- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2002


• 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 to save the crew of NASA's third manned mission to the moon, in 1970, after an explosion damages their ship on the moon-bound leg of the voyage. This transfer to an Imax projection system is the first attraction of its kind booked at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

• Biggie & Tupac (2002) (No MPAA Rating: adult subject matter) A documentary feature from the resourceful show-biz muckraker Nick Broomfield, recalling the ill-fated association of East Coast rappers Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Exclusively at Visions Cinema.

• 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.

• Ghost Ship (2002) (R) 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 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 1944. The charnel house atmosphere is oppressive, and the ensemble is distinguised 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 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.

• Jackass: The Movie (2002) (R) A feature-length spin-off of the MTV novelty series originated by Johnny Knoxville, presiding over the screwball exploits of colleagues who like to perform simultaneously dangerous and moronic stunts.

• Paid in Full (2002) (R) A crime melodrama set in Harlem in the 1980s, with Wood Harris as a young man seduced by the riches of the drug trade while working the counter at a dry cleaning shop. The cast also includes Mekhi Philfer, Kevin Carroll, Esai Morales and Regina Hall.

• 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.


• Abandon (2002) (PG-13: Depictions of drug and alcohol use among college undergraduates; occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor) 1/2*. The unprepared yet tediously mannered Stephen Gaghan engineers this threadbare dud. A college-campus spinetingler that exemplifies the numb and formulaic, "Abandon" surrounds coed Katie Holmes with menacing cliches as she tries to complete a stellar academic record and impress job interviewers. Her boyfriend, Embry (Charlie Hunnam), reputedly a boy genius of the performing arts and a privately wealthy renegade, seems to be stalking her after a two-year disappearance. Benjamin Bratt turns up as a pathetic zombie of a police detective, assigned to reopen the missing Embry case after recovering from a nervous breakdown. All the options are flimsy, and Mr. Gaghan elects to prefer the very flimsiest as he gropes toward a supposedly diabolical fadeout.

• 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.

• Below (2002) (R) A submarine thriller with supernatural horror elements. A World War II sub called the Tiger Shark is suddenly at the mercy of weird fears and delusions after rescuing a trio of survivors. With Bruce Greenwood and Matt Davis as the officers in command, plus Olivia Williams, Scott Foley and Holt McCallany.

• 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.

• Brown Sugar (2002) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and frequent sexual allusions; scant regard for the sanctity of marriage vows) **. The title is a euphemism for the Ideal Woman of Color, ostensibly embodied by Sanaa Lathan as a hip-hop critic named Sid. It might as well allude to the hip-hop idiom, which is also associated with all things desirable in pop while linking Sid to Dre, a childhood sweetheart in New York who grows up to be a record executive, played by Taye Diggs. Though newly married to a trophy spouse (Nicole Ari Parker), Mr. Diggs continues to spend most of his time confiding in Miss Lathan, who rejects Boris Kodjoe as a tall, handsome and painfully kind suitor who starts for the New York Nets. The drawling comic rapper Mos Def emerges in a minor role that makes it easy to forget the principal characters.

• 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.

• Formula 51 (2002) (R: Persistent, exaggerated profanity, graphic violence and vulgarity; facetious episodes of sniping, bombing, intestinal malfunction and evisceration; an interlude of slapstick copulation) 1/2*. "Formula 51" aims to be a rollicking monstrosity, so outrageous that it would be absurd to hold it to even modest standards of responsibility or credibility. The tone and execution are insulting. Samuel L. Jackson, also a co-producer, is supposed to anchor the antics as a man with a plan to swindle and exterminate the mob patrons he has been servicing for almost 30 years as a chemical consultant and designer of amphetamines for party animals. Claming to have a pip, POS 51, he burns some bridges at home and heads for a rendezvous with Liverpool mobsters. Clad in a kilt for most of the film, Mr. Jackson acquires sidekicks in Robert Carlyle and Emily Mortimer, perhaps the least believable assassin in movie history. Packed with repulsive spectacles, including a rampant bout of diarrhea and the visceral explosion of a gangster played by Meat Loaf.

• 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.

• Jonah A Veggietales Movie (2002) (G) The debut feature for the popular video cartoon series in which the principal characters are vegetables. The biblical tale of Jonah and the whale serves as a reference point for this musical adventure fantasy.

• Knockaround Guys (2002) (R: Profanity, execution-style murders, graphic torture scene, drug use) *1/2. The Sicilian mafia looks positively like MTV's "The Real World" in "Knockaround Guys," a film that dumps four incompetent wannabe wiseguys into a rural Montana town. With clumsy nods to "The Godfather" and "Reservoir Dogs," the movie is a crude caricature of citified goons vs. backward Montanans. John Malkovich and Dennis Hopper turn in middling performances, as do Barry Pepper, Seth Green and the mesomorphic Vin Diesel. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Man From Elysian Fields (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and systematic sexual candor, involving carriage-trade prostitution) ***. An absorbing new variant on "Sunset Boulevard." Andy Garcia portrays the compromised protagonist, Byron Tiller, a struggling novelist in Pasadena, Calif., who conceals a lucrative moonlighting job as a male escort from devoted wife Julianna Margulies. The agency he works for, Elysian Fields, is managed by an elegant wraith named Luther Fox (Mick Jagger). A celebrity literary couple, the Alcotts, monopolize Tiller's services. The young wife (Olivia Williams) is being pampered by her best-selling but very senior spouse (James Coburn). The weak and susceptible Tiller also becomes an editor and then co-writer on Alcott's sprawling final novel, expecting recognition upon its publication. Eventually, he awakens to his fundamental lack of bargaining power as a glorified temp for wealthy patrons. With Anjelica Huston as the rich client who does slam the door on Luther's fond hopes of legitimacy.

