- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2000

OPENING

The Beach (2000) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence, nudity, simulated drug use and sexual candor, including interludes of simulated intercourse) * 1/2. Utopian delusions fizzle again in this exploitably flashy and scenic but essentially trite adaptation of a recent novel by Alex Garland. The latest collaboration of the "Trainspotting" team, director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge, "Beach" contrives to resink Leonardo DiCaprio, in his first full-blown starring role since "Titanic." He plays an unwary young traveler to Thailand who hears of an ominous island "paradise" from a suicidal Scot, impersonated with fleeting hammy gusto by Robert Carlisle. Accompanied by a similarly adventurous young French couple, the hero swims to his tainted Shangri-La, which turns out to be a haven for dope farming and smuggling. Even worse, a screwball colony of international dropouts has chosen Tilda Swinton as white goddess. This bad judgment would certainly anticipate disillusion, and the allegorical plot, mostly aimed at feckless colonizers from Europe and America, collapses in alternately sinister and ludicrous hokum.

The Big Tease (2000) (R) A more promising travel pretext could pay off for this farce about an international hairdressing competition. Craig Ferguson, a regular on "The Drew Carey Show," plays a flamboyant maverick from Scotland named Crawford Mackenzie, who arrives in Los Angeles for the "World Freestyle Hairdressing Championship" with high hopes and a documentary film crew to record his adventure. Organizers had been expecting more of a guest than a competitor, but the irrepressible Scot refuses to be brushed off. Directed by Kevin Allen from a screen play by Mr. Ferguson and Sacha Gervasi. The principal supporting players include Frances Fisher, David Rasche, Mary McCormack, Chris Langham, Donal Logue and Nina Siemaszko. Several celebrities have also been persuaded to play themselves in bit roles: David Hasselhoff, Drew Carey, Cathy Lee Crosby and Bruce Jenner head this contingent.

Holy Smoke (1999) (R) Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio's leading lady from "Titanic," is also seeking spiritual bliss in exotic locales in her new movie. Directed by Jane Campion, who collaborated on the screenplay with her sister Anna, "Smoke" envisions Miss Winslet as an Australian pilgrim to India. Fearing that she has fallen into the clutches of an unscrupulous guru, the heroine's parents hire Harvey Keitel, a veteran abductor and de-programmer of cultists, to bring her back alive and rational. Pam Grier also has a featured role.

Snow Day (2000) (PG) A timely title for a wintry suburban farce about the activities of assorted schoolchildren and some bumbling adults whose routines are disrupted by a snowstorm. The ostensible location is Syracuse, N.Y., doubled by the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta. The cast includes Chevy Chase, Chris Elliott, Jean Smart, Mark Webber, John Schneider, Zena Gray, Schuyler Fisk, Emmanuelle Chriqui and the ubiquitous Pam Grier. The first feature of director Chris Koch and co-writers Will McRobb & Chris Viscardi, previously associated on the Nickelodeon series "The Adventures of Pete & Peter."

The Third Miracle (2000) (R: Occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual candor; subplot involving a priest's romantic infatuation) * 1/2. Ed Harris and Anne Heche threaten to become passionately entangled in this muddled whodunit about the investigation of a potential modern saint. The candidate, now deceased, was an Eastern European immigrant of gypsy extraction, associated with good works in a Chicago diocese. Mr. Harris seems to come out of an inexplicable Skid Row retirement at the urging of Monsignor Charles Haid, who wants a superficially skeptical priest to formulate the argument for sainthood that will be presented to a visiting Vatican panel. Armin Mueller-Stahl makes a belated entrance as a cranky old roadblock: a European archbishop whose skepticism proves a grotesque setup for pious capitulation. After a period of panting after Miss Heche, the non-believing daughter of his saintly lady, Mr. Harris seems to recover his spiritual bearings. Overcompensating on the smug side, he gets awfully impatient with the contradictions foisted on poor Mr. Mueller-Stahl. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, from John Romano's adaptation of a novel by Richard Vetere. No two participants seem to be rowing this leaky boat in a mutually effective direction.

The Tigger Movie (2000) (G: Fleeting situations that menace cartoon characters) **. A low-risk animation venture for the Disney studio, which revives the "Winnie the Pooh" ensemble for a feature predicated on Tigger's supposed need to consort with others of his kind and find a family to call his own. The pretext is skimpy enough to remind you of why the earlier Pooh films didn't risk feature length. Mildly enjoyable and diverting at best, the movie overreaches conspicuously with a production number that mimics "Be Our Guest" from "Beauty and the Beast," and an avalanche that falls short of the obvious prototype in "Mulan." Nevertheless, there's not much reason to complain if you enter with modest expectations. The veteran songwriting team of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman contributes a nutty novelty tune in the spirit of their "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from "Mary Poppins." Called "The Whoop-de-Dooper Bounce," this runner-up variation accompanies the movie's peppiest, happiest slapstick sequence.

