- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

OPENING:

• Analyze That (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual vulgarity; violence with a humorous approach to organized crime) *1/2. A return engagement for the odd-couple brainstorm of 1999, "Analyze This," matching Robert De Niro as a mobster suffering from anxiety attacks with Billy Crystal as his reluctant shrink. Far from inspired, this sequel has trouble justifying its copycat existence, apart from the moments in which Mr. De Niro as Paul Vitti is delivering his trademark compliment to Mr. Crystal as Ben Sobel: "You, you're good, you." The lackluster script suffers from concentration and humor lapses while groping for an exploitable situation. Vitti first hangs around the Sobel house after being released from prison in the custody of his analyst. Failing to capitalize on that fish-out-of-water notion, the screenwriters shift to a lame spoof of the gangster-show biz alliance, encouraging Vitti and his crew to appropriate a TV series about wiseguys.

• Empire (2002) (R) John Leguizamo plays a South Bronx homeboy and drug dealer named Victor Rosa in this crime melodrama. The title alludes to the nickname of his most lucrative designer narcotic. Victor contemplates going legit, which he hopes to do with the aid of a new acquaintance, a Wall Street broker played by Peter Sarsgaard. Swindled out of a considerable nest egg, Victor vows revenge. With Isabella Rossellini as a mob boss called La Colombiana, plus Sonia Braga as Victor's mom and Denise Richards as the swindler's girlfriend.

• Equilibrium (2002) (R) A dystopian thriller starring Christian Bale and Emily Watson as a love match on the run in a futuristic or "parallel reality" civilization that has banished human emotions, leveled out with required daily doses of a tranquilizer, cleverly called Prozium. Mr. Bale plays a gendarme entrusted with the arrest of non-conformers. After skipping a dose, he experiences a sensory jolt that leaves him vulnerable to the appeal of Miss Watson as one of the troublemakers, called "sense offenders."

• Personal Velocity (2002) (R) A trio of vignettes about woebegone women, with Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Fairuza Balk as the principals. Directed by Rebecca Miller, adapting her own short stories, from a collection also titled "Personal Velocity." The cast includes Ron Leibman, Wallace Shawn, David Warshofsky, Tim Guinee and Patti D'Arbanville.

• The Way Home (2001) (PG) An acclaimed Korean feature about the relationship between a patient and affectionate rural grandmother and her 7-year-old grandson, a spoiled city youngster entrusted with the older woman while his mother is absorbed in a job hunt. Written and directed by Jeong-Hyang Lee. In Korean with English subtitles.


NOW SHOWING

• Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights (2002) (PG-13: Systematic comic vulgarity, verbal and pictorial; occasional scatalogical sight gags; humorous and coarse sexual allusions) 1/2*. Hanukkah movies are rare and may become even rarer as a result of this facetious disgrace from Adam Sandler, who does all the principal voices for an animated fable that is essentially a plug for his popular "Hanukkah Song." It's heard over the end credits. Complacently crass and fitfully obscene, the preliminary scenes encourage Mr. Sandler to enlarge on a split personality; he doubles the voice of a young wastrel named Davey and a lovable old codger named Whitey, thrown together during the holiday season in a town called Dukesberry. The self-promotional emphasis is anticipated by a plot that relies on the name recognition of several businesses represented at a local mall.

• Apollo 13: The Imax Experience (1995) (PG: Ominous episodes during the depiction of an authentic crisis; fleeting profanity) ***. A revival of Ron Howard's doggedly stirring movie about the heroic efforts needed to save the crew members of NASA's third manned mission to the moon, in 1970, after an explosion damages their service module three days into the voyage. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton play the crew members. Ed Harris and Gary Sinise are pivotal figures at NASA headquarters in Houston. The running time has been trimmed by about 20 minutes. The most dynamic and suspenseful sequences acquire an awesome immediacy in Imax magnification. The first attraction of its kind booked at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Air and Space, where it will play selected weekend performances through the end of the year.

