The African Film Festival
A touring festival originating in New York. Ethnic Cultural Center, The Golden Ball (a feature about a soccer star from the Guinean bush) and African Middleweights (a short about a Congolese boxer), Fri Feb 24 at 7 pm and Sat Feb 25 at 3 pm; The Colonial Misunderstanding (a doc about the history of German colonialism in Africa) and Something Else (a Nigerian short about a man humbled by debt), Sat at 7 pm and Sun Feb 26 at 3 pm. Continues through March 5. See http://depts.washington.edu/ecct/aff for more information.
The Awful Truth
The shadow of Groucho's stogie looms large: Despite being at the helm of some of the finest works of both Laurel and Hardy and The Marx Brothers (including Duck Soup), Leo McCarey has accrued somewhat of a sub-Zeppo reputation over the years as a director whose greatest virtue may have been being wise enough to know when to turn on the cameras and let the boys do their thing. His later excursions into the saccharine cinema of Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary would seem to illustrate a journeyman talent whose fortunes rose and fell with the strength of his surroundings.
Balderdash, as any handful of random frames from 1937's hallucinatorily entertaining The Awful Truth should attest. From the first flurry of overlapping misunderstandings to the exquisite slowburn fadeout, this is a sterling exhibit of the glories of the Golden Age. One of the earliest examples of comedius screwballus, McCarey's occasionally pokey contraption, it must be said, doesn't match the belt-fed rat-a-tat-tat verbal pacing of, say, Howard Hawks's His Girl Friday, or the romantic delirium verging on outright lunacy of the genre's towering fountainhead Bringing Up Baby. All it has is wit, charm, and timing that would shame an atomic clock. Oh, and Cary Grant.Adapted from an oft-filmed stage play, the set-up finds Grant and wife Irene Dunn merrily counting down the days to divorce. Romantic competition soon arrives, in the form of peerless boob Ralph Bellamy, and the duo catch themselves scheming to have the annulment annulled. You already know how it's all going to end, of course, but it would take a grump indeed to deny the fizzy hum generated by the still-sharp dialogue, copious pratfalls, and (in what amounts to a particular revelation in the days of Will Ferrell and co.) a cast who appear to be enjoying themselves mightily. (ANDREW WRIGHT) Grand Illusion, Weekdays 7, 9 pm, Sat-Sun 3, 5, 7, 9 pm.
Before the Fall
The first thing to know about Before the Fall, a German movie about the elite schools the Nazis devised to train the next generation of Third Reich regional governors, is that the Miltonic defiance of its English title is unintended. The German title is simply Napola, after the acronym for the schools. Friedrich (Max Reimelt) is a sturdy recruit with skills in the boxing ring and Nordic Class 1-B facial features (or so say the crack physiognomists who administer his entrance exam). After forging his disapproving father's signature, Friedrich hitches a ride to the school and makes the acquaintance of a number of well-connected Nazi offspring, including a bright and effete child named Albrecht (Tom Schilling). As the boys are buffed and humiliated and miseducated into pint-sized S.S. officers, the film hits an absorbing, if predictable, crescendo. The moral recuperation of the main characters, however, is dismaying. Suicide by drowning is not elegant, but writer-director Dennis Gansel's desire for a saintly martyr checks the realist imperative. More egregious still are the repeated slow-motion boxing sequences. No good has ever come of heroic slow-motion boxing. (ANNIE WAGNER) Varsity, Fri-Sun 2, 4:30, 7:20, 9:40 pm, Mon-Thurs 7:20, 9:40 pm.
The final Matthew Barney fantasia, starring New York City and various Masonic symbols. Egyptian, Fri-Sat midnight.
See Stranger Suggests, p. 23. Northwest Film Forum, Daily 7, 9 pm.
Dinner at Eight
A 1933 Geoge Cukor film starring A-list performers from Jean Harlow to John Barrymore. Movie Legends, Sun Feb 26 at 1 pm.
