"Gimme some sugar, baby." Egyptian, Fri-Sat midnight.
See Stranger Suggests,. Bande à Part is much beloved by those who know it, mainly because of its air of frivolity and invention—early Godard's most oft-overlooked attribute. Plus, Anna Karina in black-and-white is one of the reasons God invented eyes. (SEAN NELSON) Northwest Film Forum, Sat noon, 4 pm, Sun noon, 4, 7 pm, Mon 7 pm.
Ah, Peter Greenaway. How crazy are your kitchens! This lusty, anti-Thatcherite, Helen Mirren-starring scoop of weirdness is being served with dinner. Pink Door, Sun March 19 at 7 pm.
Remember back in the '80s, when defeating Evil Nuclear Power and the Evil Governments that Sponsor It was the lefty cause du jour? Me neither, which is I imagine why the Grand Illusion is resurrecting Dark Circle, a 1983 documentary about nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and how it gives people, cows, and chickens all manner of nasty diseases. (It was produced and directed by Judy Irving—of the recent minor hit The Parrots of Telegraph Hill—Chris Beaver, and Ruth Landy and won the Grand Prize at Sundance in 1983.) The film, with its unrelenting dourness and 16mm graininess, flirts with self-parody. But just as you're nearly lost to a fit of the giggles, Dark Circle gives you a sobering slap, whether it's footage inside nuclear plants (that monumental, fascist architecture!) or images of Nagasaki victims on the operating table or the story of the Navy boys who were intentionally flown through mushroom clouds. And now, as Mexico, Iran, Russia, Pakistan, the White House, and other sovereign nations push to expand nuclear power, it's worth remembering what the nuns, environmentalists, and Mothers for Peace were all worked up about. (BRENDAN KILEY) Grand Illusion, Weekdays 7, 9 pm, Sat-Sun 3, 5, 7, 9 pm.
This fantastic movie about a South African farm boy and his cheetah is supposed to be for kids, but 12-year-old Xan has to face down serious human grief as well as mortal danger. When his cheetah can't learn to act like a house kitty, kid and cat embark on a journey through salt pans and jungles and across a crocodile-infested river. The anti-machismo message is incredibly refreshing: "Be smart. Be afraid." (ANNIE WAGNER) Northwest Film Forum, Sat-Sun 2 pm.
Godard's return to film after messing about with video for a decade, Sauve qui peut stars Isabelle Huppert as a prostitute and Jacques Dutronc as a television producer. Northwest Film Forum, Wed March 22 at 7, 9 pm.
Robert Horton's film lecture series continues with an analysis of the architecture and landscapes of Alain Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad, which will be screened on DVD. Frye Art Museum, Sun March 19 at 2 pm.
See review this issue. Northwest Film Forum, Part One, Fri at 7pm, Part Two, Sat at 7 pm.
Shot in glorious black and white, Love feels like a random series of meditations on the natures of art, emotion, language, Hollywood, and, of course, France. It's appropriate that no story is apparent here, because the film spends so much time pondering the very idea of Story, which, in French, is the same word as history, which offers classic Godardian inversions—double entendres that are also double negations. (SEAN NELSON) Northwest Film Forum, Tues March 21 at 7, 9 pm.
Two films starring the misanthropic W.C. Fields: the first a series of comic sketches about a dream of California, the second a slightly longer movie about a guy named Egbert Sousé. Movie Legends, Sun March 19 at 1 pm.
A raunchy teen comedy from the '80s about kids trying to prevent their precious video arcade from being shut down. Grand Illusion, Fri-Sat at 11 pm.
"Here at our multibillion dollar refinery in Fairbanks, we're extracting 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil each day from teenagers' faces." Sunset Tavern, Wed March 22 at 7 pm.
A live film utilizing 11 field recordings and over 1,000 slides. See Visual Art review. Rendezvous, Sun March 19 at 8 pm.
A film partially narrated by a whimsical character known as Mother Earth. Central Cinema, Thurs-Fri 7, 9 pm.
