- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004


• Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004) (PG-13) — A reptilian horror thriller about an orchid-seeking scientific trek in Borneo that aims to locate a plant that produces a precious serum. Unfortunately, the species is located in a region infested with giant, possessive snakes. Directed by Dwight H. Little with a cast that includes Morris Chestnut and Salli Richardson-Whitfield.

• Danny Deckchair (2004) (PG:13: Sex-related situations) — **. Rhys Ifans (“Notting Hill”) stars as a disgruntled Aussie who attaches helium balloons to a chair and floats away from his troubles. He lands in a new town where the residents, particularly one pretty woman (Miranda Otto), embrace his life spirit. His responsibilities back home, however, manage to catch up to him. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Hero (2002) (PG-13) ? The belated American arrival of a prestige Chinese adventure spectacle that recruited several major names under the direction of Zhang Yimou, the most esteemed Chinese director of the 1990s. The period dates back 2,000 years. At the dawn of the Qin dynasty, a mysterious solitary avenger played by Jet Li seeks an audience with a conquering warlord. His mission is booby-trapped with numerous assassins and a plot that unveils contradictory aspects in the tradition of “Rashomon.” The co-stars include Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

• Mean Creek (2004) (R) — An ominous teenage thriller about a birthday cruise in Oregon that turns out to be more vindictive than festive. With Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Carly Schroeder, Josh Peck and Trevor Morgan. Written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes.

• Superbabies:Baby Geniuses 2 (2004) (PG) — An arguably superfluous sequel to a 1999 farce about researchers intent on deciphering baby talk for commercial advantage. The pretext seems to have acquired a “Spy Kids” angle: Five toddlers unite to foil the mind-control schemes of a “powerful media mogul” played by Jon Voight.

• Suspect Zero (2004) (R) ? A murder thriller about an FBI agent (Aaron Eckhart) with a somewhat checkered resume who isn’t sure if he can trust a superpsychic profiler played by Ben Kingsley. The cast also includes Carrie-Anne Moss. Directed by E. Elias Merhage of the wrongheaded “Shadow of the Vampire,” from a screenplay by Zak Penn and Billy Ray of the admirable “Shattered Glass.”

• Vanity Fair (2004) (PG-13) ? A new movie version of the formidable social-historical-satirical novel by William Thackeray, whose opportunistic heroine, Becky Sharp, is portrayed by Reese Witherspoon. Published in 1848, the book harked back to the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars as a backdrop for the devious vivacity of Becky, who attempts to transcend a bohemian childhood and galling dependence as a governess by seducing a wealthy or aristocratic mate. With Romola Garai as her ingenuous schoolmate, Amelia, Rhys Ifans as faithful Dobbin, Gabriel Byrne as Lord Steyne, Jim Broadbent as Mr. Osborne and Eileen Atkins as Miss Crawley. Directed by Mira Nair from a screenplay by Matthew Faulk, Mark Skeet and Julian Fellowes. Opens Wednesday.

• Zhou Yu’s Train (2003) (PG-13) — A Chinese romantic saga starring Gong Li as the title character, a ceramic painter whose devotion to her lover, Chen Ching, a poet played by Tony Leung, is confirmed by frequent train journeys to his rural hideaway. During one trip, she attracts the romantic interest of a veterinarian, played by Sun Hong Lei, who looms as a more reliable suitor but perhaps an overmatched rival.Zhou Yu remains obsessed with her elusive poet when he does a disappearing act. In Mandarin with English subtitles.


• 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.

• 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.

• Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi (2003) (No MPAA rating; adult subject matter with occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual candor) — *1/2. One and one-half stars. An Israeli domestic comedy that celebrates the naive goodness of a teenage paragon, Shlomi, played by Oshri Cohen, so preoccupied with cooking meals and keeping the peace for his wrangling family that he has been oblivious to his own brainpower. Teachers belatedly catch on to his latent 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 kid 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.

• The Bourne Supremacy (2004) (PG-13: Violence, intense action) — ***. Matt Damon returns as amnesiac CIA hit man 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 Bethesda Row.

• 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.

• Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) (R: Strong violence, gore, disturbing images and sexually charged language) — This prequel to the famed horror film follows Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) as he investigates a long-buried church and the murderous spirit enveloping it. This film should have been left buried, too. Director Renny Harlin took over the project from Paul Schrader, and it’s hard to imagine a film could reek any worse that what’s assembled here. 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 Bush, assailed and ridiculed from election night 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 setup. 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.

• 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, Colombia, 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) (NR: profanity) — ****. An engrossing fly-on-the-wall documentary from filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky about the mega-popular heavy-metal band Metallica. The band’s future is in limbo, and it doesn’t hesitate 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 reuniting with grandmother Julie Andrews, the reigning queen, Miss Hathaway preps for a succession. There’s a matrimonial catch: She also must 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.

• 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: Strong sexuality; nudity; profanity; depiction of suicide) —. An overstuffed, undisciplined outing from filmmaker-provocateur Spike Lee. The director takes on a bevy of subjects, from corporate greed to sexual stereotypes, and ends up with the thinnest, least persuasive movie of his career. Starring Anthony Mackie, Ellen Barkin and Kerry Washington. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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. Octavius 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. 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.

• Uncovered: The War on Iraq(No MPAA rating; contains scenes of war casualties) —**1/2 A sane, patient, unsexy, persuasive alternative to Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Director Robert Greenwald presents a lengthy hit parade of CIA spooks, Foreign Service officers and diplomats who unweave, thread by thread, the case for war made by President Bush. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Village (2004) (PG-13: Violence and frightening situations) — **1/2. Scare-meister 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, plays 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.

• 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.

• 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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