- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

OPENING

• Broken Lizard’s Club Dread (2004) (R: Horror style violence, drug use and coarse language). The creative team behind “Super Troopers” returns with this horror-comedy concoction. A serial killer is on the loose in a hedonistic paradise, but the club’s officials want to make sure the news doesn’t spread to the revelers. Bill Paxton and Brittany Daniel (“Joe Dirt”) co-star as the club owner and a sex-crazed fitness instructor, respectively.

• Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004) (PG-13: Coarse language and sexually suggestive material) — **. The producers of this steamy dance drama want to re-create the pop cultural magic of the 1987 source material. “Havana Nights” follows an American teenager (Romola Garai) in pre-revolutionary Cuba falling for, and dancing with, a local boy (Diego Luna). This “Dancing” hardly seems salacious, and it’s friction-free plotting will leave fans of the original waiting only for Patrick Swayze’s fun cameo. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2002) (No MPAA Rating) — A spoof of low-budget science-fiction horror thrillers of the 1950s, deliberately returning to some of the Southern California locations that sheltered the prototypes. One week only, exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Twisted (2004) (R) — The latest crime thriller predicated on Ashley Judd as a sleuth. Set in San Francisco and directed by Philip Kaufman of “The Right Stuff” and “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” this one may be flirting with parody. Miss Judd plays a newly promoted inspector investigating the murders of several men who happen to be her ex-lovers. Will this coincidence shatter the trust of sidekick Andy Garcia and commissioner Samuel L. Jackson?

NOW SHOWING

• Against the Ropes (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual vulgarity) — *1/2. A heavily fictionalized biopic celebrating the singularity of Jackie Kallen, a former Detroit reporter and publicist who branched out into boxing management. As revamped for Meg Ryan and transposed to Cleveland, this case history is reduced to a morale booster for one very needful Hollywood pixie, pretending to conquer a man’s world. With Omar Epps, Tony Shalhoub and director Charles S. Dutton in supporting roles.

• Along Came Polly (2004) (PG-13: Sexual content; mild profanity; crude humor; drug reference) —**. “There’s Something About Mary,” and there’s something about Polly, too — the something that enables a hypochondriac (Ben Stiller) to throw caution to the wind and salsa-dance with a gal of irrepressible insouciance (Jennifer Aniston). The Stiller schtick is getting old, but “Polly” is rescued somewhat by a pair of great supporting roles from Alec Baldwin and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004) (PG-13: Coarse language, mild violence and drug references) — **. The gang from Ice Cube’s 2002 sleeper hit “Barbershop” is back for a new wave of politically incorrect banter. This one finds the independent barber shop owned by Calvin (Ice Cube) fighting for survival when a chain haircut salon moves across the street. Meanwhile, co-stars like Troy Garity, Queen Latifah and Cedric the Entertainer verbally joust with customers and each other. The sequel maintains the camaraderie between the actors but loses steam with several silly subplots. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Battle of Algiers (1967) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — **. A revival of Gillo Pontecorvo’s acclaimed and controversial polemical thriller about guerrilla uprisings in Algeria, anticipating independence from France in the early 1960s. The victory is an epilogue spectacle; the movie concentrates on the defeat of insurgents in the late 1950s by a tenacious and lethally effective French paratroop commander played by Jean Martin. In French and Arabic with English subtitles. Exclusively at E Street Cinema.

