- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

Boat Trip (2003) (R) A farce set aboard a tropical cruise ship, which attracts Cuba Gooding Jr. in the wake of a split with girlfriend Vivica A. Fox. He persuades pal Horatio Sanz to tag along. They discover it's a gay cruise but decide to fake it, in part because Mr. Gooding has fallen for a dance instructor played by Roselyn Sanchez. Obviously, quite a plot. Roger Moore is also in the cast.
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, dating back to a boyhood crisis that demanded extraordinary heroism. The men also become targets for a military unit stalking the alien menace. The cast includes Morgan Freeman, Tom Sizemore and Donnie Wahlberg.
Piglet's Big Movie (2003) (G) … The title exaggerates, since this addition to the Disney studio's Winnie the Pooh animated films is a very small proposition, intended mostly for pre-schoolers. It may track pretty young even in that audience. The idea is that kind and resourceful Piglet has been underappreciated by the other critters of the Hundred Acre Wood. At the outset they're even too vain to notice when he saves them from calamity during a blundering honey harvest that riles a swarm of bees. Through a series of flashback episodes that borrow vignettes from the A.A. Milne books, the foolish ingrates begin to appreciate what a sterling little fellow they have in their habitat. Carly Simon, who composed the song score, makes a somewhat terrifying live-action appearance at the end, communing ecstatically with her guitar in a bucolic setting. Try to keep the children and horses as calm as possible as you flee this epilogue.
Rivers and Tides (2001) (No MPAA Rating adult subject matter) A German-made documentary feature about artist Andy Goldsworthy, who prefers to work with "found materials" from the vicinity of rivers and oceans. Exclusively at Landmark Bethesda Row.
A View From the Top (2003) (PG-13) A romantic comedy starring Gwyneth Paltrow as a young woman who aspires to be an international flight attendant. The supporting cast includes Kelly Preston, Christina Applegate, Mark Ruffalo, Rob Lowe, Candice Bergen and Mike Myers.

About Schmidt (2002) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and comic vulgarity; fleeting nudity, with a facetious emphasis) *1/2. The elegant, recently widowed New York sophisticate of Louis Begley's novel almost vanishes inside the film Schmidt, a stolid Omaha resident embodied by a physically squat, emotionally stunted Jack Nicholson. Still the sudden widower, he dreads the approaching nuptials of his only daughter, Hope Davis, whose intended is a good-natured chucklehead, Dermot Mulroney. The novel's entire social setting is uprooted and comically vulgarized. The most defensible result of the upheaval is Kathy Bates' presence as the bridegroom's mom, a middle-aged hippie with amorous designs on Schmidt. Director Alexander Payne gets Miss Bates and Mr. Nicholson into a hot tub together, an admirable comic inspiration, but they still lack a scene worth playing. Golden Globe awards for Mr. Nicholson and the screenplay. Oscar nominations for Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates.
Agent Cody Banks (2003) (PG: Action violence, mild language and sexual suggestiveness ) . A sorry attempt to repeat the success of the "Spy Kids" franchise, a pair of recent movies about under-age spies who make like James Bond and perform feats of derring-do. This caper, with "Malcolm in the Middle" star Frankie Muniz in the title role, trades on that same formula, but its humor is flat, its special effects junky and its acting one big parodic mess. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (2002) (PG-13: Occasional documentary images of violence) **. The subtitle doesn't help much to clarify the title, evidently the Zhosa term for "power." The work of a young American political activist, Lee Hirsch, who ventured to South Africa in the early 1990s, this historical-cultural survey recruits such notable musicians as trumpeter Hugh Masekela, vocalist Miriam Makeba, jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and guitarist Vusi Mahlasela to celebrate the influence of popular music, notably so-called "freedom songs," in the mass political movements that resisted apartheid for decades after World War II. The chronicle begins with a tribute to a martyred musician, songwriter Vuyisile Mini, and culminates with the presidential election of Nelson Mandela. Often stirring despite its awkward and overcompensating tendencies.
