- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

OPENING

• Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) (R) — Michael Moore’s polemical follow-up to his diatribe against President Bush at the 2002 Academy Awards. The president becomes a target of sustained caricature and hostility during Mr. Moore’s account of the September 11 calamity and then the war in Iraq. The Golden Palm winner at the recent Cannes Film Festival.

• The Hunting of the President (2003) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter) — **. Harry Thomason, the filmmaking friend of former President Bill Clinton’s, assembles a sprawling but essentially superfluous video dossier intended to discredit unscrupulous members of the press or adherents of “right-wing cabals” who collaborated to bedevil Mr. Clinton during his White House tenure. The source is a book subtitled “The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton.” The co-authors, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, are among the indignant camera subjects. The presentation is often trivialized by an excess of fill-in illustration from stock footage archives. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.

• The Mother (2003) (R) — A collaboration of writer Hanif Kareshi, best known for “My Beautiful Laundrette,” and Roger Michell, the director of “Persuasion” and “Notting Hill.” Their protagonist is a London widow who finds herself attracted to a young man about half her age. He also happens to be her daughter’s current boyfriend.

• My Sister Maria (2003) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter, including elements of family intimacy and depictions of infirmities associated with old age) — **. Maximilian Schell intrudes on his older sister Maria, a prominent film actress of the 1950s and early 1960s revealed in seclusion at a family lodge in Switzerland. Despite the thickening ravages of age, her distinctive smile remains intact and touching. Miss Schell seems to have gone perilously into debt while becoming a recluse surrounded by bedroom television sets. Her career is never adequately summarized. Many scenes in German with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• The Notebook (2004) (PG-13: Some moments of sensuality). Based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks, “The Notebook” follows an elderly woman (Gena Rowlands) as she learns about a pair of lovestruck teens from stories left behind in an old notebook. The film flashes back to that 1940s-era romance, then returns to the present day, where the senile old woman is cared for by a kindly senior citizen (James Garner).

• Spider-Man 2 (2004) (PG-13) — The first sequel to the pre-eminent summer spectacle of 2002 reunites director Sam Raimi with Tobey Maguire as the comic-book superhero, the mild-mannered college undergraduate Peter Parker. Here Peter becomes estranged from high school sweetheart Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) as she pursues a Broadway acting career. Best friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) is obsessed with entrapping Spider-Man, whom he considers responsible for the death of his late, criminally demented father. Another supernemesis emerges in the person of Alfred Molina as Dr. Octavius, who mutates into a many-tentacled fiend after a lab mishap. Opens Wednesday.

• Two Brothers (2004) (PG) — A wildlife saga about twin tiger cubs, separated in their youth and ultimately reunited as forced enemies after contrasting experiences in captivity — one as a circus attraction, the other as a beloved pet retrained for blood sports.

NOW SHOWING

• Around the World in 80 Days (2004) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity) —*1/2. A ramshackle remake of the durably entertaining Jules Verne classic, revamped for stunts by Jackie Chan. Cast as a resourceful Chinese agent, he hires on as the valet of Steve Coogan’s Phileas Fogg, now a goofy and insecure inventor, in order to return a precious jade statuette to China. The travelers take a slow detour over the Himalayas to reach Mr. Chan’s home village. Ignorance of both the book and Mike Todd’s sumptuously overblown 1956 movie version will come in handy.

• Baadasssss! (2004) (R: Pervasive profanity; sexuality; nudity; drug references) — ***. Mario Van Peebles pays a tribute both comic and poignant to his filmmaker father, Melvin Van Peebles, the man who pioneered the blaxploitation era with the funk-rock hymn to black defiance, 1971’s “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Chronicles of Riddick(2004) ? (PG:13: Intense action and strong language).**1/2 Vin Diesel reprises his role from the modest sci-fi hit “Pitch Black” in this imaginative but dense sequel. “Riddick” finds our antihero caught between bounty hunters and a race of ghostlike humans bent on universal domination. Mr. Diesel’s monosyllabic style hasn’t worn out its welcome, but the film’s cluttered plotting detracts from the adventure. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Coffee and Cigarettes (2004) (R: Profanity) — ***. An anthology of rich black-and-white vignettes from king-of-quirk director Jim Jarmusch, filmed over 18 years, is peopled with celebrities such as Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and rock stars Tom Waits and Iggy Pop playing themselves at a half-step remove from their public personae. Some of the sketches are more compelling than others, but most prove the inherent sociality of nicotine and caffeine. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Control Room (2004) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter). A documentary feature from Jehane Noujaim, who observes the newsrooms of the Al Jazeera television network in Qatar at the time of the American invasion of Iraq. Some dialogue in Arabic with English subtitles. Not reviewed.

