- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

OPENING
Changing Lanes (2002) (R) A suspense melodrama about two strangers who engage in a vendetta after a fleeting rush-hour encounter on FDR Drive in New York City, where their cars get banged up in a fender bender. The damage would appear to be superficial, but both drivers have reasons to be in a hurry. Ben Affleck is an ambitious young corporate attorney named Gavin Banek and Samuel L. Jackson plays middle-aged insurance adjustor named Doyle Gipson. The mutual inconvenience caused by the accident degenerates into a war of reprisals, initiated by the younger man and aimed at ruining livelihoods and reputations.
Frailty (2002) (R: Systematic ominous atmosphere and recurrent graphic violence, implicating two juvenile characters as witnesses and accomplices; fleeting profanity; thematic allusions to paternal insanity and religious fanaticism) … Bill Paxton makes an effective directing debut while also playing a deranged widower from a small Texas town. He leaves a heritage of murder for his two young sons, played by Matt O'Leary and Luke Askew. A treacherous framing sequence introduces Matthew McConaughey as the narrator, the grown embodiment of Mr. O'Leary's conscience-stricken eldest son. It appears that this character intends to make a clean breast of things to FBI agent Powers Boothe on a dark and stormy night. While the movie pretends to be observing an appalling case history with sincere apprehension, it accumulates undeniable morbid fascination. Ultimately, the movie's loyalties belong with predators rather than victims or protectors.
Human Nature (2002) (R: Systematic sexual candor and satire; occasional profanity and nudity; interludes of simulated intercourse; fleeting violence) …. A new original screenplay from Charlie Kaufman, who made an exceptionally wacky and intuitive first impression with "Being John Malkovich." A transplanted French director, Michel Gondry, graduating from commercials and music videos, proves a clever interpreter of the Kaufman sense of humor, which again depends on mocking the lovelorn and opportunistic with the aid of rotating sex triangles. Patricia Arquette is Lila, whose hormones produce an excess of body hair. She has overcompensated by living in the wild and writing about nature. She forms a wrongheaded romantic match with the absurdly overcivilized Nathan, played by Tim Robbins, a behaviorist devoted to teaching lab mice table manners. Some amusing trick shots demonstrate this specialty. Nathan has a flirtatious lab assistant, Miranda Otto as Gabrielle, who purports to be French and resents Lila keenly. Nathan and Lila capture a full-size lab specimen in Ryan Ifans as Puff, a human raised as an ape by his lunatic dad. Puff becomes a new civilizing project while domiciled at the lab, where his animal instincts are never quite submerged.Quite nutty and beguiling, the movie sustains an admirable balance between ridicule of the pseudo-savage and the pseudo-genteel. It could also be a star-making vehicle for Mr. Ifans, whose lecherous Puff is often hilarious.
The Other Side of Heaven (PG: Fleeting violence; allusions to prostitution) ..1/2. Perhaps an unprecedented subject for Hollywood: a scenic and sentimental idyll about a young Mormon missionary who spends three years on a South Pacific island in the 1950s, weathering obstacles from his own inexperience to a devastating hurricane. Portrayed by the believably awkward yet heroically sincere Christopher Gorham, the hero seeks converts, preaches the gospel and grows profoundly attached to his new surroundings. Not that they preclude a happy reunion with a college sweetheart (Anne Hathaway). The screenplay derives from the memoirs of John Groberg, now an elder in the Mormon Church. Doctrine itself is subordinated to bonds of affection between the newcomer and his Tongan flock, portrayed by an assortment of Maori, Samoan or Tongan performers.The movie's good-hearted tendencies protect many of its weaknesses.
Pauline and Paulette (2001) (PG) A Belgian domestic tearjerker about two younger sisters who must resolve the care-taking responsibilities for an older, mentally retarded sister, who had been residing with yet another older sister, now deceased. In Flemish with English subtitles.
The Sweetest Thing (2002) (R: "Strong sexual content and language" according to the MPAA) A romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz as a young woman whose independence and skepticism are transformed by a sudden infatuation with Thomas Jane. Thoroughly smitten, she pursues him from Los Angeles to San Francisco after a single meeting, accompanied by best friend Christina Applegate.

NOW SHOWING
A Beautiful Mind (2001) (PG-13: Thematic material dealing with mental derangement; occasional profanity, sexual allusions and graphic violence) ***Ron Howard's latest movie is skillful and touching, albeit heavily fictionalized. An adaptation of the recent biography of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., it puts Russell Crowe in the lead role. A mental breakdown in 1959, while Mr. Nash was on the faculty of MIT, led to confinement and a series of insulin shock treatments. A gradual but remarkable recovery culminated in his resumption of teaching and study at Princeton. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in economics in 1994. Mr. Crowe never seems entirely comfortable with the West Virginia origins of his character. Nevertheless, the ordeal and recovery experienced by his character are absorbing. Academy Awards for best movie, direction, screenplay and supporting actress (Jennifer Connelly as the hero's steadfast wife).
