- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

OPENING

• Against the Ropes (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual vulgarity) — *1/2. A heavily fictionalized biopic celebrating the singularity of Jackie Kallen, a former Detroit reporter and publicist who branched out into boxing management. As revamped for Meg Ryan and transposed to Cleveland, this case history is reduced to a morale booster for one very needful Hollywood pixie, pretending to conquer a man’s world. With Omar Epps, Tony Shalhoub and director Charles S. Dutton in supporting roles.

• Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) (PG: “Mild thematic elements and brief language,” according to the MPAA). A high school musical comedy from Disney revolving around Lindsay Lohan as a vivacious transfer from Manhattan to suburban New Jersey.

• Eurotrip (2004) (R: Nudity, rampant drug use, harsh language and sexual situations) — **. The producing team behind “Road Trip” transports its adolescent humor across the pond for a smutty “Eurotrip.” The film stars a quartet of high school graduates who go overseas to help poor Scotty (Scott Mechlowicz) meet his beautiful German e-mail pal. The film basks in its sophomoric humor, some of which is funny, but it loses steam at midpoint with plenty of travel still to go. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• My Flesh and Blood (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter; occasional profanity, candid discussion of severe physical disabilities and episodes of domestic conflict) — ***1/2. Another example of last year’s bumper crop of estimable documentary features. This intimate and humbling chronicle distills an “up-and-down” year in the Fairfield, Calif., home of Susan Tom, the adoptive mother of a mere nine children. They range in age from about 6 to 18. Three of them must cope with life-threatening disabilities. The most memorable is probably 15-year-old Joe, born with cystic fibrosis and animated by a rage to live that runs a gamut from alarming belligerence to endearing tenderness. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Osama (2003) (PG-13: Sinister thematic elements, including episodes about the sexual exploitation of an adolescent girl) — *1/2. The first feature made in Afghanistan since the defeat of the Taliban, this is a fascinating but perplexing blend of the ominous, the antic and the makeshift from Afghan filmmaker Siddiq Barmak. Mr. Barmak depicts the plight of a terrified 12-year-old girl, disguised as a lad named Osama during the Taliban rule in order to be useful to her desperate, widowed mother. The girl has no flair for imposture and the outlook is exceedingly bleak. In Pashtu with English subtitles.

• The Passion of the Christ (2004) (R: Explicit depictions of torture and suffering in biblical times). Mel Gibson’s controversial re-enactment of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, with Jim Caviezel in the title role and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene. In Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew with English subtitles. Opens Wednesday.

• Welcome to Mooseport (2004) (PG-13). A scaled-down political farce for an election year, set in a small town in Maine where the most illustrious resident, a former U.S. president played by Gene Hackman, is persuaded to run for mayor. He ends up in a grudge race with a hardware store owner played by Ray Romano. The supporting cast includes Maura Tierney, Marcia Gay Harden, Christine Baranski and Fred Savage.

NOW SHOWING

• Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — A second documentary feature about the convicted murderer Aileen Wournos from the team of Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill, who had compiled an earlier polemic subtitled “The Selling of a Serial Killer.” Miss Wournos, the subject of the fictionalized biographical melodrama “Monster,” was executed in Florida in October 2002. Exclusively at E Street Cinema.

• Along Came Polly (2004) (PG-13: Sexual content; mild profanity; crude humor; drug reference) —**. “There’s Something About Mary,” and there’s something about Polly, too — the something that enables a hypochondriac (Ben Stiller) to throw caution to the wind and salsa-dance with a gal of irrepressible insouciance (Jennifer Aniston). The Stiller schtick is getting old, but “Polly” is rescued somewhat by a pair of great supporting roles from Alec Baldwin and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004) (PG-13: Coarse language, mild violence and drug references) — **. The gang from Ice Cube’s 2002 sleeper hit “Barbershop” is back for a new wave of politically incorrect banter. This one finds the independent barber shop owned by Calvin (Ice Cube) fighting for survival when a chain haircut salon moves across the street. Meanwhile, co-stars like Troy Garity, Queen Latifah and Cedric the Entertainer verbally joust with customers and each other. The sequel maintains the camaraderie between the actors but loses steam with several silly subplots. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Battle of Algiers (1967) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — **. A revival of Gillo Pontecorvo’s acclaimed and controversial polemical thriller about guerrilla uprisings in Algeria, anticipating independence from France in the early 1960s. The victory is an epilogue spectacle; the movie concentrates on the defeat of insurgents in the late 1950s by a tenacious and lethally effective French paratroop commander played by Jean Martin. In French and Arabic with English subtitles. Exclusively at E Street Cinema.

