- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2001

OPENING

Bob le Flambeu (1955) (No MPAA rating made in 1955, years before the advent of the ratings stystem; adult subject matter, revolving around professional gamblers and gangsters; occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence) ***. The French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville (born Jean-Pierre Grumbach in 1917 and died in 1973) was a very entertaining interview subject. Since his droll 1955 crime thriller "Bob le Flambeur" wasn't imported until 1981, one could get an exaggerated sense of its merits from Mr. Melville's amusing recollections. He identified it as a nostalgic impression of the gangster milieu of pre-World War II Paris, transposed to a contemporary Montmarte and Deauville. The leading man, Roger Duchesne, was a former leading man of the 1930s who had become so indebted to mobsters that Mr. Melville sought their permission for his cinema rehabilitation. Ex-gangster, ex-con and compulsive gambler, Bob finds himself paternally solicitous about a young protege played by Daniel Cauchy and a cupcake played by the teen-age starlet Isabelle Corey. The climactic caper involves a robbery at a Deauville casino. Mr. Melville supplies the narration. In French with English subtitles. One week only, exclusively at the American Film Institute Theater.
Jackpot (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including simulated interludes of intercourse; an interlude of erotic trifling with an ignorant teen-age girl; fleeting and mild graphic violence) 1/2 *. A humorous dud from the fraternal team of Michael and Mark Polish, who made an eerie impression playing Siamese twins in their debut feature, "Twin Falls Idaho." Jackpot is portrayed as a town in Nevada, the destination of a struggling, ne'er-do-well country singer who calls himself Sunny Holiday, played by Jon Gries. He travels a karaoke club circuit, prides himself on echoing the style of George Jones and hopes for a big payoff in Jackpot. The best role in the movie belongs to Garrett Morris as Sunny's agent, Lester, whose patience and savvy are pretty much wasted on a hapless small-timer. The cast includes Daryl Hannah as a long-suffering wife, Peggy Lipton as a strangely complacent conquest and Anthony Edwards in a bewildering bit as a motel manager that vaguely recalls Dennis Weaver as the squirrelly "night man" in "Touch of Evil."
Jeepers Creepers (2001) (R) An ominously gruesome chase thriller with Gina Philips and Justin Long as siblings who encounter a mass murderer while driving home from college and investigating creepy circumstances at an old dark house. Bad decision: It turns out to be a depository for tortured victims. Jonathan Beck plays the menace, nicknamed Creeper, who chases the young people in his van. Written and directed by Victor Salva, who was responsible for the inspirational groaner "Powder."
O (2001) (R) An update of "Othello," transposed to an exclusive prep school in the South, where a star basketball recruit named Odin James (Mekhi Phifer) is the first black student. His popularity is underlined by a romance with Julia Stiles as Desi, daughter of the dean, played by John Heard. The other principal characters also have names that echo their Shakespearean prototypes. Josh Hartnett is Hugo, the treacherous teammate (and son of coach Martin Sheen) who conspires to poison O's mind against Desi. Rain Phoenix is cast as Hugo's girlfriend, Emily. Hugo falsely accuses a teammate named Michael Casio (Andrew Keegan) of seducing Desi. Charleston, S.C., was the principal location.
Our Song (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) A comedy-drama about the friendship of three teen-age girls written and directed by Jim McKay. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001) (R) Allegedly a spoof of "Meatballs" and its imitators, the movie is set in 1981. It was cooked up by collaborators in the MTV sketch-comedy group the State. The plot revolves around camp counselors played by Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde-Pierce, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, Marguerite Moreau, Christopher Meloni, Ken Marino, Marisa Ryan and Amy Poehler.


NOW SHOWING

All Over the Guy (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; episodes of simulated intercourse between homosexual partners; allusions to alcoholism and promiscuous sexual behavior) *. A redundant new bulletin from Southern California about the vicissitudes of homosexual courtship, revamped by Dan Bucatinsky from his own play. Mr. Bucatinsky also plays one of the principals: timid Eli, who is the son of fussbudget shrinks (Andrea Martin looms large in a small role as his mother). A double flashback structure introduces him confiding date woes to a receptionist (Doris Roberts) at a health clinic while his estranged consort, Richard Ruccolo as Tom, confides in peers at an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting. The backtracking accounts for how they were set up by best friends, who also serve as the heterosexual match and subplot: Adam Baldwin as Brett and Sasha Alexander as Jackie. Unfortunately, glibness and triteness fail to sustain this movie.