• Big Fish (2003) (PG-13: fight scene; partial nudity; innuendo) — ***1/2. A magical-realist cocktail of Southern gothic, fairy-tale whimsy and psychedelic freak show from director Tim Burton. Beneath the gleaming set-pieces, “Fish” is a very old and human story, of an estranged son seeing his father to death’s door. Starring Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup and Jessica Lange. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Butterfly Effect (2004) (R: sexuality; nudity; graphic beatings; profanity) — *. A woolly psychological thriller starring Ashton Kutcher as a bright but troubled college student who can respool the past by reading his journals. Problem is, the intervening years ramify in ways almost as disastrous as this movie. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Catch That Kid (2004) (PG: Action themes; crude humor) —**. A fair remake of a Danish teen caper, starring the likable Kristen Stewart as an aspiring mountain climber who plans a bank heist to obtain cash for a life-saving operation for her father. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Cold Mountain (2003) (R: Violence, profanity, sexual candor) *1/2. A dedicated but laborious movie version of Charles Frazier’s prestige historical novel about a love match struggling to survive the Civil War, with Jude Law as a Confederate soldier who goes AWOL to reunite with sweetheart Nicole Kidman. Renee Zellweger injects some welcome gusto when she enters as an indomitable rustic. Seven Academy nominations, including best actor for Mr. Law and supporting actress for Miss Zellweger.

• The Company (2003) (PG-13: some profanity and sexual situations) — **. A Neve Campbell dream project entrusted to screenwriter Barbara Turner and director Robert Altman. Originally an aspiring ballerina, Miss Campbell originated this fictionalized account of a classical ballet company preparing for a new season, with herself as an ambitious young recruit to the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. The film employs Altman trademarks — using nonactors and layering conversations — to give the film the look and feel of a documentary. But the dancing is second-rate and some of the dialogue pretentious. Malcolm McDowell plays the company’s director, a mercurial figure based on Gerald Arpino, the late co-founder of the Joffrey, in grandiose fashion and comes across as a blowhard. Exclusively at Bethesda Row, Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle 5, Cinema Arts Theatre. Reviewed by Jean Battey Lewis.

• Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity) — *. Lindsay Lohan, the delightful juvenile discovery of the 1998 remake of “The Parent Trap,” retains her terrific smile and cheekbones, and her rapid-fire delivery could be a long- range comic asset, but this defiantly inane and amateurish high school farce doesn’t flatter her potential at the ripe old age of 17. Endearing redemption eludes the heroine, a transfer student with a prima donna complex who has moved from Manhattan to suburban New Jersey. The most attractive teenage role belongs to the dauntingly named Alison Pill, cast as a shy rich girl who becomes the newcomer’s best friend.

• The Cooler (2003) (R: Nudity, sexual situations, alcohol use and spasms of violence) — ***. William H. Macy is “the Cooler,” a sad sack so unlucky he works at a casino where he “cools” hot gamblers just by standing near them. Lady luck finally smiles on him when he meets a fetching cocktail waitress (an earthy Maria Bello) who falls for his inherent kindness. Director Wayne Kramer fashions a gritty tale with a kiss of fantasy, aided by a rageful Alec Baldwin (an Oscar nominee) as the casino boss. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Crimson Gold (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter). A new feature from the Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who returns to the streets of Tehran to observe the struggles and frustrations of a pizza delivery man named Hussein, portrayed by non-pro Hussein Emadeddin, cast in something of a self-portrait. In Farsi with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge. Not reviewed.

• The Dreamers (2004) (NC-17: Occasional nudity and sexual candor, including simulated intercourse; occasional profanity and graphic violence) — **1/2. Bernardo Bertolucci’s sensuous command of the medium is abundantly evident in the most evocative sequences of this time-capsule portrait of three college-age students who dabble in potentially dissolute intimacy in Paris during the political protests of 1968. The movie is steeped in cinematic and musical allusions that prove far more seductive than the sex scenes. Some dialogue in French with English subtitles.

• Eurotrip (2004) (R: Nudity, rampant drug use, harsh language and sexual situations) — **. The producing team behind “Road Trip” transport its adolescent humor across the pond for a smutty “Eurotrip.” The film stars a quartet of high school graduates who go overseas to help poor Scotty (Scott Mechlowicz) meet his beautiful German e-mail pal. The film basks in its sophomoric humor, some of which is funny, but it loses steam at midpoint with plenty of travel still to go. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 50 First Dates (2004) (PG-13: Cartoon-style violence, crude sexual humor and drug references). “The Wedding Singer’s” Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore reunite for another unconventional love story. This time, Miss Barrymore plays a single gal suffering from short-term memory loss. Every time she goes to bed, she wakes up forgetting much of the day before. So earnest Henry (Mr. Sandler) has to win her heart again and again. Co-stars include Rob Schneider and Sean Astin.

