Thank You for Smoking
dir. Jason Reitman
As a work of satire, Thank You for Smoking is safely and securely dated. The book it's adapted from (by conservative novelist Christopher Buckley) was published in the mid-'90s, when tobacco lawsuits were flying fast and loose and the word "probe" was rampant in headlines in the Washington Post. From our comfortable multiplex seats in the new millennium, we can see that the sneakily attractive rhetoric of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart)—a bad tobacco-industry lobbyist and the winning protagonist of Thank You for Smoking—is but a stream of beautiful words about to slam into the enormous dam of punitive damages and settlements and indoor smoking bans. But what the movie loses in relevance, it gains in absurd comedy. When Nick visits his kid's school for a career day, a smarty-pants kid up front announces, "My mommy says cigarettes kill." Without batting an eye, he bends to her and sweetly inquires, "Now, is your mommy a doctor?" There's a turn of squirmy brilliance when, later on, Nick is kidnapped by vigilante antismoking advocates who cover his entire body with nicotine patches in an attempt at ironic murder.
Eckhart, a blond Mormon with a toothpastey grin, plays Nick with evident relish; Cameron Bright, of the preternaturally blue eyes, brings his baby gravitas to the role of Nick's son. There are some hilarious smaller performances by Adam Brody (as the hyperactive assistant to a Hollywood agent) and William H. Macy (as a tongue-tied liberal senator from Vermont), and one very bad performance by Katie Holmes (as a spunky reporter). It's fast-paced and fun, and if some of the movie's values seem creaky, that's because in the time since the book's publication, neoconservatism has won out over conservatism, and public-speaking skills have become ever less relevant. ANNIE WAGNER
To read Jason Reitman's original haiku on the infamous disappearance and reappearance of the Katie Holmes "missing sex scene," see Annie Wagner's interview with the director.
Iraq in Fragments
dir. James Longley
Iraq in Fragments, which opens the Seattle Arab & Iranian Film Festival on Friday, March 31, at 7:00 p.m. at Cinerama, is quiet and indispensable, a documentary in three sections (Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish) that shows us not what Iraq has become post-invasion, but how a scattered few of its citizens live. There's a painfully vivid portrait of an illiterate Baghdad kid who works for a mechanic who is not his father, a glimpse at a Shiite community in quickening ferment, and an elderly Kurdish man making basic economic calculations about the education of his sons. Smaller snapshots are just as exquisite: the alcohol vendor at a market in Nasiriyah, a voting official who urgently whispers which box to mark for the Kurdish candidate, and I can't forget the simple shot in which an American helicopter passes overhead and the camera swings upward to follow an Iraqi's wary gaze. ANNIE WAGNER
Seattle director James Longley talks to Annie Wagner about the danger he faced as an American journalist and why his movie includes so few women at www.thestranger.com.
dir. Marco Kreuzpaintner
Directed by German director Marco Kreuzpaintner, Summer Storm isn't about much at all: Tobi (Robert Stadlober) and Achim (Kostia Ullmann) are best friends and on the same rowing team; Tobi and Achim like to do physical things together (cross-country running, wrestling, land exercises); Achim loves Tobi platonically and Tobi loves Achim sexually; the pair attend a summer camp for rowing with their teammates and soon both have girlfriends; Tobi, however, doesn't care for his beautiful and buxom girlfriend—he only wants to fuck Achim; adding to the growing sexual tension is a gay rowing crew called Queerstroke; the gay rowers go out of their way to confuse the already confused straight rowers; and finally a storm gathers and the only significant thing in the whole movie happens.
