The 39 Steps
Alfred Hitchchock's mid-thirties film about counterespionage. Central Cinema, Fri-Sun 7 pm.
Ace in the Hole
SAM@MOHAI's Billy Wilder series continues with this 1951 film starring Kirk Douglas. Museum of History and Industry, Thurs Feb 1 at 7:30 pm.
On one side of recent history: the manipulation of the black vote in Florida that made George W. Bush the 43rd president of United States of America; on the other side: the manipulation of the white vote in Georgia that brought down the black U.S. Representative Cynthia McKinney in 2002. American Blackout connects both sides in a documentary about race and politics in the 21st century—which Ian Inaba (the director) argues, convincingly, is not that different, in these respects, from the 20th century. (CHARLES MUDEDE) Keystone Church, Fri Jan 26 at 7 pm.
The final film in Paramount's German Expressionist silents series and the only one to truly deserve the title, Asphalt is a morality tale by Joe May about urban vice. Accompanied by Dennis James on the theater's original organ. Paramount, Mon Jan 29 at 7 pm.
A no-nonsense documentary about the Chinese factories where blue jeans are made for export (Wal-Mart is the only client specifically called out in the film, but we see buyers from France and England as well). Jasmine, a sweet 16-year-old country girl from Sichuan province, leaves her home to work at Lifeng Factory in Shaxi, one of the fast-growing globalized cities in southern China. She's housed in a narrow dorm room with other girls (factory owners like them young and docile) and employed as a thread-cutter, where rush orders can keep her laboring for more than 20 hours at a stretch. In addition to the chronic sleep deprivation, workers are paid by the piece at wildly varying rates, have their first month's pay held as a deposit to keep them from leaving, and aren't permitted to form unions or strike. Micha X. Peled's documentary is shockingly thorough (it was shot with permission from the factory owner—who thought it was a film about the first generation of Chinese entrepreneurs—though under the radar of the Chinese government), and highly provoking. Want to exploit the Chinese peasantry? Buy cheap jeans. Want the Chinese underclass to earn any money whatsoever in the new economy? Buy cheap jeans. It may be close to impossible to mandate responsible capitalism, but China Blue shows us exactly what's at stake. (ANNIE WAGNER) Grand Illusion, Weekdays 7, 9 pm, Sat-Sun 3, 5, 7, 9 pm.
Cinema K: Children's Film Festival 2007
A huge and consistently delightful series of offbeat films by or about or for children. Includes a preview screening of Opal Dream, an Australian film about a girl and her imaginary friends, which will receive a longer run at Northwest Film Forum later this year. If you see only one thing at the festival, make it World of Wonder, a program of live-action shorts from around the world. Lard, from England, is an adorable movie about getting away from scary older kids and confusing butter for lard. Once Again Rain is a didactic but fine movie from Iran about the joy of umbrellas and sharing the little you have. Legends, Fables, and Dreams: Award-Winning Animated Films also contains some winners, including Stefan Gruber's Anaelle. Northwest Film Forum, see www.nwfilmforum.org for a complete schedule and details. Festival runs through Feb 4.
The 1983 James Sbardellati film about a barbarian armed with a magic sword. Grand Illusion, Fri-Sat 11 pm.
Eve and the Fire Horse
Julia Kwan's Eve and the Fire Horse is a perfectly pleasant and emotionally resonant film that dares to suggest that religion—gasp!—can actually be a GOOD thing in a person's life! Set in the 1970s in Vancouver, the film is about the Engs, a multigenerational Chinese family whose young daughters, Karena (Hollie Lo) and Eve (Phoebe Jojo Kut), start to dabble in Catholicism. Their earnestness is sweet and amusing, and the young, nonprofessional actresses give winning performances. It's one of the most charming family films in recent memory. (ERIC D. SNIDER) Northwest Film Forum, Thurs Jan 25 at 7 pm. Eve and the Fire Horse opens the Northwest Asian American Film Festival (see below).
Opening with an unbearably long piece of voiceover exposition, Family Law is about three generations of Jewish Argentinian lawyers. (Well, the baby isn't a lawyer yet, but just you wait.) The meandering plot follows Perelman Jr. (Daniel Hendler, cute) as he wins a lawsuit and a Pilates-instructor wife (hot!), discovers fatherhood (awww...), and learns that the old man might be an unethical hack, but everybody loves him anyway (sniff!). Especially his secretary. This day-and-date release is sentimental and tedious, and probably not even worth watching on cable. For a much better movie about South American Jews and awkward family relations, rent Whisky, a wonderful, understated movie from 2004 that never received a proper theatrical release in the U.S. As I only recently found out, Juan Pablo Rebella, one of the writer-directors of Whisky, committed suicide in July. He shot himself in the head after downing a half bottle of whiskey. The least you could do is see his film. Anyway, I apologize for getting so far off track. Family Law sucks. (ANNIE WAGNER) Varsity, see Movie Times for details.
