- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2000

OPENING

East-West (1999) (PG-13) The French director of "Indochine," Regis Wargnier, collaborates again with Catherine Deneuve while turning his attention to Europe in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Oleg Menchikov is cast as a Russian exile in France who succumbs to the euphoria of victory and patriotism and accepts a Soviet offer of repatriation. Soon after returning with his French-born wife and son, he begins to regret the homecoming. With Sandrine Bonnaire and Sergei Bodrov Jr. In French and Russian with English subtitles.

The Filth and the Fury (1999) (R) A documentary feature about the British punk rockers The Sex Pistols, compiled from archival footage by Julien Temple. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.

The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000) (PG) A return live-action engagement for the cartoon primitives, though with a different cast under the direction of Brian Levant. Mark Addy of "The Full Monty" plays Fred Flintstone to the Wilma Slaghoople of Kirsten Johnston, the Amazon of "3rd Rock From the Sun." The plot harks back to the courtship of Fred and Wilma, who double date with Stephen Baldwin and Jane Krakowski as the future Barney and Betty Rubble during a wild weekend at the desert resort called Rock Vegas.

Frequency (2000) (PG-13) A time-travel thriller that links a late father, circa 1969, with the son who never knew him, circa 1999, in order to foil a murder plot. Dennis Quaid is the fireman who died before he could be a dad to offspring Jim Caviezel, now a cop and family man in his own right. Incredibly, Mr. Quaid manages to make ham radio contact with Mr. Caviezel across the space-time continuum After getting acquainted, they collaborate in an ingenious way to bring a killer to justice. With Andre Braugher, Elizabeth Mitchell, Noah Emmerich and Shawn Doyle.

The Last September (2000) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence; fleeting nudity) ** and 1/2. An evocative and ultimately haunting movie version of an Elizabeth Bowen novel about an Anglo-Irish family entertaining guests in late summer of 1920, as the Irish revolutionary agitation nears the boiling point. The appalling impression within this social group, evidently drawn to some extent from the writer's own family, is that the Irish are a treacherous lot, whatever their social class or political leanings. A virginal protagonist, Lois Farquar (Keeley Hawes), the niece of an aristocrat named Sir Richard Naylor (Michael Gambon), sleepwalks into intrigue and betrayal, allowing herself to be seduced by an IRA fugitive, Peter Connolly (Gary Lydon), while being courted by a young British officer, Gerald Colthurst (David Tennant), specifically charged with protecting members of her class from peril. Gerald is set up for heartbreaking disillusion, starting with a rebuff from Lois' snobbish aunt Myra, played by Maggie Smith. The first feature directed by the acclaimed British theater director Deborah Warner. John Banville did the screenplay. The cast also includes Fiona Shaw, Richard Roxburgh, Lambert Wilson, Jane Birkin and Emily Nagle.

Where the Heart Is (2000) (PG-13) A comedy-tearjerker starring Natalie Portman as a pregnant teen-ager abandoned by her boyfriend at a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma. She takes up residence, befriended by Ashley Judd, Joan Cusack and Stockard Channing.

NOW SHOWING

All About My Mother (1999) (R: presentation of transsexuals, profanity) ****. Internationally renowned Spanish director Pedro Almodovar celebrates motherhood in a quirky, funny, moving film. A mother, wonderfully performed by Cecilia Roth, loses her son in a car accident on the eve of his 17th birthday and goes off to Barcelona in quest of the boy's father now known as Lola to tell him of the death. Her quest brings her in contact with a wide and strange collection of women, all of whom will be transformed in some degree by the meeting. Despite some of the denizens of Mr. Almodovar's world, "All About My Mother" is a worthy film. Academy Award for best foreign language film. Cynthia Grenier.

American Psycho (2000) (R: Ostensibly a portrait of a depraved imagination; frequent profanity, sexual candor and vulgarity; occasional graphic violence with exceptionally gruesome illustrative details) *. A sleekly mercenary film version of the Brett Easton Ellis best seller, which seemed to give modish literary decadence a bad name when it was published a decade ago. The atrocities are confined within the sick imagination of the protagonist, Patrick Bateman, an attractive but lunatic young investment banker played by Christian Bale. The role requires him to be in optimum physical condition but has nothing to justify psychological interest or the suggestion of affinities with Anthony Perkins and Alfred Hitchcock.

Croupier (2000) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor, nudity and graphic violence) *** and 1/2. This cleverly abstracted and misleading crime fable blends hard-boiled and literary pretensions with exceptional wit. The plot springs conspicuous leaks, but enough novelty and entertainment value accumulate to make a persuasive case for indulgence. Clive Owen, who resembles the young Robert Mitchum and Jack Palance, could be a genuine discovery in the lead. He takes us into the stylized confidence of a protagonist and narrator called Jack, introduced as a struggling novelist but soon employed as a croupier at a London casino. He demonstrates impressive skills of eye, hand and numeracy. Domiciled with a clingy store detective who finds his new job sinister, Jack becomes entangled with a fellow employee and a far too friendly customer, played by Alex Kingston of the "E.R." series. Her nude scenes may give "Croupier" an added "cult" allure. At a certain point we become aware that Jack the writer has created a fictional counterpart named Jake. Separating the "real" and "fictional" becomes next to impossible. Fortunately, this confusion remains more intriguing than exasperating. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Foundry.

