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Charlotte Gray, Dark Blue World, Kandahar, Orange County

New This Week

The Don & Bill Show
To Seattle's poor neglected cartoon buffs, Outcast Productions offers at long last the Northwest premiere of "The Don and Bill Show," a showcase of animated shorts from cult cartoonists Don Hertzfeldt and Bill Plympton. Gems include the Acadamy-Award-nominated Rejected; Your Face, a classic Plympton grotesque from the old school; and Billy's Balloon, Hertzfeldt's testament to the revolting stupidity of babies. Plympton's extravagant detail and freaky plot lines alternated with Hertzfeldt's minimalism and balls-out slapstick makes for a very harmonious coupling. Plus, both artists have excellent taste in soundtracks. Sure, some of the shorts are really dumb and the whole thing verges on puerile, but most of it is still damned funny. Just let yourself go. (MEG VAN HUYGEN) Little Theater

Gosford Park
Reviewed this issue. Robert Altman's latest is an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery set in the posh environs of a late 19th-century English mansion, where the swells and scousers surmount class boundaries to answer the question "Whodunnit?" Recent Altman work (that's Short Cuts onward, inclusive) has declined in sharp, inverse proportion to his ability to attract big-name movie stars--a.k.a the Woody Allen syndrome--but this one is apparently a lot better than the last few howling dogs he has unleashed. Starring Bob Balaban, Alan Bates, Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Derek Jacobi, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Ryan Phillippe, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Emily Watson. Seven Gables

* Grosse Pointe Blank
John Cusack made it out of the 30-year-old teenager ghetto with this sharp, clever comedy in which he plays an existentially tormented hit man who goes to his high-school reunion. Features excellent supporting performances by Joan Cusack and the great Alan Arkin. Dan Aykroyd is in it, too, but don't let that deter you. (SEAN NELSON) Egyptian

* The Gulf War--What Next?
This program presents five shorts made by Arab filmmakers in response to a 1991 commission by Britain's Channel 4 to speak freely about the impact of the Gulf War, which was obviously a very fresh wound at that point, and still is (as the global response to 9/11 has shown). The films--Borhane Alaoui's Black Night Eclipse, Nouri Bouzid's It Is Scheherezade They're Killing, Mustapha Darkaoui's The Silence, Nejia Ben Mabrouk's Research of Shaima, and Elia Suleiman's Homage By Assasination--are now 10 years old and have only recently been subtitled by Arab Film Distribution, the nation's preeminent distributor of films from the Arab world, which is located on Capitol Hill, no less. John Sinno, of AFD, will lead a Q&A at the screening. (SEAN NELSON) Little Theatre

Gary Fleder directs Gary Sinise and Madeleine Stowe in this sci-fi thriller (about aliens and mistaken identity and so forth), the release of which has been delayed since last year. That must mean it's pretty good! Varsity

See Stranger Suggests. This week: Charlie "Bird" Parker, Jan Horne's excellent three-hour documentary which blows the doors off Clint Eastwood's sodden narrative film, Bird. JBL Theater at EMP

The problem with transposing David Mamet from stage to screen comes when filmmakers try to pretend his stilted cadences can be credibly spoken by human beings. Without some distancing device--in films directed by Mamet, the device is tonal--the language feels contrived, hyperintentional, written. This film of Mamet's 1994 play is directed by Mamet regular Joe Mantegna, which makes the deeply flawed proceedings all the more confusing. Mantegna humanizes the script, which concerns a crew of hardscrabble schlubs on a steel barge, and in doing so, pisses away whatever theatrical conceit might have made the play work. What's left is a bunch of dudes telling macho stories (imbued of course, with mounting pathos) in a brogue that makes them sound like verbal masturbation androids programmed with Chicago accents. The actors do what they can--Robert Forster, Charles Durning, Jack Wallace, J.J. Johnston, and Saul Rubinek, in a cameo, are particularly good--but the film is a wash-out. One side note: The actor who plays the lead role is so milky bland and out of place that you spend the whole film wondering how the hell he could've been cast, particularly when Mantegna was at the helm, Mamet wrote the script, and the producer was Mamet's brother, Tony. Then you see the credits and the truth hits you like a steel rod: Tony Mamet was that actor. No wonder the film got made. (SEAN NELSON) Grand Illusion

