- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

OPENING

• The Butterfly Effect (2004) (R) — A supernatural thriller about the time-traveling vicissitudes of Ashton Kutcher, who aspires to repair traumatic childhood events by projecting himself into the past in order to correct the things that went wrong. Blunders repeatedly dash his hopes and cause new problems that cloud the present.

• The Company (2003) (PG-13) 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 company’s director is played by Malcolm McDowell, a mercurial figure based on Gerald Arpino, the late co-founder of the Joffrey. James Franco co-stars as a young chef who becomes romantically involved with the heroine.

• Power Trip (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — A documentary feature by Paul Devlin about the myriad problems encountered by the Arlington-based power supply company, AES Corporation, when it acquired a troublesome asset: the antiquated electrical utility system in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Some dialogue in Georgian with English subtitles. A limited engagement, exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.

• Taking Sides (2001) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) An English-language import previously neglected by local art houses. The Hungarian filmmaker Istvan Szabo directed Ronald Harwood’s adaptation of his own play, which recalled the postwar investigation of the celebrated conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler, who had been a cultural adornment to Nazi Germany during the Hitler regime. Stellan Skargard plays Furtwangler and Harvey Keitel his inquisitor during the U.S. Army’s “de-Nazification” process. One week only, exclusively at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre.

• Touching the Void (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) A semi-documentary re-enactment of the mountain-climbing ordeal shared by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates almost 20 years ago, when attempting the ascent of a peak in the Peruvian Andes. The real men recall their experiences during interviews while the climbing episodes are duplicated as far as practicable by younger doubles.

• 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.

NOW SHOWING

• 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.

• The Battle of Algiers (1967) (No MPAA Rating — made before the advent of the rating system; adult subject matter, with occasional graphic violence and profanity against a wartime setting) — **. A revival of Gillo Pontecorvo’s acclaimed and controversial polemical thriller about a guerrilla uprising in Algiers. It celebrated the triumph of radical Algerian nationalism in the early 1960s at the expense of French colonial rule. Curiously, the triumph is affirmed only in the epilogue, since most of the picture deals with the defeat of insurgents by a hard-nosed, realistic and lethally efficient paratroop commander in the late 1950s. The role was memorably portrayed by Jean Martin. The filmmakers attempt to spread the martial admiration and atrocities around, although their ultimate ideological aim is the glorification of a mass revolutionary impulse. In retrospect, the director’s political dogmas take a heavy toll of his pictorial dynamism. In French and Arabic with English subtitles. Exclusively at the E Street Cinema and the American Film Institute Silver Theatre.

• 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.

• Calendar Girls (2003) (PG-13: Sustained sexual innuendo; occasional profanity and fleeting nudity) — ***. An overextended but genial tribute to a group of Yorkshire club women who turn their annual calendar into a more lucrative fund-raiser for cancer by adding discreetly nude poses. The plot derives from a real-life caper three years ago. This fictionalized telling conjures up a similar close-knit community and teams Julie Walters and Helen Mirren as the ringleaders. The movie remains fresh and appealing until the models head off for a promotional jaunt to Los Angeles, an excursion that persuades you the characters should stay as close as possible to Yorkshire.

• Chasing Liberty (2004) (PG:13: Sexual situations, some alcohol use and brief nudity) — **1/2. Pop songstress Mandy Moore plays the President’s daughter chafing under the too-watchful eye of the Secret Service. A presidential excursion to Prague with Daddy (Mark Harmon) sets her off on a liberating jaunt through Europe with a young security agent (Matthew Goode) in tow. The film’s glorious cityscapes and potential star Mr. Goode’s easy charisma compensate for its paint-by-numbers emotional palette. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) (PG: brief profanity; mature themes) — *1/2. Barely resembling its 1950 predecessor, this remake stars Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt raising 12 children while holding down their dream jobs. Lots of predictable physical humor laden with easy sentimentality. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Cold Mountain (2003) (R: Graphic violence against the setting of the Civil War; occasional profanity, sexual vulgarity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and simulations of intercourse) — *1/2. Anthony Minghella, the accomplished adapter of “The English Patient” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” gets stuck in treacherous expository ruts while attempting a faithful transposition of the award-winning novel by Charles Frazier. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman are cast as the Civil War love match Inman and Ada, who begin a tentative courtship in the far western North Carolina town of Cold Mountain shortly before the war and survive long enough to cherish a reunion in the winter before it ends. Inman undertakes a perilous trek home after being injured at Petersburg. Ada is rescued from solitude and genteel ineptitude by a resourceful, blunt farmhand named Ruby, enjoyably portrayed by Renee Zellweger. The vitality that enters with Ruby fails to sustain the grueling romantic odyssey, always hostage to sadistic delaying tactics, especially the recurrent atrocities committed by a Home Guard posse led by psychopaths Ray Winstone and Charlie Hunnam.

