- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

OPENING

• Bollywood/Hollywood (2003) (PG-13) — A domestic comedy about a “dashing young millionaire” named Rahul (Rahul Khanna) who hires an escort named Sue (Lisa Ray) to pose as his girlfriend while attending his sister’s wedding. The ruse is meant to appease the women in his family, who keep nagging him to settle down. Sue makes such a good impression that the hero is persuaded that the hoax might be improved if he became a genuine suitor.

• 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.

• 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.



• 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.

• Mystic River (2003) (R) — A murder melodrama that suggests a curse hangs over three men who were boyhood friends until one was victimized by an abduction. In the present, they encounter each other again in a Boston suburb in the wake of a murder of one man’s teenage daughter. The haunted characters are played by Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon. The cast also includes Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney and Kevin Conway. Clint Eastwood directed. Opens Wednesday.

• 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. The chief runs himself ragged trying to elude suspicion until he can collar his deceivers. A watchable contrivance, the movie is nevertheless a letdown compared to the first thriller that brought Mr. Washington and director Carl Franklin together, “Devil in a Blue Dress,” in 1995. The new film takes far more for granted and permits the credulous hero to get away with anything.

• School of Rock (2003) (PG-13) — A farce about an unruly rock musician, Jack Black, who gets bounced from a band but rebounds as a substitute teacher at a private school.

NOW SHOWING

• American Splendor(2003) (R: Occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual candor) — *1/2. A fitfully amusing but seldom persuasive biographical love letter to the prickly individuality of Harvey Pekar, a retired file clerk from Cleveland who became a counterculture curmudgeon. The shambling role seems more of a burden than an opportunity for the stubby character actor Paul Giamatti.

• 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, played by 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.

• 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.

• Cold Creek Manor (2003) (R: Violence, language and sexual situations) — *1/2. This would-be thriller stars Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone as city slickers who move into a dilapidated mansion far away from any urban pressures. A series of bizarre but fright-free events leads them to discover the dark secrets within their new house. 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 expiring. 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. Mr. Spade plays the hapless title character, once the popular brat on a TV sitcom. Desperate for a role in a new Rob Reiner film, he takes it to heart when the director suggests that he lacks firsthand experience of a normal family. Dickie arranges to board with a suburban family. Far less plausibly, he’s positioned to replace their dad, Craig Bierko, who is in the process of alienating spouse Mary McCormack.

• 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.

• Duplex (2003) (PG-13: Frequent slapstick violence and vulgarity; occasional profanity and sexual vulgarity) — *1/2. A misbegotten comedy of malevolence from Danny DeVito, directing a screenplay by Larry Doyle, who trifles with Alexander Mackendrick’s “The Ladykillers,” one of the great Alec Guinness comedies. An affluent Manhattan couple played by Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore acquires a brownstone in Brooklyn. It becomes a financial nightmare when they realize that the elderly Irish widow in the rent-controlled apartment upstairs may be impossible to dislodge. With Eileen Essel as the lady in question, a menace who enjoys tormenting her new patsies.

• 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.

• In This World (2003) (R: brief stream of profanity) — ***1/2. Shot entirely and, for once, usefully on digital video, Michael Winterbottom’s film begins and ends like a documentary, with Afghan refugees in Peshawar, Pakistan, smiling for the interlopers with fancy machines. In between is a harrowingly harsh voyage, on which two Afghan refugees travel overland from Pakistan’s western frontier to Western Europe. A hyperrealistic, relevant and quietly brilliant little movie. In Pashtu and Farsi with subtitles. Exclusively at Loews Georgetown. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Lost in Translation (2003) (R: Fleeting profanity, nudity and sexual candor) — **1/2. A bemusing, sweet-tempered second feature from Sofia Coppola. It takes her about half the movie to sidle up to an introduction between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson as lonely Americans in Tokyo. A former Hollywood star, he’s there to shoot commercials for a whiskey company. 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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’s always a pleasure to see an action movie with 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.

• Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2003) (R: Frequent profanity; mild violence) — ***. With cramped, neo-functionalist housing in working-class England and thinly veiled spaghetti-Western conventions as a backdrop, writer-director Shane Meadows tells a simple story: two guys, one girl. Jimmy (Robert Carlyle) is a Byronic greaser, mad, bad and dangerous to know; Dek (Rhys Ifans) is a nebbish, klutzy and soft, but safe and predictable. They vie for the affection of Shirley (Shirley Henderson) after she turns down Dek’s marriage proposal on national TV. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• 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 unceremoniously dropped on their doorstep one summer in the late 1950s by his no-account mom, Kyra Sedgwick. Crotchety bachelors who may have been globetrotting soldiers of fortune in their youth, the uncs 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 hints that he’s hustling a semi-autobiographical family yarn, but his 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. Diane Lane, Hollywood’s favorite swooning adulterous heroine, attempts to add notes of madcap wistfulness in this shameless trivialization of Frances Mayes’ best-selling memoir about a gratifying experiment in homesteading in the Tuscany region of Italy. The original author had a husband who collaborated in the experience. The fictional Frances (Miss Lane) is a San Francisco writer who travels to Europe to escape a demoralizing divorce. Eventually, she is joined in Tuscany by a pregnant lesbian pal played by 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. There may never have been a visiting American pushover to rival Miss Lane’s Frances. 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 blood suckers and lycanthropes, the latter known as Lycans, may seem like perfect adversaries, but “Underworld’s” 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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