Bored with her dolls and backyard playhouse, a precocious six-year-old Iranian girl repeatedly tries to talk her harried mother into letting her play with the new kids next door. Also, a ball gets kicked over the fence. That's about it, really. Although it probably doesn't justify its 60-minute running time, writer/director Gholamreza Ramezani's delicately rendered film is nonetheless a pleasure to watch, with a flair for the shifting, mercurial dynamics between parents and children, and a genuine feel for its decidedly small-scale environment. An agreeable trifle of a kid's flick, bolstered by lead Melika Emami's utterly charming, remarkably natural portrayal of a conwoman in training. Are all Iranian children born with the acting gene, or what? Note: Northwest Film Forum's screenings will include a number of locally produced, youngster-friendly shorts. (ANDREW WRIGHT) Northwest Film Forum, Daily 7, 8:30 pm.
Two dreamy-sounding animated short films produced through NWFF's 2006 Signature Shorts program. Northwest Film Forum, Fri Aug 4 at 8:30 pm, preceding Bazi, with reception to follow.
Go for Zucker is a rambunctious but not wildly funny German farce that plays with Jewish stereotypes. (This characterization makes it sound much more dangerous than it is; the modest dose of political incorrectness played a rather immodest role in its box office success in Germany.) The main character is a former East German celebrity and gambler who doesn't like to be reminded he's Jewish—until his mother dies and he stands to gain from her will. (ANNIE WAGNER) Grand Illusion, Weekdays 7, 9 pm, Sat-Sun 3, 5, 7, 9 pm.
SAM"s Audrey Hepburn series continues with this 1966 William Wyler film starring Hepburn as a statue-thievin' charmer. Co-starring Peter O'Toole and Eli Wallach. Museum of History and Industry, Thurs Aug 3 at 7:30 pm.
Microcinema shorts from around the world. Central Cinema, Wed Aug 9 at 7, 9 pm.
A documentary about the largest gathering of people anywhere ever. (It happened in 2001.) Central Cinema, Thurs-Sat 7, 9:15 pm.
A surrealist mystery film about the plausible deniability of a mustache. Marc (Vincent Lindon) is a happily married man with a thick caterpillar of a mustache. While getting ready for a visit to their friends' house, Marc muses about how he'd look if he shaved the thing off. His wife (the excellent Emmanuelle Devos) expresses her skepticism in mild but certain terms. When he shaves it off anyway, Marc's entire world goes out of whack. His wife, for instance, insists he never had a mustache. Though the unraveling of his reality is spread along a nice, progressive trajectory, Marc's personality turns mean and paranoid in an instant, which makes for a slightly slack second act. Still, it's a stylish, entertaining film, with an unsettling Phillip Glass score and a suitably weird denouement. (ANNIE WAGNER) Big Picture, Daily 6:30, 8:30 pm.
As is so often the case Wim Wenders's work, the best part of Land of Plenty (2004), is the first part, the first 60 or so minutes—the part that doesn't offer a clear plot but a incoherent picture of a world, a way of life, a period of time. The first part of Wenders's Until the End of the World captured an inchoate Europe at the dawn the 21st century; the first 20 minutes of Der Himmel über Berlin captured a fragmented Berlin in the twilight of the Cold War; the first part of Land of Plenty captures a centerless, post-9/11 Los Angeles. The principal characters of the story are a young and idealistic woman, who is looking for her uncle, and a Vietnam vet, who is looking for Arab terrorists. But the meaning (or plot) of the woman's search for a lost family connection, and her uncle's search for the absolute enemy, coheres in the second section of the movie, which is why it is weak. The first section is strong because it is about lots of different things, lots of different people, the multiple levels of life in a big American city, and, overall, the melancholy spirit of our times. (CHARLES MUDEDE) Northwest Film Forum, Weekdays 7, 9:30 pm, Sat-Sun 4:30, 7, 9:30 pm.
