- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004


• Baadasssss!(2004) (R) — A rare opportunity at cinematic filial piety, seized by the actor-director Mario Van Peebles: he portrays his own father, Melvin Van Peebles, during the early 1970s. The patriarch’s efforts to break into the movie business culminated in the lurid, low-budget exploitation thriller “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” whose production circumstances are faithfully recreated in this biopic. The cast also includes David Alan Grier, Joy Bryant, Nia Long, Paul Rodriguez, Saul Rubinek, Ossie Davis and Adam West.

• The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) — (PG-13: Intense action and strong language). **1/2 Vin Diesel reprises his role from the modest sci-fi hit “Pitch Black” in this imaginative but dense sequel. “Riddick” finds our antihero caught between bounty hunters and a race of ghost-like humans bent on universal domination. Mr. Diesel’s monosyllabic style hasn’t worn out its welcome, but the film’s cluttered plotting detracts from the adventure. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Garfield (2004) (PG) — A belated feature outing for the comic-strip cat, dubbed by Bill Murray and illustrated through computer graphics, blended with live-action scenes directed by Peter Hewitt. The cast also includes Jennifer Love Hewitt and Breckin Meyer.

• The Stepford Wives (2004) (PG-13) — An updated, farcical remake of the zestless 1975 movie version of an Ira Levin best-seller, which tried to provoke fashionable apprehension with the idea that suburban husbands were conspiring to turn their wives into happy-homemaker zombies. Only Paula Prentiss seemed to appreciate the humorous possibilities the first time around. They’re unlikely to escape director Frank Oz and screenwriter Paul Rudnick. Nicole Kidman plays the Stepford newcomer who begins to suspect that spouse Matthew Broderick is up to something sneaky. The other marital pairings include Glenn Close with Christopher Walken, Bette Midler with Jon Lovitz, Faith Hill with Matt Malloy and a now inevitable homosexual match, David Marshall Grant with Roger Bart.

• The Trilogy: On the Run (2002) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter)*1/2The French actor-director Lucas Belvaux attempts to sustain a cycle of features about a group of people in Grenoble whose paths cross with an escaped terrorist, Bruno, portrayed by Mr. Belvaux himself. The order of the trilogy has varied, but the American distributor begins with “On the Run,” which concentrates on fanatic Bruno as he hides out and attempts to bully former associates into aiding him. This starting point makes the most sense chronologically. The subsequent installments, which share the same cast members and occasional scenes, will be shown a week later. “An Amazing Couple,” a semi-farcical change of pace, is the most expendable. “After the Life,” which concentrates on Gilbert Melki as a cop involved in the Bruno manhunt but compromised by his devotion to a drug-addicted wife (Dominique Blanc), is morbidly compelling. Tedium is an abiding menace to Mr. Belvaux’s narrative scheme, but if you’re intrigued, sampling “On the Run” and then “After the Life” would be the soundest policy. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.


• Breakin’ All the Rules (2004) (PG-13: Sexual situations, crude humor and alcohol use) — .**1/2. Jamie Foxx is front and center in this by-the-book romantic comedy that lets the rising comic show his softer side. He plays a magazine writer who pens the ultimate break-up manual after his fiancee leaves him abruptly. He finds romance again in the arms of Nicky (Gabrielle Union), who as movie luck would have it is his pal’s girlfriend. Gross subplots aside, “Rules” offers a few hearty laughs and genuine sparks between Mr. Foxx and Miss Union. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Carandiru (2003) (R: strong violence; bloody massacre; profanity; rampant drug use; sexuality) — **. Visually arresting, but morally choosy prison epic set in an appalling Sao Paulo, Brazil, detention center where 111 convicts were massacred in 1992. Directed by Hector Babenco. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Clay Bird (2002) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with themes of family conflict and Islamic piety; fleeting depiction of wartime peril and destruction) — *1/2. A fitfully evocative but diffuse and frustrating memoir of a Muslim family in East Pakistan as the Bangladesh war with India threatens. A boy, Anu, is enrolled in a strict religious school some distance from home by his devoutly overcompensating father, whose rigidity alienates his lovely wife and his younger brother, an easygoing Hindu. The title alludes to a gift given to Anu’s little sister Asma. In Bengali with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Coffee and Cigarettes (2004) (R: profanity) — ***. An anthology of rich black-and-white vignettes from king-of-quirk director Jim Jarmusch, filmed over 18 years, is peopled with celebrities such as Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and rock stars Tom Waits and Iggy Pop playing themselves at a half-step remove from their public personae. Some of the sketches are more compelling than others, but most prove the inherent sociality of nicotine and caffeine. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Day After Tomorrow (2004) (PG-13: Intense situations of peril) — * A blend of the disaster film with Al Gore’s worst-case scenario on global warming. Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal co-star as two survivors of a series of cataclysmic storms that threaten to destroy the Earth and everyone living on it. The film’s preposterous science pales in comparison to its tin-eared dialogue and silly rescue sequences. Even progressives will be left cold by this maladroit attempt to spark the environmental movement. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor) — *1/2. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, estranged lovers, have had their memories effaced by a dubious Long Island company, where overnight erasure is inexpertly monitored by a staff that includes Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood and Kirsten Dunst, all more amusing than the principals. The second collaboration of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry, this trickily muddled heartbreaker proves a solemn letdown compared to their nutty, unjustly neglected “Human Nature” of 2002.

