- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

OPENING

• And Now Ladies and Gentlemen (2003) (PG-13) — A whimsical romance from Claude Lelouch, co-starring Jeremy Irons as a fugitive, amnesiac jewel thief and Patricia Kaas as a jazz singer, destined to meet and fall in love when his yacht runs aground on the coast of Morocco.

• Buffalo Soldiers (2003) (R) — Emerging from the inventory shelf at Miramax, this sardonic crime melodrama is set at an American military base in West Germany in the late 1980s, shortly before the Berlin Wall comes tumbling down. Joaquin Phoenix plays a clerk whose black market activities are threatened by the arrival of a new topkick, Scott Glenn, with an attractive daughter, Anna Paquin. The cast also includes Ed Harris, Dean Stockwell and Elizabeth McGovern.

• Camp (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including allusions to homosexuality and promiscuity among a set of teenage characters) — **. A mixed assortment of musical comedy novelty and ineptitude from Todd Graff, a former actor making his directing debut with an homage to an alma mater, Stagemanor, a summer camp for aspiring juvenile actors, singers and dancers located in upstate New York. The fictional version is called Camp Ovation, and the episodic scenario revolves around reactions to Daniel Letterle as Vlad, a teenage folk singer whose diffident straightness sets him apart from the vast majority of the boys enrolled. The principal nice girl is Joanna Chilcoat’s Ellen and the resident cutthroat is Alana Allen’s Jill, eventually undermined by a treacherous flunkey, Tiffany Taylor’s Jenna. Stephen Sondheim makes a brief appearance as one of the school’s sponsors.

• Le Divorce (2003) (PG-13) — James Ivory’s movie version of the Diane Johnson best-seller, a contemporary social comedy-drama about the crises that confront two California sisters when the eldest, Roxeanne (Naomi Watts), is abandoned by her adulterous French husband while pregnant with their second child. Younger sister Isabel, played by Kate Hudson, is on hand to help but finds herself susceptible to an older man, a married diplomat who happens to be the uncle of her philandering brother-in-law. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala wrote the screenplay.

• Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary (2002) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — A movie adaptation of a full-length ballet by Mark Godden, commissioned by the Royal Winnepeg Ballet. The music is drawn from Gustav Mahler’s first and second symphonies. The preeminent cult director of Winnipeg, Guy Maddin, transposed the production from stage to screen. A limited engagement and Washington premiere, exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre.

• Flickering Lights (2000) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — A Danish feature, written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, about a smuggling gang on the lam that decides to try going legit in Catalonia, where they buy a fixer-upper inn and turn it into a fashionable restaurant. The third selection in an American Film Institute retrospective of neglected European films, “Second Chance.” One week only at the AFI National Theater at Kennedy Center.

• The Sea Is Watching (2002) (R) — A Japanese feature about a love affair between a fugitive samurai and a prostitute, set in a red light district of Tokyo in the 1860s. The screenplay derives from one of Akira Kurosawa’s unrealized projects. In Japanese with English subtitles. A limited engagement and Washington premiere at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre.

• S.W.A.T. (2003) (PG-13) — A crime thriller about the training of recruits for the Los Angeles Police Department’s famous Special Weapons and Tactics unit, with Colin Farrell as the keenest of the aspirants and Samuel L. Jackson as a demanding instructor. On the job training includes guarding and transporting a notorious drug dealer, Olivier Martinez, who has offered a fortune to mercenaries bold enough to try to rescue him.

