- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

OPENING

• End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter). A documentary feature about the rock band, looking back from induction at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 to their formation in Queens about 30 years earlier. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Faster (2004) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter). A documentary chronicle of the 2001 and 2002 seasons on the MotoGP circuit, concentrating on the rivalry of four professional motorcycle racers. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) (PG-13). A Japanese animated feature about science-fiction creatures, in which a cyborg investigates a murder case involving a female robot. In Japanese with English subtitles.

• Mr. 3000 (2004) (PG-13: Sexual content and strong language). Bernie Mac stars as a retired slugger who returns to the major leagues when his 3,000th hit is stricken from the record books. Angela Bassett co-stars as the ballplayer’s love interest. • National Lampoon’s Gold Diggers (PG-13). A farce about playboy losers, Will Friedle and Chris Owen, who scheme to wed a pair of wealthy Beverly Hills sisters, Renee Taylor and Louise Lasser.

• Silver City (2004) (R). The latest independent feature from John Sayles, who combines a mocking account of a gubernatorial campaign in Colorado with elements of topical crime and mystery. The discovery of a corpse at the site of a location chosen for a campaign TV commercial points to environmental skullduggery and the exploitation of immigrant labor. The cast includes Chris Cooper (in a caricature of George W. Bush in his early political campaigns), Richard Dreyfus (in a caricature of Karl Rove), Daryl Hannah, Danny Huston, Mario Bello, Billy Zane, Kris Kristofferson, Michael Murphy, Thora Birch and Tim Roth.

• Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) (PG). A science-fiction adventure spectacle that tries to evoke a vintage comic-book or Saturday- matinee-serial system of illusion. Jude Law plays an intrepid aviator and Gwyneth Paltrow an intrepid reporter, determined to foil an evil mastermind. Angelina Jolie commands an all-female commando group. The settings are generated entirely by computer-graphic imagery.

• Wimbledon (2204) (PG-13: Adult language, partial nudity and sexuality). Paul Bettany (“A Beautiful Mind”) stars as a fading tennis star given new confidence by his romance with a fellow player (Kirsten Dunst). She may be the bad girl on the tennis circuit, but the combination of her grit and his affection for her revives his game..

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, 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 hit man 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.

• Bright Young Things (2004) (R: Occasional profanity, sexual vulgarity and depictions of drug use; depiction of suicide; fleeting nudity; allusions to homosexuality) — **. A gamely literary feature debut from Stephen Fry, directing his own adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s second novel, “Vile Bodies.” Published in 1930, the novel satirized fashionable party animals of the Roaring ‘20s in London and environs. There are some remarkable embodiments of the Waugh demi-monde. Although faithful to many episodes and the author’s comic idiom, Mr. Fry lacks the deadpan, double-take mastery of his model. The ironies and regrets grow self-conscious to a fault as he imprudently stretches the time frame another decade to incorporate World War II. With Peter O’Toole, Jim Broadbent, Stockard Channing, Bill Paterson, Michael Sheen and David Tennant.

• Bush’s Brain (2004) (PG-13). A documentary feature about Karl Rove, the chief political strategist for President Bush. Directed by Joseph Mealey and Michael Paradies Shoob, borrowing the title and subject of a book by James Moore and Wayne Slater. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Cellular (2004) (PG-13: Violence, sexual situations and harsh language) — **1/2. Kim Basinger stars as a woman in peril who dials a random number on her cell phone looking for help. The call is answered by a young man (Chris Evans) who decides to rush to her side, but he doesn’t know what awaits him when he gets there. “Cellular” jams its own signal with too many illogical turns but rights itself in time for a nifty final reel. The solid supporting cast includes William H. Macy, Noah Emmerich and Jason Statham. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• The Cookout (2004) (PG-13: Drug references, sexual content and harsh language) — *. Todd Williams (newcomer Quran Pender aka Storm P) 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. The assembled cliches and manic overacting steal whatever warm fuzzies the film invokes about the joys of the family barbecue. Not even an appearance by Queen Latifah, who co-produced this affair, can elevate the material. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Criminal (2004) ) (R) — An American remake of the Argentine caper melodrama “Nine Queens,” with John C. Reilly, Diego Luna and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a mutually suspicious set of con artists attempting to dispose of a rare piece of currency. Not reviewed.

• 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 residents 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.

• Evergreen (2004) (PG-13: Sexual content involving teens and strong language) — **1/2. Newcomer Addie Land stars as a frustrated 14-year-old who idolizes the wealthy family of a fellow classmate. Her own humble roots look better by comparison once she gets to know the truth behind the affluent clan. The film’s message is hardly novel, but the way it captures the plight of a poor single mother hits home. The indie film co-stars Mary Kay Place and Bruce Davison Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• Gozu (2003) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter)* A Japanese crime thriller, directed by Takashi Miike, about a gangster ordered to execute his mentor, who has been displaying signs of dementia. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Not reviewed.

• 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 male teens 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 adviser 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) (R: Science-fiction violence, nudity and strong language) — **. Milla Jovovich returns in the sequel to the 2002 hit about an evil corporation letting loose a potion turning people into zombies. Add another brain-dead zombie film to the genre, though this one packs so much action into every scene that it’s rarely boring. The film, based on the popular video game, co-stars Sienna Guillory and Oded Fehr. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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, 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.

• 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, superpsychic profiler played by Ben Kingsley. The title alludes to a serial killer whose victims are legion. Uncertainty clings to the motives of Mr. Kingsley: Is he a monster or a monster-eradicator? The material must have satisfied an impulse to portray some kind of psycho.

• 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.

• What the #$*! Do We Know? (2004) (No MPAA rating — adult subject matter). A speculative feature about cosmology and quantum physics, contrived around Marlee Matlin as a woman whose ordinary existence is disrupted by chance encounters. Not reviewed.

• 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? This dumbed down take on a 1996 French film doesn’t make us care either way. Diane Kruger and Matthew Lillard co-star in this muddled romance. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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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