kick in, it all goes to crap. (LB) Rated PG-13
REIGN OVER ME
A film about a man who has lost his family to the horrors of 9/11, Reign Over Me hangs in precarious balance for its entirety. Not content to make either a tear jerker or a psychological think piece, and not a good enough filmmaker to manage the balance alone, Mike Binder leans heavily on his cast (especially Sandler, who has showed glimmers of greatness before, but delivers here) to make it work. And it works pretty well. (LB) Rated R
The sound alone is deafening, and juxtaposed with Phillip Glass' crystalline musical score, the roar of a rocket pushing the rovers into space is impressive. As are the sights and sounds of the parachute test in a giant wind hangar. But this short IMAX film loses focus -- is it trying to recreate the surface of Mars with the help of CGI animation, or is it examining the space program? (MD) Rated G
Mark Wahlberg is the former Marine ace who's screwed by the government, gets out -- and then is brought back so he can be screwed again. Michael Pena is the brand-new FBI agent who realizes that the ex-Marine on the run has been set up, but then he starts asking the wrong questions of the wrong people. Excellent action, a thoughtful script, and a gaggle of great supporting performances (Levon Helm is a scene-stealer as an arms expert) push this way beyond your standard revenge film. (ES) Rated R
The Greek-versus-Persian battle of Thermopylae comes to bloody, eye-popping life in the CGI celebration of the Frank Miller graphic novel. Fierce and noble King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his band of 300 men face off against the uncountable hordes of the bratty King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Themes of diplomacy versus war arise, but once the swords come out, there's no escaping the cartoonish violence. (ES) Rated R
This might not exactly please you Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles purists. It's computer-generated, so it looks pretty, but also looks action-heavy and funny-lite. Worse, it centers on a battle with some "tech-industrialist" named Max Winters who has no connection to the original plots. On the plus side, there's hot ninja chick Karai from the original comic. Another plus is that it seems to start after the end of the second live action film, ignoring the regrettable existence of the third film that sent the turtles to colonial Japan. (LB) Rated PG
Four middle-aged friends, sick of their jobs, bored with their lives and generally having nothing to look forward to, take a cross-country motorcycle trip. Four essentially backboneless suburbanite dudes frequenting biker bars? You can be sure there'll be a little love and a whole lot uh learnin'. (LB) Rated PG-13
The new one is smart and funny and action-packed, and it’s bigger and better and sleeker. And Downey does it again, this time ramping up Stark’s arrogant wisecracking, telling anyone who’ll listen (mostly women) that, via the creation of his powerful Iron Man suit, he’s brought years of uninterrupted peace to the world.