A documentary featurette from 2000 about the Malian guitarist and songwriter who died in March. Northwest Film Forum, Tues-Thurs 7, 8:30 pm.
See review this issue. Varsity, see Movie Times, page 95, for details.
Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai's (2046) action/art film explores an underworld lit by neon and consumed by style. Central Cinema, Thurs-Sun 9:30 pm. (21+ only).
Local choreographer Diana Cardiff describes her entry to this karaoke video competition as follows: "There are bunnies and buny dancers involved." Hot. (Robert Lawson will accompany, in a vocal selection entitled "Love Hurts.") Beer included in price of admission. Northwest Film Forum, Mon Aug 14 at 8 pm (21+ only).
A 1966 satire by Philippe de Broca about being worshipped by the residents of a lunatic asylum while you're attempting to disarm a Nazi bomb. It's a hard-knock life. Grand Illusion, Weekdays 7, 9 pm, Sat-Sun 3, 5, 7, 9 pm.
The only animal worth making a documentary about is the human. (CHARLES MUDEDE) Fremont Outdoor Movies, Sat Aug 12 at dusk.
MirrorMask, Dave McKean's much-anticipated feature-length directorial debut, shows that whatever his gifts, moving pictures may not yet be his medium. Taken on a shot-by-shot basis, McKean's talents for design are more than evident, with bizarro cityscapes and oddball characters rendered even more impressive by the miniscule $4 million budget. On a whole, however, the results are less Lewis Carroll and more Labyrinth. Working again with Gaiman, McKean has crafted a curious oddity: a unique new world, crammed to the gills with invention, which comes off as almost completely static. (ANDREW WRIGHT) Egyptian, Fri-Sat midnight.
In this charming film, 24-year-old writer/ director Jared Hess mines the nebulous area between popular chic and weirdo freak, where outcast attributes provide both quality, subtle comedy, and a charmingly dark link to our collective high-school unconscious. (JENNIFER MAERZ) South Lake Union Discovery Center, Fri Aug 11 after dusk.
A 1922 silent starring Lewis Stone as King Rudolf V and Rudolf Rassendyll, his dastardly doppelganger cousin. Swordfights ensue. Accompanied by Dennis James on the Paramount's awesome Wurlitzer organ. Paramount, Mon Aug 14 at 7 pm.
See review this issue. (ANDREW WRIGHT) Northwest Film Forum, Daily 7, 9 pm.
A documentary about a spring break spent doing relief work on the Gulf Coast. Fundraiser for Social Change Caravan (socialchangecaravan.org). Neptune, Wed Aug 16 at 7 pm.
Another round of hilarious Three Stooges shorts that you probably haven't seen. Selections include Crash Goes the Hash, Boobs in Arms, and Three Sappy People. Grand Illusion, Fri 11 pm, Sat 12:30 pm, 11 pm, Sun 12:30 pm.
A Korean film from 2001, Take Care of My Cat is about a cadre of girls who graduate from high school and go their several ways. Central Cinema, Thurs-Sun 7 pm.
Seattle Art Museum's Audrey Hepburn series concludes with this 1967 Stanley Donen film about marriage, infidelity, and breedin'. Museum of History and Industry, Thurs Aug 10 at 7:30 pm.
One of the first Kiarostami films to gain notice in the U.S., Where Is the Friend's Home? (sometimes translated, more accurately if less charmingly, as Where Is My Friend's House?) is about about a kid named Ahmed who wants to return a lost notebook to his buddy. His journey requires him to navigate an intricately terraced Iranian neighborhood—built for pedestrians but not for children—with only passersby to guide him. I love this film because it makes you see the world with a suddenly urgent sense of care and appreciation. (My thoughts about the film are still somehow tied up with the pressed tin ceiling at the Grand Illusion, where I first saw it in 1999.) It's not magic, but it's pretty close. (ANNIE WAGNER) Northwest Film Forum, Fri 7, 9 pm, Sat-Sun 5, 7, 9 pm.
An animated movie about a mean kid who gets what's coming to him, thanks to an army of ants.
