Film Openings

Feb 1, 2006 at 4:00 am
A Good Woman. (PG) Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan, now updated to the 1930s and moved to Italy and rife with Americans, is classic soap opera: In Manhattan, a woman named Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt) has slept with so many married men that she's apparently run out of warm bodies and warm wallets. Chased out of the city by whispers, she spies in an issue of Town & Country the photo of a young married couple named Meg and Robert Windermere (Scarlett Johansson and Mark Umbers), who are living in the splendor of Amalfi; surely, she figures, the Wall Street banker has plenty of money to spend on such a rare thing as she. And, sure enough, within but a few minutes of screen time, Mrs. Erlynne is having hush-hush encounters with Robert. But the movie is a polite bore, and the fault lies with the clunky screenplay and the acting, of which there is very little. Hunt, in particular, offers the temptations of a dowdy schoolmarm unleashed on the rec room of an old folks' home. (Robert Wilonsky) WO

Mrs. Henderson Presents. (R) The studied British theatricality and sharp wit of Stephen Frears' comedy are likely to make it a favorite among nostalgiaphiles, theater buffs, and the tea-and-crumpets set. Sailing along on the strength of another showy performance by Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love), this is the real-life story of an imperious widow who, after burying her husband in 1936, forgoes prolonged grief in favor of sinking his leftover millions into a decrepit London theater, where she mounts the city's first nudie revue. As a celebration of theater-world eccentricity and English pluck in wartime, the film hits all its marks, well-worn though they be. Bob Hoskins is outstanding as the title character's comic foil, a stylish impresario named Vivian Van Damm, with whom she exchanges acerbic insults. All in all, it's Being Julia for 2005. (Bill Gallo) CPP, PF

Naked in Ashes. (Not Rated) Writer-director Paula Fouce travels into the godly universe of India's 13 million yogis, observing without judging and noticing without advertising. At apparently any time in his life, an Indian boy or man might decide to become a yogi, a spiritual seeker who trains under a guru to live in the service of God and other beings. A yogi's life is characterized chiefly by the renunciation of the material world, and not merely belongings but also shelter, food, clothing, and often physical comfort of any kind. Some yogis live alone, high in the Himalayas, and meditate. Others move from place to place to avoid attachment or comfort. They depend on donations for food. The film is an honest and humble piece of work, but it's also a snooze. The problem is that Naked in Ashes never explicates what happens inside a yogi's mind. We see plenty of footage of their acts of devotion, but we never hear about what meditation is like, or how a yogi does it. The result is a companionable film, but not a deep one. (Melissa Levine) TV

Something New. (PG-13) Reviewed in this issue.. (Luke Y. Thompson) CGX, CW10, EQ, J14, OF, RON, STCH, WO

When a Stranger Calls. "The calls are coming from inside the house!" A whole movie about that most basic of urban legends where the babysitter finds her charges dead — and she must escape the killer herself. Directed by Simon West. (not reviewed) ARN, CW10, CC12, DP, EG, EQ, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, WO

The World's Fastest Indian. (PG-13) Anthony Hopkins lends style points to any movie in which he appears. Roger Donaldson's real-life tale about an eccentric fellow New Zealander, who fulfilled a lifelong dream in 1963 by racing his ancient Indian motorcycle across Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, is a case in point. Donaldson (Thirteen Days, Dante's Peak) bathes his aging, decrepit hero, Burt Munro, in a kind of fairy-tale light, but once Hopkins hits the road from Los Angeles to Utah, he turns this quirky, single-minded idealist into something special, a wholly likable striver whose dignity and dream we want to embrace too. That's Chris Williams as the transvestite motel clerk and Diane Ladd as the salty widow who knows her way around a welding torch. For Hopkins, the charming, perfectly detailed performance he puts in here will likely land in the second rank of a formidable canon that includes The Silence of the Lambs and The Remains of the Day. But for him, even mediocrity can be terrific. (Gallo) DP, GL, WO