- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

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 New Guy (2002) (PG-13: "Sexual content, language, crude humor and mild drug references" according to the MPAA) A high school farce whose plot defies plausible validation. DJ Qualls is cast as a senior class loser who acquires a new, cool-dude personality after being expelled and spending a short stretch in jail.
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.
Project Greenlight's 'Stolen Summer' (2001) (PG) 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 the boyhood of writer-director Pete Jones, the movie chronicles the friendship of an 8-year-old Catholic boy and a 7-year-old Jewish boy during a summer in Chicago. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Janus.
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.
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.
World Traveler (2002) (R: Emphasis on dissolute behavior, especially family abandonment, alcoholism and sexual promiscuity; occasional profanity) 1/2* Another wayward dud for Billy Crudup, cast as a dropout who abandons wife and child in New York City (on his little boy's third birthday) in order to ramble across the country. Women prove remarkably receptive. At its most tolerable the movie drifts off into scenic reveries. Western sunsets and sunrises begin to abound. Mr. Crudup appears to be playing a premature alcoholic as well as a pathetic cad, but the movie persists in imagining that no one can resist him or hold a grudge. The plot is in critical condition before Mr. Crudup leaves Pennsylvania.

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.
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. 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. Every device that sustains the conflict seems bogus in the extreme.
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. Not

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. Unfortunately, the movie is 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.
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.
Life or Something Like It (2002) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and violence; occasional sexual candor) *** 1/2 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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