- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002

OPENING:
Alias Betty (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) A domestic melodrama about a best-selling writer named Betty (Sandrine Kiberlain) whose son has died in an accident. Her intrusive mother (Nicole Garcia) thinks that a homeless waif named Jose could prove a consolation. Despite her resentment, Betty does indeed find herself drawn to Jose and his plight. Directed by Claude Miller, who was once an assistant to Francois Truffaut; his best known films are "The Best Way To Get Ahead" and "The Littlest Thief." In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema.
8 Mile (2002) (R) The movie debut of the rapper known as Eminem, harking back to a Detroit youth, circa 1995, when his fictional alter-ego, plain Jimmy Smith, is struggling to break through in the city's hip-hop clubs. Curtis Hanson of "Wonder Boys" and "L.A. Confidential" directed, casting Kim Basinger as Jimmy's mom, Brittany Murphy as his girlfriend and Mekhi Phifer, Evan Jones, Omar Benson Miller, De'Angelo Wilson and Eugene Byrd as homeboys. The title alludes to a demarcation line between city and suburbs that also has metaphoric applications to failure and success, happiness and despair and other useful contrasts.

NOW SHOWING
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.
Barbershop (2002) (PG-13: occasional violence, crude language) **. Rapper Ice Cube's latest star vehicle involves a day in the life of an inner-city Chicago barber shop. He isn't the only rapper in the engaging cast. Chart-topper Eve portrays the only woman in a testosterone-charged shop where hot-button issues like reparations are kicked around as the snipped hair flies. The conversations are as lively as the cast, but the film's banal subplots and occasional preaching spoil the fun. Also starring Cedric the Entertainer as Eddie, the barber shop sage. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Biggie & Tupac (2002) (R:) ***. The latest documentary by filmmaker Nick Broomfield, this film dredges up the sediment of the unsolved murder cases of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie Smalls and the Notorious B.I.G.). The film is, at bottom, a riveting human story. It's an old one, too narcissism run amok. Two mildly talented inner-city entertainers make oodles of cash and, sadly but understandably, buy into their own manufactured images. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
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 protesters 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 Women (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; frequent allusions to homicide and depravity) **1/2. This semi-musical murder farce isolates four generations of French actresses at a snowbound country estate at Christmas. The unfortunate man of the house is discovered "dead in his bed with a knife in his back." The sometimes grieving suspects consist of daughters Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier, wife Catherine Deneuve, sister Fanny Ardant, sister-in-law Isabelle Huppert, mother-in-law Danielle Darrieux and domestics Emmanuelle Beart and Firmine Richard. All have something to hide, and share rancorous confessions and evasions in the aftermath. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Cinema Arts, Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle and Shirlington and Landmark Bethesda Row.
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 introduced seducing a starlet and lifting a diamond-studded ornamental halter at the Cannes Film Festival. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos makes a structurally imposing tease as long as her untrained voice is subordinated to sultry postures. A disappearing act in the wake of the theft leaves the anti-heroine threatened by former confederates and searching for a new identity, which ultimately leads her to Peter Coyote as a wealthy American and Antonio Banderas as a Paris photographer. The entire film is a prolonged fake-out loop in which double-crosses, doubling-back twists of plot and waterlogged images abound. Mr. De Palma underlines the loss of integrity in crime-plot manipulation by starting with a clip from "Double Indemnity," in which greed and lust were always clearcut motivations. A Danish model named Rie Rasmussen is the leading lady's playmate. The lesbian teases may be the film's only selling points.
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.
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.
The Grey Zone (2002) (R: Pervasive ominous atmosphere, profanity and graphic violence, against a historical backdrop of the Nazi extermination camps in World War II) ***1/2. A powerful and harrowing movie expansion of Tim Blake Nelson's play about a Sonderkommando squad at Auschwitz on the eve of a futile uprising in October of 1944. The charnel house atmosphere is oppressive, and the ensemble is distinguished by some admirably incisive performers, notably David Chandler (re-enacting his stage role), Daniel Benzali and Allan Corduner. The cast includes Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Mira Sorvino and David Arquette. One of the subplots dramatizes the miraculous survival of an adolescent girl in a heap of gas chamber victims. Preserving her life becomes a quixotic imperative for several of the doomed squad members, who buy time and better rations by consenting to usher inmates into the chambers and then dispose of their corpses and ashes.
Heaven (2002) (R: Strong language, brief sexual situation) **1/2. Cate Blanchett stars as Philippa, a widow jailed for trying to kills 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'm Going Home (2001) (Not rated: very mild sexual suggestiveness; in French with English subtitles) ***. This sluggish but rewarding French movie follows Gilbert Valence (Michel Piccoli) through the vivacious streets of Paris as he tries to reclaim normality in the wake of a family tragedy. It's a bold and affecting attempt to depict the silent superficiality of grief: the seemingly uninteresting period after a survivor has "moved on." Also starring John Malkovich as a creepy, unctuous American movie director. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
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-mutiliation 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 buildup 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.
Red Dragon (2002) (R: Sustained ominous atmosphere; occasional graphic violence with gruesome illustrative details; occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity) ***. A gripping movie and an irresistible business proposition for producer Dino De Laurentiis. This remake of Thomas Harris' crime novel, the book that introduced Hannibal Lecter, is expertly contrived to close a fictional loop with Jonathan Demme's movie version of "The Silence of the Lambs," which showcased Lecter in a big way. Anthony Hopkins reprises his Oscar-winning role and there is once again a sympathetic protagonist: Edward Norton as the FBI profiler Will Graham, who barely survives an encounter with the homicidal shrink during the prologue, then volunteers to pick the brain of the imprisoned Lecter, hoping for clues to the identity of the Red Dragon, a serial killer played by Ralph Fiennes. It amuses Lecter to try to kill Graham by proxy while sharing a few clues.
The Ring (2002) (PG-13: Systematic ominous atmosphere and morbid illustrative emphasis; episodes of graphic 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.
Secretary (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and systematic, semi-facetious depictions of a sadomasochistic sexual liaison; fleeting profanity and nudity; simulations of intercourse) * . A lawyer who needs a sex slave meets a novice secretary who thrives on sadomasochistic attention. As the boss, James Spader has nothing fresh to bring to a caricature of repressed kinkiness. As the heroine, the ugly duckling in a family of prosperous suburban nonentities, Maggie Gyllenhaal does have a flair for simulating both frumps and vixens, a useful capability in this preposterous, prurient context.
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.
The Tuxedo (2002) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity and violence) **. An amusing sorcerer's apprentice pretext that might have been ideal for Jackie Chan but turns out to be maddeningly haphazard, since most of the stunt and chase scenes are photographed in a choppy, blurry fashion. The script seems to have clever ideas to burn; the movie is executed so poorly that it wastes many of them. A cabbie with aspirations, Mr. Chan becomes the chauffeur for Jason Isaacs, an industrialist who also happens to be the equivalent of James Bond. When the master spy is injured in an assassination attempt, the driver assumes his espionage duties, which rely on the phenomenal skills programmed into a magical, high-tech tuxedo.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide