- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

OPENING
All or Nothing (2002) (R: Frequent profanity and a pervasive atmosphere of domestic squalor and conflict; occasional sexual candor; fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse; fleeting graphic violence) **. Mike Leigh returns to the domestic scene, with absorbing but also exasperating results. The reassuring notes of "Life Is Sweet" and "Secrets and Lies" elude him on this occasion, while observing inertia, estrangement and tentative signs that not all hope is lost in three depressing households of flat-dwellers in a London neighborhood. The borderline between pathos and bathos gets paper-thin. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.
Auto Focus (2002) (R: Systematic sexual candor, with frequent nudity and depictions of the amorous activities of a compulsive fornicator-adulterer; fleeting hardcore 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) (PG-13) An English feature that dramatizes a fatal clash between demonstrators and paratrooopers on Jan. 30, 1972 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Writer-director Paul Greengrass attempts to sustain a quartet of individual perspectives, based on authentic participants. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.
Femme Fatale (2002) (R) A new Brian De Palma suspense thriller, contrived to exploit the considerable photogenic allure of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. She is cast as a former jewel thief who fears that her past may be vulnerable to exposure by a free-lance photographer played by Antonio Banderas, who has caught the lady unawares. She would appear to be hiding in plain sight as the wife of Peter Coyote, the American ambassador in Paris. Opens Wednesday.
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 sexbomb 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.
I Spy (2002) (PG-13: "Action violence, some sexual content and language" according to the MPAA) An espionage comedy-thriller derived from the popular television series of the middle 1960s, which co-starred Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as trouble-shooting secret agents. Owen Wilson plays the updated master spy, Alex Scott, who must recruit and indoctrinate an outsider, Eddie Murphy as middleweight boxer Kelly Robinson, scheduled for a championship bout in Budapest. The financier behind the fight, Malcolm McDowell, is also an international criminal who has stolen the prototype for a new reconnaissance aircraft. The CIA fears that it could be adapted to the needs of terrorists seeking delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction.
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 Dupont 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.

NOW SHOWING
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.
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.
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 kids make oodles of cash and, sadly but understandably, buy into their own manufactured images. 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.
Formula 51 (2002) (R: Persistent, exaggerated profanity, graphic violence and vulgarity; 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. Claiming 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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 Timothy 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.
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.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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