- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

OPENING
Adventures of Felix (2000) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) A picaresque French import about a young man's hitchhiking odyssey from Dieppe to Marseilles. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
Donnie Darko (2001) (R) A metaphysical fantasy about the exploits of a young man who appears to survive calamity miraculously on a particular night in 1988. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Patrick Swayze and Noah Wyle. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
K-Pax (2001) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and graphic violence in a sometimes supernatural context) *1/2. An inspirational groaner in which Kevin Spacey is meant to tickle the fancy and perhaps the tear ducts as a wandering delusional who claims to be a bemused observer from a distant planet, K-Pax. Calling himself Prot, presumably short for Protean, this alternately smug and suffering redeemer seems to appear out of nowhere in a beam of light at Grand Central Station. Since he resembles a lost soul, police pick him up and entrust him to a psychiatric hospital. In that environment Prot inevitably recalls McMurphy of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." He fences with shrink Jeff Bridges in metaphysical conversations and arouses hope in the other patients, who come to regard K-Pax as a spiritual home. Meanwhile, director Iain Softley pretends to reserve judgment on the ho-hum "Is Prot a guy or an alien?" question, despite drenching his mystery man in Christ symbolism at every opportunity. The coyness of it all may seem maddening if you aren't in a receptive mood.
Life As a House (2001) (R) An inspirational domestic melodrama about a divorced, burnt-out architect (Kevin Kline), who restores his battered morale while completing a project he has postponed for years: the building of a seaside house. With Kristin Scott Thomas as his ex-wife and Hayden Christensen as his teen-age son, plus Mary Steenburgen, Scott Bakula, Jamey Sheridan, Sam Robards, Jena Malone and John Pankow.
On the Line (2001) (PG) A commuter romantic comedy set in Chicago and designed to showcase 'N Sync sidekicks Lance Bass and Joey Fatone. Mr. Bass plays the smitten hero, Kevin, who falls for a young woman named Abby (Emmanuelle Chriqui) while riding the city's elevated train. However, he forgets to ask her name or phone number during the initial encounter. At the suggestion of best pal Rod (Mr. Fatone), a massive search campaign is launched to find the dreamgirl. The cast also includes Dave Foley, Jerry Stiller and the Reverend Al Green.
13 Ghosts (2001) (R: "Horror violence/gore, sensuality and language" according to the MPAA) A remake of the gimmicky, facetious William Castle horror thriller of 1960, a haunted house yarn that involved a peekaboo optical process that supposedly permitted audiences to see the spooks. State of the art special effects will presumably suffice 40 years later. Tony Shalhoub and his two children, Shannon Elizabeth and Alec Roberts, recently stricken by a fire that cost their home and the mother of the family, inherit an awesome residence, a glass-and-steel colossus built by an eccentric relative. They move in and discover the joint is haunted. It doesn't especially help to consult clairvoyants Matthew Lillard and Embeth Davidtz, who have more affinities with the ghosts than the humans.
Together (2000) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse; an episode involving a young woman with perverse designs on an adolescent boy) ***. A witty and engaging Swedish social comedy about the inhabitants of a Stockholm commune in the middle 1970s, their personal problems and how they adjust to one another. Writer-director Lukas Moodysson's appreciation for the absurdities of domesticated radicalism also encompasses a large streak of benevolence. He may be generous to a fault, since the eventual reconciliations look a bit hasty and trite. In Swedish with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.
Va savoir (2000) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity) *1/2. A perilously overextended evening of drawing room comedy under the supervision of the venerable New Wave filmmaker survivor Jacques Rivette, who examines the romantic obsessions that roil a troupe of Italian actors. The movie looks crisp and attractive. Mr. Rivette is comfortable with a tone of easygoing naturalism that might flatter a more purposeful or incisive trifle. It's a bit unreasonable to wait 150 minutes for this trifle to get a handle on charm and insouciance. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Cinema Arts and Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.
Waking Life (2001) (R: Frequent profanity and occasional graphic violence, expressed in a somewhat abstract style of animation and within a ruminative, episodic framework) ****. A wonderfully disarming new movie from Richard Linklater, the Austin, Texas, independent who first made a distinctive impression with "Slacker" and "Dazed and Confused." He may have contrived a breakthrough here, making philosophical speculation an attractive form of popular entertainment. The core footage, shot on video in 1999, consists of ruminative episodes in which a wandering young protagonist played by Wiley Wiggins encounters various people with things on their minds, ranging from the most benign and metaphysical to the most hateful and suicidal. The cumulative effect is a cross-section of brief encounters with contrasting philosophies. The timely source of gratification: Mr. Linklater's survey echoes the spiritual needs of many fellow Americans in the aftermath of Sept. 11. It actually speaks to the moment more than any other film in release. Computer animator Bob Sabiston supervises an elaborate pictorial camouflage that illustrates the conversations in a kind of water-color format. As a result, the conversations acquire a fluid illustrative dimension, almost always representative but often playful about stylizing faces, bodies and backgrounds. Since the protagonist may be in a dream state much of the time, the sense of free-floating illustration is not inappropriate to the content. The participants include Mr. Linklater, fellow movie director Steven Soderbergh, numerous non-pros and actors Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Nicky Katt and Adam Goldberg.
