Comrade Sister: Voices of Women in the Black Panther Party
A documentary by Phyllis Jackson, a former Black Panther Party member. Central Cinema, Sat Sept 10 at 7 and 9 pm.
East of Eden
Northwest Film Forum's James Dean series continues with the only film to make it into theaters before his death in 1955. NWFF, Fri-Thurs 7, 9:15 pm.
Found Footage Festival
A touring show of video footage scrounged from garage sales and thrift stores throughout the country. See www.foundfootagefestival.com for more information. Varsity, Fri Sept 9 at 9:30 pm.
Harriet the Spy
A 1996 adaptation of the beloved kids' book, starring Michelle Trachtenberg as Harriet. Central Cinema, Sat-Sun noon, 2, 4 pm.
Ingmar Bergman Film Festival
The Ingmar Bergman film festival continues at both the Grand Illusion and SAM. At the Grand Illusion: Autumn Sonata, Weekdays 7 pm, Sat-Sun 3, 7 pm; The Rite, Weekdays 9 pm, Sat-Sun 5, 9 pm. At Seattle Art Museum: Wild Strawberries, Thurs Sept 8 at 7:30 pm; The Magician, Thurs Sept 15 at 7:30 pm.
I really don't care about nature. I hate walking in the woods, and prefer concrete to grass. In a word, I'm the worst person to review a film about a man who had an overwhelming passion for all things natural. According to this documentary, which is well made and scored by beautiful alternative rock, David Brower, a 20th century conservationist, fought hard to protect what was left of America's wilderness from the indefatigable progress of our overdeveloped society. He hated dams, which I think are really awesome (in both senses of the word). True, they kill everything with the water they hold, but a massive dam is as magnificent as a dramatic cliff—in fact, I will go as far as to argue that a dam is more magnificent than a cliff, because a dam powers a whole metropolis whereas a cliff does nothing but be a cliff. But to hell with dams and cliffs, my main problem with heroic environmentalists like David Brower is not their convictions or positions or actions (those interviewed about Brower's life and character frequently say he was a man of action), but the way they make their arguments—meaning the language of environmentalism, which is so simple and makes nature seem so weak. A speech by Brower gives one the impression that nature has been reduced to a toothless lion. In an environmentalist view of things, human beings have all the power, and I can't separate this particular perception of the world with a certain strain of Western anthropocentricism. Enough said. (CHARLES MUDEDE) Environmental Learning Center, Seward Park, Wed Sept 14 at 7 pm.
Anything goes, so long as it's under 10 minutes and in VHS or DVD format. And it's only two bucks to get in. 911 Media Arts, Mon Sept 12 at 7 pm.
This weird Roman Polanski flick stars the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve as a young woman house-sitting her sister's apartment who gradually goes insane. Movie Legends, Sun Sept 11 at 1:30 pm.
Silent Film Mondays' Buster Keaton Festival continues with this movie about a projectionist with big dreams. Paramount Theatre, Mon Sept 12 at 7 pm.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
See review this issue. Northwest Film Forum, Fri-Thurs 7, 9:30 pm.
Travellers & Magicians
If I say that a film made by a Bhutanese lama is mediocre is that bad karma? The movie is shot to look as pretty as possible, and much of it passes as a pleasant postcard. At the end of the movie, parallels between life and art predictably lead to an epiphany. That the epiphany of the film feels so much like a lesson and happens to be deeply conservative—happiness resides at home—puts it in the category of every other religious film with a message. (NATE LIPPENS) Travellers & Magicians screens this week at the Independent South Asian Film Festival, Broadway Performance Hall, Wed Sept 14 at 7 pm. Festival continues through Sept 18; for a complete schedule, see www.tasveer.org.
I liked Gangs of New York a lot, but not even Daniel Day-Lewis is going to convince me that anyone knows the mean streets of NYC better than Walter Hill's 1979 masterwork, in which the shirtless, leather-vested Warriors must fight their way back to Coney Island against the 100,000-strong army of rival gangs who think the group killed Cyrus, a messiah of sorts whose rallying cry is the eternal "Can you dig it?!?" Part horror, part camp, and part violent paranoid masturbation fantasy, The Warriors should make any lover of cult cinema come out and play. (SEAN NELSON) Egyptian, Fri-Sat midnight.