• Ararat (2002) (R: Graphic violence in episodes depicting wartime combat and atrocities, including torture and rape; occasional profanity and sexual candor; nudity and an interlude of simulated intercourse; allusions to drug use) *1/2. An ambitious but unwieldy attempt to reconcile far-flung aspects of an Armenian heritage by Canada's favorite esoteric filmmaker, Atom Egoyan. Mr. Egoyan leaves a number of subplots in bewildering form while shifting between past and present. The historical re-enactments deal with the painter Arshile Gorky and a Turkish massacre of Armenian refugees in 1915. In the present, several characters are involved in a film about the massacre, directed and written by characters played by Charles Aznavour and Eric Bogosian. With Christopher Plummer as a Canadian customs inspector who devotes his final day on the job to one transparently suspicious countryman: David Alpay as a young man who has been used as a dupe in a smuggling operation. Some dialogue in Armenian with English subtitles. Landmark Bethesda Row and Loew's Georgetown.

• Die Another Day (2002) (PG-13: Frequent violence in an adventure fantasy context; recurrent sexual allusions and innuendo; some gruesome illustrative details) *1/2. An off-performance of gargantuan magnitude and an anniversary letdown: "Die" is No. 20 in the remarkably durable series that began in 1962 with "Dr. No." The movie lurches from one strenuous, self-defeating episode to the next. Pierce Brosnan as Bond is captured and tortured by the North Koreans and then obliged to redeem himself as a free-lancer after being scorned by Her Majesty's Secret Service. The character seems to take a bashing at the hands of director Lee Tamahori and his frenzied collaborators. Halle Berry fares better as a hired gun called Jinx Johnson who echoes the Ursula Andress entrance in "Dr. No." Toby Stephens and Rosamund Pike bring youthful confidence and glamor to the roles of the principal villain and Bond's more reluctant conquest, respectively. A major strategic blunder has been to condemn a huge batch of footage to Iceland locations that begin to look pretty absurd as simulated on studio sets and backlots.

• 8 Mile (2002) (R: Frequent profanity; systematic depictions of urban squalor; occasional graphic violence and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and an interlude of simulated intercourse) *1/2. The instantly triumphant movie debut of the rapper known as Eminem, harking back to a Detroit youth, circa 1995. His fictional alter-ego, plain Jimmy Smith, nicknamed Bunny Rabbit, is struggling to break through in the city's hip-hop clubs, where he initially plays hard to get despite being considered a genius by all his cronies. Eventually, scowling Jimmy demolishes the competition in "battle," 45-second spiels of face-to-face invective. One doubts if Eminem could embody a character that wasn't identical to himself, but director Curtis Hanson showcases him astutely, revealing a striking camera subject in a new-fangled Byronic vein: narrow-faced and boyish, with a narrow emotional range and set of susceptibilities.

• El Crimen del Padre Amaro (2002) (R: mature sexual themes, nudity, profanity) .**. The title means "The Crime of Father Amaro" in Spanish, and, no, it's not what you think. This reptilian priest's victim is a nubile 16-year-old girl who's fervidly faithful and carnally charged up. Director Carlos Carrera brilliantly explores the internal conflict of celibacy and a poisonous relationship between the Church and a benighted Mexican village. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Emperor's Club (2002) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and sexual allusions, including brief inserts of nude magazine illustrations) **1/2. A modestly appealing and commendable rarity: a parable about the regrets and consolations of pedagogy. Kevin Kline improves on the rather fatuous protagonist in Ethan Canin's short story: a classics teacher at an elite prep school in Virginia who kids himself about the potential for improvement in a devious student played by Emile Hirsch. The movie is at its most eloquent when it relies on the star to express the disillusion that decent men may feel when they're played for fools. With Jesse Eisenberg of "Roger Dodger" as one of the precocious students.

• Extreme Ops (2002) (PG-13: occasional profanity, fleeting comical nudity) * A self-consciously atrocious movie, this adrenaline junkie's cinematic fix could serve as an amusing, mercifully short diversion. That's the most generous thing to be said of this nonmovie, a boring and lifeless window into the subculture of "extreme sports" such as snowboarding and white-water kayaking. With bad editing, cheesy dialogue and a preposterous plot involving Serbian terrorists in an Austrian Alpine redoubt, "Extreme Ops" is a case study in amateurish filmmaking. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Far From Heaven (2002) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and graphic violence; occasional sexual candor, including a subplot about furtive homosexual behavior) **1/2. Julianne Moore and writer-director Todd Haynes proved a haunting team seven years ago with "Safe." They're reunited for a more quixotic project in this homage to a vintage Hollywood tearjerker, "All That Heaven Allows," circa 1955. Mr. Haynes casts Miss Moore as a Hartford, Conn., housewife who discovers that spouse Dennis Quaid is not only a lush but also an adulterer with homosexual inclinations. The heroine finds some comfort in the friendship of her widowed black gardener, an easygoing tower of strength as embodied by Dennis Haysbert. However, it remains to be seen if the friendship can ripen into a romance secure enough to defy the color line. Exclusively at Cinema Arts and the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle, Shirling and White Flint.