• The Fog of War (2003) (PG-13: Intense images of war and destruction) — ***. Documentarian Errol Morris spends quality time with the once-reviled defense secretary Robert McNamara, who recalls his involvement not only in Vietnam but in World War II and the Cuban Missile crisis as well. Often riveting and never as tendentious as one might expect. Oscar nomination for best documentary feature. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) (PG-13: Sexuality) — ***. As riveting as a tour of a good city art museum, and we mean in both senses. Peter Webber’s commanding adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s novel, which imagined a back story to the eponymous painting by Vermeer, is more exhibition than movie, nearly forgetting the man it so artfully celebrates. Starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. Academy Award nominations for cinematography, art direction and costume design. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• House of Sand and Fog (2003) (R: Profanity, sexual candor, graphic violence) **1/2. A baleful but impressively acted melodrama about the peril created by disputed ownership of a small house on the San Francisco peninsula. Sir Ben Kingsley and Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, both Oscar nominees, contribute formidable performances as the proud immigrants who acquire the house at auction, then inherit the unexpected emotional turmoil of its former resident, Jennifer Connelly.

• In America (2003) (PG-13: Profanity, sexual candor, violence) — **.The Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan works off debts to his wife and daughters in this semi-autobiographical account of homesteading in a Hell’s Kitchen slum in the 1980s. A richly deserved Oscar nomination for Samantha Morton as an affectionate and indomitable young housewife. Sara and Emma Bolger are also irresistible as her daughters.

• The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) (PG-13) — ****. Peter Jackson closes the cinematic book in suitably stirring fashion on his triple epic version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythological saga about the defenders of Middle Earth. The tenacious heroes return the sinister ring of power to the lava pits of Mt. Doom and defeat the hordes assaulting the mountainside citadel Minas Tirith. 11 Academy Award nominations, including best picture and direction.

• Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) (PG-13) — ****. Peter Weir’s brilliant seafaring adventure, derived from the books of Patrick O’Brian, with Russell Crowe in great form as the redoubtable Capt. Jack Aubrey, whose HMS Surprise is kept on the defensive while pursuing a French warship along the coast of Brazil in 1805. Ten Oscar nominations, including best picture and direction.

• Miracle (2004) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity; occasional violent confrontations in the context of hockey matches) — ***. A superficial but entertaining rabble-rouser that celebrates the Mission Impossible of the late hockey coach Herb Brooks, portrayed by Kurt Russell, as he prepares the underdog U.S. Olympic team of 1980 for their famous upset match with the heavily favored Soviets at Lake Placid.

• Monster (2003) (R: Profanity, graphic violence, sexual candor) — *1/2. A biographical shocker-tearjerker about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, cleverly timed to make an Oscar contender of Charlize Theron, who alters her appearance drastically. A large frame, a mottled complexion, some boldly flabby flesh and oversized teeth camouflage her beauty, but the transformation flatters make-up devices more than emotional insight.

• My Architect (2003) (NR: brief profanity) — ***1/2. Nathaniel Kahn explores the engrossing mysteries of his absentee father, the great architect Louis I. Kahn. Serious without being scholarly, and poignant without being sentimental, this is a first-rate documentary and a welcome gift in a fallow movie month. Academy Award nomination for best documentary feature. Exclusively at E Street Cinema. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• My Flesh and Blood (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter; occasional profanity, candid discussion of severe physical disabilities and episodes of domestic conflict) — ***1/2. Another example of last year’s bumper crop of estimable documentary features. This intimate and humbling chronicle distills an “up-and-down” year in the Fairfield, Calif., home of Susan Tom, the adoptive mother of a mere nine children. They range in age from about 6 to 18. Three of them must cope with life-threatening disabilities. The most memorable is probably 15-year-old Joe, born with cystic fibrosis and animated by a rage to live that runs a gamut from alarming belligerence to endearing tenderness. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Osama (2003) (PG-13: Sinister thematic elements, including episodes about the sexual exploitation of an adolescent girl) — *1/2. The first feature made in Afghanistan since the defeat of the Taliban, this is a fascinating but perplexing blend of the ominous, the antic and the makeshift from Afghan filmmaker Siddiq Barmak. Mr. Barmak depicts the plight of a terrified 12-year-old girl, disguised as a lad named Osama during the Taliban rule in order to be useful to her desperate, widowed mother. The girl has no flair for imposture and the outlook is exceedingly bleak. In Pashtu with English subtitles.

