- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001


OPENING

Ghost World (2001) (R: Occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual candor) *** 1/2. A little patience will be amply rewarded by this inspired adaptation of a comic book series by Daniel Clowes, an offbeat but endearing fictional comedy that lyricizes the struggles of misfit personalities, young and middle-aged, to remedy their loneliness. A freshly graduated pair of high school friends, Thora Birch as Enid and Scarlett Johansson as Becky, have typed themselves as disdainful loners. They play a personals column joke on an apparent bachelor sadsack named Seymour, a definitive lovable role for Steve Buscemi. Enid begins to admire his harmless, erudite style of solitude and alienation, and the two become an odd couple to cherish. The movie threatens to stagnate during the first reel but pulls out of an early monotonous stall once the principal misfit relationship begins cooking.
Greenfingers (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor) **. An engaging but perilously trite inspirational comedy about a group of British convicts whose outlooks and prospects improve while involved in a gardening project at a minimum-security prison in the Cotswolds. Two discoveries from recent British hits Clive Owen of "Croupier" and David Kelly of "Waking Ned Devine" play the principal felons, both serving terms for crimes of passion committed in their youth. Mr. Kelly's elderly con, Fergus, is nearing the end of his life. The beneficent perks for Mr. Owen's Colin include a sweetheart named Primrose (Natasha Little), the wistful daughter of a best-selling horticultural expert, Georgina Woodhouse, played by Helen Mirren. The plot culminates at a famous gardening spectacle, the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle and Shirlington.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) (R) A movie version of the notoriously tendentious and outrageous off-Broadway musical, transposed by the original playwright, John Cameron Mitchell, directing himself in the title role. An angry transsexual from Germany, Hedwig, escapes East Berlin and marries a black American G.I. who abandons her in the Midwest. Undaunted, she forms a rock band and falls in love with a boyish consort, Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt), who becomes famous by purloining her songs. Evidently, the emphasis is satirical more often than not, and the film version is reputed to be looser and funnier than the play. The "name" cast member is Andrea Martin, playing Hedwig's band manager. With songs by Stephen Trask, also a member of the cast. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
Original Sin (2000) (R) Postponed on several occasions, this exotic erotic thriller co-stars Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie as mismates of late 19th century vintage. A prosperous Cuban coffee planter, Mr. Banderas takes a sultry American bride in Miss Jolie, who soon proves a shameless fortune hunter, provoking an embittered search and sequence of reprisals.
The Princess Diaries (2001) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) *** 1/2. Garry Marshall demonstrates multiple savvy while orchestrating this clever update on "Roman Holiday." He showcases a lovely and promising newcomer in Anne Hathaway, cast as a San Francisco prep school girl who discovers that she's the sole legitimate heir to a tiny European kingdom; recruits Julie Andrews for an attractive elder stateman role as the heroine's regal but affectionate grandmother; and sustains a sassy, wide-awake comedy without violating the guidelines of the G rating.
Rush Hour 2 (2001) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity; occasional sexual allusions; graphic violence in a slapstick martial arts context) *. A rattletrap sequel to the rousing slapstick hit of 1998. Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker are reunited as a would-be dynamic duo. The plot begins in Hong Kong, where Mr. Tucker is a loudmouth tourist, resenting Mr. Chan's attempts to juggle hospitality and duty. A triad seems to be planting bombs in American diplomatic offices, and these explosive capers are ultimately contrived to leapfrog to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where the heroes pursue triad assassins, notably Zhang Ziyi of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "The Road Home." The tackiness of the presentation doesn't flatter her either. Everything looks cheap and rushed, from Mr. Chan's stunt sequences to the color stock, which lingers in a grungy white-and-blue spectrum that seems to diminish every performer, location and setting.
