- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

OPENING

• Dopamine (2003) (R) — A romantic comedy about a computer programmer who falls in love with the teacher while testing an artificial intelligence system with her kindergarten class. John Livingston and Sabrina Lloyd have the principal roles. A first feature, shot on high-definition video, made under the auspices of the Sundance Film Festival and distributed by the Sundance Channel. It’s the third entry in a Sundance Film Series hosted exclusively at Loew’s Georgetown.

• Good Boy! (2003) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — **. An appealing but exceedingly slight variation on “E.T.,” with Liam Aiken as a dog-walking suburban youngster who acquires a pet of his own and discovers that this stray is a talking emissary from the “dog star” Sirius, allegedly the source of all canines on Earth. Their ruling tyrant, a Great Dane, plans an inspection tour to investigate dire reports that dogs have slacked off by failing to dominate the planet. Young Liam is a reliably pensive and wistful juvenile hero. There are also amusing throwaway stunts with the mutts, but the movie starts to depend too heavily on a facetious babel of talking dog voices.

• House of the Dead (2003) (R: Strong language, horror-style gore, some nudity and violence). A group of fun-loving teens travel to a remote island to attend a rave party. When they arrive, they find the party house deserted. The friends soon come under attack from scores of bloodthirsty zombies. “Dead” is inspired by the Sega video game of the same name.

• Intolerable Cruelty (2003) (PG-13: “Sexual content, language and brief violence,” according to the MPAA) — A romantic farce from the Coen brothers co-starring George Clooney as a prominent Los Angeles divorce attorney and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a determined fortune hunter.

• Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) (R: Extreme violence, multiple dismemberments, harsh language and bloodshed aplenty) — **. Quentin Tarantino’s fourth film is actually the first of two features broken in two due to the project’s unwieldy length. The acclaimed director casts Uma Thurman as a double-crossed assassin left for dead by her old mates. Now, four years later, it’s payback time. Unrelentingly violent and stylish, “Kill Bill” will please action and martial-arts fans and alienate everyone else. Also starring Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

NOW SHOWING

• Anything Else (2003) (R: Occasional sexual candor and comic vulgarity; an episode satirizing drug use) — ***1/2. Woody Allen casts himself as a superlative fairy godfather in this fast-talking fable about a nice young man who needs a clean break from the opportunists in his life. Jason Biggs is the Cinderfella, Jerry Falk, an earnest but timid young comedy writer in Manhattan. Jerry is urged toward liberation by Mr. Allen’s David Dobel, a solicitous and fitfully deranged kibitzer. Their conversations punctuate Jerry’s first-person account of putting up with a treacherous girlfriend (Christina Ricci), her equally disreputable mother (Stockard Channing), a complacent agent (Danny DeVito) and a stolid psychoanalyst (William Hill). Voluble and breezy, the film demonstrates that Mr. Allen can revamp himself as a superior character actor.

• Autumn Spring (2001) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with fleeting episodes of domestic violence) — **1/2. A modestly beguiling Czech comedy about a retired actor, Fanda (the late Vlastimil Brodsky), who enjoys staging hoaxes with a former colleague named Ed (Stanislav Zindulka). Fanda’s ponderous wife Emilie (Stella Zazvorkova) is a stay-at-home preoccupied with saving money for a dignified burial. Fanda taps into Emilie’s funeral fund to liquidate a debt. This outrage provokes a divorce action that is mediated wisely by the presiding magistrate. A chastened and passive Fanda isn’t quite what Emilie bargained for, so the couple settles on a reasonable compromise. The three principal cast members won best acting awards in the Czech Republic. In Czech with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax.

• Bollywood/Hollywood (2003) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity; occasional comic and sexual vulgarity) — . This gauche and underbudgeted Canadian caprice attempts to simulate the conventions of Bombay musical comedy-extravaganza in a Toronto setting, where a wealthy bachelor named Rahul (Rahul Khanna) hires an escort to pose as his fiancee at his sister’s wedding ceremony in order to suppress the mother and granny who keep nagging him to wed. The gags revolve around cultural disparities between Indian family and cultural traditions and the permissive customs adopted by a younger generation raised in North America.

