- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

OPENING

Bones (2001) (R) A haunted house thriller directed by Howard University alumnus Ernest Dickerson. The title alludes to a dead man, Jimmy Bones, whose ghost stirs and encourages a quartet of young men to avenge his murder after they begin to restore a decripit building in hopes of opening a nightclub. With Snoop Dogg, Pam Grier, Michael T. Weiss, Clifton Powell and Ricky Harris. Opens Wednesday.
From Hell (2001) (R) Albert and Allen Hughes, the fraternal team that made a remarkable debut with the 1993 crime thriller "Menace II Society," retrieve the Jack the Ripper mystery from London in the 1880s. Based in part on a comic book series, the movie co-stars Johnny Depp as a tormented homicide detective and Heather Graham as an endangered streetwalker. With Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane and Jason Flemyng.
Grateful Dawg (2001) (R) A documentary feature recalling the friendship and occasional collaboration of mandolin virtuoso David Grisman and Jerry Garcia, who began as a bluegrass banjo player in the 1960s before discovering the electric guitar and organizing the Grateful Dead. Gillian Grisman, daughter of the late bluegrass musician, compiled this chronicle of a 25-year musical and personal association.
The Last Castle (2001) (R: "Language and violence" according to the MPAA) A prison uprising melodrama set at a military prison, where a lionized three-star general played by Robert Redford leads a revolt against the overcompensating warden, James Gandolfini. With Mark Ruffalo, Delroy Lindo, Clifton Collins, Jr., Steve Burton, Brian Goodman, Paul Calderon and Frank Military.
Riding in Cars With Boys (2001) (PG-13: "Thematic elements, drug and sexual content" according to the MPAA) An autobiographical tearjerker based on a memoir by Beverly Donofrio, who chroniciled the bittersweet consequences of her teenage pregnancy. Drew Barrymore stars as Beverly, with Steve Zahn as the young chucklehead she initially selects as a boyfriend and spouse. With Brittany Murphy, Adam Garcia, Lorraine Bracco and James Woods.

NOW SHOWING

Bandits (2001) (PG-13: "Some sexual content, language and violence" according to the MPAA) 1/2 *. The epitome of worthless Hollywood escapism at the moment. The romantic triangle plot resembles Ron Shelton's dud about pugs with a girlfriend in common, "Play It to the Bone." Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton are cast as cons with opposite personalities (smirky extrovert and fussbudget introvert, respectively) who pull an impulsive escape from an Oregon prison and then engineer a whimsical set of bank robberies while heading for a serene retirement in Mexico. Along the way they acquire Cate Blanchett, a restless and kooky housewife, as a mutual consort. The movie celebrates a would-be adorable and essentially harmless fantasy of the criminal good life, indistinguishable from career aspirations that never rise above making complacent movies and getting away with it. Director Barry Levinson seems to take a holiday from self-respect while humoring this valentine to losers. Mr. Willis is adorned with his most ridiculous hairpiece to date, and it seems to have a sluggish effect on his reaction time. Mr. Thornton and Miss Blanchett are more diligent and sincere about impersonating precious eccentrics. Ultimately, their friskiness is no more ingratiating than Mr. Willis' laziness.
Corky Romano (2001) (PG-13) A Mafia family farce starring Chris Kattan as the white sheep kid brother of a mobster family. Happily employed as a veterinarian in Florida, he is summoned to infiltrate the FBI as patriach Peter Falk confronts a federal prosecution for racketeering. With Peter Berg and Chris Penn as Corky's brothers, plus Fred Ward, Richard Roundtree and Vinessa Shaw. Not reviewed.
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.
