The results of a Fly Film-like experiment, in which teams are given a weekend to make a seven-minute film. Harvard Exit, Tues July 11 at 7 and 9 pm, Thurs July 13 at 7 and 9 pm.
A vintage recruitment film from the Black Panthers, a doc about a student strike in the '60s, and another doc about toppling a statue of Christopher Columbus in Caracas, Venezuela. Keystone Church, Fri July 7 at 7 pm.
Upon first meeting glamourless Anni (Anni-Christina Juuso) in The Cuckoo, we might conclude that she will function in this film as a stolid Earth Mother, on screen to teach us some valuable, if necessarily humorless, lessons on Life and The Land and, since this is a wartime film, undoubtedly Man's Inhumanity to Man. Turns out, though, that she's been without her husband for a couple of years, and what she really, really, really wants is to get laid. So the sudden arrival, thanks to the war, of two wandering slabs of manflesh is rather more urgent than any concerns she might have about all that Man's Inhumanity stuff. This is merely the first of many expectations to be upended in Alexander Rogozhkin's film—a humorous, human, and nifty piece of enchantment. (CLAUDE ROC) Central Cinema, Thurs July 13 at 7, 9:30 pm. (Late show 21+.) Through July 16.
See review this issue. Northwest Film Forum, Weekdays 7, 9 pm, Sat-Sun 3, 5, 7, 9 pm.
Three free screenings of cycling docs kick off the Tour de France at the Grand Illusion. Höllentour is a thorough exploration of the Tour: from masseurs to fans to the athletes themselves. Series continues with A Sunday in Hell and Pedal (see below). Grand Illusion, Weekdays 9 pm, Sat-Sun 5, 9 pm.
Best known for The Tin Drum, Volker Schlöndorff's more recent cinematic outings tend toward the lackluster. But with The Legend of Rita (2000), he got his groove back, delivering the kind of sizzling ethical, political complexity that made The Lost Honor of Katarina Blum such a red-hot poker. He tracks a German political terrorist/heroine's flight through numerous lives and disguises—this joyously idealistic, existentially loony young woman's "legends." Every legend she inhabits comes furnished with work, relationships, good times; when she sheds a life and moves on, it shocks us right out of our comfy identification with her bourgeois normalcy. Charismatic, admirable, and ultimately, bone-deep scary, Rita's is the very human face of fanaticism, up close and personal. (KATHLEEN MURPHY) Central Cinema, Thurs-Sun 7, 9:30 pm. (Late show 21+.)
A documentary about New York City bike messengers and their fearless/foolhardy ways. Grand Illusion, Fri-Sat 11 pm.
Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn star in this breezy little trifle about a slumming princess and an undercover reporter in one of the world's most beautiful cities. Museum of History and Industry, Thurs July 6 at 7:30 pm.
In this follow-up to the minor sensation L'Auberge Espagnol, Xavier (Romain Duris), a hack pencil for hire, struggles to find love while being severely handicapped by his own self-absorption. Unable to see the perfect beauty right in front of his eyes (her name is Wendy, she's played by Kelly Reilly, and you can't help but fall for her), he's led on a seemingly quixotic quest to squash his own immaturity in affaires du coeur. Director Cédric Klapisch has yet to meet a visual gimmick he didn't like, and he's occasionally too clever for his own good, but you can't help but be won over by the overall effort. As a film it's charming; as a tourism promo for London, Paris, and St. Petersburg, it's brilliant. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER) Northwest Film Forum, Weekdays 7, 9:30 pm, Sat-Sun 4:30, 7, 9:30 pm.
Seattle Art Museum (in residence at MOHAI) continues its Audrey Hepburn series with this Billy Wilder favorite about the adorable daughter of a chauffeur. Museum of HIstory and Industry, Thurs July 13 at 7:30pm.
The John Hughes classic starring Molly Ringwald as the birthday girl. Egyptian, Fri-Sat midnight.
