- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2000

OPENING

Boiler Room (2000) (R: Frequent profanity; blunt sexual and ethnic humor; fleeting graphic violence and allusions to drug use) ***. The quality of cutthroat salesmanship exploited in "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "Wall Street" gets a zesty update in this caustic topical fable from Ben Younger, a novice writer-director whose ear appears much sharper than his eye. Giovanni Ribisi, the prodigal son of a Long Island judge, abandons the thriving little casino business conducted in his apartment to apprentice with a dubious brokerage firm. Called J.T. Marlin, this aggressive outfit specializes in high-pressure tactics to hustle supposedly fast-growth stocks. It promises every devoted recruit that he'll be a millionaire within three years. Things go sour for the protagonist within a matter of months, but while he learns the ropes from such mentors as Vin Diesel, Nicky Katt and Tom Everett Scott, the movie is a maliciously entertaining tour de force. At its best, it even isolates some of the fundamental allure in the art of selling and being sold. The Marlin guys enjoy talking along with the dialogue from "Wall Street" as they booze and watch the video, among more sedate pastimes. The weak spot is a mawkishly tormented subplot about Mr. Ribisi's craving to make amends with his righteous dad, played by Ron Rifkin. It bottoms out with manly weeping and hugging scherzos.

Diamonds (2000) (R) A cross-generational comedy-tearjerker with Kirk Douglas, Dan Aykroyd and Corbin Allred as father, son and grandson, embarked on a quest to Reno, Nev., where the senior member of the family claims to have hidden a cache of diamonds. Once a prizefighter, he was allegedly paid off in jewels for throwing a fight. He proposes to retrieve them from hiding. The potential heirs decide it would be harmless to humor him. The cast also includes Lauren Bacall and Jenny McCarthy. Directed by John Asher from a screenplay by Allan Aaron Katz. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.

Hanging Up (2000) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and comic vulgarity) * 1/2. Any urge to dote on the Ephron sisters should be blown to smithereens by this inhospitable and presumably autobiographical tearjerker. Derived from a book by kid sister Delia and a screenplay in which older sister and movie pro Nora was a collaborator, the movie is a messy one in the eye for show business family feeling. The trailers are misleading. They suggest a three-handed farcical romp for Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton and Lisa Kudrow. Miss Keaton doubles as the busily oblivious director, but "Hanging Up" proves a wistfully maddening one-woman show for Miss Ryan, cast as the self-sacrificing middle sister, Eve, in a family whose patriarch (a former screenwriter played by Walter Matthau) has entered the final stage of his life. He frequently succumbs to demented and forlorn spells, and only Eve is there to soothe him. The editor of a magazine named after herself, Miss Keaton's Georgia ducks her obligations. A ditzy soap opera actress, Miss Kudrow's Maddy also tends to be a shirker. The lion's share of the burden falls on Eve, an affectionate and overcompensating Daddy's Girl since her mother (Cloris Leachman in a brief, chilling cameo) abandoned the nest years earlier. This devotion is admirable, but the movie contrives to make it unbearable as well. One appears to be witnessing some form of family self-therapy and self-congratulation that it's never tempting to share.

Miss Julie (1999) (R) A new movie version of August Strindberg's famously malicious, polemical one-acter about a count's daughter instantly undone by a tryst with the family valet. Saffron Burrowes and Peter Mulland have the leads as haughty Julie and opportunistic Jean. Maria Doyle Kennedy is cast as the cook Kristin. The setting is a Swedish country manor in the 1880s. Directed by Mike Figgis from an adaptation by Helen Cooper.

Pitch Black (2000) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic violence in a science-fiction setting) 1/2 *. Even more of a futuristic klunker than the recent "Supernova," this outer-space monster thriller is rendered in sepia and murk. The low-rent imagery reinforces a ramshackle entrapment yarn. The pithier title might be "Bats in Space." The sepia wash is meant to simulate rusty daylight on a desert planet discovered by surviving crashlanders, notably Radha Mitchell as a pilot, Cole Hauser as a gendarme and Vin Diesel as his prisoner, a hulk obviously destined to emerge as the hero. The uninviting daylight gives way to a prolonged eclipse of a night in which ravenous monsters emerge to fly around and menace the characters. When finally seen with much definition, the critters resemble swarms of bats and attack with vicious Alienesque jaws. Strictly for the doltish, undemanding sci-fi crowd.