See review this issue. Varsity, Fri-Sun 1:50, 4:45, 8 pm, Mon-Thurs 8 pm.
2046, the long-awaited quasi-continuation of Wong Kar-Wai's swoony masterpiece In the Mood for Love, takes the director's trademark peccadilloes—women in high-necked dresses, lingering regrets, pop songs as holy writ—to what often feels like a rapturous endpoint. Set during the tail end of the '60s (the numerals in the title refer to, variously, a hotel room number, the date when China regains control of Hong Kong, and a briefly glimpsed sci-fi tale), the loose narrative follows Mood's once wide-eyed protagonist Tony Leung, now sporting an oily mustache and attempting to submerge his past romantic devastation with a series of caddish one-night stands. (Number Gong Li, Chungking Express's Faye Wong, and Ziyi Zhang among the broken hearted, with a maddeningly brief, ghostly appearance by Maggie Cheung.) Such a pessimistic downturn may initially turn off fans of the previous film, but, bummer that it is, 2046 gradually reveals itself as a natural, achingly felt progression in the character's (and director's) continuing evolution. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
The trailers for The 40-Year-Old Virgin promised yet another lame romp through sexual humiliation—Losin' It with gray hairs. The trailers, however, lied. Surprisingly smart and unashamed of a little jolt to the heartstrings, it's a sly movie, happy to shock occasionally, but happier still to bless its characters with the intelligence sorely lacking from most comedies. As Andy, Steve Carell may be the star of the film, but his performance is little more than the eye of the storm, with a stellar supporting cast (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, and Seth Rosen as his co-workers; the great Catherine Keener as his would-be love interest) shouldering much of the comedic load around him. The result is a film that, for the time being at least, wrestles comedy from the pimple-faced masses and hands it back to the adults. It's also the funniest movie you will see all year. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
In The Aristocrats, a film co-directed by Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette, dozens of legendary (and sub-legendary) comedians tell variations on the dirtiest joke in the world. At least, that's what the movie pretends to be. In the end, the joke is just a vehicle for allowing these humormongers the opportunity to flex muscles their entertainment careers seldom allow them to flex. Robin Williams hasn't been funny on screen in years, but he's unstoppably hilarious here. Likewise with Shelley Berman, Larry Storch, Rip Taylor, Phyllis Diller, and countless other comics from all strata of the business, who wring laughs from the sketchiest of premises. It's been at least two decades since Martin Mull has had a vehicle capable of expressing his brilliance, and he all but steals The Aristocrats. That honor belongs to Gottfried, whose performance of the joke at a Friars Club roast forms the soul of the film. (SEAN NELSON)
Bad News Bears
Billy Bob Thornton coaches baseball. Now there's a bright idea.
