- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2004

OPENING

• Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi (2003) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual candor.)—*1/2. An Israeli domestic comedy that celebrates the naive goodness of a teenage paragon, Shlomi, played by Oshri Cohen, so preoccupied cooking meals and keeping the peace for his wrangling family that he’s been oblivious to his own brain power. Belatedly, teachers catch on to his lurking potential as a math prodigy. Writer-director Shemi Zarhin isn’t one for nuance, but given the obscene desperation of Hollywood’s “American Pie” farces, there’s something to be said for a movie that dotes on a youngster who can bake like a demon while doing complicated sums in his head. In Hebrew with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) (R) — A less than timely “prequel” to William Peter Blatty’s best-selling diabolical thriller, originally transposed to the screen with huge success by William Friedkin in 1974. Stellan Skarsgard is cast as a younger version of the Father Merrin character, encountered in the Middle East soon after World War II. He participates in an archaeological expedition that unearths the gruesome demon called Pazuzu. The late John Frankenheimer was scheduled to direct this troubled production; Paul Schrader replaced him and was himself replaced by Renny Harlin. The screenplay is credited to Alexi Hawley.

• Rosenstrasse (2003) (PG-13: Adult subject matter, dealing with the cruelties of the Nazi regime; occasional profanity and sexual candor.) — **. A contemporary young woman, Hannah, played by Maria Schrader, is perplexed by her German-born mother’s reversion to Jewish piety while sitting shiva for her late husband. Hannah travels to Berlin in search of comprehension. She meets the elderly Lena, who became her mother’s guardian in 1942, when a Nazi order to detain the Jewish husbands of so-called Aryan wives provoked a measure of resistance that persuaded the government to relent. Commendable intentions fail to compensate for an evocation of the past that seems far too detached and antiseptic for the subject matter. With Katja Riemann as Lena, whose aristocratic background proves indispensable in a crisis. Some dialogue in German with English subtitles.

• She Hate Me (2004) (R) — A lewd beau geste from Spike Lee, who casts Anthony Mackie as an unemployed biotech executive named John Henry Armstrong, Jack for short, who finds lucrative recreational employment as a reliably potent stud for affluent lesbians eager to become pregnant. Within a short period of time, the hero has more trade than he can handle. The cast includes Kerry Washington, Ellen Barkin, Monica Bellucci, Jim Brown, Ossie Davis, Brian Dennehy, John Turturro, Bai Ling, Lonette McKee and Woody Harrelson. Mr. Lee collaborated on the screenplay with Michael Genet.

• Uncovered: The War on Iraq (2004) (No MPAA rating, adult subject matter.)— Another documentary polemic from Robert Greenwald, who has already scorned the Bush administration and political conservatives in “Unprecedented” and “Outfoxed.” This compilation recruits pundits and disaffected former government officials who agree that the current war in Iraq is a grave misadventure. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004) (PG-13) — A domestic melodrama about two suburban couples who exchange adulterous affairs. Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Naomi Watts play the swappers. Directed by John Curran from Larry Gross’ adaptation of two short stories by the late Andre Dubus, also the source of “In the Bedroom.”

• Without a Paddle (2004) (PG-13) — A backwoods slapstick farce with Seth Green, Matthew Lillard and Dax Shephard as three overmatched friends from Philadelphia who end up in repeated jeopardy while sharing a treasure-hunting canoe excursion in the wilds of the Northwest. Burt Reynolds enters as a mountain man to flavor episodes that parody one of his vintage hits, “Deliverance.” Directed by Steven Brill from a screenplay by Jay Leggett and Mitch Rouse.