American Pie 2 (2001) (R: "Strong sexual content, crude humor, language and drinking" according to the MPAA; persistent comic vulgarity, with the emphasis on lechery and promiscuous sex; a prolonged sight gag about urination; frequent profanity and occasional nudity) 1/2 *. This sequel to the hit summer farce of 1999 is stale and droopy. The formula is identical to the first movie: Lewd sight gags are alternated with tenderhearted camaraderie and romantic yearning. The youthful cast members, introduced during a senior prom, somewhere in the suburbs of Michigan, reunite after the summer of the freshman year in college and share a beach house. Some indefinable zest or confidence is missing, perhaps traceable to a change of directors. J.B. Rogers has been entrusted with "Pie 2," and judging from the evidence, he may not be a comic natural.
An American Rhapsody (2001) (PG-13: "Some violent content and thematic material" according to the MPAA; ominous episodes, including scenes of intense family conflict) ****. The year's best dramatic movie to date, a stirring rediscovery of the theme of immigrant assimilation in contemporary America, fictionalized from the experience of writer-director Eva Gardos, a Hungarian-American. This first feature recalls the estrangement that plagued her family after her parents escaped communist Hungary in 1950. The fictionalized parents, Peter and Margit (Tony Goldwyn and Nastassja Kinski), take one escape route with their elder daughter, Maria, and trust that their baby daughter, Suzanne, will be spirited away separately. She is not. The escapees reach America and the Southern California suburbs, subsidizing the care of their missing youngest child by an affectionate and reliable foster couple, Jeno and Teri (Balazs Galko and Zsuzsa Czinkoczi). Suzanne is finally united with her parents five years later. Eventually, that wistful little girl (Kelly Endresz Banlaki) grows into the teen-age Suzanne portrayed vividly by Scarlett Johansson. Thoroughly assimilated in some respects, she nevertheless suffers from divided loyalties and a sense of loss that can only be appeased, after a potentially catastrophic quarrel with her mother, by a trip to Hungary, circa 1965. Considerable dialogue in Hungarian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.
Apocalypse Now Redux (1979) (R: Sustained ominous and morbid atmosphere; occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence in a setting of wartime combat and depravity; fleeting profanity and allusions to drug use) * 1/2. A revival of Francis Ford Coppola's notoriously troubled and unwieldy allegorical epic about the war in Vietnam, augmented by about 50 minutes of restored footage. The return of two extended sequences account for most of augmentation; they also inflate the running time to 197 minutes. One interlude dallies with a group of Playboy playmates stranded at a desolate, rain-drenched outpost after a short appearance at a raucous USO concert. The second is a stopover at a French plantation still maintained and guarded by a diehard planter family. Martin Sheen has the principal role, as an Army secret agent named Willard, assigned to find and execute a once esteemed officer called Kurtz, who materializes during the finale as a shadowy and obese Marlon Brando. An adviser to Montagnard tribesmen, Kurtz has gone despotic and barbaric in remote hill country. Now as well as then, the movie remains a hostage to solemnity and incoherence.
Bread and Tulips (2000) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) A romantic comedy about a wayward housewife that won nine David Di Donatello Awards, the Italian film industry's equivalent of the Oscars. Licia Maglietta plays the heroine, Rosalba, who drifts into a Venetian holiday after missing the tour bus carrying her husband and teen-age sons. A motorist gives her a lift, which leads to an extended stay in Venice, where Rosalba finds meals and shelter and companionship with Bruno Ganz as the moody proprietor of a trattoria. In Italian with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge. Not reviewed.
Bubble Boy (2001) (PG-13: Systematic comic and slapstick vulgarity; occasional profanity and lewd sexual allusions; graphic violence in an exaggerated farcical context) **. The pretext goes out of its way to antagonize and mock people who have to deal with a particular physical affliction: juvenile immune disorders. Poaching shamelessly on both "The Graduate" and "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble," the film casts Jake Gyllenhaal as a naive teen-ager named Jimmy Livingston, whose faulty immune system has confined him to a protective tent. Smitten with the doll next door, Marley Shelton as Chloe, he resolves to follow her all the way to Niagara Falls in hopes of sabotaging her marriage to a creep. Swoosie Kurtz plays Jimmy's mom, the target of lavish abuse for being overprotective and reactionary. On the other hand, she's kind of a performing dynamo.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) (R: "Some violence, sensuality and language," according to the MPAA; occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence, including depictions of wartime massacres) * 1/2. John Madden, the estimable director of "Mrs. Brown" and "Shakespeare in Love," maneuvers himself into a lovelorn fiasco in the "Ryan's Daughter" vein with this doting movie version of the Louis de Bernieres novel, a cult best-seller in England since its publication in 1994. Admirers should be grateful for Mr. Madden's scenic fidelity, since he transported the company to the authentic location, the Ionian island of Cephalonia. The human side of the make-believe is persistently stilted and cringe-worthy, starting with John Hurt's fatuous narration as the village doctor, Iannis. The heroine is his beautiful daughter Pelagia (Penelope Cruz), who must forsake her simple but virile childhood sweetheart Mandras (Christian Bale) when an endearing Italian artillery officer, Nicolas Cage as Antonio Corelli, arrives as part of an easygoing occupation army in 1940. Mr. Madden can't prevent the romantic triangle from seeming a vintage hoot. With Irene Papas as Mr. Bale's imposing mama. The highlight sequence is the mandolin composition Corelli dedicates to Pelagia.
