- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003


• 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.

• The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) (PG-13) — An adventure spectacle derived from a comic-book series that envisions an association of late Victorian or Edwardian literary characters recruited for espionage missions by the British Secret Service. Sean Connery is the leader of the pack as H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain. Alerted to a fiendish plot to sink Venice with a series of underground explosions, Quatermain races against the clock to foil the crime, joined by Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah, the father of “Monsoon Wedding”), Tom Sawyer of the U.S. Secret Service (Shane West), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng), the Invisible Man (Tony Curran) and vampiress Mina Harker (Peta Wilson). Their recruiter, played by Richard Roxburgh, is known as “M,” which should make Mr. Connery feel right at home. Directed by Stephen Norrington from a screenplay by James Robinson.

• The Legend of Suriyothai (2002) (R) — A Thai historical spectacle, set in the 16th century and imported with the endorsement of Francis Ford Coppola. The title character is a princess torn between love for a warrior named Piren and her obligation to wed another for dynastic reasons. The romantic conflicts are interrupted by war with Burma. Written and directed by Chatri Chalern Yukol, a prince of the royal Thai family. In Thai with English subtitles.

• On Line (2002) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, involving systematic sexual candor)—A romantic farce shot on digital video by Jed Weintrob, with Josh Hamilton and Harold Perrineau as the proprietors of an Internet dating and sex chat-room service in Manhattan. One week only. Mr. Weintrob and Mr. Perrineau are scheduled to appear at evening shows on Saturday. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.


• 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.

• 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 family episodes rival “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” for complacent vulgarity. The game footage has scant regard for authenticity.

• Bruce Almighty (2003) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity; occasional comic vulgarity and sexual allusions) — **1/2. The idea of Jim Carrey as a loose cannon permitted to play God for a short period of time sounds promising, and “Bruce Almighty” realizes the promise in scattered slapstick gags and whimsies. It won’t survive much seriocomic reflection and gets mawkish to a fault in the last reel. Mr. Carrey as Bruce Nolan, a disgruntled TV personality in Buffalo, N.Y., is the squeaky wheel that God, personified by Morgan Freeman, singles out for humbling attention, perhaps in answer to the prayers of a long-suffering girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston). The best comedy sequences match Mr. Carrey and Mr. Freeman or illustrate the mischievous liberties Bruce takes when trying out his prowess as a godlike apprentice.

• 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.

• The Hard Word (2003) (R: Frequent profanity, graphic violence, sexual candor and vulgarity) — *1/2. The title suggests another movie about a national spelling bee, but the content of this ramshackle Australian crime melodrama isn’t remotely that clever. Guy Pearce, Damien Richardson and Joel Edgerton are cast as brothers behind bars, the Twentymans, whose crooked lawyer Frank Malone (Robert Taylor) arranges deals with crooked officials that allow his unwary clients to be furloughed every so often to commit armed robberies. Treacherous Frank claims to be banking part of the swag for the brothers. None too bright, the brothers are coerced into one last job before a promised parole, a hold-up during the Melbourne Cup horse race that degenerates into a harebrained bloodbath. Written and directed by Scott Roberts, whose methods are impossible to distinguish from Frank Malone’s.