NOW SHOWING

• Alien vs. Predator (2004) (PG-13: Horror-style violence and gore.)— *1/2. Two popular science fiction franchises square off sans the stars that made them special — Sigourney Weaver (“Alien”) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Predator”). An archaeological dig beneath Antarctica stirs up a long-running feud between the two fierce species, leaving humans fleeing from the carnage. “Aliens” holdover Lance Henriksen is the lone recognizable star. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) (PG-13: Sexual language, humor and comic violence) — **1/2. Will Ferrell looks to build on his “Elf” momentum with this throwback comedy about a very 1970s newsman threatened by a beautiful reporter (Christina Applegate). Mr. Ferrell, donning a disco-era ‘do and a bushy mustache, is joined on the news desk by Paul Rudd and David Koechner. Mr. Ferrell’s unchecked performance generates nearly as many laughs as the film’s cultural anachronisms, but it’s never as cutting as the material promises. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2004) (R: Bloody, stylized violence) — **1/2. Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano writes, directs and stars in this samurai epic about a blind swordsman trying to live a simple life as a masseur. His serenity crumbles when he moves to a town where a wicked gang is extorting the villagers through brute force. The star’s agile performance highlights this crafty blend of swordplay and humor, but an undisciplined script hacks away at the film’s pacing. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Bourne Supremacy (2004) (PG-13: Violence, intense action) — ***. Matt Damon returns as amnesiac CIA hitman Jason Bourne in this enthralling, if far-flung, sequel to “The Bourne Identity.” Director Paul Greengrass keeps the action immediate and vertiginous as Bourne is drawn back into the vortex of his past. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Broadway: The Golden Age (2004) (No MPAA rating — fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity) — ***1/2. Compiled over six years as a labor of love by actor and documentary filmmaker Rick McKay, this memoir of Broadway lore, emphasizing musical comedies during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, recaptures the nostalgic glamour and gusto that eludes the lamentable “De-Lovely.” Savory interviews with scores of show people are enhanced by archival illustration, wonderfully evocative of time and place even if a bit tattered pictorially. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• A Cinderella Story (2004) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — **. Hilary Duff is a San Fernando Valley update of Cinderella in this fumbling but generally amiable high school romantic comedy, at its best when soft-pedaling the heroine’s alleged underdog status. If anything, the obstacles are pretty lame. The Cinderella isn’t much of a stranger to her Prince Charming, a star quarterback played by Chad Michael Murray. Both are destined for very early acceptance to Princeton, for one thing. Dan Byrd emerges as an amusing sidekick and Regina King is a steadfast fairy godmother.

• Code 46 (2004) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and allusions to futuristic drug use) — **. A pictorially inventive but dramatically needy dystopian fable. The director simulates urban and desert settings of the future, when privileged populations cluster in cities, and nomadic outsiders without valid IDs are confined to the parched hinterlands. Tim Robbins plays a Pinkerton agent, based in Seattle, who flies to Shanghai to investigate a forgery case. He falls in love with a fetching forger played by Samantha Morton. It proves a mismatch in every way.

• Collateral (2004) (R: Sustained ominous content with graphic violence; occasional profanity) — *1/2. A novelty monstrosity from director Michael Mann, who struggles to sell us Tom Cruise as a mobster Terminator, programmed to execute five victims one night in Los Angeles. Far from incisive or foolproof, the movie repeatedly stalls as a suspense and chase vehicle.

• The Door in the Floor 2004 (R: Harsh language, sexuality, violence and alcohol use) — ***1/2. John Irving’s “A Widow for One Year” gets a first-class adaptation from young writer-director Tod Williams. The movie, which concerns itself with only the first third of Mr. Irving’s novel, captures both the author’s invigorating characters and his occasional dark humor. Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger star as a couple, still grieving over the death of their twin sons, who accept a young writer into their fractured lives. A brilliant turn by Mr. Bridges and a whipsmart script make this, arguably, the most faithful adaptation of all of Mr. Irving’s works. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) (R: Occasional profanity and images of wartime carnage) — *1/2.Somehow, a frankly prejudicial outlook fails to prevent Michael Moore from being a butterfingered specialist in hatchet jobs. He can’t keep a firm grip on a very blunt polemical instrument. The intended victim of this pseudo-documentary roast is President George W. Bush, assailed and ridiculed from election night in 2000 through the prosecution of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Golden Palm winner at the recent Cannes Film Festival.