Journey From the Fall
In 1975, a Vietnamese man sends his family to America on a tiny fishing boat. Filmmaker Ham Tran in attendance. Northwest Film Forum, Thurs Jan 25 at 9:15 pm.
The Lady Vanishes
Hitchcock's 1938 film about romance and kidnapping aboard a passenger train. Central Cinema, Fri 9:30 pm, Sun 9:30 pm.
The Little Death
An enigmatic loner moves into a fleabag L.A. apartment complex, only to get tangled up with an upstairs neighbor (scripter Laura Lee Bahr) whose jittery exterior may hide something... sinister. Director Morgan Nichols's nifty little B&W crackerjack of a thriller blends the inexorable tarbaby plotting of classic noir and the off-kilter atmospherics of early Coen Bros. with highly enjoyable results. The second act could stand some tightening, but this is otherwise a stellar example of working within ones limited means: There's a terrific use of found locations, some amusingly hyperliterate (yet never annoyingly so) dialogue, and a final sting with some unexpected teeth. Be sure to stick around through the animated closing credits for one last aha. (ANDREW WRIGHT) Central Cinema, Thurs Jan 25 at 7, 9:30 pm. (Late show 21+.)
Lollipop Girls in Hard Candy in 3D
3D porn on a stick. Egyptian, Fri-Sat midnight. (18+ only.)
Northwest Asian American Film Festival
A strong selection of films by and about Asian Americans and curated by local filmmaker Wes Kim. Especially notable are screenings of Eve and the Fire Horse (see above) and Scumrock, with Vashon Island trash-art director Jon Moritsugu (Mod Fuck Explosion, Fame Whore) in attendance. All screenings from Fri on at Theatre Off Jackson. Red Doors, Fri Jan 26 at 7 pm. Mighty Warriors of Comedy, Fri Jan 26 at 9 pm. Scumrock, Fri Jan 26 at 11 pm. Asian American Activism (shorts program), Sat Jan 27 at 12:30 pm. Animation: The Illusion of Life (shorts), Sat Jan 27 at 2:15 pm. Northwest Shorts, Sat Jan 27 at 4 pm. Colma: The Musical, Sat Jan 27 at 7 pm. Cineoke! (karaoke with subtitled musicals), Sat Jan 27 at 9:30 pm. The Cats of Mirikitani, Sun Jan 28 at 1 pm. The Slanted Screen w/ American Sons, Sun Jan 28 at 3 pm. See www.nwaaff.org for tickets and details.
A program of local films, including the premiere of Britt Lind's Obsession. Odd Duck Studio, Sat Jan 27 at 8 pm.
Young Pecker (Edward Furlong) is never without a camera, traversing his Baltimore neighborhood taking pictures of the burgers on the grill at work, his kid sister getting her sugar fix, rats copulating in an alley, or patrons being "tea-bagged" at the gay strip joint his sister emcees. When Pecker hangs a show of his photos at the sandwich shop, Rorey (Lili Taylor), an art dealer from New York, just happens to wander in, and offers him a show on the spot. Perhaps director John Waters has become like one of those career politicians—a little too in on the joke to feel the impact of the punch line. Pecker, while it doesn't offer the viewer anything more voluptuous than irony, nevertheless does so very attractively, gathering an art-house cast capable of delivering their lines without a smirk. This brand of lucid humor is what Waters strives for, but in the end, he stops before the bite pierces flesh, and instead turns humanitarian. (TRACI VOGEL) Central Cinema, Wed-Thurs 7, 9:30 pm. (Late shows 21+). Continues through Feb 4.
Sansho the Bailiff
See review, p 73. Northwest Film Forum, Mon-Tues 7, 9:30 pm.
The story of Sunset Boulevard, as everyone knows (or should know), is about a young and indigent screenwriter who accidentally meets an aged and faded film star from the silent era, Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson. The actress lives in a big house—like Dickens's Mrs. Havisham from Great Expectations—with a stuffy butler named Max von Mayerling, who is played by none other than the great Erich von Stroheim. The mad actress offers the mediocre writer the miserable job of doctoring her mad screenplay, Salome, which she hopes will launch her back to spectacular fame. Of course, the broke screenwriter says yes, and soon he becomes a kept man. The faded actress falls in love with her handsome catch, but the writer falls in love with a woman his own age, and so the actress shoots him dead for breaking her fragile heart. Wilder's film is about madness and fiction—or better yet, madness and cinema—in the way that Kafka is about madness and jurisprudence, or Ellison is about madness and race. (CHARLES MUDEDE) Museum of History and Industry, Thurs Jan 25 at 7:30 pm.
See review,p. 73. Northwest Film Forum, Daily 7, 9 pm.
