- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

OPENING

• Bang Rajan (2000) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — A Thai combat spectacle, set in 1765, that recalls the heroic tenacity of villagers who blunt an invasion by a Burmese army. In Thai with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• The Cookout (2004) (PG-13: Drug references, sexual content and harsh language.) Todd Williams (newcomer Quran Pender) just signed a huge contract to play in the NBA but he won’t forget his roots. To prove it, he throws an old-school cookout for his friends and family. A few rowdy guests and a tough security guard (Queen Latifah) get in the way of some good, clean fun.

• Festival Express (2004) (R) — A rock concert documentary that retrieves footage shot in 1970 by Peter Biziou and Bob Fiore while traveling with a cross-country Canadian rail tour that extended from Toronto to Calgary. The performers included Janis Joplin, The Band, The Grateful Dead, Ian & Sylvia, Sha Na Na and the Flying Burrito Bros.

• Paparazzi (2004) (PG-13) — A topical melodrama starring Cole Hauser as an actor who vows revenge on the press photographers who caused an accident that injured his wife and child. The cast includes Tom Sizemore, Dennis Farina and Robin Tunney.

• Tai Guk GI (2003) (R: Adult subject matter) — A South Korean combat epic about a pair of brothers drawn into prolonged infantry service after the outbreak of war in 1950. A protective older brother becomes a battlefield legend but alienates his younger brother. In Korean with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Wicker Park (2004) (PG-13: Sexuality and strong language.) Yesterday’s hunk du jour, Josh Hartnett, stars as a besotted young man who’s crushed when his love disappears. Years later she reappears — or does she? Diane Kruger and Matthew Lillard co-star in this psychological romance.

NOW SHOWING

• Alien vs. Predator (2004) (PG-13: Horror-style violence and gore) — *1/2. Two popular science fiction franchises square off sans the stars that made them special — Sigourney Weaver (“Alien”) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Predator”). An archaeological dig beneath Antarctica stirs up a long-running feud between the two fierce species, leaving humans fleeing from the carnage. “Aliens” holdover Lance Henriksen is the lone recognizable star. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004) (PG-13: Scary images; action violence; mild profanity) — . A sort-of sequel to 1997’s surprise hit, “Anaconda.” Puerile dialogue and bad acting and giant snakes follow a team of pharmaceutical researchers on a quest to find a wonder drug in the jungles of Borneo. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• The Bourne Supremacy (2004) (PG-13: Violence, intense action) — ***. Matt Damon returns as amnesiac CIA hitman Jason Bourne in this enthralling, if far-flung, sequel to “The Bourne Identity.” Director Paul Greengrass keeps the action immediate and vertiginous as Bourne is drawn back into the vortex of his past. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Code 46 (2004) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and allusions to futuristic drug use) — **. A pictorially inventive but dramatically needy dystopian fable. The director simulates urban and desert settings of the future, when privileged populations cluster in cities, and nomadic outsiders without valid IDs are confined to the parched hinterlands. Tim Robbins plays a Pinkerton agent, based in Seattle, who flies to Shanghai to investigate a forgery case. He falls in love with a fetching forger played by Samantha Morton. It proves a mismatch in every way.

• Collateral (2004) (R: Sustained ominous content with graphic violence; occasional profanity) — *1/2. A novelty monstrosity from director Michael Mann, who struggles to sell us Tom Cruise as a mobster terminator, programmed to execute five victims one night in Los Angeles. Far from incisive or foolproof, the movie repeatedly stalls as a suspense and chase vehicle.

• Danny Deckchair (2004) (PG-13: Sex-related situations.) — **. Rhys Ifans (“Notting Hill”) stars as a disgruntled Aussie who attaches helium balloons to a chair and floats away from his troubles. He lands in a new town where the citizens embrace his life spirit, particularly one pretty woman (Miranda Otto). This featherweight lark floats briefly on the sparks between its stars but it soon falls back down to earth. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) (R) — A less than timely “prequel” to William Peter Blatty’s best-selling diabolical thriller, originally transposed to the screen with huge success by William Friedkin in 1974. Stellan Skarsgard is cast as a younger version of the Father Merrin character, encountered in the Middle East soon after World War II. He participates in an archaeological expedition that unearths the gruesome demon called Pazuzu. The late John Frankenheimer was scheduled to direct this troubled production; Paul Schrader replaced him and was himself replaced by Renny Harlin. The screenplay is credited to Alexi Hawley. Not reviewed.

• Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) (R: Occasional profanity and images of wartime carnage) — *1/2.Somehow, a frankly prejudicial outlook fails to prevent Michael Moore from being a butterfingered specialist in hatchet jobs. He can’t keep a firm grip on a very blunt polemical instrument. The intended victim of this pseudo-documentary roast is President George W. Bush, assailed and ridiculed from election night in 2000 through the prosecution of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Golden Palm winner at the recent Cannes Film Festival.

