- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

OPENING
Deliver Us From Eva (2003) (R: Sexual situations, comic violence and strong language) . The "Eva" in question is a manipulative beauty who controls not only the lives of her three beautiful sisters but the men attached to them. The frustrated men strike up a plan to tame Eva (Gabrielle Union). They hire the town Lothario (LL Cool J) to woo her, thereby getting her off their backs. Their plan works only too well, but the film's stale stereotypes and uneven tone will leave viewers too numb to care. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003) (PG-13) Magazine writer Kate Hudson agrees to be the guinea pig for an article in which she picks up a guy, endears herself to him and then antagonizes him, all in 10 days. Matthew McConaughey co-stars as the unsuspecting target, who has nevertheless made a bet with his boss that he can conquer any girl in 10 days.
Ikiru (1952) (No MPAA Rating released years before the advent of the rating system adult subject matter, revolving around a character mortally stricken with cancer) . In Japanese with English subtitles. The most famous and revered of Akira Kurosawa's movies with a contemporary setting, "Ikiru" remains one of the most astonishing and haunting tearjerkers ever made. The title can be translated as "Living" or "To Live," but the first image pronounces a death sentence on the protagonist, Takashi Shimura as Kanji Watanabe, a widowed and dejected municipal bureaucrat suffering from terminal gastric cancer. Although this diagnosis is concealed by doctors, the heartsick Watanabe resembles and feels like a walking dead man. The movie observes the sequence of events that prompts him into a belated, redemptive burst of hope and activity, resulting in a small act of neighborhood improvement, the construction of a playground on a strip of wasteland. At about the 90-minute mark the film executes a stunning structural somersault. This 50th anniversary restoration includes a fresh batch of English subtitles for the Japanese dialogue. A limited engagement, through Feb. 16, exclusively at the American Film Institute Theater.
Love Liza (2002) (R: Occasional profanity, violence and sexual candor; character study of obsessive grief, in which the protagonist is given to snorting gasoline fumes and abets a similar habit in a pair of teenagers) No stars. A textbook example of the insufferable tearjerker. A playwright named Gordy Hoffman, the dumpy young character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, degenerates into a woebegone howl as a widower, Wilson Joel, reeling from the suicide of his wife, the title character. Her suicide note, which the hero resists opening, is deployed as a morbid tease until the finale, where it proves a concluding fizzle. The only comfort for Joel: sniffing gas fumes. Joel even contributes to the delinquency of two teenage "huffers." Kathy Bates as a mother-in-law and Jake Kehler as a friendly hobbyist fail to hasten a recovery, leaving us to contemplate a lost soul whose misfortunes defy compassion.
Max (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic violence; thematic allusions to anti-Semitism, circa 1918 in Germany, with Adolf Hitler as a principal character) . This speculative character study trifles with historical facts and suffers from a weak beginning and ending. Nevertheless, it hits a fascinating argumentative stride while contrasting John Cusack and Noah Taylor as Germans of starkly different circumstances who meet each other just after World War I. Mr. Cusack plays a fictional character, a prominent art dealer named Max Rothman; Mr. Taylor plays Hitler, recently demobilized and torn between resuming artistic aspirations and pursuing a more promising career as a political agitator. Rothman is a Jew and former officer with plenty to live for, including a devoted family; his reaction to the war's disillusion is to embrace every artistic impulse that radiates modernity and individuality. He sees enough in Hitler's sketches to justify encouragement, but his efforts to divert the surly, reactionary veteran from his ominous political obsessions prove vain.
Quai des Orfevres (1947) (No MPAA Rating released years before the advent of the rating system; adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and sexual allusions, including generous proportions of double entendre; fleeting violence) . An exceptionally savory time capsule, restoring the first movie directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot after being purged by colleagues in the post-World War II film industry for alleged collaborationist activity during the German Occupation. The title means "goldsmiths' embankment," a location on the Seine favored by goldsmiths in the 17th century but distinguished by the Criminal Investigation Division three centuries later. It's the Paris equivalent of Scotland Yard, and a cadaverous but tenacious sleuth named Antoine, played by the great Louis Jouvet, emerges to crack a murder case involving temperamental, disreputable show folks. The solution proves a letdown, but the movie is so crowded with character sidelights and incidental amusement that it's difficult to feel shortchanged. In French with English subtitles. A limited engagement, through Feb. 16, exclusively at the American Film Institute Theater.