Bringing Down the House (2003) (PG-13: Systematic comic vulgarity; frequent lewd allusions and flleting 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. Jean Smart gets a thankless role as the hero's ex. Missi Pyle plays a gold digger who dukes it out with Latifah in a country club restroom; Joan Plowright and Betty White play elderly cranks, also obliged to act like bigots for the sake of convenience. Miss Plowright's character compensates by sharing a joint with strangers at a black nightclub. Evidently, the token toking scene is officially cute in Hollywood again. The movie seems unable to resist pandering gags of any tendency.
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). Several performers show unexpected flair, particularly Miss Zellweger and Mr. Gere. Every last number is a knockout. The material could not possibly be executed with more precision or luster. 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. Thirteen Oscar nominations, including best movie, actress (Renee Zellweger) and supporting actress (both Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah).
Cradle 2 the Grave (2003) (R: Extreme violence, partial nudity, foul language and minor alcohol use) **. Jet Li and rapper DMX team up in this noisy action caper hoping to unite martial arts and hip-hop audiences. DMX is a jewel thief with a conscience who finds his latest haul a bevy of black diamonds has made him a target of both a criminal kingpin and a Taiwanese arms dealer. Mr. Li's fighting skills remain a marvel to behold, but "Cradle's" nonstop action can't disguise a reed-thin plot cobbled together from too many other action films. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Daredevil (2003) (PG-13: Comic book-style violence, drug use, a brief sexual encounter) ***. Ben Affleck is Daredevil, a blind attorney by day and brooding vigilante by night who uses his supercharged other senses to fight crime. The Marvel superhero must battle more than his personal demons in the latest comic book saga to hit the big screen. Villains Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) and Bullseye (an electric Colin Farrell) want to crush the crimson-clad hero. Director Mark Steven Johnson creates a darker version of the comic book hero, and in doing so continues in the tradition of 1989's "Batman." "Daredevil" can't match that film's dizzying heights, but it boasts a strong supporting cast, including Jennifer Garner of "Alias" as Daredevil's love interest. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Far From Heaven (2002) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity and graphic violence; occasional sexual candor, including a subplot about furtive homosexual behavior) **1/2. Julianne Moore and writer-director Todd Haynes take on this homage to a vintage Hollywood tearjerker, "All That Heaven Allows," circa 1955. Mr. Haynes casts Miss Moore as a Hartford, Conn., housewife who discovers that spouse Dennis Quaid is not only a lush but also an adulterer with homosexual inclinations. The heroine finds some comfort in the friendship of her widowed black gardener, an easygoing tower of strength as embodied by Dennis Haysbert. Named best movie of 2002 by the New York Film Critics. Oscar nominations for best actress (Julianne Moore) and screenplay. Exclusively at Cinema Arts and the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle, Shirlington and White Flint.
Gangs of New York (2002) (R: Persistent profanity and graphic violence, typically depicting brutality and gang warfare in a mid-19th Century setting; frequent gruesome illustrative details; occasional sexual candor and vulgarity, with nudity and fleeting interludes of simulated intercourse; fleeting depictions of opium use) *1/2. Wretched excess in a sordid historical setting. This unwieldy and elaborately brutal epic from Martin Scorsese is derived from the chapters in Herbert Asbury's 1928 social history that recalled gang rivalries in the heyday of Irish immigration to New York. The movie begins with a rumble matching an Irish clan called the Dead Rabbits against nativist thugs under a witty despot named William Cutting, familiarly Bill the Butcher. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a classic villain's performance as Bill. Ten Oscar nominations, including best movie and actor (Daniel Day Lewis).