• Garden State (2004) (R) — **1/2.A whimsical homecoming comedy about a neurotic young actor, played by writer-director Zach Braff, a regular on the “Scrubs” sitcom, who returns to his hometown in New Jersey for his mother’s funeral. While hanging out, he visits old pals, notably Peter Sarsgaard, a gravedigger; consults a neurologist, Ron Leibman; reunites with his estranged dad, Ian Holm; and falls for an epileptic kook, Natalie Portman.

• Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) (R: Strong language, marijuana use, nudity and comic violence) — **1/2. The latest addition to the “stoner comedy” genre manages to be witty and sweet despite its nonstop profanity. The titular buddies want nothing more than a dozen or so White Castle burgers to cap their Friday night. That innocent impulse leads to a series of bawdy misadventures guaranteed to leave teen males cheering. The film’s humorous moments do plenty to alleviate its uneven tone and sloppy storytelling. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Hero (2002) (PG-13: Occasional scenes of combat in an ancient setting) — **. A prestige Chinese adventure spectacle of a period 2,000 years ago. A mysterious, solitary warrior played by Jet Li seeks an audience with a conquering warlord. He claims to have killed three virtuoso assassins but could be concealing deadly intentions of his own. Sumptuously stylized but dramatically famished, the movie allows even the impressive set pieces to remain perilously overblown and decorative. No one got a grip on characterization before passing out the billowing robes and gleaming swords. The co-stars include Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

• Intimate Strangers (2003) (R: Candid dialogue about sex; ominous undercurrents) — *1/2. The French filmmaker Patrice Leconte, having finessed oddball encounters in “The Girl on the Bridge” and “Man on a Train,” presses his luck with this consultation-room bonding fable about an estranged wife who mistakes a tax advisor for a psychotherapist. He’s too shy and intrigued to correct her misapprehension at first. She prefers to exploit him as a sounding board after she discovers his real profession. The pretext grows coy and tiresome. In French with English subtitles.

• I, Robot (2004) (PG-13: Violent action sequences, some brief partial nudity) — ***1/2. Will Smith reclaims the summer blockbuster mantle with this sci-fi thriller based on stories by Isaac Asimov. Mr. Smith stars as a cynical cop who believes a robot is responsible for an unsolved murder, even if it goes against the robotic programming drummed into every machine. The film marries colossal effects with a vibrant star turn by Mr. Smith to become the best popcorn film of the summer. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Manchurian Candidate (2004) (R: Frequent profanity and graphic violence; gruesome scenes of mental and physical torture; fleeting sexual candor) —1/2*. Jonathan Demme mangles the durably haunting John Frankenheimer-George Axelrod version of Richard Condon’s Cold War thriller about a time-bomb assassin. Now there’s a nefarious multinational called Manchurian Global that seeks to dominate everything, including an approaching national election. In the Frank Sinatra role, Denzel Washington becomes a frenzied dupe. In the Laurence Harvey role, Liev Schreiber becomes a superfluous dupe. In the Angela Lansbury role, Meryl Streep seems to be losing her chin, not to mention her chops. This will be a tough one to live down.

• Maria Full of Grace (2004) (R: Profanity, violence, scenes of drug production) — ***. A simple, swift blow to the thorax from director Joshua Marston, using first-time actors to capture the harrowingly personal trafficking of drugs from Bogota to the United States. The title character (Catalina Sandino Moreno), an impoverished, flinty Colombian teen, conceals scores of pellets full of narcotics in her stomach in a high-stakes game of airline smuggling. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Mean Creek (2004) (R: Profanity, sexual references, teen drug and alcohol use) — **1/2. A vengeful prank on a school bully goes wrong in this fearless, if flawed, debut from writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes. Starring Rory Culkin, Scott Mechlowicz and Josh Peck. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004) (NR: profanity) —****. An engrossing, fly-on-the-wall documentary from filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky about the megapopular heavy metal band Metallica. The band’s future is in limbo, and it doesn’t hesitate once in airing its dirty laundry for our delectation. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Open Water (2004) (R) — … Reputedly a new sleeper in the “Blair Witch Project” vein, this shoestring suspense thriller, written and directed by Chris Kentis, strands a vacationing couple in shark-infested tropical waters when they are accidentally abandoned during a scuba-diving jaunt. Their boat fails to return, night approaches and the sharks begin to circle.

• Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) — ***1/2. A deft, breezy and irresistible sequel to Garry Marshall’s beguiling Cinderella comedy of 2002, which introduced a radiant Anne Hathaway as a San Francisco teenager, Mia, who discovers that she’s the heir apparent to a tiny European monarchy, Genovia. The follow-up imagines that it’s five years later and the heroine has graduated from Princeton. Returning to Genovia and reunited with grandmother Julie Andrews, the reigning queen, Miss Hathaway preps for a succession.