• Good Bye, Lenin! (2004) (R: Brief full frontal nudity, coarse language) — ***. This delightful German import describes the ultimate love between mother and child. It’s East Berlin, circa 1989, and Alex watches in horror as his mother collapses and falls into a coma during a government protest. Alex’s pro-socialism mother sleeps through the Berlin Wall’s collapse, and when she wakes her doctor warns Alex not to expose her to anything that could shock or upset her. So he takes her home and creates a world within their apartment that recreates the government she once held close to her heart. The film’s frothy mix of humor, drama and political commentary almost always hits the mark. In German with English subtitles. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) (PG: Sustained ominous atmosphere and occasional violence) — **1/2. A dank and misleading third feature derived from J.K. Rowling’s saga of the orphaned boy wizard Harry Potter. Back for his third year at Hogwarts, revamped for a bleaker look, Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry is supposedly threatened by a fugitive wizard, Sirius Black, who eventually surfaces in the person of Gary Oldman. David Thewlis is an impressive addition to the faculty, and a flying creature called a Hippogriff provides one lyrical sequence. Maybe it’s the “Star Trek” pattern all over again: The better movies will be the even-numbered ones.

• Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) (R: Bloody violence, sexual content and harsh language) — ***. Quentin Tarantino’s violence-packed ode to his genre influences concludes on a high note as Uma Thurman’s Bride finishes her vengeful journey. This time, the Bride is after her former partners in mayhem, played by Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen and, of course, David Carradine as Bill. “Vol. 2” slows down the pace with occasionally brilliant results, letting the geeky auteur showcase his love of storytelling, not just stylized violence. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Love Me If You Dare (2003) (R: Thematic glorification of aberrant behavior; occasional profanity, sexual vulgarity and graphic violence) — *1/2. Lunatic Dionysian romanticism from French filmmaker Yann Samuel, whose flashy skills are placed at the service of sociopathic rubbish. A boy and a girl become soulmates in grammar school, where they contrive games of “dare” that accentuate the offensive or disruptive. The attachment endures despite later separations, provoking mutual challenges of an increasingly contemptible and ultimately suicidal nature. In French with English subtitles.”

• Man on Fire (2004) (R: Frequent graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details; occasional profanity and vulgarity; fleeting sexual candor) — **. Retribution redeems Denzel Washington, a burnt-out government agent, in this newly minted monstrosity, derived from an obscure 1987 melodrama with Scott Glenn. Feverishly pumped up by director Tony Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland, it could be the most hypertrophic revenge and/or vigilante thriller ever hallucinated across the screen. Hired to protect the endearing Dakota Fanning, living with well-to-do parents in Mexico City, Mr. Washington fails to prevent her kidnapping but exacts generous reprisals in the aftermath. One emerges with the punch-drunk impression that Hollywood has declared war on Mexico.

• Mean Girls (2004) (PG-13: Occasional profanity, sexual allusions and comic vulgarity in a high school setting) — **. A hit-and-miss update on high school tribal rites from the Lorne Michaels apparatus. Tina Fey of “Saturday Night Live” has a principal role as a math teacher and wrote the screenplay, derived from a sociological treatise. Tim Meadows and Amy Poehler of “SNL” are conspicuous supporting players. The plot is meant to revolve around Lindsay Lohan as a newcomer to an affluent campus in Evanston, Ill., where she is torn between rival factions. The mockery of adolescent snobberies and insecurities is scattershot at best, but the movie has some farcical highlights.

• Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) (R: Systematic blasphemous farce and slapstick vulgarity). A 25th anniversary revival of the most impious of the Monty Python features, which purports to be a remarkably coincidental account of the ministry and martyrdom of an obscure Judean visionary called Brian. With Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones (who gets the directing credit) and Michael Palin. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• New York Minute (2004) (PG: Mild sensuality) — *1/2. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen try to transplant their television and video fame to the big screen with tepid results. The sisters star as polar opposites who join forces while visiting the Big Apple to duck a truant officer (Eugene Levy) and romance a couple of cute boys (Riley Smith, Jared Padalecki). Young fans might enjoy the high jinks but everyone else will snooze through the forced mayhem and inappropriate costume changes. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Raising Helen (2004) (PG-13: themes of teen turmoil) — * Another crinkly-cute comedy from Kate Hudson, who this time plays a New York socialite whose life is transformed when she’s given custody of her orphaned nieces and nephew. A skittery, soggy, painfully unfunny tragicomedy. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Saved! (2004) (PG-13: Strong language and mature themes) — **1/2. “Saved!” doesn’t have a prayer of dodging criticism from some Christian groups, but its satire of Christian high schools could have been far meaner than portrayed here. Jena Malone plays Mary, a confused senior who gets pregnant trying to “convert” her homosexual boyfriend. Making her life harder is Hilary (Mandy Moore), the high school princess who embodies the strict, uncaring side of spirituality. The film’s humor works whenever the gags don’t try so hard. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Shrek 2 (2004) (PG-13: Occasional comic vulgarity and facetious sexual allusions) — ***. This first sequel to a major hit pretends that success hasn’t spoiled anything. A disingenuous amnesia sets in. The original love story about an ogre, Shrek, and a captive princess, Fiona, illustrated the truism that beauty is more than skin-deep. The new movie attempts to prove it all over again as the newlyweds visit Fiona’s parents in a fairytale version of Beverly Hills and evade a treacherous scheme to alienate bride and groom. The ensemble gets a delightful boost from a vintage character, Puss in Boots, exuberantly dubbed by Antonio Banderas.

• Soul Plane (2004) (R: strong sexual content; profanity; drug use) — **. An all-star cast of black comedians hits as often as it misses in this raunchy, gross sendup of the Zucker brothers’ send-up, “Airplane!” Starring Kevin Hart, Snoop Dogg and Mo’Nique. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2003) (R) — ***1/2. A Korean feature about a Buddhist monk, who enters a temple constructed on a kind of floating island during his boyhood and returns after misadventures as a lawless young man. A simple, beautiful and profound meditation on sin, moral growth, penance, the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of life, “Spring” embodies the whole of Buddhism by exuding it through every pore. In Korean with English subtitles. Reviewed by Victor Morton.

• Super Size Me (2004) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and deliberate pictorial vulgarity in a documentary framework) — ***. An aspiring polemical humorist named Morgan Spurlock spent a month consuming only meals sold at McDonald’s. The results exceed fatty expectations and doctors advise him to knock it off within three weeks. He declines, and the movie suffers when humoring this pointless martyrdom. “Super Size” proves briskly informative when consulting other people who illuminate the subject, from nutritionists to lobbyists, bureaucrats and schoolkids. Mr. Spurlock can cover the waterfront when he resists being grotesquely self-serving.

• Troy (2004) (R: Occasional graphic violence set against the Trojan War; fleeting nudity and sexual candor) — **. The command decisions that guide this reenactment of the Trojan War, supposedly inspired by the Iliad and contrived to glorify Brad Pitt as Achilles, are wobbly at best. Peter O’Toole’s Priam strangely lacks a Hecuba, or an alarmist daughter named Cassandra. Mr. Pitt’s battlefield prowess looks dubiously overwhelming and Eric Bana lacks a heroic profile as Hector. Much of the casting smacks of kings and queens of the senior prom. Nevertheless, the novelty of it all may prove entertaining, and there’s plenty to snicker at.

• The Twilight Samurai (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with fleeting graphic violence in simulated sword duels; allusions to mass starvation) — ***1/2. An Academy Award nominee last year as best foreign language film, and a genuinely fresh and disarming variation on the lore of the samurai. Nobly conceived and often brilliantly executed, it celebrates an honorable but downtrodden soul, Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada). An impoverished widower with two young daughters and a senile mother, he has a day job as a clerk in a clan storehouse. More of a peasant than a warrior, he reluctantly dusts off fighting skills to aid a friend and then fulfill a deadly clan mission. He must also contemplate the possibility of a second chance at conjugal happiness with an exquisite childhood sweetheart played by Rie Miyazawa. Director Yoji Yamada generates an irresistible desire to see Iguchi survive and prosper. In Japanese with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Valentin (2003) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and vulgarity; elements of family conflict) — **1/2. An engaging but also presumptuous memoir of a precocious boyhood. The Argentinian writer-director Alejandro Agresti recalls himself as a wistful 9-year-old named Valentin, living in Buenos Aires, circa 1969, with his paternal grandmother and struggling to comprehend the estrangement of his parents. The father, an elusive wretch, turns up in the person of Mr. Agresti himself. The mother is never seen, but a surrogate emerges belatedly with an inadequate message of devotion. In Spanish with English subtitles.

• Young Adam (2004) (NC-17: Frequent frontal nudity, sexual situations, coarse language and violence) — **1/2. Alexander Trocchi’s beat novel comes to life with Ewan McGregor starring as the amoral lead. Mr. McGregor’s Joe is a barge worker who seduces his boss’s wife (Tilda Swinton) but is more concerned about the dead body which he discovered floating near the docks. The grim character portrait is uncompromising in both its sexual frankness and its bleak setting, but we never know enough about our antihero. Reviewed by Christian Toto.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS



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