A movie about a hottie Quebec cyclist named Laurie who is forced to quit racing and becomes a lowly messenger. This screening, preceded by bike-themed shorts, benefits The Bikery, a Seattle-based community resource center working to "demystify the bicycle." Grand Illusion, Fri Jan 12 at 11 pm.
51 Birch St.
See review this issue. Northwest Film Forum, Daily 7, 9 pm.
Bring Your Own Projector
A weekly free-for-all that provides a wall onto which you project your Super-8 or 16mm film or slides or filmstrip or digital video or whatever, alongside many other simultaneous projections. (You may also bring DVD shorts and still slides to show using the complimentary in-house equipment.) Alibi Room, Mon Jan 15 at 6 pm.
Diary of a Lost Girl
The Paramount's outstanding Silent Movie Mondays series returns with an abbreviated program on German expressionism. Up first is Pabst's Diary of a Lost Girl, starring Louise Brooks as an unlucky pharmacist's daughter with awesome bangs. Preceded by a lecture and accompanied on the organ by Dennis James, shortlisted for the 2006 Stranger Genius film award. Paramount, Mon Jan 15 at 7 pm.
Billy Wilder, one of the cinema's least identified woman haters, lets his flag fly in this boilerplate noir starring Fred MacMurray as the chump who gets his clock cleaned by titanic ball-stomper Barbara Stanwyck while Edward G. Robinson slowly puts it all together. It's difficult to deny the artistry of this classic, but its actual power has been dulled by two generations of naked imitators. Still, among the important works of Wilder (whom I believe to be confoundingly over-admired), it's up there. (SEAN NELSON) Museum of History and Industry, Thurs Jan 11 at 7:30 pm.
A Foreign Affair
Seattle Art Museum's Billy Wilder series (taking place at MOHAI) continues with this 1948 film set in postwar Berlin and starring Jean Arthur and Marlene Dietrich. Museum of History and Industry, Thurs Jan 18 at 7:30 pm.
Inland Empire and Related Events
David Lynch's newest fantasia gets two screenings at Cinerama prior to the official Jan 19 opening date. (Review posted at www.thestranger.com Wednesday.) Other events with David Lynch include a lecture at Town Hall Tues Jan 16 at 7:30 pm (see Stranger Suggests, p 21, for details) and a DVD signing at Scarecrow Video Wed Jan 17 at 7 from noon-2 pm. Cinerama, Wed Jan 17 at 7:30 pm (followed by a Q&A) and midnight. (7:30 pm screening sold out, limited tickets may be available at the door; call Seattle Art Museum at 654-3121 for tickets to the midnight show.)
A thriller based on the notorious Ontario murder/rape team of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo. Central Cinema, Thurs-Sun 7, 9:30 pm. (Late show 21+.)
The Last Atomic Bomb
This documentary by Robert Richter (Father Roy: Inside the School of Assassins) is an "unvarnished emotional plea for nuclear disarmament." Keystone Church, Fri Jan 12 at 7 pm.
This quiet film about the gray-green colors and elliptical lives of the Pacific Northwest is a good counterpart to Police Beat, though Charles Mudede will probably thrash me for saying so. While Z in Police Beat couldn't understand why anyone would leave the city for the dubious pleasures of camping, an aging Portland hippie named Kurt (Will Oldham, who's a truly magical actor) can hardly discern where his house ends and nature begins. Even when he convinces his friend Mark (Daniel London, less accomplished but acceptable) to drive him out into the woods, he finds a moldering couch to use as a bed. The complex interactions between Kurt and Mark never quite amount to a plot, but when you can watch two nearly-middle aged guys drink beer and soak silently in a built hot springs without getting bored, it's quite an accomplishment. Also notable: Peter (Benjamin Smoke) Sillen's gently distracted cinematography, and a cameo from Portland filmmaker Matt McCormick as a pot dealer. (ANNIE WAGNER) Northwest Film Forum, Daily 7, 9 pm.
