- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003


• 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. Clearly inspired by rambunctious horror flicks like “Evil Dead” and “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Cabin Fever” too often stoops to those films’ baser instincts. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Cuckoo (2002) (PG-13 — adult subject matter) — A serio-comic fable of fraternization from the Russian writer-director Alexander Rogozhkin. Set in the fall of 1944, the plot suggests affinities with Stanley Kramer’s “The Defiant Ones.” A Finnish soldier named Veiko (Ville Haapasalo) is left in the lurch by his comrades. Simultaneously, a Russian officer named Ivan (Viktor Bychkov) finds himself in a similar fix. Both men find shelter with a widowed Lapp peasant named Anni (Anni-Kristina Juuso). A fleeting menage a trois proves feasible despite the language barriers. In Russian and Finnish with English subtitles.

• Lost in Translation (2003) (R: Fleeting profanity, nudity and sexual candor) — **1/2. The second feature from Sofia Coppola is a bemusing, sweet-tempered improvement on her first, “The Virgin Suicides,” but she is kind of faking it without a writer. It takes Miss Coppola 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 a lucrative set of 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, reassured by her pictorial fascination with the Tokyo settings and some effective comic episodes. Unfortunately, the movie specializes in expectation at the expense of realization. At the fadeout we’re still waiting for proof that these sympathetic outcasts have been indispensable to each other.

• 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 curiously apprehensive and hermetic Los Angeles milieu is wittily evoked by director Ridley Scott, cinematographer John Mathieson and production designer Tom Foden. Roy’s oddities threaten to disrupt his successful partnership with a young protege named Frank, smartly played by Sam Rockwell. Roy learns that he has a teenage daughter, who enters in the beguiling, troubling form of Alison Lohman, the discovery of “White Oleander.” Mr. 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) — Robert Rodriguez concludes his second trilogy, reuniting with Antonio Banderas for an elaborate sequel to the mercenary thriller “Desperado,” which was prompted by his resourceful low-budget debut feature, “El Mariachi.” A hired killer who sometimes doubles as a musician, Mr. Banderas is hired by a dubious CIA agent, Johnny Depp, in a plan to get the drug dealer who has targeted the president of Mexico for assassination.

• The Same River Twice (2003) (No MPAA Rating) — A documentary feature by Rob Moss about the reunion of a group of white-water rafting enthusiasts. A limited engagement, exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre.


• American Splendor(2003) (R: Occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual candor) — *1/2. Splendor means oddball celebrity in this fitfully amusing but seldom persuasive biographical love letter to the prickly individuality of Harvey Pekar. The shambling role seems more of a burden than an opportunity for the stubby character actor Paul Giamatti. The real Harvey is a retired file clerk from Cleveland who emerged from obscurity to blow hot and cold as a counterculture curmudgeon. He provided the text for a cycle of autobiographical comic books initially illustrated by Robert Crumb, and he gained a measure of notoriety as a guest on David Letterman’s show until a blowup earned his banishment. Mr. Pekar himself sometimes appears in the movie and narrates several episodes; occasionally, he and Mr. Giamatti are in the same scenes. An ambitious attempt at semi-documentary comic portraiture, the movie is easier to admire as a notion than a finished product.

• The Animation Show (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter and treatment). An anthology of animated shorts selected by Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt, also represented by examples of their own work. The selections derive from eight countries and include half a dozen nominees for the Academy Award as best animated short. A limited engagement, exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre. Not reviewed.

• Camp (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including allusions to homosexuality and promiscuity among a set of teenage characters) — **. A mixed assortment of musical comedy novelty and ineptitude from Todd Graff, a former actor making his directing debut with an homage to an alma mater, Stagemanor, a summer camp for aspiring juvenile actors, singers and dancers located in upstate New York.

• 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 and now a struggling actor and parking attendant. 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 environment. 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. The movie recruits numerous erstwhile child actors to fill out the has-been world of Dickie Roberts. Several participate in a strange but dynamic epilogue, a sarcastic choral number that accompanies the end credits.

• 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. 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.

• Freaky Friday (2003) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity) — **. A haphazard update of the Mary Rodgers comic novel about a turnabout situation: Mother and teenage daughter exchange bodies for a hectic but enlightening day. Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, the delightful discovery of the 1998 remake of “The Parent Trap,” are the new switchers. The younger actresses get to act mature for their ages, but acting immature does nothing for Miss Curtis in this revamp. Miss Lohan is the reassuring element.