Humanized cows do NOT make good cartoon characters. You can't stand a cow up on its hind legs and make it talk and dance around with its bright pink phallic udder swinging everywhere! That's not cute and goofy! These cartoon cows don't even have buttholes drawn onto them, yet we get to watch their perverse udders just flap around in the wind the whole fucking movie? Uh, ew! There's also a creepy coyote in this movie that, when threatening the hens in the hen house, turns it into this weirdly sexual situation and like, starts talking all deep and weird while stroking the chickens and shit... Kids probably won't pick up on it (they're sorta dumb), but I totally noticed and it made me uncomfortable. But if you're into that sorta thing—you know, bestiality—than Barnyard is the perfect movie for you! (MEGAN SELING)
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)
Set once again in Smith's beloved Red Bank, New Jersey, the story finds the original film's convenience-store counter monkeys making the lateral move to a fast-food joint, with maturity nipping unwanted at their heels. There are a few amusing moments to be found between the speechifying and belabored craft-service zingers (the extended sight of Rosario Dawson bopping along to a Jackson 5 song is, for once, a reason to celebrate the filmmaker's inability to move the camera), but Smith's calculated return to his roots feels, for the most part, like a pre-moldy artifact that has lost most of its freshness or shock value in the era of YouTube and message boards. Smith's hyperliterate lead-assed wiseacres deserve their place in indie-movie history, no doubt, but when even the fart jokes fail to pop, it may be time to draw the curtain. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
The story of six female spelunkers trapped several miles below the surface of the earth, the movie is, from the get-go, hugely claustrophobic and skin-crawlingly intense. And then the flesh-eating monsters come out. Hyperbole be danged: This is the best, purest horror film in years. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
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)
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)
Things you can depend on: Christmas Day will always arrive December 25. Your life will one day end. Edward Burns will forever remain a talentless hack. This piece of wholly unremarkable tripe—written and directed and starring Mr. Burns—follows a gaggle of lifelong friends/dunderheads as they argue, laugh, and bond before one shackles himself into marriage. Burns still has one of the world's great voices, and Matthew Lillard (yes, Shaggy from Scooby-Doo), of all people, delivers a decent performance, but the jokes are far too few and the overall product uninspired. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
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. (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)
A movie about bitchy girls and magic underpants.
Holy shit. Everything is wrong with this picture. Everything! The photography is exceptionally dull—M. Night Shyamalan managed to do what even Barry Levinson couldn't do: make the work of the most intoxicating cinematographer alive today, Christopher Doyle, look and feel absolutely sober. The story has nothing new to reveal. A water nymph rises out of a swimming pool to tell humans how to make the world better. But the humans cannot hear her. Only a child can receive her message (through the unlikely medium of cereal boxes). At the level of ideology, the movie ends up supporting exactly what it intended to denounce: war. The director clearly had a plan to make an antiwar film, but he made this huge mistake: He imagined the enemy of the delicate water people in the same way that Bush and other warmongers imagine their enemies—as pure evil, evil incarnate, evil for no other reason than being evil. Lastly, the lady from the water is a pure-white, Pre-Raphaelite woman (played by Bryce Dallas Howard); whereas the evil being is simply a black mass. This binary construction leads us, by way of King Kong, back to The Birth of a Nation. (CHARLES MUDEDE)
It's one thing to hear longtime fans prattle on about how great Leonard Cohen's music is, and another thing entirely to hear him speak for himself. In this uneven music documentary, two movies fight for dominance—one full of cover songs and effusive testimonials, the other dominated by the man in the Armani suit. Loosely based around the "Came So Far for Beauty" concert at the Sydney Opera House in 2005, the music segments feature Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave, Beth Orton, Antony, and the Handsome Family. But director Lian Lunson also includes interviews with Cohen, and this is where the documentary takes off. With his growling voice and bright eyes, Cohen brings the movie into focus. Self-deprecating where others are fawning, he talks about how long it takes to get a song just right, how "Chelsea Hotel #2" really was about a fling he had with Janis Joplin, and how his reputation as a ladies' man caused him "to laugh bitterly on the 10,000 nights I spent alone." (ANDY SPLETZER)
A computer-miniaturized Wayans brother hits below the belt. Har, har!