• Hulk (2003) (PG-13: sci-fi action violence; disturbing images; brief partial nudity — ** It’s too long. It’s convoluted. The acting is spotty. And, worst of all, the computer-generated Hulk isn’t believable for a second. When an Oscar-winning director like Ang Lee plunks down a reported $150 million, one expects better than this. While “Hulk” has its moments, an over-the-top performance by Nick Nolte and an under-the-top performance by Eric Bana, as well as a thready patchwork of crisscrossing plots, make this one an expensive, overhyped dud. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Italian Job (2003) (PG:13: Strong language, vehicular mayhem, occasional gunplay). — **1/2. Mark Wahlberg heads an eclectic cast in this stylish but forgettable remake of the 1969 original starring Michael Caine. Mr. Wahlberg’s gang of thieves swipes $35 million in gold from a Venice home, then get held up by a traitorous member of their own gang (Edward Norton). What results is a slick tale of manipulation and revenge elevated by its strong cast (Donald Sutherland, Charlize Theron and Seth Green among them) and international settings. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003) (PG-13: Fleeting sexual allusions and comic vulgarity) — *1/2. A compatibly chuckleheaded sequel to the preposterous law school farce of two summers ago. In a nutshell, it’s “Elle Goes to Washington.” Reese Witherspoon returns in the role of disarming, effusive Southern California cutie Elle Woods, a transplanted Barbie Doll of a sorority girl from Bel Air. After confirming an engagement to Harvard Law prof Luke Wilson, the beamish heroine uses her Crimson connections to land a job as the newest intern with a congresswoman played by Sally Field, whose commitment to Elle’s pet issue, protecting animals from being used as test critters for cosmetics, proves less than ironclad. Directed with a blinding sense of bogus adorability by Chares Herman-Wurmfeld of “Kissing Jessica Stein.”

• Man on a Train (2002) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting graphic violence) — **1/2. “Man on a Train” matches a pair of guys who may not have much to live for: the venerable pop star Johnny Hallyday as a craggy-faced, tight-lipped man of mystery who arrives by train in a provincial town and finds shelter with Jean Rochefort, a retired and chatty schoolteacher who welcomes companionship. The actors generate an odd couple chemistry that seems unique and appealing. While recognizing the humor in this freakish friendship, French filmmaker Patrice Leconte neglects to give it a satisfying comic framework. The payoffs are a keen letdown. In French with English subtitles. Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle and Shirlington.

• Owning Mahowny (2003) (R: Coarse language, a scene involving a prostitute) — ***. Philip Seymour Hoffman shines in the true-life tale of a bank executive who steals clients’ money to fuel his gambling habit. The versatile actor captures the sweaty delirium of a man spinning out of control as his debts mount. Standing by his side, inexplicably, is his girlfriend (Minnie Driver, hidden under an awful blond wig). The film’s portrait of addiction is nearly pitch perfect, save for the unscrupulous casino owner, whom John Hurt plays like a moustache-twisting caricature. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) (PG-13) — The latest attempt to revitalize pirate swashbucklers, which haven’t had a fresh classic since Burt Lancaster’s “The Crimson Pirate” half a century ago. Suggested by the venerable Disneyland attraction, this Disney production envisions a bitter rivalry between pirate captains Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), aggravated when the latter steals Sparrow’s ship, the Black Pearl, and kidnaps heroine Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), daughter of the English governor (Jonathan Pryce) in Port Royal. Elizabeth’s devoted friend Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) commissions a new vessel for Sparrow and his crew and joins their pursuit of the villain. Not reviewed.

• Respiro (2002) (PG-13) — ***. A domestic comedy-drama from Italian writer-director Emanule Crialese, who casts Valeria Golino as a mercurial woman whose behavior troubles her family and young son. In Italian with English subtitles. Exclusively at Cinema Arts, Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Bethesda Row. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Rugrats Go Wild (2003) (PG: Frequent slapstick vulgarity) — *1/2. The Nickelodeon animators seem intent on exhausting both the audience and their two cartoon franchises in one fell swoop with this castaway farce. The exploring clan known as The Wild Thornberrys is investigating the fauna on a tropical island. The shipwrecked Rugrats families roll in with the tide, surviving a storm at sea meant to parody “The Perfect Storm.” Since the principal source of dry-land humor is dirty diapers, spectators are trapped in a monotonously sodden system of humor.

• Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003) (PG: Pirate-style violence). **1/2. The legendary Sinbad comes to life once more in a new animated feature that should delight children and prevent their parents from nodding off. Brad Pitt voices the title role, that of a lovable pirate who discovers there’s more to life than thievery. Mr. Pitt’s vocal work sounds too modern for such a throwback role. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Sinbad’s love interest and Michelle Pfeiffer as the Goddess of Chaos overshadow such complaints. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• 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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