- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

OPENING
Bread and Roses (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor) * 1/2. The first American feature directed by the veteran British filmmaker Ken Loach, confirming his socially conscious credentials in Los Angeles by taking sides with immigrant janitorial employees encouraged to join a strike against the management of a large office complex in Century City. The heroine, Maya, played by Pilar Padilla, is a brash illegal who joins the work force through the influence of an older sister, Rosa, who is also providing her with shelter. Rosa is a formidable presence thanks to Elpidia Carillo, who enjoyed a fleeting prominence as an ingenue in the early 1980s in "The Border" and "Salvador." Her world-weary authority is undermined by a climactic rant that buries both the character and the movie in guilt-tripping excess. Maya becomes a quick convert to a radical zany of an organizer named Sam, played as an insufferable gadfly by Adrien Body. The movie is littered with contradictory impluses; at times it seems headed toward screwball comedy, but the prevailing emphasis is topical melodrama with a fatal weakness for caricature and ethnic piety. Linguistic equality prevails: the film appends English subtitles to the Spanish dialogue and Spanish titles to the English dialogue. Exclusively at the 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.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) (PG-13: "science-fiction action violence" according to the MPAA) Another spinoff from a popular video game series, this time directed by the Japanese designer himself, Hironobu Sakaguchi. Familiar voices from American movies and television Alec Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Steven Buscemi, Ming-Na were recruited to dub the characters, rendered in a computer graphics format called "hyperReal," which aims for optimum photorealism in illustrating the human characters. The heroine, Aki Ross, voiced by Ming-Na of the "E.R." series, may hold the key to survival for a stricken human population of 2065, victimized by an alien invasion that involves feeding on so-called "spirit signatures." Aki and mentor Dr. Sid (Mr. Sutherland) believe they may have an ingenious supernatural solution. Predictably, Mr. Woods is cast as an embittered general who would prefer to nuke all the invaders.

Jurassic Park III (2001) (PG-13: "sensuality and some language" according to the MPAA) A second sequel to the Michael Crichton best-seller about a boobytrapped habitat for cloned dinosaurs, initially filmed with an entertaining fidelity by Steven Spielberg in 1993. Sam Neill returns to the cast as paleontologist Alan Grant, whose studies have fallen on hard times in the interim. He agrees to a lucrative offer from a couple played by Tea Leoni and William H. Macy, joining their reckless flight over seriously infested Isla Sorna, which neighbors the original dinosaur haunt of Isla Nublar. The struggle to get out alive also preoccupies Alessandro Nivola as Dr. Grant's associate and Trevor Morgan as a teen-age boy. Laura Dern makes a brief appearance in her original role as Mr. Neill's colleague. Opens Wednesday.

Legally Blonde (2001) (PG-13) A romantic farce that could put a Harvard Law degree in mocking perspective. Reese Witherspoon stars as a college sweetheart from Beverly Hills who discovers that boyfriend Matthew Davis desires to end the romance upon departing for Harvard Law. Determined to make a fight of it, the heroine travels East and, somewhat incredibly, achieves admission to the envied school herself. A victim of unconcealed snobbery at first, she eventually emerges as an underdog pride of the campus.

The Princess and the Warrior (2000) (R: Systematic morbid content; occasional graphic violence with gruesome illustrative details; occasional sexual candor; several episodes involving the inmates of a mental asylum; fleeting nudity) 1/2 *. The crackpot new feature from Tom Tykwer, the German director who enjoyed an art-house vogue with the chase thriller "Run, Lola, Run." The same leading lady, Franka Potente, is cast as the heroine in this near-epic fable of coincidental redemption. The nurse in a mental asylum, attending a group that bears curious resemblances to the "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" psychotics, Miss Potente's Sissi is nearly killed by a speeding truck. A haunted stranger on the run, Bodo (Benno Furmann), miraculously saves her life by improvising a breathing tube at the scene of the calamity. He vanishes in the emergency room, but Sissi finds him again, holed up with his brother in a hilltop shack. Bodo spurns her grateful overtures. By an amazing coincidence she turns up at a bank being robbed by Bodo and brother. A shooting ensues. Sissi gets to return the life-saving favor by hiding the injured Bodo in her workplace to the jealous rage of an inmate who regards her as a kind of sex toy. Eventually, the star-crossed lovers engineer a Great Escape, executing a "Thelma & Louise" leap of faith from rooftop to mud puddle during a torrential downpour. If you think all this sounds ludicrously irresistible, get set for a feast of portentous nonsense. Mr. Tykwer can't resist belaboring every one of his ga-ga brainstorms. In German with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

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.