• Big Fish (2003) (PG-13: fight scene; partial nudity; innuendo) — ***1/2. A magical-realist cocktail of Southern gothic, fairy-tale whimsy and psychedelic freak show from director Tim Burton. Beneath the gleaming set-pieces, “Fish” is a very old and human story, of an estranged son seeing his father to death’s door. Starring Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup and Jessica Lange. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Butterfly Effect (2004) (R: sexuality; nudity; graphic beatings; profanity) — . A woolly psychological thriller starring Ashton Kutcher as a bright but troubled college student who can respool the past by reading his journals. Problem is, the intervening years ramify in ways almost as disastrous as this movie. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Catch That Kid (2004) (PG: Action themes; crude humor) —**. A fair remake of a Danish teen caper, starring the likable Kristen Stewart as an aspiring mountain climber who plans a bank heist to obtain cash for a life-saving operation for her father. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Cold Mountain (2003) (R: Violence, profanity, sexual candor) *1/2. A dedicated but laborious movie version of Charles Frazier’s prestige historical novel about a love match struggling to survive the Civil War, with Jude Law as a Confederate soldier who goes AWOL to reunite with sweetheart Nicole Kidman. Renee Zellweger injects some welcome gusto when she enters as an indomitable rustic. Seven Academy nominations, including best actor for Mr. Law and supporting actress for Miss Zellweger.

• The Company (2003) (PG-13: some profanity and sexual situations) — **. A Neve Campbell dream project entrusted to screenwriter Barbara Turner and director Robert Altman. Originally an aspiring ballerina, Miss Campbell originated this fictionalized account of a classical ballet company preparing for a new season, with herself as an ambitious young recruit to the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. The film employs Altman trademarks — using nonactors and layering conversations — to give the film the look and feel of a documentary. But the dancing is second-rate and some of the dialogue pretentious. Malcolm McDowell plays the company’s director, a mercurial figure based on Gerald Arpino, the late co-founder of the Joffrey, in grandiose fashion and comes across as a blowhard. Exclusively at Bethesda Row, Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle 5, Cinema Arts Theatre. Reviewed by Jean Battey Lewis.

• The Cooler (2003) (R: Nudity, sexual situations, alcohol use and spasms of violence) — ***. William H. Macy is “the Cooler,” a sad sack so unlucky he works at a casino where he “cools” hot gamblers just by standing near them. Lady luck finally smiles on him when he meets a fetching cocktail waitress (an earthy Maria Bello) who falls for his inherent kindness. Director Wayne Kramer fashions a gritty tale with a kiss of fantasy, aided by a rageful Alec Baldwin (an Oscar nominee) as the casino boss. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Crimson Gold (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter). A new feature from the Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who returns to the streets of Tehran to observe the struggles and frustrations of a pizza delivery man named Hussein, portrayed by non-pro Hussein Emadeddin, cast in something of a self-portrait. In Farsi with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge. Not reviewed.

• The Dreamers (2004) (NC-17: Occasional nudity and sexual candor, including simulated intercourse; occasional profanity and graphic violence) — **1/2. Bernardo Bertolucci’s sensuous command of the medium is abundantly evident in the most evocative sequences of this time-capsule portrait of three college-age students who dabble in potentially dissolute intimacy in Paris during the political protests of 1968. The movie is steeped in cinematic and musical allusions that prove far more seductive than the sex scenes. Some dialogue in French with English subtitles.