* Top 10 Films of 1981--If You'd Asked Me Then, Age 8
Continued from Film section, p. 23. Part of the reason year-end Top 10 lists are unreliable is because one's tastes evolve as years go by. 1981 was the first year I started going to the movies by myself, when my family moved from L.A. to the SoCal suburbs. Tickets cost $2.50 and since I didn't know anyone in the town, I'd go pretty much every day, pretty much all day, sneaking from auditorium to auditorium, more than happy to watch the same films again and again, sometimes several times in the same day. And though I considered myself quite the little sophisticate, with highly developed tastes for an eight-year-old pisher (I saw Ragtime three times!), the truth of the matter is that I was then, as I am now, a rank philistine, terrified of life, and bearing no legitimate claim to the title of human being. Lo, I digress....

While making the list of 1981's Top 10 films for this week's issue, a project whose main goal was to highlight the absurdity of the customary journalistic "Best Of" ritual--which is only about the critic and never about the films--it occurred to me that the list I would have made in December of 1981 might be just as illustrative. So here goes:

1. Clash of the Titans (no question). 2. Time Bandits (the only film on both Top 10 lists). 3. Victory (Undoubtedly Pelé's greatest moment as an actor). 4. Chu Chu and the Philly Flash (a film starring Alan Arkin and Carol Burnett that seems to have been forgotten by all except me). 5. On the Right Track (Gary Coleman made living in a train-station locker seem very glamorous). 6. Superman II (still the best in the series--KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!). 7. The Fox and the Hound (none cuter than Tod and Copper; listen closely for the voice of a young Corey Feldman). 8. Under the Rainbow (Chevy Chase and Princess Leia--whose bra and panties scene constituted an early erotic benchmark--together at last!). 9. Modern Problems (not to be confused with Modern Romance; this marks the second Chevy Chase film on the list--significant--as well as the second definitive erotic moment, when Chevy brings Patti D'Arbanville to orgasm using telekinesis--very significant). 10. Zorro, the Gay Blade (not much I can say about this one... I have suppressed the memory). (SEAN NELSON)

The Northwest Alliance for Psychoanalytic Study sponsors this film series, which will take place every first Friday for the next six months. The press release explains: "This year we move beyond the theme of Eros and the experience of Beauty, which is the cornerstone of mental health, to explore the roots of the violent destruction of the mind's linking capacity that ordinarily sustains an inner world where love is dominant over hate." Ordinarily I would have put this in my own words, but the description is so locked in the language they provide, I can't access it's content. This week the Alliance shows House of Mirth, an adaptation of the Edith Wharton novel. (BRIAN GOEDDE) Seattle Asian Art Museum

Continuing Runs

The Affair of the Necklace
Will Hollywood never tire of mincing through the haunted halls of pre-Revolutionary Versailles? This time around Hilary Swank (with an unflattering nimbus of frizzy hair and her negligible breasts [ed note: rrreer!] smashed unconvincingly into a corset), plays a conniving countess who crosses the Queen, old "let them eat cake" herself, Marie Antoinette. With the help of a court gigolo, she contrives an ingenious blackmail scheme in order to regain her family estate. Based on a true story, this might have been a sexy and thrilling tale in more capable hands. Instead, its corny sepia-toned flashbacks, nagging narrator, and nonexistent character development render it hopelessly clunky and perfunctory. However, it might be useful for high-school history teachers to show when they have a hangover. (TAMARA PARIS) Broadway Market

I heard Michael Mann's next film would star Calista Flockhart as Mama Cass. Factoria, Guild 45th, Lewis & Clark, Meridian 16, Oak Tree, Redmond Town Center, Woodinville 12