The Quiet American (2002) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence, including depictions of wartime combat and urban terrorism) . This remake of Graham Greene's allegorical political thiller of 1955 seems admirably faithful and absorbing until the epilogue, which succumbs to hindsight and reminds us that Americans became implicated in a costly war in Vietnam. Scenically, it's authenticated by location shooting in Vietnam. The ingrained Greene hostility to American political power is complicated by Michael Caine's performance as his embittered English mouthpiece, the aging and dissolute journalist Fowler. The appearance of a personable and idealistic American interloper named Pyle (Brendan Fraser), attached to an aid mission in Saigon in the early 1950s, stirs Fowler's resentment when his young Vietnamese mistress is courted by Pyle. Eventually, Fowler lends himself to the assassination of Pyle by a Communist cadre, rationalizing his treachery because of the Quiet American's collusion with a military junta. Anti-war activists seem to envision this movie as a timely and eloquent argument against an American-led invasion of Iraq; director Phillip Noyce may even share this delusionary sentiment. But to his credit, or the credit of adaptors Christopher Hampton and Robert Shenkman, the book's mid-1950s perspective is reflected accurately enough to allow for ambiguity. If Pyle forecasts a treacherous future under American influence, Fowler certainly embodies European colonial disgrace and defeatism.
Shanghai Knights (2003) (PG-13: "Action violence and sexual content," according to the MPAA) A sequel to the rousing Western adventure comedy "Shanghai Noon," which paired Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson as an odd-couple heroic team, a Chinese bodyguard named Chon Wang (meant to be phonetically confused with "John Wayne") and an easygoing cowboy named Roy O'Bannon. They're reunited for an expedition to Victorian London, where Wang and his sister Lin (Fann Wong), also an acrobatic type, suspect that their father's assassin is lurking. The visitors find sympathetic locals in Thomas Fischer as a Scotland Yard detective and Aaron Johnson as a street urchin.

NOW SHOWING
About Schmidt (2002) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and comic vulgarity; fleeting nudity, with a facetious emphasis) . A departure from the source material, a novel by Louis Begley about an elegant, recently widowed New York sophisticate. This New York Schmidt almost vanishes inside a stolid Omaha resident named Warren Schmidt, embodied by Jack Nicholson with an emphasis on the physically squat and emotionally stunted. Still the sudden widower, he dreads the approaching nuptials of his only daughter, Hope Davis, whose intended is a good-natured chucklehead, Dermot Mulroney. The novel's entire social setting is uprooted and comically vulgarized. The most defensible result of the upheaval is Kathy Bates' presence as the bridegroom's mom, a middle-aged hippie with amorous designs on Schmidt. Director Alexander Payne gets Miss Bates and Mr. Nicholson into a hot tub together, an admirable comic inspiration, but they still lack a scene worth playing. Golden Globe awards for Mr. Nicholson and the screenplay.
Adaptation (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and interludes of graphic violence) . This encore project for the "Being John Malkovich" team of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze is exceptionally clever and entertaining until it takes a turn for the ruinous in the final half hour. Nicolas Cage, cast in the fictionalized dual roles of Mr. Kaufman and his exasperating twin brother Donald, makes contact with Meryl Streep, cast as a fictionalized version of the authentic New Yorker writer Susan Orlean. In the aftermath of this meeting the movie rapidly deteriorates into a brutal, self-destructive muddle that exemplifies all the worst tendencies of Hollywood crime thrillers. The intention is probably satiric, because Charlie has been railing against Hollywood cliches while struggling to adapt Miss Orleans' non-fiction book about orchid culture in Florida. The movie is a kick while it remains playfully discursive and faithful to the source material. Golden Globe awards for supporting actress and actor to Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper.
