- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

OPENING
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. A former broadcasting personality who promoted a crossover movie career, 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 moves in with a distant relative and foments gang rivalries with blacks, Mexican-Americans and Italian-Americans, which result in repeated shootouts and slaughter. Aniki goes down for the count outside a desert diner that probably hasn't seen a customer since 1942. 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.
Himalaya (2000) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) A French documentary impression of the Earth's highest region. Directed by Raoul Peck. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge. Not reviewed.
Planet of the Apes (2001) (PG-13) A remake of the estimable science-fiction allegory of 1967, derived from a novel by Pierre Boulle and starring Charlton Heston under the direction of the late Franklin J. Schaffner. Tim Burton was hired to direct this revamp from a screenplay by William Broyles Jr. The setting is another planet somewhere in the distant future. Mark Wahlberg inherits the Heston role as a stranded astronaut who finds himself the captive of a dominant ape civilization. Helena Bonham Carter inherits Kim Hunter's endearing role as the gentle ape biologist who tries to protect him. With Tim Roth, Kris Kristofferson, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti and Estella Warren.
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.
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.
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.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) (PG-13: "science-fiction action violence" according to the MPAA; systematic ominous depiction of futuristic settings and alien monsters; occasional graphic violence) *. Another spinoff of a popular video game series, this time directed by the Japanese designer himself, Hironobu Sakaguchi. This tribute to his clout cannot conceal his absence of feature-length experience and staying power. The movie expires on an inconclusive note after 104 tedious minutes of science-fiction scare-mongering, myth-trifling and franchise-tending.
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.
Lost and Delirious (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter, involving a lesbian affair between prep school students; occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and simulated dalliance) 1/2 *.The first English-language feature of an obscure French filmmaker, Lea Pool, working out of Montreal and adapting a novel about a prep-school freshman, Mischa Barton as Mary "Mouse" Bradford, who gets caught up in the deceptions surrounding a clandestine lesbian affair between her two senior classmates, Piper Perabo as Paulie and Jessica Pare as Tory. The former is a budding psychopath, the latter a budding hypocrite anxious to hide the liaison when her younger sister walks in on a compromising interlude. Cineplex Odeon Janus.
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.
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 *. This is 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. In German with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
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.
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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