NOW SHOWING

• American Wedding (2003) (R: Sexual content, crude humor and strong language) — **. The “American Pie” franchise draws to a traditional close with the wedding of Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), his gal pal from band camp. Of course, the ribald series won’t go down without a coarse fight, especially since the unctuous Stifler (Seann William Scott) is in charge of Jim’s bachelor party. The third time is hardly the charm for the “Pie” series, which showcases the usual crude gags but lacks the heart of the original. The film’s minor rewards include the work of Eugene Levy as Jim’s Dad and Eddie Kaye Thomas as finicky Finch. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• L’Auberge Espagnole (2002) (R: strong sexuality; brief nudity; profanity) — **. Like MTV’s “The Real World,” the long-running reality series from which French writer-director Cedric Klapisch basically derives his formula, “L’Auberge” intimately peeps into the lives of an emotionally charged bunch of young adults moving in tight quarters in a slovenly group house, located in uber-hip Barcelona. For Mr. Klapisch, it’s like a microcosmic version of greater Europe. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Bad Boys II (2003) (R: Action and graphic violence; pervasive profanity; sexuality; drug content) — **. Overblown explosions, outsized car wrecks and blinding firefights — that’s the Jerry Bruckheimer-Michael Bay hallmark of action-farce quality. The producer-director duo have collaborated on several movies (including the first “Bad Boys,” “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor”) and “BBII” takes things even further over the top than any actioner that preceded it. It’s vulgar, cheap, thrill-seeking filmmaking, but Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, who play Miami drug cops Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, are often hilarious together, making this a worthwhile, if desensitizing, affair. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Dirty Pretty Things (2003) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor; morbid plot elements involving a black market in organ transplants) — ***. Stephen Frears rediscovers the promise and pathos of ethnic London, which provided vivid opportunities for him in the 1980s with “My Beautiful Laundrette” and “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.” This romantic suspense melodrama concerns illegal aliens trying to make a living and normalize their status while eluding immigration agents. The young Nigerian-English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor gives the story a solid emotional foundation as a refugee doctor, Okwe, who works two jobs while trying to remain in the shadows: cabbie and hotel night clerk. He has made arrangements with Senay, a Turkish hotel maid (Audrey Tatou of “Amelie”), to use her flat as sleeping quarters while she works a morning shift. The attachment intensifies when they are threatened with exposure and intimidation, some of it engineered by Sneaky (Sergi Lopez in excellent loathsome form), their boss at the hotel, whose rackets include a gruesome traffic in hot kidneys for the transplant black market. Steven Knight’s screenplay falters in the closing episodes, but the movie gives us a tangible stake in the struggles of Okwe and Senay.

• Finding Nemo (2003) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — ****. In this first family attraction of the summer season, the estimable Pixar animators continue to blend illustrative sophistication and humorous invention with sound story construction. A widowed, overprotective clownfish called Marlin (Albert Brooks seems his perfect vocal embodiment) embarks on a desperate quest across the Great Barrier Reef to retrieve his kid Nemo, who has ended up in the aquarium of a dentist in Sydney, Australia. Marlin acquires a memory-challenged traveling companion in Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. An abundance of marine life alternately aids and obstructs their rescue mission.

• Freaky Friday (2003) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity) — **. A haphazard update of the Mary Rodgers comic novel about a turnabout situation: Mother and teenage daughter exchange bodies for a hectic but enlightening day. Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster did the switch in Disney’s 1977 film version. Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, the delightful discovery of the 1998 remake of “The Parent Trap,” are the new switchers. The younger actresses get to act mature for their ages, but acting immature does nothing for Miss Curtis in this revamp. Miss Lohan is the reassuring element: the contrasts in her performance seem to build on the promise and charm revealed five years ago.

• Gigli (2003) (R: profanity; brief graphic violence; sexuality) — . A lighthearted comic romp, except for the gun-blasted human brains floating in a fish tank. It’s a mob farce, except that mafiosi figure in the plot only marginally. It’s a romantic comedy, except for the fact that its lead actress insists she’s a lesbian half the time. “Gigli,” a sacrifice on the altar of the celebrity of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, is a terrible, and terribly confused, movie. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Heart of Me (2003) (R: sexual situations; nudity) — ***. A British romance movie set amid upper-crust English society coyly negotiating its way through the epoch of the world wars. Rickie Masters (Paul Bettany) is a weathy Englishman married to the cold, calculating Madeleine. After the death of her father, the couple takes in Madeleine’s boho-radical sister Dinah (Helena Bonham Carter). A passionate affair follows, hearts break and the world goes to hell — again — with WWII. No one knows how to snatch tragedy from the jaws of romance like the British. Exclusively at the Avalon Theatre in Chevy Chase. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Housekeeper (2002) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — **1/2.A melancholy return to romantic comedy from Claude Berri, whose new alter-ego is Jean Pierre Bacri as a dejected married man, immobilized when his wife walks out. A young woman he hires as a housekeeper, Emilie Dequenne, has limited domestic skills but does possess an affectionate and alluring personality. She also becomes her boss’ lover. The affair lasts until a vacation in Brittany places excess temptation in her way and confirms the senior partner’s fears that solitude may outlast all future romantic attachments. The movie is impeccably made, but the protagonist is probably too morose for bittersweet poignance to sink in. In French with English subtitles. A limited engagement, exclusively at Visions Cinema, Lounge & Bistro.