Antwone Fisher (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, racial epithets and depictions of domestic violence and child abuse; intimations of sexual depravity, including child molestation) . A well-meaning but often dubious exercise in heavily fictionalized biographical uplift, supposedly based on the memoirs of an authentic Antwone Fisher. Denzel Washington makes his directing debut while playing a Navy psychiatrist who tries to rescue the title character, a young sailor played by Derek Luke who is subject to belligerent flare-ups. The hostility is traced in flashbacks to an abusive childhood in Cleveland; Antwone must endure systematic tyranny and sometimes sexual molestation in the home of a despotic foster mother, formidably embodied by Novella Nelson.
Biker Boyz (2003) (PG-13: "Violence, sexual content and language" according to the MPAA) . Laurence Fishburne stars as Smoke, the undisputed king of the urban underground motorcycle world. That doesn't sit well with Kid (Derek Luke), a hotshot rider looking to dethrone him. A talented cast of recognizable faces (Orlando Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Lisa Bonet and rap-rocker Kid Rock) can't spark interest in this cliched tale of generational baton passing. Nor can the poorly filmed cycle races, which bore when they should thrill. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
City of God (2002) (R: Frequent profanity and graphic violence against a backdrop of urban squalor; fleeting nudity and occasional sexual candor) . Fernando Meirelles' "city" alludes to a sprawling slum in Rio de Janiero and proves a spectacle of youthful depravity and criminality, loosely organized around the rags-to-opportunity chronicle of a kid called Rocket. His attraction to photography gives him an exit route from the gang culture that engulfs cronies from the 'hood. Employing young people from the actual Cidade de Deus district, Mr. Meirelles brings a superficial authenticity to his subject but becomes too engulfed in episodic savagery to modulate toward coherence. The movie depends on recurrent viciousness and brutality at the expense of social perspective and character insight. It becomes a monotonous ordeal long before it ends. In Portuguese with English subtitles. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.
Chicago (2002) (PG-13: Sustained cynical tone and frequent sexual candor; occasional violence) . Rob Marshall's dazzling movie version of "Chicago," the Bob Fosse revamp of "Roxie Hart," is the most accomplished thing of its kind since Herbert Ross' remarkable adaptation of Dennis Potter's "Pennies from Heaven" in 1979. It's a little impossible to warm to the predatory heroines of "Chicago," Catherine Zeta-Jones as vaudeville headliner Velma Kelly and Renee Zellweger as the avid nobody Roxie Hart, who lusts after Velma's status and inadvertently takes a shortcut to notoriety by gunning down her boyfriend, Dominic West. This brings Roxie to the attention of Chicago tabloids and attracts the services of unscrupulous criminal attorney Billy Flynn, played by Richard Gere. Several performers show unexpected flair, particularly Miss Zellweger and Mr. Gere. Every last number is a knockout. The material could not possibly be executed with more precision or luster. With John C. Reilly as Roxie's patsy of a spouse and Queen Latifah in a terrific impersonation of the prison warden Mama Morton. Golden Globe awards for Miss Zellweger and Mr. Gere, plus best musical or comedy.
Far From Heaven (2002) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and graphic violence; occasional sexual candor, including a subplot about furtive homosexual behavior) . Julianne Moore and writer-director Todd Haynes proved a haunting team seven years ago with "Safe." They're reunited for a more quixotic project in this homage to a vintage Hollywood tearjerker, "All That Heaven Allows," circa 1955. Mr. Haynes casts Miss Moore as a Hartford, Conn., housewife who discovers that spouse Dennis Quaid is not only a lush but also an adulterer with homosexual inclinations. The heroine finds some comfort in the friendship of her widowed black gardener, an easygoing tower of strength as embodied by Dennis Haysbert. Named best movie of 2002 by the New York Film Critics. Exclusively at Cinema Arts and the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle, Shirlington and White Flint.
