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; and 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, than the 20th century. (CHARLES MUDEDE) Sunset Tavern, Tues Nov 7 at 6:30 pm.
This benefit for Cappy's Boxing Gym includes a screening of The Harder They Fall, a 1956 film noir starring Humphrey Bogart as a boxing promoter who feels guilty about gaming the system. Central Cinema, Sun Nov 5 at 3 pm.
A multimedia performance by Kiki Allgeier, about a girl raised in the town of Blue who eventually discovers the color red. Produced by Emerald Reels (See Independent Exposure, below). Central Cinema, Wed Nov 8 at 7 pm.
A 1952 film starring Marilyn Monroe as a mentally ill babysitter. Museum of History and Industry, Thurs Nov 2 at 7:30 pm.
It's difficult to gauge whether the picture's evolution away from timelessness has more to do with its familiarity—its centrality, even, to the contemporary sense of humor—or with the inconvenient complexity of the current state of international affairs. Either way, Dr. Strangelove has changed. Or maybe it's just gotten impossible to stop worrying. (SEAN NELSON) Central Cinema, Thurs-Sun 7, 9:30 pm. (Late show 21+.)
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! (ANNIE WAGNER) Ballard High School Theater, Wed Nov 8 at 7:15 pm. (Benefit for Non Violent Communication, an organization that teaches Montessori kids emotional literacy.)
The Ground Truth is emphatically a grunt's-eye-view of the war—you get no sense of the geography of the combat zone, no foreign policy (save one man's sad observation that every soldier he met seemed to blame Iraq for 9/11), and no military strategy (assuming that such a thing exists in the prosecution of this war). It's essentially an anti-recruitment video, and a plea for more protective armor and better psychological services for returning veterans. (ANNIE WAGNER) Part of a forum at Rainier Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Fri Nov 3 at 6:30 pm.
The curated series of indpendent film and video from across the globe focuses this month on social change. With shorts about PTSD, the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, burqas, 9/11, and more abstract topics. Central Cinema, Wed Nov 8 at 9 pm.
Agitdocs about war profiteers and gerrymandering, by Robert Greenwald. Tractor Tavern, Sun Nov 5 at 2:30 pm.
The final segment of the series Cities and Architecture, Kochuu: Japanese Architecture/Influence and Origin, has less to do with the influence and origins of Japanese architects on the West (particularly Scandinavia) and more to do with how a number of famous Japanese architects (Tadad Ando, Kisho Kurokawa, Toyo Ito, Kazuo Shinohara) distinguish their program and aesthetic from the program and aesthetic of European architects. For them, Japanese architecture does not resist nature but works with it. There isn't a line between the natural and the human, which is the case with European architecture and landscaping. Though such an insight is not incredible, the documentary is soothing to watch. (CHARLES MUDEDE) Grand Illusion, Weekdays 7:30, 9 pm, Sat-Sun 4:30, 6 pm.
A horror comedy that pits Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, et al, against a gang of obnoxious kids. Egyptian, Fri-Sat midnight.
An agitdoc by Laura Pacheco and John de Graaf about the labor market and maternity. Keystone Church, Fri Nov 3 at 7 pm.
The premiere of a short film by local filmmaker Nick Casalini. Rendezvous, Sat Nov 4 at 6 pm.
A 1952 drama (SAM's film-noir series has started stretching its definitions a bit) about a poor girl named Ruby who marries way up. Starring Jennifer Jones and some tight, tight blue jeans. Museum of History and Industry, Thurs Nov 9 at 9 pm.
A one-night immersion in Icelandic sights and sounds, courtesy of an Iceland travel bureau. Programs screen at the Varsity, Sun Nov 5. How Do You Like Iceland?, with assorted atmospheric shorts, 7 pm. Cold Hearts: Icelandic Artist Films and Music Videos, 9 pm.
See review this issue. Varsity, see Movie Times for details.
Apart from the handsome oncologist who's coy, as opposed to comforting, about Romain's terminal cancer diagnosis, there's little that marks Time to Leave as a film by François Ozon. The brittle camp of his Sitcom and Water Drops on Burning Rocks has deepened into a naturalist cynicism; the lushness of the surrealist melodrama Under the Sand is now shallower, more restrained. Time to Leave is a simple story about a ruthless fashion photographer (Melvil Poupaud) who rejects treatment, tells no one about his condition, and sets about extricating himself from his own life. Like a teenage suicide, he'd rather break up with his boyfriend than put him through the pain of his imminent death. It's a lovely film, with scattered wrenching moments (and great roles for Jeanne Moreau, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, and a tomb-like bathhouse), but it lacks the mannered impact of the rest of Ozon's oeuvre. (ANNIE WAGNER) Varsity, see Movie Times for details.
