Films of All Nations
dir. Steven Spielberg
Opens Fri June 18.
If an army of critics line up to heap praise upon Steven Spielberg's The Terminal, as early Internet firings hint that they will, then something has gone terribly wrong in the world. This is easily the worst film of Spielberg's career, surpassing even blemishes like Always, Hook, and A.I. It is also one of the worst films you will see all year.
Tom Hanks stars as Viktor Navorski, a traveler from the phantom country of Krakozhia who arrives at JFK International Airport only to discover that, while in the air, his country has fallen into revolution. Because of this he is officially without a country, which means he must stay inside JFK until matters are settled, eking out a life among weary travelers while battling slothlike bureaucracy. Along the way, he learns about America, finds love, makes friends, and changes lives.
This is an intriguing premise, I suppose, but it has been thoroughly squandered by Spielberg and his overeagerness to reach for the sugar; the intention from the outset may have been to capture that old Forrest Gump feeling (a dubious intention, to say the least), but though The Terminal certainly achieves the raging ineptness of that film, it somehow feels far more insulting. Spielberg's reliance on saccharine is not the only travesty to be found in The Terminal, however, for there is still the matter of Hanks' performance. Accents have slaughtered even the greatest actors over the years, and Hanks is yet another victim; garbled and cartoonish, his pseudo-former-Soviet inflection is a major handicap for both his performance and the entire film--it is indeed the return of Gump, only this time the speedy Southern potatohead has been re-imagined as a frumpy and bewildered Eastern European. The results are, to be sure, rather ugly, and that's before the ridiculously untalented Catherine Zeta-Jones is added to the mix. I not only hated The Terminal, I felt violated by its awfulness--a neat trick for one of our most naturally gifted filmmakers. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
The Saddest Music in the World
dir. Guy Maddin
Opens Fri June 18.
Guy Maddin's filmmaking has never been more delirious or more temperate, more elaborate or more austere. Everything about the black-and-white spectacle The Saddest Music in the World is over the top, but Maddin has chosen his collaborators well. For every Isabella Rossellini (the luminous star whose exuberant performance proves her more than equal to Maddin's most unhinged fancies) there is a Kazuo Ishiguro (the screenwriter whose smartly paced script reins in some of Maddin's worst excesses).
Rossellini plays Lady Port-Huntly, a double-amputee, Winnipegian "beer baroness" immersed in a Depression-era quandary: how best to revive the flagging family business in the face of the U.S. Prohibition? As the film opens, she has arrived at a deliciously improbable solution. Her brewery will play host to a sad music competition, drawing competitors and listeners from across the world to her hometown (which has just been crowned the World Capital of Sorrow by a cooperative London newspaper), and driving them to drink with lugubrious tunes.
The melodrama gets fierce when a family with ties to Port-Huntly enters the fray, each Canadian-born member representing a different nation. Mark McKinney is especially good as the flat-accented swindler representing the United States, and Maria de Medeiros, as his fluttery, amnesiac paramour Narcissa, has the perfect doe eyes to take in the Art Deco/Russian Constructivist mise en scéne that surrounds her on all sides.
The Saddest Music in the World is ultimately little more than an excuse to stage a series of glowing Super-8 tableaux (and to make loony, not-quite jokes about sensitive tapeworms), but you'll forgive Maddin any lapses in content when you finally get to see Isabella Rossellini prancing about in beer-filled glass legs. That little jig is pure movie magic, on par with the flashiest special effect Hollywood will ever muster. ANNIE WAGNER
Love Me If You Dare
dir. Yann Samuell
Loonies in love have been a mainstay in romantic comedies since before Harold met Maude, with audiences worldwide happily swooning over behavior that in real life would lead to court orders, Springer appearances, and "last known" photos. Lately, however, with the success of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie, the stakes have been raised, to a downright worrying degree. Love Me If You Dare, a blockbuster in its native France, attempts to replicate the Jeunet formula of sugar-coated obsession, but severely overestimates the candy-colored preciousness of its premise. Telling the tale of two monstrously self-absorbed head cases who sacrifice all for love, it twinkles itself right into a rubber room.
The deranged duo in question meet as kids in a cartoonish French suburb and, inspired by the gift of a puzzle box from the boy's dying mother, soon begin a series of outlandish double dares spanning both decades and increasing levels of dementia. Children get stranded on a moving school bus, innocent women end up weeping solo at the altar, families are torn asunder--all the while the soundtrack chirping about the wondrous beauty of it all. The jaw-dropping finale recalls a Tales from the Crypt episode directed by Nora Ephron. Debuting writer/director Yann Samuell (a former animator) occasionally hits on a poetically surreal image, and the gorgeous Marion Cotillard valiantly manages to suggest an inner life within her character's warped soul, but such small graces prove unable to drown out the overwhelmingly creepy vibes. No matter how thick the shellacking of whimsy, it all boils down to horribly twisted people doing terrible things to themselves and others in the name of l'amour. Swap the tin box used here with the one from Hellraiser, and you'd have a less frightening film. ANDREW WRIGHT
dir. Mario Van Peebles
Opens Fri June 18.
