- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

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.
Haiku Tunnel (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including brief interludes of simulated intercourse) No stars. A farcical dud from the fraternal team of Josh and Jacob Kornbluth, who share writing and directing credits. They would have been wiser to entrust the potentially amusing premise to more experienced and judicious hands. Cast as his own alter ego, Josh Kornbluth gets the show off to a premature stop by addressing the camera directly. A phenomenally unappealing image of the portly middle-aged slacker, he insists on narrating an account of his mishaps as a temp at a San Francisco legal firm, where a prompt offer to go permanent brings out all his self-destructive tendencies. The would-be merciful irony: co-workers and management conspire to save him from calamity. A genuinely deft and winning performer might have established enough rapport to put this notion across. Mr. Kornbluth never comes close. When he aggravates the situation by acting exceptionally crazed or clownish, the embarrassment is profound; one contemplates unmitigated ineptitude and failure.
Hearts in Atlantis (PG-13: "Violence and thematic elements" according to the MPAA) A would-be inspirational mystery melodrama derived from a Stephen King story and transposed by director Scott Hicks and screenwriter William Goldman. A photographer played by David Morse is moved to recall a pivotal summer 40 years in the past when he was an impressionable lad of 11 and befriended his widowed mother's new lodger, Anthony Hopkins as a near-blind seer called Ted Brautigan, pursued by a menacing past. With Hope Davis as the mother and Anton Yelchin as the juvenile version of the narrator. His closest chums are played by Mika Boorem and Will Rothhaar.
Our Lady of the Assassins (2001) (R) A topical melodrama from Barbet Schroeder about a doom-laden Colombian writer who returns to his birthplace, the cocaine capital Medellin, and finds himself drawn into criminal peril. Derived from a semi-autobiographical novel by Fernando Vallejo, who collaborated on the screenplay. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
Zoolander (2001) (PG-13: "For sexual content and drug references" according to the MPAA) An attempt at tailor-made farce from Ben Stiller, elaborating on a character he created five years ago for the "VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards," a self-absorbed male model named Derek Zoolander. Failure to win a fourth straight title as Male Model of the Year sends Derek into a tailspin. Initially seeking solace from dad Jon Voight, a coal miner, he returns to the fashion world and discovers a friend in principal rival Hansel (Owen Wilson) and a set of mind-controlling villains in designers Mugatu and Katinka (Will Ferrell and Milla Jovovich). Mr. Stiller's spouse, Christine Taylor, plays a savvy Time magazine journalist who helps extricate Derek from danger. Directed by Mr. Stiller from a screenplay by Drake Sather, John Hamburg and himself. The cast includes three other Stillers: sister Amy and parents Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller.