A monster hit at Sundance, where it was picked up for a record-breaking $10.5 million, Little Miss Sunshine is brazen enough to truck in well-worn indie film trappings. Which is to say it's a dysfunctional family road trip comedy built upon a mountain of character quirks. Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, and Steve Carell star as motivational speaker father, beleaguered mother, loony grandfather, and gay Proust-scholar uncle, respectively. The plot sends them tripping from New Mexico to California, where youngest daughter Olive is due to compete in a pre-teen beauty pageant. At its best, the film achieves a sort of hipster whimsy; at its worst, it's forced to create gross caricatures in order to lend its characters a semblance of humanity in comparison. Call it Indie Filmmaking 101. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Michael Mann likes to live vicariously through his characters. Visually, this desire is embodied through what has become his signature shot: camera trailing smack dab behind a character's ear, as if it were attached to the nape of the neck. The choice is often jarring, and it betrays Mann's real desire as a filmmaker, which is to inhabit the very space his characters occupy. Miami Vice—a decidedly non-winking update of the '80s television series—is in many ways the ultimate Michael Mann film. All the touchstones are there. Oceans are on hand for lingering gazes; women are on hand for conflicted grazing—swap out the title card and this could easily be a description of Heat. But while that film has become a certifiable classic worthy of repeat viewings, Miami Vice is an outright mess, underfed and seemingly filmed on the fly—a surprise from a director vaunted for his painful perfectionism. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Old Man Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), like all neighborhood coots, really, really wants you to stay off his lawn. He screams and howls, threatens bodily harm ("You want to be a dead person?"), and he will not give you your ball back. But it's for your own good, really, considering the giant carnivorous child-gobbling monster (Kathleen Turner—no, seriously) masquerading as Nebbercracker's house. Across the street, neighbor kid DJ peers through his telescope, suspecting foul play, determined to get to the bottom of things. Leafless trees flank the house like sad, dead fingers. Grasping tendrils of lawn drag unsuspecting trespassers to their doom. Long story short, I now have nightmares from a movie meant for babies. Fortunately, Monster House has jokes, too—genuinely good ones—and an awesome cast (Fred Willard, Jason Lee, Maggie Gyllenhaal). Its exploration of the house's anatomy is an unexpected delight. Of a globby, chandelier-like thing, one of the kids observes: "That must be the uvula!" "Oh," responds her pal, "so it's a girl house." A girl house, indeed—one that can breathe and blink and vomit and hate. It will scare the shit out of you. (LINDY WEST)
A normal guy (Luke Wilson) dumps a superhero lady (Uma Thurman), and everything goes to bits.
In The Night Listener, Robin Williams impersonates Lawrence Welk a delightful zero times and puts a smile on the face of exactly no cancer kids by never wearing a clown nose or putting a bedpan on his head. In fact, for most of the film, he's morose nearly to the point of catatonia, making this the most consistently bearable Robin Williams movie ever. But that doesn't mean it doesn't totally suck genie-ass. Williams is Gabriel Noone, a sort of gay Garrison Keillor, nationally beloved for his radio show, "Noone at Night." Having recently separated from his much younger, hotter boyfriend, Gabriel finds distraction in mentoring, over the phone, a 14-year-old syphilitic child-prostitution victim (Rory Culkin) who just wants his memoir published before he dies of AIDS, and who may or may not exist entirely in the mind of Toni Collette. The Night Listener is a wholly unthrilling thriller—a mystery that solves itself in the first 20 minutes, then spends the next 71 just double-checking. (LINDY WEST)
A flatfooted Spanish family romp that throws everything in but the kitchen sink. Actually, scratch that. The kitchen sink is the setting for an extended comic sequence about defrosting soup. And no, it's not funny. Leni (the pretty redhead Marián Aguilera) loves boinking her man Rafi (Guillermo Toledo). She wants to bring him home to meet her mom, but there's a hitch: She's Jewish, and he's Palestinian. Since her grandpa is a concentration-camp survivor who fought for Israeli independence, and her brother is born-again Orthodox—with all the zeal and subpar Hebrew that implies—this doesn't go over well. But by the time the movie builds up to the inevitable precoital occupation-versus-terrorist blowout, we've been far too distracted—by amnesia, the sitcommish acting, and, oh yes, the duckling in the bidet—to care. (ANNIE WAGNER)