• 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 as the casino boss. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Disney’s ‘Teacher’s Pet’ (2004) (PG: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — ***1/2. The Disney studio gets off to a flying start in the 2004 animation sector with this playful and exuberant musical comedy summation of an Emmy-winning children’s TV series. A brainy, articulate dog named Spot has been successfully masquerading as a fourth-grade classmate with his boy sidekick, Leonard Helperman. Spot goes haywire in the quest for species transformation during a Florida holiday, placing himself in the clutches of a mad doctor, Ivan Krank. A witty song score boasts an eminently reprisable ballad about friendship and a tongue-twisting recitation of all 50 states, in alphabetical order. Nathan Lane as Spot contributes a masterful vocal performance. The supporting cast includes Kelsey Grammer as Krank, Debra Jo Rupp as Leonard’s mother Mary Lou and Jerry Stiller and David Ogden Stiers as the other Helperman pets.

• 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. 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 Johanson and Colin Firth. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• House of Sand and Fog (2003) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor) — **1/2. The principal characters take a mortal beating in this faithfully doleful movie version of a novel by Andre Dubus III. Nevertheless, writer-director Vadim Perelman, a transplanted Russian, has an aptitude for painful intimacy and emotional calamity. The movie’s merciless sorrows are reinforced by compelling performances from Sir Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connelly and the Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. Miss Connelly is cast as a despondent, destructive young woman who loses her family home in the San Francisco Bay area to neglect and possible bureaucratic error. The residence is bought at public auction by aristocratic Iranian immigrants, Sir Ben and Miss Aghdashloo. The psychological costs of dispossession loom very large in this story, and Sir Ben is magnificent as a strong personality who proves unable to avert disaster.

• In America (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, sexual candor, graphic violence and allusions to drug addiction) — **. A semi-autobiographical tearjerker from the Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan. Through Paddy Considine as a floundering young family man called Johnny Sullivan, he recalls a period in the early 1980s when he moved into a Hell’s Kitchen slum with his wife and two daughters while working as an off-Broadway director. The filmmaker seems to be repaying intimate emotional debts to the wife and kids. Samantha Morton is radiant as the young wife, as are juveniles Sara and Emma Bolger as her daughters. With Djimon Hounsou as an outrageously suffering and then generous neighbor who bails the Sullivans out of trouble by dying in a timely fashion.

• The Last Samurai (2003) (R: Graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details, during extended battle sequences; occasional profanity) — *1/2. Tom Cruise is cast as an American interloper in Japan, a disenchanted veteran of the Civil War and the Indian Wars called Capt. Nathan Algren. Hired to train Imperial conscripts, Algren is captured during an encounter with a samurai warlord (Ken Watanabe) and his band. He winters as a captive and then rides with the warlord to a spectacular battlefield defeat. Algren is mistaken for a morally superior scold by the star and the filmmakers. The case for his alternately sneering and suffering interference remains a shambles.