* Amélie
A beautifully kinetic testament to human sweetness that has audiences lining up around the block and contrarians carping about its artificiality. (SEAN NELSON) Egyptian

A Beautiful Mind
Stories about the insane are an inherent paradox. Because for a story to be compelling, it has to have rules, and an inner logic, whereas mental illness doesn't have rules, and treats logic as just another way of seeing. In the case of John Nash (Russell Crowe), the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician who suffered from schizophrenia, there is the added irony that a man of quantitative genius could lose all control of quantitative reality. With a deft directorial touch, the paradox of Nash's world could really come to life. But that would take more of a talent than Ron Howard, whose interest is to make an uplifting Christmas movie, and to provide an easily digestible tale of overcoming adversity--as if insanity was something you just get through, like a bad hair day. (MICHAEL SHILLING) Factoria, Pacific Place 11, Redmond Town Center, Woodinville 12

Behind Enemy Lines
Two of the greatest American movie actors of this young century, Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson, share the screen in this utterly irredeemable piece of complete and total shit. In case the end of that last sentence didn't spell it out, suck on this: THERE IS NOTHING GOOD ABOUT THIS FILM. NOTHING. AT ALL. EVER. AT ALL ALL ALL!!! (SEAN NELSON) Pacific Place 11

* Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
"This is my happening and it FREAKS ME OUT!" Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert collaborated on this intentionally dizzy mess of a movie, which, as my friend recently pointed out, is the closest Hollywood has ever come to Bollywood (without going over). Beyond offers a little T, a little A, and a whole lot of "Oh!" featuring a guest appearance by the great Strawberry Alarm Clock (performing "Incense and Peppermints" and "I'm Coming Home"). (SEAN NELSON) Grand Illusion

* Burnt Money
Sensitive Angel, who never wears a shirt, and his badassed lover, Nene, are known professionally as "The Twins" on the Bueños Aires mob scene. When Nene shoots a cop during a commissioned armored-car heist, everybody involved has to flee to Montevideo, but Angel gets seriously wounded in the scuffle. With his lover out of service, Nene hooks up with an emotionally needy whore. Meanwhile, Angel quietly goes insane. This is a beautiful film, and between the poetic narrative (derived from the book, Plata Quemada), the subtitles, and the voluptuous backgrounds, it feels more like reading a National Geographic about South America rather than watching a movie. I'd call it great, even if only from a literary standpoint. (MEG VAN HUYGEN) Broadway Market

The Business of Strangers
Stockard "Stockyard" Channing and Julia Stiles star in this reverse gender corporate revenge drama, cut from the same cloth as In the Company of Men. Though the actors, especially Channing, are excellent, the filmmaker's desire to lay bare a female variant on the archetypal male fantasy seems to expose something intrinsically male nonetheless. (SEAN NELSON) Harvard Exit

* The Devil's Backbone
A sun-baked gothic ghost story with a moving Marxist allegory buried in its gory heart. In the last death throes of the Spanish Civil War, newly orphaned Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is dropped off at an imposing school for leftist children. There is very little to eat, an unexploded bomb ticks away half buried in the dusty courtyard, and Jaime (Inigo Garces)--the ad hoc leader of these traumatized youngsters--tortures Carlos mercilessly. But worst of all, a ragged, pale apparition of a missing student haunts the school hallways, begging Carlos to bring his killer to justice. Genuinely frightening, deeply moving, and gorgeously shot, this is a horror movie that will engage your intellect even as it sends shivers of icy dread crawling down your spine. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. (TAMARA PARIS) Harvard Exit

Dinner Rush
Ever wonder what the auteur behind Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video has been up to for the last 20 years? Me neither. But somehow I'm not surprised by the revelation that in addition to cranking out music videos and commercials, Bob Giraldi has also become a big-shot restaurateur in New York City. So, I suppose his decision to make a feature film about--what else?--being a big shot restaurateur in New York City shouldn't come as a shock. Who else could so fully articulate the smug, snobby, unpleasant, and insular world of a trendy Tribeca eatery populated with degenerate line cooks, promiscuous hostesses, prima donna chefs, and underworld thugs? Like the nouveau-fusion confusion cuisine he so lovingly prepares, this movie has all the flash of a grease fire but is so sorely lacking in substance you'll leave the theater famished. (TAMARA PARIS) Broadway Market