As a "psychological thriller"—in the vein of director Dominick Moll's similar but superior effort With a Friend Like Harry—Lemming is kind of long and dumb, and not at all creepy (except for Charlotte Rampling's dead eyes). But there's something quaintly old-fashioned about the campy editing and the dissonant, forcibly dramatic soundtrack that makes me think Lemming might just be one big joke. In which case, I love you, Lemming! (LINDY WEST) Varsity, Fri-Sun 1:30, 4:15, 7 pm, Mon-Thurs 7 pm.
The 1986 musical about a bloodthirsty plant. Sidewalk Cinema, Sat Aug 5 at dusk.
Jet City Improv provides all-new dialogue for this '60s B picture about a "manster"—half man, half monster. Fremont Outdoor Movies, Sat Aug 5 at dusk.
A timely screening of the documentary about Lesbian Mothers Defense Fund, which was founded in Seattle in the early 1970s in response to children being removed from homes because their moms were lesbians. Broadway Performance Hall, Thurs Aug 3 at 6:30, 8:30 pm.
Another round of hilarious Three Stooges shorts that you probably haven't seen. Selections include Crash Goes the Hash, Boobs in Arms, and Three Sappy People. Grand Illusion, Fri 11 pm, Sat 12:30 pm, 11 pm, Sun 12:30 pm.
Seattle Art Museum's Audrey Hepburn series concludes with this 1967 Stanley Donen film about marriage, infidelity, and breedin'. Museum of History and Industry, Thurs Aug 10 at 7:30 pm.
An entrancing movie about a little girl who wants a fatter goldfish for the Persian New Year, The White Balloon (1995) is a classic of the Iranian New Wave. Written by Abbas Kiarostami (Close-Up) and directed by his protegee Jafar Panahi (The Circle), it's got all the hallmarks of the genre: a neorealist openness of form, a preoccupation with childhood, and the use of mindblowingly talented nonprofessional actors. Northwest Film Forum seems to think these movies about kids are also for kids... I'm not so sure, but if any of their selections will keep a child still for an hour plus, The White Balloon is it. (ANNIE WAGNER) Northwest Film Forum, Fri 5 pm, Sat-Sun 3, 5 pm.
The 1988 animated-live action hybrid about a lusty rabbit and a lady with an ample bosom. Egyptian, Fri-Sat midnight.
Humanized cows do NOT make good cartoon characters. You can't stand a cow up on its hind legs and make it talk and dance around with its bright pink phallic udder swinging everywhere! That's not cute and goofy! These cartoon cows don't even have buttholes drawn on to them, yet we get to watch their perverse udders just flap around in the wind the whole fucking movie? Uh, ew! There's also a creepy coyote in this movie that, when threatening the hens in the hen house, turns it into this weirdly sexual situation and like, he starts talking all deep and weird while stroking the chickens and shit... Kids probably won't pick up on it (they're sorta dumb), but I totally noticed and it made me uncomfortable. But if you're into that sorta thing—you know, bestiality—than Barnyard is the perfect movie for you! (MEGAN SELING)
Set once again in Smith's beloved Red Bank, New Jersey, the story finds the original film's convenience-store counter monkeys making the lateral move to a fast-food joint, with maturity nipping unwanted at their heels. There are a few amusing moments to be found between the speechifying and belabored craft-service zingers (the extended sight of Rosario Dawson bopping along to a Jackson 5 song is, for once, a reason to celebrate the filmmaker's inability to move the camera), but Smith's calculated return to his roots feels, for the most part, like a pre-moldy artifact that has lost most of its freshness or shock value in the era of YouTube and message boards. Smith's hyperliterate lead-assed wiseacres deserve their place in indie-movie history, no doubt, but when even the fart jokes fail to pop, it may be time to draw the curtain. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Everything about this movie is boiled until tough. Only Ian McKellen wrings any fun out of the plot, but then again, he gets two crutches to play with. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Is Meryl Streep afraid of Anna Wintour? There's something weirdly soft in her portrayal of "dragon lady" that completely contradicts the spirit of the movie. But to be fair, it's not her fault: Streep can't help but play a human being, and the characters in The Devil Wears Prada are not human beings. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Things you can depend on: Christmas Day will always arrive December 25. Your life will one day end. Edward Burns will forever remain a talentless hack. This piece of wholly unremarkable tripe—written and directed and starring Mr. Burns—follows a gaggle of lifelong friends/dunderheads as they argue, laugh, and bond before one shackles himself into marriage. Burns still has one of the world’s great voices, and Matthew Lillard (yes, Shaggy from Scooby-Doo), of all people, delivers a decent performance, but the jokes are far too few and the overall product uninspired. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Since being picked up by Miramax, The Heart of the Game has become a big, fat juggernaut modeled after Hoop Dreams and narrated by Ludacris—but it began as a scrappy, no-budget local movie about the girls' basketball team at Roosevelt High School. (ANNIE WAGNER)