Diamond Men (2001) (No MPAA Rating; Occasional profanity, sexual situations, partial nudity, scenes set in massage parlor) ** 1/2. A pair of mismatched "diamond men," traveling salesmen who lug a precious line of jewels across Pennsylvania, find love and fate on the barren highways. Eddie, played by Robert Forster, is the sleepy-eyed veteran looking to resuscitate his career by training young Bobby, given life by Donnie Wahlberg. The duo click like more buddy movie pairings should, but when they encounter some kindhearted women who toil in a remote massage parlor, the film devolves into a pastiche of movie cliches even this adroit cast cannot overcome. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Don't Say a Word (2001) (R: Systematic apprehension and menace, revolving around the kidnapping of a child; frequent profanity and graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details; occasional sexual allusions) 1/2 *.. The kind of ultra-violent, ultra-grotesque suspense thriller that may be finished indefinitely in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Let's hope so, anyway. Not that the plot alludes specifically to terrorist atrocities, but the setting is New York City, and the villains, a gang of thieving ex-cons who intimidate psychiatrist Michael Douglas into doing their bidding by abducting his little girl, might as well be terrorists. Terminally vicious and ruthless, they enjoy carte blanche during much of the film. Director Gary Fleder tries to pump up almost every sequence with gratuitous menace and sensationalism. With Famke Janssen as the hero's wife, laid up with a broken leg but far more ferocious and effectual when challenging the bad guys. Mr. Fleder gives her two interludes in which to bash the same assailant. Sean Bean is the smug, scurvy ringleader, who will stop at nothing to retrieve a misplaced $10 million gem. You may wonder who's bankrolling the caper, since the crooks have spent the last decade behind bars. With off-putting Brittany Murphy as the mental patient who supposedly knows the whereabouts of the bauble and Oliver Platt as her disgraceful shrink.
Innocence (2000) (No MPAA Rating adult subject movie, with occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse) 1/2 *. A genteel, absurdly titillating meditation on late-onset passion from the Dutch-born Australian filmmaker Paul Cox. A widower with a name that evokes Ingmar Bergman scenarios Andreas Borg succumbs to an irresistible impulse to renew the acquaintance of his college sweetheart, Claire, some 50 years after they drifted apart. Incredibly, she's still receptive, although married to a perfectly harmless bloke. Uh-oh. Could that be part of the problem? Charles Tingwell plays the aging seducer, Julia Blake his long-lost heartthrob and Terry Norris the unlucky spouse. (Inside joke: Miss Blake and Mr. Norris are a real-life married couple.) Recurrent flashbacks to the first sexual encounter between young Andreas and Claire allow Mr. Cox to inject some graphic prurience into what is mostly a kind of tea-time interplay of agonized emotions. It's almost as if someone had decided to parody the great David Lean-Noel Coward tearjeker "Brief Encounter" by imagining the Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard characters in a carnal reunion 50 years later. The silliness is at its most exquisite when Miss Blake is rationalizing her farewells to fidelity. Someone needs to kiss her quick to silence the poor-me sappiness.
Iron Monkey (1993) (PG-13: "Martial arts action and brief sexuality" according to the MPAA; brief scene in which the villain tortures a child) **. Not a new movie, although Miramax would probably be content to have it mistaken for one. A freshly subtitled revamp of a Hong Kong martial arts comedy-adventure spectacle made in the early 1990s, "Iron Monkey" is one of the features directed by Yuen Wo-Ping, the veteran filmmaker who achieved international renown for supervising the gravity-defying stunts in "The Matrix" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." A lively and ingratiating entertainment, "Iron Monkey" would probably be a happy starting place to familiarize yourself with the conventions of the genre, supremely exalted in "Crouching Tiger." Mr. Yuen's film is still wedded to stock characters, genial hokum and acrobatic, frequently slapstick set pieces. The title alludes to a masked marvel of the middle 19th century. He bears striking resemblances to Robin Hood and Zorro. By day a respectable physician, the supervisor of a clinic in a provincial capital of Eastern China, by night he becomes an elusive defender of the weak and scourge of corrupt imperial officials. With Yu Ruan-Guang as the title character, Jean Wang and his lovely and intrepid sidekick, Miss Orchid, and Donnie Yen as a visiting folk hero who joins their crusade after an initial period of misunderstanding. In Chinese with English subtitles.
Joy Ride (2001) (R: Frequent profanity, graphic violence and sexual vulgarity) * 1/2. An ironic title, since accelerating terror is the aim of this chase thriller directed with sometimes misleading skill and sarcasm by John Dahl. The general mercenary idea is to borrow the pretext of Steven Spielberg's vintage TV thriller "Duel" and turn it into a horror franchise. Driving cross-country from the West Coast to New Jersey, a nice college boy (Paul Walker), his former high school sweetheart (Leelee Sobieski) and his jailbird older brother (Steve Zahn) become next-door earwitnesses to murder in a motel, then find themselves stalked by an unseen but menacing trucker, the homicidal and elusive Rusty Nail, who also abducts Miss Sobieski and a classmate, introducing unwelcome prospects of sex crimes. The movie is wantonly calculated to maximize the creeps without ever quite permitting fatalities to eliminate any principal characters, including the unseen fiend.
