Movie Guide

Still in Release
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (PG)

Director: Andrew Adamson. With Tilda Swinton, Jim Broadbent. (140 min.)

Adamson, the director of the two "Shrek" films, has done a highly creditable job of visualizing the first of Lewis's seven books about four children in the mythical land of Narnia where the animals do, indeed, talk. The film works surprisingly well both as a boisterous fantasia and as the Beneath all the special effects (many of which, for a change, are actually special) you can detect something recognizably, and cherishably, human. Grade: A-

King Kong (PG-13)

Director: Peter Jackson. With Jack Black, Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody. (187 min.)

"King Kong" is the biggest movie since "Titanic." It's certainly the biggest romance, even if it happens to be an interspecies one. Ann Darrow (Watts), a struggling actress in Depression-era Manhattan, is picked by Carl Denham (Black) to star in his jungle epic on Skull Island, rife with dinosaurs (and high on the yeccch factor). Ultimately she finds herself, literally, in the palm of the giant ape's hands, and director Jackson wants us to feel their love. When she pours it out for Kong as he battles the biplanes atop the Empire State Building, you can almost believe that some day these two will have a rosy future together in some vast Valhalla. Grade: B+

Mrs. Henderson Presents (R)

Director: Stephen Frears. With Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins. (103 min.)

Shortly after her husband's death, Laura Henderson (Dench) purchases a West End theater and comes up with the idea of doing a show in which the girls appear nude. Vivian Van Damm (Hoskins) is the impresario she hires and immediately locks horns with. He wants artistic freedom, she wants to meddle. There's real snap to Dench's presence, but the key to her performance is the depth of feeling beneath the imperiousness. Frears, like his actors, understands that theatricality, especially among show people, often camouflages the deepest emotions. Grade: A

Syriana (R)

Director: Stephen Gaghan. With George Clooney, Matt Damon. (126 min.)

A lot of people held out high hopes for "Syriana," a vast mosaic about the prospective merger of two American oil companies against the backdrop of a reformist Persian Gulf prince who has sold drilling rights to the Chinese. But the discussion most moviegoers will likely have is: "Could you figure out what was going on?" "Syriana" falls down at the most basic storytelling level, and this incoherence damages even the good parts. Grade: B-

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