Taking equal inspiration from Sin City creator Frank Miller's Batman: Year One miniseries and artist Neil Adams' classic grim and gritty '70s run of Adam West apologia, the scenario circles back to the basics and has a ball reinventing the mythos. The defining elements are still there: boy loses parents, devotes life to fighting crime, becomes creature of the night. What's new is the filmmakers' attention to the inner life of their 2-D main character. For the first time in a live-action recounting, the title character is actually allotted more attention than the inevitably showy villains. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
This being a Jarmusch film, patience rules the day. Unfortunately, as with the fatally inert Coffee and Cigarettes, the style can't hold. Jarmusch's best films have always been built around an amicably aimless spirit, but Broken Flowers is undermined by a lack of drive comparable to that of its main character. It's one thing to watch someone wander for 90 minutes as long as we trust that he (and we) will eventually arrive at a destination. In this case, Jarmusch appears to have no real focus, and by the time the "mystery" reveals itself to be maddeningly inconsequential, the entire film borders on a malicious prank. There's slight and there's shiftless—Broken Flowers, sadly, is the latter. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
The Brothers Grimm
The Brothers Grimm seems tailor-made for director Terry Gilliam, yet it suffers from general incoherency, murky cinematography, and, frankly, irretrievably bad performances from the two lead actors. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are the titular siblings, who roam the mythical European countryside bilking peasants into thinking that their villages are haunted by the very curses that befall the characters in the beloved Grimm fairy tales we all heard as children. And then they encounter some real monsters, discover their inner creative selves, and learn to love, and blah blah blah. The film is a big mess, clearly the result of committee editing and directorial abandonment. (SEAN NELSON)
While exploring a mysterious river system deep under the Romanian mountains, a group of foolhardy spelunkers get turned into Lunchables by a bloodthirsty pack of constantly evolving man-bats. That's about it, really. Debuting director Bruce Hunt (previously responsible for second-unit Matrix work) has atmosphere to burn (and one lulu of a set piece involving a rock-climbing Piper Perabo), but his mixmaster editing style drains away much of the film's urgency, if not basic comprehensibility, early on. It's tough to get freaked out when you can't tell what the hell is going on. Still, the bats are pretty cool, especially when wending their way through the stalagti ... stalagmite ... the ones that point down. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The moment Willy Wonka makes his big entrance, cheering as an "It's a Small World"–style diorama bursts into flames, it's plain to see that Johnny Depp is in a world, and indeed a film, all his own. That's fine, actually. Depp's at his best in this mode; like Bill Murray and Peter Sellers before him, he has long since mastered the secret art of being better than the films he acts in. Unfortunately, director Tim Burton either doesn't know or doesn't care that the source material is being undermined by Depp's inventions. Kids still deserve better. (SEAN NELSON)
The Constant Gardener
Heavily reworked by director Fernando Meirelles, the stripped-down screenplay retains John le Carré's basic thrust: following the disappearance of his activist wife (Rachel Weisz), a middle-rung foreign ambassador (Ralph Fiennes) goes proactive on a global scale, uncovering all sorts of corporate malfeasance before eventually zeroing in on illegal drug testing in the slums of Kenya. The intense emotional buzz throughout should put the claim of the director's merely technical talent to rest. As in the best adaptations, there's a sense that The Constant Gardener is hijacking the source material in order to feed the filmmaker's personal obsessions. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Sometimes previews lie. Preemptively clobbered by fanboys and much maligned by critics, this easygoing adaptation of Marvel Comics' oldest superhero team (Earth, Wind, Fire & Rubber) is actually sort of... neat. More explicitly kid-friendly than the rest of the recent wave of comic adaptations, Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost's zippy origin script benefits mightily from splash panel perfect performances by Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans. The action set pieces suffer from below-par special effects, and a director (Barbershop's Tim Story) clearly out of his comfort zone, but the linking material still manages to capture the retro, slightly dorky charm of Stan Lee's squabbling nuclear-radiated family unit. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Whatever his faults, director John Singleton has always had a touch with actors, and here he draws relaxed performances from André 3000, Tyrese Gibson, and especially Chiwetel Ejiofor, as a cartoonishly evil mastermind who occasionally forces his henchmen to eat off of the floor. On the tech side, David Arnold's score lays gloriously heavy on the wa-wa pedal, and the photography and production design favorably recall the glory days of the '70s exploitation film, when folks like Roy Scheider and Jim Brown busted up Caddys and Dusters by the score. If, as the occasional brief moment suggests, this is all a straight-faced parody of such trash classics as Slaughter's Big Rip-Off and Truck Turner, Singleton may have bigger talents than anyone has ever suspected. If serious, however, lord help us. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