Big Trouble (2002) (PG-13: Frequent profanity; occasional comic and sexual vulgarity; occasional graphic violence in a facetious vein) *-1/2. An ensemble farce, derived from Dave Barry's first comic novel, about several sets of characters who keep crossing paths as a result of a bungled mob assassination and a wayward nuclear device smuggled into Miami from the porous Soviet arsenal. At its most entertaining the movie serves as a showcase for admirable teamwork, notably Dennis Farina and Jack Kehler as the hit men from New Jersey, assigned to liquidate a chiseling bagman played by Stanley Tucci. Arriving a bit later, Dwight "Heavy D" Myers and Omar Epps are also impressive as super-confident feds in pursuit of the fugitive nuke.
Blade II (2002) (R: Systematic graphic violence emphasizing sword duels and vampire adversaries, with an abundance of gruesome illustrative details; frequent profanity and occasional sexual allusions, invariably in a morbid or loathsome context; fleeting drug allusions) *. A faithfully stupefying sequel to the 1998 horror thriller, derived from a Marvel Comics prototype and starring Wesley Snipes as an avenging, leather-clad superhero of part-vampire heritage who devotes himself to total eradication of the unregenerate predators.
Clockstoppers (2002) (PG: "Action violence and mild language" according to the MPAA) A science-fiction suspense melodrama about a high-school student, Zak Gibbs, played by Jesse Bradford, who finds one of the discarded inventions of his scientist father (Robin Thomas) and discovers that it's magically operable: a wristwatch predicated on "hypertime," which allows the wearer to manuever in an accelerated dimension of time. Not reviewed.
E.T. The Extraterrestrial: The 20th Anniversary (1982) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity; ominous episodes) ****. A self-explanatory title, heralding the augmented reissue of Steven Spielberg's endearing science-fiction comedy-fantasy-suspense thriller. Mr. Spielberg has restored a handful of episodes trimmed from the original release in June of 1982. The soundtrack has been refurbished with a digital transfer, and special effects that seemed wanting in some fashion have been touched up with digital optics. Some details have been deliberately cut, notably shots of firearms in the hands of police officials involved in the climactic, always debatable pursuits of E.T. and his juvenile pals. The film won four Oscars, including best score by John Williams and best visual effects by Carlo Rambaldi, Dennis Muren and Kenneth Smith.
Death to Smoochy (2002) (R: Frequent, vociferous profanity; systematic comic vulgarity; occasional graphic violence and sexual candor; fleeting drug allusions) 1/2*. An excruciating and hysteric new satire about the depravities of pop culture. "Smoochy'' might have been made in order to appease Robin Williams' appetite to bellow obscenities into a movie soundtrack. He's cast as a show-biz disgrace called Randolph Smiley, bounced from a top-rated kiddie program when his extortionist tendencies are exposed. Furious that a sweetnatured replacement, Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), has become just as popular and saved his old show, while impersonating a fuchsia rhino called Smoochy, the seething Smiley takes reprisals. Nothing has an ounce of credibility.,
Festival in Cannes (2001) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and sexual candor) . On the eve of the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, writer-director Henry Jaglom uses the backdrop of the 1999 festival ineffectively while doodling with a romantic comedy of show business deal-making. The plot revolves around a script being promoted by one former movie glamor girl, Greta Scacchi, who aspires to direct and hopes to persuade a glamor girl of an earlier generation, Anouk Aimee, to play the protagonist. Miss Scacchi's pitch couldn't be more inept, and Miss Aimee looks supremely bored while listening. Neverthess, Mr. Jaglom insists that it must be a gem and that the gals are darlings to want to collaborate. Miss Aimee mostly gathers dust while reuniting with Maximilian Schell as a philandering spouse. Miss Scacchi is matched with an American producer played by Ron Silver. Two other negligible infatuations allow Mr. Jaglom to neglect anything that resembles adequate plot development. It's incredible how stagnant the material remains and how little the Riviera helps to provide scenic distraction. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
High Crimes (2002) (PG-13: An arguably lenient rating; recurrent graphic violence and occasional profanity; sexual allusions, including one episode that emphasizes prostitution; allusions to alcoholism and wartime atrocities) 1/2*. A low crime of the melodramatic sort: yet another mystery thriller that dotes rashly on Ashley Judd, alternately obtuse and self-righteous, beamish and bereft, bossy and cringing as a posh San Francisco criminal attorney struggling to defend her spouse. Played by the chronically suspicious and zestless Jim Caviezel, he could be indefensible; this mate turns out to be an impostor. The Marines want to try him for an atrocity in El Salvador in 1988, when he was a commando with a different name. Morgan Freeman has a thankless role as her mentor in this case.th The movie reflects the pre-September 11 Hollywood mindset about people in uniform. It caricatures lots of hostile Marines who appear to be ganging up on the crusading heroine. Nevertheless, the filmmakers are also preparing to pull the rug out from under her.