Liam (2001) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor; fleeting nudity; systematic ridicule of Irish Catholicism, circa the late 1930s) *. Another miserable Irish family chronicle, conspicuously short of the nuance and pathos that distinguished Alan Parker's movie version of "Angela's Ashes." The title alludes to the youngest son of a working class family in Liverpool. Sweetly embodied by Andrew Borrows, he suffers from a stammer and a hellfire Catholic education while approaching First Communion. The father of the family, Ian Hart, becomes a ranting and incendiary fascist after losing his job at a shipyard. The most sadistic irony: his own daughter is victimized when he conspires to firebomb a Jewish home. The movie degenerates swiftly into a prejudicial rant, and the hysterics prove a formidable stumbling block to coherence and human interest. Exclusively at the Cinema Arts and the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.
Max Keeble's Big Move (2001) (PG: "Some bullying and crude humor" according to the MPAA; systematic slapstick vulgarity; fleeting sexual allusions) 1/2 *. Another conspicuous example of a complacent Hollywood genre that merits disgrace and abandonment: the juvenile farce with anarchic and lewd overtones. A coarse attempt to revamp the premise of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" for a younger age group, the movie glorifies the reprisals taken on various absurd tormentors by a new middle school youngster named Max Keeble (Alex D. Linz), who believes that he won't suffer counter-reprisals, since his parents plan to up and move after the first week of school. A strained notion at best, and only functional when characters are being bullied or insulted or when elaborate messes are being celebrated. The entire conception is tantamount to an endless food fight and depends on a public that refuses to gag on gross-out humor.
Mulholland Drive (2001) (R: Sustained ominous and morbid elements; occasional profanity, violence and sexual candor, including a subplot about a lesbian infatuation; fleeting nudity) **. Far from satisfying, not to mention coherent, but undeniably inimitable, this overextended mystery fable about amnesia in Hollywood was intended as the pilot for a new television series by writer-director David Lynch. One of the cast members, Washington-born Justin Theroux, cast as a movie director who probably shouldn't be mistaken for the filmmaker's alter-ego, has suggested a plausible key to unlocking the enigmas: the first two hours or so, which portray the meeting and evolving intimacy of an accident survivor played by Laura Harring and a wide-eyed, aspiring, adventure-prone actress played by Naomi Watts, represent Hollywood romantic fantasy. The last half-hour, in which the actresses suddenly assume different roles, exposes the disillusioning, sinister underside of movie romance and glamor. While no explanation could be airtight, this one will suffice. The problem from the entertainment angle is that the movie grows more diverting as you grow fonder of the ingenuous Miss Watts; when she and Miss Harring, playing lost-in-Hollywood Nancy Drews, get impulsively amorous, many moviegoers might prefer to see David Lynch go right ahead and explore his lesbian side as generously as possible. The consummation also permits him to spring a fabulous bedroom punch line, predicated on Miss Harring's loss of memory. Few sexual teases in movie history have boasted a funnier one-line payoff. The last-reel self-sabotage robs us of Miss Watts' breathless spunkiness and lovability. Going morbid with his fairy tale may satisfy a perverse streak in Mr. Lynch, but it wouldn't be unreasonable for members of the audience to resent it as a nasty trick with scant justification. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
My First Mister (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual vulgarity) 1/2 *. The poor man's variation on "Ghost World." A Southern California teenager played by Leelee Sobieski cultivates a vampirish look and snarls at her twittery mom, Carol Kane. A men's store owner played by Albert Brooks takes pity on the misguided girl when she turns up as a job seeker. Supposedly, his weary patience cures her malcontented outlook, although not before screenwriter Jill Franklyn resorts to shameless and mawkish manipulation, requiring an untimely death and some expedient matchmaking. Miss Franklyn claims the material is semi-autobiographical, scarcely a flattering admission under the circumstances. Directed by Christine Lahti, in the stupefying spirit of the "Chicago Hope" series. With John Goodman, Mary Kay Place, Michael McKean, Lisa Jane Persky and Desmond Harrington. Miss Sobieski is becoming a disconcerting ringer, vocally as well as facially, for Helen Hunt. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
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.