The Great Raid
Escaping from the shelves after a two-year delay, The Great Raid commendably sheds light on one of the lesser-known conflicts of World War II, a behind-the-lines, off-the-books siege of a Japanese-held POW camp in the Philippines, which culminated in the largest rescue mission in American history. Bookended with a copious amount of striking newsreel footage and staged with an impressive degree of historical accuracy, the results are heartfelt, reverent, honorable, and, ultimately, more than a little dull. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Werner Herzog has always had a thing for the abyss, of both the inner and outer kind. The much-Googled true story of Timothy Treadwell, a self-fashioned nature expert who spent 13 seasons in close contact with wild bears in Alaska before he and his girlfriend were devoured in 2003 by a rogue grizzly, seems so far up the director's alley as to be a little daunting—the kind of career-defining summation that can easily tar-baby a filmmaker into submission. He nails it. For all of the film's considerable ingenuity and power throughout, the sink-or-swim moment for audiences ultimately may hinge on the late unveiling of an audiotape documenting the couple's death. Those familiar with Herzog's past tendencies toward boundary-busting may be forgiven for feeling queasy over the prospect of such a revelation entering the realm of the snuff film (see When the Green Ants Dream). The way he handles the evidence, however, proves to be one of the eeriest, oddly beautiful things I've ever seen on a screen. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
The Interpreter turns what could have been a smart and twisty political thriller—with heavy emphasis on political—into a bogged-down and bland mulling over of wounded souls and suppressed sexual attraction. It's hard to care about the characters played by Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, since the actors seems to care very little about the characters themselves. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
As derivative sci-fi plots go, things could be worse. If director Michael Bay had focused on the paranoid dread built into the cloning conceit, the film might have turned out all right. But he didn't, and the result is an ungodly creature—half musings on the role of morality in science, half preposterous stunt collage. There are some truly cool moments in The Island (one car chase involving a semi, two-ton train wheels, and numerous crashes is a triumph of bang for bucks), but the absurd spectacle we look for from a colorful hack like Bay is undermined by his ridiculous and transparent desire to be taken seriously. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
A Sundance hit by director Phil Morrison and writer Angus MacLachlan (both from North Carolina), Junebug pretends to be about the South. It's really about the shame of being Southern. And because it's hard to hate oneself for an hour and a half straight, it's also about what self-absorbed assholes Yankees are. Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), a Chicago-based dealer in outsider art, travels to North Carolina to recruit a promising painter, and her new husband tags along to introduce her to his family. The new couple can't keep their hands off each other; his sister Ashley doesn't seem to comprehend sex, but she's about to have a baby. In a stunning demonstration of the lengths to which the script goes to prove Southern ignorance, she's also cheerfully trying to lose weight. The movie is packed with these sorts of bitter "insights," and they poison the entire experience. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Ladies in Lavender
In this assemblage of implausible vignettes , Maggie Smith is the proper sister Janet, concerned with privacy and appearances. Judi Dench plays Ursula, a fragile little biddy stuck in a permanent state of childish desperation because—this is actually in the script—she's never been properly fucked. They like to garden and knit, and the camera likes to follow gulls as they soar majestically over the beach. Then, a hot teen boy (Daniel Brühl) washes up on the shore. Ursula goes crazy; Janet huffs and acts a little weird herself (her husband died long ago). The kid doesn't speak a word of English, and there's a brief moment when someone suspects he might be a German spy, but then that tangent trails off, and he's actually a Polish violin prodigy. Luckily, the sexy Franco-Russian girl next door has a famous maestro for a brother, and the movie ends with a rousing concert, which (like everything else in this film) is flimsy and unintentionally sad. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Mad Hot Ballroom
In terms of scope, the first-time director and writer may have bitten off a bit more than they can comfortably chew, as the scenes of the kids' ballroom dancing contest come off as alternately long-winded and confusing. The ability to fashion anything even remotely comprehensible out of hundreds of hours of footage is admirable, but a slightly heavier hand in the editing bay could have worked wonders. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Eugene Levy stars opposite Samuel L. Jackson in this goofy FBI comedy.
