Kinky Boots

dir. Julian Jarrold

It's getting pretty tiring, this cinematic obsession with prying open the clam-tight minds of the English working class. We had unemployed steel-worker squares getting naked in The Full Monty and coal-miner squares watching ballet in Billy Elliot, but never has watching squares get bent polygonal been so incredibly dull as in the latest sex-free drag extravaganza Kinky Boots.

Charlie (Joel Edgerton), a square, inherits his father's factory, where squares make boots all day. Industrial England has been in decline for ages, so Charlie isn't too shocked when he finds out the business is failing. Still, something must be done! Charlie tries firing people, but that doesn't suit his charming facial features. Then, thanks to the prodding of a sweetie named Lauren (pixie-cute Sarah-Jane Potts), Charlie goes cool-hunting in London and stumbles across Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a damsel in distress who just happens to be a man.

The name Lola may recall all manner of eye-scorching cabaret reveries (Marlene Dietrich's Lola Lola being double the trouble and quadruple the fun), but Ejiofor's strutting has all the seduction leached out of it. He's good, but he ain't dirty—and wherever does this pretense to kink come in? Meanwhile, heels break and ankles turn and Charlie gets to save the day with a new batch of femmed-up footwear. Not just any boots will satisfy Lola: You know, they have to be strong enough for a man, but stilettoed for a woman. And they absolutely cannot be dyed burgundy. Over the mild protestations of the factory workers (conveyed primarily through Nick Frost's boyish facial contortions), some satisfactory boots are fashioned. What a climax, eh? That's why there's an obligatory Milan fashion show at the end. ANNIE WAGNER

The Notorious Bettie Page

dir. Mary Harron

Let's get this out of the way: For all you rockabilly dolls dying to see the origin of your aesthetic in all her cinematic glory, go ahead and queue up now—you'll love this movie. The set design, cinematography, and costumes capture the Eisenhower era with affectionate accuracy, from the furnishings in Page's tidy New York apartment to the postcard-worthy boardwalk shots on Miami Beach and Coney Island. With a smooth mix of documentary footage, saturated color, and periodic interludes of soft black and white, writer-director Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol, American Psycho) creates the ideal backdrop for the much-romanticized legend of Page's life and career.

Unfortunately, Harron and co-screenwriter Guinevere Turner limit themselves to cursory observations about the conservative mores of the '50s and perfunctory stops along the timeline of Bettie's rise to "notoriety." Opening with a shot of a primly dressed Page (uncannily personified by Gretchen Mol) preparing to testify in the lawsuits against the fetish industry, we begin a flashback-driven overview of her childhood (Southern, Christian, and fraught with sexual abuse), her precocious-yet-sheltered adolescence (she nearly makes valedictorian, but falls naively into provocative modeling gigs to make ends meet), and her eventual partnerships with fetish photography pioneers Irving and Paula Klaw (a perpetually perspiring Chris Bauer and a clever, kindly Lili Taylor) and proto-feminist photographer Bunny Yeager (a fiercely protective Sarah Paulson). Along the way we learn precious little about what drives her various relationships with lovers and family members; however, we learn quite a lot about her relationship with the camera, thanks to the robust radiance of Mol's star turn. She nails Page's playful embrace of S&M's pomp and drama with such plausible naiveté that even her slide back toward evangelical Christianity exudes an earnest charm. HANNAH LEVIN

Protocols of Zion

dir. Marc Levin

In the archive of worldwide anti-Jewish hysteria, no document has done as much lasting damage as the 100 percent fictitious disgrace known as "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion." In this widely discredited forgery—originally published in Russia in 1905 and subsequently recirculated by Arab newspapers, German fascist dictators, and American captains of industry (paging Mr. Henry Ford)—lies a manifesto for global Jewish dominion over the world's religions and governments "little by little, step by step." A brief perusal of the document (oh, yeah, it's on about a grillion websites) makes the absurdity of its content plain, while the persistence of the hoax in the face of reason illuminates the entrenched will to defame Jews throughout history. In short, it sounds like a great subject for a documentary.