• Freddy vs. Jason (2003) (R: Slasher-film violence and gore, nudity, sexuality, drug use and strong language) — **. Two of Hollywood’s most resilient monsters face off in a film seeking to reinvent two dying franchises. “Freddy vs. Jason” finds the “Nightmare on Elm Street” villain (Robert Englund) invading the dreams of Jason of “Friday the 13th” infamy. The youthful cast (John Ritter’s son, Jason and Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child) are overshadowed by the WWE-like grudge match between the monsters. The rest of the film is an unimaginative rehash of slasher film conventions. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003) (R) — *1/2. Victor Salva, who miscalculated in 1995 by trying to sell audiences on an angelic albino creepy protagonist in “Powder,” seems to have learned his lesson. He had an exploitation hit two years ago with the prototype of this horror thriller by depicting stranded teenagers at the mercy of a cannibalistic backroads fiend, driven to appease grisly hungers every so often. A caravan of high school basketball players, cheerleaders, coaches and fans is victimized in this sequel, written and directed by Mr. Salva. The big name in the cast is “Twin Peaks” alum Ray 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 — surely a few possessed a flicker of kindness — but otherwise it realistically recounts the actual horrors thousands of women faced. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Masked and Anonymous (2003) (PG-13: brief violence, some profanity) — **.Dylanologists will puzzle over “Masked and Anonymous” for as long as they can stand it, which probably is the point of this very odd, impenetrable and incoherent movie. Bob Dylan plays Jack Fate, a once-popular singer-songwriter sprung from jail to play a benefit concert in the war-torn America of an unspecified future. “Seinfeld” collaborator Larry Charles directed and co-wrote with Mr. Dylan, and a passel of big-name actors turn up, including John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Penelope Cruz and Jeff Bridges. It never makes sense, Mr. Dylan barely acts. But the tunes are good — so maybe that was the point. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Medallion (2003) (PG-13) — *1/2. The latest Jackie Chan action farce. He plays a Hong Kong policeman who seems to be blessed with supernatural powers after a brush with death. A mysterious medallion figures in his survival and leads to the discovery of a secret brotherhood called Highbinders, riven between good and evil factions. Claire Forlani is the leading lady. Directed by Gordon Chan. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Mondays in the Sun (2002) (R: Frequent profanity; occasional graphic violence and sexual candor) — **1/2. Javier Bardem, bulking up for an entire characterization, gives a commanding performance as a growling, bearish former welder who has become the unrepentant cynic and bellyacher in a group of six comrades once employed at an abandoned shipyard in Galicia. These middle-aged men continue to haunt the site of their old workplace, hanging out in the bar now owned by a member of the fraternity. Since much of the argumentation takes place within the tavern, the movie often suggests a theater piece. It’s a bit like “The Iceman Cometh” with an updated Spanish context and Mr. Bardem as the resident, permanently disillusioned Hickey. In Spanish with English subtitles.

• Open Range (2003) (R: Occasional profanity and graphic violence in a frontier Western setting)**** One of the most distinctive and satisfying Westerns of the past generation, “Open Range” is intelligently contrived by screenwriter Craig Storper and vigorously realized by Kevin Costner. The setting is Montana in 1882, about a decade before the frontier was officially closed as a haven for homesteaders and free-grazers, small-scale cattlemen who drive their herds across open rangeland. Robert Duvall is such a free-grazer, Boss Spearman, and Mr. Costner is his wary but dependable right hand, Charley Waite. They run afoul of a tyrannical rancher played by Michael Gambon and refuse to be intimidated. The conflict sets up a sensational finale of gunfights.

• The Order (2003) (R: Bloody, disturbing rituals; graphic violence; profanity; some sexuality) — **. Heath Ledger plays Alex Bernier, a young Catholic priest of an ancient order called the Carolingians, a breakaway sect eyed suspiciously by the Vatican. He jets off to Rome to investigate the death of his mentor, who died in a mysterious ceremony at the hands of a “sin eater,” the practitioner of a medieval myth said to cleanse the unfaithful of their transgressions. A flawed, facilely written movie but may incite a big thought or two. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Other Side of the Bed (2003) (R) — ***. A Spanish sex farce about a pair of bickering, cheating, swapping young couples, whose amorous outrages are punctuated by musical interludes. The principal cast members are Ernesto Alterio, Paz Vega, Natalia Verbeke and Guillermo Toledo. Directed by Emilio Martinez-Lazaro from a screenplay by David Serrano. In Spanish with English subtitles.

• 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. Despite the interminable fourth act, “Pirates” is an astute blend of comic characterization and rejuvenated adventure cliches at its most diverting. Johnny Depp does 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.

• 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 conjugal 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 of Verdi’s “Nabucco,” and when David briefly ventures backstage, he sees his wife of 10 years in some kind of romantic trance with another man, whose identity remains obscure for the duration. However, infidelity proves more than a suspicion, and the story concentrates on David’s method of responding. Exceptionally introspective and affecting.

• Step into Liquid (No MPAA Rating — Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity, consistent with the PG category) ****. The most beautiful surfing feature ever seen. This surprisingly comprehensive and stirring update on the sport’s lore, evolution and international popularity was compiled by Dana Brown, the son of surfing movie pioneer Bruce Brown of “Endless Summer” renown. Pictorially, “Liquid” is an awesome scenic spectacle, reflecting quantum improvements in camera platforms, lenses and all-around versatility since Bruce Brown was an enterprising amateur filmmaker four decades ago. Exclusively at Landmark Bethesda Row and the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

• Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with frequent profanity, occasional sexual candor and episodes of gruesome clinical candor about a murder case) — 1/2*. An unwelcome and marginally professional video documentary about the sorry case of Mark “Gator” Rogowski, a teenage skateboarding celebrity of the late 1980s who reacted so badly to a career skid (at the age of 21) that he sexually assaulted and then murdered a young woman, evidently targeted because she was the best friend of his estranged girlfriend. It’s difficult to glean anything edifying from this chronicle of calamity.

• S.W.A.T. (2003) (PG:13: Violent sequences, strong language and sexual references) — *1/2. Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell star in this limp update of the ‘70s television series. Mr. Farrell is an LAPD cop who rejoins the elite cop force (Special Weapons and Tactics unit) after disobeying orders. The group’s new assignment involves a captured drug lord offering $100 million to anyone who can free him from police custody. Stale cop cliches and logic-free action sequences handcuff a good cast. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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

• Uptown Girls (2003) (PG-13: Mild sexual content and language) — *1/2. Little more than throwaway entertainment for beating the August heat. It’s fuzzy, touchy-feely and so gaseous it could float away before your eyes. Princess of pout Brittany Murphy plays Molly Gunn, the undermotivated daughter of a rock star who died, along with Molly’s mother, in a plane crash. After an accountant steals her trust-fund booty, Molly ends up as an au pair for Ray, (Dakota Fanning), the neurotic woman-child daughter of an icy, inattentive record company exec (Heather Locklear). Directed by Boaz Yakin. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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