A 1962 Joseph Losey film starring Jeanne Moreau and the canals of Venice. Central Cinema, Thurs-Fri 7, 9:30 pm, Sat-Sun 4:30, 7, 9:30 pm.
Flashforward Film Festival
A festival of Flash animation. Information and tickets available at www.flashforwardconference.com. Washington State Convention Center, Wed March 1 at 8 pm.
The last film in Northwest Film Forum's Mikio Naruse series, Floating Clouds is a 1955 film about long-separated lovers, set in the ruins of postwar Tokyo. Northwest Film Forum, Fri 6:30, 9 pm, Sat-Sun 4, 6:30, 9 pm.
All you need to know about this excellently bad Hong Kong sci-fi move (vintage 1975) is that the chief villain is Princess Dragon Mom, and that the Infra-Man's costume is visibly made from tinfoil and red paint. Ten minutes into the film, the atomic scientist charged with saving the world says, "Things have become so bad that they have never been worse." (JAMIE HOOK) Grand Illusion, Fri-Sat 11 pm.
A 1946 film by Hitchock about spies and kissing and Nazis. Museum of History and Industry, Thurs Feb 23 at 7:30 pm.
Post Alley Film Festival
A short film festival organized by Women in Film, Seattle. Get there early for Milton Is a Shitbag, a funny movie about a cat who hates you, and Circus of Infinity, a short by local filmmaker Sue Corcoran (both in the 1:15 pm slot). Tickets available at brownpapertickets.com. Market Theater, Sat Feb 25, doors open at 12:30 pm, films screen from 1-5:30 pm, with filmmaker Q&As to follow.
Price of Letter
A Bhutanese documentary about a postal runner named Ugen Tenzin whose job it is to transport mail on foot from a mountain village where most residents are involved in raising yaks to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Central Cinema, Sun Feb 26 at 3 pm.
Sound of the Mountain
The penultimate film in Northwest Film Forum's Mikio Naruse series, Sound of the Mountain is about a drunken husband so absorbed in alcoholic binges that he's oblivious to his wife's unhappiness. Northwest Film Forum, Thurs Feb 23 at 7 pm.
A 1950 film by Alfred Hitchcock about murder in the London theater scene. Starring Jane Wyman, Richard Todd, and Marlene Dietrich. Museum of History and Industry, Thurs March 2 at 7:30 pm.
Taking the Heat: The First Women Firefighters of New York City
A documentary about the history of women firefighters, free with RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Northwest Film Forum, Sat Feb 25 at 4 pm.
Of all the wars in the past century, the Gulf War is the ripest for comedy. From the American standpoint, from our sofas and La-Z-Boys, the battle for Kuwait seemed more like a scrimmage—a Harlem Globetrotters game, with Iraq stuck being the Washington Generals. David O. Russell's Three Kings taps into that viewpoint, then turns it on its ear. The story goes like this: At the end of the war, four U.S. soldiers (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze) find a map leading to a bunker where gold stolen from Kuwait is being stashed, and must decide whether to help the natives who were encouraged by President Bush to rise up against Saddam and are now being slaughtered, or just steal the gold. It tries to be both a comedy and a drama, as well as an action movie, and Three Kings actually pulls it off, despite the occasional misstep. You laugh while you're in the theater, curse the U.S. as you leave, then relax in your La-Z-Boy once you get home. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER) High Point Brach, Seattle Public Library, Sat Feb 25 at 2:30 pm.
Troop 1500: Girl Scouts Beyond Bars
A documentary (to be screened later in March on PBS's Independent Lens) about a group of Austin girls who participate in a Girl Scout troop designed specifically for kids whose mothers are in prison. Director Ellen Spiro and troop leader Julia Cuba will be in attendance. 911 Media Arts, Fri Feb 24 at 9 pm.
2005 Academy Award-Nominated Short Films
Two programs of the year's best (or at least "Academy Award-nominated") shorts—one for live action, the other for animation.