• Frida (2002) (R: Frequent profanity and sexual candor, including simulated interludes of intercourse; fleeting nudity and graphic violence, connected with the depiction of a gruesome traffic accident and subsequent medical procedures) **1/2. A vividly visualized and always watchable biopic about the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, portrayed by the irrepressibly robust and confident bombshell Selma Hayek. A profusion of color saturation distinguishes "Frida," directed by Julie Taymor and lit by Rodrigo Prieto. But the scenario never comes close to breaking with superficial and trite Hollywood conventions. It plods along while doting on the amours and struggles of artists including a lifetime tug-of-war with philandering spouse Diego Rivera, impersonated by Alfred Molina. There are generous reproductions of the Rivera and Kahlo inventory, along with some striking, if literal-minded, attempts to link certain paintings with specific real-life poses and observations. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.

• Friday After Next (2002) (R: Strong language, sexual content and drug use) Rapper and movie star Ice Cube ("Barber Shop") returns to the urban comedy franchise he created in 1995. This third helping finds Ice Cube's Craig finally leaving his parents' home to work as a security guard. Along for another round of coarse shenanigans are John Witherspoon (1998's "Bulworth") as Craig's father and Mike Epps ("All About the Benjamins") as Day-Day, Craig's pal. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) (PG: Sustained ominous atmosphere and occasional violence in an adventure fantasy context; fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity) ****. Director Chris Columbus and his colleagues shake off the stilted aspects of last year's introductory feature, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," operating with confidence and cleverness for 160 spellbinding minutes. "Chamber of Secrets" improves on "Sorcerer's Stone" in every respect except the ongoing charm of the principal juvenile characters, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson as Hermione. Kenneth Branagh is a happily absurd addition to the faculty as a celebrity wizard with bogus skills. The servile little gnome Dobbie, voiced by Warwick Davis, perks up the story immediately, and there's also an entertaining school phantom, Moaning Myrtle, a succession of awesome and sometimes alarming critters and all kinds of optical marvels. Richard Harris' recent death gives a valedictory pathos to his impersonation of Dumbledore, the headmaster. One of the most satisfying storybook entertainments ever made.

• Love in the Time of Money (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including interludes of simulated intercourse; intimations of violence in one episode) . An updated and easy-to-skip version of the frequently adapted Arthur Schnitzler play "Reigen," the inspiration for Max Ophuls' "La Ronde" in 1950, Roger Vadim's "Circle of Love" in 1964 and the David Hare play "The Blue Room" in 1999. In this digital video feature novice screenwriter-director Peter Mattei attempts to interweave a succession of amorous encounters in New York City at the close of the 1990s. The advantage of hitching one's fortunes to Schnitzler's cynical but compact prototype is that it may reconcile the semi-classic with the semi-pornographic. Mr. Mattei displays some evocative flair with New York settings, and the transfer from video doesn't look bad. But the atmospheric grace notes are scarcely equal to the accumulating shallowness of episodes contrived to illustrate erotic hunger and fleeting passion.

• Paid in Full (2002) (R: near-constant profanity, violent beatings, execution-style murders, pervasive drug references) * Based partly on the true story of A.Z., Alpo and Richard Porter legendary crack-cocaine suzerains in mid-1980s Harlem "Paid in Full" is so blandly photographed, so overloaded with street jargon, so packed with cliches about fast cars and fast women and fast money, it rarely rises above the level of an old Run-D.M.C. music video. It would have taken a Martin Scorcese to do justice to this movie's subject Harlem in the throes of a crack epidemic but "Paid in Full" unwisely trains its focus on Harlem's individual kingpins without truly conveying the audacity and cruelty of their short-lived empire. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Real Women Have Curves (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity; implied intercourse between teenage characters; episodes of family contact, especially between mother and daughter) 1/2*. A movie version of a gauchely ethnic theater piece by Josefina Lopez, who dotes on a full-figured alter-ego named Ana, a graduating high school senior in Los Angeles. Portrayed by America Ferrera, she is supposedly so dominated by a jealous, insulting, hypochondriac mother (Lupe Ontiveros) that she can't entertain hopes of a college education, despite commuting from East L.A. to Beverly Hills, where she has become a prep honor student. A kindly English teacher applies on Ana's behalf and comes up with quite a last-minute plum: a scholarship to Columbia! That tends to provoke the question anew: what prevents Ana from applying in a timely fashion to any number of colleges in Southern California? But then everything about "Real Women" looks hapless. Exclusively at Cinema Arts, Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington, Landmark Bethesda Row.