This movie is about cartoon animals with feelings who learn lessons about junk food and waste and suburban sprawl. There are three funny parts. 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. (LINDY WEST)
The first Pirates of the Caribbean film rose from the ashes of low expectations, dragged up from its dubious theme-park origins by a subversive and hilariously twisted performance by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. What should have been un film stupide turned into one of the few surprises of 2003. Now comes the midsection of the trilogy, which picks up shortly after the first film ended. Capt. Jack remains a truly weird invention, but now everyone around him is trying desperately to keep up, and what's left is a film so amped up it flirts with being cartoonish. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is the expected romp: swords are clashed, cannons are fired, and many a quip is unsheathed. But what's missing this go-around is the genuine surprise of the first film. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
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)
What is the core truth of this film based on a Philip K. Dick short story of the same name? That capitalism is not progressive; it does not move from a lower condition to a higher and better one, but is circular. By purchasing the commodity of labor, it manufactures commodities that will be consumed by those who must sell their labor as a commodity to buy commodities. The whole business is sinister. That is the substance of A Scanner Darkly, a film made by a director, Richard Linklater, who believes in his own importance, who believes he has the imagination to navigate a massive work of pop art toward a simple but devastating truth. It took nearly 50,000 hours to animate A Scanner Darkly: 500 hours for every minute that transformed real actors (Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson) into animated ones. In the end, that is the best thing about the movie. The content is weak, but the feat is amazing. Don't watch this movie for any other reason than to see the mass expenditure of labor. (CHARLES MUDEDE)
Match Point was slick, a film that politely looked the other way as you began to sympathize with the lead character's alternating lust for and horror of women (an ambivalence that ends in homicidal panic). Scoop is a screwball murder mystery—frequently funny, but somehow less fun. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Shadowboxer has a number of startling sights. There's the sight of Cuba Gooding Jr. bedding Helen Mirren in the middle of a forest. Of a flaccid and condom-bedecked sausage dangling post-coitus. Of a broken pool cue being plunged, sharp end first, into an unwilling cornhole. That last sight, thankfully, is snipped away from our eyes before it gets too grisly. But it speaks to just the sort of film Shadowboxer is: brutal, irrational, and unafraid of offending. First-time director Lee Daniels employs an arsenal of visual gimmicks—everything from saturated colors to jelly on the lens—but no amount of gussying up can cover the fact that the story he has to tell lacks imagination. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Strangers with Candy is basically just an extra-long, perfectly passable bonus episode of the original TV series, which means, of course, that it's fucking hysterical. This "prequel" guest stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but the reason to see it is still Amy Sedaris, who plays a fortysomething ex-junkie high-school student who's "moist as a snack cake down there." (LINDY WEST)
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)
Will Ferrel and Ali G. face off in this battle of manliness and hair gel. (ANNIE WAGNER)
If this lively agitdoc is any indication, early adopters of environmentally friendly technology are a bunch of stubborn children. When General Motors rolled out its ice-blue, all-electric car in California in 1996, celebrities and subcelebrities and dot-com arrivistes (including director Chris Paine) snatched them up like candy. But the EV1, as the model was called, was only available for lease, not for sale, and when GM decided (with the help of the state of California) that electric vehicles were not in fact the wave of the future, it took them all back. Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, washed-up Baywatch actress Alexandra Paul—all talking heads in this movie—were crushed. Systematically working through such potential "suspects" as SUV-minded consumers, battery capacity, oil companies, car companies, federal and state governments, and rival technologies (particularly the hydrogen fuel cell), the documentary crafts a compelling case that the decline of the electric car was misguided, collusive, and premature. (ANNIE WAGNER)
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)
Owen Wilson stars as a man who simply can't deal with the transformation of his best buddy into a newlywed goo-goo doll.