- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

OPENING

Such a Long Journey (1999) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) ****. Without warning, a great new movie appears. A Canadian-British co-production, very handsomely shot on location in Bombay and performed in English by a splendid Indian cast, it derives from a prestigious novel by Rohinton Mistry, who was born in Bombay but emigrated to Canada in the 1970s. The director, obviously accomplished but unknown in the United States, is Sturla Gunnarsson, a Canadian of Icelandic origins. 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. Mr. 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 heartbreaker, the movie captures the extraordinary potential in ordinary life with a candor and tenderness that keep knocking you flat. "Journey" reflects a rare, exemplary synthesis of the warmhearted and tough-minded. The principal characters, all beautifully embodied, are the family man and bank clerk Gustad, played by Roshan Seth; Sona Razdan as his wife, Dilnavaz; Sam Pastor as Gustad's goofy co-worker Dinshawji; and the fabulous Kurush Deboo as a frenetic, mentally retarded neighbor called Tehmul. Fleeting dialogue in Hindi and Gujarati with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Foundry.

Waking the Dead (2000) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence) * and 1/2. Not one to make it easy on himself, Keith Gordon of "A Midnight Clear" and "Mother Night" tackles a Scott Spencer novel about undying love and gamely struggles to overcome the odds against persuasive depiction. Billy Crudup, a Coast Guard officer with aspirations of high political office, and Jennifer Connelly, a left-wing activist associated with a Catholic relief agency, meet in the early 1970s and fall in love. Death appears to intervene: Miss Connelly is reported killed in a car bombing in 1974. Almost a decade later Mr. Crudup is a Democratic Party candidate for Congress. Though engaged to Molly Parker, he can't get over his original sweetheart, who keeps appearing mysteriously in one setting after another. The promising plot twist echoes "Vertigo": maybe she is a survivor, having participated in some kind of gruesome hoax. Mr. Crudup's sister, Janet McTeer, also believes she has seen the phantom, and Sis is not a prisoner of love. The intriguing prospects fail to save the movie from earnest sappiness in the long run. The snowy locations reflect Montreal of two winters ago.

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 nomination for best foreign language 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) * and 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. Eight Academy Award nominations, including best movie, actor and actress (Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening).

Beautiful People (1999) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and comic vulgarity; systematic painful facetiousness) 1/2 star. Facile caricatures and brutalities mount up in this topical bummer from a Bosnian filmmaker, Jasmin Dizdar, transplanted to London. A London melting pot of East European exiles and native-born residents with troubles of their own is meant to interact with seriocomic resonance, but Mr. Dizdar's mockeries and prejudices feel very stale. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.

Beyond the Mat (1999) (R: Occasional profanity, comic vulgar ity and graphic violence, within the context of professional wrestling matches; allusions to drug addiction and sexual depravity) ** and 1/2. A rambling but appealing documentary feature about professional wrestling, compiled by Barry W. Blaustein, an ex-writer for "Saturday Night Live" whose movie credits include Eddie Murphy's "Nutty Professor" farces. Over the course of three years he kept tabs on principal subjects Terry Funk, Mick Foley and Jake "the Snake" Roberts, chosen to illustrate contrasting personalities and professional status within the wrestling game.

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.

The Cider House Rules (1999) (R: partial nudity, violence) *** and 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. Seven Oscar nominations, including best movie, director, screenplay and supporting actor (Mr. Caine). Patrick Butters.