• The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) (PG-13: Sustained ominous atmosphere; intense chases and battle sequences, with occasional graphic violence and gruesome illustrative details) — ****. Peter Jackson closes the cinematic book in suitably stirring fashion for his triple epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythological saga about the valiant preservers of Middle Earth. The tenacious heroes endure their final ordeals while carrying the insidious ring of the evil-eye wizard Sauron to its only safe repository, the lava pits of Mt. Doom. And they defend the mountainside citadel of Minas Tirith, capital of the kingdom of Gondor, from massive assaults by Sauron’s barbaric hordes. Mr. Jackson has certainly set imposing and sumptuous new standards for heroic adventure spectacle and fantasy.

• Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and graphic violence in a setting of historical naval warfare) — ****. Peter Weir’s stirring and accomplished seafaring adventure, derived from the 10th book in the esteemed series by the late Patrick O’Brian. The H.M.S. Surprise, under the command of Russell Crowe’s redoubtable Capt. Jack Aubrey, is imperiled by a formidable French warship, the Acheron, which is spreading havoc along the Brazilian coast. It cripples the Surprise in an early encounter, keeping the English sailors on the defensive for the duration. The evocation of the period, 1805, and the simulations of the ships defy improvement.

• Mona Lisa Smile (2003) (PG-13: Sexuality; mature themes) — *1/2. Julia Roberts is the most agreeable, lovable bohemian from Berkeley you’ll ever meet in this protofeminist caricature of the Eisenhower era. Miss Roberts plays a maverick art history professor at buttoned-up Wellesley, where she encourages her young charges to look beyond motherhood and marriage for satisfaction. Also starring Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Monster (2003) (R: Sustained squalid emphasis; frequent profanity and graphic violence; occasional sexual candor, with fleeting nudity and simulations of lesbian intercourse) — *1/2. This biographical shocker-tearjerker about the serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a homicidal hooker executed in 2002 for a murder spree committed several years earlier, has nowhere to go but down and settles there with a luridly stagnating vengeance. However, it’s also cleverly timed to make an Academy Award contender of Charlize Theron. “Monster” concentrates on the failure of its dead-end protagonist to make a go of lesbian romance with a smitten but also treacherously dependent young woman played by Christina Ricci, whose diminutive stature and unblemished face exaggerate the alterations in Miss Theron’s appearance, which emphasize a large frame, a mottled complexion, some boldly flabby flesh and oversized teeth that facilitate frequent grimaces and scowls.

• 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. Exclusively at Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• My Baby’s Daddy (2004) (PG:13: Cartoon-style violence, sexual situations, drug references and coarse language) — . This limp, dreary retread of “Three Men and a Baby” can’t make up its mind. Is it a soft and fuzzy family picture for urban audiences or a “playah” comedy with a dash of family responsibility? “Daddy” won’t please either target audience. Stars Eddie Griffin, Anthony Anderson and Michael Imperioli deserve better than this diaper load of baby gags and offensive stereotypes. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Peter Pan (2003) (PG: Fleeting ominous episodes and comic vulgarity) — **1/2. A fitfully appealing reprise of the James M. Barrie classic from Australian filmmaker P.J. Hogan, entrusted with the novelty of a live-action production that casts an actual adolescent boy as Peter. The choice, Jeremy Sumpter, doesn’t exactly redefine the role, but he’s robust and good-humored. Mr. Hogan wisely returns to Barrie himself for the wittiest lines and situations; he turns to deft computer animators for miraculous enhancements that can rival or surpass the Disney animators of half a century ago. The Disney version was a 50th anniversary “Pan.” This one anticipates the centennial by a year.

• Something’s Gotta Give (2003) (PG-13: sexual content, brief comic nudity, occasional profanity) — … A menopausal little ditty starring Jack Nicholson and 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.

• 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.

• Young Black Stallion (2003) (G) — A belated “prequel” to Carroll Ballard’s superlative 1979 movie version of the Walter Farley children’s classic “The Black Stallion.” Directed in an Imax format by Australian Simon Wincer, the film has a featurette running time of about 50 minutes. It concerns a North African girl called Neera who becomes lost in the desert and is rescued by the sudden appearance of the stallion, who bonds with the child and carries her back to safety. A limited engagement, exclusively at the National Museum of Natural History. Not reviewed.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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