NOW SHOWING

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) (PG-13: Sustained sinister emphasis and misanthropic undercurrents in a futuristic setting; fleeting graphic violence; allusions to prostitution and child abuse) **. A cinematic "event," though not necessarily a life-affirming example of posthumous collaboration. Steven Spielberg appears to achieve a faithful realization of an unfinished Stanley Kubrick project, a dystopian fable that anticipates a terminally blighted future on Earth. We observe the strangely ramifying odyssey of a robot lad played by Haley Joel Osment. Called David, this lost and lovelorn domestic appliance is destined to suffer heartache and peril before achieving a belated apotheosis, some 2,000 years down the line and after an ice age seems to eliminate all vestiges of a human population. The whole conception is misanthropically crackpot, but Mr. Spielberg makes an arguably haunting pictorial spectacle of David's torturous trek, simulating spooky, visionary, ultimately submerged environments that may prove memorably nightmarish. Deriving "hopeful" notes from David's long, long journey will require a heap of wishful thinking.

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 6th 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 law suit 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.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) (PG: Occasional comic vulgarity; menacing episodes with fleeting graphic violence in a context of adventure fantasy) * 1/2. The Disney animation studio goes haywire attempting to blend adventure in the Jules Verne tradition with myth-mongering in conformity to New Age cliches. A secret expedition in an impossibly wondrous submarine, circa 1914, blows a gasket prematurely when the filmmakers scuttle the majestic ship in favor of a "Journey to the Center of the Earth" trek somewhere beneath the Atlantic. The mythical lost kingdom is down there, waiting to be discovered and celebrated as a far, far better civilization than modern man deserves, mainly because it runs on magic crystals and depends on goddess worship in the nubile form of Princess Kida, who beguiles the nerdy young hero Milo with her ethereal mermaid beauty. A good deal of potential fun becomes hostage to Disney's P.C. pieties, which dictate a condescending approach to favored ethnic and special-interest groups. Michael J. Fox supplies the voice of Milo; James Garner seems an agreeably commanding choice as the captain until the movie sabotages his character.

Baby Boy (2001) (R: "Strong sexuality, language, violence and some drug use" according to the MPAA; incessant profanity and sexual vulgarity, with occasional and hyperbolic simulations of intercourse; occasional graphic violence, including interludes of domestic violence) *. A tedious homecoming polemic from John Singleton, conspicuously overrated for his debut feature, "Boyz N the Hood," in 1991. This 10th anniversary update on the state of ominous inertia threatening delinquent young black men in seemingly bleak and crime-infested suburbs of Los Angeles stagnates around the domesticity of Tyrese Gibson as a young wastrel named Jody. The filmmaker also seems to resist getting on with things, since the scenario grows maddeningly repetitive, alternating cycles of rants, lectures and sex scenes, augmented by the occasional punchout or shootout.

Cats & Dogs (2001) (PG: "for animal action and humor" by the MPAA reckoning; occasional slapstick violence and vulgarity) *. A strident and ragged trick-shot farce about a rivalry between neighborhood pets, triggered by a power-crazed Persian cat named Mr. Tinkles, dubbed by Sean Hayes. A counter-espionage pooch network, operating near the home of an absentminded allergy researcher (Jeff Goldblum) is prepared to fight fire with fire. The easygoing approach to talking-animal gags in "Dr. Dolittle 2" proves far more satisfying. A good deal of "Cats & Dogs" is pitched at such a shriek that turning it off would seem merciful.

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.

Crazy/Beautiful (2001) (PG-13: "mature thematic material involving teens, drug/alcohol content, sexuality and language" according to the MPAA; an arguably lenient rating, given the frequent profanity and pandering depictions of drinking, drugging and fornicating teenage characters) 1/2 *. Kirsten Durst plays a 17-year-old calamity, Nicole, the stoned, jailbait daughter of a liberal congressman played by Bruce Davison. Her ethnically condescending salvation: a straight-arrrow Mexican-American youth from East Los Angeles, Jay Hernandez as Carlos, who commutes four hours a day as a transfer student to excel at Nicole's affluent high school in Pacific Palisades. The agenda clearly reflects demographic pandering in Hollywood's backyard The problem child of Anglo wealth and neglect is meant to be redeemed by an exemplary child of Hispanic aspiration and solidarity. It doesn't matter if the Romeo and Juliet allusions are a crock; the only crucial matter is to protect the wishful thinking of movie people.

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.

Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001) (PG: Fleeting profanity and occasional comic vulgarity, including one sustained episode of "bathroom humor") **. The animals resume conversations with Eddie Murphy in this sequel to his popular update of the Hugh Lofting children's classic.

The Fast and the Furious (2001) (a very lenient PG-13: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual allusions) 1/2 *. The latest fleeting, knuckleheaded "hit" of the summer season. Director Rob Cohen and his fellow bunglers fail to glorify a street-racing culture that supposedly unites Los Angeles ethnics in noctural promenading and fuel-injected, speed-burning rivalry.