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
A documentary of Seattle's new favorite tragic failure of a sea voyage, Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914 quest for Antarctica, which wound up, as we all know, with an icebound vessel full of starving crewmen reduced to smoking penguin feathers. Lucky for this documentary that they had a camera crew with 'em.... Seven Gables

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone
Fans of the novels won't be disappointed by Chris Columbus' adaptation, which is so faithful that it often feels like they just pointed a camera at the book and said "Action!" (SEAN NELSON) Factoria, Grand Alderwood, Lewis & Clark, Majestic Bay, Metro, Oak Tree, Pacific Place 11, Woodinville 12

How High
Method Man is something of a naturopath, cultivating different strains of marijuana to treat such maladies as impotence and bad breath. He gives his good friend Ivory some weed for a big date, but Ivory dies after jumping out of a window after his blunt sets his hair on fire. As a memorial, Method Man fertilizes a marijuana plant with Ivory's ashes. When Method Man smokes the fruit of this plant, Ivory returns in ghostly form to exhort him to take the college entrance exam, and go to school to maximize his botanical skills. Before the exam, Method Man encounters Redman and they smoke a blunt of "Ivory weed" together, and Ivory again returns from the dead to help both achieve perfect scores. Then, they go to Harvard. Both Redman and Method Man are charismatic and irreverent performers with massive vitality who consistently bring marijuana into the themes and lyrics of their music: it is natural that they'd make a movie together. The film's creative starting point is a completely goofy blend of fantasy and reality, but the stars' tremendous enthusiasm makes nearly every dumb joke funny. (RAPHAEL GINSBERG) Grand Alderwood, Lewis & Clark, Meridian 16, Varsity

* In the Bedroom
This langorous, beautifully acted film about erotic and familial entanglements in a small Maine fishing town one summer builds up to three moments of utter emotional brutality so severe that the long moments in between them thrum like high tension wires. A college boy (Nick Stahl; never liked him before, but he's great here) having a fling with a townie single mother (Marisa Tomei, back from the dead and in excellent form), the boy's parents (Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson, who carry the picture with a realistic melancholy gravitas), and the mistress's ex-husband (William Mapother, who is related to Tom Cruise, but a fine actor nonetheless; he recalls Eric Roberts in Star 80, the creepiest creep in movie history) form the locus of Todd Field's insidiously gripping adaptation of Andre Dubus' deeply moral short story. (SEAN NELSON) Uptown

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
This digital claymation for the under-10 set concerns a young man who likes to invent things like rocket-powered toothbrushes and what not, but whom everyone thinks is a dork. Until the aliens invade, that is. Then, come the wet-ass hour, he's everybody's fucking daddy. Well fuck you, world! FUCK YOU! Factoria, Grand Alderwood, Lewis & Clark, Metro, Northgate, Pacific Place 11, Woodinville 12

Joe Somebody
Instead of re-creating the minor success he had with director John Pasquin (The Santa Clause), Tim Allen has produced one of the most undercooked Everyman sketches I've ever seen. More benign than bad, the film follows the predictable journey of a freshly divorced office drone (Allen) who is casually bitch-slapped by his über-male colleague in the company parking lot. The public shame is also witnessed by his daughter (Hayden Panetiere, appearing way too winsome for a child of divorce), a context which spurns Joe to go on a loosely structured self-improvement bonanza, complete with martial arts training by the requisite comic sidekick (Jim Belushi) and romantic dalliance with his perky blond officemate (a thoroughly forgettable Julie Bowen). You'll find more creative vigor in the average infommercial. (HANNAH LEVIN) Factoria, Grand Alderwood, Metro, Oak Tree, Pacific Place 11, Woodinville 12