• I Capture the Castle (2003) (R: Sustained sexual candor, with occasional nudity and simulated intercourse; episodes of intense family conflict) — **. A belated movie version of an early novel by Dodie Smith, the English novelist and sometime screenwriter who enhanced the Disney inventory by writing “101 Dalmatians.” It remains a tough source to popularize, but director Tim Fywell and his associates make a game attempt. The plot is framed as the diary of the youngest daughter in a bohemian English family struggling to make ends meet while residing in a castle with few modern amenities, circa 1936. The future prospects for narrator Cassie (Romola Garai) and her older sister Rose (Rose Byrne) improve when the estate is purchased by wealthy Americans with two eligible sons, Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil (Marc Blucas in a vigorous and amusing performance that recalls the young Jeff Bridges). The upshot is that Cassie finds herself an overmatched romantic rival with Rose, whose absence of scruples comes as a painful surprise.

• Jet Lag (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and frequent sexual candor) — ***. This slight but deft and ultimately exhilarating romantic comedy illustrates how star chemistry and sensibility can rescue a dubious pretext. Juliette Binoche, a beautician trying to elude a domineering mother and boyfriend, and Jean Reno, a chef prone to anxiety attacks, meet by chance at Charles de Gaulle Airport outside Paris, where flights are delayed indefinitely by strikes. Mr. Reno’s Felix loans Miss Binoche’s Rose a cell phone and the shelter of his hotel room, where they get acquainted but also get on each other’s nerves during a room service meal. Miraculously, director Daniele Thompson seems to salvage an illusion of genuine mutual need and rapport in the aftermath of this rancorous interlude, persuading us that a flurry of separations actually demonstrate how much these middle-aged lonely-hearts belong together. The screenplay is a rare sort of collaboration for the movies: Daniele Thompson and Christopher Thompson are mother and son. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.

• Johnny English (2003) (PG-13: Occasional comic vulgarity, including sequences dependent on scatological sight gags; occasional sexual allusions and facetious depictions of violence) — **1/2. Already a resounding hit overseas, this diverting, low-stakes espionage farce introduces Rowan Atkinson as an amusing contemporary rival to Mike Myers’ Austin Powers. An eager-beaver desk jockey in the British Secret Service, Johnny English is promoted out of desperation when calamity diminishes the ranks of experienced Double-0 spies. He does not lack for courage or initiative, but his judgment and execution are pitiful. Mr. Atkinson’s facility with both overconfident and sheepish character traits seems ideal for this profile, and English is wittily reinforced by a loyal, resourceful sidekick impeccably played by comedian Ben Miller. John Malkovich is cast as the villainous mastermind, a fiendish Frenchman named Pascal Sauvage, who intends to transform the British Isles into a penal colony. The movie is clever enough to end strongly, as English struggles to sabotage Sauvage’s coronation ceremony, which appears to have stirred little resistance from a docile population.

• Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) (PG:13: Excessive violence) — *** 1/2. Angelina Jolie reprises her role as the no-nonsense explorer in a sequel that’s a vast improvement over the original. That isn’t saying much given the quality of the first film, but “Cradle of Life” director Jan de Bont (“Speed”) makes the most of the video game source material. Co-star Gerard Butler shines as Croft’s would be accomplice and possible love match. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) (PG-13: Occasional graphic violence and gruesome illustrative details in an adventure spectacle format; elements of supernatural horror) — **1/2. This belated companion piece to the venerable Disneyland attraction could have been the most clever and entertaining revamp of the buccaneer genre since “The Crimson Pirate.” But the modern tendency to “supersize” prevents a perfectly dandy yarn of about 105 minutes from reaching a timely showdown. Despite the interminable fourth act, “Pirates” is an astute blend of comic characterization and rejuvenated adventure cliches at its most diverting. Johnny Depp is encouraged to enjoy himself in an extroverted masquerade as a roguish pirate captain called Jack Sparrow, intent on retrieving his ship, the Black Pearl, from a mutinous mate, Barbossa, an imposing corrupt presence as played by Geoffrey Rush. Keira Knightley of “Bend It Like Beckham” looks very attractive in period costume, and she gets two valiant suitors in Orlando Bloom and Jack Davenport.

• Seabiscuit (2003) (PG-13: Fleeting graphic violence and profanity; one episode set in a Tijuana brothel) — **. Almost a textbook example of the well-meaning letdown. While admirably sincere, this nostalgic sports saga remains a plodding, uninspired movie distillation of Laura Hillenbrand’s stirring, richly informative best-seller about the great race horse. A late bloomer of the 1930s, Seabiscuit became a charismatic winner as a 4-year-old.The principal cast members are Jeff Bridges as owner Charles Howard, Chris Cooper as trainer Tom Smith and Tobey Maguire as jockey Red Pollard. Confronted with the abundance of material rediscovered by Miss Hillenbrand, writer-director Gary Ross fails to approximate its impact as intimate drama, sports chronicle or social history. One character allows him to exploit humorous skills: William H. Macy as a fictionalized court jester, a radio racing tout called “Tick Tock” McGlaughlin. Attractive in a conventional and picturesque way, the movie never rises to the potential heights of its subject matter — or the kinetic excitement of the racetrack.