Rear Window (1954) (PG: Interludes of intense suspense and allusions to macabre murder details; made years before the advent of the rating system and rated when reissued in 1983) ****. A new revival of Alfred Hitchcock's expert and durably appealing suspense thriller, always one of his most popular and accomplished entertainments. The restoration team of Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz supervised this revival, which is supposed to reflect long-overdue upgrades in a tattered and neglected camera negative. James Stewart, a globetrotting photojournalist confined to his Greenwich Village apartment with a broken leg, relieves the boredom by idly peeping at his back terrace neighbors. He begins to suspect that a murder has been committed in an apartment across the way. Grace Kelly, his dazzling fiancee, and Thelma Ritter, his salt-of-the-earth nurse, become reluctant converts to his suspicions and nosiness. Wendell Corey played the skeptical police detective and Raymond Burr the strangely touching suspect. The fad for "Vertigo" among perversely overheated academics and cultists during the past 15 years has tended to cloud the obvious superiority of "Rear Window," a sane and self-contained thriller in which Hitchcock's finesse and showmanship are never at the mercy of neurotic enigmas. Also an enduring rebuke to modern slaughterhouse thrillers, "Rear Window" achieves a maximum of tension with one murder, committed off-screen. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Uptown.

The Whole Nine Yards (2000) (R) A caper farce entrusted to Jonathan Lynn, the director of "Clue," "My Cousin Vinny" and "Greedy." Bruce Willis, a Chicago mobster in the witness protection program, lives in a Montreal suburb next door to dentist Matthew Perry. Both turn out to be earmarked for murder, Mr. Willis by mob rival Kevin Pollak, Mr. Perry by predatory spouse Rosanna Arquette. The supporting cast includes Natasha Henstridge, Michael Clarke Duncan and Amanda Peet. Mitchell Kapner wrote the screenplay.

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.

American Beauty (1999) (R: Frequent profanity and sexual candor; occasional graphic violence and allusions to drug use; occasional nudity and simulated intercourse; systematic morbid, carnal and misanthropic emphases) * 1/2. An Oscar-season revival for DreamWorks' principal contender, a deluxe serving of hatefulness aimed at suburban sitting ducks. Screenwriter Alan Ball perhaps overcompensating for years of TV sitcom work, notably "Cybill" and the acclaimed British stage director Sam Mendes accentuate the perverse and heartless. Facades of respectability are peeled off neighboring households. Not that the inhabitants need much peeling: They're already primed for downfalls, betrayals and executions. The narrator, a cynical wretch of a family man played by Kevin Spacey, even informs us from the outset that he'll be a goner. The only suspense element is guessing which of four or five characters might be better positioned for the coup de grace. Annette Bening co-stars as his frustrated, acquisitive wife, and Thora Birch is their sullen teen-age daughter. The new neighbors Chris Cooper, Allison Janney and Wes Bentley are even creepier. All the smugly hideous domestic caricature is meant to be elevated by an ironic, "life-affirming" kicker, confirming the filmmakers as poetic misanthropes.

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.

The Big Tease (2000) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual vulgarity in a farcical context) **. Not as funny as the participants seem to think, but this stranger-in-Hollywood farce will suffice if you're generous. Craig Ferguson, a regular on "The Drew Carey Show," plays a flamboyant maverick hairdresser 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 eventually crashes the finals. The principal supporting players include Frances Fisher, David Rasche, Mary McCormack, Chris Langham, Larry Miller, Jay Thomas and Donal Logue. The hairdressers responsible for the towering, outlandish showdown creations deserve curtain calls.

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.

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.

Holy Smoke! (1999) (R: Frequent profanity and sexual vulgarity, including interludes of simulated intercourse; occasional nudity and graphic violence; interludes of simulated drug use) *. Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio's leading lady from "Titanic," also seeks and misconstrues 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 de-programmer of cultists, to restore her to reason. Fat chance. They become lustful competitors in a "half-way hut" in the outback. The mutual degradation is excruciating, but the filmmakers mistake it for therapy. With Sophie Lee of "The Castle" as the heroine's ridiculed but rather more appealing sister-in-law. As an agonized mum, Julie Hamilton threatens to capsize the conception with genuine pathos in the first reel.

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 this miserably affected tear-jerker about lost souls in the San Fernando Valley on a day of reckoning that turns out to be insufferable. 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.

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. 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.

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. Heroine Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox Arquette return 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. 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.

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 Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), (R: violence, murder, profanity) No stars. 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.

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: Harry Lennix, James Frain and Angus Macfadyen among others. But the adept readings and effective.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS



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