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.
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 decrepit building in hopes of opening a nightclub. With Snoop Dogg, Pam Grier, Michael T. Weiss, Clifton Powell and Ricky Harris. Not reviewed.
Corky Romano (2001) (PG-13: "Drug and sex-related humor and language," according to the MPAA; occasional profanity and systematic slapstick vulgarity) 1/2*. Never close to becoming a corker of a screwball farce. "Saturday Night Live" zany Chris Kattan plays an effusive veterinarian, Corky Romano, who is also the white sheep kid brother in a Mafia family. Patriarch Peter Falk needs to beat a federal racketeering indictment. Absurdly, Corky is recruited to infiltrate the FBI and steal evidence. Hollywood's basic loyalties are such that this mission is considered virtuous as well as hilarious. Sight gags play on flatulence.
From Hell (2001) (R: "Strong violence/gore, sensuality, language and drug content" according to the MPAA; sustained sinister atmosphere with occasional graphic violence and gruesome illustrative details; frequent allusions to prostitution, circa 1888; fleeting nudity and an interlude of simulated intercourse; depictions of opium use) *1/2. An avidly faithful adaptation of an elaborate "graphic novel" about the Jack the Ripper murder spree, which terrorized the East End of London for a few months in 1888 and galvanized the tabloid press of the period into sensational coverage. "From Hell" is in the nature of a Gothic Victorian art movie about loathsome crimes. Decor-proud and atmosphere-proud, it consistently overrates portentous, shadowy settings at the expense of compelling or compassionate human interest. The scenario begins and ends in an opium den, the favorite haunt of Johnny Depp as overmatched Scotland Yard sleuth Fred Abberline, so it becomes easy to doubt the authenticity of anything depicted. The whole movie might be his narcotic hallucinations.
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, Mr. Grisman's daughter, compiled this chronicle of a 25-year musical and personal association. Not reviewed.
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 as 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.
The Last Castle (2001) (R: "Language and violence," according to the MPAA; frequent profanity and occasional graphic violence in the setting of a military prison) *1/2. Possibly the last gasp for a certain school of convulsive, rabblerousing lunacy among Hollywood polemicists who would prefer to see the American military torn by internal conflict. The movie is vividly directed from moment to moment and boasts an impressive prop, the former Tennessee State penitentiary, built in 1898 and closed in 1992. A prison uprising melodrama with delusions of grandeur, the film deifies a three-star general played by Robert Redford, wrongly court-martialed and sentenced to a military maximum-security prison. He is supposedly provoked to lead a revolt against the initially deferential, overcompensating warden, James Gandolfini, a colonel who behaves more like a curator than a jailer until obliged to act the Big Meanie. The warden seems a more commanding and perversely sympathetic figure than Mr. Redford, whose objectives are never coherent or defensible. If anything, the general seems to foment insurrection out of snobbery and at the expense of several prisoners who scarcely need or deserve extra misery. Ultimately, the filmmakers are shameless enough to wrap their threadbare hero in the flag, although his behavior suggests a suicidal pattern of defiance and sheer vanity.
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.
Riding in Cars With Boys (2001) (PG-13: "Thematic elements, drug and sexual content" according to the MPAA; systematic depiction of domestic instability and irresponsibility, especially the behavior of a premature and neglectful mother; occasional sexual candor and vulgarity; episodes about drug addiction and trafficking) **. A rambling and sometimes diverting but ultimately broken-down 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 chucklehead she unwisely selects as a boyfriend and spouse. The star does a lot of groping for versatility and impact. She seems far less of a natural than Mr. Zahn, cast to perfection as an amiable no-account, and the juvenile actor Cody Arens, wonderful as their son at the age of 5 or 6. The ambiguous balance needed to prevent her from decisively alienating an audience seems to have eluded director Penny Marshall Marshall and her colleagues.
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 meet at Bloomingdale's and lose track of each other at the Waldorf Astoria, they cross paths again. 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.
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 glimpse 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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