NOW SHOWING

America's Sweethearts (2001) (PG-13: "Language and some crude and sexual humor," according to the MPAA) ***. A romantic farce set against the debatably glamorous backdrop of a movie press junket. Staged at a new, amusingly isolated Hyatt Regency hotel-casino in Henderson, Nev., the press bash is meant to conceal the permanent estrangement of married co-stars Gwen Harrison and Eddie Thomas (Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack). Their string of nine hits as America's cinematic sweethearts hit a snag when Gwen fell in love with Latin leading man Hector (Hank Azaria). The studio, represented by Stanley Tucci, would prefer to postpone confirmation of the split until after the new movie has played. Billy Crystal is the veteran publicist entrusted with the cover-up. Eddie's wounded ego, a salvage project for guru Alan Arkin, gets a boost when romance blossoms: Eddie and Gwen's sister Kiki (Julia Roberts), the girl Friday to her famous and demanding sibling for years, find themselves falling in love while the deception unravels. "Sweethearts" showcases certain performers about as well as the business permits: first and formost, Miss Zeta-Jones, gorgeous and expertly infuriating as a vain glamorpuss; then Mr. Cusack, Mr. Crystal (very good to himself as co-writer) and Mr. Tucci. Miss Roberts has the weakest leading role. Directed by Joe Roth, surprisingly proficient after a 10-year stint as a front-office movie executive.
The Anniversary Party (2001) (R: Frequent profanity and sexual candor; occasional nudity and episodes depicting drug use) ***. A surprisingly fresh and diverting ensemble comedy about denizens of contemporary Hollywood from the curious team of Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who collaborate as writers, directors and co-stars. The setting is a Richard Neutra house in the Hollywood Hills. It's the residence of Mr. Cumming as "bad boy British novelist" and aspiring movie director Joe Therrian, and Miss Leigh as his American actress wife, Sally. Recently reconciled after an estrangement, they are hosting a somewhat rashly optimistic sxith wedding anniversary party, attended mostly by show business friends, played by friends of the co-stars: Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates (also Mrs. Kline), Jennifer Beals, John C. Reilly, Jane Adams, Parker Posey and John Benjamin Hickey. The outsiders on the guest list are Mina Badie and Denis O'Hare as neighbors, who may forget a lawsuit if permitted to rub elbows with celebrities. Miss Badie and Miss Cates prove the secret weapons in the cast. The material hits a snag in the last half hour, when Mr. Cumming and Miss Leigh start sparring in the "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" idiom. They're admirably confident and deft with the preliminaries and group dynamics, the wittiest episodes of their kind since Robert Altman and Michael Tolkin updated Hollywood insecurities in "The Player." Cinema Arts and the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle and Shirlington.
Brother (2001) (R: "Pervasive strong violence, language and brief "nudity," according to the MPAA; frequent profanity and graphic violence) No stars. This is the latest insufferable vanity production from the Japanese brutalist Takeshi Kitano, who prefers the semi-alias Beat Takeshi when playing leads under his own indulgent direction. He specializes in murderous thugs and ponderous, stupefying stylization. An effort to pander to a specific segment of the American moviegoing public, the black urban audience, "Brother" showcases Mr. Kitano as a renegade yakuza (gangster). Called Aniki, he is forced into exile for killing too many associates and rivals on home turf. Landing in Los Angeles, he foments gang rivalries with blacks, Mexican-Americans and Italian-Americans, which result in repeated shootouts and slaughter. Despite being slashed in the eye with a broken bottle by the hero in their first meeting, co-star Omar Epps is supposed to become a devoted stooge of Aniki as the moronic plot unfolds. Black actors are cast as slow-witted criminal sidekicks or expendables and everyone is expected to find this a cool throwback. A preponderance of dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles.