Kate and Leopold
America's Sweetheart Meg Ryan now resembles America's Plastic Surgery and Anorexia Disaster. The poor thing looks like some mad doctor grafted Melanie Griffith's big, weird, squishy mouth onto a piece of fried chicken and left it to dry on a windowsill for about two years. God, I hated this insulting piece of shit. It was like Crocodile Dundee crossed with Sleepless in Seattle, if your mind can wrap itself around that horror. (TAMARA PARIS) Aurora Cinema Grill, Grand Alderwood, Meridian 16, Metro, Woodinville 12

Life as a House
Kevin Kline has cancer, but he hasn't told his ex-wife (Kristin Scott Thomas), who's too busy letting herself be an emotional doormat, or his son (Hayden Christensen), who's too busy huffing Scotchguard to care. Rather than come clean, he decides to fix everything by making his dysfunctional son help him build his dream house. (SEAN NELSON) Crest, Majestic Bay

* Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Director Peter Jackson's adaptation of part one of Tolkien's tale of Hobbits, Wizards, Orcs, Elves, Black Riders, and Dwarves has finally made it to the screen with real live humans, including heavyweights like Ian McKellen (Gandalf!) and Christopher Lee (Saruman!), and middlewieght contenders like Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins) and Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn). The actors are all outstanding, and they have to be, because the film's real challenge (beyond making a credible Balrog; accomplished, btw) lies with its faithfulness to the subject of the book: It's an epic adventure about ambivalence. Right down to Frodo's face on the poster, Fellowship is all about rising above doubts (rather than stepping up to convictions), and all the special effects in the world can't convey that. Even though it's not perfect, this movie still kicks fucking ass. (SEAN NELSON) Cinerama, Factoria, Grand Alderwood, Lewis & Clark, Metro, Oak Tree, Pacific Place 11, Redmond Town Center, Woodinville 12

The Majestic
This movie was like watching a four-hour long Coke commercial or eating a pound of frosting roses or submitting to a high-fructose corn syrup enema... which is why I crept quietly out of the theater before I expired of glucose shock. It's too bad. Carrey could have been something special. But at least we still have Christopher Walken. (TAMARA PARIS) Aurora Cinema Grill, Majestic Bay, Meridian 16, Metro, Woodinville 12

* The Man Who Wasn't There
The new film by the Coen Brothers, shot in glorious black and white, recalls the low-budget, slow burning, postwar noir of directors like Edgar G. Ulmer, and features Billy Bob Thornton's uncannily Bogartlike performance (In a Lonely Place-era) as the eponymous Man. Thornton's Ed Crane is a drastically affectless man, a barber who chain-smokes his way through a sexless marriage to a bourgeois wannabe in a postwar California town. When he discovers his wife (Frances McDormand) is having an affair with her boss (James Gandolfini), Ed hatches a scheme and soon becomes embroiled in a complex imbroglio involving blackmail, murder, and dry cleaning. (SEAN NELSON) Varsity

Monsters, Inc.
Sully (John Goodman) is one of Monsters, Inc.'s top Scarers, meaning that he excels at getting kids to scream in fright--and bottled screams are the fuel upon which Monstropolis, his hometown, depends. Kids, however, are supposed to be highly contagious, so when Sully accidentally brings a little girl back to Monstropolis, he's got a lot of nervous running and hiding to do. The first two-thirds of this film are pleasant to watch, though the narcotizing currents of confused cultural allegory that run through modern Disney films course just as strongly through this one. But the final third of the movie is excellent and beautiful, arriving suddenly at one of those gorgeous imaginary landscapes that legitimately become a part of a child's dream fabric. (EVAN SULT) Majestic Bay, Meridian 16, Metro

* Mulholland Drive
Like all of Lynch's post-Wild at Heart work, Drive is more concerned with atmosphere and suggestion than linear meaning. But like all Lynch, period, it's beautifully constructed, bizarre, and funny. It's just impossible to say definitively whether this is good or not. (SEAN NELSON) Aurora Cinema Grill, Broadway Market, Metro