Ice Age (2002) (PG: Occasional ominous episodes and fleeting comic vulgarity, but it could have been rated G with a clear conscience) ***-1/2. Pixar may have a worthy new rival in the East Coast animation studio Blue Sky, which makes a clever and winning debut with this survival saga about a trio of critters who protect an orphaned toddler while keeping slightly in advance of glaciation in North America about 20,000 years ago.The godfathers are a pensive woolly mammoth dubbed by Ray Romano, a fearful sloth entrusted to John Leguizamo and a possibly treacherous saber-toothed tiger voiced by Denis Leary. The movie achieves a distinctive look while also excelling at the blend of slapstick ingenuity and solid characterization that have distinguished the Pixar features.
Iris (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including interludes of nudity) **-1/2 An intriguing but structurally awkward biographical drama about the courtship and marriage of the late English novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband, John Bayley, a scholar and professor of English at Oxford University. The screenplay attempts to alternate somewhat feverish but hopeful courtship episodes in the 1950s (with Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville as the characters), and impressions of the elderly couple in the last half of the 1990s (with Judi Dench and Oscar winner Jim Broadbent in the roles). The dramatic emphasis is far steadier in the later years, which accentuate marital devotion and Miss Murdoch's decline when stricken with Alzheimer's disease. Academy Award nominations for Miss Dench, Mr. Broadbent and Miss Winslet. As the odd man out, Mr. Bonneville may win even more esteem, since his impersonation of the shy young Bayley is very distinctive.
Italian For Beginners (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including brief simulations of intercourse; fleeting violence) **. An underbudgeted and amateurish but agreeably wistful Danish romantic comedy. Writer-director Lone Scherfig presumes to bring comfort to six lovelorn souls encountered within walking distance of each other in Copenhagen. Miss Scherfig's matchmaking bent is curiously interwoven with a morbidly expedient tendency to snuff certain characters. Her pictorial style accentuates the stuffy rather than the sensuous, and the movie conveys scant sense of Copenhagen as a locale. However, she does find the resources for a scenic finale, an excursion to Venice in the winter. In Danish and Italian with English subtitles.
Kissing Jessica Stein (2002) (R: Systematic sexual candor in a farcical context; occasional profanity; plot revolving around a lesbian love affair) **. A fitfully amusing but shamelessly opportunistic sex farce. The co-authors, Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen, are also the co-stars, expanding on a theater workshop piece that was titled "Lipshtick." Miss Westfeldt is the ingenuous and somewhat pretentious Jessica, employed as an editor at a Manhattan weekly. Miss Juergensen plays the vastly more experienced, avowedly bisexual Helen Cooper, a confirmed bohemian who works at an art gallery. Supposedly frustrated to desperation, they meet through a women-seeking-women personals column in Jessica's publication and gradually consummate an affair. With a strong supporting performance by Tovah Feldshuh as Jessica's lovably intrusive mother. Exclusively at the General Cinema Mazza Gallerie.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere in a fanciful medieval setting; several intense chases and battle sequences involving monstrous menaces, punctuated by gruesome illustrative details) ****. This faithfully rousing digest of the first installment in J.R.R. Tolkien's "Ring" trilogy a quest saga set in a Celtic domain called Middle Earth offers three breathtaking hours of peril and combat. The cycle begun by director Peter Jackson is destined to be a landmark in cinematic fantasy and adventure. "Fellowship" reawakens the sort of excitement that only an accomplished adventure movie can generate. Thirteen Oscar nominations and four awards, including cinematography and musical score.
Monsoon Wedding (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; occasional episodes about family conflict and disillusion, including a case of child molestation) ***-1/2. Director Mira Nair and another Indian-born transplant to the United States, screenwriter Sabrina Dhawan, join the ongoing parade of romantic comedies about weddings with this infectiously entertaining and ultimately jubilant impression of a large Punjabi family in New Delhi as it assembles and reunites to celebrate an arranged union between a bride who resides in Delhi and a groom from Houston.Some dialogue in Punjabi and Hindi with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
The Monster's Ball (2001) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor, including an episode of simulated intercourse; occasional nudity and racial epithets) * A preposterous fable of interracial redemption that may become a cult hit through the power of prurience: There's an unusually explicit and prolonged sex scene between Oscar winner Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton, cast as potentially lost souls from the same small town in Louisiana. Mr. Thornton is the grim middle link in a family heritage of security work at a nearby prison. His senile, racist dad Peter Boyle worked there. His son Heath Ledger works there and disgraces himself by breaking down during the preparations for an execution. The condemned man, played by Sean Combs, is the conjugal despair of Miss Berry, left as sole support of an obese son played by Coronji Calhoun. It's possible that director Marc Forster and screenwriters Milo Addica and Will Rokos talked themselves into the delusion that they were inspirational healers, brokering an affair between a hero and heroine who will save each other by falling passionately in love. What their love story actually demonstrates is that eliminating dead wood in the family will make it easier for a frustrated man and woman to start over.