See review this issue. Northwest Film Forum, Daily 7, 9 pm.
An anticorporate newsreel produced by a local activist collective. Central Cinema, Sun March 19 at 6:30, 9 pm.
A 1979 film about a Cuban wife and mother who struggles with the multiple demands on her time and loyalties. Central Cinema, Wed March 22 at 6:30, 9:30 pm. Late show 21+.
The festival wraps up with some solid narrative films. Set in 1981, Campfire (Joseph Cedar, Time of Favor) is about a family—a widow and her two daughters—who are applying to join a settlement in the West Bank. (It screened at SIFF last year.) The film has drawn criticism in Israel for portraying early settlers as cliquish busybodies who were looking for bigger yards, not Zionist laurels. But Cedar's relentlessly personal focus keeps the national politics at a distance. What you'll really remember is the unnecessary scene in which a sexually curious teenage girl is groped by some punks at a bonfire. The less ambitious Joy, about a mall employee whose lonely life can be traced back to her father's philandering, is Sundance-y but enjoyable. And I was amused by the water-drop sound effect that (unintentionally, I assume) made everything sound as though it were taking place in a cave. Then there's Go for Zucker, a German comedy that plays with Jewish stereotypes. (That makes it sound more dangerous than it is.) 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) Films screen at the Museum of History and Industry. Thurs March 16: Ushpizin, 6:30 pm; Checking Out, 8:50 pm. Sat March 18: Campfire, 7 pm ; Joy w/ My Fair Dad, 9:10 pm. Sun March 19: Rashevski's Tango, 11 am; Short films w/ Becoming Rachel, 1 pm; Short films w/ Awake Zion, 3 pm; Schwartz Dynasty, 5:15 pm; Go for Zucker!, 7:45 pm. See www.brownpapertickets.com for complete schedule and details.
Heroism comes a dime a dozen in the movies, but there aren't many other terms to describe adequately the actions of this Oscar-nominated drama's title character, a 21-year-old student arrested along with her brother while distributing anti-Nazi propaganda at Munich University in 1943. Compiling information from witnesses and previously unpublished court testimony, the narrative painstakingly details her arrest, imprisonment, and defiant entry into legend. (The title may be a spoiler, but the way that her sentence is ultimately carried out delivers a serious jolt, no matter the preparation.) While occasionally pokey (as strong as Julia Jentsch is in the lead performance, director Marc Rothemund relies a little too much on her body language, turning the second half into a series of beatific silent sufferings), there are enough terrific, terrifically felt moments—particularly a centerpiece interrogation that turns into a marvel of intellectual gamesmanship—that more than compensate. An absolute bummer, to be sure, but a beautiful one. (ANDREW WRIGHT) Varsity, Fri-Sun 1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:35 pm, Mon-Thurs 7, 9:35 pm.
This boring but well-intentioned hagiography concerns the poet and Native American activist John Trudell, who has dedicated his life to being a forceful, eloquent spokesman for "the indigenous people of the western hemisphere." Testimonials from celebrities like Robert Redford and Jackson Browne do little to counteract the white-man's-burdensome vibe of piety in the film. Trudell is an interesting subject with lot of really important stuff to say. The film about him is cloying. (SEAN NELSON) Northwest Film Forum, Sat March 18 at 4 pm. Free with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SAM's Hitchcock series concludes with a final screening at MOHAI: a brilliant movie about fear of heights and obsessive love. Museum of History and Industry, Thurs March 23 at 7:30 pm.
The single greatest surrealist rant against consumption ever filmed. (SEAN NELSON) Northwest Film Forum, Sat 2 pm, Sun 2, 9 pm, Mon 9 pm.
16 Blocks, Richard Donner's first film in three years, is an initially spiffy exercise in gritty neo-noir finally torpedoed by the director's lingering vanilla sensibilities and an intensely annoying central performance by Mos Def. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Yes, Aquamarine is a movie about teenage mermaids with blue highlights who fall in love with salty, tan, human lifeguards. But it's also, surprisingly, not that terrible. (LINDY WEST)
The first half is a gorgeous love story in which words are kept to a minimum and the arid, exhilarating images of high-altitude scenery and exalted flirtation leave you as breathless as the heroes. When the famous pup-tent consummation (faintly damned as "tasteful") finally occurs, their hunger for each other's bodies is fierce and convincing. In the film's devastating second half, the cowboys come down from the mountain, marry women, and inflict the violence of their disinterest on their families. Brokeback Mountain achieves an elegant hybrid between the "masculine" genre of the Western and the "feminine" genre of melodrama. The tragedy is layered: the punishment the cowboys experience at the hands of others, the hatred they unleash upon themselves, and the uncomfortable sex they have with their wives. But the gay sex is totally hot. (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." Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Truman Capote, and his is an enveloping performance, in which every flighty affectation seems an invention of the man rather than the impersonator. His pursed lips and bons mots and the ravishing twirls of his overcoat become more and more infrequent until all that's left is alcohol and a horrible will to power. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Casanova treats 18th-century Venice as a place where spit-takes graced every meal, mandatory pie-fights broke out on the hour, and even the filthiest urchin possessed bullwhip comedic timing. In its sheer desire to entertain, the film takes whimsy to levels normally outlawed by the Geneva Convention. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Not funny enough for kids, or anything enough for grown-ups, this movie is forlornly pointless—but fans of Eugene Levy's leg hair won't leave disappointed. (LINDY WEST)
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)
Crash certainly doesn't want for hubris, but ultimately stands as a case of laudable ambition overwhelming still-developing narrative abilities. Although this would-be epic of race relations in Los Angeles sports a handful of genuinely searing moments, it's hard to shake the sense of someone constantly rearranging three-by-five cards behind the scenes for maximum impact. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
I LOVED Curious George as a kid, and I still do. But I hate, hate, HATE this movie. (MEGAN SELING)
As his fearless and now defunct Comedy Central series repeatedly illustrated, Chappelle suffers no fools and fears no censors, but he also stages no embargos against goofball riffs or straightforward lampoons. (HANNAH LEVIN)
"You have the power levels of a Boy Scout troop!"
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. The dogs hunt some birds. The dogs settle in for the night. A dog dies. The dogs scavenge some orca blubber and have a nasty run-in with an animatronic leopard seal. Ice shards sparkle, and the sky is wide, and it's impossible not to get caught up in the camaraderie of the pack. It's Survivor, doggie-style. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Did you hear? Total nonsense is the new not total nonsense. Case in point: Failure to Launch. Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) is a babe who sells boats, fears commitment, and lives with his parents. Tripp is 35 years old. Instead of, I don't know, asking nicely, the 'rents hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker, looking more and more like Kathy Griffin every day) to date their son and convince him to move out. A few quibbles: Granted, there are 35-year-old men who live at home, but they're usually less McConaughey and more BTK, if you know what I mean. And does Paula make a living in the full-time coaxing-manboys-out-of-the-nest business? And what is it, exactly, about dating Paula that makes this happen? Don't expect answers from Failure to Launch—just oodles more nonsense. (LINDY WEST)
In its attempt to be all things to all viewers, the holiday-themed smorgasbord The Family Stone hits every conceivable chord, no matter how much of a stretch. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
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)
The fourth Harry Potter: In which Harry takes off his shirt, learns the value of altruism, and discovers that Lord Voldemort has no nose. (ANNIE WAGNER)
This reimagining of Wes Craven's 1977 desert-mutants-vs.-dumbass-tourists saga certainly amps up the unpleasantness, but that coveted nightmare vibe remains elusive. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
