- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003


• Ambush (1999) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — A Finnish feature, directed by Olli Saarela, about a young lieutenant on the eve of battle with the Russian army in the summer of 1942. The second selection in an American Film Institute retrospective series called “Second Chance.” One week only at the AFI’s National Theater at Kennedy Center.

• 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. Also starring Eugene Levy as Jim’s Dad and Eddie Kaye Thomas as finicky Finch.

• Cinemania (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — A humorous documentary feature about the peculiarities of obsessive movie fans, encountered avidly indulging their pastime in New York and other hotbeds of cinematic immersion. One week only exclusively at the AFI Silver Theatre.

• 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.

• Freaky Friday (2003) (PG) — An update of the Mary Rodgers comic novel about a turnabout situation that finds a mother and her teenage daughter exchanging bodies for a hectic but eventually 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. Opens Wednesday.

• Gigli (2003) (R: “Sexual content, pervasive language and brief strong violence” according to the MPAA) — The courtship vehicle for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, cast as mob underlings brought together by a kidnapping. Mr. Affleck’s Larry Gigli has been ordered to snatch and conceal the “psychologically challenged younger brother” (Justin Bartha) of a federal prosecutor as part of an intimidation scheme. Fears that Gigli may not be up to the assignment result in the appearance of a partner, Miss Lopez’s Ricki, considered far brainier by their employer. The crooks begin to grow fond of each other and their captive. The cast also includes Christopher Walken, Al Pacino and Lainie Kazan.

• The Heart of Me (2003) (R) — An adultery melodrama about the rude awakening that awaits Olivia Williams, a happily married English wife and mother during the 1940s. She discovers that her sister, Helena Bonham Carter, and her husband, Paul Bettany, have been clandestine lovers for a considerable period. Based on the Rosamund Lehmann novel “The Echoing Grove.”

• The Housekeeper (2002) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — A romantic comedy from Claude Berri, with Jean Pierre Bacri as a dejected married man, immobilized when his wife walks out. On the mend after an extended period of self-pity, he seeks a housekeeper and hires Emilie Dequenne, a young woman who turns out to have few domestic skills but does possess an invigorating personality. In French with English subtitles. A limited engagement, exclusively at Visions Cinema, Lounge & Bistro.


• 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.

• Bonhoeffer (2002) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) —A documentary feature about the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who collaborated in one of the assassination attempts aimed at Adolf Hitler. Directed by Martin Doblmeier. Exclusively at the Avalon.

• Capturing the Friedmans (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with frequent profanity and sexual candor; fleeting glimpses of pornographic illustrations; recollections of a criminal case involving charges of sexual molestation) — ***1/2. An extraordinarily, painfully revealing documentary feature about the ordeal of a family in Great Neck, N.Y., that suffered public disgrace in the late 1980s. A postal sting aimed at the distribution of child pornography led to the arrest of a science teacher named Arnold Friedman, now deceased. The original search for pornographic literature led to graver accusations of child molestation, predicated on the fact that Mr. Friedman taught piano and computer lessons at home. Eventually, his teenage son Jesse was accused of being an accomplice in sexual abuse. Both pleaded guilty and were sent to prison. Director Andrew Jarecki drew on the home movies and video recordings kept by the eldest son, David Friedman. Exclusively at Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row.

• Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003) (PG:13: Sexual innuendo, violent fistfights and car crashes, partial nudity). — **1/2. Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore return in the sequel to 2000’s guilty-pleasure spinoff from the TV series. The trio must battle a fallen angel (Demi Moore) bent on selling the identities of everyone on the government’s witness protection program. Miss Moore’s presence alone raises one of many pop culture goose bumps, but the main attractions are the loopy fight scenes and playful spirit shown by the film’s stars. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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. The voice cast also includes Geoffrey Rush, Willem Dafoe, Barry Humphries, Allison Janney, Austin Pendleton, John Ratzenberger (as a precision “school” of fish) and Elizabeth Perkins.

• 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 in many respects, 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. Heidi Thomas wrote the screenplay.

• 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 lonelyhearts 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.

• Northfork (2003) (PG-13: Systematic morbid humor; fleeting profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor) — *1/2. A deadpan, American Gothic social satire from the eccentric twins, Michael and Mark Polish. They collaborate as writer-producers with Michael directing. Mark also appears as a principal cast member, playing the son of James Woods, the only performer who manages to anchor the ephemeral conception, which is akin to staging sketch comedy in the wide-open spaces. Father and son are government checkers in 1955 in a Montana town called Northfork, which a dam project is about to drown beneath a reservoir. The stylization is droll to a fault. The twins fail to sustain comic pathos around the idea of people confronting states of limbo or farewell, but there are some witty moments and pictorial touches.

• 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.

• Whale Rider (2002) (PG-13: Fleeting episodes of intense family conflict; sustained ominous elements that place a child in jeopardy; fleeting graphic violence) *1/2. A New Zealand import contrived to glorify Maori renewal through girl power for members of a seacoast tribe. The mulish elderly patriarch, Rawiri Paratene, refuses to recognize his granddaughter, Keisha Castle-Hughes, as a legitimate heir and suitable candidate for warrior training and mythology. Director Niki Caro is not a Maori herself. Subject to repeated lapses of attention and continuity, she thinks it’s fine to reawaken cultural superstition and mysticism as long as there’s a good chance that a little princess will be worshipped. The title alludes to a legend that tribal salvation will come when a new chief rides the back of a whale, a miracle that never looks persuasive as cinematic spectacle.

• 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.


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