Brokeback Mountain achieves an elegant hybrid between the "masculine" genre of the Western and the "feminine" genre of melodrama. (ANNIE WAGNER)
The Austrian director Michael Haneke, best known for the shock-masochism of his 2001 film, The Piano Teacher, now gives audiences the far subtler and more politically engaged Caché (which won him the Best Director prize at Cannes). Unnerving surveillance videotapes keep showing up at the home of a Paris couple and the road leading back to the culprit is cluttered with bloody chicken heads, imperialist xenophobia, and red herrings—if you've heard that the final scene solves the mystery, you've been misinformed. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Despite its limited scope—it addresses only the years that Truman Capote was writing his groundbreaking In Cold Blood, about a Kansas robbery turned quadruple murder—you want to call the film, after the fashion of ambitious biographies, "A Life." (ANNIE WAGNER)
The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is decent entertainment—epic and scary and icily pretty. If only it were safe enough to send your freethinking children to. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Curious George is a movie for babies. It's not a kid's movie, it's a fuckin' preschoolers' movie. Anyone over the age of six is going to be extremely bored with the film's insufferable innocence. There's not one joke. NOT ONE. David Cross does the voice of the highly annoying and unloved son, and he's not even funny! There's just George, admittedly adorable, and a fucking neurotic freak running around dressed like a banana. I LOVED Curious George as a kid, and I still do. But I hate, hate, HATE this movie. (MEGAN SELING)
The problem with Date Movie, besides the fact it's really not that funny at all, is that its writers are completely confused as to their target. Are they taking aim at corny romantic comedies (When Harry Met Sally)? Or maybe those over-hyped blockbusters that exist as a backdrop for awkward teen make-out sessions (King Kong)? There's a difference between a date movie and a romantic comedy, you know, and in their uncertainly about where to fire, the writers just decide to take potshots at a whole slew of flicks. The outcome is a confused and forced plot littered with jokes that aren't all that well thought out. I mean, they even have an ode to the MTV show Pimp My Ride. Where the hell does that come from!? (MEGAN SELING)
A family-friendly animation adventure featuring a booby-trapped temple guarded by ninja skeleton warriors and the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Stewart, and Jimmy Fallon.
The great thing about an action movie set in Antarctica is that very little happens there, and it's pointless to try to pretend otherwise. The residents of the National Science Foundation research station deal hands of solitaire, collect rocks, play chess, and sleep. Then there's a storm and everyone has to evacuate. Head musher Gerry must leave his beloved huskies behind. The rest of the film is a slow, weirdly enjoyable story of the dogs' feral existence, interspersed with Gerry's tormented efforts to hitch a ride back and save them. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Final Destination 3
So these kids are supposed to die, right? But they don't because some little girl has a spooky premonition, so Death comes after them... with a vengeance. (MEGAN SELING)
Harrison Ford's umpteenth entry into the white-collar family-values action film, smushes together two of the traditionally more wit-intensive suspense genres—the heist picture and home invasion thriller—to shockingly little effect. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Richard Price writes Books—big, chewy New Jersey melodramas that combine meticulous plotting with realistically frazzled, just-this-side-of-haywire characterizations—but this adaptation of his 1998 novel is disappointing. It would take a firm directorial hand to keep pace with Price's griddle-quick plot. Such head-down bullishness, however, seems beyond the grasp of Joe (Christmas with the Kranks) Roth, who proceeds to make a well-intentioned botch of things, mucking up would-be intense dialogue with showy camera tricks and drenching a crucial third-act riot in syrupy slo-mo. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Greece: Secrets of the Past
