- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

OPENING
Better Luck Tomorrow (2003) (R: Occasional graphic violence, profanity, sexual candor and simulated drug use) *1/2. A sometimes intriguing but inescapably vicious and unsavory independent feature about a high school crime gang formed among Asian-American boys with high IQs and grade-point averages. The novelty elements never really outsmart the melodramatic cliches, which confine us to a nest of precocious psychopaths whose depravity and betrayal take penny-dreadful forms. Nevertheless, director Justin Lin shows some promise with unknown performers and the Southern California suburban settings. A confident assessment of his talent may have to await material that doesn't accentuate the lurid and fatalistic.
Holes (2003) (PG) An eccentric generational comedy about the juvenile inmates of a detention camp in Texas. The youths become suspicious about the obsession of their warden (Sigourney Weaver) and her henchmen (Jon Voight and Tim Blake Nelson), who keep the detainees digging holes on the property. With Shia LaBeouf as the teenage protagonist, a new arrival named Stanley. Directed by Andrew Davis from a novel by Louis Sachar, who also wrote the screenplay.
Malibu's Most Wanted (2003) (PG-13) A farce starring Jamie Kennedy as a Malibu, Calif., brat named Brad Gluckman who craves notoriety as a rapper, B-Rad. This aspiration coincides with his father's gubernatorial campaign. Ryan O'Neal and Bo Derek are cast as his estranged parents. The cast also includes Taye Diggs, Anthony Anderson, Blair Underwood, Regina Hall, Damien Dante Wayans and Snoop Dogg. Directed by John Whitesell from a screenplay attributed to Mr. Kennedy, Fax Bahr and Adam Small.
10 (2002) (No MPAA rating adult subject matter) Not to be confused with Blake Edwards' famous glorification of Bo Derek. A new feature from the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, this social comedy is meant to reflect the preoccupations of several residents of Tehran who happen to share the front seat of a car as argumentative passengers. The cycle begins with a 10-year-old boy who wrangles with the driver, his unseen mother. She becomes visible in nine subsequent encounters with relatives, friends and strangers. An exclusive engagement through May 1 only at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre. In Farsi with English subtitles.

NOW SHOWING
Anger Management (2003) (PG-13: Arguably a lenient rating, given recurrent profanity and comic vulgarity; an abundance of jokes about genitalia; fleeting farcical violence; occasional sexual allusions and vulgarity) *1/2. A presold but keenly disappointing comedy revolving around an enforced odd-couple relationship between Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. A mild-mannered fellow named Dave Buznik, Mr. Sandler is ordered to attend anger-management sessions after being removed from an airplane. Mr. Nicholson is cast as his scruffy, volatile therapist, Buddy Rydell, whose hands-on measures include taking up residence with his new subject. The cast also includes Marisa Tomei, Woody Harrelson, Luis Guzman, Lynne Thigpen and John Turturro. Directed by Peter Segal from a screenplay by David Dorfman.
All the Real Girls (2003) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; nudity and simulated intercourse; fleeting violence) ***. The second feature of a young North Carolina filmmaker, David Gordon Green, who appears to be developing a flair for intimacy and poetic realism. The methodology still seems far more intriguing than the end result, which falls well short of unmitigated satisfaction. The setting is a mill town where the young people seem to be both footloose and derelict. The romance between a young man named Paul (Paul Schneider) and a recent prep school grad named Noel (Zooey Deschanel), the kid sister of his best friend, proves vulnerable to peer pressure and the uncertainties of the principals. Evidently, they're incapable of trusting each other or themselves enough during the preliminary stages of a love affair. The movie's moods, textures and images are often fresh and stirring, but the scenario remains as tentative as the characters.
Assassination Tango (2003) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor) *1/2. A vanity production that backfires rather laughably on Robert Duvall. Obviously, you don't have to be a pretty face to miscalculate a vanity production. Mr. Duvall lets almost two hours of shambling plot feel like a pitiless four or five while pretending to be a hit man from Coney Island who gets a bit distracted while waiting to whack a victim in Buenos Aires. The principal distraction is tango dancer Luciana Pedraza, clearly a newcomer to the acting trade. She betrays little urgency about acquiring some technique. Her softly accented monotone seems to epitomize the movie's surrender to inertia. Written and directed by Mr. Duvall, who does himself no discernible favors.