The Hours (2002) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity; subplot about a terminal AIDS case; fleeting allusions to lesbian encounters or relationships) **1/2. An accomplished movie version of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham, adapted by the English team of playwright David Hare and director Stephen Daldry. The execution is clever and the cast is stocked with prestige performers. Yet the source material remains a conceptual monstrosity. Like the book, the film begins with Virginia Woolf's suicide by drowning in 1941. Then it backtracks to an earlier point in the life of the author (impersonated with spellbinding skill by a facially altered Nicole Kidman) the day when Woolf began composing her novel "Mrs. Dalloway," published in 1925. This time frame is interwoven with episodes about fictional heroines in emotional distress. Julianne Moore plays Laura Brown, an unhappily married young mother of the late 1940s, expecting a second child and reading a copy of "Mrs. Dalloway." Meryl Streep plays the well-meaning Clarissa Vaughn, a book editor in contemporary Manhattan. The three women are linked through remarks, gestures and events but it's always a stretch to believe that the fictional Laura and Clarissa exist independently while echoing some aspects of the authentic Virginia. Golden Globe awards for best dramatic movie and to Miss Kidman. Nine Academy Award nominations, including best movie and actress (Miss Kidman).
The Hunted (2003) (R: Occasional graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details; fleeting profanity) *1/2. A feral whopper from director William Friedkin, who casts Benicio Del Toro as a former Special Forces soldier who has gone off his rocker, targeting hunters and then overmatched lawmen around Portland, Ore. Only his mentor, survivalist and tracker Tommy Lee Jones, stands a chance of capturing or killing the renegade. Mr. Friedkin insists on flogging the teacher-student angle to the last strenuous improbability. An interlude on a commuter train is clearly meant to recall the car chase in Mr. Friedkin's "The French Connection." It wanders as far off the rails as poor Mr. Del Toro.
The Jungle Book 2 (2003) (G: nothing objectionable, but small children may be slightly spooked by non-cuddly jungle animals, such as snakes and bats) **. The kiddies will thoroughly enjoy this sequel to "The Jungle Book," the 1967 Disney animation classic adapted from Rudyard Kipling's late-19th-century novel. Disney has done a wonderful job of reproducing the visual quality of the original "Jungle" in this follow-up, originally slated for a direct-to-video release. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
Old School (2003) (R: Frequent drinking, sexual situations, crude language and nudity) **. Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn star in this "old school" slob comedy that comes off like "Animal House's" distant cousin. The trio's characters are beyond their college years, but when Mr. Wilson's Mitch rents a home near the local university, his pals convince him to turn the pad into a makeshift fraternity house. The movie will no doubt evoke nostalgia in 30- and 40-somethings who long for college's carefree days. "Old School" doesn't capitalize on its witty premise, several funny set pieces notwithstanding. Mr. Ferrell supplies most of the humor, proving his post-"Saturday Night Live" career could be worth watching. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
Open Hearts (2002) (R: strong language, simulated intercourse, nudity, mature subject matter) **1/2. A circuitous tale of adultery and …paralysis. Something's going on in the hospitals of Europe: Apparently they're the place to make love connections. "Open Hearts" is a complex story of follow closely a quadriplegic whose fiancee falls in love with the husband of the woman who ran into him with her car. A couple of the performances are terrific (those of Danish actresses Paprika Steen and Stine Bjerregaard, in particular), and Danish director Susanne Bier's spartan direction is interesting to look at, but it's ultimately impossible to get over the preposterousness of "Open Hearts'" premise. Love may be blind, irrational and inexplicable but not this blind, irrational and inexplicable. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.
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 pre-war 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 perished. The movie's compelling aspects also diminish after the Szpilman family is lost. The first half seems as gripping and individualized as "Schindler's List" or "The Grey Zone." The depiction begins to lose intensity once the protagonist becomes a more or less solitary, fugitive survivor, with few resources of his own. As a consequence, the movie goes torpid and never quite recovers, despite the singularity of Szpilman's encounter with a German officer, Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann), who shelters him during the last days of fighting in the ravaged city. Named best movie of 2002 by the National Society of Film Critics. Seven Academy Award nominations, including best movie and actor (Mr. Brody).