• Cabin Fever (2003) (R: Extreme violence and gore, drug use, coarse language and sexual situations) — **. First-time director Eli Roth sets a flesh-eating virus loose on a cabin full of college graduates in this feisty but immature horror yarn. A cast of unknowns battles the virus, local hillbillies and each other, but viewers won’t care much about these undernourished characters. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Casa de los Babys (2003) (R: Adult themes and mature language) — **1/2. Writer-director John Sayles assembles six talented actresses to flesh out his tale of women waiting to adopt children in a poor Latin country. Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden leaves the biggest impact as a stubborn woman willing to buy her way to motherhood. The others (Lili Taylor, Daryl Hannah among them) are given much less to do, emotionally. Mr. Sayles proves more adept at recording cultural observations than he does achieving any narrative flow. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Cuckoo (2003) (PG-13: Violence; sexual themes; brief nudity) — ***. A deceptively simple, funny and clever Russian movie set in Finland as World War II is ending. Anni (Anni-Kristiina Juuso) is a reindeer-herding Sami; Veiko (Ville Haapasalo) is a cheery, bookish young Finnish sniper left for dead by his comrades; Ivan (Viktor Bychkov) is a middle-aged Russian soldier weary of war but still in its mind-set. The three wind up on Anni’s wilderness hut, where none speaks the other’s language and they, nevertheless, reach an uneasy modus vivendi. In Sami, Russian and Finnish with subtitles. Exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle 5. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, frequent comic vulgarity and occasional sexual and drug allusions) — *1/2. The new David Spade farce, a highly uneven blend of thundering ineptitude and sly wit. About two-thirds of the movie is stinko, yet the sheer scarcity of the clever bits tends to magnify their enjoyability.

• 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. This romantic suspense melodrama concerns illegal aliens trying to make a living and normalize their status while eluding immigration agents. With the young Nigerian-English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as a refugee doctor, Audrey Tatou (of “Amelie”) as a Turkish hotel maid and Sergi Lopez as their loathsome boss.

• The Fighting Temptations (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual allusions) — **. An initially tempting romantic comedy that reunites characters played by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyonce Knowles. In childhood they were members of a gospel-singing church congregation in a small Georgia town. Mr. Gooding returns to his roots after his mother’s death and a professional disgrace in New York. Miss Knowles has stayed close to home but has drifted from the flock. The movie gets off to a splendid start with a rousing gospel number set in the past and then follows through smartly in the present with Miss Knowles’ sultry nightclub rendition of “Fever.” Slowly but irreversibly, gauche miscalculations chip away at plausibility and good will. Ultimately, the movie degenerates into an all-embracing mishmash.

• Hotel (2003) (No MPAA Rating) — A caprice from the English filmmaker Mike Figgis, who weaves mystery elements and tricky visual conceits around a film company shooting an adaptation of John Webster’s “The Duchess of Malfi” at a hotel in Venice. Mr. Figgis himself shoots in a digital video format. The cast includes Rhys Ifans, Julian Sands, Salma Hayek, Saffron Burrows, David Schwimmer and Lucy Liu. Exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre through Oct. 16 only. Not reviewed.

• Lost in Translation (2003) (R: Fleeting profanity, nudity and sexual candor) — **1/2. A bemusing, sweet-tempered second feature from Sofia Coppola. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson play lonely Americans in Tokyo. A former Hollywood star, he’s there to shoot commercials. She is accompanying her neglectful husband, Giovanni Ribisi, a busy celebrity photographer. You wait patiently for Miss Coppola to activate a friendship between these exiles, and at the fadeout we’re still waiting for proof that these sympathetic outcasts have been indispensable to each other.