• 50 First Dates (2004) (PG-13: Cartoon-style violence, crude sexual humor and drug references). “The Wedding Singer’s” Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore reunite for another unconventional love story. This time, Miss Barrymore plays a single gal suffering from short-term memory loss. Every time she goes to bed, she wakes up forgetting much of the day before. So earnest Henry (Mr. Sandler) has to win her heart again and again. Co-stars include Rob Schneider and Sean Astin.

• The Fog of War (2003) (PG-13: Intense images of war and destruction) — ***. Documentarian Errol Morris spends quality time with the once-reviled defense secretary Robert McNamara, who recalls his involvement not only in Vietnam but in World War II and the Cuban Missile crisis as well. Often riveting and never as tendentious as one might expect. Oscar nomination for best documentary feature. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) (PG-13: Sexuality) — ***. As riveting as a tour of a good city art museum, and we mean in both senses. Peter Webber’s commanding adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s novel, which imagined a back story to the eponymous painting by Vermeer, is more exhibition than movie, nearly forgetting the man it so artfully celebrates. Starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. Academy Award nominations for cinematography, art direction and costume design. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• House of Sand and Fog (2003) (R: Profanity, sexual candor, graphic violence) **1/2. A baleful but impressively acted melodrama about the peril created by disputed ownership of a small house on the San Francisco peninsula. Sir Ben Kingsley and Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, both Oscar nominees, contribute formidable performances as the proud immigrants who acquire the house at auction, then inherit the unexpected emotional turmoil of its former resident, Jennifer Connelly.

• In America (2003) (PG-13: Profanity, sexual candor, violence) — **.The Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan works off debts to his wife and daughters in this semi-autobiographical account of homesteading in a Hell’s Kitchen slum in the 1980s. A richly deserved Oscar nomination for Samantha Morton as an affectionate and indomitable young housewife. Sara and Emma Bolger are also irresistible as her daughters.

• The Last Samurai (2003) (R: Graphic violence during period battle scenes) *1/2. Tom Cruise, a disenchanted veteran of the Civil War and Indian Wars, agrees to train Imperial conscripts in Japan in the 1870s. Captured by a samurai warlord (Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe), the bad-luck American fails to redeem himself by switching sides and surviving battlefield defeat. But he may enjoy a monopoly of the womenfolk when returning to an adopted samurai village.

• The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) (PG-13) — ****. Peter Jackson closes the cinematic book in suitably stirring fashion on his triple epic version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythological saga about the defenders of Middle Earth. The tenacious heroes return the sinister ring of power to the lava pits of Mt. Doom and defeat the hordes assaulting the mountainside citadel Minas Tirith. 11 Academy Award nominations, including best picture and direction.

• Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) (PG-13) — ****. Peter Weir’s brilliant seafaring adventure, derived from the books of Patrick O’Brian, with Russell Crowe in great form as the redoubtable Capt. Jack Aubrey, whose HMS Surprise is kept on the defensive while pursuing a French warship along the coast of Brazil in 1805. Ten Oscar nominations, including best picture and direction.

• Miracle (2004) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity; occasional violent confrontations in the context of hockey matches) — ***. A superficial but entertaining rabble-rouser that celebrates the Mission Impossible of the late hockey coach Herb Brooks, portrayed by Kurt Russell, as he prepares the underdog U.S. Olympic team of 1980 for their famous upset match with the heavily favored Soviets at Lake Placid.

• Monster (2003) (R: Profanity, graphic violence, sexual candor) — *1/2. A biographical shocker-tearjerker about serial killer Aileen Wournos, cleverly timed to make an Oscar contender of Charlize Theron, who alters her appearance drastically. A large frame, a mottled complexion, some boldly flabby flesh and oversized teeth camouflage her beauty, but the transformation flatters make-up devices more than emotional insight.