Peter Whitehead's anatomy of "swinging London" is at its best when indulging in digressive montages of absurd old-lady hats. The fringes of the land of mod are way more interesting than its shallow citizens, but if you can't wait to hear a fresh-faced Mick Jagger opine about the road to pop stardom, or Julie Christie talk about her sincere love of kittens, you can get those things here too. Tonite Let's All Make Love in London kicks off a series on the British avant-garde filmmaker/pop-cultural anthopologist—the only retrospective of his films to be shown in the U.S.. (ANNIE WAGNER) All films screen at Northwest Film Forum. Tonite Let's All Make Love in London, Fri-Sun 7, 8:30, 10 pm. The Beach Boys in London and Pink Floyd: London '66-'67, Sat-Sun 3, 5 pm. Wholly Communion (about American and British Beat poets reading at Royal Albert Hall in 1965) and The Benefit of the Doubt (about Peter Brook's production US, a piece of agitprop theater about England's involvement in the Vietnam War), Mon Nov 6 at 7, 9 pm. Daddy (a narrative film about "a woman's attempts to exorcise the influence of her sexually domineering father"), Tues Nov 7 at 7, 9 pm. Fire in the Water (an autobiographical allegory about making a documentary in the Scottish highlands), Wed Nov 8 at 7, 9 pm. Pop Films (a two-hour compilation of Whitehead's music promotional films, precursors to the modern music video), Thurs Nov 9 at 7, 9:30 pm. Continues through Nov 12. For details see www.nwfilmforum.org.
Camp Death, an improv show in the style of a teen slasher film, promises "canoeing, marshmallows around the fire, NAKED showering, and mutilated coed corpses." Tourist Trap is a 1979 feature about terrifying mannequins. Grand Illusion, Fri-Sat 10 pm.
A spoof called Paul Alien, along with the two other films in Alex R. Mayer's "Seattle Trilogy." Rendezvous, Tues Nov 7 at 6 pm.
Live music and spoken word, plus short films from Vancouver, Seattle, Capetown, and an unspecified town in Turkey. Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, Thurs Nov 9 at 7 pm.
See preview this issue. NWFF at Broadway Performance Hall, Fri-Sun 8 pm. For tickets, see www.ticketwindowonline.com.
A Miyazaki-penned anime film about a girl who discovers she shares a similar taste in books with a certain boy. Seattle Asian Art Museum, Sat Nov 4 at 1:30 pm. (Free!)
An apartheid drama about the making of a righteous terrorist, Catch a Fire contains two inflammatory theses. One: Terrorism is not an absolute evil; it's an extra-military tactic that can be put to noble use. Two: Oppressive governments create terrorists by imprisoning and torturing innocent men. Derek Luke steps seamlessly into the real-life role of Patrick Chamusso, a black South African yes man turned antiapartheid rebel. When the oil refinery where Patrick works is attacked, he's arrested—and since his actual alibi involves spending the night in adulterous sin, he takes his beatings instead of fessing up. Patrick pays for this cowardice with a radical political awakening in prison. Given the complex motivations at play, it's unfortunate that the script (by Shawn Slovo) doesn't go in for much psychology and wastes precious minutes halfway humanizing Patrick's Boer rival (Tim Robbins). (ANNIE WAGNER)
It'd be easy to call Conversations with God a bad movie. I could sit here and tell you that it's smug, creepy, and exploitative. A seeping carbuncle on the back of the ever-expanding Neale Donald Walsch merchandising juggernaut. Mass-produced spirituality for boring people. That the God-is-everything scheme is, like, the fifth-oldest trick in the theological book. But that would obfuscate the main issue here, which is that Walsch and his legions of suckers are also suuuuuper kookoo krazy-go-nuts!!! The movie tells the "true" life story of Neale Donald Walsch (Henry Czerny), a successful radio professional who, finding himself suddenly wifeless and jobless, comes to inhabit a tent in an Oregon park—a literal bum! Things are looking dire (garbage sandwich!), until Walsch begins receiving sassy advice from a disembodied chatterbox calling itself God. God speaks with Walsch's own voice, the point being, of course, that God is you. God is me. God is a hobo and a douchebag and a blowhard named Neale Donald Walsch. And now Neale Donald Walsch is a millionaire. (LINDY WEST)
Set roughly a year in the future, Gabriel Range's film posits a scenario where an otherwise mundane Bush meet-and-greet ends in a hail of sniper fire. Before too long, Arab scapegoats are sized up, the newly appointed President Cheney goes xenophobically ape, and the USA PATRIOT Act gains a significant clause or two. On a technical level, this is all impressively rendered, with a fairly seamless mixture of documentary footage, staged reenactments, and a determined cast of unknowns combining to create an uneasy feeling of reality. Unfortunately, far too much time is spent trafficking in the procedural, bogging down in minutiae about ballistic reports and fiber samples while offering only a few tantalizing hints of the larger picture. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