Bend It Like Beckham (2001) (PG-13: Occasional comic and sexual vulgarity; fleeting profanity) *1/2. A gauche blend of ethnic domestic farce and youthful sports melodrama revolving around Parminder Nagra as the younger daughter in a transplanted Sikh family living in suburban London. The heroine, named Jess, has a flair for soccer and idolizes the professional star David Beckham. Recruited for a local women's team, she hides her participation from her straight-laced parents. Misunderstandings and ruses proliferate before everything gets patched up, with the older sister married and Jess headed for the United States with a soccer scholarship. The family episodes rival "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" for complacent vulgarity.
Bringing Down the House (2003) (PG-13: Systematic comic vulgarity; frequent lewd allusions and fleeting depictions of drug use) *1/2. Another farcical orgy for chuckleheads. Steve Martin plays a divorced tax lawyer whose uptight flaws are cured by a devious houseguest, Queen Latifah as a brash felon who craves legal counsel and protection. The bogus nature of the bonding between hero and heroine is underlined by the fact that Latifah attracts a willing, funnier admirer in Eugene Levy as Mr. Martin's lecherous colleague.
Bulletproof Monk (2003) (PG-13) An adventure comedy starring Chow Yun-Fat as a monk whose command of martial arts has been instrumental in protecting a sacred scroll. His search for a successor leads somewhat improbably to Seann William Scott as a young pickpocket on the streets of New York.
Chasing Papi (2003) (PG) An ethnic romantic comedy about three young women who discover that they have a "perfect man" in common. He has waged successful seductions in New York, Chicago and Miami. The conflicts get sorted out in Los Angeles.
Chicago (2002) (PG-13: Sustained cynical tone and frequent sexual candor; occasional violence) ****. Rob Marshall's dazzling movie version of the Bob Fosse revamp of "Roxie Hart" is the most accomplished thing of its kind since Herbert Ross' remarkable adaptation of Dennis Potter's "Pennies From Heaven" in 1981. Both heroines are predatory: Catherine Zeta-Jones as vaudeville headliner Velma Kelly and Renee Zellweger as the avid nobody Roxie Hart, who lusts after Velma's status and inadvertently takes a shortcut to notoriety by gunning down her boyfriend, Dominic West. This brings Roxie to the attention of Chicago tabloids and attracts the services of unscrupulous criminal attorney Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). With John C. Reilly as Roxie's patsy of a spouse and Queen Latifah in a terrific impersonation of prison warden Mama Morton. Golden Globe awards for Miss Zellweger and Mr. Gere, plus best musical or comedy. Six Academy Awards, including best picture and best supporting actress for Miss Zeta-Jones.
The Core (2003) (PG-13: Morbid subject matter; intense sci-fi imagery; brief profanity) *1/2. Tracks the plot of "Armageddon" an appallingly dumb movie in almost every respect save for its choice of natural phenomenon. This time, instead of a giant asteroid threatening Earth, it's a problem with all the rotating stuff at the planetary core, which is responsible for the magnetic field that protects us from deadly solar radiation. This all would be a semiamusing ride, but we have enough trouble right here on the ground. Starring Hilary Swank and Aaron Eckhart. Directed by Jon Amiel. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
Cowboy Bebop (2003) (R: Strong language and realistic violence). **. This is the latest anime, or Japanese animation, film to come ashore, and it likely won't create converts to the genre. Visually intriguing but childlike in its storytelling, the film follows a gang of bounty hunters on the trail of bioterrorists. The film's better sequences mirror stylized live-action violence, but the robotic line readings deaden their impact. Based on the Cartoon Network program of the same name. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Dreamcatcher (2003) (R) **. A supernatural horror thriller derived from a Stephen King novel, adapted by William Goldman and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Four lifelong friends Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis, Jason Lee and Timothy Olyphant reunite in a cabin in snowy Maine for an annual hunting trip. A stranger contaminated by some kind of alien parasite intrudes and obliges the friends to counter the threat with telepathic resources that date back to a boyhood crisis that demanded extraordinary heroism. The men also become targets for a military unit stalking the alien menace. The new movie is a doomsday monstrosity that becomes more laborious and insufferable the longer it strings out an entrapment premise for suspenseful uncertainty or graphically appalling impact. The cast includes Morgan Freeman, Tom Sizemore and Donnie Wahlberg.