Writer-director Nick Cassavetes has aimed to make Alpha Dog a gritty and provocative condemnation of vacuous parenting—well-off kids with too little to do and too little supervision. The obvious reference to reach for is Larry Clark's Bully, which tilled similar ground. But while that film was eventually derailed by Clark's unfortunate obsession with young flesh, Alpha Dog is mired by an unnecessary faux doc framing, which finds the likes of Bruce Willis (and, in one particularly gruesome sequence, Sharon Stone in a fat suit), spouting forth to an unseen interviewer. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
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)
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)
"What's this movie about?" "Relationships or something." "I think they were on a blind date, and now they're in love." "What the fuck? Is he putting his jacket down on the puddle?" "That's stupid. And they're going on a picnic? Who goes on a picnic?" "Oh my god. Oh my god. Did she just say 'I need you inside of me'? Oh my god." (LINDY WEST)
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 Hitcher is the most 1996 movie I've seen since 1997. It's spring break. Two nubile youngsters, Grace (Sophia Bush) and Jim (Zachary Knighton), speed across New Mexico, determined to join the stomach-pumpin', groin-waxin', date-rapin' hordes at Lake Havasu. The fun stops when Jim foolishly picks up a hitchhiker (Sean Bean, Boromiriffic!) at a rainy redneck mini-mart. No attempt is made to explain why the Hitcher does what he does—not so much as an "escaped convict" or a "brain eaten by spiders"—or how the human body (spoiler alert!), when pulled apart like taffy, could fatally split right through the torso (wouldn't the wrists be more plausible?). The Hitcher is Scream without the wit; it's I Know What You Did Last Summer without the Ryan Phillippe. (LINDY WEST)
David Lynch has finally and irrevocably wagon-trained deep into Lynchistan without a map, and I don't think we can expect to see him return to civilization any time soon. Inland Empire—named after the California region not because it's set there, but because Lynch simply liked the sound of it—recalls Bergman's Persona and Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits in its allusive structure and suggestions of a fracturing female psyche. But there's no trace of homage, or even traditional psychology. Laura Dern plays, in the film's clearest thread, a Hollywood-mansion-inhabiting actress with a homicidally jealous husband (Peter J. Lucas) and a new job: a role in a Southern melodrama that roughly parallels the romantic triangle that eventually forms with her co-star (Justin Theroux). But Lynch twists the diegesis like a mile of taffy, until there's no there there, just dreams within dreams within movies within nightmares. (MICHAEL ATKINSON)
Letters from Iwo Jima
Letters from Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood's smaller, subtitled, Japanese-centered companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers, thankfully finds the filmmaker on much firmer ground. Although not without its share of warts—mainly due to an occasionally pokey flashback structure—there's an intimate, feverish immediacy to it that the previous film lacked. Respectful without being overly reverent, it provides the new perspective on WWII that the earlier film promised, with a look into another culture that goes far beyond mere outsider novelty or politically correct lip service. (To get an idea of how it could have all gone wrong, look no further than Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor, where the Japanese commanders are depicted as inscrutable, poetry-spouting androids of honor.) Here is a different take on the battlefield, one that provides a long-overdue illumination of the Greatest Generation's opposing image, as well as a compelling examination of the meaning of sacrifice and service when fighting an unwinnable war. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
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)
Pan's Labyrinth picks up scraps and notions from scattered fairy tales—fear of sexual maturity, thirst for rules and the righteous urge to subvert them, doubtful reconciliation with death—and weaves them into an original fantasy of furious power. After suffering through the many "fractured" adaptations that neuter their source material in the guise of updating it, I was beginning to worry that the primeval richness of fairy tales would have to be reserved for theater. Pan's Labyrinth chalked out an alternate route, and proved me wrong. (ANNIE WAGNER)
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)
So there's this giant African serial-killer crocodile, see, and a team of professionals—hunky newsman, braless reporter, coldblooded Brit scientist, wacky black comic relief cameraman—have to stop him before he strikes again. Place your bets on who gets chomped first. A creature feature truly rises and falls on the strength of its critter, and the CGI wonks here have created a beaut—gargantuan, peevish, and absolutely pissed at whoever has the temerity to tread in his domain. Watching him clumsily gallumpf through the tall grass at top speed in search of vittles is worth a few bucks, at least. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Stomp the Yard
Stomp the Yard's previews will try to convince you that this movie is a dramatic portrayal of a heartbroken-on-the-inside-but-still-tough-as-fuck kid from the hood who's fighting one of life's ultimate battles (the death of a younger brother) while also trying to regain a sense of self after watching (and feeling responsible for) the death of said brother. But don't fall for that shit—Stomp the Yard is about motherfuckin' dancing. Not only is there a bitchin' soundtrack with the Roots, Public Enemy, and Ghostface Killah, but these Atlanta step crews with arms the size of my head have got some of the coolest fuckin' moves this side of Footloose. (MEGAN SELING)
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)