Memento (2001) (R: Occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual candor) *** 1/2. Potentially the movie of the season and perhaps the year. This exceptionally intriguing and skillful psychological thriller centers on an act of murder. Guy Pearce plays a lost soul named Leonard Shelby. Traumatized by a crime that left him with a head injury and cost the life of his wife, Shelby claims to be searching for her elusive killer. However, he also suffers from severe short-term memory loss. Everything that happens after the crime becomes hazy within a matter of hours. Shelby tries to compensate with such mementos as Polaroid photos and tattoed messages on his body. Written and directed by a young British filmmaker, Christopher Nolan, "Memento" takes an ominous, heartsick approach that works brilliantly much of the time, reinforced by Mr. Pearce's distinctive oddness and eloquence. Joe Pantolino and Carrie-Anne Moss play the other principal characters, acquaintances who may or may not be trustworthy. Some dubious, pulpy fakeouts weaken the final episodes, but Mr. Nolan has achieved a genuine tour de force while operating kind of under Hollywood's nose. Exclusively at the Cinema Arts and the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.

The Road Home (2000) (G: No objectionable dialogue or depiction) ****. An exquisite new sentimental masterpiece from the esteemed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, the director of "Ju Dou," "Raise the Red Lantern" and "The Story of Qui Ju." A flashback elegy celebrating a tenacious love match, the movie begins with a sorrowful homecoming: a businessman named Luo Yusheng returns to the village in north China where he was born to attend the funeral of his father. He discovers that his grief-stricken mother, Zhao Di, is determined to observe age-old but impractical rites. Zhang Ziyi, who played the dangerous ingenue in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," assumes the role of Zhao Di in her impassioned youth, as flashbacks depict the events that caused her enduring devotion to her late husband. The courtship is soul-stirring and life-affirming in freshly satisfying ways. In Mandarin with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cinema Arts and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

Scary Movie 2 (2001) (R: Frequent profanity and systematic comic vulgarity, emphasizing obscene sightgags; occasional simulations of outrageous sexual acts; fleeting allusions to drug use) No stars. The sequel to the obnoxious farcical hit of a year ago. The flukey nature of the initial appeal should be demonstrated by the encore's quick fade. Keenen Ivory Wayans and his fellow pranksters continue to make like parodistic mad dogs while flogging highlights and cliches wrenched from horror thrillers.

Sexy Beast (2001) (R: Systematic profanity and brutality, with graphically gruesome depictions of beatings and shootings; occasional sexual candor and vulgarity; fleeting nudity) *. The latest refinement on Brit-Brute crime melodrama, orchestrated by an acclaimed recruit from music videos and commercials in London, 30-year-old Jonathan Glazer. Ray Winstone plays a retired safecracker whose sundrenched, mountainside haven near Almeria, Spain, is imperiled by the sinister arrival of Ben Kingsley as a crazed and tyrannical thug, Don Logan. The visitor insists that the host return to London for an elaborate tunneling caper into a bank vault, strenuously staged in the last reel. The hateful Logan cries out to be murdered on sight, but it takes a while for the protagonist, wife Amanda Redman and friends Cavan Kendall and Julianne White to resist his insufferable intimidation. An undeniable monstrosity, it may seem amusing as a showcase for hamminess; the spectacle of Mr. Kingsley pretending to be a demented hard guy has some grotesque curiosity value.

Shrek (2001) (PG: Occasional comic vulgarity and graphic violence, in a fairytale context) **. Often inventive and fitfully amusing, this picaresque animated comedy tries out a somewhat unassimilated computer graphic style of illustration on characters that originated with William Steig. An ogre called Shrek (dubbed in his Scots accent by Mike Myers) becomes partners with a sassy donkey (the responsibility of Eddie Murphy) while rescuing a princess (Cameron Diaz) from the realm of a dragon, pictorially impressive until transformed into something of a pussycat. The love story turns out to be more condescending than inspirational, and the graphic style seems more impressive with backgrounds and decor than major characters, but the movie boasts plenty of incidental entertainment value.

Songcatcher (2001) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and graphic violence; occasional sexual candor, include episodes that deal with a clandestine lesbian romance) * 1/2. A lamentable textbook example of how independent filmmakers can botch a promising idea. The writer-director, Maggie Greenwald, holds down a film professorship at Columbia University. She attempts to celebrate an aggrieved music scholar, played by Helen McTeer, who discovers a treasure trove of Scots-Irish folk ballads while traveling in Appalachian communities in 1907. Unfortunately, this revelatory mission is weighted with excruciating baggage of a neofeminist or melodramatically gauche inclination. Cinema Arts and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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