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) (PG-13: For some sexual content, according to the MPAA; occasional comic vulgarity and sexual allusions) * 1/2. Woody Allen squanders a promising title and a vintage 1940s setting while belaboring a professional rivalry between himself as the established insurance fraud sleuth, C.W. Briggs, and Helen Hunt as the sarcastic new supervisor, Betty Ann Fitzgerald, at a New York underwriting firm. Both are revealed to be pushovers for hypnotism in an early episode. This susceptibility leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by the character played by David Ogden Stiers, a nightclub swami with theft on his mind. Briggs and Betty Ann are meant to discover a mutual romantic interest as a result of their embarrassing ordeal. The real ordeal is waiting for Mr. Allen to catch up with the fact that the audience is hours, days, or even weeks ahead of his poky plot manipulations.
The Deep End (2001) (R: Sustained ominous atmosphere; occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence; fleeting nudity in excerpts of an incriminating private tape recording of a homosexual rendezvous) *** 1/2. An exemplary new movie version of the Elisabeth Sanxay Holding suspense thriller "The Blank Wall," originally published in 1947 and filmed two years later by Max Ophuls as "The Reckless Moment," co-starring Joan Bennett and James Mason. The dilemma is effectively updated and impeccably stylized by the team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who collaborate as both screenwriters and co-directors. A military wife named Margaret Hall, splendidly embodied by the once oddball Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, tries to cover up the accidental death of a Reno, Nev., club owner who was consorting with her eldest son. The cover-up is anything but foolproof. The club owner was in hock to criminal creditors, and a collection agent named Alex Spera (Goran Visnjic of the "ER" series, re-creating the Mason role) turns up with a demand for $50,000 in a matter of days. Deliverance takes an intriguing form: the blackmailer begins to admire Mrs. Hall's tenacity so much that he becomes a gallant protector, placing his own life in jeopardy.
Ghosts of Mars (2001) (R: Frequent profanity and graphic violence in a science-fiction context; fleeting sexual allusions) No stars. Hollywood continues to accentuate its inability to make even token melodramatic sense of Martian exploration and colonization. A detachment of Mars-based constables, led by Pam Grier and Natasha Henstridge, encounters a remote industrial settlement teeming with ghouls and zombies, derived with supreme staleness from the threatening hordes of "Night of the Living Dead" and "The Road Warrior." A mysterious airborne contagion seems to account for the uprising. A felon played by Ice Cube is pressed into service by the heavily outnumbered posse as it struggles to escape a jailhouse and then hop an express out of town.
Ghost World (2001) (R: Occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual candor) *** 1/2. A little patience will be amply rewarded by this inspired adaptation of a comic book series by Daniel Clowes, an offbeat but endearing fictional comedy that lyricizes the struggles of misfit personalities, young and middle-aged, to remedy their loneliness. A freshly graduated pair of high school friends, Thora Birch as Enid and Scarlett Johansson as Becky, have typed themselves as disdainful loners. They play a personals column joke on an apparent bachelor sadsack named Seymour, a definitive lovable role for Steve Buscemi. Enid begins to admire his harmless, erudite style of solitude and alienation, and the two become an odd couple to cherish. The movie threatens to stagnate during the first reel but pulls out of an early monotonous stall once the principal misfit relationship begins cooking.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) (R: Occasional profanity, nudity and graphic violence; systematic sexual candor, with perverse sexuality and sexual masquerades as thematic preoccupations) * 1/2. Presumably faithful and fitfully diverting movie version of the off-Broadway rock musical, transposed by the original playwright, John Cameron Mitchell, directing himself in the title role. A one-man show a good deal of the time, "Hedwig" originated in a Manhattan drag club and caters most conspicuously to spectators who want to agonize or chortle over sexual identity.Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) (R: Incessant profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual vulgarity; occasional graphic violence in a farcical context; fleeting nudity and facetiously simulated sex acts) *. Kevin Smith seems to have promoted himself to the awesomely pointless role of court jester at Miramax. He even imagines the company has a studio in Hollywood, the destination of two characters from Red Bank New Jersey morons called Jay and Silent Bob upon learning that they have been ripped off for a new science-fiction adventure based on a comic strip that is partially based on the boys from Red Bank. An overnight mythology is tied up in the ensuing slapstick jaunt, presuming fond familiarity with the initial Smith movie, "Clerks," and the subsequent "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma." Jay and Silent Bob, played by Jason Mewes and Mr. Smith, respectively, were stoogey comic fixtures in all those films before earning their very own Hollywood picaresque. "Strike Back" is so smug that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon turn up to share quips about all their other movies.