An Inconvenient Truth is workmanlike and clumsy at times—but it's also hugely invigorating. Tracking Gore's global-warming lecture as he schleps his Apple laptop across the country and to China, it's a collection of scientific facts and correlations made urgent through human drama and low-tech slide-show magic. It should be required viewing for every American citizen. And if it kicks up a storm of speculation regarding Al Gore's political prospects in 2008? So much the better. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Holy shit. Everything is wrong with this picture. Everything! The photography is exceptionally dull—M. Night Shyamalan managed to do what even Barry Levinson couldn't do: make the work of the most intoxicating cinematographer alive today, Christopher Doyle, look and feel absolutely sober. The story has nothing new to reveal. A water nymph rises out of a swimming pool to tell humans how to make the world better. But the humans cannot hear her. Only a child can receive her message (through the unlikely medium of cereal boxes). At the level of ideology, the movie ends up supporting exactly what it intended to denounce: war. The director clearly had a plan to make an antiwar film, but he made this huge mistake: He imagined the enemy of the delicate water people in the same way that Bush and other warmongers imagine their enemies—as pure evil, evil incarnate, evil for no other reason than being evil. Lastly, the lady from the water is a pure-white, Pre-Raphaelite woman (played by Bryce Dallas Howard); whereas the evil being is simply a black mass. This binary construction leads us, by way of King Kong, back to The Birth of a Nation. (CHARLES MUDEDE)
It's one thing to hear longtime fans prattle on about how great Leonard Cohen's music is, and another thing entirely to hear him speak for himself. In this uneven music documentary, two movies fight for dominance—one full of cover songs and effusive testimonials, the other dominated by the man in the Armani suit. With his growling voice and bright eyes, Cohen brings the movie into focus. Self-deprecating where others are fawning, he talks about how long it takes to get a song just right, how "Chelsea Hotel #2" really was about a fling he had with Janis Joplin, and how his reputation as a ladies' man caused him "to laugh bitterly on the 10,000 nights I spent alone." (ANDY SPLETZER)
Michael Mann likes to live vicariously through his characters. Visually, this desire is embodied through what has become his signature shot: camera trailing smack dab behind a character's ear, as if it were attached to the nape of the neck. The choice is often jarring, and it betrays Mann's real desire as a filmmaker, which is to inhabit the very space his characters occupy. Miami Vice—a decidedly non-winking update of the '80s television series—is in many ways the ultimate Michael Mann film. Oceans are on hand for lingering gazes; women are on hand for conflicted grazing—swap out the title card and this could easily be a description of Heat. But while that film has become a certifiable classic worthy of repeat viewings, Miami Vice is an outright mess, underfed and seemingly filmed on the fly. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Old Man Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), like all neighborhood coots, really, really wants you to stay off his lawn. He screams and howls, threatens bodily harm, and he will not give you your ball back. But it's for your own good, really, considering the giant carnivorous child-gobbling monster (Kathleen Turner—no, seriously) masquerading as Nebbercracker's house. Across the street, neighbor kid DJ peers through his telescope, suspecting foul play. Leafless trees flank the house like sad, dead fingers. Grasping tendrils of lawn drag unsuspecting trespassers to their doom. Long story short, I now have nightmares from a movie meant for babies. (LINDY WEST)
Gosh! Rip off my frickin' movie why don't you, Jared Hess! This is pretty much the worst movie ever made. I mean, I guess it's an okay movie. It's pretty funny. Now that I think about it, it's pretty much my favorite movie ever. (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE)