* No Man's Land
War is--guess what?--hell in this story of the Bosnia-Serbia conflict, circa 1993. Surrounded by UN "peacekeepers," clumsy media vultures, and their warring rival factions, two soldiers cross into the zone between the bullets and clash about the war's origins and costs. Spilling over with Eastern European absurdist humor (the kind where a bullet wound is a punchline), Land is sparing on the explosions but heavy on the existential observations. And though anti-war slogans will always be platitudes (you may as well argue against rain), it never hurts to be reminded of the insane reality that violence creates. (SEAN NELSON) Meridian 16

Not Another Teen Movie
A spoof is typically the unofficial signal that studios will stop churning out films of a particular genre, but Not Another Teen Movie may simply provide studio execs with more reasons to carry on with the likes of She's All That, Varsity Blues, and anything that requires Freddie Prinze Jr. to say something idiotic and remove his shirt. (HANNAH LEVIN) Grand Alderwood, Metro, Pacific Place 11, Woodinville 12

* Ocean's 11
Steven Soderbergh remakes the classic (though turgid) Rat Pack heist film. This time, instead of Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and Angie Dickinson, we get George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, and Julia Roberts. Ain't that a kick in the head? Factoria, Meridian 16, Metro, Oak Tree, Redmond Town Center, Woodinville 12

* Pornstar: The Legend of Ron Jeremy
The plump Jack Falstaff of celluloid fucking is the subject of this engaging documentary, which examines Jeremy's unique position in the humorless aggro landscape of modern porn, as well as his desire to make it as a "real" actor. Varsity

* The Royal Tenenbaums
The most important movie of the year has finally arrived. Wes Anderson's follow-up to the beloved Rushmore, the most important movie of that year, stars Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen Wilson, and Bill Murray (rocking a Professor Barnacle beard) as an extended family of neurotic geniuses whose bastard of a patriarch (Hackman) wants to bring closer together. Too bad they hate his guts. The film is hilariously funny, dryly tender, and impeccably designed. A worthy successor. (SEAN NELSON) Neptune, Uptown

The Shipping News
This movie takes place in the mediocre land of contemporary American fiction, a land where people have names like Tert and Wavey and Nutbeem and Petal and Skronk and no one bats an eyelash when they introduce themselves. It's also a land where houses magically contain the dark history of their inhabitants, and where every woman was either raped, beaten, or tricked into incest. Additionally, all the men in this land are either affectless near-retards, or delightfully quirky eccentrics. The film is full of shit on every level--every word it says is a lie. It should be avoided like fruitcake. PS: Whoever it was that told Kevin Spacey to stop playing charismatic bastards and to start playing cosmic naifs should be dipped in tar. (SEAN NELSON) Guild 45th, Meridian 16, Redmond Town Center

The Spy Game
Despite a number of crowd-pleasing moments--Redford is in charmingly smug mode, and Brad Pitt is served up just the way I like him: in chains, mullet-headed, his face beaten to a pulpy maw--Spy Game is a big nothing of a movie. Director Tony Scott's trademark visual inflections, such as the recurring TV freeze-frame that lets us know how much time Redford has left to secure Pitt's rescue, are like billboards announcing his lack of interest in the movie he's making. (SEAN NELSON) Aurora Cinema Grill, Meridian 16

Vanilla Sky
Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz star in Cameron Crowe's inferior remake of Alejandro Amenábar's nonetheless overrated Abre los Ojos. (SEAN NELSON) Factoria, Meridian 16, Oak Tree, Redmond Town Center, Varsity, Woodinville 12

* Waking Life
Richard Linklater's monologue-heavy, beautifully animated opus about the quest for lucid dreaming and active living is one of the coolest, most interesting movies you'll ever see. Or you might hate it and think it's talky and pretentious. If you liked Slacker, however--wait, not if you liked it... if you GOT Slacker--and have been waiting for Linklater to return to philosophical quandary mode, don't wait another second. Go see Waking Life. (SEAN NELSON) Broadway Market