Ah, Greece! Your quaint peasants doing old folk dances on picturesque cliffs overlooking the ocean! Your attractive volcanologists riding motorcycles along picturesque cliffs overlooking the ocean! Your enviable archaeologists sipping red wine on a whitewashed terrace on a picturesque cliff overlooking... the ocean! If life in Greece is anything like life in Greece, you should quit your job, abandon your kids, and head east. To whit: This IMAX film about Greek archaeology and history is intellectually anemic but beautiful to watch—from the azure seas to the volcanic eruptions to the reconstructed painting of an ancient flotilla to the villages perched on those picturesque cliffs. And it does pose one interesting question: If the ancient village on the island of Santorini was destroyed by a sudden volcanic disaster greater than Pompeii, where are all the corpses? (BRENDAN KILEY)
Woody Allen's Match Point is a light and brutal thriller about the opposing forces of contempt and desire. Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a former tennis pro with scheming Irish eyes and a permanent frown. While coaching at a tony London country club, he meets a rich young man named Tom (Matthew Goode), who bizarrely appears to be coming on to him. The drinks and box seats at the opera are not in fact invitations to bed, but invitations into the family. In no time at all Chris is engaged to Tom's perky and annoying but equally rich sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer), and another sort of love triangle has developed. Marriages are consummated, vows are broken, women are discovered to be fertile or infertile in inverse proportion to their social class, and the social order is upended. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Mrs. Henderson Presents
Judi Dench is Mrs. Henderson, a cantankerous aristocrat who, after being rudely and abruptly widowed in 1937, can think of no feminine occupation worth her generous allotment of salt. She hires a producer with the spectacular name of Vivian Van Damm (a sturdy Bob Hoskins), buys a theater with the less spectacular name of the Windmill, and launches a nonstop cabaret show called "Revuedeville." The whisper-thin premise on which this film is based is Mrs. Henderson's alternate business plan—an entrée into the world of striptease. Only there's no strip to the tease. To get around the censor (a jaundiced Christopher Guest), Van Damm has the nubile young ladies pose still as statues, their picturesque props locking them securely into the land of kitsch. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Neil Young: Heart of Gold
Heart of Gold documents a 2005 performance at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium that took place in the wake of Neil Young's recovery from a nearly fatal brain aneurysm. Joined by a gospel choir, an intermittent string section, vocal contributions from his wife of 20 years, and the angelic Emmylou Harris, Young works his way through Prairie Wind, the understandably downbeat record he made shortly after his diagnosis. The material makes for a sleepy first half as Young ponders mortality, dreams best discarded, and the accumulation of inerasable memories. Blessedly, this inertia evaporates almost instantaneously when Young pulls out the back catalog and unfurls songs like "I Am a Child" and the titular "Heart of Gold." (HANNAH LEVIN)
The New World
Q'orianka Kilcher, a 14-year-old beauty who looks far older than—though exactly as naive as—her age would suggest, plays Pocahontas as a child attracted to John Smith (Colin Farrell) through a chaste but insatiable curiosity. Farrell is more opaque. It's hard to tell whether he's transfixed by this persistent girl or merely bewildered. And when he freaks out and leaves Jamestown, your sympathy for Pocahontas feels more like pity for an abandoned child than identification with an adult woman. (ANNIE WAGNER)
See www.thestranger.com for review.
The Pink Panther
The Pink Panther isn't awful, exactly, but it's so overwhelmingly blah that there's almost nothing to say. (LINDY WEST)
Pride & Prejudice
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy aren't so much in love as they are erotically enthralled. Their famous clash of wits isn't the cause of their affection; it's sublimation at its most sublime. In other words, forget stuffy: This Pride & Prejudice is totally hot. (ANNIE WAGNER)
See www.thestranger.com for review.