Titus (2000) (R: Intermittent graphic violence, with exceptionally loathsome illustrative details; occasional profanity and sexual vulgarity; interludes of simulated intercourse; allusions to rape, mutilation and cannibalism) *. Julie Taymor, the acclaimed director of the theatrical version of "The Lion King," comes a portentous cropper while groping for something monumentally barbaric in her movie debut. Flirting with disaster from the outset, she chooses Shakespeare's most atrocious play, "Titus Andronicus," as an instant cinematic Waterloo. This bummer may secure a bemusing place in movie lore: playing the dim-witted and tormented hero, a Roman general who unwisely spurns a crown, evidently got Anthony Hopkins so despondent that he contemplated early retirement. There are striking design elements in scattered sequences, but the arresting illustrative touches have little staying power. Once characters need to talk and rationalize their enmities, the appalling content becomes subject to chronic defects and blunders. Miss Taymor is particularly inept with panoramic vistas, which she frequently misjudges, leaving an abundance of dead space across the screen. As an absurd and ostensibly wicked mismatch, Alan Cuming and Jessica Lange are a persistent hoot far more deliberately in the case of Mr. Cuming, one surmises. A few performers do have welcome vocal command and emotional conviction: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, James Frain and Angus Macfadyen among others. But the adept readings and effective scenes provide only fitful relief from a near-epic monstrosity.

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. Cynthia Grenier.

Angela's Ashes (1999) (R: Profanity, brief nudity, comic vulgarity) ****. A taut, visual and faithful adaptation a wonder in itself of Frank McCourt's megahit memoir about coming of age in miserably poor Limerick, Ireland. Director Alan Parker skillfully narrates a compelling story with subtle humor and powerful acting. Emily Watson's sad, saintly mother, Angela, and Robert Carlyle's complex ne'er-do-well dad, Malachy, anchor the film, but the three tyros Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens and Michael Legge who play Frank McCourt at various ages justify their stardom, too. Patrick Butters.

Any Given Sunday (1999) (R: frequent profanity and comic vulgarity; graphic violence in the context of professional football games; occasional nudity, sexual candor and sexual vulgarity; fleeting racial antagonism and epithets) ** 1/2. One of the more entertaining monstrosities in recent memory. Oliver Stone exults in a raucous, bombastic, equivocal love song to professional football, and it seems a great relief that this bundle of cinematic aggression has found a hobby apart from political polemics to keep him overstimulated. Approaching three hours of diverting excess, the movie is distinguished by an ear-splitting soundtrack and bone-jarring game sequences. As a rule, the camera places spectators at ground zero during collisions. A front-office subplot finds owner Cameron Diaz, an overcompensating daddy's girl, interfering with coach Al Pacino, a weary but gritty disciple of the late Vince Lombardi. With Dennis Quaid as a battered veteran quarterback and Jamie Foxx as his promising heir apparent, who must learn true humility from Mr. Pacino and teammate Lawrence Taylor, cast to type as a demon linebacker.

The Cider House Rules (1999) (R: partial nudity, violence) *** 1/2. A movie version of the John Irving novel, adapted by the author and directed by Lasse Hallstrom. An orphanage spawns the unique Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), whose mentor, the good Dr. Larch (Michael Caine), unwittingly sends him out to take on a world of abortion, addiction, incest, infidelity and injustice. Patrick Butters.

Boys Don't Cry (1999) (R: frequent profanity; occasional graphic violence and graphic sexual interludes; depictions of heavy drinking and drug use; fleeting nudity; sexual inversion integral to the plot and themes) ** 1/2. A bleakly absorbing but also dubiously romanticized dramatization of an authentic murder case: the 1994 Nebraska killing of a young woman named Tina Brandon, who placed herself in jeopardy by posing as an amorous, puckish lad called Brandon Teena. On the lam from several petty crimes in her native Lincoln, Tina (a dedicated but not quite persuasive impersonation by Hilary Swank, a "Beverly Hills, 90210" alum), tries to ingratiate herself with a white-trash "family" in nearby, desolate Falls City. The androgynous newcomer becomes kind of a mascot, then seduces a young woman named Lana (Chloe Sevigny). Eventually, their romance enrages the ex-cons of the "family" (Peter Sarsgaard and Brandan Sexton III), who regard themselves as domestic benefactors and tyrants in households that obviously suffer acutely from the absence of mature, respectable, law-abiding men. Making her feature debut, Kimberly Peirce depicts the ominous buildup with incisive and sardonic skill. Unfortunately, she also needs an ersatz silver lining and celebrates the Tina-Lana infatuation as an inspirational, liberating sort of calamity.

