- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

OPENING
American Pie 2 (2001) (R: "Strong sexual content, crude humor, language and drinking" according to the MPAA). A sequel to the hit summer farce of 1999. The formula: alternate lewd sight gags with tenderhearted camaraderie and romantic yearning. Introduced on the occasion of a senior prom, somewhere in the suburbs of Michigan, the youthful cast members reunite the summer after their freshman year in college and share a beach house.
Apocalypse Now Redux (1979) (R: Sustained ominous and morbid atmosphere; occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence in a setting of wartime combat and depravity; fleeting profanity and allusions to drug use) * 1/2. A revival of Francis Ford Coppola's notoriously troubled and unwieldy allegorical epic about the war in Vietnam, augmented by about 45 minutes of restored footage. The return of two extended sequences account for most of augmentation; they also inflate the running time to a freshly punitive but presumably definitive 197 minutes. One interlude dallies with a group of Playboy playmates stranded at a desolate, rain-drenched outpost following a short appearance at a raucous USO concert. The second is a stopover at a French plantation still maintained and guarded by a diehard planter family. Martin Sheen has the principal role, as an Army secret agent named Willard, assigned to find and execute a once esteemed officer called Kurtz, who materializes during the finale as a shadowy and obese Marlon Brando. An adviser to Montagnard tribesmen, Kurtz has gone despotic and barbaric in remote hill country. Now as well as then, the movie remains a hostage to solemnity and incoherence. With Robert Duvall, Albert Hall and Dennis Hopper in memorable supporting roles, plus Frederick Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Harrison Ford and a very young Laurence Fishburne.
The Crimson Rivers (2000) (R) A police thriller starring Jean Reno as a murder detective investigating the vicious slaying of a university librarian. The plot thickens ideologically: The victim may have stumbled onto Neo-Nazi activity in her seemingly sheltered academic community. With Vincent Cassel as a cop who joins forces with Mr. Reno while investigating a series of cemetery desecrations. In French with English subtitles.
The Deep End (2001) (R: Sustained ominous atmosphere; occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence; fleeting nudity in excerpts of an incriminating private tape recording of a homosexual rendezvous) *** 1/2. An exemplary new movie version of the Elizabeth Sanxay Holding suspense thriller "The Blank Wall," originally published in 1947 and filmed two years later by Max Ophuls as "The Reckless Moment," co-starring Joan Bennett and James Mason. The dilemma is effectively updated and impeccably stylized by the team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who collaborate as both screenwriters and co-directors. A military wife named Margaret Hall, splendidly embodied by the once oddball Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, tries to cover up the accidental death of a Reno, Nev., club owner who was consorting with her eldest son. The coverup is anything but foolproof. The club owner was in hock to criminal creditors, and a collection agent named Alex Spera (Goran Visnjic of the "E.R" series, re-creating the Mason role) turns up with a demand for $50,000 in a matter of days. Deliverance takes an intriguing form: the blackmailer begins to admire Mrs. Hall's tenacity so much that he becomes a gallant protector, placing his own life in jeopardy. Opens Wednesday.
Down From the Mountain (2001) (No MPAA Rating a documentary feature about a music concert) ***. The production of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" prompted a benefit concert at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium in 1999 that featured several of the musicians and singers who contributed to the film's soundtrack, ultimately its best reason for existing. This is the distillation of that performance. About 30 songs of folk, country, bluegrass, gospel and otherwise traditional origin are heard in whole or part, interpreted by a raft of performers from Emmylou Harris to John Hartford, who has since died. Exclusively at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax.
Osmosis Jones (2001) (PG: Occasional slapstick vulgarity, typically involving cartoon depictions of repulsive bodily processes) *. A crackpot cartoon feature, which slips into premature tedium while flogging a brainstorm that would be much more suitable for a cartoon short designed to encourage proper nutrition and health. The farcical Farrelly Brothers front as co-directors and presumably shot the live-action sequences, which probably account for about 15 or 20 minutes of the complete film. They brandish Bill Murray as a slobby, widowed zookeeper named Frank, whose filthy habits almost lead to viral disaster, while alarming an affectionate, health-conscious daughter named Shane, played by Elena Franklin. The animators, supervised by Piet Kroon and Tom Sito, take over to illustrate the alternately farcical and gruesome activities inside inside Frank's abused body. The title character, Oz for short, is a vigilant, ethnic immune cell voiced by Chris Rock. He teams up with a temperamental opposite, David Hyde-Pierce as a cold pill called Drix, in order to foil a ruthless, rampaging virus, dubbed by Laurence Fishburne. With Molly Shannon as Shane's teacher, repeatedly in the line of fire when Frank expels noxious stuff.