It's raining heavily and the teen rowers are trying to protect their tents from the ripping winds. Suddenly, there is lightning. It strikes a pine tree. The tree falls exactly, and even neatly, between Tobi—who that day became open about his sexuality and had gay sex for the first time in his life—from the others, the straight rowers. Nature has spoken. Tobi is what he is; they, the others, are what they are. After this moment of truth, which is nothing less than the judgment of God, what more is there to say? The film should pack its bags and leave the screen—but it doesn't. It goes on for about 20 minutes, drifting from one empty moment to another empty moment, with nothing more to say because the thunderbolt (God!) has said everything that needs to be said: Tobi is gay; they, the others, are not. CHARLES MUDEDE
Ice Age: The Meltdown
dir. Carlos Saldanha
You know what rules!? Ice Age: The Meltdown rules!
I never saw more than 15 minutes of the original Ice Age (released way back in 2002), so I dunno what happens there, but this time around best friends Diego (a saber-toothed tiger), Sid (a sloth), and Manny (a woolly mammoth), have to outrun an inevitable flood. And boy, do they get into some crazy situations along the way!
See, thanks to the warming of the Earth, everything is melting, including the huge glacier holding back the entire sea. The animals are, in a sense, living in a giant bowl. Slowly, the wall starts chipping away and water starts pouring in. That's really not a good sign. So the animals (who are not equipped for ocean life, with their hooves and all), have to hurry their way to the end of the valley, where there's a giant ark (uhh... carved out of a log), waiting to keep them safe and sound during the flood.
It's a long journey to make, and in their exciting travels the trio befriends a woolly mammoth who thinks she's a opossum (uh, what?), and almost get eaten by evil sea creatures and sacrificed to the fire gods! Whoa!
A bunch of famous people did the voices (Denis Leary, Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah, Jay Leno...), and the animation is infinitely better than the first installment, with vivid colors and far more detail. Plus, that little acorn-loving squirrel guy is back. He's funny.
You might think I'm being sarcastic when I say it's rad, because, well, it's a kid's movie and I'm usually a cynical asshole who makes fun of that kind of shit. But I'm totally not joking. It's funny. MEGAN SELING
Shakespeare Behind Bars
dir. Hank Rogerson
Luther Luckett is a good name for a Kentucky prison—a down-home, tough handle for a tough place where some men fight, some lie, some steal, and a few spend weeks on end obsessing about Shakespeare. Director Hank Rogerson's peek into a production of The Tempest by Luther Luckett inmates is less about the play than the sterile, monotonous world these prisoners try to escape by spending 37 weeks per year reading and rehearsing Shakespeare.
Some of the inmates are reformed hoods (like the murderer-cum-computer technician), some are damaged goods (like the once-closeted evangelical Christian who, in a fit of self-loathing, drew his wife a bath, then chucked in a hair dryer), and some are still unrepentant badasses.
Their crimes were awful and their prison lives are tougher than I can imagine, but the most impressive thing about Shakespeare Behind Bars is that it treats Shakespeare's plays as they were meant to be treated: no schoolboy drudgery, no artsty-fartsy pretension, no false book-club reverence, no academic bullshit about whether the Bard was Catholic or queer or feminist or an earl. The Luther Luckett inmates grapple with his plays like Jacob wrestled with the angel—honestly and furiously. They shout the words, they puzzle over difficult passages, and they seriously consider who Shakespeare's characters are and why we should pay attention to them. One inmate reflects on a soliloquy: "I think this speech is saying that... we see people—but we never really see them, you know?" Another begins talking about the themes of reconciliation in The Tempest, his enthusiasm growing: "I really like this play. I could go on for an hour. It's just a little bitty play but there's so much to it." BRENDAN KILEY
Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That!
Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That! is a live Beastie Boys movie filmed at a 2004 Madison Square Garden performance. In order to top the thousands of "been there, done that" boring live DVDs out there, the Boys, the Boys, the Beastie Beastie Boys gave 50 random fans hand-held Hi8 cameras, told them "there are no rules," and released them into the crowd. Some were right by the stage, some way up in the balcony; some filmed the show, some filmed their friends, some even took the camera into the bathroom with them. The footage was edited down (that task alone is worth some kind of prize), and turned into an hour-and-a-half-long Beastie Boys video. Speaking as a Beastie fan, that's a very good thing. MEGAN SELING