- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

OPENING
Baran (2000) (PG: Fleeting violence) ***. A haunting fable of unrequited, sacrificial love from the Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi, drawing even closer to the mood of classic Vittorio De Sica titles of the 1940s. A teen-ager of Turkish immigrant extraction, Lateef (Hossein Abedini), is employed as an errand boy and canteen custodian at a building site in Tehran. When he loses this soft and privileged spot to a frail newcomer, he fumes and takes petty reprisals. Then he makes a startling discovery, anticipated by the audience well before: the usurper is actually a girl. In the aftermath he falls in love with the impostor and is willing to do everything to assist her. Ultimately, Lateef is even willing to pauperize and jeopardize himself. In Farsi with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.
The Cat's Meow (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting graphic violence; allusions to drug use and prostitution) **1/2. Peter Bogdanovich recalls an abiding scandal of the early 1920s in this biographical crime melodrama. The subject is a fatal yachting excursion to Santa Catalina Island in November 1924, hosted by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) and his mistress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), a popular film actress and comedienne. There was an ill-fated guest: producer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes). The plot hinges on a very weak prop, an unfinished and conveniently discarded love letter. Mr. Bogdanovich's execution is also hit-and-miss. Nevertheless, there are some vivid and amusing episodes, including a Ping-Pong game that involves Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilley). Miss Dunst does an admirable job of simulating the playful and adorable Marion. Exclusively at the Cinema Arts, Cineplex Odeon Janus and Landmark Bethesda Row.
Deuces Wild (2001) (R: Frequent profanity and graphic violence; fleeting sexual interludes) 1/2*. Totally misplaced nostalgia: a dilapidated saga of rival youth gangs in Brooklyn, circa 1958. Their turfs are opposite sides of the street in a neighborhood of Sunset Park, which complicates a sudden Romeo and Juliet thing between loutish young Bobby (Brad Renfro), a Deuce, and flirtatious Annie (Fairuza Balk), whose junkie brother Jimmy Pockets (Balthazar Getty) is a rival Viper. We're reminded that the Dodgers left Brooklyn after the 1957 season. Judging from the youth culture of Sunset Park, they got out while the getting was good.
Dogtown and Z-Boys (2002) (PG-13) A documentary feature that recalls the evolution of a skateboard craze and culture on the beaches of Southern California in the middle 1970s. Dogtown was a stretch of beach between Venice and Santa Monica. Exclusively at AMC Hoffman Center, Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Loew's Pentagon City.
Enigma (2002) (R) An espionage melodrama derived from a 1995 British novel by Robert Harris, who contrived a plot around the code breakers and analysts at Bletchley Park, the country estate that became the English government's sprawling headquarters for decoding German ciphers and military communications during World War II. A crisis looms in March of 1943, when a change in the enemy's Enigma codes threatens to leave a trio of convoys from New York at the mercy of U-boats.
Hollywood Ending (2002) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity; occasional sexual candor and innuendo) ***1/2. Woody Allen's best brainstorm since "Deconstructing Harry" in 1997. A more likable comedy by far, "Ending" mocks Hollywood filmmakers with surprising consistency for almost two hours. Mr. Allen casts himself as a has-been director named Val, who secures a potential comeback opportunity through the good offices of his ex-wife Ellie (Tea Leoni), now the mistress and trusted troubleshooter of a studio boss named Hal (Treat Williams). Chronically fretful and difficult, Val suffers a panic attack that leaves him psychosomatically blind on the eve of production. With the assistance of a devoted agent, Al Hack (Mark Rydell in a wonderful performance, suggesting the reincarnation of Broadway Danny Rose), the stricken director tries to fake it. This hoax demands a wider circle of collusion as the shoot continues. With Debra Messing as Val's bimbo girlfriend, a cheerful opportunist, and George Hamilton as a courtly studio yes-man. The ensemble proves exceptionally harmonious and enjoyable, and the movie is laugh-out-loud funny with a frequency Mr. Allen hasn't achieved in quite some time.
Some Body (2002) (R) An independent first feature shot on digital video by Henry Barrial, revolving around the confessions of Stephanie Bennett as a bar-hopping schoolteacher. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.
Spider-Man (2002) (PG-13) The first major spectacle of the summer movie season, Sam Raimi's homage to the Marvel Comics hero, portrayed by Tobey Maguire. Created 40 years ago, Spider-Man was an update of Superman. A mild-mannered college student named Peter Parker acquires miraculous spidery attributes after being bitten by an arachnid. Ultimately, he must use them to foil a despotic nemesis, the Green Goblin, also a case of transformation, since he begins as the father of Peter's best friend.
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) (No MPAA Rating: adult subject matter, revolving around a menage a trois of two teen-age boys and an older woman) An erotic idyll that awards two teen-age friends from Mexico City the Older Woman of their fondest fantasies: a complacent 28-year-old beauty named Luisa, encountered at a wedding ceremony. She agrees to join them on a vacation jaunt to the seacoast. In Spanish with English subtitles.
NOW SHOWING
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. Miss McDowell 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.
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.
Jason X (2002) (R: Frequent graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details; occasional profanity and sexual vulgarity; fleeting nudity) *1/2. The superfluous renewal of the "Friday the 13th" horror series, which began in 1980 and generated almost annual sequels of a jocular-bloodthirsty kind through 1989. The last installment was released in 1993. The notorious killer Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) is captured and frozen but comes back to life 400 years later, to stalk new victims. The futuristic episodes crib fairly shameless from "Aliens," but there are some amusing wrinkles, notably Lisa Ryder as an android called KM-14, who relishes a program that turns her into a warrior babe, eager to wallop Jason.
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.
Life or Something Like It (2002) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and violence; occasional sexual candor) . A romantic comedy predicated on the superstitious susceptibility of a dishy, platinum-blonde TV news personality from Seattle played by Angelina Jolie. She 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). Director Stephen Herek and the screenwriters want to blend romantic farce, workplace satire and inspirational cuteness but they demonstrate no facility to speak of. With Stockard Channing in a very lame and expendable caricature of Barbara Walters.
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.
Murder By Numbers (2002) (R: Occasional profanity. graphic violence and sexual candor; sustained morbid emphasis; teen-age characters as psychopaths) *1/2. A murder thriller that never adds up to anything ominously absorbing while posing Sandra Bullock as a brilliant but emotionally scarred homicide detective. Her haunted past keeps intruding on the murder case at hand, an update of the Leopold-Loeb crime, with Ryan Gosling and and Michael Pitt as overprivileged young men collaborating on "the perfect crime." It's full of imperfections, but the filmmakers insist on devoting elaborate attention to the young monsters.
One Week (2002) (R: Frequent profanity, sexual candor and racial epithets; occasional comic vulgarity and graphic violence) *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.
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.
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.
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. Not reviewed.
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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