A loose remake of the Hong Kong crime epic Infernal Affairs, Martin Scorsese's The Departed casts Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon as deep-cover moles. One is a rising star in boss Frank Costello's (Jack Nicholson) Boston crime family, the other is Costello's counterpunch within the state police department. Both men are little more than useful pawns in a big-city game—cat and mouse, with neither man aware of the other's machinations—and deep down, beneath all their cocksure bluster, they both know it. Once their jobs are complete, they will both be cruelly cast aside; the only question is, who will unearth the other mole first. Returning at last from the gold statuette wilderness, Scorsese has assembled The Departed with an absolute precision that's been lacking in his work since Goodfellas. The result is a film that's not so much a puzzle as it is a pretzel, overlapping and tying itself up at any given moment, and effectively capturing us within the twisted lives of its two leads. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Clint Eastwood's much-anticipated depiction of the events surrounding the famous flag raising at Iwo Jima, comes off as a rather puzzling misfire. The canvas here may be too large, or the history too weighty, for the director to find an in. Whatever the reason, as both war epic and historical character piece, it feels weirdly insubstantial. Eastwood's honorable, heartfelt, well-acted film has its moments of frisson, certainly—most notably a tense, spooky tunnel sequence that bodes well for next year's more intimate, Japanese-soldier-POV companion piece, Letters from Iwo Jima—yet its overall failure to engage proves insurmountable. During the end credits, there's a stunning montage of old wartime photos, many depicting the actual heroes portrayed in the movie, which leaves you wanting to learn more about the real story behind the images. The strange thing is, you just theoretically did. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
During the filming of Flicka, two horses fell down and died (just like that!), and now the animal rights peeps want to boycott. If you really want to boycott Flicka, try one of these actual reasons: 1. Everything Alison Lohman says. For example, "The history of the West was written by the horse." Um, no it wasn't. Everyone knows horses are illiterate. NEXT! 2. Not enough dirty naked ranch hand sex. This movie is full of hot, grimy, lonesome cowpokes, and nobody pokes anyone. LAME! (LINDY WEST)
The badasses in the Coast Guard deserve their own action movie. It's just too bad that this is what they got. (BRENDAN KILEY)
The Illusionist is, according to usually staid critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, "a lush piece of romanticism" (read: a sepia-stained triumph of ahistoricism); or, if you prefer to have it from Stephen Holden, The Illusionist "rouses your slumbering belief in the miraculous" (read: Jessica Biel is so boring you'll nod off in your cushioned megaplex seat). I saw The Illusionist (twice) at the Seattle International Film Festival, back before beer bongs and airborne snakes ruled the screens, and I can assure you, with all confidence, that the movie is dumb. Really, really, dumb. (ANNIE WAGNER)
The filmmakers are more hands off than your average agitdoc director, but their point is unmistakable. The camp in question is called Kids on Fire, and it draws home-schooled evangelical youngsters from across the country to Devil's Lake, North Dakota. (Is that irony whistling through the trees?) In the opening sermon addressing her young charges, Fischer hauls out a stuffed lion cub. Satan wants to get you when you're young, she explains, and so he makes sin cute and cuddly. But if you feed it, the lion will grow. Her voice becomes menacing. By the end of her fire-and-brimstone threats, the kids are out-and-out bawling. Jesus Camp doesn't contain enough anthropological context to convince us that the children's distress is just another aspect of their highly performative worship service. It looks like abuse—or at a minimum, a sophisticated indoctrination technique. Where the film works best is during the moments it lets parents and camp leaders damn themselves: One scene, in which the kids are directed to kneel down and pray before a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, is a real clincher. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Keeping Mum is good when Maggie Smith is bopping people on the head, and pretty effing horrible the rest of the time. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Though the film is not really about the historic Idi Amin, it is an entertaining film for a couple of reasons: one, Forest Whitaker, and, two, the fact that the movie was shot in Kampala, Uganda. The real events of Amin's spectacular rise and fall in Uganda are distorted by the narrative of this movie in much the same way the events of one's life are distorted in one's dreams—or, more comically (and the best elements of this film are comic), the way a body is distorted by funhouse mirrors. (CHARLES MUDEDE)