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism
In terms of display, Fox News has all of the codes of a neutral network—serious-looking anchorpersons at prime time, political analysts in power suits, casual morning shows—and this is why people believe it is legitimate: It looks like the real thing. But this is old news; anyone who lives in this city knows very well what Fox News is all about—that it's staffed by absolute nutters who yell at their guests and tell them to shut up. So why is this documentary of any value to us? Because the Fox News it describes is even creepier than you imagined. The little internal memos from the top that strictly dictate policy, the micro-management of employees and information, the encouraged "us against the rest" mentality—this has added up to an institution that has completely lost contact with reality. (CHARLES MUDEDE) One Earth One Design, Thurs Jan 11 at 7 pm.
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes
The Brothers Quay generally excel at all things macabre, but this mostly live-action movie is just a goth Tempest with some Phantom of the Opera theatrics and Myst-style gears and cranks thrown in. The good Doctor Goss orchestrates ghastly operas at his remote asylum, using mechanical "automatons" instead of instruments and indentured phantoms in place of singers. A piano tuner is contracted to clean and repair the automatons, but soon he too is a party to the nasty goings-on. (ANNIE WAGNER) Grand Illusion, Weekdays 7, 9 pm, Sat-Sun 3, 5, 7, 9 pm.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Dun de DUN DUN! Dun de dun. Dun de DUN DUN, dun de dun dun dun. Dun de dun dun dun de DUUUUN. Dun de DAH Dun, de DAH dun, de DAH dun, de DAH dun de dun! Egyptian, Fri-Sat midnight.
Rural Rock & Roll
Operating on the assumption that bands thriving outside major metropolitan areas get extra cred points and built-in "genius" status simply on grounds of geography, Los Angeles director (and erstwhile MTV Road Rules/Real World editor) Jensen Rufe has set out to document the insular underground scene loosely connected by the northern California towns of Eureka and adjacent Arcata. Filmed using a surprisingly amateurish, generic style (interview scenester saying something pithy, cut to scene of this person toiling on a zine, posting show flyers, or taking the stage at a house party), the 60-minute film follows 13 local bands as they revel in their DIY accomplishments and carefully cultivated eccentricities. The affection with which Rufe handles his subjects is occasionally touching, particularly in the epilogue detailing various post-production band break-ups and musician deaths. However, the unimaginative format fails to convey what makes this willfully unambitious scene meaningfully unique (indeed, perhaps it simply isn't) and often comes across like a failed attempt to make an indie rock version of This Is Spinal Tap. (HANNAH LEVIN) Northwest Film Forum, Thurs Jan 11 at 7 pm. (Director in attendance, screening followed by a show at Comet Tavern.)
A 16mm crime thriller shot in Seattle for $7,000 by a Landmark Theatres employee named Jorge Suarez. Guild 45th, Thurs Jan 18 at 9 pm.
A 1987 movie, not available on video, starring Bridgette Anderson as an American kid on the lam in Tokyo with only her little robot as company. Grand Illusion, Sat Jan 13 at 11 pm.
A monthly social/showcase, this edition featuring the work of trippy image-mixer Spyscience, AKA Tim Weeks. 911 Media Arts, Thurs Jan 18 at 7:30 pm.
West Side Story
The 1961 musical about gangsters in love. Central Cinema, Wed Jan 17 at 7 pm (continues through Jan 21).
'What the Hell Did I Just Watch' Comedy Video Festival
Billed as "the only Seattle-based anti-film festival to pander directly to your misguided funny bone," What the Hell Did I Just watch screens amusing videos without regard to production values. Rendezvous, Sat Jan 13 at 7 and 8:30 pm. (Repeats Sat Jan 20.)