The Cup (1999) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) ***. A beguiling import about the uproar created within a Buddhist religious community by World Cup soccer fever in 1998. It comes from a remote outpost of civilization: a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas. The filmmaker, Khyentse Norbu, is an eminent lama attracted to filmmaking as an avocation. The episodes that culminate in a successful TV and satellite installation on the monastery grounds are humorously irresistible. If you guard against inflated expectations, the movie can be charming. In Tibetan and Indian dialects with English subtitles. At the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle and the Cinema Arts (Fairfax). Deterrence (2000) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic violence) ***. A resourceful and provocative "What If?" doomsday thriller from the former movie critic (and West Point alum) Rod Lurie. He imagines an incumbent president of the United States, Walter Emerson (played with engaging feisty authority by Kevin Pollak) stranded in a snowbound Colorado diner during a primary season two national elections into the future. A military crisis suddenly looms: a freshly belligerent Iraq, commanded by a son of the late Saddam Hussein, threatens another massive invasion of Kuwait and rattles nuclear sabers at Western capitals to enhance the threat. While resembling a theater piece and armed with a strong ensemble, "Deterrence" sustains a remarkably crisp and fluid sense of camera presence. With Timothy Hutton, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Sean Astin.

The Emperor and the Assassin (1998-1999) (R: Heavy battle-scene violence, brief but vivid scenes involving torture) *** and 1/2. Set in China in the third century B.C., "The Emperor and the Assassin" is a spectacular new film from one of China's most talented young filmmakers, Chen Kaige ("My Favorite Concubine"). It tells of the country's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang-di, the man who ordered the building of the Great Wall of China, an early forerunner of the Mao-Hitler-Stalin style. Cynthia Grenier

Erin Brockovich (2000) (R: Frequent profanity and sexual vulgarity; fleeting interludes of simulated intercourse; allusions to terminal illness) * and 1/2. Julia Roberts bids to be crowned queen of the rabble-rousers. She 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.

Final Destination (2000) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual vulgarity; one episode set in a public toilet) 1/2 star. A supernatural horror thriller that should find instant obscurity. It targets a high school boy with premonitory tendencies. As protagonist Alex Browning, Devon Sawa causes a disturbance after boarding an international flight bound for Paris with members of his French class. Anticipating calamity, he insists on leaving. Five classmates and a teacher also abandon ship during the fuss. Moments after getting airborne the plane explodes. Alex becomes a focus of suspicion for the police and aviation investigators.

Ghost Dog (2000) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic vio lence; fleeting sexual interludes) * and 1/2. A deadpan crime satire, subtitled "The Way of the Samurai," in which the monotonous style of director Jim Jarmusch acquires fitful humorous grace notes. Forest Whitaker plays the title character, a pensive hulk employed every so often as a hit man by a Mafia sub-boss who once saved his life. They exchange messages by carrier pigeon between Manhattan and New Jersey, since Ghost Dog lives in rooftop, bird-tending seclusion in a Jersey neighborhood. One successful contract backfires and angers Big Boss Cliff Gorman, who orders the assassination of Ghost Dog in retaliation. Not an easy assignment, as several Mafia thugs discover to their grief. Fundamentally ludicrous and plodding.

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. Academy Award nomination for Denzel Washington as best actor. 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. Oscar nominations for original screenplay and for supporting actor (Tom Cruise).

Mission to Mars (2000) (PG: Occasional menace and graphic violence against a backdrop of space exploration) * and 1/2. An enfeebled appeal for a revitalized space program that pretends to solve all the mysteries of the universe. Gary Sinise plays a heartbroken astronaut who joins a rescue mission with Tim Robbins, Connie Nielsen and Jerry O'Connell organized to investigate the travail of Don Cheadle (mission commander of the first manned expedition to the Red Planet) and his crew, suddenly confronted with a monster twister. Director Brian De Palma seems to have settled for lethal inanities from a team of screenwriters.

Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr. (1999) (No MPAA Rating: Adult subject matter, dealing in part with the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust; some footage shot at the sites of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp) ****. A typically unorthodox and astutely edifying documentary feature from Errol Morris of "The Thin Blue Line" and "Fast, Cheap & Out of Control." Mr. Morris discovers the strange case of self-taught electrical engineer Fred Leuchter of Malden, Mass. A technician specializing in the repair of execution devices for states with capital punishment, Mr. Leuchter attracted the attention of lawyers defending a German-Canadian publisher who specialized in neo-Nazi propaganda. Mr. Leuchter agreed to chip samples of masonry from the ruins of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps; he returned to testify that the absence of cyanide traces in his samples proved that the Nazi Holocaust was a myth. This colossal blunder eventually made Fred Leuchter a pariah. Mr. Morris appreciates the larger historical implications while giving his subject a generous opportunity to rationalize. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

My Dog Skip (2000) (PG: Fleeting profanity and violence) **. An often trite but somewhat endearing movie version of Willie Morris' memoir of an idyllic boyhood in Yazoo, Miss., during World War II. The loneliness of shy and bookish Willie, 9, is remedied by the birthday gift of a terrier pup, Skip. With Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane as Willie's parents and Luke Wilson as the idolized next-door neighbor, Dink, who returns from Army service under a cloud of disillusion. The Ninth Gate (2000) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, with fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse; occasional graphic violence with diabolical and supernatural elements) **. A diverting but ultimately half-hearted and expendable return to diabolical fiction from Roman Polanski. Mr. Polanski follows Johnny Depp as Dean Corso, mercenary book hunter, from New York to Europe in search of two rival volumes that interest collector Frank Langella. He owns a rare edition of "The Nine Gates of the Shadow Kingdom," a notorious diabolical manual of the 17th century, and allegedly wants to possess any duplicates. His motives, not surprisingly, prove very sinister. Corso finds the tomes but encounters arson and homicide as side effects.

Not One Less (1999) (G) * and 1/2. A curiously happy-faced movie from Zhang Yimou, the estimable Chinese filmmaker who collaborated famously with actress Gong Li on such somber and haunting movies as "Ju Dou," "Raise the Red Lantern" and "The Story of Qiu Ju." The plot of this lamely upbeat social allegory extols the persistence of a country girl who transcends her ineptitude as a substitute schoolteacher. In Chinese with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.

Orphans (1998) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter and treatment, with frequent and vehement profanity, considerable sexual vulgarity and occasional graphic violence) *. A belated American release for the first feature directed by Scottish actor Peter Mullan, seen recently in the Mike Figgis remake of "Miss Julie." Filled with fractured allegories and foul-mouthed slumming parties, calculated to surge out of control and wallow in degenerate excess. Yet in its way the movie seems to be Mr. Mullan's love song to Glasgow, a mostly nocturnal nightmare landscape for a quartet of grieving siblings. Separated during a pub brawl while mourning a deceased mum, they reunite the next morning, after perilous times are had by all. Mr. Mullan's blend of brutality, sentimentality and farce takes some getting used to. In a thick Scotish dialogue with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Foundry.

Rear Window (1954) (PG rated when reissued about 30 years after its initial release; interludes of suspense and allusions to macabre murder details) ****. Always a sight for sore eyes, Alfred Hitchcock's expert suspense thriller returns in a restored print. One of the director's most popular and accomplished films, it stars James Stewart as a restless photojournalist, in the final week of recuperation from a broken leg. Immobilized in his back terrace apartment in Greenwich Village during a sweltering summer, he watches the neighbors and begins to suspect foul play in an apartment across the way. A dazzling fiancee, Grace Kelly, and an admirable nurse, Thelma Ritter, are drawn into his suspicions, which eventually bring a killer, Raymond Burr, to the door. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Shirlington.

Romeo Must Die (2000) (R) A crime thriller that updates the "Romeo & Juliet" and "West Side Story" plots to the West Side of Oakland, Calif., where Asian and black gangs provide the bitter rivalry that imperils another star-crossed romance. The lovers are Hong Kong action star Jet Li as a former cop named Han, paroled from a Hong Kong jail and fuming about the murder of kid brother Po, an Oakland racketeer. Han finds it harder to choose sides when he falls for pop recording star Aaliyah as Trish O'Day, daughter of the black criminal boss Isaak O'Day, played by Delroy Lindo. Opens Wednesday. Not reviewed.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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