The Others (2001) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere in a haunted house setting; fleeting profanity and graphic violence; threats often concentrated on two juvenile characters) *** 1/2. An absorbing, sinister and ultimately haunting haunted house thriller from the talented young Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar. Originally written as a Spanish-language project by Mr. Amenabar, 29, it became his first English-language feature. Set just after World War II on a lonely, fog-shrouded estate on the isle of Jersey, the movie isolates Nicole Kidman as an apprehensive mother named Grace, who keeps precocious children, Alakina Mann as Anne and James Bentley as Nicholas, almost literally sheltered in the dark, fearing a rare skin condition that makes them painfully sensitive to light. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe is admirably adept at modulating lighting schemes while documenting the suspicious eeriness of Grace's environment.
Planet of the Apes (2001) (PG-13: "Some sequences of action/violence" according to the MPAA; systematic ominous stylization and occasional graphic violence, with more than enough emphasis on brutality and slaughter to make the rating appear lenient) *. Tim Burton makes a fitfully whimsical and frequently incoherent botch of remaking the estimable science-fiction allegory of 1968. As the ostensible hero, a chimp-loving astronaut circa 2029, Mark Wahlberg looks as juvenile as a Mouseketeer and encounters nothing but diminished intrigue and peril while marooned on a swamp planet of the apes. An unbilled Charlton Heston, who starred in the original, dominates the best interlude in the new movie: cast as a dying old chimp, he pronounces curses on the human race, cribbing lines from his original human character. The movie's fadeout kicker is a cloddish disgrace and requires the defacing of a Washington landmark.
The Princess Diaries (2001) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) *** 1/2. Garry Marshall demonstrates multiple savvy while orchestrating this clever update on "Roman Holiday." He showcases a lovely and promising newcomer in Anne Hathaway, cast as a San Francisco prep school girl who discovers that she's the sole legitimate heir to a tiny European kingdom; recruits Julie Andrews for an attractive elder stateman role as the heroine's regal but affectionate grandmother; and sustains a sassy, wide-awake comedy without violating the guidelines of the G rating.
Rat Race (2001) (PG-13: "Sexual references, crude humor, partial nudity and language" according to the MPAA) **. Jerry Zucker returns to farcical direction after nearly a decade on the wagon and scores some bull's-eyes with far-fetched and cross-country sight gags. The starting point for this all-star chase farce is the Venetian Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, where a sneaky manager played by John Cleese is entertaining selected high rollers by recruiting various susceptible guests for a treasure hunt. The destination: an apocryphal Silver City, N.M., doubled by Ely, Nev., where an allegedly fabulous treasure awaits the speediest contestant. Seth Green and Vince Vieluf end up with the best sets of gags as a dopey brother act, Duane and Blaine Cody. Their mishaps begin when they try to wreck a radar tower at McCarran Airport in Vegas. The only weak aspect of this classic sequence is that it's a premature topper, setting a more or less out-of-reach standard for the remaining gags.
Summer Catch (2001) (PG-13: "Sexual content, language and some drinking," according to the MPAA) A romantic comedy-drama set against a vacation and sporting backdrop on Cape Cod. Freddie Prinze Jr. is an aspiring pitcher, chosen for a team in a college-age baseball league that showcases promising players every summer on Cape Cod. A romance with a Vassar graduate played by Jessica Biel complicates the hero's efforts. Not reviewed.
Under the Sand (2000) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and interludes of exceptional sexual candor, including simulations of intercourse; an episode with strong morbid overtones, set in a morgue) *** 1/2. The best thing of its gravely stirring and intimate kind since Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Blue." The moviee begins with a seaside excursion, introducing Miss Rampling as Marie Drillon, a transplanted Englishwoman who teaches literature at a Paris university, and Bruno Cremer as her husband, Jean, who is ponderous and weary in a way that suggests a lurking coronary. After an afternoon on a nearly deserted beach, Marie awakes from a nap to find that Jean has disappeared without a trace. In French with English subtitles. Cinema Arts and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS



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