As children's entertainment goes, the hybrid live-action/computer-generated Charlotte's Web is basically faultless. There's a serene lesson about death and another about the contribution of spiders to the ecosystem; it makes learning new words seem fun and, dare I say, sophisticated; it's free from those horrible jokes designed to keep the kids twirling their cowlicks while their cynical guardians snicker (except for the cut to the plate of crackling bacon, which is taken from the book). But it's also insensitive to the things that make a movie burrow into your heart. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Children of Men
At first, Children of Men is less a fantasy film than a toe-curling dystopian landscape: a latter-day Hieronymus Bosch panel depicting a world come apart at the seams. Everywhere you look in this gray, concrete world, there's another expression of human distress, from noxious sentimentality to hysterical self-recrimination, from violence to paralysis and everything in between. The plot is part allegory, part political complaint—though any ultimate meaning (apart from the bromide "hold on to hope for the future") is difficult to discern. Luckily, moral lessons are largely irrelevant in an action thriller, and when Children of Men gets going, you'll be more concerned about catching your breath than figuring things out. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Code Name: The Cleaner
Beware the doldrums of January, when studios routinely dump their bilge in hopes of a few quick opening weekend bucks. Case in point: this anemic Brett Ratner-produced spy spoof, in which an amnesiac janitor (Cedric the Entertainer) stumbles into an espionage scheme. Things fall down, go boom. Whatever charisma the star has shown in past supporting roles is here rendered wholly inert, particularly when pitted against the constant vacuum-suck generated by director Les Mayfield (Flubber, The Man). Still, to be fair, there are a few decent ad-libs scattered hither and yon, and the always welcome Lucy Liu is a dependable hoot as a waitress who's also a... a... nope, the whole thing's passed safely out of my short-term memory. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Curse of the Golden Flower
Director Zhang Yimou, who brought American audiences such wirework bonanzas as Hero and House of Flying Daggers (and the quieter melodrama Raise the Red Lantern, his last collaboration with Gong Li), has attempted his most baroque story yet. Two corrupt royals pad around their gilded rainbow palace, attended by hordes of courtiers. Gong Li plays the buxom empress, who, when she's not pawing her stepson or quaffing strange elixirs, is prone to sudden tremors and sweats. Chow Yun-Fat, as the emperor, spends his time mourning his dead first wife and bossing around the imperial pharmacist. Turns out something's fishy—or technically, fungal—about the empress's medicine. Subplots involving the royal heirs follow. It's a relief when the mannered marital strife gets channeled into outright battle, but there's something disappointing about the fight scenes too. Ninja assassins swooping around are cool at first, but there's no ballet in the rectangular clash of color-coded armies seen from above. At root, this is a film about one color vanquishing another. You could watch a sunset for that. (ANNIE WAGNER)
There seems to be a lot of talk about Dreamgirls lately—talk of the Oscar variety (bzzzzzzzzt!), talk of the "this is a good movie" variety (psssssssh), talk of the "eeeeeeee!" variety (uuuuuugh). Now, I realize that Oprah reached down from her golden throne and touched you in your special area while whispering sweet nothings about Dreamgirls. I realize that Beyoncé's fake hair is really, really pretty. I realize that Jennifer Hudson is kind of a superchunk, but you kind of don't mind looking at her, and that kind of makes you feel good about yourself. But it's time for YOU to realize that this movie is not good. This movie is nothing but problems. And fat people don't need your pity. (LINDY WEST)
Eragon, the first in a projected trilogy of kid-friendly fantasy epics, can barely muster enough energy to work on a cheese level. Debuting director/effects vet Stefen Fangmeier manages to pull off a few decent visual coups, particularly with a nicely animated blue-eyed dragon, but without the rich conceptual texture of the LOTR series (or, hell, even the goofy exuberance of The Beastmaster) to draw on, what remains is a load of generic mush perhaps best served as a piece of bitchin' '70s van art. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Aren't white people awesome? And brave? Isn't it cool how we're always, like, going to the inner city and teaching minorities about tolerance and feelings and how to read? And when those crazy minos won't stop gangbangin', we're all, "Who here likes Too-Pack?" and then they're all, "I hate white people," but we're all, "What—are you trippin'?" and then we all have a good laugh. God, it's so great being white and hilarious. "My badness!" Holy shit. This movie has got to be joking. (LINDY WEST)