DysFunKtional Family (2003) (R: Pervasive profanity; strong sexual content; drug-related humor) ***. In a decisive shot in the arm for his (so far) lackluster career, Eddie Griffin has made the best live comedy concert film at least since Eddie Murphy's "Delirious" (1983) and arguably has surpassed that. Comparisons with Richard Pryor's "Live in Concert" (1979) aren't out of order "DysFunKtional" is that good. Be forewarned, though: It is raunchy and blasphemous. It tips over every sacred cow in the book. But as edgy as it is, the movie also manages to be quite moving. Woven into the comedian's nimble performance at a Chicago theater is hand-held footage of Mr. Griffin and his zany family back in Kansas City. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
Ghosts of the Abyss (2003) (G: Contains nothing objectionable) ***. Six years after scoring the highest-grossing movie in history, director James Cameron brings us back to the Titanic. This time, there's no Leo, no Kate, no syrupy love story, no "king of the world" swagger just the massive tangled wreck itself, brought to three-dimensional life by cutting-edge Imax technology. At times, "Ghosts" is infatuated with technological minutiae, but it is a deeply humane documentary. Imbuing the ocean-bed grave with life again, Mr. Cameron's state-of-the-art cameras wriggle into the great ship's interior and show exactly where the passengers and crew worked and slept, dined and danced. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
The Good Thief (2003) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor; fleeting nudity; simulations of drug use) ***. Neil Jordan's playfully mercenary update of the vintage French caper melodrama "Bob le Flambeur," transposed to a French Riviera that teems with exotic felons. The most engaging is also the most weather-beaten: Nick Nolte as a half-American outcast, gambler and drug addict who resolves to kick his habit and protect a young prostitute (Nutsa Kukhianidze) from her worst impulses while participating in a scheme to purloin a villa full of masterpieces. This crime involves a grandiose hoax: persuading police that the gang has designs on the impregnable vault of a nearby casino. The diverting confederates include Ralph Fiennes. The showdown involves a genuinely satisfying twist of situational fate, allowing a supreme stroke of luck to trump all schemes and deceptions. Mr. Jordan hasn't indulged himself a blithe entertainment since "High Spirits." Maybe he should succumb to the tempation more often.
The Guys (2003) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity) ***1/2. The first feature to deal specifically with the tragedies of September 11, 2001. It sets an admirably disarming example for those who might follow, especially purveyors of disaster spectacle. Jim Simpson, the manager of a theater company in Lower Manhattan for several years, transposes a two-character play that was mounted in the aftermath of the calamity. The movie allows a larger cast and extensive city backdrops, but most of the scenes still revolve around the encounter of two strangers brought together in shock and sorrow.
Head of State (2003) (PG-13: strong language and drug references) .1/2. Chris Rock became a comic sensation, in part, because of his scabrous routines mocking racial mores. Those unexpurgated rants make "Head of State" a considerable disappointment. Mr. Rock, who co-wrote and directs, stars as Mays Gilliam, a District alderman who becomes the first black presidential candidate when the existing candidate and his vice presidential nominee die in a plane crash. What should have been a satirical rummaging of our political process becomes a tame look at politics as usual. Only Bernie Mac as Mays' fast-talking brother gives the film some energy. Also starring Dylan Baker and Lynn Whitfield. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (2002) (No MPAA rating adult subject matter, with morbid thematic elements and occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual allusions) *1/2. A French filmmaker, Laetitia Colombani, adds her two centimes to the trend favoring pointlessly devious, tail-chasing suspense thrillers. Miss Colombani is capable of making good-looking movies, but the material at hand here makes it impossible for her to succeed. Audrey Tautou of "Amelie" is deployed as a femme fatale, always too obsessive to be disarming, an art student named Angelique who has a crush on a married cardiologist, Lioc (Samuel Le Bihan). In French with English subtitles.