• Luther (2003) (PG-13: disturbing images of violence) — **1/2. Directed by Eric Till and bankrolled in part by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a faith-based financial services organization, “Luther” is a no-warts biopic about the German monk who changed the world, Martin Luther. It glosses over unsavory details but, even without the warts, Luther’s courageous life makes for decent drama. The miscast Joseph Fiennes is a dignified Luther but Sir Peter Ustinov steals the show as Prince Frederick the Wise. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Magdalene Sisters — (2003) (R: Nudity, harsh language and violent sequences) — ***. The titular “sisters” are a group of young women in the mid-1960s sentenced to hard labor in Catholic laundries in Ireland for the sins of professing randy thoughts or being sexually assaulted. Based on the real-life Magdalene asylums, the women’s stories prove harrowing under the stern hand of director Peter Mullan. The film stacks the deck against the nuns, but otherwise it realistically recounts the actual horrors thousands of Irish women faced. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Mambo Italiano (2003) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and comic vulgarity) — ***. A flamboyant, hilarious Canadian domestic farce about a wrangling Italian immigrant family in Montreal. Paul Sorvino and Ginette Reno play big fat mulish parents who grow funnier as the movie evolves. They find out that their only son Angelo (Luke Kirby) has been living in closeted homosexual intimacy with a former childhood pal named Nino (Peter Miller), who is inclined to backslide into heterosexual behavior. Efforts to set up the wayward young men with suitable young women are ill-advised, but Nino has already been seduced by a mantrap (Sophie Lorian), a worthy rival to his mother (Mary Walsh), an insinuating and domineering widow. Miss Reno, Miss Lorian and Miss Walsh contribute sensational comic performances. Writer Steve Gallucio (adapting his own play) and director Emile Gaudreault add surprising nuances and contradictions to characters introduced as rampaging grotesques. The method results in a wacky triumph.

• Matchstick Men (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual allusions) — ****. A sardonic and cleverly sustained parable about the pitfalls of a criminal mentality and profession. It revolves around a phobic telemarketing swindler named Roy, played by Nicolas Cage in topflight eccentric form. Roy’s oddities threaten to disrupt his successful partnership with a young protege named Frank, smartly played by Sam Rockwell. Roy learns he has a teenage daughter, who enters in the beguiling, troubling form of Alison Lohman, the discovery of “White Oleander.” Director Ridley Scott’s confidence with imagery and actors gives the plot manipulations a rare cinematic sophistication and ruefulness. He guarantees a deluxe exercise in deception.

• Mystic River (2003) (R: Sustained ominous atmosphere; graphic violence and frequent profanity; episodes depicting the abduction and molestation of a child) — *1/2. A morbidly unrewarding pulp tragedy from Clint Eastwood, who observes the misfortunes that haunt the childhood and then the adulthood of three characters who were boyhood friends in the Roxbury district of Boston. The miserable principal characters are played by Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon. Mr. Penn overacts in a seething and explosive fashion; Mr. Robbins overacts in a pathetic, walking-wounded fashion. As Whitey, Mr. Bacon’s sidekick on the police force, Laurence Fishburne seems enviably free from local attachments and torments. With Marcia Gay Harden as Mr. Robbins’ compatibly woebegone spouse and Laura Linney in what proves a trick role as Mr. Penn’s better half.

• Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) (R: Pervasive violence; profanity) — **1/2. Robert Rodriguez repeats himself in this, the third in a series of guerrilla films that began with 1992’s “El Mariachi,” but the writer-director is a master of gallows humor. There’s another evil drug lord (a duskified Willem Dafoe), the same acrobatic, dizzyingly edited gun battles and, again, El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) has a score to settle. “Mexico” works at least as often as it flounders, and it has a sharp sense of humor, especially that of scene-stealer Johnny Depp. Also starring Enrique Iglesias. Partly in Spanish with subtitles. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Out of Time (2003) (PG-13: A lenient judgment, given frequent graphic violence, profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse) — **. A mystery melodrama starring Denzel Washington as an unwary police chief in tiny Banyan Key, Fla. Recently divorced from one sultry consort (Eva Mendes as a Miami homicide detective), he has consoled himself with a married woman played by Sanaa Lathan. This liaison sets him up for criminal jeopardy as the fall guy in a murder and extortion conspiracy. A watchable contrivance, the movie permits the credulous hero to get away with anything.