Serendipity (2001) (PG-13: "A scene of sexuality and some language" according to the MPAA; fleeting profanity and sexual candor) * 1/2. Another feckless romantic comedy about would-be enchanting characters who trash their engagements on the eve of wedding dates. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale are the disgraceful triflers in this premature Christmas confection. Seven years after they first met and lost contact, they meet again in Central Park but they're about to marry other consorts, Mr. Cusack in New York and Miss Beckinsale in San Francisco. Meanwhile, a fiancee played by Bridget Moynahan and a fiance played by John Corbett are ditched ignobly somewhere off-screen. The lovelorn central characters aren't remotely swell enough to compensate for their heartless stupidities.
Training Day (2001) (R: "Strong brutal content, pervasive language, drug content and brief nudity" according to the MPAA; systematic unsavory depiction, with frequent profanity and graphic violence; occasional sexual candor and vulgarity) **. An overblown, show-off crime melodrama in which Denzel Washington embraces the most reprehensible role of his career: a flamboyantly corrupt Los Angeles police detective named Alonzo Harris, encountered on the day when he plans a big killing to protect his corrupt fiefdom. It's never quite plausible that Harris needs to implicate a new partner, Ethan Hawke as straight-arrow Jake Hoyt, in his manipulations. Mr. Washington hams it up as a terminal combination of Faustian and Mephistophelian vanities. Mr. Hawke is more or less at the monster's mercy and endures a lot of abuse in the name of tenacious honesty. The introductory scenes are arguably intriguing and compelling, but a pivotal blunder when Alonzo precipitates a gunfight in a black neighborhood for no discernible reason exposes the plot's lunatic tendencies a little prematurely. Of course, a comeuppance awaits Alonzo, but the trek begins to feel interminable and brutally ridiculous by the time he roars his final note of pitiful despotism.
Two Can Play That Game (2001) (R: sexual situations, profanity) ** 1/2. Vivica A. Fox stars as a determined young woman who discovers her boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) cheating and decides to tame him through a 10-day romantic battle plan. Written and directed by D.C. native Mark Brown, the film leans heavily on Miss Fox's charismatic beauty and a buoyant energy generated by the cast and a juicy soundtrack. It's romantic heart, alas, beats a bit more slowly than many would like. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Under the Sun (2000) (No MPAA Rating:adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and sexual candor; an interlude of simulated intercourse with fleeting nudity; an oblique documentary glimps of equine intercourse) ***. Another quality import, directed by Colin Nutley, an Englishman who has become a successful exile to the Swedish film industry. The leading lady, Helena Bergstrom, is also his wife. In this evocative and appealing pastoral romance, she embodies the romantic salvation of a lonely, hulking, illiterate and sexually inexperienced farmer who places a desperate ad for a housekeeper. Rolf Lassgard emerges as a formidable acting instrument and sentimental presence as the hero. There's no one on the English-speaking screen who combines a comparable bulk with such nuanced command of yearning and frustration. Mr. Lassgard, who bears a certain facial resemblance to the French star Jean Gabin, looks as strong as an ox but displays enviable delicacy and subtlety when observed in moments of emotional intimacy and intensity. The plot outline, derived from an H.E. Bates story published in the 1930s, also recalls the vintage Sidney Howard play "They Knew What They Wanted," transformed by Frank Loesser into the melodious "The Most Happy Fella." Miss Bergstrom's arrival makes Mr. Lassgard a most happy fella, and their made-in-heaven mismatch is difficult to resist, even though Mr. Nutley neglects to clarify the woman's side of the story. Much of the amusing 1950s backdrop is cleverly embodied in Johan Widerberg (son of the once prominent Swedish director Bo Widerberg) as an opportunistic hired hand who begins to resent Miss Bergstrom as an interloper. Nominated for the 2000 Academy Award as best foreign language film and a very worthy runner-up to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." In Swedish with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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