National Lampoon's Van Wilder (2002) (R: Frequent profanity and systematic slapstick and sexual vulgarity; fleeting nudity and allusions to drug use) 1/2*. The sorriest of the recent cycle of farces that pretend to revel in campus hedonism, contrived to glorify a smug operator called Van Wilder. A notorious party animal at apocryphal Coolidge College for seven years, Van must wriggle his way out of belated disciplinary action. The phenomenally uncharismatic Ryan Reynolds fails to validate Van as a seductive rascal. The actors cast as his flunkey and nemesis are far more entertaining.
Panic Room (2002) (R: Frequent profanity and graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details; episodes in which physical violence and a diabetic coma threaten an adolescent girl) *-1/2. A disappointing suspense thriller contrived to isolate freshly enriched divorcee Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart as her young daughter in the burglar-proof chamber of their newly occupied Manhattan brownstone. Alerted to the presence of a trio of thieves on a dark and stormy night, mother and daughter lock themselves into the sanctuary of the "panic room." The intruders (Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam and Jared Leto) remain grimly determined to break in, because the loot they seek is concealed in the panic room. The filmmakers need exaggerated brutality to sustain the plot.
Promises (2001) (No MPAA Rating documentary subject matter, with frequent allusions to enmity between Israelis and Palestinians; recollections of violent deaths suffered by friends of principal subjects) **. A documentary feature consisting of interviews with Israeli and Palestinian children between 9 and 13, shot over the course of three years, beginning in 1997, by Justine Shapiro and B.Z. Goldberg. Mr. Goldberg, an Israeli-American TV journalist, is the kindly on-camera mediator, canvassing opinions from rival sides in and around Jersusalem. Eventually, he arranges a get-together, hosted by a Palestinian family and attended by a set of Israeli twins, at a refugee camp outside Jerusalem. Well-meaning but inconclusive, the movie may or may not provide some solace to spectators as another crisis looms in the Middle East. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.
The Rookie (2002) (G) ***. The most satisfying fable about a ballplayer's redemptive comeback since "The Natural" and a more plausible yarn into the bargain, since it derives from the authentic case of Jim Morris, a washed-up lefthander who suddenly experienced a miraculous resurrection of arm speed in his late 30s and pitched two seasons in the major leagues after being signed by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Dennis Quaid, conveniently left-handed, is cast as the remarkable Morris, who was teaching chemistry and coaching baseball in a small Texas town called Big Lake when circumstances conspired to lead him back to professional ball. As Mrs. Morris, a teacher at the same school, the Australian actress Rachel Griffiths gives a persuasive imitation of a gritty and affectionate Texas housewife. The movie could use a bit of trimming. Apart from this sore spot, the movie is an irresistible piece of Americana.
The Son's Room (2001) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; thematic material dealing with family tragedy and emotional conflict) ***. An absorbing, deliberately low-key tearjerker about the impact of a sudden death on an upper-middle-class family in Ancona, Italy. The movie won the ultimate prize, the Golden Palm, at last year's Cannes Film Festival. A seemingly placid Sunday is disrupted when the protagonist, a psychiatrist named Giovanni (Nanni Moretti, who also wrote and directed), cancels an outing with his family on short notice in order to appease a patient whose panicky summons prompts a house call. Upon his return, Giovanni discovers that a fatal accident has cost the life of one of his children. Mr. Moretti's story attempts to reflect commonplace domestic contentment and then grief with a minimum of emotional excess or special pleading. In Italian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
We Were Soldiers (2002) (R: Systematic graphic depiction of combat during the Vietnam War; occasional profanity) ***-1/2. An estimable war saga of dedicated fighting men. "Soldiers" recalls the first pitched battle between American and North Vietnamese troops, during three days in the Ia Drang Valley of South Vietnam in November 1965. An Air Cavalry battalion, introduced with training and homefront episodes set at Fort Benning, Ga., finds itself surrounded by the NVA, eager to inflict a heavy tollon the intruders. The battle simulations are consistently impressive and sobering. As the much decorated commander, Lt. Col. (now a retired Lt. General) Harold G. Moore, Mel Gibson's role is a fabulous combination of grit, guile, sentiment and intellect. It couldn't be better for a middleaged star who likes to portray remarkable patriots, protectors and family men.


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