Director Marc Levin certainly thinks so. He uses the Protocols as a door onto what he perceives to be a rise of anti-Semitism in America in the wake of September 11. Citing persistent claims that no Jews died in the attacks (they all got phone calls warning them to stay home that day!), among other apocrypha, Levin examines not only the Protocol conspiracy, but the eerie justification the document offers to the various groups—Arab, African American, white power, Europe—that take Jew-hating as a first principle.

As an interviewer, Levin's brashness seems fitting at first; he has no qualms about putting his Jewish punim right up in the grills of the Jew haters he interviews, especially on the streets of NYC, where anti-Semitism is as common as hot-dog carts. Unfortunately, as the movie rolls on, you can't help noticing that Levin is in almost every shot. Then you notice that his presence is incredibly grating, smug, and counterproductive. Then the movie ends and you realize that great potential has been squandered by a narcissistic amateur more interested in demonstrating his moral superiority than in investigating a fascinating subject. SEAN NELSON

Take My Eyes

dir. Icíar Bollaín

Despite the horror-movie title and a neo-noir opening sequence, Take My Eyes isn't a genre film. It's a movie about spousal abuse, as straightforward as a census and nearly as thorough.

Pilar (Laia Marull) is a housewife in an ugly apartment complex in Toledo, Spain. She has a widow's peak, parted to one side so the isolated tuft of hair winds sinuously down her forehead; otherwise she looks like a kicked dog. Antonio (Luis Tosar), her gorgeous abusive husband, works as an appliance salesman. Their relationship isn't one-dimensional. They make a charismatic couple, especially after you get a look at Pilar's mother, a platinum blonde with a Catholic martyr complex, or her younger sister Ana and her utterly harmless Scottish fiancé. When Pilar runs away, Antonio goes into therapy and promises to reform. His wife, still enthralled by their powerfully erotic connection and nostalgia for their storybook wedding, eventually gives in. But in the meantime, she's been volunteering at the Toledo cathedral that houses one of El Greco's masterpieces, and going back to her controlling husband could mean sacrificing a prospective career.

Conflicting threads of sentiment, sex, humiliation, and ambition keep Pilar from moving in any direction at all. The movie's approach to these conflicts is meticulous to a fault. Despite compelling performances (Tosar won the SIFF award for best actor in 2004), Take My Eyes never settles on whether it wants to be a movie or a monograph. ANNIE WAGNER

Langston Hughes African American Film Festival

Sat April 22–Sun April 30

The Langston Hughes film festival has positively exploded this year. There are a few repeats (Boys of Baraka played at the Varsity for a week last month), but many of the 40-plus films are being screened in Seattle for the first time, from The Paper Trail: 100 Years of the Chicago Defender, a history of the imperiled black daily (Mon at 7 pm, Tues at 4 pm), to an opening gala featuring three locally produced short films (Sat April 22 at 6 pm).

In its nine years of production, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till (Tues at 7 pm) made a bigger imprint on the world than just about any agitdoc you could name: The FBI reopened the 50-year-old lynching case based on evidence director Keith Beauchamp had uncovered during his research. The doc gets a little self-congratulatory at the end, what with solemn resolutions being passed by distant city councils and Al Sharpton making vague pronouncements about everything, but the heart of the story, about the 14-year-old kid from Chicago who didn't know any better than to whistle at a white woman in the racist town of Money, Mississippi, couldn't be more intense.

Professional boxing is not a pretty sport, whether it's men or women in the ring. You hear all about bloody noses and bitten ears, and massive brain damage never seems unlikely. But Michele Aboro doesn't look damaged at the beginning of A Knockout (Wed at 7 pm), so it's unclear why she isn't fighting anymore. A skinny, fierce mixed-race woman from South London, she says "somefink" for "something" and she won every one of her 21 professional bouts, 18 of which ended in knockouts. Then you get a look at the top boxer in the sport right now: a gorgeous German bombshell with a yard of blond hair and carefully made-up eyes. Professional sports are for-profit entertainment, and Aboro's promoters apparently decided her high cheekbones and lesbian chic weren't going to cut it. What, had they never heard of the WNBA? ANNIE WAGNER