• Father and Son (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — *1/2. Dad seems to be an ex-soldier. Son attends a military academy. They share a rooftop apartment. The connotations remain thickly, curiously homoerotic as Russian director Alexander Sokurov, who has a reputation for the portentous, makes perfunctory efforts to clarify the set-up. Is this meant to be a Russian meditation on how forlorn things can get when womenfolk are scarce? If so, it kind of works, in an enigmatically stilted and risible way. In Russian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Garden State (2004) (R) **1/2. A whimsical homecoming comedy about a neurotic young actor, played by writer-director Zach Braff, a regular on the “Scrubs” sitcom, who returns to his hometown in New Jersey for his mother’s funeral. While hanging out, he visits old pals, notably Peter Sarsgaard, a gravedigger; consults a neurologist, Ron Leibman; reunites with his estranged dad, Ian Holm; and falls for an epileptic kook, Natalie Portman.

• Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) (R: Strong language, marijuana use, nudity and comic violence) — **1/2. The latest addition to the “stoner comedy” genre manages to be witty and sweet despite its nonstop profanity. The titular buddies want nothing more than a dozen or so White Castle burgers to cap their Friday night. That innocent impulse leads to a series of bawdy misadventures guaranteed to leave teen males cheering. The film’s humorous moments do plenty to alleviate its uneven tone and sloppy storytelling. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Intimate Strangers (2003) (R: Candid dialogue about sex; ominous undercurrents) — *1/2. The French filmmaker Patrice Leconte, having finessed oddball encounters in “The Girl on the Bridge” and “Man on a Train,” presses his luck with this consultation-room bonding fable about an estranged wife who mistakes a tax adviser for a psychotherapist. He’s too shy and intrigued to correct her misapprehension at first. She prefers to exploit him as a sounding board after she discovers his real profession. The pretext grows coy and tiresome. In French with English subtitles.

• I, Robot (2004) (PG-13: Violent action sequences, some brief partial nudity) — ***1/2. Will Smith reclaims the summer blockbuster mantle with this sci-fi thriller based on stories by Isaac Asimov. Mr. Smith stars as a cynical cop who believes a robot is responsible for an unsolved murder, even if it goes against the robotic programming drummed into every machine. The film marries colossal effects with a vibrant star turn by Mr. Smith to become the best popcorn film of the summer. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Little Black Book (2004) (PG-13: Sexual content and language.) — **. Brittany Murphy (“Uptown Girls”) finds out more than she wanted to know about her boyfriend in this shrill romantic comedy. Miss Murphy plays a talk show host’s assistant who gets her hands on her beau’s digital organizer and starts looking up all his ex-girlfriends. Ron Livingstone plays the hoodwinked boyfriend, whom we don’t see enough of to care about, and Kathy Bates co-stars as Miss Murphy’s boss. The star’s forced acting makes rooting for her character all but impossible. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Manchurian Candidate (2004) (R: Frequent profanity and graphic violence; gruesome scenes of mental and physical torture; fleeting sexual candor.) — 1/2*. Jonathan Demme mangles the durably haunting John Frankenheimer-George Axelrod version of Richard Condon’s Cold War thriller about a time-bomb assassin. Now there’s a nefarious multinational called Manchurian Global that seeks to dominate everything, including an approaching national election. In the Frank Sinatra role, Denzel Washington becomes a frenzied dupe. In the Laurence Harvey role, Liev Schreiber becomes a superfluous dupe. In the Angela Lansbury role, Meryl Streep seems to be losing her chin, not to mention her chops. This will be a tough one to live down.