• My Architect (2003) (NR: brief profanity) — ***1/2. Nathaniel Kahn explores the engrossing mysteries of his absentee father, the great architect Louis I. Kahn. Serious without being scholarly, and poignant without being sentimental, this is a first-rate documentary and a welcome gift in a fallow movie month. Academy Award nomination for best documentary feature. Exclusively at E Street Cinema. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Perfect Score (2004) (PG-13: profanity; sexual content; drug references) — **. “The Breakfast Club” is taken over by “Ocean’s Eleven” in this likable if formulaic teen heist in which a gang of six high-school seniors conspire to steal the answers to the dreaded SAT from the Educational Testing Service headquarters in Princeton, N.J. Scarlett Johansson, playing the melancholic Ally Sheedy type, shines despite being saddled with a gigantic cliche. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Something’s Gotta Give (2003) (PG-13: sexual content, brief comic nudity, occasional profanity) — **. A menopausal little ditty starring Jack Nicholson and Oscar nominee Diane Keaton as aging lovebirds. Despite two top-shelf actors who sizzle together, “Give” is, after all, a grayed-over retread of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan heart-tuggers, with the added wrinkle that it thinks it’s delivering a news flash: that men and women in their twilight years are still vital. Also starring Keanu Reeves and Frances McDormand. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Statement (2003) (R: Violent sequences and mature themes) —**1/2. Michael Caine is superb as an aging war criminal fleeing from both justice and a vigilante group dead set on revenge. The film’s true life roots, inspired by the Vichy movement in France which supported Hitler, can’t overcome its moribund plotting. The fine cast includes Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam and the late Alan Bates. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Torque (2004) (PG-13: Violence, strong language, sexual situations and drug references) — **. Eye-popping stunts highlight this “Fast and the Furious” for the motorcycle set. Biker Cary Ford (Martin Henderson) must extricate himself from a drug dealer’s wicked plans and from a raging gang leader (Ice Cube) who mistakenly thinks Cary killed his little brother. If that weren’t enough, Cary is trying to win back the love of his life (Money Mazur). The film’s depiction of speed is unsurpassed, but so, too, is its utter defection from reality. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Touching the Void (2004) (NR: some profanity) — ***. Joe Simpson and Simon Yates recall their harrowing mountaineering adventure gone wrong in this docudrama from England’s Kevin Macdonald. Reenactments in the Peruvian Andes and the Alps can’t quite capture the dread of real thing, but they come as close as a movie can. Exclusively at E Street Cinema and Bethesda Row. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Triplets of Belleville (2004) (PG-13: depictions of nudity and violence; crude humor) — ***1/2. A compact, mostly silent, often creepy animated film crammed with wonderfully grotesque characters and mechanical contraptions from French comic strip writer Sylvain Chomet. A cyclist is kidnapped while competing in the Tour De France, and his taskmaster granny follows his captors to the megalopolis of Belleville, where the Triplets, a trio of singing ladies, spring into action. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (2004) (PG-13: Mild sexual situations, drug references and coarse language) — **1/2. A trio of rising stars makes the latest teen romance attractive to more than just the teenybopper. Josh Duhamel of “Las Vegas” stars as the dreamy Tad Hamilton, a superstar actor who props up his career by giving a lucky fan the date of her lifetime. The actor’s script, however, didn’t have that starry-eyed fan (Kate Bosworth) plucking his heartstrings as she does. That doesn’t please the young woman’s best guy friend (Topher Grace), whose crush for her has never been spoken, until now. “Tad” never rises above its slim premise, but it proves wittier than most teen fare. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• You Got Served (2004) (PG-13: Sexual references and mature themes) — **. Street dancing is front and center with this urban tale set to a hip-hop beat. Two old friends (Marques Houston and Omarion) are the undisputed kings of street dancing. When a group of outsiders challenges their status, the friends must come up with cutting edge dance moves to prove their mettle. The bold, authentic street dance sequences intermittently dazzle but the characters remain as two-dimensional as a Bazooka Joe comic. The film also stars Steve Harvey and several members from the group B2K. Reviewed by Christian Toto.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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