The owner of the Cosmos—a soccer team floundering in the mid-'70s—got the idea that the team (and the league) would attract more fans and generate higher profits if it had the greatest player of the sport on its roster. For seven million dollars, the Cosmos brought in Pelé, who, though in retirement at the time (age 34), was still considered a national treasure by the Brazilian government. The dream worked. Pelé came to the U.S. and instantly drew fans. But Mr. Moneybags wanted more. So he bought Giorgio Chinaglia, from Italy, and German superstar Franz Beckenbauer. The result was phenomenal. At their peak, the Cosmos filled Giants Stadium with 77,000 fans and soccer was on the verge of becoming an American sport. Then things feel apart—Pelé retired, Chinaglia got greedier and seedier, and Americans proved to be capable of watching anything on TV except soccer. The team and the league folded, but the idea of a club buying players from any part in the world became what it is today: the standard. (CHARLES MUDEDE)
The first Pirates of the Caribbean film rose from the ashes of low expectations, dragged up from its dubious theme-park origins by a subversive and hilariously twisted performance by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. What should have been un film stupide turned into one of the few surprises of 2003. Now comes the midsection of the trilogy, which picks up shortly after the first film ended. Capt. Jack remains a truly weird invention, but now everyone around him is trying desperately to keep up, and what's left is a film so amped up it flirts with being cartoonish. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is the expected romp: swords are clashed, cannons are fired, and many a quip is unsheathed. But what's missing this go-around is the genuine surprise of the first film. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
It's sad to see Keillor making miscalculations about the nature and appeal of his own creations. Such are the perils of adapting a radio program to film. (ANNIE WAGNER)
What is the core truth of this film based on a Philip K. Dick short story of the same name? That capitalism is not progressive; it does not move from a lower condition to a higher and better one, but is circular. (CHARLES MUDEDE)
Woody Allen's Match Point was slick, a film that politely looked the other way as you began to sympathize with the lead character's alternating lust for and horror of women (an ambivalence that ends in homicidal panic). Scoop is a screwball murder mystery—frequently funny, but somehow less fun. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Strangers with Candy is basically just an extra-long, perfectly passable bonus episode of the original TV series, which means, of course, that it's fucking hysterical. (LINDY WEST)
For a movie featuring a hero who can conceivably give God a wedgie, there's precious little zowie to be found. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
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. But what the movie loses in relevance, it gains in absurd comedy. (ANNIE WAGNER)
If this lively agitdoc is any indication, early adopters of environmentally friendly technology are a bunch of stubborn children. When General Motors rolled out its ice-blue, all-electric car in California in 1996, celebrities and subcelebrities and dot-com arrivistes (including director Chris Paine) snatched them up like candy. But the EV1, as the model was called, was only available for lease, not for sale, and when GM decided (with the help of the state of California) that electric vehicles were not in fact the wave of the future, it took them all back. Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, washed-up Baywatch actress Alexandra Paul—all talking heads in this movie—were crushed. Systematically working through such potential "suspects" as SUV-minded consumers, battery capacity, oil companies, car companies, federal and state governments, and rival technologies (particularly the hydrogen fuel cell), the documentary crafts a compelling case that the decline of the electric car was misguided, collusive, and premature. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Compared to the several Scrabble documentaries that came out a few years ago, Wordplay is conspicuously lacking in crazy characters. But the interviews with Shortz are dorky-adorable. (ANNIE WAGNER)
It's a shameful way for the trilogy to end. Director Brett Ratner has given us the summer blockbuster he wants to see—unfortunately, most everyone who enjoys movies has better taste. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)