- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

OPENING

• Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry (2004) (PG-13: Fleeting documentary images of combat in Vietnam) — *1/2. An admiring campaign biography of the Democratic Party nominee, an illustrated digest compiled by documentary filmmaker George Butler, a friend and crony for the past 40 years. The Douglas Brinkley book “Tour of Duty” is acknowledged as a source. The last 33 years of Sen. Kerry’s public life are summarized in photos during the end credits. The case for admiration rests entirely on the subject’s abbreviated service as a Swift boat commander in Vietnam in 1969 and his emergence as an organizer and spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971. Hints of skepticism or contradiction barely surface, and those are attributed to a malicious Nixon administration.

• Ju-On: The Grudge (2003) (R: Frightening images) —**1/2. “Ringu” director Takashi Shimizu returns with a new horror yarn, which features a haunted house whose terrors seep into the neighborhood. “Ju-On’s” creepy camerawork and unsettling sounds do get under our skin, but the narrative’s repetitiveness deadens the goose bumps. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Ladder 49 (2004) (PG-13) — A melodrama about the camaraderie of professional firemen, co-starring John Travolta as a precinct chief and Joaquin Phoenix as a rookie. Directed by Jay Russell from a screenplay by Lewis Collick.

• The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor and vulgarity) — **. Nostalgic balm for aging radicals. The Brazilian director Walter Salles retrieves episodes from a diary of Ernesto Che Guevara and recalls a prodigious odyssey through South America Mr. Guevara shared with a friend, Alberto Granado, in 1951-52, on an unreliable old motorcycle. The early episodes surge with exuberance, but lulls and breakdowns start to accumulate. Rodrigo de la Serna is the more vigorous presence as Granado. The Mexican matinee idol Gael Garcia Bernal seems a more ethereal seeker in the Guevara role, but at this stage Che’s idolators may prefer him as an angelic dreamboat. In Spanish with English subtitles.

• Reconstruction (2003) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and interludes of sexual candor) — *. A Danish fable of infatuation and identity confusion that may stir ashen memories of “Last Year at Marienbad.” A novice director, Christoffer Boe, fiddles with narrative as a photographer called Alex (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), spurns a demure fiancee, Simone (Marie Bonnevie). He picks up a married woman named Aimee (Miss Bonnevie with a different hairstyle and wardrobe), whose spouse is an author and the film’s narrator. The triangles remain tentative and negligible and Alex pays a price: No one in his pre-Aimee world remembers him. Then a similar identity loss threatens when his love affair dissolves. A generously indulgent audience is mandatory. In Danish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

• Shark Tale (2004) (PG: Mild slapstick violence) —**1/2. Will Smith’s hip-hop persona drives the latest computer-animated film that wants to be this fall’s answer to “Finding Nemo.” It’s more like a second-tier “Shrek,” but packs enough laughs for the kids or the kid within us. Mr. Smith stars as Oscar, a dreaming, scheming fish who manipulates the media into thinking he killed a shark all on his own. Co-starring the voices of Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie and Robert De Niro, having a grand time spoofing his past Mafia roles. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• Tying the Knot (2004) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter) — A documentary feature that purports to examine changes in the institution of marriage, emphasizing the changes sought by homosexual advocates. Directed by Jim de Seve.

• Woman, Thou Art Loosed (2004) (No MPAA Rating — adult subject matter). A film version of a best-selling novel by the black evangelist Bishop T.D. Jakes, who previously adapted it for theatrical and CD versions. The movie casts the author as himself, a spiritual catalyst for redemption in two bedeviled women: Kimberly Elise as a lost soul and Loretta Devine as her ineffectual mother. With Clifton Powell as the consort who has abused the trust of both mother and daughter.

• The Yes Men (2004) (R) — A documentary feature that celebrates the tendentious pranks of con artists called Andy and Mike, who specialize in posing as members of prestigious groups they oppose and aim to mock, notably the World Trade Organization.

NOW SHOWING

• 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 1930 novel “Vile Bodies.” The novel satirized fashionable party animals of Roaring ‘20s London. 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 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• A Dirty Shame (2004) (NC-17: Graphic sexuality; nudity; profanity) — **. Kinky fetishes are surveyed in this lively sex farce from John Waters that may actually incite a backlash rather than extend the boundaries of tolerance. Starring Tracey Ullman and Chris Isaak. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• First Daughter (2004) (PG: Fleeting sexual allusions and comic vulgarity) — **. A sweet-tempered but often blundering romantic comedy about a college freshman (Katie Holmes) who is the daughter of the president of the United States (Michael Keaton). Marc Blucas is a potential sweetheart, the resident advisor in the heroine’s dorm. The filmmakers take such an awestruck and sympathetic view of the heroine and her parents that the movie emerges as a blithely eccentric rebuke to the stack of anti-Bush polemics out of Hollywood this election year.

• 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. 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. The film, which co-stars Anthony Edwards (of “ER”) and Dominic West, treats its heroes like rational adults, unlike some thrillers these days. That maturity, combined with uniformly taut acting, lets it dance over some obvious story flaws. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• 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. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

• Intimate Strangers (2003) (R: Candid dialogue about sex; ominous undercurrents) — *1/2. The French filmmaker Patrice Leconte 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 exploits him as a sounding board after she discovers his real profession. The pretext grows coy and tiresome. In French with English subtitles.

• 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. Don’t miss Joan Cusack’s hilarious turn as a Hollywood player gone very sour. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• 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.

• 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. In Spanish with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema. 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.

• 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.

• Shaun of the Dead (2004) (R: Zombie violence/gore; profanity) — **. A smart zombie spoof from British director Edgar Wright. North London is overrun by the living dead, but working-stiff Shaun (Simon Pegg) and fat-friend Ed (Nick Frost) are too busy drinking beer and playing video games to notice. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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.

• 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. The 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.

• When Will I Be Loved (2004) (R: Strong sexuality; nudity; profanity; brief violence) — *1/2. A soft-core flick of dubious artistic value from director James Toback. An often-nude Neve Campbell (“The Company”) cleverly manipulates the men, including her boyfriend (Fred Weller) and a megarich Italian count (Dominic Chianese), who are trying to manipulate her. Cinematography by Larry McConkey. Reviewed by Scott Galupo.

• 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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