Eye of the Beholder (2000) (R: Frequent graphic violence, with stabbings preferred; occasional profanity, nudity and sexual vulgarity) No stars. Abstraction reduces every episode to a delusionary shambles in this dithering, affected crime thriller, directed by the Australian Stephan Elliott. He was on far less treacherous flamboyant ground with "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd are the co-starring patsies: he as a lonely wretch of a British Secret Service agent in the United States and she as the ludicrous femme fatale. Known only by the code name "Eye," Mr. McGregor is assigned to shadow Miss Judd, who establishes a disreputable modus operandi by slashing a victim while distracting him with a striptease. Eye's only companion is an invisible playmate, perhaps the ghost of a lost daughter. Infatuated with the lethal heroine, Eye follows her across the continent, sometimes tidying up her crime scenes, sometimes trying to croak her. Their strange affinities bottom out in a frozen lake, ostensibly in Alaska, but any form of burial will suffice. A stranger to credibility, the movie might be humored as an exercise in total menacing humbug.

Galaxy Quest (1999) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity; occasional violence in a facetious context, but some situations could prove alarming to very young children.) **. An overblown disappointment as an ostensible spoof of "Star Trek" and its legend, but harmless and fitfully enjoyable. As former cast members of a beloved science-fiction TV series called "Galaxy Quest," Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman get shortchanged by the writers, much more adept at contriving secondary characters. Enrico Colantoni is the prevailing scene-stealer as a sweet-natured alien, the leader of an expedition to recruit the hapless "Quest" actors as genuine champions in a time of peril to his own distant planet. Why he needs them remains a stumper. There are funnier, smarter affinities between the aliens and a batch of geeky fans led by Justin Long. With Patrick Breen and Missi Pyle as estimable aliens. Directed by Dean Parisot from a screenplay by David Howard and Robert Gordon.

The Hurricane (1999) (R: Occasional graphic violence, including simulated prizefighting scenes; frequent profanity; occasional sexual candor and racial animosity) A polemical biopic about the struggle of former middleweight boxer Rubin Carter, nicknamed "Hurricane" in his prime, to clear his name after being convicted of multiple murder in New Jersey in 1966. Directed by Norman Jewison, the movie stars Denzel Washington as Mr. Carter; it ascribes his eventual exoneration, 30 years later, to the efforts of a hero-worshipping teen-ager played by Vicellous Shannon, abetted by a trio of Canadian guardians played by Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber and John Hannah. Not reviewed.

Magnolia (1999) (R: Frequent profanity, sexual vulgarity and allusions to drug use; occasional sinister elements and fleeting graphic violence; a subplot involving a bullied child; subplots involving terminal illness; fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse) 1/2 star. An ambitious, interminable fiasco from the fitfully promising young writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. Oblivious to the pitfalls of narrative drift and bloat, Mr. Anderson permits himself "Magnolia," a miserably affected tear-jerker about lost souls in the San Fernando Valley on a day of reckoning that turns out to be insufferable. A witty prologue suggests a humorous approach to chance and coincidence that never materializes as the episodic screenplay begins bogging down. Several characters weave in and out, sharing family or emotional links that escape immediate detection: Jason Robards as a dying tycoon, Julianne Moore as his panicky wife, Philip Seymour Hoffman as a male nurse, Tom Cruise as an obnoxious guru of male aggression, Philip Baker Hall as a dying game-show host, Jeremy Blackman as a quiz kid, William H. Macy as a former quiz kid, John C. Reilly as a softhearted cop and Melora Walters as a jumpy addict. Mr. Anderson sketches pathetic or desperate cases who might be better off dead, then congratulates himself for being a merciful creator, willing to forgive innate human weakness.

Man on the Moon (1999) (R: occasional profanity, comic and sexual vulgarity; fleeting nudity and simulated sex play in an episode set in a brothel; fleeting graphic violence) **. A cult-mongering homage to the late, terminally weird comedian Andy Kaufman, contrived by several former colleagues and business partners. Most conspicuously, Danny DeVito, who co-produced, also plays the subject's doting agent, George Shapiro (visible briefly as a club owner who sacks Kaufman). Jim Carrey's impersonation of Kaufman is faithful and sometimes impressive; his skills are sharper, and his execution more consistent. Despite this exploitable performance, the movie lacks a steady human-interest focus. Director Milos Forman and the writers, Larry Alexander and Scott Karaszewski, want to glorify unstable personalities and find it expedient to ignore glaring obstacles. In this instance, they regard the audience as suckers, hopefully oblivious about Kaufman's routines and elaborate hoaxes. With Paul Giammati as crony Bob Zmuda and Courtney Love in a thankless role as a consort. Numerous celebrities make guest appearances, including David Letterman and wrestler Jerry Lawler in a reprise of a notorious TV hoax of 1982.

