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Quick Flicks

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"Breach" — Director Billy Ray ("Shattered Glass," 2003) returns to another august D.C. institution, the FBI, for his second outing. Based on the capture of G-man turned Russian spy Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), the story focuses on the attempt to trap and expose a brilliant liar. Although countless movies have trained their cameras on the Bureau, Ray and his fellow screenwriters have brought something fresh to their look inside the house that Edgar built, namely a complicated villain whose motives the filmmakers are content to leave, in some measure, mysterious. His nemesis, a rather wonky youth bucking for agent status, Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe), isn't as intriguing — but "Breach" works both as an engaging character study and as an unusually low-key, quietly suspenseful thriller. (PG-13) 110 min. ****— Thomas Peyser



"Hannibal Rising" — The Hannibal horror movie franchise that began with "Silence of the Lambs" gets an extraneous fourth installment from best-selling novelist and scriptwriter Thomas Harris, who provides his infamous killer with a back story begotten in the insanity of World War II. The movie assembles an ardently talented cast and crew (including French actor Gaspard Ulliel in the title role) who execute the story with bold performances against a European backdrop. Dense visual compositions give fertile, classical underpinnings to Harris' formulaic plot. Ulliel, however, makes the movie dramatic. His audacious performance bewitches the viewer into relishing something that we should not. Hannibal becomes a little more understandable, but he's not as scary. (R) 117 min. ** — Cole Smithey



"The Messengers" — Even the writers behind "The Messengers" must have wondered whether their premise was believable — do people really decide to move from the bustling city to a rundown shack out in the middle of nowhere? Several years of box-office cash cows must have convinced them that indeed they do. This is the same shtick played out in legions of contemporary horror movies. Only this one's the 99-cent version. By the time you realize this is some kind of weird cross between "The Birds," "Poltergeist" and "The Sixth Sense," it may be too late to save yourself. (PG-13) 90 min. * — Wayne Melton



"Music and Lyrics" — An appealing setup of Hugh Grant as an ex-pop star from the '80s — the opening retro music video, reminiscent of Wham! at its worst, is the movie's best sequence -- soon deteriorates as the movie betrays even its good ideas to save a silly premise. Grant's Alex is commissioned by a contemporary pop star named Cora (Haley Bennett) to write her a new hit. The catch is he has only four days to deliver it. The struggle of Alex and his new friend Sophie (Drew Barrymore) to write a great pop hit rings true, but the idea that they would fall in love in the process doesn't. This song and dance has more notes of make-believe than jokes or romance. (PG-13) 96 min. ** — W.M.



"Notes on a Scandal" — This sharp story reminds us that some of the itchiest dramas break out among the most common bodies, in the most unassuming settings. More films should turn our attention toward the quiet machinations of everyday people — the mailman or the druggist or, in this case, a couple of bored high-school teachers in London. This is where Barbara (Judi Dench), an aging history teacher nearing retirement, spies and befriends the comely new art teacher, Sheba (Cate Blanchett). Here's the gist: Sheba gets a little too extracurricular with a student; Barbara catches them; all hell breaks loose. Off and on narrated by Barbara, who's keeping all the action in her diary while both falling in love with Sheba and trying to destroy her, "Notes" avoids heroes and villains in favor of honest human frailty. Real people, real troubles. And in a swift 98 minutes, it's also real juicy fun. (R) 98 min. **** — W.M.



"The Painted Veil" — Is marriage a plague? That's probably not what M. Somerset Maugham was trying to say with his novel "The Painted Veil," part battle with infidelity and part battle with a major epidemic in the Chinese back country. This new adaptation, about a doctor (Edward Norton) who drags his adulterous wife (Naomi Watts) into a sick village, is in some ways an old-fashioned movie — a light period drama whose charms emerge equally from grand scenery and clever dialogue. It's also a bit predictable and a bit melodramatic, but "The Painted Veil" is comfortable with living quietly. As long as the characters are interesting, and their lives seem real, it's fine that we walk away thinking whatever we want about them, or very little. (PG-13) 125 min. *** — W.M.



"Pan's Labyrinth" — This tale of Spaniards living under Francisco Franco's fascist regime is an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. Right around the time the Allies are planning to storm the beaches of Normandy, a little girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) arrives by car with her mother (Ariadna Gil) at a rural supply station guarded against hill-dwelling guerrilla fighters by an evil army captain (Sergi L¬Ępez). Ofelia's inspired imagination conjures vivid adventures in the fairy world, but the story is a little too simple to support the movie's attempt at analogy. It's easy to get into "Pan's Labyrinth," but harder to figure out what's supposed to be gotten out of it. (R) 120 min. *** — W.M.

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