The Quiet American (2002) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence, including depictions of wartime combat and urban terrorism) **1/2. This remake of Graham Greene's allegorical political thriller of 1955 seems admirably faithful and absorbing until the epilogue, which succumbs to hindsight and reminds us that Americans became implicated in a costly war in Vietnam. Scenically, it's authenticated by location shooting in Vietnam. The ingrained Greene hostility to American political power is complicated by Michael Caine's performance as his embittered English mouthpiece, the aging and dissolute journalist Fowler. The appearance of a personable and idealistic American interloper named Pyle (Brendan Fraser), attached to an aid mission in Saigon in the early 1950s, stirs Fowler's resentment when his young Vietnamese mistress is courted by Pyle. Eventually, Fowler lends himself to the assassination of Pyle by a Communist cadre, rationalizing his treachery because of the Quiet American's collusion with a military junta. The book's mid-1950s perspective is reflected accurately enough. If Pyle forecasts a treacherous future under American influence, Fowler certainly embodies European colonial disgrace and defeatism. Oscar nomination for Michael Caine as best actor.
The Safety of Objects (2003) (R: Strong language, sexual situations and partial nudity) **1/2. Glenn Close leads a strong ensemble cast looking at the familiar turf of suburban malaise. Director Rose Troche ("Go Fish") highlights the foibles of four neighboring families each suffering from hidden pain. Co-stars Dermot Mulroney, Mary Kay Place and Patricia Clarkson lend "Objects" a refreshing verisimilitude, but we've seen much of this angst before. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
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.
Talk to Her (2002) (R: frequent nudity, profanity, mature sexual themes) ***. Not an easy film to digest. Themes and sub-themes twist, tango and collide with surprising grace. The film's visual beauty almost subsumes the complicated narrative. A weird and creepy psychodrama, its central focus is silence: the way it colors loneliness, the way it prevents authentic human connection. Spanish director Pedro Almodovar makes this point in several interesting ways, most centrally through two comatose women. Oscar nomination for Pedro Almodovar as best director. In Spanish with English subtitles. 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 wartorn 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 freelance 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.
Till Human Voices Wake Us (2003) (No MPAA Rating morbid story elements; fleeting nudity and sexual candor) *. Borrowing a title from the last line of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" fails to dignify this Australian plunge into lovelorn mysticism. Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham Carter prove rather fitful cast members in a scenario that spends considerable time recalling teenage sweethearts, impersonated by Lindley Joyner and Brooke Harman. A youthful tragedy haunts Mr. Pearce, a lonely physician. Returning to a rural town called Genoa for his father's funeral, the hero is confronted with an amnesiac stranger on a train: Miss Bonham as Ruby, evidently invisible to everyone except Mr. Pearce and us. The suspicion that she is a phantom is immediate and easy to mock. Theoretically, she provides solace for lingering emotional wounds that date back 20 years. As a practical matter, the movie become hostage to terminal sappiness.
Willard (2003) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere; occasional violence with gruesome illustrative details; fleeting profanity and sexual allusions) ***. A very persuasive demonstration that remakes can be better than the originals. In this case the 1971 prototype was a freak horror hit that starred Bruce Davison as the title character, a timid young psychopath who used pet rats to wreak vengeance on his tormentors. A no-contest improvement, the remake showcases Crispin Glover, the freakiest actor of his generation, as a slightly older version of poor vindictive Willard. It's a wonderful brainstorm: Mr. Glover might have been created to portray this role. Glen Morgan makes a very clever writing and directing debut. The ingredients are spare but brilliantly deployed: Mr. Glover, a decaying deathtrap of a house and an array of real and simulated rodents. The filmmakers create a framework in which the oddness of Mr. Glover can blossom into camp madness in a disciplined way, taking optimum advantage of the comic-berserk potential in his sharply chiseled profile, flaring eyes, clenched teeth, malicious smirk and whiney rants. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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