The Good Shepherd
In The Good Shepherd, a tense Yalie named Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) is tapped to join Skull and Bones on the basis of his WASP bona fides. Then, recruited to join the fledgling CIA, Edward soon gets molested by a heaving girl named Clover (Angelina Jolie, so intent on being sexy that she has no chance to act). Inevitably, Clover gets knocked up and he is forced to marry her. As imagined by director Robert De Niro, Edward's covert CIA activities consist of a series of passwords and trapdoors and secret underground intelligence lairs, interspersed with flash-forwards in which he stalks the crucial leak that spoiled his pet project, the invasion of the Bay of Pigs. But thanks to flat dialogue by Eric Roth, a studiously internal performance by Matt Damon, and a palette consisting largely of murky beige, it's impossible to get invested in the film. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Happily N'Ever After
It's a bad sign when the funniest part of your movie, by a landslide, is Andy Dick (especially in the role of a horrifying, shoddily animated part squirrel/part wizard), and it's double-extra bad when you don't even care. Happily N'Ever After, a hacky, Shrek-y, fractured fairy tale—and winner of World's Most Unforgivable Apostrophe (imdb tells me it's because the title Happily Never After was already taken...by a dirty dirty pornooooooo!)—is just such a movie. It couldn't be more thrown together: The characters are all plasticky and dead in the face; the pop culture references belabored beyond comprehension (remember that dance that David Brent does on the second season of The Office? That one you posted on your Myspace? Well what if... wait for it... an OGRE was doing that dance?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!). It's also an incredibly irritating logistical nightmare: Some residents of Fairy Tale Land live their stories over and over again, Groundhog Day-style, while others age normally. How does that work? Also, why is it acceptable in a kids' movie to talk about a "lube job" and "happy endings" and to say that a guy has "Prince envy," which is quite obviously a joke referring to penises? And speaking of royal penises, is it possible to make an animated movie or television show WITHOUT Patrick Warburton? Hollywood, please stop fracturing my fairy tales. (LINDY WEST)
In this dotty biopic, Renée Zellweger plays the eponymous authoress Beatrix Potter, and thoroughly botches the job. Cute and ruddy, Zellweger gulps air like a chipmunk tucking away nuts, squeaks and squirms her way into a simulacrum of abashed pleasure, twinkles her lidless eyes, and generally interprets Victorian spinsterhood as an unnaturally prolonged case of the cutes. The result is ghastly. Then, as an excuse to animate Beatrix Potter's creations (nicely executed by Passion Pictures), the producers have decided that Potter had an overly personal relationship with her drawings of bunnies and frogs and puddle ducks. Miss Potter hallucinates her little avatars acting naughty or agitated whenever she's inclined the same way. The animation is cute, but the live-action commingling is distressing. Why couldn't these drawn animals be like every other inanimate object in movieland, coming alive only when their owner turns her back? (ANNIE WAGNER)
Notes on a Scandal
This is the picture of an absolute vampire: Her fingers are crooked, her love is morbid, and she refuses to be sustained by anything else but the freshest blood, the highest beauty. Going for the kill, Judi Dench satanically grows from a crusty history teacher into a god of her passion. She is a giant tearing the world apart for the blood she needs to survive. The wreckage piles up, the music swells, and we enter the region of opera. In addition, Cate Blanchett has the most beautiful lips in all of movieland. If it weren't for one editing mistake near the end—a failed attempt to show the enormous gulf between the subject and the object of its desire—then Notes on a Scandal would have deserved a standing ovation. (CHARLES MUDEDE)
The Painted Veil