House of 1000 Corpses (2003) (R: Sadistic violence, strong language and multiple scenes of torture). *1/2. Ghoulish rocker Rob Zombie wrote and directed this fright-free horror yarn indebted to gruesome cult classics such as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Two couples on a road trip stop at the Museum of Monsters and Madmen, a gas-and-go catering to freak-show sights. The group finds the shop's owner disturbing, but a local urban legend of a killer named Dr. Satan grabs their attention. They try to find the tree where locals once hung the doctor but instead get involved with a twisted area family that thrives on pain and torture. Mr. Zombie's amateurish effort should be a warning to those who think anyone can direct a major motion picture. The singer's lack of experience is apparent in every scene, and only the most devoted horror fans will find something to admire here. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Irreversible (2003) (No MPAA rating adult subject matter, with graphic, obscenely sustained depictions of a beating and a rape; considerable profanity, nudity and sexual candor; simulations of drug use; extended though murky sequences inside a sex club for homosexuals) No stars. The ultrarepulsive shocker of last year's Cannes Film Festival, "Irreversible" is a backward-chronology account of retribution and rape. It was written, directed and photographed by Gaspar Noe, ostensibly obsessed with the theme "Time destroys everything." It's difficult to determine what his game is in morally or aesthetically defensible terms. In the "centerpiece" episode, Monica Bellucci is accosted by a pimp in an underground tunnel and subjected to prolonged anal rape. Evidently, it's important to the filmmaker to rub our noses in cruelty and gore. The structure emphasizes appalling episodes in the first half, then retrieves pre-traumatic encounters and love scenes that occur before the calamities. The inversion merely magnifies your sense of Mr. Noe as an underhanded wretch. In French with English subtitles.
La Cercle Rouge (1970) (No MPAA rating adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and graphic violence; fleeting nudity) **. A revival of one of the last features of French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville, whose "Bob Le Flambeur" is coincidentally the source of Neil Jordan's "The Good Thief." An all-star team of jewel robbers, consisting of Alain Delon, Yves Montand, Francois Perier and Gian Maria Volonte was recruited to portray an ad-hoc gang, collaborating on a climactic heist designed to top the specimen in Jules Dassin's "Rififi," a project that Mr. Melville once intended to direct. The overcompensating police detective assigned to thwart them is played by the comic actor Andre Bourvil. It was his last film performance. This import restores the original French version of 140 minutes, augmented by new subtitles. Unfortunately, a museum-piece staleness clings to "La Cercle Rouge," which takes its sweet time and proves both tight-lipped and ponderous to a fault. There are some virtuoso images and a diverting dive, Santi's, the nightclub owned by Mr. Perier's character. Exclusively at the AFI Silver Theatre through May 1.
Laurel Canyon (2003) (R: Profanity; sexual situations, nudity; frequent drug use) ***. Named for a street that connects the San Fernando Valley to downtown Los Angeles, it's essentially "The Graduate" in reverse: In this age of organization kids, it's the undisciplined boomer parents who sleep in late and flop around aimlessly all day. The always riveting, Oscar-winning Frances McDormand plays a record producer, Jane, running a studio from her home on Laurel Canyon, the legendary West Coast hub of the late '60s folk movement. The den of hedonism becomes the battleground for an amusing clash of subcultures when Jane's son (Christian Bale) and his fiancee (Kate Beckinsale), two uptight careerist strivers, show up. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
A Man Apart (2003) (R: Strong language; graphic violence; heavy drug content) * Sinks to the sophomoric depths you associate with made-for-Cinemax tripe. Indeed, this story of Drug Enforcement Administration agents battling a Mexican drug cartel goes out of its way to reek and earns a solid A for anti-effort. Vin Diesel has been churning out B-grade action movies like Pez candies for the past year, and this time, the bulky blockhead has outdone himself. For sheer, unintentional comic relief, "A Man Apart" can't be beat. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
A Mighty Wind (2003) (PG-13: Occasional comic candor and vulgarity) ****. A classic new comedy from Christopher Guest, who reunites almost everyone from "Best of Show" and adds a few more virtuosos while demonstrating that his mock-documentary technique is as clever and satisfying as ever. The pretext is the passing of a venerable show-business figure who managed several folk-rock acts during the middle and late 1960s. A memorial concert is planned for Town Hall in New York. Three acts are booked, two of them with the original stars: erstwhile dueters Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara) and three-part harmonizers the Folksmen (Mr. Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer). The third is more of a ringer: the updated edition of a beamish ensemble called the New Main Street Singers, with Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins and Parker Posey in prominent spots. Fred Willard gets the run of a few sensational interludes as their screwball manager. There's a slightly ponderous tendency in the Mitch and Mickey subplot, but the lapses are fleeting, decisively outnumbered by the high spots. Ed Begley Jr. proves a wonderful addition to the troupe as an ethnically confused broadcasting executive for public television.