• The Passion of the Christ (2004) (R: Prolonged and graphic violence in a biblical setting) — **. Mel Gibson places more stock in mortifying the flesh than many of us. Evident as far back as “Mad Max,” this propensity blossomed into a last-act ordeal in his Oscar-winning “Braveheart” in 1995. Now it’s the overwhelming preoccupation and prevailing source of brutal spectacle in “Passion,” Mr. Gibson’s re-enactment of the arrest, abuse and crucifixion of Jesus. There’s not a great deal of Gospel authority for dwelling on depictions of physical torture and suffering on the road to Calvary, but the Gibson emphasis, supposedly prompted by his own sense of dissolute desperation, may strike a responsive chord in some believers. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography and the use of ancient languages give the movie its most haunting evocative aspects. In Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles.

• Something’s Gotta Give (2003) (PG-13: sexual content, brief comic nudity, occasional profanity) — **. A menopausal little ditty starring Jack Nicholson and Oscar nominee Diane Keaton as aging lovebirds. Despite two top-shelf actors who sizzle together, “Give” is, after all, a grayed-over retread of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan heart-tuggers, with the added wrinkle that it thinks it’s delivering a news flash: that men and women in their twilight years are still vital. Also starring Keanu Reeves and Frances McDormand. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Statement (2003) (R: Violent sequences and mature themes) —**1/2. Michael Caine is superb as an aging war criminal fleeing from both justice and a vigilante group dead set on revenge. The film’s true life roots, inspired by the Vichy movement in France which supported Hitler, can’t overcome its moribund plotting. The fine cast includes Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam and the late Alan Bates. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Touching the Void (2004) (NR: some profanity) — ***. Joe Simpson and Simon Yates recall their harrowing mountaineering adventure gone wrong in this docudrama from England’s Kevin Macdonald. Reenactments in the Peruvian Andes and the Alps can’t quite capture the dread of real thing, but they come as close as a movie can. Exclusively at E Street Cinema and Bethesda Row. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Triplets of Belleville (2004) (PG-13: depictions of nudity and violence; crude humor) — ***1/2. A compact, mostly silent, often creepy animated film crammed with wonderfully grotesque characters and mechanical contraptions from French comic strip writer Sylvain Chomet. A cyclist is kidnapped while competing in the Tour De France, and his taskmaster granny follows his captors to the megalopolis of Belleville, where the Triplets, a trio of singing ladies, spring into action. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Welcome to Mooseport (2004) (PG-13). A scaled-down political farce for an election year, set in a small town in Maine where the most illustrious resident, a former U.S. president played by Gene Hackman, is persuaded to run for mayor. He ends up in a grudge race with a hardware store owner played by Ray Romano. The supporting cast includes Maura Tierney, Marcia Gay Harden, Christine Baranski and Fred Savage.

• You Got Served (2004) (PG-13: Sexual references and mature themes) — **. Street dancing is front and center with this urban tale set to a hip-hop beat. Two old friends (Marques Houston and Omarion) are the undisputed kings of street dancing. When a group of outsiders challenges their status, the friends must come up with cutting edge dance moves to prove their mettle. The bold, authentic street dance sequences intermittently dazzle but the characters remain as two-dimensional as a Bazooka Joe comic. The film also stars Steve Harvey and several members from the group B2K. Reviewed by Christian Toto.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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