Killer babies! The Grand Illusion kicks off their month long From the Cradle To the Grave series with David Cronenberg's 1979 work in the arena, the tale of evil psychologists, deformed children, and killer babies. Killer babies! Grand Illusion, Fri-Sat at 11 pm.
Dog Day Afternoon
"Attica! Attica!" Columbia City Cinema, Sat at 7:30 pm.
* Dogtown and Z-Boys
A testament to the resilience of youth in the face of urban entropy, Dogtown and Z-Boys tells the story of a group of unlikely heroes who brought skateboarding from its moribund state of flatland lameness, employing a low slung, powerful surf style that mimicked state-of-the-art waveriding. School playgrounds, hills, and empty pools became media for a new art that would ultimately send shockwaves to kids around the world. A documentary with cool, edgy editing and a rollicking soundtrack, the film traces these progenitors of modern youth culture, from the origins of "Dogtown" to the aftermath of an epiphany unwittingly granted upon youths the world over by a group of kids who just wanted to have fun. Narrated by Sean Penn. (KRIS ADAMS) Seattle Art Museum, Fri at 7:30 pm.
Fear and Favor In the News Room
See blow up. Independent Media Center, Sun at 7:30 pm.
Finnish Cinema Day
See blow up. University of Washington HUB Auditorium, Sat beginning at noon.
* In Fact
See blow up. The Seattle International Film Festival presents a traveling showcase of documentary features and shorts compiled from around the world for Oscar-qualifying consideration (last year's program featured Spellbound, among others).
A man travels to a remote location in order to commit suicide, but that's not what's important about the movie. What's important is everything that's going on around him outside the city environment, and what you, as a viewer, bring to the experience. The "story," such as it is, sounds like Abbas Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry, and though the title implies Asia the film is set in Mexico (the press kit says the title comes from the Japanese symbol of the rising sun). Like Kiarostami, director Carlos Reygadas refuses to over-explain the content of his film and make it easy on audiences, though Reygadas is a young and promising filmmaker without the mastery that Kiarostami has settled into. In Japón, the man (Alejandro Ferretis) makes his way to a picturesque canyon village where his family used to vacation. Shot in 16mm Cinemascope and blown up to 35mm, the frame is wide and allows for plenty of picturesque landscapes. In the first half, the man explores these landscapes with the spirit of a traveler who is eschewing tourist destinations for something more "real." In the small village where he ends up, he finds room and board with a woman named Ascen (Magdalena Flores). Traditionally, this would be the relationship that opens his eyes to life. In that respect, this is a traditional film, even though the woman is, like, 80 years old. Populated by non-professional actors, Reygadas does a nice job incorporating their mannerisms and movements. At one point, a group of workers get drunk and start complaining that "the people from the film" are being stingy with more booze. Because the camerawork has been so observant and even documentary-like up until then, the scene works and is hilarious. It's an example of how grounded a film that aims to be a meditation on life, death, and redemption can be. (ANDY SPLETZER) Grand Illusion, Fri at 6, 8:30 pm, Sat-Sun at 3:30, 6, 8:30 pm, Tues-Thurs at 6, 8:30 pm.
As part of this year's Earshot Jazz Film Festival, the Little Theatre presents a random assortment of Jazz performances culled from television performances of the 1960s, including a little Coltrane, a little Mingus, and a little more. Little Theatre, Tues at 8 pm.
Nina Simone, Love Sorceress
The incomparable legacy of Nina Simone's devastating voice explored in snapshot with the Seattle premiere of this rarely seen documentary of a 1976 Parisian performance. Little Theatre, Thurs-Fri at 7, 9 pm.
* OLYMPIA FILM FESTIVAL
See Stranger Suggests. Despite the number of film fests going on in town lately, this one is worth an hour's drive--not only for the movies they're showing, but for the sense of community that runs through Olywood like a plumb line. The locus is Olympia's fabulous Capitol Theater. See OlympiaFilmFestival.org for details.
Polish Film Festival
See blow up. Broadway Performance Hall. See www.polishfilms.org for specific information.
See blow up. Little Theatre, Wed at 7 pm.
* THE REAL OLD TESTAMENT
It seems a flimsy premise for a joke film--the Old Testament as a reality show--and it goes on just a bit too long, but for the most part The Real Old Testament is absolutely hilarious, mostly because of pitch-perfect improv on the part of the actors (at least one of whom) you'll recognize if you ever veg out to sitcom reruns). As it turns out, there's an unexpected common ground between people choosing to behave or not behave for a camera, and for God; here are people in a world full of pitfalls created by a slightly sadistic higher power for the entertainment of others. Unforgettable moments: Sarah complaining to Abraham about all the late-night visits from God ("He made time. . . can he tell it?"); Lot offering his daughters to his Sodomite neighbors (a petulant voice from offstage whines "Da-ad!"); any scene featuring the serpent--a puppet who prefers to be called "snake" and finds his true home in Hollywood during the reunion show (he's still bitter about having no legs, though). God, as played in platinum wig and beard by co-writer/director Curtis Hannum (the other writer/director is his brother Paul), is a top-notch improviser, as of course He should be. As he watches his newly made Adam and Eve frolic over hill and dale in Eden he says, with an affectionate laugh, "They're so stupid!" (EMILY HALL) Consolidated Works, Fri-Sun at 8 pm.
"I don't give a shit about barracudas. Fuck it. I'm building it anyway!" Egyptian, Fri-Sat at midnight.
SEATTLE HUMAN RIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL 2003
Not for the blissfully ignorant or the faint of heart. This series of political and often disturbing films runs the gamut of human rights issues, examining violence, hardship, and struggle all over the world while you plant your ass in a soft, plush theater seat. 911 Media Arts Center, Frye Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum, see www.911media.org for specific information.
* Space Is the Place
That a filmmaker took interest in Sun Ra is not astonishing. The out-there jazz icon, who claimed to hail from Saturn, was a natural for a documentary. Which is how Space Is The Place began life: As a proposed concert movie, shot for PBS in a planetarium. But Ra's foray into film took an odd turn, and wound up as a (loosely) narrative flick that combines elements of the Bible, the Black Power movement, and Egyptian mythology into a low-budget flick that director John Coley modeled on '50s sci-fi b-movies. In a nutshell: Sun Ra has been tooling around the galaxy in a music-powered spaceship. Having found a planet suitable to be colonized by the black race, he returns to Oakland, CA, circa platform shoes and blowout combs, to recruit disciples and battle The Overseer (Ray Johnson), a white-suited devil who keeps the brothers down via booze, drugs, and fleshy pleasures (a component Ra had excised from the original, 1974 release, concerned that it lacked sufficient "beauty"), and some totally square NASA G-men. Aided by a trio of extras from Fat Albert, Ra's ass is saved, and the mystic musician and his band lead a motley ensemble of converts to a new future. Even with 20 minutes of footage restored, Space Is The Place operates better taken as a series of episodes (the sequence where Ra opens an interstellar employment agency in a broom closet is especially delightful) rather than a beginning-middle-end story. What makes the final product, ragged as it is, engaging is Ra's quiet modesty--speak softly and wear a big-ass Egyptian headdress--and paternal charisma, plus some great musical performances, particularly by singer June Tyson. Despite continuity snags and production values that make Star Trek look deluxe, Space Is The Place remains the definitive sci-fi blaxploitation music flick... that is, until somebody gives Outkast a picture deal. (Kurt B. Reighley) Little Theatre, Sat-Sun at 7, 9 pm.
To Protect Mother Earth: Broken Treaty 2
Two Western Shoshone Indian sisters fight to stop the United States government from seizing their ancestral lands and conducting underground nuclear tests. Narrated by Robert "amber waves of grain" Redford. New Freeway Hall, Thurs at 7:30 pm.
* Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
"Schnozzberry? Who ever heard of a schnozzberry?" Columbia City Cinema, Sat at 2 pm.
"The answer is negative."
* American Splendor
As a comic-book movie, American Splendor is more like Crumb and Ghost World than like Spider Man or The Hulk. Along with a deadpan sense of humor, the focus is entirely on character and not at all on spectacle. There's also a tone found in underground comics that this movie perfectly captures. Smartly constructed and often surprising, American Splendor indulges in how artificial the filmmaking process is, and ends up with a heartfelt portrayal of a very real man. (ANDY SPLETZER)
Beyond Borders opens and closes in London, with jaunts to such cheery locales as Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Chechnya along the way. It stars the great Clive Owen and the rapidly deteriorating Angelina Jolie. It aims to be an important, life-affirming romance. It is, in a word, a disaster. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
The Disney movie you have to take your kids to between Pixar movies.
* Bubba Ho-Tep
Surprise number one is that this film, while being a complete piece of trash, is actually pretty great. Aside from its crackpot intelligence, fine acting, deadpan absurdity, and startling sweetness, however, Bubba Ho-Tepis exactly what you'd expect. (SEAN NELSON)
Cock and Bull Story
See review this issue. Varsity
Die Mommie Die!
Die Mommie Die! is packed with witty banter and drop-dead set pieces that simultaneously pay homage to and send up B movies, Douglas Sirk's melodramas, and '50s boilerplate women's pictures. And Charles Busch (Psycho Beach Party) is the perfect leading lady for it. (NATE LIPPENS)
See review this issue. Uptown
See review this issue. Factoria, Lewis & Clark, Meridian 16, Metro, Redmond Town Center, Woodinville 12
The Human Stain
Director Robert Benton spends most of the film relationship between a professor (Sir Anthony Hopkins, a Welshman playing a Jew who is actually an African American) and the last love of his life, a janitor played by a terribly thin Nicole Kidman. The janitor is attracted to the professor's prestige; the professor is attracted to the janitor's youth. They have hot sex and eventually fall in love, and it is the quality of this fall into love, its problems, its complexities, the scandal it generates, that the film revolves around. The conclusion of the affair is the substance of The Human Stain. Nevertheless, the film manages to be lyrical, and the love affair ends, as all love affairs end, tragically. (CHARLES MUDEDE)
In The Cut
Much ink has already been spilled over Jane Campion's In the Cut, specifically in regard to its star, Meg Ryan, whose performance critics and other scribblers have labeled a "departure." But unless by "departure" they mean "from her clothes," I find the hullabaloo a little perplexing. Yes, yes, "America's Sweetheart" engages in pseudo-explicit coitus with her co-star, Mark Ruffalo, but outside of all the slap 'n' tickle, Ryan's performance offers very little to surprise. Still, this doesn't mean that Ryan is bad in the film, for she's not--she's merely adequate, if a little bland, in a bad picture. And In the Cut is indeed a bad picture; surprisingly bad, really, given the pedigree involved. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
To malign Intolerable Cruelty as the worst Coen Brothers film to date is really only a testament to their decades of consistency--a legacy of quirk and pop vision that seems to only improve with age. (ZAC PENNINGTON)
* Kill Bill Vol. 1
The first half of Quentin Tarantino's opus has very little character development, only the thinnest of stories, and more severed limbs than you can count. It is brilliant. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
* Lost In Translation
Lost in Translation is a tiny movie, as light as helium and draped upon the thinnest of plots. There is very little conflict, and even fewer twists and turns. It is as close to a miracle as you're likely to get this year. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
See review this issue. Oak Tree, Pacific Place 11, Redmond Town Center
Luther is successful because it's not really about Martin Luther at all, but about the general mood of an important period in Western history. The way the film is edited, written, photographed, and directed captures, as if from a mountaintop, a wider, larger arena of events, so that what is seen is not an individual but a whole society under great transformation. Not the will of Luther but the will of the abused German masses fuels the motor of this movie's epic narrative. (CHARLES MUDEDE)
* Matchstick Men
Ridley Scott has never been known for a feather touch; when given the choice during his lengthy career between beauty of image and subtlety of character, image has almost always trounced. But surprisingly, subtlety is in abundance in his new picture Matchstick Men, and the result is his best film since Thelma & Louise. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
See review this issue. Factoria, Grand Alderwood, Majestic Bay, Meridian 16, Metro, Oak Tree, Woodinville 12
* Mystic River
For all the "inexorability" and "meditation" of its violence, Mystic River feels desperately contrived. Whether director Clint Eastwood has some deep understanding of the nature of violence remains unclear. What is certain is that he knows how to make a movie, even a dumb one, well worth watching. I only wish someone would send him some better books. (SEAN NELSON)
Once Upon a Time In Mexico
Forget about everything the El Mariachi "trilogy" has come to represent in the past, and see Once Upon a Time in Mexico for Johnny Depp. That is the only aspect of the film that doesn't sell the audience short. (KATHLEEN WILSON)
* Pieces Of April
Starring Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, and Oliver Platt, Pieces of April has a look and feel that I hesitate to label "documentary-like"--gritty due to its transfer of digital to celluloid, mainly handheld, there is a certain spontaneity in the film, almost an improvised feel, that is enhanced by the sharp cast. Clarkson is particularly good (or "scary good," as Hedges calls her), becoming the heart of the film that the rest of the group rotates around. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Combining the two most odious tools at Hollywood's disposal--celebrities portraying the mentally handicapped and Cuba Gooding Jr. --Radio is something like Rudy meets The Waterboy. With "heart." Oh, the heart.
It's the year 2084 and the human race isn't doing so well. We're fighting a losing battle against a militia of alien invaders who are systematically wiping us out. The trouble all began in October of 2002, when an alien landed on Earth. If we could have killed the alien right when it landed, we probably could have stopped the invasion before it began. Luckily for humankind, our future selves have a time machine. In the heat of battle, the only soldier able to make it into the time machine is a 15-year-old girl named Milly (Ann Suzuki), who is both cute as a button and lethal. Returner is a popcorn movie, plain and simple--where ultimately story takes a backseat to the kick-ass action, and the whole thing comes together to form an entertaining jumble. (ANDY SPLETZER)
Runaway Jury is completely solid and completely unsurprising--a John Grisham adaptation in the A Time to Kill vein, which is to say this: It is watchable Hollywood tripe. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
The Rock, the guy from Dude, Where's My Car? (no, the other one), Ewen Bremner and Christopher Walken--in a cast destined for greatness--come together to fight crime or some shit in the Amazon. Most assuredly trash, but have you see the Rock's eyebrows? Hypnotizing.
Scary Movie 3
Maybe the Scary Movie franchise is smarter than I thought. Maybe their consecutively devolving sequels thrust upon a deaf-earred public are in fact just an extenstion of the grander joke on horror franchises. Or maybe some damn fool won't quit funding this shit. Be warned: 4's already in the fucking can. No, seriously.
* School Of Rock
Like Kindergarten Cop, the concept behind Rock is one of those near-hokey ones where "kids teach us more than we teach them," and where, in the end, everybody wins in some way because everybody loosens up a bit. What makes this movie different, though is that it tackles the parts of rock culture where people take themselves way too seriously, a subject that could use a little unwinding of its panties. (JENNIFER MAERZ)
Maybe I'm too cynical for Triumphant Lessons like this, but I like a little more grit under the nails of my Hollywood movies, and the manicured emotions in Seabiscuit are a bit too Hallmark for me, even if they are based on a true story. (JENNIFER MAERZ)
* The Station Agent
Peter Dinklage plays Finbar McBride, a train aficionado who inherits an abandoned depot. The remote location suits him fine because he's not the most social of people. That doesn't stop the nearby Cuban hot dog vendor Joe (Bobby Cannavale) from talking to him, nor does it stop the woman who almost runs him over (Patricia Clarkson) from stopping by for an apologetic drink or several. They befriend him despite his better efforts to brush them off. Dinklage is positively magnetic here: what director Tom McCarthy has captured in his debut feature is a sense of happy loneliness--those times when it feels right to go for a walk and just look around and not talk to anyone. (ANDY SPLETZER)
The problem with this story is that Plath's poetry is still more interesting than her life, no matter how cinematically you portray it, no matter how attractive the actors, a problem unfortunately accentuated by the addition of a sexy last-minute reunion between Plath and Hughes that will drive purist scholars straight into their cups. Gwyneth Paltrow's Plath is not heresy, but her draggy delivery is exhausting to watch, and she emotes even in her most contained mad-lady-poet scenes. In any case, such a movie should make you run, not walk, to a bookstore, and Sylvia does not. It tells a self-contained story that has nothing to do with poetry. Sylvia Plath should not be known far and wide as the poet whose husband cheated on her; so you see that there is more than one way to kill a writer. (EMILY HALL)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Michael Bay and Marcus Nispel rape a classic, and they should be punished accordingly. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Once again Romeo & Juliet is dusted off and given a refurbishing. The result: a boring, uninspired hack work. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)