• 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.

• 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 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. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger and director Gore Verbinski never get their pretexts sorted out, but they chalk up several victims, including a runaway horse, forced to leap to a gruesome death from a ferry.

• The Rules of Attraction (2002) (R: Systematic depictions of sexual depravity among college students; frequent profanity; occasional depictions of alcohol and drug abuse; interludes of graphic violence; occasional nudity and simulations of intercourse) 1/2*. A smugly depraved and frolicsome adaptation of the second novel by the prolific but worthless Bret Easton Ellis, reveling in vice-prone college undergraduates at a campus in New England. James Van Der Beek plays the oldest freshman ever seen, an aspiring drug dealer. Mr. Van Der Beek strikes one repulsive pose after another. A diabolical bust, he also seems to be inept at recruiting clients for a vicious dealer played by Clifton Collins Jr. Director Roger Avary amuses himself with reverse motion and spatial tricks to relieve the low-minded montony of the content, but he's clearly deluded about the dramatic interest that can be generated from these updates of privileged corruption.

• 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 movie aspires to juggle satiric and naively therapeutic tendencies, kidding the bondage rituals that excite this particular love match while also suggesting that they're a preamble to enduring domestic bliss.

• Sweet Home Alabama (2002) (PG-13: Occasional comic and sexual vulgarity; fleeting and would-be facetious violence) * . A romantic comedy about the wacky homecoming of an Alabama girl, played by Reese Witherspoon, who has found success as a fashion designer in New York City. Engaged to Patrick Dempsey, the nice and eligible son of New York's mayor, Candice Bergen, the heroine must take care of a minor detail: a belated divorce from her estranged hometown spouse, Josh Lucas, who prefers to be uncooperative. The pretext couldn't be flimsier, and rampant stupidities are invented to sustain it. The heroine is a deceitful wretch, but the return to Pigeon Creek, Ala., supposedly confirms her adorability.

• The Transporter (2002) (PG-13: Brief nudity, exagerrated 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.

• 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. There have already been television dramatizations. 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 movie would have more authority if its affectionate and scenic virtues were reinforced by a securely suspenseful structure and an aptitude for miraculous highlights. The cast includes William Hurt as Pa Tuck, Sissy Spacek as Ma Tuck and Amy Irving and Victor Garber as the heroine's parents.

• 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. The notion of Mr. Chan suddenly adjusting to superlative acrobatic and combat prowess is enjoyable, and there are amusing support mechanisms apart from the tux: Jennifer Love Hewitt gets her best movie showcase as his sidekick, a government chemist; and Ritchie Coster and Peter Stormare are effectively preposterous as the villains, who hope to contaminate the bottled water industry.

• Welcome to Collinwood (2002) (R: Frequent profanity and occasional comic vulgarity) *1/2. A haphazard attempt at a likable mongrel of an entertainment, a farce about inept burglars who struggle to crack a safe secluded in a slum apartment in Cleveland. The movie was adapted and directed by the fraternal team of Anthony and Joe Russo, Cleveland homeboys who fail to sustain a welcoming kind of scruffiness and charm. The source material is a beloved Italian comedy of 1958, Mario Monicelli's "I Soliti Ignoti," which became "Big Deal on Madonna Street" in American release. Louis Malle tried to update it as "Crackers" in the middle 1980s. Bob Fosse tried to turn it into a musical, "Big Deal." It looks as if the original may be inimitable. Michael Jeter is the most effective member of the Russo ensemble, which also includes William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell, Luis Guzman, Isaiah Washington and George Clooney, in a minor and unflattering role.

• White Oleander (2002) (PG-13: Thematic preoccupation with family separation and conflict; occasional profanity and graphic violence; allusions to a murder case; occasional sexual candor) **1/2. A faithful and absorbing adaptation of the Janet Fitch best-seller about the ordeal of an adolescent girl placed in a succession of misfit foster homes after her mother is jailed for murder. Alison Lohman is exceptionally appealing as the heroine, Astrid. The grotesque weaknesses in the basic material can stir sarcastic resistance as Astrid's bad-luck placements begin to look calamitous to a fault: She's shot by crazy-jealous foster mom Robin Penn Wright; then watches in horror as Renee Zellwegger is driven to despair after being tormented from afar by Michelle Pfeiffer, cast as Astrid's diabolical mom, determined to remain a domineering influence even behind bars. Patrick Fugit represents optimism as the orphan who befriends Astrid while they're residents of a juvenile dorm in Los Angeles. With Cole Hauser in an impressively smoldering performance as the first of the foster dads.


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