March of the Penguins
I have never liked penguins, and now that I've watched this documentary I like them even less. The creatures have ugly feet, and their awkward walk makes them look like sitting ducks. I'm surprised the penguin is not, like the dodo, extinct. The only animal worth making a documentary about is the human. (CHARLES MUDEDE )
Me and You and Everyone We Know
Miranda July's feature-film debut is delicate and tense, a movie with a visual language so powerful that it seems to expand out of the movie theater and onto the sidewalk. The movie is set in Portland (characters refer to Burnside Street and Laurelhurst Park) but it was shot in L.A. (witness the palm trees), and the discrepancy serves to displace the story from either setting. July's is a fantastical world where the most important contours are human shapes, where intense sexual longing collides with the paradoxical wish to escape your own skin, where those who have power try to abdicate it, and those who are powerless act out in agonizing, self-deceiving ways. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
All Mr. & Mrs. Smith does is build to a fiery conclusion it never even attempts to earn, with both Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reduced to mere prop status along the way. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
The opening moments of the hugely entertaining Murderball, in which garbage-talking wheelchair rugby players beat the living hell out of each other while Ministry blares on the soundtrack, signals that, at the very least, this won't be the same old genteel take on triumphing over adversity. On any level—crowd pleaser, sports film, lowbrow character study—this approach goes over like gangbusters. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Must Love Dogs
This absurd movie concerns a divorcee (Diane Lane) who's moping about her state of lonely celibacy. Her family stages an intervention (actual quote: "This is an intervention"), and after a few stale jokes about the horrors of internet dating (actual quote: "Dad, what are you doing here?"), John Cusack enters, carves some wooden sculls with his manly hands, and raves about Dr. Zhivago. It's a half-assed movie, carefully focus-grouped to make women of a certain age believe that they're inherently more interesting than 24-year-olds, but with nothing of value for other demographics. (ANNIE WAGNER)
At a time when the bulk of adrenaline cinema seems divvied up between high-stakes Michael Bay mega-orgasms or Sci-Fi channel exclusives starring Lou Diamond Phillips and giant CGI snakes, the lean, stripped-down pleasures of an honest-to-goodness B-picture are sorely needed. Coming in at a fairly miraculous 85 minutes, Wes Craven's Red-Eye may not quite have the propulsive clockwork ingenuity of, say, a Breakdown or Pitch Black, but its built-for-speed, no-nonsense style goes a long way towards juicing this summer's dog days. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
The structure (in which four adolescent girls share a pair of miraculous pants) is a flimsy excuse to break the film into multicultural vignettes of self-discovery. Alexis Bledel as the withdrawn Lena is more endearing than her slight story of star-crossed love gives her the right to be, while Blake Lively never makes much of her daughter-of-a-suicide-driven-to-slutdom cliché of a character. Taken as a whole, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is too scattershot to make much of an impression. (ANNIE WAGNER)
A voodoo thriller starring Kate Hudson, Peter Saarsgard (!), and Gena Rowlands (!!).
A Sound of Thunder
A cut-rate time-travel debacle from director Peter Hyams, A Sound of Thunder abuses so many basic scientific principles in its first half hour that any jerk with a passing grade in freshman biology will feel her neurons shriveling up. A tourist on safari to the Cretaceous Period tramples a butterfly and (you guessed it) changes the course of history—nay, of evolution itself. Where Manhattan once stood, there lies a fetid swamp populated exclusively by carnivores. After dodging some aggro plants, a man-eating eel, and an army of baboon-faced lizards that sleep upside down, Dr. Travis Ryder (Edward Burns) nobly attempts to reverse his own imminent extinction. The special effects are laughable and the characters dimensionless, but a few all-too-familiar shots of desperate looting and waterlogged human remains cancel any possibility of B-movie yuks. If you need a fable about the dangers of human hubris, try the evening news. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Episode III will, indeed, be impossible to resist. Like it or not, the Force is with all of us, and I for one am more than happy to have seen the series through. Though the film has its truly embarrassing elements—romance, as always, remains an elusive creature to Lucas, and in the end the evil Sith lord's scheme to turn Anakin over to the dark side is hysterically obvious (who knew Darth Vader was such an easily manipulated dolt?)—at this point there's doesn't seem to be much of a reason to quibble. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