Scream 3 (2000 (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual allusions) ** 1/2. The final installment in Wes Craven's cycle of movie-wise horror thrillers, targeting a group of young people whose familiarity with the conventions and cliches of the genre is scant protection from psychopathic predators. Obviously, it's become a losing struggle to sustain deceptive plots about killers with a grudge against heroine Neve Campbell, smoked out of a hideaway in Northern California when a new wave of "Scream" murders engulfs participants in a mirror-image sequel, "Stab 3," in production in Hollywood. The surviving trio of Miss Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox Arquette returns for this reasonably proficient swan song, directed by Mr. Craven from a screenplay by Ehren Kruger. They get amusing mileage out of the movie milieu, and there are some choice surprises in the cast: Patrick Warburton as a bodyguard; Parker Posey as the scatterbrained actress he guards; Carrie Fisher as a cynical archivist; Jamie Kennedy returning from the dead to summarize the conventions of horror trilogies. Mr. Kruger's choice of a new homicidal maniac proves lackluster, and there's far too much running around a Hollywood mansion during the finale. Still, this copy doesn't disgrace itself, and the apparatus seems to recognize that it's time to call it a day and seek a breath of fresh air. That sentiment is embodied in the final image.

Stuart Little (1999) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) **. This computer-aided adaptation of the E.B. White fable about Stuart, the precocious white mouse raised by a human family in New York City, is a fitfully attractive nice try. Unfortunately, the trio of Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and juvenile Jonathan Lipnicki lack reliable comic appeal as human foils and protectors for Stuart, spoken by Michael J. Fox. The best sequences depict Stuart's introduction to the household and his touchy relationship with a contemptuous pet cat, Snowbell, tartly dubbed by Nathan Lane. These critters might have carried the show if reinvented as eccentric sidekicks and urban explorers. This clearly is the best family alternative after "Toy Story 2."

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), (R: violence, murder, profanity) No stars. Anthony Minghella's follow-up on his much-Academy Awarded "The English Patient" doesn't look destined to repeat his winning act. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith's long-selling novel of the same title, the movie endows Mr. Ripley (Matt Damon) with far more of a conscience than Miss Highsmith's original. Mr. Damon proves fairly colorless as Ripley, not really bringing off the homosexual shadings of the character. On the other hand, Jude Law, the golden, spoiled object of Ripley's affections, gives an on-target performance. Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett look pretty enough in 1950s summer outfits but have not been given much to do. Philip Seymour Hoffmann, an actor who seems to be everywhere this season, brilliantly does a turn as an insufferably snobbish Ivy League bore. Cynthia Grenier.

Topsy-Turvy (1999) (R: some brief simulated intercourse, one scene of drug addiction) ****. Director Mike Leigh devotes close to three remarkably enjoyable hours to re-creating one of the 19th century's most enduring popular musical works: "The Mikado" by that celebrated pair, Gilbert and Sullivan. After 10 years of unbroken success, librettist William Schwenk Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and composer Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) find their latest work, "Princess Ida," is not getting the usual response from the public. Perhaps that is because of an intense London heat wave in the summer of 1884, perhaps also because the work just isn't quite up to what the public has grown to expect of them. Gilbert is working on a new libretto, but Sullivan, yearning to turn to more serious music, finds it unsatisfactory "topsy-turvy," in his words. A chance visit to a Japanese exhibition with his wife gives Gilbert the inspiration for what will become the pair's most famous collaboration. Almost the entire second half of the film is devoted to the production of the comic opera, from Japanese women showing English actresses how to move, right through rehearsals and up to the triumphal first night. It's a superb view of backstage life. The acting is first-rate, as are the photography, sets and costumes. You might quibble a bit at Mr. Leigh's choosing to introduce 20th-century socialist sensibility in showing the underside of Victorian life, but it shouldn't spoil your pleasure in the film. Cynthia Grenier

Toy Story 2 (1999) (R) ****. Marvelous sequel to the 1995 blockbuster re-creates all the thrills and magic of its predecessor. Woody and Buzz Lightyear (voices by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen) and their toy-box friends face new peril at the hands of greedy toy collector Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight). Director John Lasseter, who won a special Oscar for the original "Toy Story," returns with a multilevel adventure that's as much story as technological masterpiece. Patrick Butters.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS



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