- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

OPENING
Enough (2002) (PG-13: An arguably lenient rating, given the prevalence of episodes depicting domestic violence, sometimes with a small child in the line of fire; systematic ominous and vengeful elements; occasional profanity and sexual candor) .1/2One and one-half stars#. A ridiculous thriller with Jennifer Lopez in a ruthless dud about a waitress who discovers that her rich hubby, Billy Campbell, is a sadistic psycho, intent on abusing her bad judgment. She hides out, with her little girl, subsidized by a previously indifferent long-lost dad, tycoon Fred Ward. Loath to deny themselves a spouse-thrashing scene in which the leading lady can dish out the punishment, the filmmakers celebrate Miss Lopez as she prepares for a final martial arts showdown with Mr. Campbell. Laughs galore for most segments of the audience.
The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) (PG: Fleeting allusions to Victorian vice and corruption within a mostly farcical context) **. A wrongheaded remake of the greatest Oscar Wilde theatrical farce from director Oliver Parker, who guided the delightful movie version of Wilde's "An Ideal Husband" a few years ago. Rupert Everett, a diffident tower of strength in "Husband," also returns, in disappointing form, as playboy Algernon Moncrieff, matched with Reese Witherspoon as the ingenuous Cecily. Perhaps overcompensating in order to avoid comparisons with the expert movie version of 1952, Mr. Parker "opens up" the peerlessly witty text in unfortunate ways. For example, we observe Algernon constantly on the run from London creditors; we accompany both Algy and Colin Firth as Jack Worthing to music halls and posh brothels. The effect is to force a Wildean "subtext" to the surface; the play fails to profit from such explicit hindsight. All the exquisite artifices and hypocrisies of the original courtships are undermined when the dialogue shifts from drawing room or patio. Even Judi Dench looks uncertain about how to project Lady Bracknell.
Insomnia (2002) (R: Systematic ominous atmosphere and morbid preoccupations; occasional profanity and graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details involving a homicide investigation; fleeting nudity and allusions to sex crimes) ****. Demonstrating that "Memento" was no fluke, the young director Christopher Nolan confirms his flair for thrillers that get under your skin. Al Pacino, who makes this a valedictory classic among his portrayals of haunted and obsessive cops, plays an LAPD legend called Will Dormer. He arrives in Alaska under a cloud, dispatched to assist a former colleague (Paul Dooley) who has a grisly murder on his hands as police chief in a little fishing and logging community called Nightmute. Dormer is accompanied by sidekick Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan), who admits to feeling the heat from an internal affairs probe back home that has targeted both of them. While attempting to entrap the Nightmute killer, an accidental death costs the pursuing police team. Subsequently, Dormer is exposed to blackmail threats from the killer he's out to capture. Mr. Nolan and screenwriter Hilary Seitz revamp the intriguing source material in ways that permit a more satisfying and redemptive outcome for the compromised protagonist.With an appealing new role for Hilary Swank as a Nightmute cop who idolizes Dormer and a sinister one for Robin Williams, who gets his strongest devious showcase since "The Secret Agent." Confirmed movie freaks are likely to recall "Insomnia" as the picture that haunted the summer season of 2002.