• Spellbound (2003) (G) — ***. This top-flight documentary turns a spelling contest into a white-knuckle viewing experience. It tracks eight children from across the country as they converge on Washington for the National Spelling Bee. The film captures the American dream in all its abstract glory. The bright, engaging children are cast in almost uniformly appealing tones, but their dogged efforts render them all too human. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003) (PG: Action violence and peril) — *1/2. In this third and final installment of director Robert Rodriguez’s popular children’s franchise, our intrepid underage sibling spies, Juni and Carmen Cortez (Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega) are trapped in a video game called “Game Over,” a virtual reality run by an egotistical villain called the Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone). Mr. Rodriguez corralled all his buddies for “SK3D,” including Salma Hayek, his Austin-based pal Mike Judge, Elijah Wood, Antonio Banderas and others. But even their collective star power can’t rescue what, at bottom, is an undeveloped story told through the relentlessly gimmicky medium of 3-D. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Swimming Pool (2003) (R: Frequent nudity; occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting graphic violence) — **. An intriguing but ultimately disappointing reunion project for Charlotte Rampling and the young French writer-director Francois Ozon, memorably associated a few years ago on “Under the Sea.” Mr. Ozon’s first English-language feature, this exploration of one woman’s mind casts Miss Rampling as a popular English author of crime fiction, Sarah Morton, who is offered a change of scene by her publisher (Charles Dance): the use of his country home in Provence. Soon after arriving and beginning to work on a new book, she is joined by an unexpected guest: Ludivine Sagnier as Mr. Dance’s footloose daughter Julie, whose hedonism proves an irritating but also insidiously seductive distraction. There’s a murder mystery along the way, but the essential toss-up question for moviegoers is whether anything having to do with Julie is real or imagined. Some dialogue in French with English subtitles.

• Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines(2003) (R: Frequent graphic violence in a science-fiction format; fleeting profanity and nudity) *1/2. “I feel the weight of the future bearing down,” complains Nick Stahl as the new incarnation of marked youth John Connor, but it’s the weight of past success and present redundancy that crushes this chintzy and cumbersome sequel. The resourceful prototype was a genuine sleeper of 1984 and the initial sequel was the preeminent summer spectacle of 1991. That’s been some time now. This afterthought enters the marketplace with scant novelty value and without director James Cameron, who bid the franchise adieu. According to Arnold Schwarzenegger, fans have been clamoring for another sequel, but this restart, entrusted to Jonathan Mostow, the director of “U-571,” is always slapdash and disillusioning. Having done the ruthless Terminator and then the redemptive Terminator, there’s not much the star can do with the overmatched Terminator, an obsolete cyborg hulk who must struggle to protect Connor and a companion played by Claire Danes from a souped-up model called the T-X, disguised as dishy Kristanna Loken. The thrill episodes prove a succession of rambling wrecks; they commence with a stupefying vehicular chase through Los Angeles and culminate in Armageddon, which looks rather merciful at this stage of franchise exhaustion. For some reason, the star’s Austrian accent seems to have grown thicker.

• 28 Days Later (2003) (R: Frontal nudity, gratuitous violence and blood shed, sexual situations and harsh language) — ***. “Trainspotting” director Danny Boyle brings style and intelligence to what essentially is a B-movie zombie yarn. The awkwardly titled film follows Jim (Cillian Murphy), a young bicycle courier who is one of the few survivors of a virus that kills nearly everyone living in London and beyond. Jim and a scattered group of healthy humans must do battle with the bloodthirsty “infected” who rule the nights and crave human flesh. The film attempts some modest social commentary but is most effective as a gory thrill generator. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Winged Migration (2002) (PG: Occasional graphic violence in documentary depictions of wildlife) — ***. An impressive, French-made documentary feature about migratory bird travels around the globe, assembled from hundreds of cameramen and embellished by computer graphics, which seem to account for the sequences that resemble beautifully animated paintings of wildlife more than photorealistic observation and celebration. One of the finalists as best documentary feature during the last Academy Awards.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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