When it comes to animation gods, there's Hayao Miyazaki, and then there's everybody else. Although reportedly considering retirement after completing the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, Miyazaki was apparently intrigued enough by the prospect of adapting a novel by children's author Diana Wynne Jones to return to the drawing board. Now that the collaboration has finally made its way to the States, the results show that the material might actually have been too perfect a match for the director's patented sensibilities. For the first time, the Master's wondrous imagination feels slightly... familiar. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
As genuinely touching as the final New York scenes are, the true heart of the film lies in the insanely sustained second act, in which Kong, his gal, and her supposed rescuers come into contact with an army of dinosaurs, angry villagers, and seemingly every creepy thing ever to walk the earth. Throughout, Peter Jackson manages to simultaneously convey the sense of a filmmaker at the absolute top of his technical game, and a kid deliriously hopped up on Poprocks, going nuts with his favorite action figures. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Almost ridiculously dour, this oft-delayed account of one of the 17th century's most notorious party animals trips the pretension alarm from frame one. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
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. Palfrey is a not-very-good movie about old ladies: cute ones, nice ones, grumpy ones, dead ones. Joan Plowright (thoroughly charming) is Mrs. Palfrey, an upper-crusty English widow who moves into London's Claremont Hotel, a retirement home for elderly oddballs. She's just settling into her new lonely independence when she takes a tumble—kismet!—outside the apartment of 26-year-old Ludovic Meyer (Rupert Friend), who just happens to be a writer ("I am a writer") in search of muse and bosom buddy. The two embark upon an odyssey of emotions, guitar ballads, and creepy, sexually charged transference. If I were old—which I'm not—I'd be offended by patronizing drivel like Mrs. Palfrey. Why do we pander to the elderly the way we pander to children? Aren't old people just young people who've been hanging around longer? Does the human animal biologically outgrow good taste? (LINDY WEST)
Steven Spielberg has discovered a damning parable about America's post-9/11 strategy. He just hasn't turned it into a good movie. (JOSH FEIT)
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. It isn't weak songwriting, but the pacing is so languid and the musicianship so surgically precise that there's zero momentum. 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." He also plays the most moving version of "Harvest Moon" I've ever heard. (HANNAH LEVIN)
While certainly filthy with Western influences, Night Watch, co-writer-director Timur Bekmambetov's genially incoherent Russian blockbuster (the first in a projected trilogy), is at its best when it taps into its own cultural wellspring of downright weirdness. I'm not sure what the hell I saw, but I wouldn't mind watching more of it. There's vampire-fighting, an attempt to forestall a world-ending prophecy, and a guy who likes to use his own spine as a broadsword. What finally lingers past all of the fangs and borscht and explosions, though, is the endearing oddness of its tone, a downbeat, slogging feel to all the derring-do that's somehow distinctly Russian. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Physical comedy's not exactly my bag, but I'll admit that it's funny when people fall down (the first 17 times). And I chuckled heartily at Clouseau's ridiculous accent. Even the conceit that French people speak to each other in English is theoretically amusing. But for the most part, the "jokes" in The Pink Panther are so lazy, so nothing special, that they barely register. There are a handful of moments—tiny, beautiful moments—when Martin's writing talent peeks through, silly and surreal. Like when Beyoncé Knowles (as pop star Xania) tells Clouseau, "Next week I have to do something vague in New York." See, that's funny. And nobody had to fall down. (LINDY WEST)
In her early novel Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen makes it clear that Elizabeth Bennet has little respect for her friend Charlotte's pragmatic view of marriage. And though Elizabeth loves her older sister, Jane, she can't exactly endorse her lovesick moping either. With practicality and sentiment out of the picture, what can possibly make Elizabeth fall for the proud Mr. Darcy? Austen is decorously evasive on this question, and so the filmmakers responsible for this grimy and immensely enjoyable new adaptation have some wiggle room. According to director Joe Wright and screenwriter Deborah Moggach, 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)
This laughable anti-Catholic propaganda film purports to show the secret brainwashing images hidden in centuries of religious high art. If the Catholic Church really wanted to fuck shit up through subconscious imagery, don't you think they'd put the secret images in something a little more accessible than a 16th-century oil painting tucked away in some art museum? Say, comic books?