Final Destination 2 (2003) (R: pervasive atmosphere of death and morbidity; graphic depictions of violent accidents, dismemberment; strong language; drug use; brief nudity) . Blood and guts with a smiley face, meant not to horrify but to amuse. This sequel picks up where its 2000 predecessor left off: Death, a malevolent deity, is after a group of luckless mortals who were spared a premature demise by someone's prophetic visions. Like the underground "Faces of Death" series, "Final Destination 2" is a celebration of insensate violence and nihilistic humor a twisted appeal to the thorax. It serves no purpose other than to coarsen its audience. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
Gangs of New York (2002) (R: Persistent profanity and graphic violence, typically depicting brutality and gang warfare in a mid-19th Century setting; frequent gruesome illustrative details; occasional sexual candor and vulgarity, with nudity and fleeting interludes of simulated intercourse; fleeting depictions of opium use) . Wretched excess in a sordid historical setting. This unwieldy and elaborately brutal epic from Martin Scorsese is derived from the chapters in Herbert Asbury's 1928 social history that recalled gang rivalries in the heyday of Irish immigration to New York. The movie begins with a rumble matching an Irish clan called the Dead Rabbits against nativist thugs under a witty despot named William Cutting, familiarly Bill the Butcher. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a classic villain's performance as Bill.
The Hours (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity; subplot about a terminal AIDS case; fleeting allusions to lesbian encounters or relationships) . A faithful and accomplished movie version of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham, adapted by the English team of playwright David Hare and director Stephen Daldry. The execution is clever and the cast is stocked with prestige performers. Yet the source material remains a conceptual monstrosity. Like the book, the film begins with Virginia Woolf's suicide by drowning in 1941. Then it backtracks to an earlier point in the life of the author (impersonated with spellbinding skill by a facially altered Nicole Kidman) the day when Woolf began composing her novel "Mrs. Dalloway," published in 1925. This time frame is interwoven with episodes about fictional heroines in emotional distress. Julianne Moore plays Laura Brown, an unhappily married young mother of late 1940s vintage, expecting a second child and reading a copy of "Mrs. Dalloway." Meryl Streep plays the well-meaning Clarissa Vaughn, a book editor in contemporary Manhattan. Remarks, gestures and events are invented to link the three women and provide transitions between their stories, but it's always a stretch to believe that the fictional Laura and Clarissa exist independently while echoing some aspects of the authentic Virginia. Golden Globe awards for best dramatic movie and to Miss Kidman.
Just Married (2003) (PG-13: mild profanity, crude humor, near-constant harping about lovemaking, fleeting drug reference) . Colossally stupid and juvenile movie about two mismatched young lovers on a European honeymoon from hell. Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy have zero chemistry together, and their onscreen romance looks coldly forced and labored. Geared as it is toward teenagers with the attention span of cold coffee, "Just Married" provides the requisite amount of toilet jokes and sight gags. There are bloody noses, old ladies with gas, messy gropings in an airplane lavatory and a rectal customs search. It's funny for about five minutes, and it quickly runs out of comedic steam. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
Kangaroo Jack (2003) (PG: slapstick violence, gangster-level gunplay and excretory humor) . Two lifelong pals (Jerry O'Connell, Anthony Anderson) are sent to Australia by a Mafia kingpin to make a special delivery. Along the way they literally run into the title character, a fleet-footed kangaroo who makes off with their package. Too crude for kids and too infantile for adults, this is an arduous 84 minutes despite the Australian scenery. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) (PG-13: Graphic violence in episodes depicting combat in medieval settings; sustained ominous atmosphere and occasional gruesome illustrative details) . The second installment in Peter Jackson's three-part movie epic derived from the J.R.R. Tolkien "Ring" trilogy. Now scattered, the members of the valiant fellowship try to survive and reach far-flung destinations while menaced by Orc armies under the control of despotic wizards. Ian McKellen returns as the virtuous wizard Gandalf, who must survive an awesome plunge into the abyss that appeared to doom him in the first picture. This dazzling dilemma gives the movie plenty of initial propulsion, but chinks in the Jackson armor begin to surface after about 140 minutes of absorbing and suspenseful updates on the heroes. We are primed for a titanic battle at an outpost called Helm's Deep, but must settle for an overscaled, digital-dependent letdown that fails to concentrate Mr. Jackson's mind or teeming scenic resources. Still a whale of a show, but some miscalculations and breakdowns defy concealment.
