- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

OPENING

• Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004) (PG:13: Coarse language, sexual situations and drug references). The gang from Ice Cube’s 2002 sleeper hit “Barbershop” is back for a new wave of smart, politically incorrect banter. This one finds Mr. Cube’s independent shop fighting to stay alive when a chain haircut store moves onto the block. Meanwhile, co-stars like Troy Garity and Cedric the Entertainer verbally joust with the feisty customers streaming into their shop. “Chicago’s” Queen Latifah joins the fray as a beauty salon colleague.

• Catch That Kid (2004) (PG-13) — A caper melodrama for potential middle-school safecrackers. Kristen Stewart plays a 12-year-old who masterminds a bank robbery in a skyscraper in hopes of financing an operation for her beloved dad, injured while climbing Mt. Everest.

• 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.

• Japanese Story (2003) (R: Profanity, morbidity and sexual candor, including brief nudity) — *1/2. A crackpot tearjerker from Australia, with Toni Collette as a geologist roped into driving a visiting Japanese businessman around outback mining sites. Improbably, they become lovers. Shamelessly, a terrible accident happens and the heroine wallows in guilt. Sentiment never has a leg to stand on. Exclusively at Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 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.

• Tokyo Godfathers (2002) (PG-13 — a lenient rating, considering frequent profanity, vulgarity and brutality in a cartoon format) — 1/2*. Japanese animation at its most motley and interminable, reveling in squalor and rank sentimentality. Three derelicts find an abandoned baby in a trash heap on Christmas Eve and search for the mom. Exclusively at Landmark E Street Cinema.

NOW SHOWING

• 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.

• 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 Landmark Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema.

• The Big Bounce (2004) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor; fleeting nudity) — *1/2. A maladroit remake of an expertly laconic Elmore Leonard crime novel of the late 1960s. The locations shift from Michigan to Hawaii, a blessing for moviegoers in the Northeast right now. Owen Wilson plays a drifter susceptible to femme fatale Sara Foster, whose sinister agenda is absurdly cluttered with excess schemers.

• 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.

• Calendar Girls (2003) (PG-13: sexual innuendo and fleeting nudity) — ***. A genial tribute to a group of Yorkshire club women who turn their annual calendar into a more lucrative charity fund-raiser by adding discreetly nude poses. With Julie Walters and Helen Mirren as the ringleaders.

• Chasing Liberty (2004) (PG:13: Sexual situations, some alcohol use and brief nudity) — **1/2. Pop songstress Mandy Moore plays the president’s daughter chafing under the too-watchful eye of the Secret Service. A presidential excursion to Prague with Daddy (Mark Harmon) sets her off on a liberating jaunt through Europe with a young security agent (Matthew Goode) in tow. The film’s glorious cityscapes and potential star Mr. Goode’s easy charisma compensate for its paint-by-numbers emotional palette. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) (PG: brief profanity; mature themes) — *1/2. Barely resembling its 1950 predecessor, this remake stars Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt raising 12 children while holding down their dream jobs. Lots of predictable physical humor laden with easy sentimentality. 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. James Franco co-stars as a young chef who becomes romantically involved with the heroine. Exclusively at Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema, Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle 5, Cinema Arts Theatre. Reviewed by Jean Battey Lewis.

• 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.

• Disney’s ‘Teacher’s Pet’ (2004) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity) ***1/2. The Disney studio gets off to a flying start in 2004 with this playful, exuberant musical comedy cartoon feature, derived from an award-winning kids’ TV series. A brainy dog named Spot, superbly dubbed by Nathan Lane, has masqueraded successfully as a fourth-grader. Craving total species transformation, Spot foolishly becomes the guinea pig of a mad doctor.

• 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 Last Samurai (2003) (R: Graphic violence during period battle scenes) *1/2. Tom Cruise, a disenchanted veteran of the Civil War and Indian Wars, agrees to train Imperial conscripts in Japan in the 1870s. Captured by a samurai warlord (Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe), the bad-luck American fails to redeem himself by switching sides and surviving battlefield defeat. But he may enjoy a monopoly of the womenfolk when returning to an adopted samurai village.

• 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.

• Mona Lisa Smile (2003) (PG-13: Sexuality; mature themes) — *1/2. Julia Roberts is the most agreeable, lovable bohemian from Berkeley you’ll ever meet in this protofeminist caricature of the Eisenhower era. Miss Roberts plays a maverick art history professor at buttoned-up Wellesley, where she encourages her young charges to look beyond motherhood and marriage for satisfaction. Also starring Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Monster (2003) (R: Profanity, graphic violence, sexual candor) — *1/2. A biographical shocker-tearjerker about serial killer Aileen Wournos, 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 Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Perfect Score (2004) (PG-13: profanity; sexual content; drug references) — **. “The Breakfast Club” is taken over by “Ocean’s Eleven” in this likable if formulaic teen heist in which a gang of six high-school seniors conspire to steal the answers to the dreaded SAT from the Educational Testing Service headquarters in Princeton, N.J. Scarlett Johansson, playing the melancholic Ally Sheedy type, shines despite being saddled with a gigantic cliche. Also starring Erika Christensen, Darius Miles and Chris Evans. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Secret Things (Not rated: graphic sexuality and intercourse simulation; frequent nudity; profanity) — *1/2. Lesbian porn with a semi-respectable hook: Stripper Nathalie (Coralie Revel) and barmaid Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou) contrive to ascend the social ladder of the bourgeoisie and turn men into slavish boy toys. Lots of classical music, even more sex. Written and directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau. In French with subtitles. Playing exclusively at Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• Torque (2004) (PG:13: Violence, strong language, sexual situations and drug references) — **. Eye-popping stunts highlight this “Fast and the Furious” for the motorcycle set. Biker Cary Ford (Martin Henderson) must extricate himself from a drug dealer’s wicked plans and from a raging gang leader (Ice Cube) who mistakenly thinks Cary killed his little brother. If that weren’t enough, Cary is trying to win back the love of his life (Money Mazur). The film’s depiction of speed is unsurpassed, but so, too, is its utter defection from reality. 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. Re-enactments 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. 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.

• Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (2004) (PG:13: Mild sexual situations, drug references and coarse language) — **1/2. A trio of rising stars makes the latest teen romance attractive to more than just the teenybopper. Josh Duhamel of “Las Vegas” stars as the dreamy Tad Hamilton, a superstar actor who props up his career by giving a lucky fan the date of her lifetime. The actor’s script, however, didn’t have that starry-eyed fan (Kate Bosworth) plucking his heartstrings as she does. That doesn’t please the young woman’s best guy friend (Topher Grace), whose crush for her has never been spoken, until now. “Tad” never rises above its slim premise, but it proves wittier than most teen fare. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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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