Nowhere in Africa (2002) (No MPAA rating adult subject matter) The new Academy Award winner as best foreign-language film, this German import depicts the exile of a Jewish family during the Hitler regime. Leaving Breslau, a lawyer, his wife and little girl find refuge in Kenya for the duration of World War II, struggling to manage a farm with the aid of a Kenyan cook and foreman. Directed by Caroline Link and derived from an autobiographical book by Stefanie Zweig. Dialogue in both German and English, with English subtitles.
Phone Booth (2003) (R: Strong language, violent gunplay) **. Colin Farrell stars in this famously delayed feature set in and around a New York City phone booth. Mr. Farrell plays a slimy publicist targeted by a sniper who disapproves of his lifestyle. Director Joel Schumacher's one-gimmick thriller tries a gaggle of visual tricks to spur us on, but ultimately, the story and characters are as thin as a phone-book page. Originally set to open last fall, the film was held back because of the real sniper investigation. Also starring Forest Whitaker and Kiefer Sutherland. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
The Pianist (2002) (R: Graphic violence and depictions of anti-Semitism in a World War II setting) **1/2. Roman Polanski lacks the staying power needed to sustain this movie version of a 1946 memoir by the classical pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, who recalled his ordeal of surviving German conquest and occupation in Warsaw for five years. Adrien Brody, looking serene and elegant at the piano in the prewar scenes, is cast as Szpilman. His prosperous Jewish family must adjust to humiliation and impoverishment in the Warsaw ghetto under Nazi control. A fluke spares him from transportation to the death camps with other members of the family, who perish. Named best movie of 2002 by the National Society of Film Critics. Academy Awards for Mr. Polanski, Mr. Brody and screenwriter Ronald Harwood.
Spider (2003) (R: Profanity, simulated intercourse, brief violence, perpetually disturbing atmosphere) ***. Adapted from a 1990 novel by Patrick McGrath (who wrote the screenplay), "Spider" stars Ralph Fiennes as a schizophrenic recalling a murderous past in urban-industrial London. A wonderful, and wonderfully provocative, movie. Also starring Miranda Richardson and Gabriel Byrne. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
Spun (2003) (R: Pervasive drug use; strong sexual content and nudity; profanity) **1/2. The most unflinching look at hard-drug subculture since Danny Boyle's "Trainspotting." Far from glamorizing drug use speed is this movie's narcotic of choice "Spun" shows us its underbelly: the squalor, the various physical maladies, the psychological malaise. Starring Jason Schwartzman, Mickey Rourke and Brittany Murphy. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
Tears of the Sun (2003) (R: Frequent graphic violence, involving depictions of military combat and atrocities; occasional profanity; fleeting nudity and depictions of rape in war-torn settings) ***1/2. An exceptionally dynamic and stirring blend of escape thriller and combat spectacle, well-timed from the standpoint of people who regard themselves as pro-military. The movie celebrates the prowess of a Navy SEAL squadron commanded by Bruce Willis, who must free-lance with orders to extract a quartet of foreign nationals from a Catholic medical mission in a rain-forest region of Nigeria. Honor and necessity oblige him to shepherd scores of Christian Ibo refugees to safety after the outbreak of another civil war. Stripped for action, with only the squadron and a reduced party of refugees stalked by hundreds of rebel soldiers as they near the Cameroon border, "Tears" becomes a streamlined juggernaut of suspense and visceral excitement.
What a Girl Wants (2003) (PG: mild profanity) *1/2. It's everything Hollywood thinks we want: a charismatic lead actress, a heartwarming story, whimsical comedy, lots of catchy pop music. Daphne Reynolds (Nickelodeon star Amanda Bynes) is a brassy all-American girl with a bohemian single mother (Kelly Preston). They live in New York's Chinatown and work at chi-chi weddings in the Jersey suburbs mom a middling singer, daughter a waitress. Seventeen-year-old Daphne yearns to meet her father, who turns out to be a dashing English lord (the talented but typecast Colin Firth). All perfectly harmless and cute, it's also a bore to watch. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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