A dysfunctional family road trip comedy built upon a mountain of character quirks. Call it Indie Filmmaking 101. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Marie Antoinette is Sofia Coppola's cash-in, her reward for low-budget ka-chings and the crafty seduction of so many underserved grown-up filmgoers. It is, in a word, a waxworks. The movie can be strikingly gorgeous at times, an exploding plastic inevitable somewhere between Peter Greenaway's tableaux-nuts The Draughtsman's Contract and every other 18th-century costume epic ever made. But waxworks, being lifeless, are quickly perused spectacles; Coppola's film is over two hours and is almost perversely undramatic and repetitious. The history covered is straight up: Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria (Kirsten Dunst), at 14, is shipped to France in order to wed a 15-year-old Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). She has trouble getting pregnant, plunges into marital doldrums, then embraces self-indulgence (at the state's expense) and is eventually executed during the Revolution. Visually, Dunst is a veritable creamsicle, but her role is so featureless it comes to resemble the actress hanging out backstage, dressed and prepped with nowhere to go. Inadvertently, Coppola has painted a pathetic portrait of a spoiled kitten not unlike herself, born into unlimited resources and without a thought in her pretty head, before she lost it entirely. (MICHAEL ATKINSON)
Open Season is a cartoon about man vs. beast. Not in the depressing Steve Irwin vs. stingray kind of way. In the Bugs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd kind of way. (MEGAN SELING)
The complicated plot boils down to a mundane feud between rival London magicians, played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. The origin of their rivalry is the death of Jackman's wife (Piper Perabo), possibly at Bale's hands, in a dangerous but well-practiced stunt. Otherwise, their differences are minor. One has a talent for showmanship; the other boasts only ingenuity. One gets to put his grubby mitts on the likes of Scarlett Johansson (usually costumed like a peacock, and outfitted with an accordingly pea brain); the other has to contend with true love. They strive to steal each other's best tricks, and they push each other to unhealthy limits, including an ill-advised consultation with Nikola Tesla (David Bowie, hamming it evil genius). The film is all formless and shallow until the final payoff—known in magic jargon as "the prestige"—when doubles and sacrifice and character all coalesce into one dark metaphysical conceit. There's no sleight-of-hand here, just sick magic (not slick, mind you, sick), and it's tremendous. (ANNIE WAGNER)
The central conflict in The Queen is, literally, whether Her Majesty Schoolmarm will deign to mention the unseemly death of an ex-princess—but no one in the whole supposedly accurate movie even notices that Mother Teresa has gone tits up. Nevertheless, The Queen's myopia is so complete, the performances so meticulous, that you can't help but start to care about, or pine for, or want to overthrow the British monarchy. Basically, The Queen is The West Wing populated by stuck-up twits, and in addition to the studiously wooden figurehead (a metaphor that's never seemed so apt), there are a whole crew of politicians and staffers conducting surreptitiously from backstage. Michael Sheen, as Tony Blair, is excellent as the sort of squishy leader celebrity-era democracy is prone to. And the minutiae of public relations have never seemed so stupid—or so fascinating. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Much of the structure of Running with Scissors—broken home, gay main character coming of age, mom prone to mental breakdowns, and oodles of eccentric supporting roles—practically howls "For Your Consideration." But the particulars—mom allows her even crazier psychiatrist to adopt Augusten, leading to attempted suicide, statutory rape, criminal negligence, and rampant substance abuse—are too harsh even for a fall-release family drama. But that's why Burroughs's memoirs are great: He reports the horrors of his life with a nonchalance that gives the reader permission to laugh. This movie doesn't work because an honest adaptation of Running with Scissors can't work. Without Burroughs's narration, we're left with a Tobe Hooper horror film. The movie-making changes—casting an older Augusten; miniaturizing the importance of Natalie Finch (Evan Rachel Wood), Augusten's vital support system in the book; and Gwyneth Paltrow's jarring presence—accumulate into story-killing wounds. (PAUL CONSTANT)
Tim Allen battles a dude with an icy fauxhawk.
Wads of cotton are tossed into the air and become clouds. A tiny stuffed horse is magically spurred to life. There are so many wondrous sights to behold that you can't help but get swept up in the cacophony; Michel Gondry's overactive imagination alone makes the film worth seeing. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
It's a cozy invention, the NYC Shortbus cabaret whose orgies are presided over by a benevolently catty Justin Bond. But a setting can't sustain an entire movie, and the plot is outright lazy. (Literal climax, anyone?) The energy of the film sputters out halfway through—Shortbus could stand to lose 30 minutes off its flabbily melancholic denouement. (ANNIE WAGNER)