The Closet (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and systematic sexual candor in a farcical context; frequent allusions to homosexuality; fleeting nudity and an interlude of simulated intercourse) ***. The French humorist Francis Veber remains in chipper form with this office-place farce about topical misapprehensions as a follow-up to his ingenious "The Dinner Game." A mild-mannered accountant named Francois Pignon (Daniel Auteuil), who faces unemployment and demoralization, starts a rumor that he is a closet homosexual. The ruse saves his job, much to the chagrin of a personnel manager, Felix Santini (Gerard Depardieu). In French with English subtitles. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
Divided We Fall (2000) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence in a realistic context of World War II enmity and suspense) *** 1/2. This Czech gem is the fourth collaboration from the young team of director Jan Hrebejk, 34, and screenwriter Petr Jarchovsky, 35. A fable of wartime survival and courage among frightened and compromised civilians, the movie concerns a mature but childless couple, Josef and Marie Cizek (Boleslav Polivka and Anna Siskova). The movie thrives on domesticated gallows humor in a sinister historical context. It's a perilous balancing act, but the filmmakers demonstrate more or less flawless balance until the denouement, when things go woozy, in part because Mr. Hrebejk overworks a slow-motion affectation that turns the images jittery to a fault. In Czech and German with English subtitles. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
Everybody's Famous (2000) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor in a satirical context; fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse) *** 1/2. An exceptionally clever Belgian satire about the wrongheaded triumphs of a working-class family man who covets pop renown for himself and a beloved, chunky, surly teen-age daughter. Loss of employment aggravates the opportunistic side of this essentially harmless chucklehead, Jean Vereecken (Josse De Pauw). He seizes a sudden opportunity to kidnap pop recording star Debbie (Thekla Reuten) and make demands on her manager, Michael (Victor Low), who agrees to listen to a Jean tune and audition Jean's daughter Marva (Eva Van der Gucht). The unsavory aspects of the plot are manipulated with a skill that really does recall Preston Sturges at his most inventive and slippery. Jean's sneakiness is eventually dwarfed by Michael's; Debbie's plight turns out to be a blessing, since she meets a swell guy in Jean's apologetic buddy Willy (Werner De Smedt); and Marva gets a break that confirms all the fondest delusions of the starstruck. The appreciation for human folly is effectively balanced between mockery and affection. In Flemish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.
Jurassic Park III (2001) (PG-13: "Intensive sci-fi terror and violence," according to the MPAA; sustained ominous stylization and occasional graphic violence, in a monster thriller context; occasional comic vulgarity) ** 1/2. This film consists of 92 minutes stripped for perilous action to an extent that could backfire. The next-to-last cliffhanger also is much better than the finale, weakened by a blithe getaway that tends to trivialize all heroic sacrifices. The commendably playful aspects of "III" begin over the Universal logo, when tubas simulate a dandy dinosaur bellow. Sam O'Neill plays the unassuming paleontologist Alan Grant. He gets a valiant new sidekick in Alessandro Nivola while Laura Dern is kept in domesticated reserve. The oversold raptors and a new big beastie, the spinosaurus, are outclassed by the winged pteranodons as nightmare predators. If a new installment is authorized, some serious reassessment is needed in deciding which characters can be spared and how the raptors ar exploited. Directed by Joe Johnston from a screenplay by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor.
Legally Blonde (2001) (PG-13: "Language and sexual references," according to the MPAA; fleeting profanity and persistent comic vulgarity, usually pertaining to sex) 1/2 *. This chuckleheaded romantic farce sort of "Clueless" for the genuinely clueless champions Reese Witherspoon as a Beverly Hills coed, rich girl and redeemable airhead, Elle Woods, who resolves to enter Harvard Law School when ditched by a snobbish boyfriend headed toward that institution of learning. At first Elle is a Harvard laughing stock, but the movie then overcompensates and turns her into Harvard's pride and joy. Ultimately, everyone is expected to grovel at Elle's feet. With Luke Wilson, shortchanged as a new beau, and Jennifer Coolidge, pathetically wasted as a sadsack Cambridge manicurist.
Made (2001) (R: Frequent profanity; occasional comic and sexual vulgarity; fleeting graphic violence; subplot about a stripper mom and her neglected little girl) *. Ill-conceived and half-baked, this comic reunion vehicle for Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, who enjoyed a mutual breakthrough five years in "Swingers," fails to rejuvenate the entertaining chemistry of the earlier project. Mr. Favreau makes his directing debut using his own script with this dud while playing an aspiring boxer, Bobby, who holds down day jobs as a mason and bouncer. Mr. Vaughn plays his deadbeat pal, Ricky, whose inability to keep his mouth shut creates recurrent problems. A mob patron, Max, played by Peter Falk, sends the guys from Los Angeles to New York on a weekend errand, sabotaged by Ricky's motormouth until a comic turnaround. The movie stalls well before the trip. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Cinema.