First, the film takes pains to demonstrate the difference between a monkey and a chimp. This is a major preoccupation of mine. Second, it contains a pivotal product placement for Scrabble, the Hasbro-brand crossword game, which is the best board game ever. And finally, it teaches parents the valuable lesson that one should "love and support" one's son, even if it turns out he prefers musical theater to football. What's not to appreciate? Tim Allen, for one. Also, Tim Allen lifting his leg to pee in a urinal. Tim Allen licking a pretty lady's face. A grotesquely elongated CGI tongue lolling out of Tim Allen's mouth. It's an intense relief when his character fully shifts into the fur ball, allowing six trained dogs and an animatronic team to take over—but even then the Tim Allen voiceover won't shut up. (ANNIE WAGNER)
A Twelfth Night update set on the prep-school soccer field (from the screenwriters of Ten Things I Hate About You).
Syriana wades deep into the muck of the worldwide oil industry. The usual suspects will no doubt squawk about anti-Bush bias and the Blame America First syndrome, but anyone willing to look past the pundit noise will find a beautifully constructed and patient thriller. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
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)
Transamerica, the debut film from writer/director Duncan Tucker, features Bree Osbourne, a pre-operative transsexual woman played with abundant humanity by Desperate Housewives's Felicity Huffman. Huffman clearly aced her homework, and her exceptional performance is the reason to see Transamerica. With deft skill, she shows us the stress that results from constantly working to conceal the past. Bree is intensely self-conscious about her behavior, always doubting her ability to mingle unnoticed. Slight movements belie her efforts—she sticks her pinky stiffly in the air while sipping tea and torques her limbs tightly as she sits. Yet often, Huffman lets the stealth mask slip to reveal the delightfully witty nerd that Bree has always been. (KALEY DAVIS)
This movie, like Laurence's 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. Long before Faulkner or Vonnegut or Eggers or Foer dropped drawings and charts into their books, Sterne interrupted himself with stars, sequences of squiggly lines. 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. The cast is excellent—and then it gets better. (CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE)
Madea's Family Reunion diverges from the winning formula of the previous movie. The guns are gone, and so are the reefers. But the worst thing is the way Madea is sidelined for reverent poetry and goofy romance and the kitschiest "Parisian" wedding décor I've ever seen. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Genetically modified Milla Jovovich and professional preteen creepazoid Cameron Bright are the future. No, really.
All Underworld Evolution has to offer is hairy folks in tight vinyl, squeaking and vogueing through the outskirts of Prague. Only those who habitually spell vampire with a y need apply. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Joaquin Phoenix is a damn fine Man in Black, burning with rage from a young age due to an oppressive father who unfairly blamed Johnny for the death of his brother. Walk the Line explores how Cash taught himself to play guitar, working with the famed Sun Records and hanging with Elvis, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis (minor characters here who are entertaining even in their supporting roles), through his infamous Folsom Prison performance. But Cash's strongest emotional elements are developed through his courtship of June Carter, played with sharp Southern charm by Reese Witherspoon. Carter moves from being a boyhood idol of Cash's to touring with him, helping him fight a serious drug addiction, and finally becoming his wife. Theirs is a fiery interplay, 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)
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. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Zooey Deschanel is Reese Holden, emotionally dead New York actress and daughter of two legendary literary recluses (read: Salinger and Salinger), who self-medicates with cocaine, Jameson's, and unfulfilling sex, and by repeatedly slamming her hand in a drawer. When a book publisher offers big bucks for a box of her parents' love letters, Reese heads to her childhood home where she finds her father (a frighteningly aged Ed Harris) in an alcoholic puddle, cohabitating with two young strangers (Amelia Warner and Will Ferrell). And since there's no coke in Michigan (apparently), she's got nothing to do but dig through the detritus of her parents' stormy relationship, and come to terms with why they seemed to love their typewriters more than their daughter. Winter Passing is a dark movie with a happy wrap-up—the kind of movie that haters love to write off as contrived or inauthentic or boring. But why can't it just be nice? (LINDY WEST)
For a film about a speed freak, it has a pleasantly loose, rambling quality. (ANDREW WRIGHT)