- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

OPENING

• Blade: Trinity(2004) (R) — The third and supposedly concluding installment in a cycle of horror spectacles derived from a Marvel comic book prototype. Wesley Snipes again stars as the title character, a maverick vampire hunter, now allied with Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds for a showdown with Dracula, no less. David S. Goyer, a screenwriter for the entire series, assumes the directing assignment.

• Closer(2004) (R) — Mike Nichols’ movie version of a sexually candid English play about the susceptibilities of four inconstant consorts: photographer Julia Roberts, aspiring author Jude Law, physician Clive Owen and stripper Rachel Portman. The setting is London and the screenplay was entrusted to playwright Patrick Marber.

• Moolaade (2003) (No MPAA rating, adult subject matter) — A polemical drama from the octogenarian Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, who depicts the tensions created in a traditional village when four young girls facing a purification ritual — female circumcision — take refuge with a strong-willed woman who has protected her own daughter from the practice. The title means sanctuary. In Senegalese with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• The Take(2003) (No MPAA rating, adult subject matter) — A topical melodrama about unemployed auto-parts workers in Buenos Aires who stage a symbolic occupation of their idle factory. Directed by Avi Lewis from a screenplay by Naomi Klein, a Canadian team transposed to Argentina. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. .

NOW SHOWING

• Alexander (2004) (R: Occasional graphic violence, sexual candor and nudity within a framework of ancient history) — **1/2. Oliver Stone’s historical spectacle about the precocious Macedonian conqueror (365-323 B.C.), portrayed by a blond-tressed and frequently laughable Colin Farrell, has its bemusing attractions and blunders. The pivotal miscasting of Mr. Farrell leaves the production short a commanding figure in the title character, but Angelina Jolie is a snake-charming, mind-poisoning spellbinder as Alexander’s mother Olympias. Domineering mother issues cloud the hero’s brain from boyhood to premature demise. Mr. Stone discovers his inner Cecil B. DeMille and inner Hellene as never before, especially a homoerotic Hellene. The set piece battle sequences are disappointing, but the carousing picks up some of the slack.

• Alfie (2004) (R) — **. A remake of the 1966 British movie about a Cockney womanizer that confirmed Michael Caine’s stellar potential. The American writer-director Charles Shyer retains the Cockney characteristics while casting Jude Law as an Alfie transposed to New York City in the present. The protagonist still takes the audience directly into his confidence. The consorts include Jane Krakowski, Nia Long, Sienna Miller and Susan Sarandon. The source material is a play by Bill Naughton. Elaine Pope collaborated on the new screenplay.

• Being Julia (2004) (R: Sexuality; brief nudity) — **1/2. Annette Bening plays a vain and sulky but gradually sympathetic queen of West End theater in this whimsical high-fashion farce set in prewar London. Directed by Istvan Szabo. Also starring Jeremy Irons. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) (R) — **. The movie version of Helen Fielding’s follow-up novel to her enormously successful brainstorm, the diary of a lovelorn comic heroine in contemporary London. The plot of the original was designed to mirror Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” The sequel borrows aspects of “Persuasion.” Renee Zellweger returns in the title role, with Colin Firth as steady beau Mark Darcy, destined to be alienated for a spell, and Hugh Grant as returning snake in the grass Daniel Cleaver.

• Callas Forever (2002) (No MPAA Rating: Adult subject matter; fleeting profanity and sexual candor, including episodes about a homosexual affair) — **. An English-language production, set in Paris, this fondly fanciful memoir of opera star Maria Callas from a former friend and collaborator, Franco Zeffirelli, purports to recall Miss Callas in 1977, near the close of her life. Jeremy Irons is cast as a music producer-promoter who urges the singer (portrayed by the statuesque but ponderous Fanny Ardant) to come out of seclusion for an opera film of “Carmen” that would use vintage recordings on the soundtrack. The “Carmen” footage outclasses the encompassing movie, but Mr. Zeffirelli is wedded to a wishful-thinking pretext that dissolves in ruefulness. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Christmas with the Kranks (2004) (PG: Brief coarse language and suggestive content) — **. Tim Allen revisits the Yuletide season in this conflicted reworking of John Grisham’s novel “Skipping Christmas.” Mr. Allen co-stars with Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple who decide to skip the holiday since their daughter will be out of the country. The news doesn’t sit well with their Santa-obsessed neighbors, who turn the couple into pariahs for their choice. The film’s darker observations too quickly give way to gooey sentiment and stale slapstick. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Finding Neverland (2004) (PG: Thematic preoccupation with family tragedy and loss) — ***. A stirring and often imaginative tearjerker predicated on the original production of James M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” a century ago. The unhappily married author (Johnny Depp), adopts a grieving family after a chance meeting with four boys whose father has recently died. Barrie grows fond of the boys and their mother, Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies (Kate Winslet), then creates his wistful fantasy of Neverland as an act of rejuvenating devotion. Several facts are altered: the doomed father, never seen in the film, died three years after the premiere of “Peter Pan.” The role of Barrie is blandly benign, but the story remains a sentimental powerhouse. With Julie Christie as Miss Winslet’s suspicious mother and Freddie Highmore as the most prominent of the boys.