• Rosenstrasse (2003) (PG-13 — adult subject matter, dealing with the cruelties of the Nazi regime; occasional profanity and sexual candor) — **. A contemporary young woman, Hannah, played by Maria Schrader, is perplexed by her German-born mother’s reversion to Jewish piety while sitting shiva for her late husband. Hannah travels to Berlin in search of comprehension. She meets the elderly Lena, who became her mother’s guardian in 1942, when a Nazi order to detain the Jewish husbands of so-called Aryan wives provoked a measure of resistance that persuaded the government to relent. Commendable intentions fail to compensate for an evocation of the past that seems far too detached and antiseptic for the subject matter. With Katja Riemann as Lena, whose aristocratic background proves indispensable in a crisis. Some dialogue in German with English subtitles.

• She Hate Me (2004) (R) — A lewd beau geste from Spike Lee, who casts Anthony Mackie as an unemployed biotech executive named John Henry Armstrong, Jack for short, who finds lucrative recreational employment as a reliably potent stud for affluent lesbians eager to become pregnant. Within a short period of time the hero has more trade than he can handle. The cast includes Kerry Washington, Ellen Barkin, Monica Bellucci, Jim Brown, Ossie Davis, Brian Dennehy, John Turturro, Bai Ling, Lonette McKee and Woody Harrelson. Mr. Lee collaborated on the screenplay with Michael Genet. Not reviewed.

• Spider-Man 2 (2004) (PG-13: Stylized action sequences) — **1/2. Tobey Maguire returns as the neurotic wall-crawler who battles his feelings for Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) as well as a new supervillain. Alfred Molina gives the wicked Dr. Octavious a bruised soul, but the battles between him and Spider-Man seem more video game than movie magic. Returning director Sam Raimi gives far more attention to the film’s romantic core, a rarity in big-budget sequels. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004) (PG) — An arguably superfluous sequel to a 1999 farce about researchers intent of deciphering baby talk for commercial advantage. The pretext seems to have acquired a “Spy Kids” angle: five toddlers unite to foil the mind-control schemes of a “powerful media mogul” played by Jon Voight. Not reviewed.

• Suspect Zero (2004) (R: Sustained ominous atmosphere and morbid illustrative elements; occasional profanity and violence; subplots about child abduction and murder) — * A consistently unsavory and unrewarding murder thriller about a demoted FBI agent, Aaron Eckhart, who is being manipulated from afar by a tormented, fugitive, super-psychic profiler played by Ben Kingsley. The title alludes to a serial killer whose victims are legion. Uncertainty clings to the motives of Sir Ben: is he a monster or a monster-eradicator? The material must have satisfied an impulse to portray some kind of psycho.

• Uncovered: The War on Iraq (2004) (No MPAA Rating; adult subject matter) — Another documentary polemic from Robert Greenwald, who has already scorned the Bush administration and political conservatives in “Unprecedented” and “Outfoxed.” This compilation recruits pundits and disaffected former government officials who agree that the current war in Iraq is a grave misadventure. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• Vanity Fair (2004) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and sexual vulgarity in a period setting; images of battlefield casualties; fleeting nudity) —**1/2. A vivid and absorbing new movie adaptation of Thackeray’s formidable social-historical-satirical novel of 1848, whose opportunistic heroine, Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) attempts to transcend a bohemian childhood and galling dependence as a governess by seducing a wealthy or aristocratic mate. She ends up with a gambling man of a soldier, Rawdon Crawley, admirably impersonated by James Purefoy. The scenario lacks staying power, and director Mira Nair begins to falter during the Waterloo episodes. Nevertheless, it’s fun to watch Miss Witherspoon venture into Victorian literature. The cast includes Bob Hoskins, Eileen Atkins, Jim Broadbent and Gabriel Byrne.

• The Village (2004) (PG-13: Violence and frightening situations) — **1/2. Scare-meister M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”) returns with this creepy but hollow tale of a Utopian village harboring a deep, dark secret. The all-star cast, including Adrien Brody, William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver, play villagers surrounded by a forest teeming with creatures kept at bay by a long-kept promise. The writer-director’s work hinges so thoroughly on his third act surprises that the storytelling suffers, no matter how ingenious the twists may be. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004) (PG-13) — A domestic melodrama about two suburban couples who exchange adulterous affairs. Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Naomi Watts play the swappers. Directed by John Curran from Larry Gross’ adaptation of two short stories by the late Andre Dubus, also the source of “In the Bedroom”. Not reviewed.

• Without a Paddle (2004) (PG-13) — A backwoods slapstick farce with Seth Green, Matthew Lillard and Dax Shephard as three overmatched friends from Philadelphia who end up in repeated jeopardy while sharing a treasure-hunting canoe excursion in the wilds of the Northwest. Burt Reynolds enters as a mountain man to flavor episodes that parody one of his vintage hits, “Deliverance.” Not reviewed.

• Zhou Yu’s Train (2004) (PG-13: Mild sexuality) — *1/2. Zhou Yu (Chinese screen goddess Gong Li) takes long, twice-weekly trips to accommodate two lovers: an impractical, commitment-phobic poet and a badgering veterinarian. The eponymous train ride is too tedious to care about the passengers. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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