The Pianist (2002) (R: Graphic violence and depictions of anti-Semitism in a World War II setting) . Roman Polanski lacks the staying power needed to sustain this movie version of a 1946 memoir by the classical pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, who recalled his ordeal of surviving German conquest and occupation in Warsaw for five years. Adrien Brody, looking serene and elegant at the piano in the pre-war scenes, is cast as Szpilman. His prosperous Jewish family must adjust to humiliation and impoverishment in the Warsaw ghetto under Nazi control. A fluke spares him from transportation to the death camps with other members of the family, who perished. The movie's compelling aspects also diminish after the Szpilman family is lost. The first half seems as gripping and individualized as "Schindler's List" or "The Grey Zone." The depiction begins to lose intensity once the protagonist becomes a more or less solitary, fugitive survivor, with few resources of his own. As a consequence, the movie goes torpid and never quite recovers, despite the singularity of Szpilman's encounter with a German officer, Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann), who shelters him during the last days of fighting in the ravaged city. Named best movie of 2002 by the National Society of Film Critics.
The Recruit (2003) (PG-13: Occasional graphic violence, sexual candor and profanity) . A low-octane thriller about the training of prospective CIA operations officers. The title character, played by Colin Farrell, is a computer whiz from M.I.T. who is nevertheless recruited for clandestine adventure by Al Pacino. Despite the fact that Mr. Pacino fails to generate immediate confidence, Mr. Farrell is an easy catch. The training period gives the movie about a 45-minute grace period while it simulates the activities at a CIA boot camp. Then it fails to make significant melodramatic headway for the duration. Unlike Brad Pitt in "Spy Game," Mr. Farrell never gets into the field. Despite some token Washington area locales, most of the film was shot in and around Toronto.
Russian Ark (2002) (No MPAA Rating Fleeting violence and comic vulgarity) . An innovative but far from satisfying approach to the art history documentary by a notoriously idiosyncratic and contemplative Russian filmmaker, Alexander Sokurov. He contrives a tour of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg around a feature-length traveling shot and a brooding, time-traveling pretext. An invisible filmmaker, presumably the director's mouthpiece, and a French fop from the 19th century find themselves not only inside the vast art galleries and the Winter Palace but privy to historical reenactments. These involve brief encounters with Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the last of the Romanovs, czars Nicholas I and II. The sole recording instrument was a high-definition video camera mounted on a Steadicam rig and operated by the German cinematographer Tilman Buettner, who did the virtuoso sprinting shots in "Run, Lola, Run." He's permitted to stroll the Hermitage, covering perhaps a mile of floor space in about 90 minutes. Unfortunately, inadequate light levels give the galleries a squinty, underexposed consistency. The art tour barely scratches the surface of Hermitage treasures. In Russian with English subtitles. Last day of a limited engagement, exclusively at the American Film Institute Theater.
Talk to Her (2002) (R: frequent nudity, profanity, mature sexual themes) . Not an easy film to digest. Themes and sub-themes twist, tango and collide with surprising grace. The film's visual beauty almost subsumes the complicated narrative. A weird and creepy psychodrama, its central focus is silence: the way it colors loneliness, the way it prevents authentic human connection. Spanish director Pedro Almodovar makes this point in several interesting ways, most centrally through two comatose women. In Spanish with English subtitles. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
25th Hour (2003) (R: strong language, some violence, references to drug use and underage sex) . Without a doubt one of Spike Lee's finest films. It's mature, challenging and smart, all the while steering clear of the high-voltage polemics that characterized the director's earlier work. The story of a New York drug dealer (a typically superb Edward Norton) on his last night of freedom before serving a seven-year stretch in prison, "25th Hour" somewhat clunkily weaves in a backdrop of the city in post-September 11 recovery. But a stellar supporting cast Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson and others and a sharp screenplay by novelist David Benioff make up in brio what the movie lacks in thematic unity. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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