• The Grudge (2004) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere; recurrent scenes of death or supernatural assault, with gruesome illustrative details; a demon child as a menace) — . A remake of the Japanese horror thriller “Ju-On,” currently at the E Street Cinema. The same filmmaker, Takashi Shimizu, guided a predominantly American cast through the same plot while shooting in Japan with his regular crew. The results are predictably superfluous and monotonous. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays an exchange student who agrees to substitute for a nurse and finds herself in a severely haunted house. The unfortunate visitors include Bill Pullman, William Mapother, Jason Behr, Clea DuVall and Grace Zabriskie. Any building that makes noises or has a landing, stairwell, closet, attic, mirror, bathtub and wall space hospitable to shadow patterns is bound to be treacherous in Mr. Shimizu’s clammy grip.

• Incident at Loch Ness (2003) (PG-13: Adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and facetious elements of suspense and violence) — **. A tongue-in-cheek documentary hoax for moviegoers hip enough to be familiar with the mystique of the German filmmaker Werner Herzog, supposedly observed on location for a project about the legends of Loch Ness. This proves a bogus film-within-the-film. Mr. Herzog does contribute an impeccably sincere, deadpan self-portrayal to the facetious one-man show of screenwriter Zak Penn, who makes a directing debut and plays himself as a manipulative wrecker — an overreaching producer scheming to compromise the expedition with crass and life-threatening tricks. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• The Incredibles (2004) (PG: Occasional perilous situations and melodramatic intensity; stylized cartoon violence in a clear-cut adventure spectacle tradition) — ****. The Pixar winning streak continues, with a family-glorifying adventure spectacle that excels at many aspects of popular entertainment, from character delineation to cliffhanging set pieces, sight gags and genre homage. Brad Bird of “The Iron Giant” joins the Pixar team and prompts a fresh surge of gusto and invention with the Incredibles, a union of former superheroes whose everyday, domesticated identities as Bob and Helen Parr (dubbed by Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter) will not suffice when a despotic villain called Syndrome plots to entrap them. The Parrs have three children whose budding potential proves indispensable: the vanishing Violet, fleet-footed Dash and gurgling baby Jack-Jack. Despite the shift to familiar sources — adventure comics and movies — this animated sensation is so clever and expert that it makes a virtue of familiarity.

• Kinsey (2004) (R: Pervasive sexual content; explicit images) — ***. Writer-director Bill Condon’s controversial look at the life and legacy of mid-century sex researcher Alfred C. Kinsey (Liam Neeson). While it takes its subject’s side, the movie doesn’t flinch from Kinsey’s seamy personal life and boasts a masterful supporting cast, including Laura Linney, Peter Saarsgard, Timothy Hutton and Chris O’Donnell. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor and vulgarity) — **. Nostalgic balm for aging radicals. The Brazilian director Walter Salles retrieves episodes from a diary of Ernesto Che Guevara and recalls a prodigious odyssey through South America Mr. Guevara shared with a friend, Alberto Granado, in 1951-52, on an unreliable old motorcycle. The early episodes surge with exuberance, but lulls and breakdowns start to accumulate. Rodrigo de la Serna is the more vigorous presence as Granado. The Mexican matinee idol Gael Garcia Bernal seems a more ethereal seeker in the Guevara role, but at this stage Che’s idolators may prefer him as an angelic dreamboat. In Spanish with English subtitles.