The Others (2001) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere in a haunted house setting; fleeting profanity and graphic violence; threats often concentrated on two juvenile characters) *** 1/2. An absorbing, sinister and ultimately haunting haunted house thriller from the talented young Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar. Originally written as a Spanish-language project by Mr. Amenabar, 29, it became his first English-language feature. Set just after World War II on a lonely, fog-shrouded estate on the isle of Jersey, the movie isolates Nicole Kidman as an apprehensive mother named Grace, who keeps precocious children, Alakina Mann as Anne and James Bentley as Nicholas, almost literally sheltered in the dark, fearing a rare skin condition that makes them painfully sensitive to light. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe is admirably adept at modulating lighting schemes while documenting the suspicious eeriness of Grace's environment. The small family, which once included a father who disappeared in the war, is approached by a trio of servants (Fionnula Flanagan, Eric Sykes of "Goon Show" renown and Elaine Cassidy) to replace some recently departed domestics. The temperamental and class contrasts between Miss Kidman and Miss Flanagan as the housekeeper provide ample room for misapprehension. Essentially, we're invited to guess about where the line of demarcation between lands of the living and the dead might be located. The film keeps this revelation artfully out of reach until a stunning denouement, which recalls a famous scene from "The Changeling" and provides a brief role as a medium for Renee Asherson, who was Laurence Olivier's leading lady in "Henry V" 56 years ago.
Spy Kids (2001) (PG: Occasional comic vulgarity; interludes of suspense and peril involving resourceful juvenile characters) **. A return engagement of Robert Rodriguez's popular chase thriller of the spring, augmented by a new sequence of three minutes or so. Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino are attractively matched as superspies in contented semi-retirement. Kidnapped by a villain, Alan Cumming, who fronts as the star of a television children's show, the parents need to be rescued by their children, played by Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara. Despite the family solidarity, the parents always look vastly more interesting than their offspring.


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.
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.
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.
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: Occasional profanity, nudity and graphic violence; systematic sexual candor, with perverse sexuality and sexual masquerades as thematic preoccupations) * 1/2. A presumably faithful and fitfully diverting movie version of the off-Broadway rock musical, transposed by the original playwright, John Cameron Mitchell, directing himself in the title role. A one-man show a good deal of the time, "Hedwig" originated in a Manhattan drag club and caters most conspicuously to spectators who want to agonize or chortle over sexual identity. An embittered transsexual from Germany, Hedwig was once a lad named Hansel, in thrall to American pop music during the Cold War and eventually seduced by a black topkick. Hedwig migrates to the U.S. as his consort, following a botched sex-change operation that leaves the former Hansel with a fragmentary reminder of his biological sex. This "Angry Inch" is adopted as the name of Hedwig's back-up group. The finale strips Mr. Mitchell of all clothing and makeup, providing a total-reversal contrast with Hedwig's curtain-raiser. Accentuating the sexual masquerades, a major cast member, Miriam Shor, is concealed as a male band member until the finale. For this who crave a movie "Hedwig," this one is no doubt definitive. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont 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.
Original Sin (2000) (R: "Strong sexual content and some violence" according to the MPAA; occasional graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details; occasional sexual candor, with an emphasis on betrayal and interludes of simulated intercourse; occasional nudity, emphasizing overhead perspectives of Angelina Jolie's torso) *. A futile late summer parole for one of the "name" features that have been gathering dust in Hollywood's inventory. It may or may not enhance Angelina Jolie's status as a seasonal franchise and cinematic Jezebel. Poor Antonio Banderas is left a total chump as the leading man, a Cuban plantation owner of late 19th century vintage who gets a one-way ticket to utter depravity after mistaking Miss Jolie, an impostor, for his mail-order bride from faraway Delaware. With Thomas Jane in a hilariously provocative role as Miss Jolie's confederate.
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 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.
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. 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. 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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