- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

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.
Half Past Dead (2002) (PG-13: Violent action sequences, sexual content) Aging action star Steven Seagal returns to duty as an undercover FBI agent looking to thwart a prison-based plan to kill a Supreme Court justice. Rapper Ja Rule ("The Fast and the Furious") co-stars as an inmate helping Mr. Seagal flush out the evil plot, led by a disgruntled ex-prison official ("Like Mike's" Morris Chestnut).
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.
Naqoyqatsi (2002) (PG: Fleeting images with violent connotations) * The concluding repetitious installment in a so-called "Qatsi Trilogy," from the polemical, abstract documentarian Godfrey Reggio, who attracted Francis Ford Coppola's patronage with the prototype, "Koyanisqatsi," in 1983. There was also a "Powaqqatsi" in 1988. Steven Soderbergh fronts as the patron for this belated finale. The titles derive from Hopi expressions, originally "a life out of balance" and now "a way of killing each other." Portentous imagery, much of it sweeping and panoramic in the Imax travelogue fashion, is accompanied by Philip Glass' minimalist throbbing or tinkling on the soundtrack. There are occasional murmurs but no dialogue scenes or narration. The pictorial aspects always seem miscellaneous rather than thematically coherent. In "Naqoyquatsi" (pronounced nah-coy-cot-see) Mr. Reggio begins with vistas of a vast, abandoned building and shifts to oceans, athletes, binary symbols, current events, more athletes and even marching soldiers to remind you that there is supposedly an anti-war angle. Numerous pictorial schemes are lifted from Leni Riefenstahl, especially her "Olympia." Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.
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.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002) (PG) A feature documentary that pays tribute to the studio musicians of Motown Records during its most illustrious years. The keepers of the backbeat for such headliners as Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were known as the Funk Brothers. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.