The hero of Stealth is Lt Gen Gannon (Josh Lucas), a blue-eyed, all-American flyboy. The love interest is a thick-lipped beauty named Kara Wade (Jessica Biel). The Negro sidekick is Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx). The sidekick is the first (and only one) to go, and the death of the Negro has much in common with the death of John Henry in American myth. But to go into all of that is to make this movie more interesting than it actually is. Indeed, any amount of thinking, consideration of themes, tropes, figures, Barthian connotations, or narratological deep structures, could not veil the fact that this movie sucks real bad. (CHARLES MUDEDE )
The Transporter 2
An unnecessary sequel to an unnecessary original. Jason Statham returns as Frank Martin, the well dressed gun-for-hire who likes to drive fast and snap limbs. His car is a black Audi, his enemies are Eurotrash bent on poisoning government officials, and his means are both overblown and ridiculous—so much so that it had the audience I watched it with (all eight of them) buckled over in laughter. If you loved the first film you're sure to love this one. On a related note: If you loved the first film there's something wrong with you. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Jeez, these kids today, with their exxxtreme sports and midriffs and hot car rings... The dusty "cop goes undercover in high school" chestnut gets yet another go via writer/producer/actor Nick (Drumline) Cannon. It's hard to fault the 24-year-old for his ambition, but this vanity project alternates between dull and synthetically hip, with the star severely overestimating his ability to imitate Eddie Murphy in motormouth mode. As Cannon's crusty supervisor, Cheech Marin seems vaguely embarrassed to be on the screen, which pretty much says it all. Still, you do sort of have to admire a movie in which the intestinal distress of a fat cop is used as a major plot device. The fart joke has entered an exciting new stage. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
An Unfinished Life
A film by Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog), about a woman (J.Lo) who moves in with her father-in-law (Robert Redford) so that she can better care for her daughter.
Valiant breaks down into a simple story about a bird war hero. It makes war look sorta uncomfortable (they show some cartoon bullets), but at the same time it's oh-so-cute and manageable, with happy endings all around—a half-assed army recruitment tool disguised as an adorable animated Disney flick. (MEGAN SELING)
Vikings: Journey to New Worlds
This 40-minute documentary about the legendary Norse invaders is big on spurts of dead-end facts (Viking helmets didn't really have horns! Thursday is really Thor's Day!) and endless reenactments featuring husky Scandinavians in furs. The kid-friendly film only skims the surface of the Viking influence on world culture, and the few scenes that justify the large film format are sweeping panoramas of Icelandic geysers and the sea ice off Greenland. But those frigid green vistas are amazing, and if March of the Penguins didn't chill your ardor for polar cinematography, you'll find plenty to satisfy you here. (ANNIE WAGNER)
War of the Worlds
Though I usually take his side, if only for sport, the first hour of War of the Worlds had me convinced that Steven Spielberg had finally proven his detractors right. Before the bad things start happening, the stage is set for the kind of soulless, CGI-driven family redemption saga that could only happen in a grillion dollar movie. But then something happens. The supreme achievement of the effects seems to galvanize Spielberg into earning them—it's like the material is daring the director to show us what he's got. (SEAN NELSON)
Seemingly conceived, shot, and edited during a four-day weekend, Wedding Crashers, while occasionally amusing, is lazy enough to make '80s ass-gas-or-grass comedies like H.O.T.S. or Hamburger: The Motion Picture look like models of precision timing. In a nutshell: Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are lawyers who get their kicks by boozily infiltrating the nuptials of strangers, eventually meeting their match with a pair of Kennedyesque sisters. Christopher Walken drops by to do his thing. This is all likely to go over well at the box office, but the overall sloppiness and genial contempt for the viewer is tough to ignore. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
On paper, this documentary about the five-year relationship between a gentle, sporadically homeless hippie with no visible means of support and an unruly flock of birds sounds like a recipe for instant tooth decay. Darned if it doesn't work, though. (ANDREW WRIGHT)