The Piano Teacher (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter, emphasizing extreme sexual candor and abnormality while depicting a sadosmasochistic character; occasional graphic violence in tandem with the candor; frequent profanity; occasional nudity; inserts of scenes from hard-core pornographic films) ***. A talented and, up to a point, morbidly absorbing erotic shocker from the German filmmaker Michael Haneke. There's a minor disorientation you'll need to finesse: The principal setting is Vienna but the cast is French-speaking. The scenario exposes the grisly, sadomasochistic kinks in a reclusive classical piano teacher, Erika Kohut, fearlessly embodied by Isabelle Huppert. Despite her exquisite taste and demanding standards, Erika is a private emotional calamity, living with a possessive and foul-tempered mother (Annie Girardot), who begins to give the movie strange undercurrents from "Psycho." Erika is given to sexually creepy, self-abusive pastimes that appear to be drawing her closer to public scandal and disgrace. An amusing young virtuoso (Benoit Magimel) takes a romantic interest in this seething Older Woman while insinuating himself as an advanced student. Teacher is susceptible, but what she fancies as a sex partner eventually discourages even this brashly virile suitor, too healthy for Erika's terminal games. Mr. Haneke cheats on his own disreputable game plan, which is clearly pointing Erika in the direction of something irrevocable. Nevertheless, this art-house sensation-seeker does command attention. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) (G: Fleeting depictions of violent and catastrophic situations, including a train wreck and forest fire caused by the equine hero) *1/2. A pictorially handsome but allegorically crackpot fable about a wild stallion in a geographically compressed and absurdly ahistoric American West. The exploits of Spirit, a palomino, are so politically correct that he emerges as the ideal poster horse for an aging and unrepentant counterculture. The filmmakers seem to have no idea how horse populations proliferated in North America. Spaniards? What Spaniards? They leave the impression that the U.S. Cavalry was enslaving noble horse flesh long before Indians arrived to let the critters run wild and free. There's even a working railroad in the Southwest that seems to have gotten the jump on that transcontinental project farther north an industrial evil that the captive Spirit sabotages. This destructive feat makes makes him something of an ideological embarrassment to Hollywood at the moment a Taliban poster horse.

NOW SHOWING
About a Boy (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; episodes about the attempted suicide of a single mother) ***1/2. The source material, a novel by the English humorist Nick Hornby, offered a near-perfect role for Hugh Grant, and the realization itself pretty much defies improvement. Mr. Grant plays a well-to-do wastrel named Will. Nearing 40 and unattached, he has pretended to be a single dad in order to date single moms, on the assumption that they'll be easier to brush off in the long run than unmarried women unencumbered by children. The caddish scheme brings a needy but endearing kid into Will's life: Nicholas Hoult as 12-year-old Marcus, desperate for advice and guidance in the wake of his mother's attempted suicide. The movie unfolds with admirable wit and fluidity until the denouement, which overcompensates while diverting from the book's plot. With a wonderful performance by Toni Collette as Marcus' sorrowful but affectionate mom.
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.
Enigma (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including brief nudity and similated intercourse; occasional graphic violence, including allusions to wartime atrocities) **. A faithful movie version of a 1995 espionage novel by Robert Harris, a British author who contrived an intriguing plot around the codebreakers and analysts at Bletchley Park, the country estate that became the British government's headquarters for breaking German codes during World War II. Director Michael Apted and screenwriter Tom Stoppard are adept at conjuring up the Bletchley Park backdrop and the legendary props: replicas of the Enigma machines and the computers built to sift through Enigma's millions of settings. Unfortunately, the movie is also stuck with a lackluster protagonist (Dougray Scott), looking like the codebreaker the cat dragged in. A crisis looms in March of 1943, when a change in the enemy's naval codes threatens to leave a trio of convoys from New York at the mercy of U-boats. Mr. Scott discovers that Claire Romilly, a heartbreaker played by Saffron Burrowes, has disappeared from the Bletchley Park work force. Could she be a traitor? Mr. Scott joins with Kate Winslet, the missing beauty's frumpy roommate, in an attempt to account for the disappearance. Jeremy Northam as a debonair, sarcastic sleuthcould be as compelling as Cary Grant's hardbitten, lovesick Devlin in Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious." He'd certainly be more fun as a leading man.
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.
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.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) (PG: Occasional sexual allusions and comic vulgarity) . A domestic farce so dependent on big fat cliches of one kind or another that it might as well be the dud pilot for a TV sitcom. Derived from a theater piece by Nia Vardalos, the movie revolves around the belated blossoming of her ugly duckling character, Toula Portokalos, a 30-year-old spinster in a close-knit, indeed suffocating, Greek-American family in Chicago. The movie seems about as authentic as a chain of Dancing Zorbas.
