- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004


• Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London (2004) (PG: Occasional violence with facetious overtones; fleeting comic vulgarity) — . A slovenly and unfunny sequel to a juvenile adventure farce that promoted Frankie Muniz to utterly implausible prowess as a secret agent, aged 15. The filmmakers show contempt for Frankie’s clueless parents, his grotesque adversaries and the government that would need a twerp to shoulder espionage assignments. They introduce their menace, Keith Allen, at a ludicrous summer camp for spy kids, then oblige the hero to chase him to London, while posing as the clarinetist in an international youth orchestra. With Anthony Anderson as an ethnic sidekick.

• Blind Shaft (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter). A Chinese movie about skullduggery among the labor force at a badly managed coal mine. A limited engagement, exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Lost Boys of Sudan (2004) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with allusions to social calamities and family loss; fleeting profanity) — **1/2. An unassuming and sympathetic documentary feature about the experiences of two young refugees from Sudan trying to adjust to life in the United States upon entry in the fall of 2001. Some dialogue in Dinka with English subtitles. Exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge.

• Monsieur Ibrahim (2003) (R) — Omar Sharif plays the title character in this French-made tearjerker about a Muslim shopkeeper in Paris during the 1960s. He finds himself concerned with the welfare of an abandoned Jewish boy played by Pierre Boulanger. Written and directed by Francois Dupeyron, adapting the Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt novel “Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran.”

• NASCAR 3D: The Imax Experience (2004) (PG). A 47-minute survey of the history and flourishing status of the professional car racing circuit, narrated by Kiefer Sutherland and supervised by the Australian director-cinematographer Simon Wincer. Exclusively at the Smithsonian’s Imax Theater at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly.

• The Reckoning (2004) (R) — A morality tale set in the 14th century, with Paul Bettany as a fugitive priest who takes refuge in a company of traveling actors who specialize in dramatizations from the Bible. Upon arrival in a new town, they are drawn into the local furor over a case of murder and accusations of witchcraft.

• Secret Window (2004) (PG:13: Horror style violence, sexual situations and harsh language). The latest Stephen King adaptation stars Johnny Depp as Mort Rainey, a popular writer struggling through a creative dry spell. Spines begin to tingle when a wannabe writer begins stalking Mort, claiming the established author plagiarized his own words. John Turturro and Maria Bello (“The Cooler”) co-star.

• Spartan (2004) (R). A David Mamet excursion into espionage fiction and polemics, with Val Kilmer as a secret agent entrusted with the rescue of the president’s kidnapped daughter, possibly a pawn in murky conspiracies that may compromise the national security apparatus. With William H. Macy, Derek Luke and Kristen Bell.


• 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.

• Broken Lizard’s Club Dread (2004) (R: Horror style violence, drug use and coarse language) — **. The creative team behind “Super Troopers” returns with this rambunctious and ribald horror-comedy. A serial killer is on the loose in a hedonistic paradise, but the club’s officials want to make sure the news doesn’t spread to the guests. Bill Paxton and Brittany Daniel (“Joe Dirt”) co-star as the club owner and sex-crazed fitness instructor, respectively. The troupe’s uncertain comedy style and iffy execution stops this parody dead in its tracks. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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, Oscar winner as supporting actress, injects some welcome gusto when she enters as an indomitable rustic.

• 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.

• Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity) — . This defiantly inane and amateurish high school farce doesn’t flatter Lindsay Lohan’s potential at the ripe old age of 17. Endearing redemption eludes the heroine, a transfer student with a prima donna complex who has moved from Manhattan to suburban New Jersey. The most attractive teenage role belongs to the dauntingly named Alison Pill, cast as a shy rich girl who becomes the newcomer’s best friend.

• Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004) (PG:13: Coarse language and sexually suggestive material) — **. The producers of this steamy dance drama want to re-create the pop cultural magic of the 1987 source material. “Havana Nights” follows an American teenager (Romola Garai) in pre-revolutionary Cuba falling for, and dancing with, a local boy (Diego Luna). This “Dancing” hardly seems salacious, and it’s friction-free plotting will leave fans of the original waiting only for Patrick Swayze’s fun cameo. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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) — **1/2. “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. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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 winner 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. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Hidalgo (2004) (PG:13: adventure violence and mild sexual innuendo) — **. Viggo Mortensen follows up his kingly duties in “The Lord of the Rings” with this disappointing yarn based on true events. The titular Hidalgo is the stubborn mustang that long-distance racer Frank Hopkins (Mr. Mortensen) rides to glory across 3,000 miles of the Arabian Desert. “Hidalgo” staggers under some campy action sequences while shedding little light on Frank’s equestrian talents. Mr. Mortensen’s heroic presence preserves some of the actual story’s grandeur. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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. Samantha Morton plays an affectionate and indomitable young housewife. Sara and Emma Bolger are also irresistible as her daughters.

• Kitchen Stories (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity) — ***. A near flawless example of deadpan comic miniaturism from Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer. It taps into sources of national humor that remain a novelty here: the traits in progressive, bossy Swedes that strike Norwegians as high-handed and ridiculous. An institute for home research follows up a time-and-motion study of Swedish homemakers in the 1940s with a narrowly focused study of bachelor farmers in southern Norway in the 1950s. A passive Swedish intruder named Folke (Tomas Norstrom) is assigned to observe the kitchen habits of a reluctant Norwegian host named Isak (Joachim Calmeyer), who proves adept at passive resistance. In Norwegian and Swedish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• 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. A clean sweep of 11 Academy Awards in 11 categories, 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 Wuornos, cleverly timed to make an Oscar winner 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. Exclusively at E Street Cinema. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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: Prolonged and graphic violence in a Biblical setting) — **. Mel Gibson places more stock in mortifying the flesh than many of us. Evident as far back as “Mad Max,” this propensity blossomed into a last-act ordeal in his Oscar-winning “Braveheart” in 1995. Now it’s the overwhelming preoccupation and prevailing source of brutal spectacle in “Passion,” Mr. Gibson’s reenactment of the arrest, abuse and crucifixion of Jesus. There’s not a great deal of Gospel authority for dwelling on depictions of physical torture and suffering on the road to Calvary, but the Gibson emphasis, allegedly prompted by his own sense of dissolute desperation, may strike a responsive chord in some believers. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography and the the use of ancient languages give the movie its most haunting evocative aspects. In Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles.

• 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.

• Starsky & Hutch (2004) (PG-13: Mild profanity, drug humor, sexuality, action violence) — **. Director Todd Phillips, a bepermed Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson have their way with the characters of David Starsky and Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson, the Bay City, Calif., blue boys who fought crime in America’s living rooms for a few years in the late ‘70s. As schlocky as the TV series, but funnier. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• Twisted (2004) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor, including brief simulations of kinky intercourse) — *1/2. The latest crime melodrama predicated on Ashley Judd as a sleuth. Reliably disillusioning and hootable, it is set in San Francisco and proves a hapless mercenary detour for director Philip Kaufman. Miss Judd plays the newest inspector in the homicide division. A sex-starved pub-crawler given to blackouts, she discovers that four straight murder victims are her erstwhile bed partners. Everyone who signs on for an Ashley Judd thriller is condemned to serial absurdity. With Samuel L. Jackson, Andy Garcia and David Strathairn as suspicious colleagues.

• 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. Mr. Romano looks out of place in this big-screen comedy; the one-dimensional small town he inhabits needs an outsized persona to sell the stale gags. 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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