- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

OPENING
Jason X (2002) (R: "Strong horror violence, language and some sexuality," according to the MPAA.) The 10th in the "Friday the 13th" series. The notorious killer Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) is captured and frozen but comes back to life 400 years later, to stalk new victims.
Life or Something Like It (2002) (PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned). Angelina Jolie as a feature reporter at a Seattle TV station thinks she has the world by the tail until a homeless street seer (Tony Shalhoub) tells her she will die the following week. Complications ensue when she falls for a TV cameraman (Edward Burns).
Son of the Bride (2002). Argentinian director Juan Jose Campanella's film was nominated this year for a best foreign language film Oscar. Rafael is the domineering owner of a smart Buenos Aires restaurant who has no time to spend on his emotions. When his father decides to "remarry" his wife in a religious ceremony, regardless of the fact that she is now in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer's, the family reels in chaos.

NOW SHOWING
n 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).
American Adobo (2001) (R) An obscure import from the Philippines, touted as the regional equivalent of Ang Lee's "Eat Drink Man Woman." Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle. Not reviewed.
Changing Lanes (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic violence; undercurrents of racial animosity; allusions to alcoholism and family breakdown) *-1/2. 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 and Samuel L. Jackson a middle-aged insurance adjustor. 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. Every device that sustains the conflict seems bogus in the extreme. Director Roger Michell and cinematographer Salvatore Totino make it an even longer day of spite and malice by imposing one of those jittery, grungy urban looks, in which the lighting is permanently bilious and the compositions emphasize closeups from a camera operator with the shakes.
Crush (2002) (R) **Andie McDowell attempts to go Brit in this sex farce about the endangered camaraderie of three women friends in their early 40s Miss McDowell, Imelda Staunton and Anna Chancellor. Their weekly pub-crawling binges are interrupted when Miss McDowell begins an affair with a young man. She gives a performance as steamy and satisfying as a late-summer downpour, but it can't wash away the movie's acrid aftertaste as writer-director John McKay allows the love story to buckle under a melodramatic switch late in the game. #Reviewed by Christian Toto.
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.
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. The movie reflects the pre-September 11 Hollywood mind-set 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.
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. Patricia Arquette is Lila, whose hormones produce an excess of body hair. She lives in the wild and writes about nature. She forms a romantic match with the absurdly overcivilized Nathan, played by Tim Robbins, a behaviorist who teaches lab mice table manners. 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 Rhys Ifans as Puff, a human raised as an ape by his lunatic dad. Puff becomes a new civilizing project while 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.
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.
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 Last Waltz (1978) (PG: Fleeting profanity and occasional candid recollections in a documentary context) ****. A 25th anniversary revival of the stirring rock concert milestone documented by Martin Scorsese and a distinguished team of cinematographers in the mid-1970s the farewell concert of The Band, staged at the Winterland Arena in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day, 1976. The movie was released two years later and easily outclassed all the other documentary profiles of rock ensembles that had been accumulating for a decade or so. The movie may have even more resonance now, since two members of the group, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, have died. Joni Mitchell's interlude on "Coyote" is such a stunner that it seems a pity she wasn't recruited for solo bits in nine or 10 other movies of the decade. Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson are the surviving Band members. The guest performers include Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Neil Young, The Staples, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters and Van Morrison.
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.
Lucky Break (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor) **. A fitfully amusing but definitely second-rate new comedy from Peter Cattaneo, the director of "The Full Monty." An original amateur musical biography of Admiral Nelson, written by a Nelson-worshipping prison warden played by Christopher Plummer, is rehearsed by a group of cons who hope to exploit the show as camouflage for a mass opening night escape. The characterization and execution prove hit-and-miss compared to the inspired, or perhaps exceptionally lucky, "Monty." With James Nesbitt as the mastermind, jailed for a bungled robbery along with sidekick Lennie James. Olivia Williams is cast as the prison psychologist, whose therapy programs trigger a romance with Mr. Nesbitt. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.
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) .1/2* 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.
Murder By Numbers (2002) (R) *-1/2. A murder thriller starring Sandra Bullock as a homicide detective obsessed with a case that points toward an update of the Leopold-Loeb situation. Ryan Gosling and and Michael Pitt play overprivileged young men collaborating on "the perfect crime." With Ben Chaplin as the heroine's new partner, whose methodical tendencies are supposed to contrast with her intuitive brilliance.
One Week (2002) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter, revolving around the AIDS epidemic) *-1/2. A low-budget independent feature about the dilemma of two young men in Chicago, Kenny Young and Eric Lane, suddenly notified by a health clinic that a former sexual partner has been identified as HIV-positive. Mr. Young's character happens to be days away from a wedding ceremony. Exclusively at the AMC Academy 8, Hoffman Center and Rivertowne 12.
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.
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.
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 and pitched two seasons in the major leagues after being signed by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in his late thirties. 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 Scorpion King (2002) (PG-13) Spawned by "The Mummy" and its sequel, this muscleman adventure saga was contrived as the debut starring vehicle for wrestling headliner The Rock. Previously cast as a North African desert despot of roughly three millennia ago, a scourge called the Scorpion King, he backpedals two millennia now, portraying an ancestor or earlier diabolical incarnation. He is the last survivor in a cult of assassins. Their target is Steven Brand as Memnon, wicked monarch of Gomorrah. Not reviewed.
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.
The Sweetest Thing (2002) (R: Systematic comic and sexual vulgarity, including a facetious endorsement of promiscuous behavior; occasional but blatant profanity; frequent obscene allusions or sight gags) 1/2*. The title is a misnomer, since this sex farce co-starring Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair as San Francisco party girls aspires only to be the raunchiest thing of the moment. It's filled with promiscuous idiocy and obscene sight gags. A sudden infatuation with a stranger played by Thomas Jane (in a token role) sends Miss Diaz on a fool's errand to a marriage ceremony she has no business crashing, accompanied by Miss Applegate. They busily disgrace themselves. Back in the city Miss Blair is the butt of gags that exploit the Monica Lewinsky stained dress and a far-fetched crisis of oral sex. As a touchstone of what the unwed and childless professional woman in Hollywood is likely to regard as clever and relevant, one of the most pathetic confessions ever seen.
Triumph of Love (2002) (PG-13: Occasional sexual candor in the setting of an 18th Century romantic comedy) **. Bernardo Bertolucci, as producer, and his wife Clare Peploe, as director and adaptor, stage this romantic farce of the 1730s by Pierre Marivaux on attractive locations in Tuscany. Mira Sorvino is rather teeth-gnashing as the heroine, a princess smitten with the rightful heir to her kingdom. Jay Rodin plays this exiled youth, Agis, shielded from the world by two devoted mentors, the philosopher Hemocrates (Ben Kingsley) and his sister Leontine (Fiona Lewis), an inventor. While pretending to be a high-minded young man who barges into their lives, the princess feels obliged to seduce all three in order to ingratiate herself with Agis. If there's a way of making the deceptions aimed at the lovelorn older characters appear defensible rather than contemptible, Miss Peploe hasn't found the trick. However, the movie is worth tolerating because of the prowess of Mr. Kingsley and Miss Lewis; their foolishly smitten brainiacs win the affection that never seems a remote possibility for the heroine. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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