Alias Betty (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence; fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse; subplots about the accidental death of one child and abduction of another) * A crackpot domestic-topical melodrama about a best-selling writer named Betty Fisher (Sandrine Kiberlain) whose son dies in an accidental fall soon after she returns from New York to a residence in a Paris suburb. Her once abusive and still erratic mother Margot (Nicole Garcia) thinks that a homeless waif would prove a consolation, so she kidnaps a lookalike named Jose from a housing project. Despite her resentment, Betty does indeed find herself drawn to Jose and his plight. Meantime, director Claude Miller endorses the gathering craziness of it all by blackening the reputation of Jose's mother Carole (Mathilde Seigner), a barmaid with minimal maternal sentiment and a passion for promiscuous sex and criminal company. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema.
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 spacecraft 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.
Auto Focus (2002) (R: Systematic sexual candor, with frequent nudity and depictions of the amorous activities of a compulsive fornicator-adulterer; fleeting hard-core images and occasional profanity; concluding episodes of graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details) * An ultimately pedantic and inconclusive biopic about the double life of L.A. disc jockey and TV sitcom star Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear), who became nationally famous as the lead in "Hogan's Heroes." He devoted off-hours to promiscuous sex, enhanced by private taping sessions with videotape recorders supplied by a technician named John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), who also served as a pimp and swinging sidekick. Mr. Crane's escapades surfaced after his murder in 1978. The crime was never solved, although Mr. Carpenter was tried and acquitted years later. The movie hints very strongly that Mr. Carpenter, also deceased, was the only suspect with motive and ample opportunity.
Bloody Sunday (2002) (R: Profanity, violent scenes of rioting, military killing civilians and graphic footage of wounded victims) ****. After seeing the film, you may feel like an eyewitness may have felt the day after the Jan. 30, 1972 event in which 13 unarmed Northern Ireland protestors were killed by British paratroopers: confused, emotionally wrenched, angry, incredulous. Directed by Paul Greengrass, "Bloody Sunday" credibly captures the panicky chaos of the day's rioting and military assault. The event speaks for itself loudly and appallingly in one of the year's best films. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
Bowling for Columbine (2002) (R: profanity, violent images of Columbine shootings and September 11 attacks) .*1/2. As a documentarian, Michael Moore must be out of original ideas. His latest film is occasionally about America's gun violence problem, but it's a scattershot rant about corporations, air pollution, health care and international relations. Mr. Moore tries to prove too much, and this lively, frequently funny documentary suffers as a result. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
Comedian (2002) (R: Frequent profanity and occasional comic vulgarity) ***. An adroit and entertaining show-business chronicle about Jerry Seinfeld's efforts to reinvent his stand-up comedy act from scratch. Watching this distillation of an arduous process proves both enjoyable and informative.
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.
Femme Fatale (2002) (R: Fleeting nudity and frequent sexual allusions, including a brief interlude of simulated intercourse; occasional profanity and graphic violence) *1/2. Brian De Palma returns to the crime and mystery genre, without discernible freshness or cleverness. He belabors the elusive and ruthless allure of a dishy deceiver first introduced seducing a starlet and lifting a diamond studded ornamental halter at the Cannes Film Festival. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos makes an imposing tease. A disappearing act in the wake of the theft leaves the anti-heroine threatened by former confederates and searching for a new identity. This ultimately leads her to Peter Coyote as a wealthy American and Antonio Banderas as a Paris photographer. The film is a prolonged fakeout loop in which doublecrosses, doubling-back twists of plot and waterlogged images abound. All the deceptions are aimed at confusing the audience. The characters have scant reason to bewilder and betray each other. In retrospect the depiction of the Cannes jewel theft makes no sense at all. A Danish model named Rie Rasmussen is the leading lady's playmate. The lesbian teases may be the film's only selling point.
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 sexpot 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.
Ghost Ship (2002) (R: Sustained ominous atmosphere and episodes of graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details; occasional profanity; fleeting nudity and sexual allusions) * A nautical horror thriller about the plight of a salvage tug crew that appears to have found an auspicious derelict, a passenger ship lost in Arctic waters 40 years earlier. Upon boarding, the prize turns out to be a literally haunted deathtrap. The screenplay demonstrates how difficult it is to reconcile indiscriminate borrowings from "Aliens," "Titanic" and "Casper." As the fetching ramrod of the outfit, Miss Margulies is supposed to recall Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. She encounters a Casper in Emily Browning as a ghost child, who eventually fills us in on all the atrocities that occurred on a night of terror.
Heaven (2002) (R: Strong language, brief sexual situation) **1/2. Cate Blanchett stars as Philippa, a widow jailed for trying to kill a drug dealer responsible for her husband's death with a terrorist-style bomb. Instead, she murders four innocent people. Set in Italy, the film finds Philippa falling for a young Italian officer (a bewildered but effective Giovanni Ribisi) who is touched by her remorse and gives up everything to protect her. The late Krzysztof Kieslowski wrote this uneven moral saga which has little to offer after a compelling first reel. Considerable dialogue in Italian with English subtitles. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
I Spy (2002) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and sexual allusions; occasional graphic violence, with dubious sadistic touches in what is meant to be a largely farcical framework) *1/2. A slapdash espionage farce pairing Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson as improbable secret agents, partnered on short notice in order to foil an international criminal played by Malcolm McDowell. His hangout is Budapest, where Mr. Murphy, an undefeated middleweight showboat, anticipates making quick work of a European underdog. Mr. Wilson is supposedly a trained agent, but afflicted by an inferiority complex and carrying a torch for colleague Famke Janssen. Resemblances to the 1965 prototype, a television series that co-starred Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as trouble-shooting secret agents, are so remote as to be irrelevant.
Jackass: The Movie (2002) (R: Nudity, many violent sequences, profanity and bodily excretions) 1/2*. The MTV reality show smashes its way to the big screen, led by antihero fan favorite Johnny Knoxville. A team of pale, tattoo-strewn men commit one dangerous stunt after another, many of which will repulse all but a select group of rebellious teen viewers. The repeated self-mutilation is neither funny nor inspired. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
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.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual vulgarity and graphic violence, with a frequently facetious context) **. Adam Sandler is getting an Academy Award build-up for playing a neurotic wreck whose avoidance syndrome almost spoils a budding attachment to a potential sweetheart played by Emily Watson. The performance isn't nearly as dynamic or appealing as his work in "Happy Gilmore" or "The Wedding Singer," but partisans may want to mistake it for a Chaplinesque baby step.
The Ring (2002) (PG-13: Systematic ominous atmosphere and morbid illustrative emphasis; episodes of grapic violence with gruesome illustrative details, including an infanticide, a drowning, an electrocution and the death of a runaway horse; episodes involving supernatural threats to young children; occasional profanity and drug allusions; frequent allusions to child neglect) * Another good reason to be leery of transplanted Japanese sensations. Derived from a supernatural horror thriller that supposedly mesmerized Japanese moviegoers, this lugubrious flesh-creeper purports to manipulate a lame urban legend: Death awaits the people who watch a mysterious video, composed of morbid images from the backlog of avant-garde filmmaking. Naomi Watts plays a Seattle newspaper reporter who chases down this legend after exposing herself to its seven-day curse. In the process she neglects a weird son (David Dorfman) who turns out to be in direct communication with phase two of the wild goose chase: the vendetta of a vindictive ghost child called Samarra.
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.
The Transporter (2002) (PG-13: Brief nudity, exaggerated violence) **1/2. Jason Statham makes a strong bid for action hero status in this improbably yarn about a disciplined "transporter" whose life changes when he takes a peek at a package he is assigned to deliver. Mr. Statham's bulky frame proves surprisingly flexible and director Corey Yuen constructs a series of compelling set pieces that distract from their utter improbability. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
The Truth About Charlie (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and comic vulgarity) *1/2. Jonathan Demme's hapless attempt to update Stanley Donen's incomparably playful and sophisticated Parisian murder mystery of 1963, "Charade," which co-starred Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Walter Matthau. The replacements are Thandie Newton, Mark Wahlberg (in a very silly-looking beret in two or three sequences) and Tim Robbins. While scavenging numerous things from Peter Stone's screenplay, including dialogue wrenched out of context, the remake deglamorizes the setting, lurching around a would-be exotic and menacing yet also multicultural Paris of the present. It would be difficult to imagine a more superfluous remake.
Tuck Everlasting (2002) (PG: Occasional ominous episodes; fleeting graphic violence) **. A Disney throwback to inspirational Americana, derived from the Natalie Babbitt novel that has become a fixture of elementary school reading lists. Alexis Bledel and Jonathan Jackson make a very photogenic match as a 15-year-old named Winnie Foster, the overprotected daughter of wealthy parents in upstate New York, circa 1914, and Jesse Tuck, the youngest son of a mysterious backwoods family that turns out to be blessed and cursed with immortality, the result of a magical spring near their homestead. The reclusive Tucks are being stalked by a sinister type played by Ben Kingsley.

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