East is East (1999) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor, comic vulgarity and interludes of graphic domestic violence) **. A lively but also crass and vulgar domestic comedy-drama about the turmoil aroused in an English-Pakistani family when the patriarch, Om Puri as George Khan, proprietor of a fish-and-chips shop in Manchester, circa 1971, presumes to play matchmaker for the eldest of six sons. His boys have no intention of consenting to arranged marriages within the Muslim community. The conflict drives George to extremes that culminate in abuse of his loyal, English-born spouse Ella, played by Linda Bassett. Writer Ayub Khan-Din seems to lack the time or resources to invent an adequate reconciliation. It's as if everyone suspected that the plot had derailed but feels helpless to remedy the calamity. Director Damien O'Donnell doesn't seem to regard comic nuance as a useful instrument in this debut feature, but he shouldn't lack for offers to supervise knockabout farce.

Erin Brockovich (2000) (R: Frequent profanity and sexual vulgarity; fleeting interludes of simulated intercourse; allusions to terminal illness) * and 1/2. Julia Roberts plays a supposedly real-life crusader, a Southern California paralegal who was instrumental in formulating a damages case against the public utility Pacific Gas & Electric on behalf of small-town residents who suffered from contaminated water supplies. The presentation here is shamelessly crass and self-righteous. Deserted by a consort and obliged to support three kids, the heroine gets work with a law firm run by Albert Finney, who must ultimately admit that his troublesome newcomer deserves as much glory and success as she covets.

Genghis Blues (1999) (No MPAA Rating: Occasional profanity) *** and 1/2. A disarming treasure that may prove one of the most cherished of "feel-good" documentaries. Stirring shadows of mortality already hover over two subjects, the blind blues musician Paul Pena, now seriously ill with pancreatic cancer, and the late KPFK disc jockey Mario Casetta, who has died since joining the wonderfully quixotic expedition memorialized by this film: a 1995 pilgrimage to distant Tuva in Central Asia. Mr. Pena had been invited to participate in the first national festival of throat singing. He was the guest of the country's pre-eminent stylist in that form of folk music, Kongar-Ol Ondar, who also becomes a fond and effusive tour guide for the American visitors. The young fraternal team of Roko & Adrian Belic recorded the Pena odyssey, which tends to confirm a common wish: that musical performance and appreciation can bridge vast geographical and cultural distances. Occasional dialogue in Tuvan or Russian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle and Cinema Arts, Fairfax.

Gossip (2000) (R: Sustained emphasis on depravity among undergraduates; occasional profanity, graphic sexual allusions, graphic violence and allusions to drug and alcohol use) 1/2 star. Goes from dubious to wretched while observing a trio of roomies in Manhattan collaborate on a journalism thesis that involves originating and then tracking a nasty piece of gossip. The perps are bad influence James Marsden and remorseful accomplices Lena Headey and Norman Reedus. Joshua Jackson's ostensible girlfriend, Kate Hudson, is the dim-bulb victim. Spectators over a certain age are bound to feel as if they've been transported to some arbitrary realm of melodrama in which only stupid stuff is allowed to happen. With Marisa Coughlan as an obnoxious coed and Eric Bogosian as an arrogant professor. High Fidelity (2000) (R: Frequent profanity; occasional sexual candor and vulgarity; fleeting graphic violence in fantasy interludes) * and 1/2. A promising getaway fails to protect this romantic comedy from making a redundant affliction of itself. There's way too much of John Cusack (also a co-producer and co-writer) confiding directly to the camera as a case of arrested development who finally resolves to get out of a demoralizing rut. The proprietor of a shabbily hip record store that specializes in selling vintage vinyl recordings, he recounts a woeful history of romantic failure after a long-suffering girlfriend (Iben Hjejle) walks out. Joan Cusack plays her maddening brother's sympathetic sister.

Joe Gould's Secret (2000) (R: Occasional profanity and fleeting sexual candor, including one interlude that involves a lewdly graphic painting) * and 1/2. A sincere but dogged and mostly disenchanting movie version of two famous New Yorker articles by the late Joseph Mitchell. While specializing in city profiles for the magazine in the 1940s, he helped immortalize a Greenwich Village bohemian named Joe Gould, who claimed to be compiling an "oral history" that recorded impressions drawn from years of bumming around town with pencil and notebook. Stanley Tucci directs morosely, from a screenplay by Howard A. Rodman, while impersonating Mitchell without redeeming sharpness.

Keeping the Faith (2000) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and occasional sexual allusions, revolving around the love life of a rabbi and the infatuation of a priest) *. An agonizing trifle from Edward Norton, making his film directing debut. A romantic comedy triangle ensues when boyhood pals Ben Stiller and Mr. Norton, now an Upper West Side rabbi and priest, respectively, are reunited with Jenna Elfman, erstwhile playmate matured into stylish but conveniently unmarried business genius. She and Mr. Stiller supposedly fall in love, sort of on the sly, while Mr. Norton suffers a crush and must eat his heart out.