• National Treasure (2004) (PG: Action violence, disturbing images) — **. Nicholas Cage plays a nerdy historian chasing after a hidden treasure with roots in ancient Egypt and ties to the Founding Fathers. Despite the typical overkill production value of Jerry Bruckheimer, the movie has surprising charms as a safe-for-kids history lesson. Directed by Jon Turteltaub. Also starring Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger and Sean Bean. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Overnight (2004) (R: pervasive profanity; brief nudity) —**. The rise and follow of a 15-minute Hollywood rag-trade sensation, Troy Duffy, who had visions of both rock stardom and auteur-dom, only to be dashed by Horrible Harvey Weinstein. Directed by Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Paper Clips (2003) (G: Adult subject matter, involving aspects of Holocaust history, but suitable for younger viewers) — ***. An estimable and unassuming documentary feature about a middle school in Tennessee that rallied national and then international attention while sponsoring a school project about the Holocaust. Begun in 1998, it involved collecting paper clips as symbols of the millions slaughtered by the Nazi regime. Media attention turned a modest response into a flood. Holocaust survivors became active well-wishers and visited the school. A pair of German journalists living in Washington facilitated the transfer of a rail car from Europe to the grounds of the school, to serve as a permanent repository for the collection. Produced by a company based in McLean, the film — playing exclusively at the Avalon and Loews Shirlington — carries its thematic burdens and feel-good boobytraps very gracefully.

• The Polar Express (2004) (G: Ominous episodes and perilous situations) — **1/2. Undeniably ambitious, elaborate and distinctive, this computer-animated movie version of the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg seems likely to crash the gallery of Christmas movie perennials. The drawback is that director Robert Zemeckis and his collaborators — co-writer William Broyles, Jr. star Tom Hanks (who provides the voice and model for several roles) and visual effects designers Ken Ralston and Jerome Chen — make such an overblown case that their labor of love also becomes a Frankenstein’s monster of seasonal whimsy. Pictorially faithful to Mr. Van Allsburg’s illustrative style, the movie pads the plot mercilessly, inserting numerous thrill sequences as a Christmas Eve train steams to the North Pole in order to persuade skeptical kids that Santa Claus is a going concern.

• Ray (2004) (PG-13: Depiction of drug addiction; sexuality; tragic death scene) — ***1/2. Jamie Foxx gives a memorable performance as the late Ray Charles in Taylor Hackford’s moving biography of an American musical icon. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Santa vs. the Snowman 3D (2004) (G) — An Imax featurette, directed in a computer-animated 3D process by John A. Davis from a screenplay by Steve Oedekerk, who envisions a brash snowman trying to horn in on Santa Claus’ established delivery service. Exclusively at the Johnson Imax Theater at the National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. The voice cast includes Jonathan Winters, Ben Stein and Victoria Jackson. Not reviewed.

• Saw (2004) (R: Graphic violence, adult themes and torture) — *1/2. First-time director James Wan bungles some novel thrills in this sadist, would-be psychological thriller. Cary Elwes plays a doctor imprisoned by a serial killer who likes to make his victims kill or maim themselves through his macabre mind games. Horrific acting provides the biggest scares here, beyond the fact that Danny Glover ever agreed to co-star in this mess. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Seed of Chucky (2004) (R: Strong horror content, sexual situations and coarse language) — 1/2*. The doll that simply won’t die is back in the dubious horror franchise’s fifth installment. Chucky (Brad Dourif) and bride Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) are the proud parents of a doll baby who unfortunately might take after its parents. The original “Child’s Play” came out in 1988.

• Sex Is Comedy (2002) (R: Occasional profanity, nudity and simulated intercourse) — *1/2. The French filmmaker Catherine Breillat, whose previous features, “Romance” and “Fat Girl,” demonstrated an insatiable need to divorce romance from sexual attraction, celebrates her own mystique. The erstwhile “Femme Nikita,” Anne Parrilaud, remains a bewitching camera subject despite playing a self-infatuated self-portrait of the filmmaker. Miss Parrilaud is observed while directing a movie about teenage infatuation that ultimately revolves around a graphic sex scene, very similar to the ugly finale of “Fat Girl.” This perverse curiosity suggests a sleazy update of Francois Truffaut’s “Day For Night.” In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Shaun of the Dead (2004) (R: Zombie violence/gore; profanity) — ***. A smart zombie spoof from British director Edgar Wright. North London is overrun by the living dead, but working-stiff Shaun (Simon Pegg) and fat-friend Ed (Nick Frost) are too busy drinking beer and playing video games to notice. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Sideways (2004) (R: Coarse language, simulated sexual situations, violence and crude humor) — ***1/2. A wine tasting trip turns into a chance for some serious soul searching for two mismatched pals (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church). Writer-director Alexander Payne (“About Schmidt”) jumps into the Oscar fray with this richly imagined comic drama brimming with deft performances. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004) (PG: Mildly crude humor) — **1/2. The popular kiddie series with the adult sense of humor gets the big-screen treatment with uneven results. Our strangely shaped hero finds himself knee deep in a new undersea adventure in Nickelodeon’s attempt to prove 2-D animation can still draw a crowd. Suffice to say the goofy SpongeBob character is better suited to tidy, 10-minute servings. Reviewed by Christian Toto.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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