The Second Chance
I can't really make fun of this movie, because I was never meant to see it. This is a by-Christians-for-Christians kind of thing, and judging by the small but ecstatic audience (They sang along with the hymns! Out loud!), The Second Chance already has its target market peeing their lordly pants. It's the tale of Ethan Jenkins (Michael W. Smith, Christian rock star and terrible, terrible actor), assistant pastor at mega-rich mega-white megachurch The Rock, who heads to the inner city and learns about Christly love, black people, and why you shouldn't throw wads of cash at junkies. For a Christian parable, The Second Chance demonstrates an impressive level of self-awareness. And there's something refreshing about a preachy movie that lets you know what it's doing up front—no offensively obvious symbolism, no moral sleight of hand, just a great big prostitute-redeeming, homeless-feeding, foot-washing Jesus party. The Second Chance is going to totally rock at your next youth group sleepover, because—"MOM! Narnia is for babies!!" (LINDY WEST)
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a masterpiece, flat out. An award winner at Cannes, director Tommy Lee Jones's ferociously entertaining deconstruction of the West begins deep in Peckinpah territory, but soon forges its own unique, queerly beautiful path. Keeping in tone with the visible decomposition of the title character, Jones and his exceptional supporting cast give things a shockingly earthy vibe—characters belch, slouch, and matter-of-factly let their stretch marks and man boobs hang free. Taken together, these elements would likely be recommendation enough. What launches the movie to a realm above, however, is the revelatory final scene, which posits that even the most damaged people can achieve a moment of... grace? Something, at any rate, that leaves me admiringly tongue-tied. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Felicity Huffman clearly aced her homework, and her exceptional performance as a transsexual woman is the reason to see Transamerica. Huffman deftly shows us the stress that results from constantly working to conceal the past. (KALEY DAVIS)
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
This movie, like Laurence Sterne's book, is hilarious. The book is about a man named Tristram Shandy who's trying to write a book about his life, although not exactly, because the book you read is the book he's writing. That is, when he's not doodling. The book is, as actor Steve Coogan explains in the movie, "a postmodern classic written before there was any modern to be post about." The rhythm is slick: "I am getting ahead of myself, I am not yet born," Coogan suddenly says, then there is a slight pause, then the camera slides somewhere else in time. (CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE)
Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion
Tyler Perry's creations—full of monstrous characters, plus-sized plots, and operatic gospel climaxes—are a genre unto themselves. Perry started out on the so-called "chitlin'" theater circuit, and his gun-toting grandma character, Madea, is a pure creature of the stage. Part drag queen, part sketch comic, and all Southern black rage, Madea has to be seen to be believed. This episode wasn't screened for the press—too many critics are ignorant white people, and all the reviews of Perry's last one (Diary of a Mad Black Woman) were just this side of hostile. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Walk the Line
Joaquin Phoenix is a damn fine Man in Black. The interplay between Cash and June Carter is fiery, and watching their tenderness grow through time and tribulation makes for a powerful story, even if its main subject feels larger than any one film could ever encapsulate. (JENNIFER MAERZ)
What the BLEEP?! Down the Rabbit Hole
Following the same basic strategy of those Lyndon LaRouche pamphlets distributed by glassy-eyed college dropouts on Broadway and the Ave, BLEEP (which made $11 million on its initial release) plants recognizable academic jargon into intentionally convoluted and hard-to-follow arguments, then takes a left turn into lunacy. The filmmakers put a bunch of anonymous talking heads on a screen and bide their time as the supposed experts hit up fancy concepts like "grand unified field theory" (ooh) and "neuropeptides" (aah). You may not have a clue what they're talking about, but gee do they sound smart. The next thing you know, you're nodding sagaciously as the "experts" explain how your cells are addicted to negative emotions and that if you really wanted to, you could change the pH of a little white box with your mind. The filmmakers are all affiliated with the New Age sect Ramtha's School of Enlightenment, or RSE, in Yelm. (ANNIE WAGNER)
When a Stranger Calls
I'm sure, for most of us, the title When a Stranger Calls rings some childhood bells. Nubile babysitter alone in secluded house. Stranger calls; is creepy. Police trace calls to upstairs bedroom. Yikes! And... scene. It's one of our most popular and plausible urban legends (pimple filled with spider babies? Come on)—but how could anyone possibly turn these 17 words into a full-length movie? (LINDY WEST)
Why We Fight
This agitdoc, from The Trials of Henry Kissinger director Eugene Jarecki, tries to tread the thin line between dry but thorough Frontline documentaries and Michael Moore's gotcha journalism. Both styles of filmmaking are persuasive in their own right, but transferring techniques from one to the other makes the argument start to feel patched together and limp. (ANNIE WAGNER)
The World's Fastest Indian
For a film about a speed freak, it has a pleasantly loose, rambling quality. (ANDREW WRIGHT)