- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

OPENING

• I’ll Sing for You (2001) — A musical biographical documentary about the homecoming of a beloved blues singer from Mali, Boubacar Traore, known familiarly as KarKar, who returns to Africa after decades of exile in France. Directed by Jacques Sarasin. A limited engagement, exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. In French with English subtitles.

• Intermission (2003) (R: Frequent profanity and occasional graphic violence, often with a facetious twist; occasional sexual candor, with fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse) — *1/2. Comedy of depravity, Irish style, so dependent on aggressive louts that it becomes anti-social burlesque. Director John Crowley imposes a bilious, up-close sense of intimacy with characters you may prefer to keep at a distance — preferably behind bars in most cases. But there are some witty and forceful performers in the ensemble, even appealing if one considers only the actresses.

• James’ Journey to Jerusalem (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — An Israeli feature about a pious young South African who travels on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land but ends up as a displaced person in Jerusalem when authorities doubt the authenticity of his passport. A limited engagement, exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge. In Hebrew and Zulu with English subtitles.

• Jersey Girl (2004) (PG-13) Kevin Smith of Red Bank, N.J., dares to expose his soft spots while reuniting with soul mate Ben Affleck in this tear-jerker about a widowed young father, who moves back in with his own dad, George Carlin, after the sudden death of his wife, Jennifer Lopez. Romantic consolation is destined to enter in the person of Liv Tyler.

• The Ladykillers (2004) (R) A Coen brothers remake of the great English caper comedy of 1955, impeccably directed by Alexander Mackendrick from an admirable William Rose screenplay. In the original, Alec Guinness played a criminal mastermind foiled by his oblivious, widowed landlady. The locale shifts to Mississippi with Tom Hanks as a Southern-fried scoundrel who underestimates Irma P. Hall while organizing a gang to tunnel from the cellar of her home into a neighboring casino. The other felons are played by Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma and Ryan Hurst. With a musical emphasis on gospel anthems.

• Never Die Alone (2004) (R: Gangster violence, drug use, sexual situations, nudity and gore) — **. Rapper DMX stars as a doomed drug dealer seeking redemption for a multitude of sins. His plans get snarled by the very violence that helped fuel his criminal ascent. Director Ernest Dickerson (“Juice”) casts the wrong actor for the main role with DMX, who while chock-full of presence can’t illustrate the complexities of the character. The film’s amateurish script and muddy morality make the redemptive notes ring hollow. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004) (PG: Slapstick violence, mild scatalogical humor) — **. The computer-animated Scooby and the gang are back, this time fighting a bevy of monsters they first battled during their cartoon series. Mystery, Inc., or the “Ghostbusters” without any “Saturday Night Live” alum, must solve the riddle behind the monsters’ rebirth. Matthew Lillard’s Shaggy is still the best reason for adults to stay awake through any “Doo” film, and to be fair, “Doo 2” isn’t as insulting as the 2002 original. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

NOW SHOWING

• 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.

• 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 Company (2003) (PG-13: some profanity and sexual situations) — … Neve 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 director Robert Altman’s 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.

• Dawn of the Dead (2004) (R: Horror style violence, extreme gore and harsh language) — **1/2. The dead rise again as George A. Romero’s 1978 zombie-fest gets a 21st-century upgrade. Indie film darling Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames fight off an army of flesh-eating zombies while hunkered down in an abandoned shopping mall. The remake renews the original’s social commentary but ultimately stumbles over genre cliches. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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 subsequent 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.

• Greendale (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter). An experimental musical reverie from Neil Young, who envisions a small town in northern California, idyllic Greendale, where a murder investigation preys on the minds of residents. Mr. Young functions as a lyrical narrator, supplying not only song interludes but the tuneful dialogue attributed to his characters. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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 does a time-and-motion 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 and Cinema Arts.

• 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.

• Monsieur Ibrahim (2003) (R: Sexuality) — ***. French director Francois Dupeyron’s coming-of-age tale about an abandoned Jewish boy in Paris taken under the wing of a Muslim shopkeeper (Omar Sharif). As a fable of spiritual convergence, the movie is a stretch, but its humor and sensitivity work on a basic human level. In French with subtitles. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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 may strike a responsive chord in some believers. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography and the use of ancient languages give the movie its most haunting evocative aspects. In Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles.

• 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 words. The novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden” isn’t Mr. King’s most inspired tale, but Mr. Depp’s perfectly eccentric performance gives the story plenty of juice. John Turturro and Maria Bello (“The Cooler”) co-star. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Spartan (2004) (R: Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor, including allusions to white slavery) — *1/2. A David Mamet excursion into espionage fiction and polemics, with Val Kilmer as a laconic secret agent drawn into the urgent search for the president’s daughter, who appears to be a kidnap victim. The exposition is intriguing, but things revert to cliched form as Mr. Mamet pits agents with sincere and protective motives against those with corrupt and hurtful motives. The plot goes into a tailspin when a seemingly climactic and obligatory rescue mission to Dubai is scrubbed. Mr. Kilmer shrivels into pulp desperation as a lone wolf struggling against The System. With disappointing roles for William H. Macy, Derek Luke and Ed O’Neil.

• 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.

• Taking Lives (2004) (R: Systematic morbid emphasis; graphic violence and gruesome illustrative details; occasional profanity and sexual candor) *. Angelina Jolie is introduced as an improbable deductive genius, a profiler from the FBI, and departs as a prodigious chump in this ludicrous murder thriller from D.J. Caruso, who directed the lurid but impressive “The Salton Sea.” Arriving in permanently murky Montreal, the heroine contributes her dishy expertise to the hunt for a long-elusive serial killer. Given a screenplay this demented, there’s no reason he should ever fear capture. With Gena Rowlands as a sinister mom and Ethan Hawke as an eminently suspicious eyewitness.

• 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.

• 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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