A documentary about the 1976 Paris-Roubaix, the pro bicycle race known as the "Hell of the North." Grand Illusion, Weekdays 7 pm, Sat-Sun 3, 7 pm.
Members of Jet City Improv provide the dialogue to this 1957 monster movie. Fremont Outdoor Movies, Sat July 8 at dusk.
The unwieldy title of this festival portends incredulity, but hilarity? That remains to be seen. Includes video work by the SoCal Film Group, Don't Be That Guy Films, and Invisible Engine Productions, plus local talent. Rendezvous, Tues July 11 at 7 and 8:45 pm.
American Dreamz spoofs American Idol and real life: The president is a complete idiot who's so dumb he has to wear a bug in his ear so his staff can tell him what to say. HAHA! Truth is funny. Based on the material reality gave the writers to work with, this movie should've been fucking hilarious, right? Not so much. (MEGAN SELING)
Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston squabble toward an uplifting ending in this Peyton Reed (Down With Love) film.
With Pixar movies, you know the story is going to be bursting with loveable characters housing their own endearing little quirks. Toy Story had Buzz Lightyear, Monsters, Inc. had Mike Wazowski, Finding Nemo had Dory and those awesome stoner turtles-but who do we get in Cars? Just a bunch of stupid cars! Cars are machines. Metal, plastic, rubber... just machines. Even with a face painted on them, they're not warm. You don't wanna cuddle with a car. You don't want a car for a friend or even a pet. You kinda just want 'em all to drive themselves off of a cliff so they can be scrapped and turned into something cool. Like Transformers. (MEGAN SELING)
While visiting the Philippines for his father's funeral, a slacker security guard receives an anonymous phone call at the airport: Follow a series of mysterious demands to the letter, or your family dies. Now that's high concept, Hollywood. Made for somewhere in the neighborhood of seven grand, the heavily caffeinated debut from writer-directors Neill Dela Llana and Ian Gamazon is a triumph of working within limitations, with clever cutaways and an ingenious, propulsive sound design papering over a myriad budgetary gaps. (Even the smeary DV, normally a liability, here gives the images a surreal, Otter Pop vividness.) In retrospect, co-director Gamazon can't quite handle the emotive heavy lifting needed in the lead performance, and an unnecessary coda threatens to ruin the near perfect circularity of the premise. On the fly and in the moment, however, it's just about brilliant. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Adam Sandler plays an omnipotent couch potato in this sophisticated movie about how the fast-forward button on your DVD remote control has revolutionized the way you think about patience, experience, destiny, and the remembrance of things past.
Everything about this movie is boiled until tough. The cinematography (by Cinderella Man's Salvatore Totino) is without flair; Tom Hanks is charmless; Audrey Tautou looks like a dusty china doll; and the scavenger-hunt plot is stretched out over 149 draining minutes. Only Ian McKellen wrings any fun out of the movie, but then again, he gets two crutches to play with. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Is Meryl Streep afraid of Anna Wintour? There's something weirdly soft in her portrayal of "dragon lady" Miranda Priestly, the editor at Runway magazine (read: Wintour's Vogue), that completely contradicts the spirit of the movie. But to be fair, it's not her fault: Streep can't help but play a human being, and the characters in The Devil Wears Prada are not human beings. A Hollywood movie, I would argue, can do satire, but it can't usually do personal or dishy. Hundreds of people create a movie; one aggrieved ex-employee, sitting in a garret somewhere, types a novel. The entire mechanism of cinema works to make its content presentable: Scenes are performed, not cattily divulged. If Streep's performance softens under this pressure, Anne Hathaway, as the perky Weisberger stand-in, simply dissolves. Her character is nice and, we're repeatedly told, smart—and conspicuously, no longer Jewish—but she's incredibly dull. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Clocking in at 85 minutes, District B13 serves as an ideal sampler for writer-producer Luc Besson's (The Professional) distinct flavor of Eurotrash, where the men have manly goo-goo eyes for each other; the women are gold-hearted, punked-out skanks; and even the sluggiest thug wears Gautier. What makes District B13 stand out from the pack is the incorporation of parkour, a frankly dumbfounding extreme sport involving crazy rooftop shenanigans. Whatever the pseudo-philosophical bullstuff of its origins (the Wikipedia entry expounds at length about harmony and "being fluid like water"), it makes for the most irresistibly cinematic martial art since the hallowed Gymkata. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Why must so many American independent films be so cringe-worthy? Why must the cast, crew, friends of the filmmaker, producers, etc., be so gosh-darn awed at the prospect of participating in a minor motion picture that they neglect to point out that, for example, there are truly painful Asian stereotypes in the script that make no discernible contribution to the plot and whose only possible purpose is misguided humor? This (I hate to admit it) completely typical American indie is marred by numerous such missteps, most not quite so patently offensive, but still so obvious that it's hard to imagine anyone read over the screenplay before the cameras rolled. A very broad comedy—certainly not black in hue, but perhaps a mild shade of gray—set in Queen Anne, Volunteer Park, and other picturesque locations with views of the Space Needle, plus the (film insider joke!) Alibi Room, Expiration Date is about a Native dude named Charlie who is doomed to be run over by a milk truck on his 25th birthday (family curse, apparently). It's almost funny whenever a Smith Brothers milk truck is mowing Charlie down, but it's almost never funny when he's wooing the most annoying girl in the world—a cutesy, bug-eyed bohemian dancer! who might have cancer! who teaches geriatric aerobics! against whom the animal control depot has taken out a restraining order, but who still stages a puppy breakout halfway through the film! Seattle actor Brandon Whitehead plays a caffeine addict. There are several conspicuously placed copies of The Stranger. But no amount of local shout-outs is gonna make Expiration Date a good film. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Drift racing in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Friends with Money atones for its shortcomings in the plot department by kicking unprecedented ass in the great-actress-triumvirate-of-delight department: Joan Cusack, Frances McDormand, and Catherine Keener. But it's still a movie about the emotional pain of building an addition to one's house. (LINDY WEST)
It's based on a Mark Twain story, so why they gotta be messin' with Dickens?
Since being picked up by Miramax, The Heart of the Game has become a big, fat juggernaut modeled after Hoop Dreams and narrated by Ludacris—but it began as a scrappy, no-budget local movie about the girls' basketball team at Roosevelt High School.The big games are all raucous intra-city blowouts against Garfield. There's plenty of grainy video footage courtesy of KOMO TV. It's impossible to approach the movie with anything resembling objectivity—and that's what makes it such gripping fun. (ANNIE WAGNER)
An Inconvenient Truth is workmanlike and clumsy at times—but it's also hugely invigorating. Tracking Gore's global-warming lecture as he schleps his Apple laptop across the country and to China, it's a collection of scientific facts and correlations made urgent through human drama and low-tech slide-show magic. It should be required viewing for every American citizen. And if it kicks up a storm of speculation regarding Al Gore's political prospects in 2008? So much the better. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves exchange love letters. Schmoopy, time-warped love letters. You call that a movie?