The Painted Veil is set in Europe and Asia in the 1920s, particularly in Shanghai and remote China, a landscape of rivers and mountains and cinematic possibility, but the camerawork is nothing startling. The dialogue is adequate. The actors seem bored. It's based on a book I've never read—by W. Somerset Maugham, published 1925—and you get the sense that Maugham's novel must be rich with the kind of psychological detail you can't get from an extended shot of Naomi Watts staring into the rain, because that's about all that's going on here. (CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE)
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Set in a decidedly stank 18th-century France, Patrick Süskind's narrative tells the tale of a penniless near mute (newcomer Ben Whishaw) born with a sense of smell akin to that of an irradiated bloodhound. After learning the tricks of the trade from a has-been perfumer (Dustin Hoffman), he sets out to create the ultimate scent, a concoction that requires the use of, oh, a few dozen female corpses. Co-writer Tom Tykwer's screenplay retains the most striking aspects of the source material (often verbatim, courtesy of an intermittent voice-over by the priceless John Hurt) and improves on it in others, particularly in concocting a compelling motive for the rising body count. Most importantly, he keeps the essence which made the novel such a scabrous, compelling read: namely, the feeling that, no matter how loathsome the protagonist's actions, we still somehow want to see the sick bastard get away with it. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
The Pursuit of Happyness
Will Smith plays a hero straight out of a Horatio Alger novel except, you know, black (his race is never explicitly mentioned as a factor in his poverty and bad luck). He's hungry, scruffy, and beat down, but he doggedly pursues life, liberty, and happiness—a sentiment that, not incidentally, was adapted from Adam Smith's "life, liberty, and pursuit of property." Pursuit of Happyness is about poverty—fit for the desperately poor as a parable and the unconscionably rich as a chastisement. For the rest of us (the most of us) it's merely a two-hour distillation of an all-too-familiar fear. (BRENDAN KILEY)
As a franchise, the Rocky saga has seen both improbable highs (IV's goofy triumph over Communism) and wincible lows (III's breakdancing robot), but the basic underdog formula feels untarnished by time and/or repetition. Functioning as a partial apology/do-over for 1990's lame Rocky V, Stallone's script finds the former champ on the decline, shambling through the streets of Philly mourning the loss of his wife. Fortunately, before things get too mawkish, a shot at redemption comes—a gimmicky Vegas exhibition fight. Cue the familiar montages of raw eggs, stair running, and meat punching. Stallone the actor proves to be Stallone the filmmaker's best weapon, constantly undercutting the thud of his scripted dialogue with mumbled asides, dopey jokes, and a general air of hangdog vulnerability that proves impossible to resist. As far as swan songs go, this is an improbably charming ride into the sunset. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
There's plenty of ambition and heart laid on the line in Sweet Land, particularly compared to most American indies—it's a period film spending serious amounts of time with the Lutheran farm folk of 1920 Minnesota, for one thing. It's also a parable about ethnocentrism, and a magnificently crafted piece of landscape portraiture. If that weren't enough, writer/director Ali Selim, in his first feature after decades as one of the country's most successful commercial directors, ruefully frames the story with contemporary action. Sweet Land almost never stops eulogizing its characters and their agrarian society. (MICHAEL ATKINSON)
We Are Marshall
On November 14, 1970, 37 members of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, along with its coaching staff and a number of fans, boarded chartered Southern Airlines flight 932. The plane went down in West Virginia, killing all 75 people onboard. After the requisite grief montage, Coach Jack Lengyel (a jokey, janky-jawed Matthew McConaughey) shows up to resurrect the team and teach Huntington how to believe in something again. Something like America. Or football. Or two hours of totally inappropriate flat-out comedy, bookended by meaningless sentimentality. There's something creepy about the way movies make you take sides. We root for Matthew Fox (as Assistant Coach Red Dawson) because he is handsome, because we are obsessed with Lost, but his character in We Are Marshall is a real person. He's probably still alive. He's probably not as handsome as Matthew Fox. We're relieved that that anonymous fat assistant coach took Matthew Fox's spot on the flight, but that assistant coach really existed. He is an actual dead person. (LINDY WEST)