- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

OPENING

• A Dirty Shame (2004) (NC-17: Systematic farcical lewdness; occasional profanity and obscene sight gags) — 1/2*. John Waters has always been a naughty sacred cow to moviegoers who delight in blatant, coarse facetiousness. But his outlook and technique remain incorrigibly amateurish. Here he falls back on stilted wheezes and gross-out groaners while squandering Tracey Ullman as a leading lady in this expendable dud. She’s cast as a suburban Baltimore housewife who succumbs to carnal degradation after being knocked unconscious in a car accident and waking under the influence of a sex guru played by Johnny Knoxville. One suspects Mr. Waters has retrieved a left-over scenario from a generation ago. It never snaps out of a time warp or a complacency warp.

• First Daughter (2004) (PG) — A romantic comedy about a college freshman with an overprivileged adjustment problem: She’s the daughter of the president of the United States. Katie Holmes plays the coed and Michael Keaton plays her famous dad. Marc Blucas emerges as a potential sweetheart, the resident adviser in the heroine’s dorm.

• The Forgotten (2004) (PG-13: Some strong language and intense subject matter). Julianne Moore plays a mother grieving over the death of her 8-year-old boy who is told by her psychiatrist the boy never existed in the first place. She thinks she may be going insane but soon finds a man who also is told a huge part of his life never happened even though he’s sure it did. Co-starring Anthony Edwards, Gary Sinise and Dominic West.

• The Last Shot (2004) (R: Strong language, violent situations and sexual matters) — ***. This sweet-natured Hollywood satire follows the true tale of the FBI’s attempt to nab mobster John Gotti through a bogus film crew. Alec Baldwin plays the FBI agent/producer who woos fledgling filmmaker Matthew Broderick into making a movie that will never see a cinema house. The film’s sharp laughs and inside lingo distract from a rare subpar turn from Mr. Baldwin. And don’t miss Joan Cusack’s hilarious turn as a Hollywood player gone very sour. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Nicotina (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — A Mexican crime melodrama about the pursuit of stolen diamonds, set in Mexico City during a compressed time frame of about 90 minutes. The principal roles are played by Diego Luna, Rosa Maria Bianchi, Rafael Inclan and Daniel Gimenez Cacho. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. • Shaun of the Dead (2004) (R) — A British horror farce predicated on the eruption of a zombie infestation in North London. A slacker named Shaun (Simon Pegg) is stirred to heroic rescue efforts while hanging out with his pal Ed (Nick Frost) at their favorite pub, which becomes an impromptu fortress.

• When Will I Be Loved (2004) (R) — A romantic revenge fable from writer-director James Toback, who casts Neve Campbell as a wronged woman intent on getting even with faithless consorts played by Fred Weller and Dominic Chianese.

NOW SHOWING

• 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: brief profanity) — . The reductio ad absurdum of anti-Bush political documentaries this year. Its case is circumstantial at best and backhandedly complimentary to its target, Karl Rove. Directed by Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob, based on a book by Texas reporters James C. Moore and Wayne Slater. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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: profanity; brief violence) — ***. Character actor John C. Reilly is a pleasure to watch in a rare leading role as Richard Gaddis, a small-time L.A. con-artist about to make the score of his life. Diego Luna (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”) co-stars as Gaddis’ Chicano wingman. Directed by Gregory Jacobs. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (2004) (NR: Contains profanity) — **. A documentary that is just what it says. While the Ramones, the pioneering New York punk band, was long overdue for a documentary, this amateurish production doesn’t do them justice. Directed by Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia. Reviewed by Scott Galupo and Daniel Wattenberg.

• 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.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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. Not reviewed.

• 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.

• Silver City (2004) (R: Profanity; brief drug use; mild sexuality) — **. A full-frontal assault on what writer-director John Sayles sees as the myriad outrages of George W. Bush’s America. Chris Cooper plays a Dubya-like rhetorical bumbler; Danny Huston plays a discredited reporter on the trail of environmental scandal. The pessimistic patchwork is initially engaging but ultimately incoherent. Also starring Richard Dreyfuss, Daryl Hannah and Maria Bello. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) (PG: Stylized sci-fi violence; brief profanity; sensuality) — ***. A fun, computer-generated ride with Jude Law (as fighter pilot Joe Sullivan) and Gwyneth Paltrow (as danger-seeking Gotham reporter Polly Perkins) in a retro-futuristic story world wherein the fate of the Earth is threatened by a mad German scientist. Written and directed by Kerry Conran. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• What the #$*! Do We Know!? (NR: Profanity; brief sexuality) — *. A passel of New Age mystics try to inspire a sense of wonder at the incalculable vastness of the material world and renew possibilities of rational spiritualism, but the harum-scarum structure of film — part feature, part documentary, part animated in-school special — makes you wonder if the directors know #$*! about filmmaking. Starring Marlee Matlin. Directed by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• 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. 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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