Clearly, in retrospect, what the Mission: Impossible franchise needed was a director young and hungry enough to shoot the moon, yet humble enough to work comfortably within the system. In short, a TV guy. Enter Alias/Lost creator J. J. Abrams, whose television work displays a genuine affinity for the ol' cloak and dagger, as well as a winningly snarky knack for subverting the dustier conventions of same. His feature debut lives up to his small-screen predilections, which should please audiences and studio accountants alike. Abrams's script, cowritten with Alias cohorts Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, finds Tom Cruise's IMF hotshot semi-retired to instructor status and on the cusp of settling down with adorable nurse Michelle Monaghan. Before long, however, circumstances draw him back into the field, in the person of Philip Seymour Hoffman's sociopathic arms dealer with a grudge. Stuff goes boom. This rather A-to-B plot is fleshed out with a number of killer supporting acts, including Laurence Fishburne, Shaun of the Dead's Simon Pegg, and especially Hoffman, who makes for an amusingly direct, pissy supervillain. It's with Cruise, however, that the director pulls off his biggest coup. Pesky personal matters aside, there's always been something uncomfortable about Cruise's screen presence—that feeling that he's always blaringly on, giving even the quietest moments 140 percent. Abrams's solution—steadily jacking up the emotional and physical intensity to match the star-pays huge, pleasantly exhausting dividends. He's got game. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Gosh! Rip off my frickin' movie why don't you, Jared Hess! This is pretty much the worst movie ever made. I mean, I guess it's an okay movie. It's pretty funny. And Jack Black looks flipping sweet in tights. If he can become a wrestler and make money, he'll be able to afford better food for the monastery and all the orphans. Dang. Now that I think about it, it's pretty much my favorite movie ever. (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE)
Unfortunately, director Mary Harron and co-screenwriter Guinevere Turner limit themselves to cursory observations about the conservative mores of the '60s and perfunctory stops along the timeline of Bettie's rise to "notoriety." (HANNAH LEVIN)
A remake of the 1976 horror film of the same name. Starring Liv Schreiber, Julia Stiles, and many creepy black-haired babies as Damien.
This movie is about cartoon animals with feelings who learn lessons about junk food and waste and suburban sprawl. There are three funny parts. 1. RJ the Raccoon teaches the other animals about big fat humans: "The human mouth is called a piehole." 2. The exterminator is fooled by a lawn flamingo: "Those things are so lifelike. Curse you, plastic moldsman!" 3. A cat's pick-up line: "Inside, I have a multi-leveled climby thing with shag carpet." Wait. I fucked up. Number three's not funny. The rest-despite an all-hits-no-misses cast and an awesome Ben Folds soundtrack-is a shrill combo of recycled jokes, less than hilarious mayhem, and demonic porcupine babies. But the kiddie audience loved it. In the climactic moments, when Stella the Skunk pops her anal plug and fills evil Gladys's house with skunk stank, they burst into triumphant applause. (LINDY WEST)
In his ballyhooed return to the environs, if not the concerns, of Middle America, Robert Altman takes on a script by Garrison Keillor about the end of his famed radio show. G. K., as the dour host is known backstage, looks rather like some heretofore-unknown breed of fleshy-lipped bulldog. To be frank, I wish I had never learned that: imaginary Powder Milk Biscuits will never taste quite the same. Such are the perils of adapting a radio program to film. But none particularly impugn Altman's contribution: his patented ensemble whirligig, which sweeps through and around scenes with an almost mechanical precision. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin are adorable as a pair of indifferently harmonizing sisters. Lindsay Lohan, as Streep's poetry-scribbling daughter, is, like the children of Lake Wobegone, merely above average. But all this delicate chemistry is nearly ruined by the script. It's sad to see Keillor making miscalculations about the nature and appeal of his own creations. (ANNIE WAGNER)
After a five-year stint spent amid the shards of his native Krypton, the Man of Steel (Brandon Routh) returns to earth to discover that the world has moved on in his absence. Even his former squeeze Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is saddled with a Dudley Do-Right boyfriend and a suspiciously puny kid. Fortunately for the plot, chrome-domed supergenius Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) soon hatches a scheme for world domination, this time involving magic continent-altering crystals owned by Superman's father, Jor-El. (Even in a miniscule, CGI-assisted cameo, Marlon Brando seems to still be chortling about his record salary from the original.) Although the resulting chaos is occasionally eye-popping, personal relationships take the forefront, to the film's decided detriment. More than any other comic-book hero, Superman needs to be big, gargantuan, iconic—not grounded by angst. For a movie featuring a hero who can conceivably give God a wedgie, there's precious little zowie to be found. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