• The Day After Tomorrow (2004) (PG:13: Intense situations of peril) — . A blend of the disaster film with Al Gore’s worst-case scenario on global warming. Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal co-star as two survivors of a series of cataclysmic storms that threaten to destroy the Earth and everyone living on it. The film’s preposterous science pales in comparison to its tin-eared dialogue and silly rescue sequences. Even progressives will be left cold by this maladroit attempt to spark the environmental movement. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) (PG-13: Rude and sexual humor; profanity) — ***. Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn team again for this inspired, gag-aplenty addition to the grand tradition of lowbrow sports comedies. Mr. Vaughn’s “average joes” battle Mr. Stiller’s steroidal ringers in a Las Vegas dodgeball competition. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor) — *1/2. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, estranged lovers, have had their memories effaced by a dubious Long Island company, where overnight erasure is inexpertly monitored by a staff that includes Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood and Kirsten Dunst, all more amusing than the principals. The second collaboration of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry, this trickily muddled heartbreaker proves a solemn letdown compared to their nutty, unjustly neglected “Human Nature” of 2002.

• Garfield(2004) (PG) ? A belated feature outing for the comic-strip cat, dubbed by Bill Murray and illustrated through computer graphics, blended with live-action scenes directed by Peter Hewitt. The cast also includes Jennifer Love Hewitt and Breckin Meyer. Not reviewed.

• Good Bye, Lenin! (2004) (R: Brief full frontal nudity, coarse language) — ***. This delightful German import describes the ultimate love between mother and child. It’s East Berlin, circa 1989, and Alex watches in horror as his mother collapses and falls into a coma during a government protest. Alex’s pro-socialism mother sleeps through the Berlin Wall’s collapse, and when she wakes her doctor warns Alex not to expose her to anything that could shock or upset her. So he takes her home and creates a world within their apartment that re-creates the government she once held close to her heart. The film’s frothy mix of humor, drama and political commentary almost always hits the mark. In German with English subtitles. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) (PG: Sustained ominous atmosphere and occasional violence) — **1/2. A dank and misleading third feature derived from J.K. Rowling’s saga of the orphaned boy wizard Harry Potter. Back for his third year at Hogwarts, revamped for a bleaker look, Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry supposedly is threatened by a fugitive wizard, Sirius Black, who eventually surfaces in the person of Gary Oldman. David Thewlis is an impressive addition to the faculty, and a flying creature called a Hippogriff provides one lyrical sequence. Maybe it’s the “Star Trek” pattern all over again: The better movies will be the even-numbered ones.

• Mean Girls (2004) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, sexual allusions and comic vulgarity in a high school setting) — … A hit-and-miss update on high school tribal rites from the Lorne Michaels apparatus. Tina Fey of “Saturday Night Live” has a principal role as a math teacher and wrote the screenplay, derived from a sociological treatise. Tim Meadows and Amy Poehler of “SNL” are conspicuous supporting players. The plot is meant to revolve around Lindsay Lohan as a newcomer to an affluent campus in Evanston, Ill., where she is torn between rival factions. The mockery of adolescent snobberies and insecurities is scattershot at best, but the movie has some farcical highlights.

• Napoleon Dynamite (2004) PG: Mild vulgarity, slapstick violence) — **1/2. Husband-wife creative team Jared and Jerusha Hess think they have created a nebbish antihero for the ages, but their Napoleon is simply a collection of nerdy tics pretending to be a character. The couple’s Sundance hit supplies the requisite laughs as we watch Napoleon (Jon Heder) navigate his way through a bland Idaho high school. What’s missing is a reason to care for Napoleon or his equally dysfunctional pals. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Raising Helen (2004) (PG-13: Themes of teen turmoil) — . Another crinkly-cute comedy from Kate Hudson, who this time plays a New York socialite whose life is transformed when she’s given custody of her orphaned nieces and nephew. A skittery, soggy, painfully unfunny tragicomedy. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Saved! (2004) (PG:13: Strong language and mature themes) — **1/2. “Saved!” doesn’t have a prayer of dodging criticism from some Christian groups, but its satire of Christian high schools could have been far meaner than portrayed here. Jena Malone plays Mary, a confused senior who gets pregnant trying to “convert” her homosexual boyfriend. Making her life harder is Hilary (Mandy Moore), the high school princess who embodies the strict, uncaring side of spirituality. The film’s humor works whenever the gags don’t try so hard. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Shrek 2 (2004) (PG-13: Occasional comic vulgarity and facetious sexual allusions) — ***. This first sequel to a major hit pretends that success hasn’t spoiled anything. A disingenuous amnesia sets in. The original love story about an ogre, Shrek, and a captive princess, Fiona, illustrated the truism that beauty is more than skin-deep. The new movie attempts to prove it all over again as the newlyweds visit Fiona’s parents in a fairy-tale version of Beverly Hills and evade a treacherous scheme to alienate bride and groom. The ensemble gets a delightful boost from a vintage character, Puss in Boots, exuberantly dubbed by Antonio Banderas.