The Blue Angel (1930) (No MPAA Rating made decades before the advent of the rating system; adult subject matter, with elements of sexual candor and fleeting violence) ***-1/2. A revival of the sardonic classic about sexual obsession and degradation that launched talking pictures in Germany and catapulted Marlene Dietrich to international stardom. A newly restored and subtitled print promises an immense improvement in pictorial quality for moviegoers who have had to gaze at unsightly dupes more often than not. Based on a novel by Heinrich Mann, the project reunited director Josef von Sternberg with the prestigious German actor Emil Jannings. "The Blue Angel" put the formidable and skillful Jannings at a disadvantage by unveiling Dietrich as a tawdry, bemused leading lady, the cabaret singer Lola-Lola. A provocative attraction at a nightclub called The Blue Angel, she enthralls Jannings as the prudish, sexually ignorant schoolteacher, Immanuel Rath, who initially invades her milieu to search for misbehaving students. Disgraced professionally, Rath becomes an increasingly pathetic backstage conquest and hanger-on. Exclusively at the American Film Institute Theater through Monday.
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 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.
Funny Girl (1968) (G: Fleeting and adroit sexual innuendo) ***-1/2. Sony- Columbia made a happy decision to revive this delightful movie version of the Broadway musical, a memorably flattering and satisfying movie debut showcase for Barbara Streisand, in a handful of engagements before the Sept. 11 catastrophe. It now serves as a better tribute to New York determination and sentiment than any new film on the horizon. The production number that precedes the intermission, "Don't Rain on My Parade," may prove especially rousing and uplifting in the current circumstances. This revival restores the original "roadshow" presentation, which included an overture, intermission and exit music. The title refers to Fanny Brice, who became a great comic star of the Ziegfeld Follies in the 1920s. Miss Streisand had originated the role on Broadway and disarmed skeptics who doubted her cinematic potential. The plot celebrates Fanny's initial professional success and her romance with a debonair gambler, Nicky Arnstein, played by Omar Sharif. Their doomed marriage becomes the melancholy preoccupation in the second act, but patience is richly rewarded by the finale: Miss Streisand's rendition of the great torch song, "My Man," is sublime. Directed by William Wyler from a screenplay by Isobel Lennart, with musical numbers staged by Herbert Ross. In a rare tie, the 1968 Academy Award for best actress went to Miss Streisand for "Funny Girl" and to Katharine Hepburn for "The Lion in Winter." A limited engagement, exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Uptown.
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.
Glitter (2001) (PG-13: "Some sexuality, language and brief violence" according to the MPAA; also fleeting allusions to drug use) *. A lackluster show business saga about the rise and woes of a pop singer played by Mariah Carey, not exactly a super-charged instrument of glamorous pathos. The movie is preoccupied with show business trivia to an extent that is bound to make it look even more trifling in the wake of authentic and large-scale suffering. Called Billie Frank, the heroine is the offspring of an alcoholic jazz singer (Valerie Pettiford, who vanishes after the prologue but is kept in reserve for a feebly upbeat conclusion). Mama must surrender custody of her precocious little songbird after nearly incincerating herself and Billie. Upon reaching the age of consent in the early 1980s Billie glides to stardom, after gyrating at disco clubs and backing up weak-voiced lookers. Unfortunately, Miss Carey's lack of acting prowess is a great source of disillusion. The cast includes Max Beesley as Billie's beau, and Da Brat and pepperpot Tia Texada as her best pals. Directed by Vondie Curtis Hall from a woefully inadequate screenplay by Kate Lanier.
Happy Accidents (2001) (R: profanity) **. Brad Anderson, who directed the indie charmer "Next Stop Wonderland," returns with a sour puree of science fiction and modern romance. Marisa Tomei stars as Ruby, a woman addicted to abusive relationships, who finally finds a would-be suitor in Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio). Too bad he isn't what he appears to be, or, more precisely, may not be from the time period from which he appears. Their romance will cause viewers with the slightest notion of psychotherapy to wince repeatedly while the sci-fi elements play out in sluggish fashion. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Hardball (2001) (PG-13: profanity, some violence) Keanu Reeves stars as a down on his luck gambler who pays off his debts by helping coach an inner-city baseball team. The bad news squad gives Mr. Reeves' selfish character a dollop of humanity while the youngsters learn they have more control of their lives than they ever thought. Not reviewed.
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.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) (PG: violence) **-1/2. The British comic troupe's class spin on medieval lore gets a much-needed technical facelift. The comedy, which boasts Python regulars John Cleese, Michael Palin and company, remains unchanged. It's a goofy hodgepodge of tasteless jokes and immensely silly routines. Killer rabbit, indeed. Some bits, like the traveling band of corpse collectors, still resonant with oft-putting humor. Others, like the knights who say "Nee!" haven't aged as well. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
The Musketeer (2001) (PG-13 (some sexual material and intense action sequences) **. Alexandre Dumas's classic yarn gets a Chinese martial arts spin courtesy of stunt coordinator Xin-Xin Xiong, a Hong Kong action coordinator making his Hollywood debut. The action scenes are fun, frequent and ridiculous; the acting is only ridiculous. Reviewed by Gabriella Boston.
The Mystery of Picasso (1956) (No MPAA Rating an art documentary, made years before the advent of the rating system) ***. A rare and privileged lighthearted interlude in the career of the French director Henri-Georges Clouzot, best known for orchestrating dread and malice in "The Wages of Fear" and "Diabolique." Pablo Picasso, then 74, agreed to participate in an ingenious survey of the artist at work, sketching numerous false starts and several completed compositions while the camera was positioned behind a transparent "canvas," allowing an excellent reverse angle perspective. Time-lapse photography also facilitated playful erasures or accelerations when subject and filmmaker thought it amusing or revealing. To accommodate a panoramic composition, Picasso requests a wider canvas and Clouzot responds with a CinemaScope frame. Since it's believed that the paintings created for the movie were destroyed at some point, it's possible that only "Mystery" itself preserves these particular work sessions with a great artist. In French with English subtitles. Through Sunday only at the American Film Institute Theater.
O (2001) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor, graphic violence and depictions of drug use, involving teenage characters; occasional racial epithets; fleeting nudity and interludes of intercourse) *-1/2. A miscalculated update of "Othello," finally released after two years on the Miramax shelf. The Columbine High School killings supposedly prompted the first postponement, and there are random similarities that argue for discretion. Palmetto Grove, an exclusive prep school in Charleston, S.C., has recruited basketball star Odin James (Mekhi Phifer, looking seriously undersized and overaged), its first black student. His success and popularity arouse the malice of Josh Hartnett's Hugo Goulding, a varsity starter and the taken-for-granted son of hoops coach Duke Goulding, a ranting basket case as embodied by a hammy Martin Sheen. Julia Stiles, our busiest young Shakespearean, draws the Desdemona role: Desi Brable, daughter of the dean, a thankless role for John Heard. The idiomatic, racially self-conscious and sexually explicit nature of the updating fails to preserve or enhance the Shakespearean strong points. If anything, giving Hugo so many "issues" with his dad diminishes Iago by turning him into a crazy mixed-up teen wretch at the mercy of modern cliches.
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.
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.
Rock Star (2001) (R: Sexual content, profanity and drug use) **-1/2. Erstwhile rapper Mark Wahlberg dons the heavy metal hair of a garage band dreamer who gets the chance to replace his idol in the metal band Steel Dragon. Inspired by the true story behind Judas Priest's new singer, Ripper Owens, who toiled in a Priest cover band before being discovered. Mr. Wahlberg gives soul to his character's slight dreams, and co-star Jennifer Aniston of "Friends" provides able support under an unflattering '80s 'do. Real rockers Jeff Pilson (Dokken) and Brian Vander Ark (Verve Pipe) contribute to the authentic feel generated by director Stephen Herek. Too bad the director loses faith in his material two-thirds into the film. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
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 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 Charlotte 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. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Foundry.

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