As a work of satire, Thank You for Smoking is safely and securely dated. The book it's adapted from (by conservative novelist Christopher Buckley) was published in the mid-'90s, when tobacco lawsuits were flying fast and loose and the word "probe" was rampant in headlines in the Washington Post. But what the movie loses in relevance, it gains in absurd comedy. When Nick visits his kid's school for a career day, a smarty-pants kid up front announces, "My mommy says cigarettes kill." Without batting an eye, he bends to her and sweetly inquires, "Now, is your mommy a doctor?" Eckhart, a blond Mormon with a toothpastey grin, plays Nick with evident relish; Cameron Bright, of the preternaturally blue eyes, brings his baby gravitas to the role of Nick's son. There are some hilarious smaller performances by Adam Brody (as the hyperactive assistant to a Hollywood agent) and William H. Macy (as a tongue-tied liberal senator from Vermont), and one very bad performance by Katie Holmes (as a spunky reporter). It's fast-paced and fun, and if some of the movie's values seem creaky, that's because neoconservatism has won out over conservatism, and public-speaking skills have become ever less relevant. (ANNIE WAGNER)
There are some difficulties when it comes to telling the story of United Flight 93, the fourth plane hijacked on 9/11, whose passengers somehow overcame the terrorists and brought the plane to the ground before it could hurt anyone besides themselves. There's no suspense; we already know what's going to happen. The dialogue drips with dramatic irony—passengers telling family members, business associates, and one another about their plans for tomorrow and the next week—which is ironic, since 9/11 was supposed to have killed irony. But there are very good reasons to sit through United 93. On the emotional register, the film hits a perfectly chosen note, neither aggressive enough to seem callous nor excessively deferential, which would have felt mawkish. Whatever dramatic inventions were necessary for the scenes on the plane, the confusion on the ground is drawn straight from The 9/11 Commission Report. With so many officials glued to their radar screens, which were designed for one purpose, it isn't hard to understand why they couldn't see what was happening. The hijackers had fitted their planes with a new meaning that didn't show up in green and black. It needed a movie, and it needed a screen. (ANNIE WAGNER)
A security-guard parolee (Tyrese Gibson) goes loco after his son is kidnapped. Given three days to come up with the ransom, he teams up with a peripherally connected hot mama to rip off a series of local gangsters. As far as revenge scenarios go, this is serviceable enough, but things get hopelessly botched in the execution. Gibson is not exactly the most expressive of actors, and watching him clank through the more emotive scenes like Der Golem leaves one pining for the chops of a Seagal or Van Damme. Hampered by this lead performance, director Vondie Curtis-Hall is unable to find a style that sticks. The results had the preview audience howling, presumably not with approval. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
A mild documentary about crossword puzzles and those who love them, featuring interviews with Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart (who valiantly tries to inject some zaniness into the proceeedings), the Indigo Girls, and of course, puzzle editors Will Shortz and Merl Reagle. Compared to the several Scrabble documentaries that came out a few years ago, Wordplay is conspicuously lacking in crazy characters. Remember the guy with gastrointestinal distress in Word Wars who's always spitting in a cup? Or the spasmodic kid in Spellbound? Wordplay needs characters like that. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Yes, Wolverine gets to kick some minor ass, and thankfully Storm isn't entirely useless this time around, but to what end? If a mutant with amazing powers can't... you know, amaze, then why should we bother to care? The X-Men films have never lived up to the intelligence of the original comics, but they've never shied away—or completely ignored—that intelligence either. X-Men: The Last Stand, under director Brett Ratner's abysmal care, is too scared to tackle the big ideas. He has given us the summer blockbuster he wants to see—unfortunately, most everyone who enjoys movies has better taste. It's a shameful way for the trilogy to end: not with a brain, but with a whimper. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)