- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

Big Trouble (2002) (PG-13: "Language, crude humor and sex-related material" according to the MPAA) An ensemble farce about roughly 20 characters whose plans, legitimate or criminal, are interrupted by a bomb scare at a Miami airport. Derived from Dave Barry's first comic novel, published in 1998, and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the movie was originally scheduled to open on Sept. 21. The terrorist attacks of September 11 prompted a considerable postponement.
High Crimes (2002) (PG-13: "Violence, sexual content and language" according to the MPAA) A courtroom melodrama that reunites Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd as co-stars. She plays a lawyer whose husband, Jim Caviezel, is suddenly arraigned by a "top-secret military court" on charges stemming from his service as a covert agent in El Salvador 15 years earlier. Mr. Freeman is cast as a former military attorney who agrees to aid the defense.
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.
Promises (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) A documentary feature consisting of interviews with Israeli and Palestinian children between the ages of 7 and 13, shot over the course of three years, beginning in 1998. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.

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).
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.
40 Days and 40 Nights (2002) (R: Systematic sexual vulgarity; occasional profanity, nudity, facetious simulations of intercourse and masturbation; fleeting blasphemous gags; graphic allusions to porn Web sites) *-1/2 . Contemporary sex comedy at its most coy and moronic, with Josh Hartnett oozing sincerity as a romantically perplexed young man named Matt, who works for a Web design company in San Francisco. Demoralized after breaking up with a cutthroat girlfriend, Nicole, played by Vinessa Shaw, he vows to swear off any and all forms of sexual stimulation for 40 days during Lent. Matt's penance becomes the favorite topic of office mockery, not to mention a pool that tempts cheaters to prey on his good nature.
Gosford Park (2001) (R: Fleeting profanity and graphic violence; occasional sexual candor and fleeting simulations of intercourse) ****. Robert Altman brings a masterful sense of ensemble orchestration to this mordant social comedy about the waning years of "Upstairs, Downstairs" class distinctions. The title alludes to the country home, circa 1932, of an ill-humored nobleman played by Michael Gambon. A weekend party of pheasant hunting with assorted friends and relatives is designed to climax with a murder, revealed to be a crime that has been brewing for decades. The witty screenplay was elaborated by Julian Fellowes from a pretext cooked up by Mr. Altman and Bob Balaban, cast as one of the comic stooges, a Hollywood producer soaking up background for "Charlie Chan in London," an actual release of 1934. Seven Oscar nominations and one award, to screenwriter Julian Fellowes.
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) *-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.
No Such Thing (2002) (R: Frequent profanity; fleeting sexual candor and allusions to bestial violence) 1/2*. An awesomely uninspired update of "Beauty and the Beast" from independent filmmaker Hal Hartley, this allegorical art movie is so stagnant and naive that it probably deserves a museum of its own. Ostensibly, the last of the mythological Beasts, impersonated by Robert John Burke in an elaborately gothic make-up, has called attention to his fuming existence on a barren little isle by slaughtering an inquisitive TV news crew, the outriders of a Manhattan-based media boss lady played by Helen Mirren. Office flunkey and pure-hearted heroine Sarah Polley volunteers to investigate the calamity. After miraculously surviving a plane crash, she makes contact with the foul-tempered Beast, brings him back to the city and ultimately proves instrumental in arranging the mercy killing he longs for. The polemical drift is quite cockeyed: Mankind is in danger of losing primitive and elemental impulses, personified in monstrous creatures. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
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 30s. 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.
Scotland, Pa. (2002) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor) **. A mock-Shakespearean jest on the part of novice writer-director Billy Morrissette, who transposes the plot of "Macbeth" to a small town in Pennsylvania in the early 1970s. James LeGros and Maura Tierney (the director's wife) are cast as corruptible employees of James Rebhorn as diner owner Norm Duncan. . Miss Tierney proves a phenomenal, morbid-comic update of Lady Macbeth, but the other elements remain hit-and-miss, including the potentially savory notion of Christopher Walken as a small-town sleuth named Ernie McDuff. The idea of three hippie phantoms as the witches isn't bad; the pretense that the McBeths invented the fast food franchise is too anachronistic to seem witty.
Showtime (2002) (PG-13: "Action violence, language and some drug content" according to the MPAA) ***. Eddie Murphy and Robert De Niro are definitely ready for showtime while cast as odd-couple sidekicks with the Los Angeles Police Department, thrown together implausibly but irresistibly while representing the force in a "reality" TV series about crime-busting that shares the movie's title.The movie cleverly pretends to mock all the cliches of conventional police melodrama while reinvigorating them when the circumstances demand, especially when showcasing camaraderie or thrill sequences.
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.
Sorority Boys (2002) (R: Systematic slapstick lewdness and vulgarity; occasional profanity and a profusion of sightgags predicated on sex toys and sexual masquerading; fleeting nudity and allusions to drug use) 1/2*. A bottom-feeding farce with a far from surefire pretext: three fraternity pals, banished from their party house on a trumped-up charge of financial malfeasance, disguise themselves freakishly as coeds and find temporary refuge at a sorority for social lepers. The prevailing level of facetiousness is anticipated in the Greek shorthand for the houses: K.O.K. and D.O.G.
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 toll on 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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