Love and Basketball (2000) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity; interludes of marital discord) * and 1/2. A savory pretext spoiled by imprudent elaboration and fanatic romanticism on the part of writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood. She proves her own worst enemy while stringing out this love story about basketball jocks, Omar Epps as Quincy McCall and Sanaa Lathan as Monica Wright. Next-door neighbors in the Baldwin Hills suburb of Los Angeles, they star simultaneously for Crenshaw High, then go to the University of Southern California as sweethearts. Quincy gets off to a fast start as a Trojan while Monica struggles. Eventually, their athletic fortunes flip-flop, and this development appears to dampen Quincy's ardor decisively. Miss Prince-Bythewood can't seem to stand the idea that these two might not be eternally meant for each other, so she manipulates the last act to defy all the probabilities. She insists on a preposterous "happy ending."

Me, Myself, I (2000) (R) The latest variation on the "Sliding Doors" pretext, manipulated by writer-director Philippa Karmel, who earned this debut opportunity by editing "Shine." Rachel Griffiths stars in the mirror-image role of a successful journalist who encounters her own double, who seems to have married the guy reluctantly rejected by the protagonist. David Roberts plays the love object.

Rules of Engagement (2000) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic violence, usually in simulations of wartime combat or rioting; recurrent pictorial emphasis on gushing blood and open wounds) *. A lumbering shambles of a military courtroom melodrama, bulldozed onto the screen by director William Friedkin with scant regard for coherence or plausibility. The principal characters are career Marines played by Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. While commanding the Marine guard detachment at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, Mr. Jackson confronts a violent demonstration that leaves three of his men and about 80 civilians very expediently dead. He turns to Mr. Jones from the judge advocate general's office for an active and impassioned defense during a climactic court-martial hearing. Howlers hit the fan with alarming consistency.

Such a Long Journey (1999) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) ****. Without warning, a great new movie appears. Set in 1971, on the eve of the India-Pakistan war over Bangladesh, the movie observes a lower-middle-class Parsi family weather several domestic crises, intrigues and losses against the backdrop of larger, ominous political events. Director Sturla Gunnarsson, working from a screenplay by Sooni Taraporevala, achieves qualities of immediacy, intimacy and insight that are remarkable and profoundly stirring. It's as if the noblest attributes of Vittorio De Sica and Satyajit Ray had been rediscovered. An exceptional heart-breaker, the movie captures the extraordinary potential in ordinary life with a candor and tenderness that keep knocking you flat. Fleeting dialogue in Hindi and Gujarati with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Foundry. 28 Days (2000) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and mildly graphic violence; thematic emphasis on recovering alcoholics and addicts) * and 1/2. A feckless comedy-drama starring Sandra Bullock as an alleged journalist with an alleged drinking problem. Sentenced to four weeks in rehab after a playful limo theft and crackup, the heroine meets would-be "Cuckoo's Nest" patients in Viggo Mortensen, Azura Skye, Michael O'Malley, Alan Tudyk, Diane Ladd and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. As the sober elder sister, Elizabeth Perkins outclasses the heroine as a potential source of human interest.

U-571 (2000) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and graphic violence, in a setting of World War II naval combat) **. A diverting and sometimes explosively effective submarine thriller especially when depth charges are going off on the soundtrack. The underwater setup suggests an amalgam of "Das Boot" and "The Hunt for Red October," although director and co-writer Jonathan Mostow doesn't have quite as much luck or staying power with his system of make-believe. Assigned a mission that would have been monopolized by the Royal Navy during the ostensible time frame, the spring of 1942, an American sub under the command of Bill Paxton sails to the North Atlantic disguised as a German counterpart, U-571, which carries the prototype of a new coding machine. The Americans are supposed to rendezvous with the target while disguised as another U-Boat, then seize crew and precious cargo. The exchange goes awry, obliging the surviving Americans to make their escape in the captured but crippled U-571, a target for both German and Allied warships. Claustrophobic and submerged perils predominate over patriotic posturing, but the characters fall short of heroic variety and distinction. With Matthew McConaughey as a valiant young executive officer, Harvey Keitel as a crusty chief, Jake Weber and David Keith as Naval Intelligence spooks and Jack Noseworthy, Thomas Guiry, Will Estes and T.C. Carson as tenacious crewmen.

Where the Money Is (2000) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual allusions; glorification of criminal impulses) **. A genial setup for a caper movie, ultimately weakened by the caper itself. The first half-hour or so is predicated on a diverting stunt: how long can Paul Newman pretend to be out of it? As a notorious bank robber named Henry Manning, who has succeeded in getting himself transferred from prison to a nursing home by simulating a stroke, the star is fun to watch in poses of foxy immobility. A nurse played by Linda Fiorentino knows Henry is a faker but volunteers for his next job, which turns out to be an armored car robbery that also implicates her husband, Dermot Mulroney. The vicarious enjoyment deteriorates rapidly once the robbery, an all-nighter, is under way.

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