• Maria Full of Grace (2004) (R: Profanity, violence, scenes of drug production) — ***. A simple, swift blow to the thorax from director Joshua Marston, using first-time actors to capture the harrowingly personal trafficking of drugs from Bogota to the United States. The title character (Catalina Sandino Moreno), an impoverished, flinty Colombian teen, conceals scores of pellets full of narcotics in her stomach in a high-stakes game of airline smuggling. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004) (No MPAA rating: profanity) —****. An engrossing, fly-on-the-wall documentary from filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky about the megapopular heavy metal band Metallica. The band’s future is in limbo, and it doesn’t hesitate once in airing its dirty laundry for our delectation. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Open Water (2004) (R) — **. Reputedly a new sleeper in the “Blair Witch Project” vein, this shoestring suspense thriller, written and directed by Chris Kentis, strands a vacationing couple in shark-infested tropical waters when they are accidentally abandoned during a scuba-diving jaunt. Their boat fails to return, night approaches and the sharks begin to circle.

• Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity.)— ***1/2. A deft, breezy and irresistible sequel to Garry Marshall’s beguiling Cinderella comedy of 2002, which introduced a radiant Anne Hathaway as a San Francisco teenager, Mia, who discovers that she’s the heir apparent to a tiny European monarchy, Genovia. The follow-up imagines that it’s five years later and the heroine has graduated from Princeton. Returning to Genovia and reunited with grandmother Julie Andrews, the reigning queen, Miss Hathaway preps for a succession. There’s a matrimonial catch: She must also wed within 30 days. Eligible consorts begin parading by, with Chris Pine and Callum Blue as the likeliest suitors. Expert at having his wedding cake and eating it, Mr. Marshall finesses the complication while demonstrating an old-fashioned flair for affectionate, playful and glamorous touches. The franchise remains delightfully consistent under his management. The ingratiating comic ensemble includes returnees Hector Elizondo, Heather Matarazzo, Caroline Goodall, Larry Miller and Kathleen Marshall.

• Seducing Dr. Lewis (2003) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter; occasional profanity and comic and sexual vulgarity.) — . A French-Canadian comedy that loses a tug-of-war between the distinctive and the trite. A small, impoverished fishing community needs to attract a town doctor in order to compete for a factory that might revive the local economy. Instead of making an honest pitch, the residents opt for deception, an alternative that leaves both the community and its candidate looking more contemptible than endearing. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.

• Spider-Man 2 (2004) (PG-13: Stylized action sequences.) — **1/2. Tobey Maguire returns as the neurotic wall-crawler who battles his feelings for Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) as well as a new supervillain. Alfred Molina gives the wicked Dr. Octavious a bruised soul, but the battles between him and Spider-Man seem more video game than movie magic. Returning director Sam Raimi gives far more attention to the film’s romantic core, a rarity in big-budget sequels. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Touch of Pink (2004) (R: Profanity, strong sexuality.)— **. A comic coming out party starring an imaginary Cary Grant (Kyle MacLachlan), who tutors Alim (Jimi Mistry), a homosexual South Asian Londoner, in the ways of Anglo propriety and taste. But Mr. Grant’s gambit is about to come under serious strain as Alim steams toward revelation vis-a-vis his traditionalist Muslim mother. Directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Village (2004) (PG-13: Violence and frightening situations.) — **1/2. Scaremeister M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”) returns with this creepy but hollow tale of a Utopian village harboring a deep, dark secret. The all-star cast, including Adrien Brody, William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver, play villagers surrounded by a forest teeming with creatures kept at bay by a long-kept promise. The writer-director’s work hinges so thoroughly on his third act surprises that the storytelling suffers, no matter how ingenious the twists may be. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie (2004) (PG: Scary combat and monster sequences, mild flatulence humor.) — *1/2. Japanese anime sensation Yu-Gi-Oh gets the big-screen treatment, but all but the most ardent fans will wonder what the fuss is all about. The film follows young card master Yugi, as he defends his title and fights off a long-dormant evil force threatening the Earth. Incoherent plotting and numbing descriptions are just a few reasons why the film is strictly for young, easily impressed minds. Reviewed by Christian Toto.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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