• Soul Plane (2004) (R: Strong sexual content; profanity; drug use) — **. An all-star cast of black comedians hits as often as it misses in this raunchy, gross sendup of the Zucker brothers’ sendup, “Airplane!” Starring Kevin Hart, Snoop Dogg and Mo’Nique. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2003) (R) — ***1/2. A Korean feature about a Buddhist monk who enters a temple constructed on a kind of floating island during his boyhood and returns after misadventures as a lawless young man. A simple, beautiful and profound meditation on sin, moral growth, penance, the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of life, “Spring” embodies the whole of Buddhism by exuding it through every pore. In Korean with English subtitles. Reviewed by Victor Morton.

• The Stepford Wives (2004) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity; occasional sexual vulgarity and innuendo) — *1/2. A remake of the zestless 1975 movie version of Ira Levin’s best seller, which envisioned suburban husbands conspiring to turn their wives into happy-homemaker zombies. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick and director Frank Oz opt for a facetious approach, but the jocularity proves gauche and inane rather than clever and satisfying. Nicole Kidman is poorly showcased as the Stepford newcomer. Matthew Broderick plays her blah hubby. Wasted resources include Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Bette Midler and Jon Lovitz.

• The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003) (PG: Essentially suitable for all ages; elements of natural candor, including a sequence about camels giving birth) — ****. The loveliest movie of the year so far. Filmmakers Byambasuren Davaa, a Mongolian, and Luigi Falorni, an Italian, observe the spring calving season and its aftermath with a family that herds sheep and Bactrian camels. The family itself, ranging from great-grandparents to a toddler, is exceptionally attractive. They face a crisis: how to reconcile a mother camel to the pleading calf she repeatedly rejects. The scenes are largely authentic and unrehearsed, but they incorporate a tribal fable of reconciliation through music that proves sublimely gratifying. In a Mongolian dialect with English subtitles.

• Super Size Me (2004) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and deliberate pictorial vulgarity in a documentary framework) — ***. An aspiring polemical humorist named Morgan Spurlock spent a month consuming only meals sold at McDonald’s. The results exceed fatty expectations, and doctors advise him to knock it off within three weeks. He declines, and the movie suffers when humoring this pointless martrydom. “Super Size” proves briskly informative when consulting other people who illuminate the subject, from nutritionists to lobbyists, bureaucrats and schoolchildren. Mr. Spurlock can cover the waterfront when he resists being grotesquely self-serving.

• The Terminal (2004) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity) — *1/2. Steven Spielberg seems to be flirting with dotage in this rabble-rouser. Tom Hanks pretends to no-speak-the-English as a displaced East European confined to an impressive replica of John F. Kennedy International Airport on Long Island when his country is engulfed in civil war. He is stranded at JFK for months, allowing Mr. Spielberg to lionize him as a paragon whose decency and resourcefulness shame us all. The scenario goes “populist” in the worst ways. With Catherine Zeta-Jones as a very sorry sweetheart, the dumbest flight attendant in the history of cinematic aviation.

• The Twilight Samurai (2003) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter, with fleeting graphic violence in simulated sword duels; allusions to mass starvation) — ***1/2. An Academy Award nominee last year as best foreign-language film, and a genuinely fresh and disarming variation on the lore of the samurai. Nobly conceived and often brilliantly executed, it celebrates an honorable but downtrodden soul, Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada). An impoverished widower with two young daughters and a senile mother, he has a day job as a clerk in a clan storehouse. More of a peasant than a warrior, he reluctantly dusts off fighting skills to aid a friend and then fulfill a deadly clan mission. He must also contemplate the possibility of a second chance at conjugal happiness with an exquisite childhood sweetheart played by Rie Miyazawa. Director Yoji Yamada generates an irresistible desire to see Iguchi survive and prosper. In Japanese with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• White Chicks (2004) (PG-13: Crude language, sexual situations and drug references) — **. Keenen Ivory Wayans directs two of his siblings in a drag comedy mocking snooty heiresses, high society and good taste. Marlon and Shawn Wayans play disgraced FBI agents who go undercover as “white chicks” to prevent a kidnapping. The gags range in quality from insufferably juvenile to amusing, but a smart supporting cast keeps the story humming. Reviewed by Christian Toto.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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