• Roger Dodger (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including interludes of intercourse and a sinister episode in a brothel; fleeting nudity) ***1/2. The most impressive debut feature of the year, an intriguing character study written and directed by 33-year-old Dylan Kidd. He gives us a protagonist and supporting characters who demonstrate that conversation can be stimulating and revealing. Campbell Scott as Roger Swanson, a self-loathing advertising executive, has made himself wittily insufferable to colleagues, including a boss played by Isabella Rossellini, who has decided to terminate their love affair. Roger's skid is complicated by the arrival of a runaway nephew named Nick (Jesse Eisenberg). Roger threatens to expose him to a few vicious shocks while bar-hopping, crashing Miss Rossellini's party and then venturing into a Village brothel, but uncle and nephew serve to cushion each other's falls after all. Mr. Scott vaults into awards contention with a tour de force performance. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.

• The Santa Clause 2 (2002) (PG: mild violence) **1/2. Tim Allen dons the big guy's red suit again in this sequel to the 1994 charmer. This time, Mr. Allen's Ol' Saint Nick must find a bride or give up his Santa Claus duties. Mr. Allen's low-key charisma suits the project well, even if the effects-laden toyland he lords over leans too heavily upon manufactured delights. This won't go down as a holiday classic, but family audiences could endure far worse. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Solaris (2002) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere in a science-fiction setting; fleeting graphic violence; fleeting nudity in two amorous episodes) *1/2. A new and highly problematic collaboration from director Steven Soderbergh and actor George Clooney, derived from the Stanislaw Lem novel that was filmed by the late Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972. Mr. Clooney plays a psychologist sent to investigate the mysterious circumstances at a space station orbiting a planet called Solaris, where mental breakdowns and visions seem to be proliferating. Soon the doctor himself is experiencing visions of a beloved wife (Natascha McElhone) who committed suicide years earlier. Mr. Clooney does seem to be the wrong man to relieve this particular outpost. The flashbacks that purport to fill us in on the tragic marriage are also inadequate. At the station it's much easier to sympathize with Viola Davis, a riveting presence in a movie given to vague-minded reflection. She plays the surviving crew member who has improvised a brave defense against the mind-bending influence of Solaris. The movie rationalizes eternal life and love in terms that never transcend haziness. The expressive power needed to elevate either the Clooney-McElhone union or Solaris as a miracle-working planet has quite eluded the filmmakers. Nevertheless, the production is handsomely mounted and may have a hypnotic appeal for space mystics.

• Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002) (PG: mild profanity) ***. The story of the Funk Brothers, the unsung stable of journeyman musicians who backed such celebrated singers as Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Part documentary, part live performance, the movie sees the surviving Funk Brothers revive several Motown classics at the Royal Oak Theater in suburban Detroit, where they're joined by contemporary artists like Ben Harper and Joan Osborne. It's a moving tribute to the Brothers, who truly were responsible for the durable, timeless magic that was Motown. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Treasure Planet (2002) (PG: Ominous interludes and fleeting comic vulgarity) ***. Robert Louis Stevenson's adventure classic "Treasure Island" seems a dubious subject for science-fiction tinkering. But this Disney animated remake steadily wins you over with its gusto, pictorial invention and character humor. The vintage seafaring yarn is reconciled with imaginative science-fiction decor and spectacle. The rogue pirate Long John Silver is entrusted to the esteemed animator Glen Keane and the voice of Brian Murray, who deliver an amusing blend of Wallace Beery and cyborg roughneck. The updated hero Jim Hawkins, aimed at the extreme sports set, is a little harder to swallow. Martin Short gives the last third of the movie a wonderful comic lift as a robot version of castaway Ben Gunn.

• Wes Craven Presents: They (2002) (PG-13: horror violence, language) * A group of twenty-somethings finds the night terrors they experienced as children have returned, with monstrous consequences. Mr. Craven's name is nowhere to be found on the finished product, a listless horror film that feels recycled from a host of other, better movies. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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