• The Rundown (2003) (PG:13: Crude language and adventure-style violence) — **. WWE superstar The Rock, the actor formerly known as Dwayne Johnson, makes a solid play for action-hero status in this otherwise lunkheaded yarn. The ex-wrestler stars as a bounty hunter headed to the Amazon for his latest assignment. His fast-talking prey (Seann William Scott) isn’t who he appears to be and soon the two team up against a wicked despot (Christopher Walken, stealing every scene with his bizarre line readings). Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• School of Rock (2003) (PG-13: crude humor; drug reference) —***1/2. Jack Black’s mixture of pinpoint parody and idolatrous celebration transforms this formulaic story into an inspired and original comic success. Mr. Black plays Dewey Finn, an out-of-work rock musician who shams as a substitute teacher in an elite prep school and turns his charges into a a rock outfit. Directed by Richard Linklater. Written by Mike White. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Secondhand Lions (2003) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity; fleeting violence in tongue-in-cheek flashbacks about martial exploits) — *. Michael Caine and Robert Duvall are teamed as old crocks from Texas in this facetiously sentimental crock. A castoff kid, Haley Joel Osment, becomes devoted to the codgers, his great-uncles, when dropped on their doorstep one summer in the late 1950s by his no-account mom, Kyra Sedgwick. The crotchety bachelors soften up to their young stray. Mr. Osment has reached an awkward age, and acting seems to have become a struggle. Mr. Caine has the least offensive role as the more contemplative uncle, who enchants the impressionable kid with tall tales of an adventurous and perhaps lucrative past. Writer-director Tim McCanlies’ amateurism defies finesse or credibility.

• The Secret Lives of Dentists (2003) (R: Occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual candor, including brief depictions of intercourse; episodes of marital and family conflict)****. This seriocomic gem is derived from the Jane Smiley novella “The Age of Grief.” Campbell Scott, as dentist David Hurst, shares a practice in Westchester County, N.Y., with his wife Dana, played by Hope Davis. Dana is an ecstatic member of the chorus in a community opera production, and when David briefly ventures backstage he sees his wife in a romantic trance with another man, whose identity remains obscure. However, infidelity proves more than a suspicion, and the story concentrates on David’s method of responding. Exceptionally introspective and affecting.

• Thirteen (2003) (R: Sexual situations, drug use, harsh language, violence) — ***. Adolescence never seemed as cruel as in this sobering drama co-written by then 13-year-old co-star Nikki Reed. “Thirteen” follows a former good girl gone bad (Evan Rachel Wood) after she strikes up a dangerous friendship with her school’s most popular girl (Miss Reed). Holly Hunter plays the mom in way over her head. The film is too unflinching at times in its assessment of today’s youth, but its power and poignancy are undeniable. Reviewed by Christian Toto

• Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, sexual candor and comic vulgarity) — *1/2. A shameless trivialization of Frances Mayes’ best-selling memoir about homesteading in Tuscany. The original author had a husband who collaborated in the experience. The fictional Frances (Diane Lane) is a writer who travels to Europe to escape a demoralizing divorce. Eventually, she is joined in Tuscany by a pregnant lesbian pal (Sandra Oh). Miss Lane is helped through some difficult fixer-upper months by a kindly realtor; then she becomes putty in the hands of a young heartbreaker. Reliably picturesque but you’ll pay a steep price in unmerited sentiment and slapdash farce.

• Underworld (2003) (R: Supernatural-inspired gore, violence and profanity) — **. Two of Hollywood’s favorite monsters, the vampire and the werewolf, are cast as long-feuding clans in this disappointing feature. The murky story and incoherent action doom the feature to the cinematic graveyard. Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman lead an undistinguished cast. Reviewed by Christian Toto.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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