Melvin Van Peebles' third feature film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), is a very strange but also very important film. The controversial story of a sexed-up black man who kills two corrupt cops and gets away with it, the movie's unlikely but inevitable success ushered in the era of blaxploitation films. Made with independent and personal finances outside of the Hollywood system, Van Peebles went so far as to include pornographic sex scenes in order to convince the unions they didn't need to staff the picture with their "lily white" crew members. Aside from being a politically ambitious film, it also includes some psychedelic images and the first screen appearance of his son Mario as the young Sweetback character getting his "cherry popped" by a prostitute at age 13.
Melvin wrote a book about the experience of making that film, and now Mario has created an independent film based on that book, and it's really good. Inhabiting the character of his father with that '70s mustache and the ever-present cigar, Mario is obviously working through some father-son issues. It's also interesting that some of the issues that Melvin wanted to address with his film--such as the stereotyping of the black man in movies--are still relevant today. Another issue the movie deals with, an issue outside of racial lines, is the difficulty of producing an independent feature film. Mario plays his father with the passion and conviction, and also the ruthlessness, needed to make exactly the film he wanted to make. If that's not enough reason to go out and see this movie, I should also note that Mario has done an excellent job of capturing the look and feel of the '70s with both his production design and editing choices. Having shared a short cab ride with both Mario and Melvin Van Peebles at the last Sundance Film Festival, I could tell that Melvin was a funny, fascinating, and straightforward guy, and in Baadasssss! Mario has captured all that and more. ANDY SPLETZER
dir. André Téchiné
Opens Fri June 18.
Strayed's opening scenes are the best scenes in the movie. Set during a very bleak and humiliating moment in French history--Nazi Germany's triumph over Paris and the subsequent fall of France--the scenes concern a small part of the mass evacuation from the capital. We first see a country road that is clogged with a variety of desperate Frenchmen. Some are poor and carrying nothing more than a suitcase; others are rich and transporting a truckload of their finest things; and all have in common the manner of not being directed by any particular objective other than simply getting out of the besieged city and hoping for the best. Suddenly German planes descend from the summer sky, and drop bombs on the traffic jam. Everyone scrambles for safety. When the bombs hit the road, civilian bodies (women, children, men) are blown into bits of nothingness. The sequence is impressive because what the director, André Téchiné, captures so well is the terrifying randomness of war. One moment, people next to you are running for their lives; the next moment, they there are cut down by a blast. And yet you are alive and must move on, continue to run, to live. This is what happens to a mother (Emmanuelle Béart) and her children (a girl, Clémence Meyer, and a boy in his early teens, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet). They happen to live and are guided into the cover of the woods by a young man (Gaspard Ulliel).
The guide, who turns out to be an illiterate weirdo, leads the fatherless family across a beautiful countryside to an abandoned country home. They move in, find food and wine, and begin to wait out the war. During this waiting period, all the psychological stuff kicks in. Who is their guide? Why does he seem dangerous? Does he have feelings for the attractive mother? And why is her son so drawn to him? The rest of the film attempts to answer these very uninteresting questions. CHARLES MUDEDE
dir. Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott
Opens Fri June 18.
The gimmick of The Corporation is strong: Since corporations were given the rights equivalent to those of a person, wouldn't it be interesting to see just what kind of person a corporation would be? Because corporations work strictly for their own self-interest, and have no guilt about the rules they break or the people they hurt, they can medically be considered psychopaths. Well, I liked the gimmick until I started to think about it. If you are going to posit that corporations are like people, even as a joke, shouldn't you also give them the same respect you would give to people? Instead, directors Mark Achbar (Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media) and Jennifer Abbott oversimplify the subject and make it into one big stereotype. In this movie every corporation is the same, and to me that generalization smacks of corporate-based racism. Even when they find a corporation that has become environmentally friendly without being forced to do so by law--a corporation with a conscience, if you will--they don't change their thesis. My main problem with this movie, like with many of Michael Moore's movies, is that it assumes we agree with every negative inference it puts forward, like it's somehow a bad thing that those two kids managed to get their college educations sponsored and paid for by corporate interests. I think it's great, corporate spin-control be damned. Basically, the movie looks down upon the masses of people who thoughtlessly consume products made by corrupt corporations. But you know what? I identify more with the masses than I do with the filmmakers; if I want to spend 145 minutes being told I'm an idiot, I'd rather spend that time in the singles bars. ANDY SPLETZER
New Voices 2004
Sat June 19 at Seattle Art Museum.
The best thing about these nine short documentaries is that each one feels like it could be expanded into a longer piece. Produced by 911 Media Arts Center for eventual broadcast on KCTS, the styles range from personal-diary-like pieces to more traditional, objective documentaries. Patricia Boiko's Game Show Duo is a heartfelt movie about a loving couple who spent 30-plus years addicted to being on game shows. Sonja Watson's Rod Crawford: Spiderman, about a spider researcher who is more comfortable with the animal kingdom than with a human partner who might leave or become abusive, was made with bittersweet confidence. Len Davis' Signers gives voice to the people at the on-ramps who hold signs asking for help, and theirs is a welcome point of view. Another one with a fascinating perspective is Delaney Ruston's Unlisted, which is one woman's look at her schizophrenic father as she reconnects with him and deals with her daughterly obligations. I also liked the legal wranglings of Theo Lipfert's Taubman Sucks, and all the others have good stuff, too. In order to get a free ticket to the screening, e-mail Gretchen Ludwig at email@example.com. ANDY SPLETZER