The Man Who Cried (2001) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor) 1/2 *. This is a stilted and ridiculous tearjerker from the English filmmaker Sally Potter. The prologue, which evokes a little girl's love for her papa in a Russian Jewish village, circa 1927, is deceptively touching, thanks to a beguiling juvenile, Claudia Lander-Duke. Alas, she is replaced by the rapidly declining Christina Ricci within about 15 minutes. By that time, little Fegele has become exiled and disenchanted Suzie, an orphan of the storm raised in an uptight English household and then transported to Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation, an inconvenience that seems to come as a total surprise to oblivious Suzie. Befriended by a fortune-hunting Russian, Lola, a ludicrous role for Cate Blanchett, the heroine has joined the chorus of an opera company. John Turturro brings down the house pretending to hit tenor high notes as the star, Dante, an Italian of fascist leanings. The impresario, Harry Dean Stanton, likes to have a mounted gypsy in the background, so enter Johnny Depp and white steed. While Miss Blanchett vamps Mr. Turturro, Mr. Depp stares deep into Miss Ricci's peepers. Delightfully, the horse often makes it a threesome when they date. "Cried" uncorks some of the best titters since Melanie Griffith blundered upon World War II in "Shining Through." A smattering of dialogue in Yiddish with English subtitles.
Planet of the Apes (2001) (PG-13: "Some sequences of action/violence" according to the MPAA; systematic ominous stylization and occasional graphic violence, with more than enough emphasis on brutality and slaughter to make the rating appear lenient) *. Tim Burton makes a fitfully whimsical and frequently incoherent botch of remaking the estimable science-fiction allegory of 1968. As the ostensible hero, a chimp-loving astronaut circa 2029, Mark Wahlberg looks as juvenile as a Mouseketeer and encounters nothing but diminished intrigue and peril while marooned on a swamp planet of the apes. An unbilled Charlton Heston, who starred in the original, dominates the best interlude in the new movie: cast as a dying old chimp, he pronounces curses on the human race, cribbing lines from his original human character. Wedded to cramped and dreary settings or throwaway spectacle, the movie is a persistent eyesore, as ready for the junkheap as "Battlefield Earth." The fadeout kicker is a cloddish disgrace and requires the defacing of a Washington landmark.
The Score (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic violence; episodes involving the impersonation of a mentally retarded character) ***. The first cerebral crime melodrama of the summer season, predicated on a cat-and-mouse rivalry between a veteran safecracker played by Robert DeNiro and a brash, devious interloper played by Edward Norton. The principal setting is Montreal, where Mr. DeNiro's Nick Wells runs a jazz club and has promised to settle down with consort Angela Bassett, avoiding future criminal capers. Mr. Norton's Jackie Teller believes he has an irresistible inside deal that could lead to the theft of a rare treasure from the Montreal Customs House. Director Frank Oz gives the production a very attractive pictorial finish while encouraging us to root for the wily old campaigner and distrust the overconfident punk. Marlon Brando, looking as big as a customs house, proves a richly entertaining kibitzer as Nick's friend and fence. There are no car chases or shootouts, a form of self-denial that is probably going to elevate "The Score" to decisive popularity in the minds of many spectators. Now that so many summer thrillers have reminded us that more can be less, "The Score" cleverly demonstrates how less can be more.
Under the Sand (2000) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and interludes of exceptional sexual candor, including simulations of intercourse; an episode with strong morbid overtones, set in a morgue) *** 1/2. The best thing of its gravely stirring and intimate kind since Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Blue." Charlotte Rampling isn't the awesome expressive instrument that Juliette Binoche was in the earlier movie, but she's never had a more substantial and sympathetic role. An account of profound personal loss and its aftermath, the movie is directed with exceptional transparency and assurance by Francois Ozon, 34. He begins with a seaside excursion, introducing Miss Rampling as Marie Drillon, a transplanted Englishwoman who teaches literature at a Paris university, and Bruno Cremer as her husband, Jean, who is ponderous and weary in a way that suggests a lurking coronary. After an afternoon on a nearly deserted beach, Marie awakes from a nap to find that Jean has disappeared without a trace. The remainder of the movie observes the emotional repercussions of this loss, which remains unexplained for quite a while. The ambiguous aspects give Marie some justification for false hope. To the worry of friends, she continues to speak of Jean as if he were still alive and present. Friends attempt to promote a romance with someone else, which makes some headway but still can't replace the heroine's powerful sense of her mate's familiarity and spectral presence. Marie's sorrow is worked out in rational and realistic terms, although the atmosphere is eerie and expectant in ways that could evoke a psychological horror thriller. In French with English subtitles. Cinema Arts and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.


MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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