The Mystic Masseur (2002) (PG: Fleeting profanity and sexual allusions) ***. The most appealing movie yet directed by the prestige producer Ismail Merchant, who finds entertaining embodiments of many characters in V.S. Naipaul's first novel. Published in 1954, "Masseur" is a fond and savory rags-to-riches fable about an ambitious young teacher, Ganesh, who promotes simultaneous careers as an author and healer. In the process he becomes the pride of well-wishers in a rural community of his native Trinidad. Emboldened, Ganesh eventually discovers his limits as a big fish in a small pond. Aasif Mandvi, currently in the cast of the Broadway revival of "Oklahoma!," makes a happily charismatic impression as the foxy and energetic Ganesh. The scenario goes flat on Mr. Merchant in the final reel, but there are abundant human interest and atmospheric rewards while the movie is bouncing merrily along.
The New Guy (2002) (PG-13: Frequent comic vulgarity and facetiously exaggerated violence; sexual and drug allusions; crude sightgags) *1/2. A high school farce whose plot defies plausible validation, but if you can block out most of the coarsely inept gags and a recurrent mean streak, the movie has its moments usually when making fun of other movies. DJ Qualls is cast as a senior class loser who acquires a new personality after being expelled and spending a short stretch in jail, where he is tutored in a cool dude makeover by cellmate Eddie Griffin. Admitted under a different name to a high school on the other side of town, the former twerp becomes a campus trend-setter. This is Mr. Qualls' first "starring" role. A little of this odd-looking young madcap goes a long way.
Nine Queens (2002) (R) An acclaimed Argentinean feature about a veteran swindler and an ambitious apprentice who conspire to make a killing with forged stamps, designed to entice and deceive a master collector. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row. Not reviewed.
Project Greenlight's 'Stolen Summer' (2001) (PG: Fleeting profanity; episodes of family conflict and tragedy) **1/2. The theatrical unveiling of the debut feature that became the subject of an HBO documentary series about filmmaking called "Project Greenlight."A nostalgic sentimental drama about an Irish Catholic boyhood in Chicago, circa 1976, "Stolen Summer" confirms the endearing personality that its writer-director, Pete Jones, demonstrated on the series. Adi Stein is cast as Mr. Jones' apparent alter-ego, an 8-year-old kid named Pete O'Malley, who launches a wrongheaded summer "quest" that results in a rewarding friendship with a rabbi (Kevin Pollak) whose 7-year-old son (Mike Weinberg) is imperiled by leukemia. Despite gauche tendencies, the movie rings true and heartfelt consistently. Mr. Jones has a common touch that remains fresh and disarming. Aidan Quinn and Bonnie Hunt, who shared Chicago upbringings with Mr. Jones, play the parents of outgoing Pete, one of eight children. Brian Dennehy looks ominous at first glance as the priest who answers Pete's questions about church doctrine; it's a relief to report that the apprehension is unjustified. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Janus.
The Salton Sea (2002) (R: Sustained ominous atmosphere and depraved social context; frequent profanity, graphic violence and simulations of drug use, with methadrine as the preferred narcotic; occasional sexual candor and intimations of physical torture) ***Three stars#. A stylishly convoluted and sinister revenge melodrama, almost certain to achieve cult classic status. Connoisseurs of hardboiled and outrageous thrillers may feel simpatico with screenwriter Tony Gayton and director D.J. Caruso within a matter of minutes, as Val Kilmer's confessional narrator sets the stage for slumming with a short history of methedrine addiction. He is also a lower-depths man of mystery, known by the alias Danny Parker while precariously employed as a police informant. Clever and sardonic as they are, the filmmakers can't conceal threadbare elements once the immediate strangeness of the criminal milieu wears off and the sarcastic, feverish idiom loses a bit of its wacky impact. Nevertheless, "Salton Sea" is definitely a lurid attention-getter and probably style-setter. With a loathsome new specialty role for Vincent D'Onofrio as a drug merchant nicknamed Pooh Bear.
Spider-Man (2002) (PG-13: Ominous episodes and occasional graphic violence in a comic-book adventure context; fleeting sexual allusions) *1/2. 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 his powers to foil a despotic nemesis, the Green Goblin. The opening credit sequence is a dazzler, thanks in great measure to a surging Danny Elfman theme. The first half-hour is promising, as Mr. Maguire ingratiates himself while struggling to master his new identity. Then the continuity becomes progressively slack and stagnant. Judging from the record-breaking first weekend, salesmanship has trumped all the shortcomings.
Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002) (PG: Ominous episodes, including occasional depiction of monstrous, menacing creatures and pitched battles in a science-fiction context) **. George Lucas spins his wheels while slogging away at the series' would-be dynastic plot, updated to the point where young Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), apprentice Jedi with pouty and perhaps bossy tendencies, becomes a budding sweetheart to aristocratic Amadala (Natalie Portman), girl queen turned galactic legislator. The richly illustrated backgrounds teem with settings and props that suggest a bustling, technologically gleaming vision of the future, with stories perhaps more interesting than the fatalistic love match Mr. Lucas keeps belaboring. Christopher Lee as a principal villain twirls a light saber with admirable panache and gets to fight a concluding duel with a suddenly aggressive Yoda. Mr. Lucas almost gets some ominous momentum in gear during a middle section that intercuts scenes of potential romantic intimacy between the juvenile leads with Ewan McGregor's discovery of a mystery planet where cloned warriors are being mass-produced.
Time Out (2001) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and elements of family conflict) ****. An absorbing and accomplished new movie from the French filmmaker Laurent Cantet, who made a striking debut with "Human Resources" and exceeds its promise in this second feature. Mr. Cantet concentrates on the working lives and anxieties of characters, plus the ways in which the obligations of family life and wage-earning clash. The pretext the desperation of a fugitive family man becomes gravely revealing in Mr. Cantet's hands. Vincent (Aurelien Recoing), the protagonist, spends the work week pretending that he has begun a new job in Geneva with a United Nations agency. In fact, he was fired from a consulting job weeks earlier and hasn't told the truth to his wife Muriel (Karin Viard) or other intimates, including a father who stakes him to 200,000 francs for an apartment in Geneva. Vincent tries to maintain a facade of normality during weekends at home while spending Monday-Friday in charades of job-hunting and tentative, shameful hustling as a shady investor. A turning point comes when he attracts the solicitude of a thriving shady businessman, Jean-Michel, peerlessly embodied by Serge Livrozet. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.
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.
Umberto D (1952) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter, involving themes of poverty, isolation and suicidal despair) ****. A 50th anniversary revival of Vittorio De Sica's masterfully heartbreaking character study of a proud but destitute pensioner, Umberto D, a retired civil servant played by Carlo Battisti. Surviving on a marginal income, Umberto is forced to abandon a furnished room and wanders the city with his beloved dog, whose well-being becomes his final incentive for clinging to life and resisting suicidal impulses. In Italian with English subtitles. A limited engagement through May 28, exclusively at the American Film Institute Theater.
Unfaithful (2002) (R: Frequent sexual candor and prurience; occasional profanity, nudity and simulations of intercourse; occasional graphic violence with gruesome illustrative details) *1/2. Another wallow in the wages of adultery. A prosperous suburban housewife, Diane Lane, living enviably somewhere up the Hudson River, blunders into passionate folly during a windy day of shopping in New York City for birthday party trimmings for her little boy. A brief encounter soon leads to sex slavery in the clutches of a seductive French bibliophile played by Olivier Martinez. Miss Lane feeds the addiction as often as possible while deceiving hubby Richard Gere, who hires a private detective to confirm his heartsick suspicions. He confronts the lover and a calamity ensues, obliging the survivors to contemplate some "difficult" choices. Pretty much the quintessence of glossy, softcore trashiness, which could portend a rubbishy happy ending at the box office. The vintage source is the Claude Chabrol movie "La femme infidele," circa 1969.
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) (No MPAA Rating: frequent profanity and systematic sexual candor and vulgarity; simulations of intercourse and drug use; obscene jokes and allusions; occasional nudity; simulations of urination) *1/2. Teen-agers from Mexico City luck into an erotic idyll with an "older woman" of 28. An overcalculated mixture of brazen prurience and polemical insinuation from the Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron. The movie comes on like carnally berserk gangbusters and certainly tries to be every lewd thing it can possibly be. Then it departs with the suggestion that all the outrageousness has grown instantly obsolete. In Spanish with English subtitles.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS



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